Truth, the Universe, and You

By Douglas Groothuis and Elizabeth Johnston

Intellectual sobriety is rare. When pressed to think at all, many act like drunken sailors forced to take a philosophy quiz. Philosopher Harry Frankfurt called this, well, bullshit in his miniature best-selling book, On Bullshit. Page one says:

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share.”

He understands the bovine excrement metaphor to mean communication that does not care about truth. Liars have a greater concern to get reality right—and then to claim the opposite. To lie, as Mortimer Adler puts it in Six Great Ideas, is to “willfully misplace one’s ontological predicates.” That is, I know that X is P and I say that X is not-P. I deny what I should affirm. This is the work of the liar. Exponents of BS, however care not whether his ontological predicates match reality. He speaks and writes for other reasons. Impressing people, persuading people, deceiving people, and hearing himself talk are among them.

Truth seekers and truth tellers are neither deceivers nor BS artists.

One should never get over a concern for truth, since lies lurk everywhere. Believing the truth with wisdom allows us to navigate reality far better than heeding the counsel of lies and BS. A man who is true to the truth need seek no lies. He is disarmed and rearmed by reality and will not try to falsify it. Truth makes its demands, if we have ears to hear. Consider its inescapable demands.

  1. A statement is true if it corresponds with the reality it describes.

Example: God exists.

  1. A statement is false if it fails to correspond with the reality it describes.

Example: God does not exist.

  1. For a statement to be true, it must cohere with every other true statement in the universe. That is, no true statement can cohere with a false statement, since they contradict each other.

Consider an example.

S1: It is objectively wrong to murder.

Since it corresponds to reality, this assertion is true. Subjective preference and derivation from a sociological sample do not influence its veracity. Its truthfulness is inherent. Thus, consistency with every other accurate pronouncement is a must.

Meet Goober; he is a materialist. Actually, Goober is a muddled materialist. He correctly holds S1 to be true, but he also believes:

S2: Materialism is true.

Materialism is an all-encompassing worldview. Denying not only God’s existence—but also everything abstract or spiritual—it insists that only matter exists. Thus, materialism cannot supply a moral authority beyond the mere facts of chemistry, biology, and physics. Normative claims have no logical place within that paradigm—befuddled believers in a materialistic worldview notwithstanding. Therefore, S2 does not cohere with S1. What else must be true if S1 is true? Consider:

G1: God is the source of moral authority.

G1 is true because God is the personal and immaterial evaluator of all things. He defines the meaning of good and evil based upon the moral perfections of his character. Human beings possess intrinsic dignity and the right to life because they are created in God’s image. Murder transgresses this intrinsic dignity and the right to life. As a consequent, murder is morally wrong. Therefore, the following two assertions do not cohere:

S1: It is morally wrong to murder.

S2: Materialism is true.

This is because the following affirmation is true:

G1: God is the source of moral authority.

Therefore, the following two statements cohere:

S1: It is morally wrong to murder.

G1: God is the source of moral authority.

Lest one take this analysis to be laborious and obvious, the point is a sharp one: A proper mindset accepts only affirmations that cohere with one another. Anything one believes to be true must be in accord with any other true statement in the universe. Let us remember:

  1. God is one.
  2. Truth is one.
  3. All truth is God’s truth.
  4. Errors are many.

Therefore, the wise will eschew BS, endeavor to find the truth, and will not contradict it by lying. God is watching. All truth is his, although he shares it with all who pursue it. Jesus, Truth Incarnate, declares:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).

 

 

Against Art Forgeries

I sent this to The New York Times on November 5, 2013. It was in a response to an editorial defending art forgeries. It is a short essay on ethics and aesthetics, but never published—until now.

 

Blake Gopnik’s defense of art forgeries “as the art lover’s friend” is an impressive piece of sustained sophistry. All seven arguments he offers fail miserably.

First, if a forgery can fool an expert, it can give the rest of us pleasure. Gopnik thinks this is good. But pleasure does not justify deceit, nor does pleasure define the meaning of art.

Second, the forger may reveal what the copied artist might have himself done; he may even reveal the artists inner essence. Lying imitations have nothing to do with artistic continuity or revelations.

Third, forgeries are justified because artists often use assistants. This is a false analogy, since the artists authorized these assistants, unlike forgers.

Fourth, art forgeries can “tame our absurd art market” by bringing down prices. This comment—if true—has no force, and it purely utilitarian. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Fifth, forgeries endorsed by art experts teach us that “connoisseurship is not to be trusted.” This is illogical. Everyone already knows that connoisseurs are fallible. But they may be fallible and generally reliable, like all merely human judges.

Sixth, because some ancient cultures endorsed the copying and augmenting of valued artworks, this justifies forgeries today. On the contrary, these copies were culturally-authorized and well-accepted—and not forgeries. Seventh, much of 20th  Century art, such as Duchamp’s, “set out to undermine idea of unique authentic, hand-touched works of art.” This is true, but irrelevant. Duchamp’s ready-mades were not forgeries, because he did not claim to make them.

