Where Did the Universe Come From?
Have you ever wondered why there is something rather than nothing? How about this question: Where did that something come from? These are among the most basic questions of philosophy and theology.
These questions lead to other questions. Where does morality come from? Why should we do good and not do bad?
The philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) said, “Two things fill the mind with awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
This leads us to the ultimate question: do the facts as best understood lead us to conclude that there is a Supernatural Creator—God? By God I mean a being who is the personal, immaterial, timeless cause of the universe, the designer and sustainer of the universe and the ground of moral reality. I believe that it is reasonable to conclude that God is the Originator of the universe based on these four features of reality:
- the coming into existence of the universe
- the current existing of the universe
- design in the universe
- moral reality
Where did it all come from?
Let’s think about the universe’s coming into existence. The cosmological argument sees God as the Originator of the universe based the reality that all effects must have a cause. The ball rolls across the grass—an effect. The cause? John kicked it. The book falls to the floor. The cause? Mary dropped it.
Early philosophers such as Aristotle (384-322 BC) looked at the world and saw it was full of effects. The bird flies across the sky. The bird was caused by its mother hatching an egg. The mother hatched the egg because she laid it—on and on, reason back from effects to causes, looking ever backward to what must be a first cause. Aristotle called this the First Cause, the Unmoved Mover.
Of course, one can then ask what caused the First Cause. But that’s to ask the wrong question. Remember, every effect has a cause. But a First Cause is, well … a cause, not an effect. The medieval theologian, legal scholar, and philosopher Al Ghazhali formulated an argument for God’s existence called the kalam argument (“kalam” means “words” or “discourse”). In recent years, the kalam argument has been refined and popularized by Christian philosopher William Lane Craig. He formulates the argument this way:
- The universe began to exist.
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its existence.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence.
In defense of the first premise, I think both scientific and philosophical evidence point to the fact that the universe began to exist a finite time ago. Scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe include:
- the expanding universe
- the Second Law of Thermodynamics
- the Big Bang Theory
Consider the evidence for the universe’s expansion. Scientists maintain that every object in the universe is moving away from every other object, such that space itself is expanding. Physicist George Gamow, says “The entire space of the universe, populated by billions of galaxies, is in a state of rapid expansion, with its members flying away from one another at high speed.”[i]
This was first posited by Edwin Hubble (1889-1953), an American astronomer who is the namesake of today’s Hubble Deep Space Telescope. Hubble was the first to demonstrate the existence of galaxies outside our own Milky Way, and by studying the Doppler Shift of light—sometimes called “red shift”—he also proposed that all the galaxies were moving away from each other at incredible speeds. (You probably know the Doppler effect more as it pertains to sound. The sound of a moving train, for example, changes pitch from when it’s moving toward you to when it’s moving away from you, which is called the Doppler Shift. The same is true of light; its wavelength is different when it’s moving toward you from when it’s moving away from you, although you’d need scientific equipment to measure it.) Noting Hubble’s idea, Albert Einstein observed, “Hubble’s discovery can, therefore, be considered to some extent as a confirmation of the theory [of an expansion of space].”[ii]
This was a big change for the scientific world, which until Hubble believed the universe was essentially stable and unmoving. Astronomer Stephen Hawking said, “The old idea of an essentially unchanging universe that could have existed, and could continue to exist, forever was replaced by the notion of a dynamic, expanding universe that seemed to have begun a finite time ago, and that might end at a finite time in the future.”[iii]
Now, some say that the universe could have been expanding from eternity; in other words, it did not have a beginning. But this is mathematically impossible, because otherwise the universe would be infinitely dispersed, which it is not. Therefore, the universe began to exist a finite time ago.
The second reason we know the universe had a beginning is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that all closed systems will tend toward a state of maximum disorder, or entropy. In a closed system, the amount of energy available to do work decreases and becomes uniform. This amounts to saying that the universe is winding down.[iv] Think of a large clock. The clockmaker expends energy to wind up the clock, and that energy is stored in the spring. As the energy is slowly released, powering the clock, it is not replaced, and eventually it completely runs out—unless the clockmaker breaks into the closed system of the clock and puts in more energy in the form of winding it up. But left to itself, the closed system of the clock will eventually run out of energy and stop ticking.
