Is “Truth” Foundational to Knowledge?

May 4, 2017 | Article, Philosophy, Theology

Note: This post makes mention of Ravi Zacharias. It is with a heavy heart that I must acknowledge a tragic independent report concerning evidence of sexual abuse and predatory behavior on the part of Ravi Zacharias. This man was a huge inspiration to me, as is evident from reading my blog, and the news was more than heart shattering. Some ministries leaders have come to the conclusion that removing articles about and references to Ravi is the right move; I have come to a different conclusion, and here is why:

  1. Though I cannot begin go to imagine the grief or pain of those Ravi hurt and the emotional toll of his behavior, it is also the case that to discredit a piece of information due to the character of the source of such behavior is to commit the genetic fallacy. If I quote or mention Ravi, it is because I believe those items to contain truth value on their own merit.
  2. To go back and change previously written information without a careful disclaimer is, I believe, a form of revisionist history. If a disclaimer must be offered anyway, I believe there is value in keeping the material accessible. So while I know it is a difficult ask to say, “Just trust the ideas and disregard his personal character,” I must ask that of you as a careful thinker.
  3. I have seen a lot of comparisons by Christians to not removing Ravi’s work because biblical characters like King David and others had fallen into terrible sin, and they have obviously been given to us as a gift to learn from (Romans 15:4). Why “cancel” Ravi if we’re not “cancelling” the Bible? It does seem to me, though, that there are two problems with this line of thinking: (1) These books are inspired by God and thus we can trust his revelation to us. They were examples given for a purpose. (2) These characters also seemed to show true biblical repentance of their wicked actions. Ravi remained unrepentant until his dying day. Therefore, I do not think these are 1-and-1 comparisons. This behavior reflects SERIOUS error and dangerous behavior on the part of Ravi and, to an unknown degree, RZIM as a whole, and that must not be taken lightly or swept under the rug.

I do not expect you to agree completely with this decision. I do ask that you respect the thought, prayer, and seeking of counsel in which I engaged regarding it.

One of the great casualties of the postmodern movement has been none other than “truth” itself. I’m reminded of the line from A Few Good Men–“You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” If we’re honest–that’s the problem. We can’t handle the truth! We just can’t handle that somebody out there has the truth, and it might not be us. Naturally, the next “logical” step is just to deny that truth exists! Even if we admit that it exists, we’ll just claim that it can’t be known! That’ll solve it. Here’s the issue: [clickandtweet handle=”” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]Truth is not dependent upon our perception of its existence.[/clickandtweet] Truth is not something we have to “believe” in. It’s real, and it can be known. It is not relative; it is objective. A quick example will illustrate my point: Let’s say I am at the beach, and you are work. At first, it seems like the truth claim in play is relative–i.e., it is true for me that I am at the beach, BUT it is true for you that you are at work. But that is not how truth works. The proper way to state this would be: It is true that I am at the beach and you are at work AND it is true that you are at work and I am at the beach. There’s nothing relative about it! It’s simply a collection of objectively true statements! This is not so hard to grasp. Ultimately, folks make the erroneous claim that there is no truth in order to justify their own morality. What I want to look at is why “truth” itself is the very foundation of knowledge. I assert that it is impossible to gain knowledge without truth, as the two are inseparably linked.

Understanding Truth Claims

  Truth is based on two logical concepts: The law of non-contradiction and the law of excluded middle. The law of non-contradiction states that nothing can both be (true) and not be (true); The law of excluded middle states that when a proposition is made, either that proposition or its negative must be true–there’s no in-between. These two concepts form the foundation of knowledge. I know this because if either of those two rules above were not in play, it would be impossible to know anything at all. Let’s examine an objective fact–one that it is unmistakeable. As we look at this, keep in mind that an argument does not generally take on a different meaning when the scale or location is changed. In other words, if this works for concepts we can see with our eyes (like physical matter), it will also work with concepts we cannot see with our eyes (like love). Donald Trump IS the President of the United States. You can dispute this fact (hence the #notmypresident movement), but you would be wrong. Why?

