WHAT IS TRUTH?
To find the answer to the "mother of all questions" we have to define what we are actually looking for. Arguably the most famous passage in literature where the question, "What is truth?" has been asked is found in the New Testament record of the trial of Jesus:
Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
Pilate asked him, "What is truth?" After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no case against him."
Pilate was skeptical. Very much like in today's post modern society he too was surrounded by a confusing variety of thoughts and opinions in his days of the early first century AD. He found himself tossed about by waves of materialism, idealism, superstition, skepticism and atheism.
The poor man had been confronted with too much "truth." How many philosophies, religions, how many world views claim to be the truth? Pilate knew that in his world of Roman politics and power struggles truth was not what mattered most. However, to people who want to follow God the question of truth is paramount importance.
What is truth anyway? The Hebrew word for "truth" is "'Emeth", which basically translatesas "firmness, stability." The Greek word "Aletheia," can be rendered "the unveiled reality lying at the basis of and agreeing with an appearance." (See "The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, edited by Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D., AMG Publishers, Chattanoga, TN 37422, U.S.A., 1990) Truth by nature is exclusive. 3 x 1 always equals 1, it can not also equal 3 at the same time.
FORMULATING A TEST FOR TRUTH OF A WORLD VIEW
Let us consider briefly those tests for truth which have been set forth over the years. As shall be seen they are helpful in some respects but none of them can establish one world view, one systematic analysis and critical examination of life, over another.
It is the view that knowledge is independent of sense experience. Whatever is knowable or demonstrable by human reason is supposed to be true. Since there is no way to logically prove the laws of thought which are used to prove things this test already comes to an end in the beginning. It is circular reasoning to use logic as basis for proving logic. Even in the weak form, that of non contradictoriness, rationalism is insufficient. The fact that something does not contradict itself does not mean it is true. It only means that it is consistent within it's frame work of thought.
It this view truth can not be established by reason but must be accepted on faith. Since contrary beliefs are possible it is not really a test but more a claim for truth.
According to this view what can be experienced is true. Since all world views claim to be able to have
special experiences it is also inadequate to establish truth.
It is the view that what can be verified as a fact is true. While this test, like others, offers some significant contribution, the interpretation of facts depends on the perspective of a world view. If facts gain their meaning by the context, then they can not be used to determine the truth of the context. Evidentialism too leads us into circular reasoning and can therefore not be used to establish the truth of a world view.
Combinationalism, sometimes known as systematic consistency
It involves a combination of some of the previously evaluated and found to be inadequate tests for truth between different world views. In the same way that one defect car will not bring us any further than two defect cars, it will not be helpful in our search for truth.
It holds that truth can not be thought or felt but it can be discovered by attempting to live it. Truth, according to this school of thought, is not what is consistent or adequate but what is experientially workable. However, since some things seem to work well, such as lying, but are nevertheless wrong, pragmatism, at best, manifests only the application but not the justification of a world view. As a test for truth it needs to be discarded.
Skepticism / Agnosticism
It is the view that, in the light of the above, truth can not be known. Complete scepticism by itself is a statement of truth. As such it is self defeating. Truth can not be denied unless some truth is being confirmed. In the limited form, namely that only some truths can not be known, it is unsuccessful because it does not eliminate the possibility that the truth of a world view can be known.
Undeniability and unafirmability
Whatever is undeniable is true, whether it is definitionally or existentially undeniable. If one view is undeniable, then conversely the other alternative views must be untrue since they are unaffirmable. As an example, a triangle, theoretically, by definition, must have three sides. If we find an existing triangle then it must actually have three sides. We shall now apply this only valid test for truth to the five main world views in order to establish the one which is true.
It holds that a god made the world but does not intervene in it in miraculous ways. The deistic position is inadequate because it is undeniable that if he has miraculously created the world then the strong possibility of him performing other miracles follows necessarily. It is unaffirmable to state that a god is concerned enough for man to create him but that he would later not intervene on his behalf.
It generally holds that God and the universe are ultimately absolutely identical. Pantheism is not affirmable by man because according to this concept he is not really different from God and therefore can not say, "God is but I am not," since one must exist in order to affirm that one does not exist. If we would be part of God , religious experience and indeed any other meaningful experience which has to be based on something or someone other than one self is impossible. Even those pantheists who allow for some reality to finite man will have to admit that this is a denial of the way man experiences himself. It is self defeating to claim that individual finite selves are less than real because then even statements such as, "pantheism is true" would be impossible.
It is believed that God and the universe are one but that he is, at the same time, greater than the universe. The world is supposedly in God but he also exists beyond the world. God is absolute, eternal, and infinite only in potentiality. However, he is relative and finite in actuality. This bipolar concept of God poses an insolvable problem. How should God be able to actualize his own potentialities? In the same way that this article is not going to be written by itself, an author is needed, someone outside God would be needed to actualize God's potentialities. Pantheism falls to the ground because a finite, changing God would need a infinite, unchanging basis for change since the relative always presupposes the absolute.
This view denies the existence of God. As truth it does not measure up because he who says that the world has come into being by mere chance can only make this statement in the overall context of design.
Likewise whether or not something is meaningless can only be decided if meaning exists. In other words one must assume God in order to disprove God. For example, to say that God does not exist because of all the evil in this world is to presuppose the equivalent of God by way of an ultimate standard of justice. Furthermore, contrary to reason, Atheists are forced to believe that something finite, changing and dependant comes from nothing, that matter generated mind and that potentials actualize themselves.