The implications of the Second Law of Thermodynamics are considerable. The universe is constantly losing usable energy and never gaining. It’s only logical to conclude the universe is not eternal. “The universe had a finite beginning—the moment at which it was at ‘zero entropy’ (its most ordered possible state). Like a wind-up clock, the universe is winding down, as if at one point it was fully wound up and has been winding down ever since. The question is who wound up the clock?”[v]
The theological implications are obvious. Astronomer Robert Jastrow said, “Theologians generally are delighted with the proof that the universe had a beginning, but astronomers are curiously upset. It turns out that the scientist behaves the way the rest of us do when our beliefs are in conflict with the evidence. … The laws of thermodynamics . . . [point] . . . to one conclusion, that the universe had a beginning.”[vi]
The universe could not have been running down from eternity; otherwise, it would have run down by now, which it obviously has not. Therefore, the universe began to exist a finite time ago.
There is only one conclusion we can come to: the universe had a beginning. As Physicist Alexander Vilenkin says, “It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape; they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”[vii] Physicist Victor Weisskopf says:
The question of the origin of the universe is one of the most exciting topics for a scientist to deal with. The origin of the universe can be talked about not only in scientific terms, but also in poetic and spiritual language, an approach that is complimentary to the scientific one. Indeed, the Judeo-Christian tradition ascribes the beginning of the world in a way that is surprisingly similar to the scientific model.[viii]
It must be concluded that the universe has not existed eternally. The universe, therefore, must have begun to exist a finite time ago. The implications of this for Christian theology are obvious: There must have been something (more accurately, Some one) beyond (and “prior to”) time, space, and matter . . . that caused the universe.
The second part of the argument says, “Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.” Carefully notice that the argument is not saying: “Everything must have a cause of its existence.”
The theist’s position is that everything that begins to exist (i.e., every finite, contingent thing) must have a cause of its existence. Everything we now know about the universe suggests that the things in the universe are caused to exist. Thus, there must be something that caused the universe to exist that is itself not part of the universe. This conclusion follows necessarily. The universe has a cause of its existence. But since this is the beginning of the physical, temporal universe itself, then the cause cannot itself be physical or temporal.
It seems the best way to account for why the universe could have come into existence only a finite time ago is if the Cause of the universe was itself timeless and eternal. In other words, the cause itself must not be, say, an impersonal, mechanical cause. Rather, the “Causer” was a personal entity who willed the universe to come into existence. If the universe cannot be impersonal and mechanical, then the cause must be personal and volitional— a being who has a will. This is so because if the cause of the universe was merely a “sufficient condition” for the universe, then the effect of the cause would have existed along with the cause.
Remember we have seen that the scientific evidence points to a beginning of the universe. Thus, we have a cause of the universe that:
- is not the universe itself
- is nonphysical
- is timeless
- is supernatural
- is personal
The Cause described by such characteristics is God.
Note, however, that this may not necessarily lead one to conclude that this cause is the God of the Bible. Indeed, the Kalam argument was originally popularized by Muslims in support of Islamic theology. However the basic principles of the argument are sound and support Christian theology, too. And Aristotle, who posited the Unmoved Mover, was certainly not a Christian, although his reasoning is also sound.
So while you can use the cosmological argument to determine that there is a thing called “god,” it is up to the arguments of Christian apologetics to prove that this god is the God of Scripture.
The Argument from Design
Another way to observe the universe is its obvious design, which is called the teleological argument. The word teleological is derived from the Greek telos, meaning “end” or “purpose.” Teleology is the supposition that there is purpose or directive principle in the works and processes of nature.
Perhaps the most famous version of the teleological argument comes from the British philosopher William Paley (1743-1805). Paley put forth a hypothetical: You are walking across a field and stub your foot on a stone. You might ask how the stone got there and conclude not unreasonably that it had been there since the beginning of time. But suppose that a few steps later you come upon a watch laying in the grass. You pick it up and examine it and see its fine detail and complex inner workings. Would it be reasonable to conclude that, like the stone, it had been there since the beginning of time? He wrote in his Natural Philosophy, “There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.” In other words, it’s too complex and has an obvious function—therefore it cannot be an accident. Paley continued, “Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.” In other words, when we look around us at the universe, we see design as fine-tuning and design as information on a far vaster scale than we do in a mere timepiece.
