Now days there is a lot of talk about alternative facts and alternative truths in all aspects of society and culture from news to politics to life, religion and philosophy. There are times when a truth for you may not be a truth for another person, for instance, you may absolutely love coconut and think it is the the best tasking food on earth while I hate it and think it tastes awful. I like the movie Stuck in Love and other people may think it is the worst movie ever made. Like or dislike is extremely subjective and is dictated by the individuals tastes and perceptions. There are many things in life where two people may have differing view points that are both true such as whether or not a movie is sad or scary, and whether or not the water is too cold to swim in. There are also things, many things in fact, that are universal and absolute truths.
In the example of the coconut or the movie, we would both be right because our like or dislike of coconut or of a movie is not based on any truth that can be objectively measured but rather on our individual tastes. A movie may be sad to me because it reminds me of something in my life while it does little or nothing to stir you and the water may be too cold for you because you are not feeling well and the water feels great to me because I just went for a run, and obviously this is just a made up scenario because I don't run.
Some things, however, are true whether we believe them or not, are true whether we agree with them or not, and are true for everyone, even those who deny they are true. Denial of the facts or ignorance of the facts does not change the facts. One such example that comes to mind immediately is the chemical makeup of water; each and every water molecule is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom and that is an absolute truth. If I were to say that my water is composed of two hydrogen atoms, three carbon atoms and nine zink atoms it would certainly not be water regardless of what I claimed my personal truth to be. Just because something seams true to an individual does not make that thing actually true. Each and every one of us are wrong every day on a great many things.
In his book, Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descarte said that he knew a man who thought he was a gourd and nothing anyone could do or say would change his mind. The man's mind had created this elaborate story and structure to defend his delusion from outside attack, but it was a delusion nevertheless. A lot of people, not just mentally ill people, construct elaborate mental defenses to justify and protect their views because it is easier and more comfortable to protect something you know is wrong than to adopt a new set of views.
Descarte starts his first meditation with the statement, "Several years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on such principles was highly doubtful; and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of building from the foundation, if I desired to establish a firm and abiding superstructure in the sciences."
Descarte went to the very structure of what he held to be true, including whether he even existed, and that is where he came up with the statement, "I think, therefore I am," meaning that since he had the ability to ponder whether or not he existed that meant that he existed. Once Descarte was satisfied that he existed he examined what he was and what the world was, and eventually he examined whether or not there is a God and his meditations are widely considered to be one of the greatest arguments for Christianity that has ever been written.
I say the God of the Bible is real and is the one and only God, ashiest say there is no god, and many other world religions claim another god or gods, and each person can claim that their world view is the one that is true and all others are false, which makes intellectual sense, but to say that their religion is true for them and mine is true for me is absolutely ridiculous. Either there is a God or their isn't and either your religion is correct or it isn't, but it is not possible that all of those contradictory and competing ideas could be true. If two claims contradict one other than one, or both, of the claims must be false.
In an algebraic equation two arguments are set on opposite sides of an equal sign, indicating that the two sides are the same. More often than not there are variables within the equation and we are trying to figure out what the value of the variables are. Whatever is done to one side of the equation, multiplication, division, etc. must be done on both sides so they stay equal in order to find what the true value of the variable is. If we unbalance the equation we make it untrue and any answer we come to as a result of that also must be untrue. If there is an equation that said something ridiculous such as 5=90 there is nothing we can do to make it true because there is no way that 5 and 90 are the same.
2+2=4 is true statement whether we agree with it or not. In the brilliant book by George Orwell titled 1984 the government controls all aspect of live, including what people think. If anyone is believed to be thinking anything that is against the government they are tried as a thought criminal, tortured until they actually believe the government is correct, and then killed once they publicly proclaim their treason, the goodness of the government and their new undying devotion to it. The protagonist, Winston, wrote that freedom is the power to say that two plus two equal four. Later in the book, Winston is arrested as a thought criminal and taken to be tortured and when he is interrogated by a government agent he is told that two plus two is five if Big Brother, the name given to the leader, says that that it is or any other number he says it is. The "truth" was whatever Big Brother said it was. If you have ever heard the term Big Brother in relation to the government or anyone in charge, it originated from this book.
Winston was eventually broken to the point where he believed two plus two was five and went from hating Big brother to loving him and was told that once he got to that point he would be killed because everyone had to die for their crimes but they would not kill anyone while they were in rebellion because they wanted no martyrs. After torture and intense brainwashing, Winston was sitting in a diner of sorts next to a chess board, drinking victory gin. Big Brother came on a television screen and Winston looked up and said, "I love you." Winston was so brainwashed that he fully believed everything the government said was absolute truth, even if it contradicted what he saw heard, smelled or felt, and even if it contradicted what they said was truth five minutes ago, such as what the sum of two plus two was. Winston and all the other people may have firmly believed Big Brother, but that did not make any of it true. Truth is not determined by popular opinion but by what is. The book does not tell us whether or not Winston was killed, but it really doesn't matter because they killed who he was without killing his body; he might as well have been dead because they all but lobotomized him.
