In a lecture entitled “Are there Objective Truths About God?”, philosopher William Lane Craig responds to postmodern challenges to the idea of truth, and specifically to the idea that religion is about objective truth.
Here’s the link to a page containing the lecture audio. (H/T Be Thinking)
The MP3 file is here.
So what questions does Bill answer in the lecture?
What is a self-refuting statement?
The main concept in the lecture is self-refutation. A self-refuting sentence is a sentence that, if true, makes itself false or meaningless. For example, suppose someone said to you: “there are no sentences longer than 5 words” then that would be self-refuting since it falsifies itself. Bill argues that objections to the idea that there are objective truths about God are all self-refuting.
What is truth?
Craig holds that “truth” is a property of a proposition such that a proposition is true if it corresponds to the external world. For example, if I claim that there is a crocodile in your closet and we find a crocodile in your closet, then my statement was true. If there is no crocodile in your closet then my statement was false. The real objective world out there is what makes propositional claims true or false – these are not claims about an individual’s preferences, they are claims about the world. Bill is concerned with truth claims about God that are objective – whether there are propositions about God that are true regardless of what anyone thinks.
Are there objective truths about God?
Bill discusses 3 objections to the idea that there are objective truths about God. Each objection seeks to make religion subjective, (true for each person, like food preferences or clothing fashion).
Objection #1:The Challenge of Verificationism
The first challenge is that religious claims cannot be verified using the 5 senses, and therefore religious statements are objectively meaningless.
Consider the statement “Only propositions that can be verified with the 5 senses are meaningful”. That statement cannot be verified with the 5 senses. If the statement is true, it makes itself meaningless. It’s self-refuting.
Objection #2: The Challenge of Mystical Anti-Realism
The second challenge is that religious claims, and claims about God, are neither true nor false.
Consider the statement “Propositions about God cannot be true or false”. Craig asks – why should we accept that? Any reason given would have to assert something about God that is true or false, and those reasons would contradict the original statement. For example, “God is too great to be grasped by human categories of thought” is a proposition about God that the speaker thinks is true, which contradicts the original assertion.
Objection #3: The Challenge of Radical Pluralism
The third challenge is that each person invents an entire reality of their own, and that there is no mind-independent objective world shared by individuals.
Consider the statement “There is no objective reality shared by all individuals”. That statement is a statement that applies to all individuals, regardless of what they think. It’s self-refuting.
Craig ends the lecture by arguing that it is OK for Christians to think that other people’s views are false. It does not follow that just because someone thinks other people’s views are wrong that they am going to mistreat other people. In fact, in Christianity it is objectively true that it is good for Christians to love their enemies. It is objectively true that all human beings have value, because human beings are made by God. So even if Christians disagree with others, they still treat them well, because they think that there are moral truths that they have to conform to.
Sometimes, non-Christians think that it is dangerous to hold beliefs too strongly. But I think what really matters is the content of the belief – some beliefs are false and some are true – you want to believe the true beliefs as strongly as you can, as long as the evidence warrants it. In Christianity, I am absolutely obligated to treat people with whom I disagree with respect and gentleness (1 Pet 3:15-16). The more convinced I am about that belief, the better my opponents will be treated. A stronger belief in Christianity means more tolerance for those who disagree.
Why do non-Christians get so offended when Christians claim to be right about there being only one way to be rightly related to God? Well, for many it’s because their worldview is a personal preference, and they feel uncomfortable having to defend it rationally and evidentially. Christianity is different – we are used to having to defend our truth claims using evidence, because that is the core of the religion, and the example of the founder and his closest followers.
For most people, religion is just their cultural preference – like cooking style, or favorite sport, or clothing style. That’s why they respond to your truth claims with name-calling like “you’re intolerant” and “you’re judgemental” and “you’re arrogant”. These are just shorthand ways of saying, “I’m offended that you think that what you believe is true and you think that what I believe is false”. They would never say that in a math classroom or a chemistry lab, where truth matters. But because they are coming to the discussion with the presupposition that religion is like clothing and diet preferences, they take everything personally instead of treating religion as something objective, just like any other area of knowledge.
This problem of being offended by truth claims is especially common with people who are raised to think that their religion is a racial, national or cultural identity. They haven’t thought anything through, or considered any alternatives, and they think that if you tell them they are wrong on matters of fact that somehow this amounts to some sort of racism, intolerance or prejudice. You make factual claims, and they hear discrimination. But that’s not how Christians think of religion – we only care if it’s true or not – just like we care whether the claims of history or science are true or not. For many non-Christians, religion is not about truth at all but about personal preferences – and they cannot understand why Christians say that they have to go to Hell for having the wrong personal preferences. You have to tell them that religion is about truth, and that people displease God because they don’t know what is true, and they don’t want to know what is true. Then they understand why you are disagreeing with them and you can have a conversation about what is true.