This only remaining view affirms the existence of one transcendent and personal God who created and is involved with the world from which he is distinct. By the process of elimination Theism would be true since it is the only remaining noncontradictory world view. It also passes the test for truth for the following undeniable positive reasons:
It is undeniable that some things do exist. My nonexistence is logically possible since it is not absolutely necessary. Whatever has the potential not to exist must be caused to exist by another. This process of cause and effect can not go on forever because what receives existence from another can not be the ultimate cause of another's existence. In the beginning it must be based on something independent, a necessary being with pure actuality and no potentiality. If it was not so then even that cause would in reality only be an effect. Therefore a first uncaused cause of my existence exists. This uncaused cause must be infinite and perfect since nothing that is limited can cause itself. This infinitely perfect Being is correctly called "God," the one who is worthy of worship, of an ultimate commitment. Therefore God indeed exists and we do live in a theistic universe. ( For a more detailed reasoning please refer to "Christian Apologetics" by Norman Geisler, Baker Book House, Michigan, 1976, chapters 1-13)
WHERE IS THE TRUTH, IN CHRISTIANITY OR ISLAM?
Both, Christianity and Islam, are expressions of the theistic world view. In order to judge between the different truth claims of these two world religions we need to formulate a different test for truth:
Whatever is systematically consistent in that it explains most facts in the best way, not contradicting itself and in a manner that fits with the overall system will be true.
The test for truth within a world view will therefore not be based on undeniability as was the argument used to establish the truth between different world views. Rather, it will be based on a degree of probability.
Let us start with the most fundamental area where Christians and Muslims are of a different opinion.
What is the purpose of life in Christianity and Islam?
God created mankind for a purpose. The Quran quotes Allah as saying in Surah 51, Al Dhariyat, verse 56:
"I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve me."
The word "serve", is a translation of the Arabic 'Ibadah," commonly rendered as, "worship." In this verse it means total obedience to Allah's commands. Muslims find their purpose in life by pleasing Allah through obeying his commands. (See "Islam, Beliefs and Teachings" by Ghulam Sarwar, the Muslim Educational Trust, London, 1984, page 15)
According to the Westminster Catechism the purpose of life for Christians is, "to glorify God and to enjoy him forever." This statement is based on verses such as:
Isaiah 43:7: "... every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."
Psalm 37:4: "Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart."
Whereas Christianity agrees with Islam in so far that one should obey God and in so doing one brings glory, honour to him, the aspect of fellowship with the Almighty is unique only to the God of the Bible! What a wonderful prospect Christians find expressed in the last book of the Bible describing their state in eternity:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband;
and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."
And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."
And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment.
He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son."
These comforting words are contrasted sharply in the picture the Quran conveys about paradise in Surah 55, Al Rahman. There it is a place overflowing with sensual delights, material riches but where Allah is not there:
"49 Then which of the favors of Your Lord will ye deny? --
50 In them (each) will be two Springs flowing (free);
51 Then which of the favors of Your Lord will ye deny? --
52 In them will be Fruits of every kind, two and two.
53 Then which of the favors of Your Lord will ye deny?
54 They will recline on Carpets, whose inner linings will be of rich brocade: The Fruit of the Gardens will be near (and easy of reach).
55 Then which of the favors of Your Lord will ye deny?
56 In them will be (Maidens), chaste, restraining their glances, whom no man or Jinn before them has touched; --
57 Then which of the favors of Your Lord will ye deny? --
58 Like unto rubies and coral.
59 Then which of the favors of Your Lord will ye deny?
60 Is there any Reward for Good--other than Good?
61 Then which of the favors of Your Lord will ye deny?
62 And besides these two, there are two other Gardens, --
63 Then which of the favors of Your Lord will ye deny? --
64 Dark green in color (from plentiful watering).
65 Then which of the favors of Your Lord will ye deny?
66 In them (each) will be two Springs pouring forth water in continuous abundance:
67 Then which of the favors of Your Lord will ye deny?
68 In them will be Fruits, and dates and pomegranates:
69 Then which of the favors of Your Lord will ye deny?
70 In them will be fair (Companions), good, beautiful; --
71 Then which of the favors of Your Lord will ye deny? --
72 Companions restrained (as to their glances), in (goodly) pavilions; --
73 Then which of the favors of Your Lord will ye deny? --
74 Whom no man or Jinn before them has touched; --
75 Then which of the favors of Your Lord will ye deny? --
76 Reclining on green Cushions and rich Carpets of beauty."
The Quranic view of paradise is already met here on earth by the rich and famous. However, experience shows that they are still not satisfied. The richest man in the world was once asked, "You have got everything one could wish for, is there still something you desire?" "Yes, I want more," was his sad reply.
The greatest need human beings have to live deeply fulfilling lives is never found in sensual delights and materialism alone but in love that expresses itself in caring fellowship. To a certain extent this heart felt need can be met in marriage, family and other relationships. However, since human beings are inclined to selfishness our ultimate need is only met in an imperfect way. Only a personal relationship with God in heaven, as offered in the Bible, can truly satisfy our hearts desire.
In this most fundamental of all issues, the quest for the purpose of life, Christianity is far more systematically consistent then Islam. According to the former, the meaning of life is not only reflected in men's deepest need but also met eventually by God himself in heaven. Christianity as taught in the Bible explains these facts in the best way, not contradicting itself and in a manner that fits with the overall system. It therefore must be true. This does not mean that there is no truth in the Quran. After all, about 75% of it has originated from the Bible even though many of the facts have changed quite considerably. The point is that the Bible alone contains all truth necessary for our salvation and it alone gives the reader instruction on how to live his life in a way pleasing to God.
The test for truth established and applied above will be applied to further areas of disagreement between Muslims and Christians on the following web page:
May prayer is that the attentive reader will be able to come to the right conclusion.
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