There are not too many people who have not seen the Star Wars movies, but just is case I will explain a bit about the story so that my point may be understood. The story centers on a mystical power that holds the universe together called the force, which has two sides, light and dark, and there is always talk of it needing to be in balance. Anakin Skywalker, better know by his alter ego, Darth Vader is one of the most well knows characters in the franchise. Before he became Darth Vader the sith lord, Anakin married Padme and she became pregnant with his children, twins.
I am, obviously, skipping huge portions of the story, but Anakin is brainwashed by the evil Emperor Palatine and turns evil himself, even killing children who are studying to be jedi. In Anakin's absence, Padme gave birth to the children and died. Anakin was challenged by his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi and lost most of his limbs in a fight where he was then left to die . Anakin thought his children died with his wife and that it was his fault, which isn't completely relevant to the point I am making. The twins were separated and sent to different planets where they were to be hidden and kept safe.
Fast forward twenty some years to the adult son of Anakin Skywalker, Luke, who lives on Tatooine with his actual family, retaining his Skywalker name. Apparently they got lazy when they hid him. Anyhow, Obi-Wan Kenobi lived in the nearby wilderness as a hermit so he could keep an eye on Luke. Luke's Uncle buys some droids, which leads to Luke's family getting murdered and Luke running into Obi-Wan Kenobi and leaving with him to save his princess sister that he doesn't yet know is his sister. Somewhere along the way Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke that Darth Vader murdered his father.
Later on Luke faces Darth Vader and Vader realizes that Luke is his son and tells him as much. Of course, it comes to Luke as a great surprise that not only is his father not dead but the second most feared man in the galaxy, the most feared being Emperor Papatine. After getting his hand lobbed of by his estranged father, Luke confronts the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi and asks why he lied to him about his father to which Obi-Wan Kenobi says that what he told him was "true from a certain point of view."
It was a long way around getting to the point, but if the truth has to be distorted to make a statement appear true than it is not true at all. When Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke that his father was dead, murdered by Darth Vader, he knew it was a bald faced lie and not even remotely true, from any point of view. I could rob a bank and then years later when I was caught say that I wasn't the one who robbed the bank because I had changed and was therefore not the same person as the one who had robbed the bank, but that would not mean that I had was not the one who robbed the bank. When my defense was heard the court may likely say, "Congratulations on the change, here is twenty five to life to give you a chance to change even more."
I may identify as the president of the United States of America but I would still get shot if I tried to walk into the white house like I owned the place. It might be true to me that I am the president but that doesn't mean that it is actually true. The truth is either I am the president or I am not, and acting like I am, in fact, the president won't make it so but would send me to a mental hospital, to jail, or to the morgue.
Using the "true from a certain point of view" argument, one could concoct all sorts of lies and when called on them deny they had lied and say what they had said was, in fact, true from a certain point of view.
Often times when there is a dispute in a relationship, between siblings, in a business arrangement, between neighbors or whatever it may be, one side will tell his or her side of the story and then the other will give theirs, which will differ greatly from the other person's version. He or she may present it as alternative facts, but that simply cannot be; either something is a fact or it isn't. What it can be, however, is additional facts. It is quite common to leave details out, whether intentional or not, and the other person or people involved may also leave out some details they would rather people not know. If left out information is not the case and both parties claim different facts than one or both of them are lying.
A mother may see that her favorite vase has been knocked off onto the floor and broken and question her two children about the incident and both of them tell the truth in response while still not giving a full picture of what actually happened. The first child, we will call Tim, may say that the second child, we will call her Sally, knocked the vase off the table and it broke on the floor. Sally might then admit that she knocked it off the table but it didn't break when it hit the floor and Tim broke it when he tripped over it while chasing the dog. In this scenario both Tim and sally told the truth, but Tim left out some details so it would look like the incident were Sally's fault alone. Now, if Tim said the vase came to be broken by Sally knocking it off the table and Sally said Tim broke the vase by intentionally stomping it after it fell, Tim's statement would be true but misleading and Sally's statement would be a lie, not alternative facts, not additional information but a lie.
A lot of people seem to hate the idea that there are any absolute truths, especially when talking about issues relating to morality, especially Biblical morality. Of course, people go so far as to say that murder isn't always wrong, cheating on your spouse isn't always wrong and I have even heard people argue that pedophilia and rape isn't always wrong. I hope I am not alone in saying that there are absolute moral truths and murder and rape, especially of a child, is always wrong.