Gopnik’s ambitious essay fails to marshal any good arguments. We await a better apologist for artistic deception.

The Real Slippery Slope: Logic, Fallacy, and American Decline

Logic warns the wary of many fallacies. Everyone should master this canon of error—or you will be mastered by it. A logical fallacy is a typical way in which arguments go wrong through sloppy reasoning. Let me cite a few examples before turning to issue at hand—the slippery slope from same-sex marriage to significant changes in sexual ethics.

False dichotomy is a common and cunning fallacy. An either/or condition is set up. One must affirm either A or B, not both A and B, and not neither A or B. A proper dichotomy works like this:

You are either with Christ or against him. This covers all the available options. The condition is exclusive: Christ or not Christ (Matthew 12:30; John 14:1-6).

Here, though, is a false dichotomy:

We should not defend the gospel; we must preach the Gospel.

This is a false dichotomy because the Bible calls us to both defend gospel and to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Peter 3:15-16).

Another popular fallacy is argumentum ad hominem, or argument against the man. Instead of critiquing someone’s argument for traditional marriage, an opponent instead attacks the traditionalist’s character and motives. Some claim that denying same-sex marriage means one hates homosexuals and lesbians. This response gives us two fallacies for the price of one.

  1. The person’s character is attacked, rather than the force of his argument. This is a glaring case of argumentum ad hominem. Even if the critic hates homosexuals and lesbians (and no one should), that does not, of necessity, undermine his argument, since his argument may work independently of his motives.
  2. The false dichotomy is claiming that you either (A) support same-sex marriage or (B) hate same-sex couples.

I have introduced two classic and chronic fallacies. May we avoid them! Another fallacy feeds on itself. Meet the false charge of fallacy. Those pumped up by the power of logic may hyperventilate at the prospect of proving someone wrong through uncovering a lethal fallacy. Sometimes the difference between a fallacy and a valid form of reasoning is subtle. Consider the slippery slope.

As a fallacy, the slippery slope errs by wrongly stipulating the implications of ideas: if A, then B, then C. We always slip down the slope into the abyss. “If you do this, then that will happen, and, God help us, the other thing will happen, which is horrible!” So, the slippery slope also contains a reductio ad absurdum argument. Let me illustrate.

Some complementarians claim that if churches allow women to be senior pastors, they open the door to accepting homosexuality. Since most evangelicals—at least twenty years ago, when my wife was writing much on this topic—do not accept homosexuality, then they should reject women as senior pastors as well. But for evangelicals with a high view of biblical authority and a respect for classical methods of biblical interpretation, there is no danger of any slope to slide down, since it is obvious that while the Bible records many women leaders favorably, it never endorses any homosexual activity.

However, some ideas have consequences that may not be foreseen or that may be denied by sheer willfulness. Defenders of same-sex marriage often say that concerns over polyamory or incest are reactionary and those that are worried about this commit the slippery slope fallacy. However, the slope is there, the sliding is underway, but the slippage may be overlooked. Consider the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.

According to the judges, no state may deny the right to same-sex marriage. The legal reasoning was tortuous and unsupportable, as the dissenting opinions stated. But we must go deeper. The idea behind the ruling—and behind all support for same-sex marriage—is that marriage is a socially constructed and purely human institution. Monogamy is merely a cultural and legal tradition whose cultural hegemony sputtered for years and is now ending. There is no reason why marriage should not be same-sex. In fact, to claim otherwise is to absolutize a relative and historically contingent institution. The same reasoning supported slavery, denied women the vote, and endorsed Jim Crow laws.

Given this standpoint, there is no reason to privilege couples only as constituting marriage. That would be two-ist and unfair. Therefore, by the same reasoning used to establish same-sex marriage, we must allow for polyamory. This is an open category which so far has meant marriage arrangements of at least men and women. (I have not yet heard of marriage arrangements of multiple men or multiple women.) A man has already sued to have two wives. A 2015 academic book by Ronald Den C. Otto is entitled In Defense of Plural Marriage. Amazon.com says this about it:

With over half of Americans now in favor of marriage equality, it is clear that societal norms of marriage are being quickly redefined. The growing belief that the state may not discriminate against gays and lesbians calls into question whether the state may limit other types of marital unions, including plural marriage. While much has been written about same-sex marriage, as of yet there has been no book-length legal treatment of unions among three or more individuals. The first major study on plural marriage and the law, In Defense of Plural Marriage begins to fill this lacuna in the scholarly literature. Ronald C. Den Otter shows how the constitutional arguments that support the option of plural marriage are stronger than those against. Ultimately, he proposes a new semi-contractual marital model that would provide legal recognition for a wide range of intimate relationships.