Astronomer Robert Jastrow has noted that the universe was constructed within very narrow limits in such a way that could support life on earth. He called this the “anthropic principle”—the view that the entire universe is created in such a way as to support mankind (anthropos).
Another part of the teleological argument points to design as information. In other words, not only does a certain thing seem to be designed, it also communicates information, something that the laws of statistics and probability cannot account for.
Now, some complexity can be explained by natural processes. You can see order and complexity in a snowflake, but that can be accounted for by known processes of physics and chemistry. But take something like the DNA molecule, and you’ll see complexity that does more: it is specified complexity. If I took the letter tiles from a game of Scrabble and just tossed them into a pile, that pile would be complex but probably wouldn’t form any words or sentences. But if I take those letter tiles and arrange them to spell words, their arrangement is not just complex; it is specified complexity because each letter is arranged in a specific order to create words—specified complexity.
We see the same in the DNA molecule. Not only is it complex, but each part is in a specific place in order to create a specific thing that that part of the molecule is coded for. According to scientists Charles Thaxton and Walter Bradley (researchers with the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture), “Proponents of an intelligent origin of life note that molecular biology has uncovered an analogy between DNA and language. … The genetic code functions exactly like a language code¾indeed it is a code. It is a molecular communications system: a sequence of chemical ‘letters’ stores and transmits the communication in each living cell.”
Philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, observed, “At nearly the same time that computer scientists were beginning to develop machine languages, molecular biologists were discovering that living cells had been using something akin to machine code or software all along.”
Even the militant atheist Richard Dawkins must admit, “There is enough information capacity in a single human cell to store the Encyclopedia Britannica, all 30 volumes of it, three or four times over.”[ix]
But Dawkins is then forced to try to explain this as a process of natural selection and random mutation, without director or purpose. Is it rational to relegate this fine-tuning to evolutionary theory? That would be putting the matter backwards. Evolution cannot be responsible for the fine-tuning of the universe since the process of evolution presupposes the fine-tuning in order to work.
Sometimes this is called the “infinite monkey” principle. If you had a monkey bashing away on a typewriter for an infinite period of time, he would eventually though randomly wind up typing Shakespeare’s Hamlet. (And you don’t need actual monkeys; that’s just a metaphor for any abstract device that produces a random sequence of letters ad infinitum.) The weakness of this theory shows the problem of reasoning about infinity by imagining a vast but finite number and vice versa. The probability of a monkey exactly typing a complete work such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet is so tiny that the chance of its occurring during the supposed 15 billion years the universe has been in existence is minuscule, but not zero.
Dawkins uses a variation of this. He cites the monkey “bashing away” at the keyboard until it comes upon the phrase, “Methinks it is like a weasel” (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2). Beginning with 28 characters of gibberish, the monkey succeeds in arriving at the “target” sentence in 43 “generations” (separate bashings) on the keyboard, each one moving the monkey closer to the goal. The problems with Dawkins’ example here are that the target destination is already known, which presupposes a designer or “watchmaker.” Second, the monkey’s keyboard bashings are small but definite steps in a predetermined direction, which suggest purpose. And, according to Dawkins, given enough “generations,” the experimenter will always arrive at the target sentence, although the simple laws of logic and statistics show this is nonsense. Most important, though, in order to preserve the doctrine that Darwinian evolution is unguided and without purpose, Dawkins later states, “In real life evolution there is nothing that corresponds to steering towards some distant genetic target” (71). So why use the argument at all?
In The Mystery of Life’s Origin, biochemist Charles Thaxton, mechanical engineer Walter Bradley, and geochemist Roger L. Olson wrote, “Without a doubt, the atoms and molecules which comprise living cells individually obey the laws of chemistry and physics. The enigma is the origin of so unlikely an organization of these atoms and molecules. … It is apparent that ‘chance’ should be abandoned as an acceptable model for coding of the macromolecules essential in living systems.”
