Jesus was being interrogated by Pilate when the Prefect inquired, “’You are a king, then!’ asked Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ ‘What is truth?’ retorted Pilate” (John 18:37-38). Both Jesus and Pilate make tremendous points. Jesus directly pinpoints the lover of truth to himself while Pilate inquires about the very nature of truth.
Models of Truth
Recent matters have brought to the forefront the matter of truth as it is opposed to opinions. Do opinions shape truth or does truth shape opinions? When exploring the issue of truth, philosophers have determined three models that correspond to one’s relationship with truth. The coherence theory of truth considers “any coherent system of belief counts as a ‘true’ system of belief” (Ashford and Whitfield 2014, 56) However, the problem with this view is that a person can have a systematized belief based upon wrong premises. Such coherence does little to discover the reality of a particular thing or person.
Another model is the pragmatist theory of truth. Advocates of this theory propagate that “whichever beliefs prove to be invaluable instruments of action can be counted as truth” (Ashford and Whitfield 2014, 56). The trouble with this theory is that many evil things have been performed based upon a false belief system (e.g. Hitler’s Nazism, Colonial slavery, etc.).
The third model is one that this writer holds—and should be the one that anyone seeking the truth should hold—the correspondence theory of truth. This model claims that “truth is what corresponds with reality. Truth is independent of the human mind. Even if the human mind cannot recognize a particular truth, the truth of the matter still stands” (Ashford and Whitfield 2014, 56). Thus, truth exists whether the human does or not. The question has been asked, “If a tree falls and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The answer would be a resounding, “Yes!” The tree falls, sound waves are made; therefore sound is produced whether or not someone is around to hear it. Truth stands upon itself and not upon the one advocating it.
Yet, it would appear that many hold that truth is shaped by the individual’s opinions. When one engages social media, one will discover that a lot of emphasis is placed upon one’s opinions. Person A will say, “I want to say something that I want you to hear, but it is my opinion.” Person B say, “I want you to hear something different than what Person A was saying, but this is my opinion.” It would appear that three models shape a person’s opinion, and contrary to popular belief, not all opinions are created equal.
Opinions Driving Truth Claims (Personal Defense)
The first category of opinions is found to be those who use their opinion to drive truth. In this case, a person is not about discovering truth. Rather, such a person seeks to prove his or her opinion as truthful. Therefore, truth claims are shaped and remolded to fit the paradigm of belief. Such a one may or may not fit within the coherent theory of truth because most of the time such opinions are not well thought out, but are compiled to prove a particular point. Often this category of opinions is used to defend one’s actions, even when such actions are immoral. If a person watches daytime television and evaluates a person who has been caught in a bad act, one will quickly note how some outlandish things are said in order to defend a person’s action. Such a one will often never learn from his or her bad behaviors while holding on to this model.
Opinions Blending with Truth Claims (Political Defense)
The second category is far more deceptive. Many use elements of truth in order to prove a particular opinion. Such a person will do research and will evaluate truth claims, but will not allow the truth claims to come to their conclusion. While the first category blatantly uses logical fallacies, the logical fallacies in this category are much more subtle. For instance, a person could claim that Americans dislike soda Cheerwine. Such a person would interview people in urban areas where Cheerwine was not available asking them if they like Cheerwine. Suppose the survey was worded so that only the options “Yes “ or “No” were available to the question “Do you like Cheerwine”. Since most people in those areas never heard of Cheerwine, their answer would be “no.” However, the study was not fair since it did not engage individuals who had actually tried the drink. Often, the fallacies are not always easily evaluated. For instance, advocates of this position will use history to their advantage. Attempts at what is called historical revisionism, or rewriting past history to prove a present-day point, are often employed to prove opinions. For this reason, politicians will often fit within this category as truth claims are molded with one’s opinion to drive a particular end—exemplified by the pragmatist theory.
Opinions Conforming to Truth Claims (Philosophical Defense)
Lastly, the third category of opinions is found in those who allow their opinions to be shaped by truth. This category fits well with the correspondence theory. It should not be surprising that this is the most difficult of the three as one would require a great deal of research into a particular avenue in order to allow one’s opinion to be shaped by truth. Norman Geisler describes one who adheres to this philosophy as one who acknowledges that “Truth is what corresponds to its referent. Truth about reality is what corresponds to the way things really are. Truth is “telling it like it is.” (Geisler 1999, 742). Such a person evaluates the truth, acknowledges the truth, accepts the truth, and allows the truth to mold their beliefs and opinions. Christian philosophers fit the model for this view. They have researched, evaluated, and allowed the truth to shape their opinion. It may not be that Christian philosophers agree with one another on every detail—far from it. However, they will agree on the fundamentals of truth. Truth has shaped them rather than them shaping truth.
In the movie A Few Good Men, Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise) interrogates Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson). Kaffee states, “I want the truth!” Jessup retorts, “You can’t handle the truth!” Can a person handle the truth? This is the question that everyone must ask themselves. Pilate, who inquired of the nature of truth, was met face-to-face with the greatest reality found in the universe—Jesus Christ! Yet, due to his political and personal opinions missed the opportunity to know the greatest Truth that one could ever find. So, you (the reader) must ask yourself—are your opinions shaping truth or is the Truth shaping your opinions? Furthermore, are you ready to handle the Truth?
Ashford, Bruce Riley, and Keith Whitfield. “Theological Method: An Introduction to the Task of Theology.” In A Theology for the Church. Revised Edition. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H, 2014.
Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.
© July 6, 2015. Brian Chilton
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