Once the traditional and God-ordained definition of marriage is breached, the floodwaters come rushing in. If love is love, and if any consensual erotic association should be deemed moral and be authorized by the state, then the logical implication is that the new sexual revolution will not end with same-sex marriage. The next step will be polyamorous marriages. Nor could there be a principle forbidding consensual incest or pedophilia. If you think pedophilia is different because the child is too young to give consent, you do not understand the deepest issues.

Breitbart.com posted a piece called “Inside the Sick, Secret World of Bestiality Forums.” The story is about BeastForum, a popular website trafficking in all manners of perversion. I will give no details. But if the animal is not hurt, and the human is not mean, why not practice bestiality? Given present trends, bestiality could emerge from the dark and dirty underside of American culture and move into the spotlight of our polymorphic perversities. (The Mosaic Law made bestiality a capital crime.)

Some will slide down this slope without fear, perhaps stopping shy of bestiality or a step before. Or perhaps not. But if one wants to apply the moral brakes, he or she needs a rational justification for stopping. I am not saying that most who deny traditional marriage will slide all the way down; but without an objective moral authority to tell us the nature of sexuality and to give the norms for sexual behavior, there are no such moral brakes.

However, if one who accepts same-sex marriage also opposes polyamory, incest, pedophilia, or bestiality, that person must face the full force of this reductio ad absurdum argument:

  1. If same-sex marriage is moral, then any consensual sexual arrangement (involving marriage or not) is moral.
  2. Same-sex marriage is moral.
  3. Therefore: consensual polyamory, incest, pedophilia, and bestiality are moral.
  4. But (3) is absurd, since these acts are immoral.
  5. Therefore, it is false that same-sex marriage is moral; it is immoral. This is by reductio ad absurdum.

One may not like this argument, but if the premises are true, then the conclusion must follow. I leave it to my readers to show that one or more of the premises are false.

When traditional moral authority is razed, then the unthinkable becomes thinkable, the illegal becomes legal, and the immoral becomes moral. This is the real slippery slope, and we are on it as a society.

May everyone—from politician to pauper, from professor to farmer, from all races, of all ages—hear the Word of the Lord:

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on earth—
he who forms the hearts of all,
who considers everything they do.
No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine. (Psalm 33:12-19).

Undermining Truth in God’s Name

Undermining Christian mission is a constant threat, on the horizon and already in the midst of churches, seminaries, and Christian organizations. Our call, our sacred duty and privilege, is to proclaim, explain, defend, and apply the truth of the one true and living God, and to endeavor to do this in every area of life and thought. As Francis Schaeffer so often affirmed, “The Lordship of Christ covers all of life and covers all of life equally.”

Seminaries can undermine their very reason for being—making known the truth of God. If so, they deserve a millstone around their necks, not a crown on their heads. One assured way of deconstructing the mission of God is to deny propositional truth and knowledge as belief aptly supported by reasoning and evidence.

Just today I listened to the concerns of a student at a seminary—not my own—who was told that the theories of George Lindbeck should be embraced. The truth-decaying, knowledge-undermining philosophy of postmodernism (or post-liberalism) is welcomed and dissent is not allowed. Truth Decay, my 2000 jeremiad and apologetic, takes this on, but let me reiterate.

Professor Lindbeck and his followers (such as the late Stanley Grenz) deny that the affirmations of Scripture are true in the sense of matching objective reality. Scripture gives us the rules for shaping the church. It cannot speak beyond that as to mind-independent states of affairs. This view is theologically deadly; it is funereal in tone, if popular among benighted advocates.

First, this view commits the fallacy of false dichotomy, which is, perhaps, the most commonly practiced fallacy today. Yes, the Bible tells us how to live for God: Love God and neighbor according to biblical revelation and godly character. Rules are required. But rules are only worth following if they work with the grain of the universe and cohere with the mind of God. Christ calls me to serve “the least of these” because as we do, we serve Christ himself. The rule is tied to the reality, the objective, Christological state of affairs.

Second, all sixty-six books of Holy Scripture affirm a propositional and correspondence account of truth. A proposition is what an indicative statement means. Statements can be read or affirmed in various languages because they share propositional content. I often have my students say aloud “Jesus is Lord” in as many languages as they can. Despite the differences in words and sounds, they mean the same thing (however slight the difference in nuance). A proposition stakes out the facts—either rightly or wrongly. Yahweh is the true God. Baal is not. Jesus is the way. Buddha is not. If a proposition corresponds to the reality it describes, then it is true. This is the metaphysics of truth, what truth is. Without this understanding, Christians can only talk to themselves—and not make much sense of it either.

Third, the mission of God is to reveal the truth of God so that it is known and obeyed (Matthew 28:18-20). For this, we need knowledge, not mere belief. A truth claim can only be knowledge in a person if that claim matches reality (Jesus is Lord) and if one has adequate justification for that claim (the claims and credentials of Christ).

I address all this is great detail in Truth Decay and Christian Apologetics. For now, I exhort all my readers to not be blown by every wind of doctrine, but to be firmly rooted in the truth of Scripture. Truth is nothing to play with; revelation is nothing to reject through shoddy thinking.