Thus it seems clear that a reasonable inference from the evidence of fine-tuning and the origin of life is the deliberate, causal activity of God.
Conclusion: “It’s a Caused World After All”
Reasoning from the variations of the cosmological arguments, we can determine that the universe came into existence through the deliberate activity of a First Cause, and Unmoved Mover, because logic and reason lead us to conclude that all the causes that we see in the universe—planets moving, birds flying, ice melting, rain falling—can be explained by causes, which themselves are explained by other causes, in a very long but finite line back to a First Cause. Christians would argue that this First Cause is the God of the Bible and use apologetic arguments to make that point.
Reasoning from the teleological argument we see that the universe as we experience has evidence of purpose and design, and its very complexity, including specified complexity like that found in the DNA molecule, point to an intelligent, purposeful force that created them. Again, using apologetics, Christians will argue that the “purposeful force” is the God of Scripture.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What do we (as explained in this chapter) mean by God, or a supernatural Creator?
2. What does the cosmological argument say? What is it arguing for?
3. What is another word for the “argument from design?” Who was the philosopher that put forth the “watchmaker argument”? What does this prove?
4. What is the anthropic principle as defined by Robert Jastrow? Why is this important to the argument for creation?
5. What is the difference between essence and existence, and why is this distinction important?
[i]. “Broadening Horizons,” in The World of Physics: A Small Library of the Literature of Physics from Antiquity to the Present, 3:259. (New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987).
[iii]. Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1988), 33-34.
[iv]. “The Second Law of Thermodynamics,” in The World of Physics: A Survey of the Literature of Physics from Antiquity to the Present. 1:734. (New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971).
[vi]. Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1978), 16, 111.
[vii]. Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes (New York: Hill & Wang, 2006), 176.
[viii]. Victor F. Weisskopf. “The Origin of the Universe.” American Scientist, reprinted in: The World of Physics: A Survey of the Literature of Physics from Antiquity to the Present. 3 vols. (New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971), vol. , page.
[ix]. Richard Dawkins. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design (New York: W. W. Norton & Company 1996), 115-116.
The bank teller smiled as I walked up with my deposit slip, asking, “How may I help you today?” The cordial demeanor faded as she noticed the company logo on the paycheck I was depositing: The check was from a very prominent local ministry, one that people in the city either loved or despised. As our conversation progressed, it was clear that the teller was not a fan of my employer. Thus began a brief talk about spiritual things. As I was explaining the message of Christ and what He did for humanity on the cross, she quickly said, “I don’t think it is so much what you believe, but that you are sincere about it.”
“Could two people each believe contradictory things, and they both be right?,” I asked.
Pausing a moment, she said, “Yes. Because what is true for one person isn’t necessarily true for another person. What is true for you may not be true for me.”
She was sincere, and convinced of this, um, truth. I was sincere, and convinced her beliefs were false.
The Implications of Relativism
Planet earth is fast becoming a “no-truth zone.” Relativism is the death of “true truth,” the “extinction of the idea that any particular thing can be known for sure.”1 The denial of absolute truth also has serious implications for Christianity. Today’s denial of absolute truth leads to statements such as these:
• All religions lead to God.
• All religions teach basically the same thing.
• Jesus is one of many great spiritual leaders.
• No such thing as ultimate truth exists.
• All beliefs are equally valid.
Have you ever heard people make statements like these?
“We all have our own truths…”
“There is no moral right or wrong. Beliefs about truth and morality are based on personal situations, cultural bias, or on one’s religious upbringing…”
“Truth is what works. If something works for the greatest good of the majority, then it must be true.”
Sadly, even some Christians believe these statements, like the young lady at the bank who told me, “We all have our own truths.” This relativistic spirit presents challenges for both missions-minded Christians and values-minded parents: How can people be convinced to turn from sin if they cannot be convinced of the true statement that they have sinned? And how can children live according to biblical morals when a relativistic posture seems to be a prerequisite in social, academic, and professional arenas?
Think of the implications of this for preaching the gospel. If there is no actual, absolute truth, or if ultimate truth exists but is unknowable, then the Christian’s claims about Jesus being the exclusive way to God are fallacious. Equally false (in the mind of many moderns) are the Christian’s claims that people are fallen, sinful, in need of salvation, and without Jesus Christ are bound for eternal lostness. Surveys validate the point that when it comes to religious claims, most Americas today are driven by relativism.