  1. Because according to the law of non-contradiction, it cannot be true that Trump both is AND is not the President at the same time. This is literally an impossibility. We know and observe that he was sworn into office on January 20th, 2017. Therefore, we know that it is TRUE that Donald Trump is, in fact, the President.
  2. Because according to the law of excluded middle, it must only be the case that he is the President or he is not. There is no middle option; therefore, according to this principle, we can know for sure that he either is or is not the President.

Don’t let the practicality fool you on this. I realize the shallow nature of the example I provided, but I did it that way for a purpose. Deep philosophical matters are subject to the same rules and laws. Here is a practical way to overcome this. When someone says “you can’t know truth,” politely ask them, “Is that true?” Case closed.  Furthermore, if this person happens to believe in Evolution Theory, you should ask them why they should be trusted at all. After all, they are nothing more than random molecules that have come together by chance. A person with no objective standard cannot possibly be trusted with handling matters of right and wrong. Remember Hitler? This was his problem.  Don’t be fooled by the claim that there is no truth. It isn’t true.

Understanding a Foundation

  When beginning any new building project, the foundation upon which you build is critical. I am reminded of a story told by Ravi Zacharias. While touring a city one day, his guide brought him to what was aptly dubbed the “world’s first postmodern building.” The design purposely made no sense. Things were out of place and disorganized. The builder wanted to go against the traditional grain in order to accurately reflect the current state of the culture. Ravi in his wisdom asked, “Did he do the same with the foundation?” See, some things are not meant to change. Some things must, by definition, stay true to themselves, lest the rest of the structure fall. Knowledge works the same way. When we accumulate information, if there is no objective standard by which to weigh that information against, we cannot possibly hope to turn the information into knowledge. There is a difference. We use this in theology. When we research information from various writers and authorities, we measure it against the unchanging infallibility of the Bible. That is the only way we know if it is true. Now it is not always black and white–for instance, Christian theologians have long debated the eternal state of Hell, but none of them believe it does not exist. The Bible teaches, quite clearly, that it does. That is the standard of truth. As usual, the Bible has something to say about this. We may recall the parable in Matthew 7 told of the man who built his house on the rock vs. the one who built on the sand. The only difference in the story is the foundation! [clickandtweet handle=”” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]An unwavering foundation is a safe place to begin building.[/clickandtweet] Once you understand truth and use it to form a foundation, you can begin taking in information and weighing it against what you know to be true. Information without a strong foundation leads to being “…carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;” (Ephesians 4:14). Information with a strong foundation ultimately leads to knowledge and wisdom.

Understanding Knowledge

  Hopefully, by now, you are starting to get the idea. If we work backward from this point, we can see that we must have a strong foundation, and a strong foundation is built on one thing: truth. The Bible makes clear that there is only one type of knowledge that is valid; it is found in Proverbs 1:7 – “The fear of the LORD [is] the beginning of knowledge: [but] fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The Bible lists verse after verse about knowledge, but it is always in the context of God’s instruction through His Word. This is precisely why I personally do not try to reason my way to God apart from Scripture. I’m no Calvinist, and I agree with using evidence in our apologetics–but the Bible could not be more clear that real knowledge would simply not be possible without the presence of my fear (respect) for the Lord! This makes all the difference. Now, when I saw that “truth” is the foundation of knowledge AND the “fear of the Lord” is the beginning of knowledge, it sounds like I am making a contradictory claim. But it’s just the opposite. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6). Jesus is God, and Jesus is Truth! No problem at all here. The thing you must remember is that when having a conversation with an atheist, it’s hard enough getting them to presuppose “truth” as a concept–let alone Christ as Truth! Therefore I think it is beneficial to first make the claim that truth, indeed, can exist. When God begins to open their eyes, He will show them that God and Truth, really, are one and the same. Knowledge, true knowledge, is powerful! And God wants us to have it. According to J. Vernon McGee, we will not simply have all knowledge when we get to heaven. He believes there will be an eternity of learning! I have not fleshed out the theology on that, but it sounds pretty good to me! An eternity full of learning more and more about our Creator God. What an awesome God and Savior we serve. In answering the question, I not only believe that truth is foundational to knowledge–in God’s context, the two are one in the same. We have access through Jesus to our Creator–let’s not take that for granted, and let’s make Him and Him alone the object of our affection as we continue our pursuit of Truth. — Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!

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