On multiple occasions a person or people asked me if I thought it would be immoral to go back in time and kill baby Hitler and I responded with a resounding yes. As a baby, Hitler was innocent and they would be murdering an innocent child. I wonder why no one ever says they wish they could go back in time and kidnap baby Hitler so they can raise Hitler differently so he would not grow up to be a monster. Why is murdering a baby always the go to argument?
I was an atheist for three or four years, and even as an atheist I knew that some things are unequivocal, absolute and undeniable truths, though I admit that some of the things I think of as absolute truths as a Christian were not on my list of absolute truths when I was an atheist. Still, I knew better than thinking there is not truth or that anything can be true if someone wants it to be. Some things just are the way they are, despite how much we would like them to be different.
When someone says to me that there are no absolute truths I inquire if that is absolutely true, and if they say that it is I then point out that it also makes it false because the statement that there is no absolute truths can't be absolutely true because it would be absolute truth.
The way in which we view reality, which does nothing to change reality, is at least partially altered through our memories, which are fundamentally flawed and are filtered through our views and experiences. I remember one class when I was in college where three random people were chosen from the lecture hall and brought to the front of class to look at over the room for ten minutes and then turned to face the opposite wall. When the professor asked the three students about the details of the room, despite the volunteers doing their best to remember, not a one of them had the details correct. The human mind is apparently more skilled at remembering generalities than specifics and no one remembers things as clearly as he or she thinks they do.
It is not a rare occurrence for a person to be absolutely sure of something only to later be faced with overwhelming evidence that they are, in fact, wrong. I have been unable to find who originally said it, but I read a quote once that said, " When an honest man finds that he is mistaken he can either cease to be mistaken or cease to be honest." If a notion, view, doctrine or opinion espouse is revealed to be false and you ignore the evidence in favor of what you want to believe than you are not being honest with anyone, least of all yourself.
Another of the many things spoken of in the book Nineteen Eighty Four is the principle of doublethink which is explained as, ""The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies - all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth."
A prime example of doublethink comes from another of Orwell's books, Animal Farm where the pigs put up a sign that read, "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others," or an equivalent modern example is people who believe in the declaration of independence when it says that all men are created equal yet believe that certain races are lesser than their own.
Another example would be people who claim to be patriots and have American flags on everything yet stockpile guns in preparation for when, in their minds, the government comes after them because, you know, you can't trust the government of the country they proudly proclaim as the greatest country on earth. It requires no small amount of doublethink to both believe that you are a patriotic American while fantasizing about overthrowing the American government. Some people employ double think to justify their conflicting views on truth, namely they think it is absolutely true that there are no absolute truths, or they think everything is true yet nothing is true or everything is true except for what you believe.
Our truths are not different, just our perceived realities, and just because we perceive something a certain way does not make it true. I once had a neighbor that thought a demon was haunting him and hurting him but before he could show anyone the injuries the demon would heal them so he had no proof. When he asked me if I believed him I said, "I believe that it is real to you" but when pressed had to admit that I thought he was deluded. "You have to see how this sounds from my perspective," I said to him.
When I was in my twenties I had a conversation with a man that was at least fifty years my senior and he related to me an instance when he had lunch with an atheist friend who offered to pay for his lunch if he could prove there was a God, to which he upped the offer and said to his atheist friend that he would pay for the lunch of everyone in the diner if he could prove there was no God.
Through the rest of lunch the atheist sat quite until finally the man asked his friend what was the matter and inquired if he had offended him.
"I was thinking about how I could prove there is no God," the atheist man said, "and I realized that in order to fully know there was no God I would have to know everything that has ever happened in order to know that God had nothing to do with it, and I would have to know everything that will ever happen to know that God would never have anything to do with it, and if I know that I would be God."
Similarly, in order to know for a fact that there are no moral absolutes we must know that there is no divine presence that creates and/or dictates the universe, and in order to know that for sure you would have to know everything about the universe to know that a God isn't controlling it.
I can say that your views on what is absolutely wrong or absolutely right are wrong, and you may say the same about my views, but in order to be intellectually honest about it when we say there us no absolute truths we would have to possess intellect and knowledge that no person may possess. There are a lot of things that are absolutely true so I don't see how it is much of a stretch to believe that there are absolute moral truths as well. The problem a lot of people have with accepting the possibility of absolute moral truths is that it, of a necessity, implies that there is God or some sort of divine ruler and that sin is real, which means that there are implications for how one lives his or her life and they simply don't want to be told how to live their lives, least of all by the God who created them.
Some of what was discussed in this episode will be important for the episodes on Mormonism, especially the points that either something is true or it is not and the principle of doublethink. Next episode I will be discussing a little more about the LDS Church, and in particular, before I get too far into the doctrines or history of the church I want to firmly establish the fact that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not and has never been Christian.