Relativism has become the most prominent worldview of our times. The assumptions of relativism (at least in terms of theology) is that all beliefs are equally valid. The claim of Christianity that people need Jesus Christ seems ludicrous to people today who are committed to what might be described as absolute subjectivism.
I believe that relativism is a belief system wrapped up in selfishness. What a person wants is no longer held against an objective standard. It becomes his subjective standard, and therefore it is true and right for him. But everyone else has his own subjective standard based on what he wants and that is right for him. This may be called selfism, the attitude that people are free to approach spirituality on their own terms.
When the truth dies, then so do ethics, because if nothing can be known for sure, then there are no real rights or wrongs. Combine this with selfism, and anything goes. Relativism is no different from having no morality at all.2This explains why people can allow society to do things like kill babies and take the lives of people deemed unfit to live. Truth has become what the majority thinks. Truth is no longer based on a firm foundation. Truth is whatever is right at the moment, according to the most people.
Frederick Moore Vinson, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court said, “Nothing is more certain in modern society than the principle that there are no absolutes.”3
So Whatever Happened to Truth?
So what happened to the idea that there was one truth? How do people come to the idea that some things are true for some people but not true for others?
The roots of this thinking go back seven hundred years to the Renaissance. This historical period, which began in Florence, Italy, and spanned roughly four centuries from the 1300s to the late 1500s, was considered a time of rebirth. (In fact that is what renaissance means in French.) It was not a rebirth of man, though, but of “the idea of man.” It switched positions for God and man; instead of God being the measure of all things, as had been the case since the founding of Christianity, man became the measure.3 This was the beginning of humanism as a philosophical idea.
Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374), an Italian scholar, is considered the father of humanism.4 He promoted the idea of the strong, idealistic man and centered his works on man and man’s ability. Renaissance humanism is “the broad concern with the study and imitation of classical antiquity which was characteristic of the period and found its expression in scholarship and education and in many other areas, including the arts and sciences.”5 This thought process developed into modernday humanism, with its emphasis on human values and humanity in general.
The late Francis Schaeffer, a Christian scholar, wrote, “These paid men of letters translated Latin, wrote speeches, and acted as secretaries. . . . Their humanism meant, first of all, a veneration for everything ancient and especially the writings of the Greek and Roman age. Although this past age did include the early Christian church, it became increasingly clear that the sort of human autonomy that many of the Renaissance humanists had in mind referred exclusively to the non-Christian Greco-Roman world. Thus Renaissance humanism steadily evolved toward modern humanism—a value system rooted in the belief that man is his own measure, that man is autonomous, totally independent.”6
Humanism showed the “victory of man.” This is seen, for example, in the statue of David, completed in 1504 by Michelangelo. This David is supposed to be the David of the Bible, yet he is shown as a strong, handsome man who is obviously not Jewish because he is uncircumcised. This statue of David portrays him as the complete opposite of the young, humble David of the Bible. Most of the art of this time portrayed the same message: “Man will make himself great. Man by himself will tear himself out of nature and free himself from it. Man will be victorious.”7
The humanists were sure that man could solve every problem. “Man starting from himself, tearing himself out of the rock, out of nature, could solve all,” Schaeffer wrote. “The humanistic cry was ‘I can do what I will; just give me until tomorrow.’”8
Eventually, after several hundred years, this idea failed. The optimism of the Renaissance ended in pessimism. For many centuries learned thinkers promised they would deliver the truth, and yet the truth—the truth without God, at least—remained elusive. People finally came to the conclusion that there is no truth. As Schaeffer wrote, “We could say that we went to Renaissance Florence and found modern man.”9 Modern man, whether he realizes it or not, is governed in large measure by this pessimism about truth, a philosophy called postmodernism, the belief that there are no absolutes, including no absolute truth.
