By By Craig Ziemba
Feb. 3, 2002
Many through the ages have said there is no such thing as an absolute truth, but rather that we each formulate a personal truth of our own. What is true to you may not be to me and vice versa. In modern times, the phrase "That;s your opinion/perspective, etc." characterizes this philosophy that truth is relative.
Clearly, not all questions are matters of right and wrong that can be answered with absolute certainty but some can. Which is prettier, a dogwood or a magnolia; who was the greatest composer of all time? No absolutely true answer.
But other questions do have a clear, true answer. What is the square root of 4? If I jump off of a cliff, will I fall? By denying that there is ever any absolute truth to be known, philosophers yank the rug out from under the pursuit of knowledge and, consequently, become fools themselves.
Amazingly enough, this philosophy has permeated America's public higher education. Textbook writers and many professors think that it is no longer important to teach such bland things as facts, mathematics and history. Instead of learning from the accumulated knowledge of thousands of years of recorded experience, students are encouraged to look within and discover their own truth about the world around them.
There's nothing wrong with new ideas, but they must be critically examined to see whether they are indeed true.
Today, one cockeyed idea after another is given equal standing with the collected wisdom of the ages. Evidence of this abounds in all of the humanities. Dung smeared on canvas hangs in art museums next to Monet and Norman Rockwell. Are we really progressing?
Every one of us, whether we realize it or not, uses something as a basis for what we believe to be true. Those who ascribe to the philosophy of personal truth use their own feelings as the basis for truth and become, in a sense, their own god. Regardless of what history, science or the Scriptures may say, they believe themselves to be the ultimate judges of truth. That's quite a responsibility.
Others believe that society, by a simple majority, determines right and wrong, truth and error. Hmm … There was a time not long ago that the majority of Americans thought slavery was acceptable. Today, a majority believes that destroying unborn babies is okay. Is euthanasia next?
If morality changes with the mood and appetites of majority opinion, nothing, and no one, is safe. Real truth shouldn't and doesn't change. Any fact that is true today, for instance that George Bush was President in 2001, will be true one hundred years from now no matter what the majority of the population at the time believes. Their affirmation or denial of the fact will not change it in any way.
If personal feeling or societal norms are not a good basis for truth, what is? This may not sound very original or trendy, but after years of studying history and philosophy, I've yet to see anything that can hold a candle to the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule.
By the way, the Roman leader who asked what truth was went by the name Pontius Pilate.