According to postmodern thinking, this is no ultimate truth; people can construct their own “stories” or narratives, and what is true for one person might not be true for another. Truth is relative to individual people, times, and places. So if truth is relative to each person, each person is then free to do his own thing—the perfect motto of the 1960s and 1970s. The hippies of the sixties preached peace and love, with a generous dose of drugs and illicit sex. Their main belief was, “Do your own thing. If it doesn’t hurt anyone and it makes you happy, do it.”10
Unfortunately many Christians bought into this worldview. As Schaeffer wrote, “As the more Christian-dominated consensus weakened, the majority of people adopted two impoverished values: personal peace and affluence.”11 The dominant ethic was to just be left alone: this was basically the attitude of apathy. Humanism in the meantime tried to make a comeback. The problem was that humanism had already destroyed everything it hoped to build on. According to Schaeffer humanism—man beginning only from himself—had destroyed the old basis of truth and could find no way to generate with certainty any new truths.
In the resulting vacuum the impoverished values of personal peace and affluence had come to stand supreme. And now for the majority of young people, after the passing of the false hopes of drugs as an ideology, the emptiness of the sexual revolution and the failure of politics, what remained? Only apathy. Hope was gone.12 This is exemplified in today’s dismissive, “Whatever.” People do not care anymore about anything so long as it does not hurt them or personally affect them. When asked, “Is something true?” they respond, “Whatever!”
A House of Cards
Dogmatic relativism can be exposed as both flimsy and hypocritical. So what can a listener do when his conversation about spiritual things is held hostage by the phrase, “That may be true for you, but not for me”?
First, aside from relativism’s inherent logical flaws, one can point out the fact that such platitudes are not livable. No one would remain tolerant of a bank teller who said, “You and your bank statement both say your account contains $5,000. That may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.” People can talk as if the world is relative, but how they live proves that it is absolute.
Romans 1:18–22 notes that truth exists and describes the destructive end of all who willfully suppress it. But a person does not need a Bible to point out problems with the relativistic worldview. One needs to simply apply common sense. Next time a skeptic argues definitively that truth is relative, the assumptions he is making should be noted. For one thing, if truth does not exist, then by definition his statement is also false. And how can relativists be certain about their position if “truth cannot be known”?
Apparently the only one allowed to be dogmatic is the relativist! To reject truth, skeptics must imply the very thing they are denying. This is a self-defeating statement. God “hardwired” our brains for rational thought. With a little practice, people can become adept at spotting error and defending truth. Culture has become like someone who is insane, someone who cannot adjudicate the real and the unreal. People often make two mistakes when talking about reality.
(1) They take certain subject protocols (e.g., history, math, languages) and apply them to other things, or
(2) they take a method of one discipline and apply it to all reality.
This is called a category mistake, wrongly attributing certain characteristics of one category to another category. So if someone asked what red sounded like, he would be committing a category mistake because red is a color; it does not have a sound. Category mistakes lead to a common problem in today’s culture, in which preference replaces truth. A preference refers to how someone feels about something, what he wants, such as a color of car or the flavor of ice cream. Examples of truth claims are the content of history, math, science, philosophy, morality, or religion.
Too many people confuse these categories. An example of this is, “You do not like abortion? Then do not have one.” Another example is, “We want sexual preference and the right to marry the person we choose.” These are expressions of preference. But these are issues of truth. Morality, despite what today’s culture would like to make it out to be, is a matter of truth! Few true relativists exist. People do not like it when someone begins messing with their concepts. They will be relativistic up to a point, but then they quickly start telling what they believe is right and wrong.
Why? Because there is something innate in everyone that tells when something is not right. This something is natural law. This is what Christian philosopher J. Budziszewski calls things “we can’t not know.”13 Everyone knows innately that some things are wrong, such as lying, stealing, cheating, murdering. The very fact that people, when guilty, try to make excuses for these actions proves that they “cannot not” know them. This is like the crook who flees the scene of the crime; as the police say, fleeing the scene of the crime is proof of guilt. This is because God’s law is written on people’s hearts, as clearly stated in the Bible:
“So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences testify in support of this, and their competing thoughts either accuse or excuse them” (Romans 2:14–15).
First Principles of Thought: Laws of Logic
Logic is not invented; it is discovered. Indeed it is part of the created order. Here are a few laws of logic:
The law of non-contradiction: A thing cannot be both A and not-A at the same time in the same sense. This also means that if something contradicts itself, it cannot be true. Relativism contradicts itself. It states absolutely that there cannot be any absolute truth. But that statement is an absolute truth. Therefore it is selfdefeating. It defies the law of noncontradiction.
The law of the excluded middle: A thing is either A or not-A. It cannot be both. The law gets its name from the construction of the classic logical syllogism, which consists of three terms.
1. All A are B.
2. C is A.
3. Therefore C is B.
Or, more simply:
1. All cats are mammals.
2. Fluffy is a cat.
3. Therefore Fluffy is a mammal.
In the case of an excluded middle, no middle term is needed.
1. Fluffy is a cat.
2. Fluffy is not a cat.
Fluffy cannot be both a cat and not a cat at the same time in the same sense. Something cannot be true and not true at the same time in the same sense. That last qualification—“at the same time in the same sense”—is important. A person can say, “Joe is a man” and mean it in the strict biological sense: a male of the species homo sapiens. But another might say, “Joe is not a man” and mean it in a sociological sense: he is not brave and does not take responsibility for his actions. In this situation it is not a violation of the law of the excluded middle because the word man is used in two different senses.
The law of identity: If a thing is A, then it is A. If it exists, then it exists. If it is true, then it is true. This is self-explanatory, but it pretty much kills any claim that something can be true for one person but not for another.
Instilling a love of truth in the hearts of people is more critical now than ever. The truth that truth exists must be asserted firmly but lovingly. Christian scholar Peter Kreeft wrote, “The modern American demands the truth in every area of life except religion. Do not cheat him. Do not lie to him. Pull no punches in giving bad news. Unless, of course, it is in regards to his final destination.” Kreeft adds, “He [the modern American] would rather go through life deceived that he was a good man and discover he was wrong, than to go through life thinking he was a bad man and discover he was right.”14
First Thessalonians 2:4–6 and Galatians 1:10 demand that believers speak the truth! They are not here to tickle people’s ears. As J. P. Moreland wrote, “Saint Paul tells us that the church—not the university, the media, or the public schools—is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15).”15
Pilate asked Jesus what is perhaps the ultimate question: “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Five facts about truth that are undeniable are these:
• Undeniable fact one: Truth exists.
• Undeniable fact two: Truth can be known.
• Undeniable fact three: Truth corresponds to reality.
• Undeniable fact four: Truth can be expressed in words.
• Undeniable fact five: Truth is personally relevant.
Content such as what is presented here is designed to equip hearts and heads to stand up for truth. More than just an intellectual exercise, apologetics approaches the pursuit of truth and love for truth as necessary life skills. An authentic commitment to truth involves both orthodoxy (right belief) andorthopraxy(right action). A relationship with the One who called Himselfthetruth (John 14:6) must manifest itself in what one believes and how one behaves.
Though some in today’s culture work hard to suppress the obvious, truth does exist.
• Absolute truth not only exists, its existence is self-evident. What is ultimately true is true at all times, in all places, and for all people.
• Relativism is self-defeating, and therefore false.
• Basic logic helps us to recognize and understand the nature of truth. Awareness of truth as knowledge is available to all reasonable persons, hidden only if they willfully suppress it.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What is truth as we have defined it in this article?
2. What are the three main theories of truth and what do they mean?
3. What does the Christian worldview assert regarding absolute truth?
4. What is Humanism and what effect did it have on the idea of truth?
5. Why is relativism selfish and how would you defend truth to someone who is putting forth a relativistic belief system?
1. F. J. Beckwith, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 19–20.
2. Ibid., 31.
3. Patrick M. Morley, The Man in the Mirror (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 59.
4. C. B. Schmitt, The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 127–28.
5. Ibid., 113.
6. F. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1976; reprint, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1976), 60.
7. Ibid., 71.
8. Ibid., 78.
9. Ibid., 78.
10. L. Rollin, Twentieth-Century Teen Culture by the Decades (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999), 202.
11. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? 205.
12. Ibid., 210.
13. J. Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know (Dallas: Spence, 2004).
14. Kreeft, Peter. How to Win the Culture War (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 61.