Posts Tagged ‘truth’

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Will The Real God Please Stand Up! (Part 3)

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

I began this series by exploring some of the reasons why beliefs about God cannot all be true. I then asked if there was any way to test the various beliefs that we have about God in order to determine which of those beliefs are more likely to be true.  What followed from that was a summary of the evidence that we find in various areas of philosophy and science that strongly support the idea that God exists.  In addition to that, we found that this same evidence provides clues that can give us some insight as to the nature and character of God.  Using that criteria to test the validity of various beliefs about God, I pointed out that only Judaism, Islam, and Christianity had passed the test thus far.  The only question that remains is this:  Is there any way to determine which of those three is most likely to give us the truth about God?  At this point, it all comes down to a question of authority.

In order to explain what I mean, we need to return to the example that I gave in part one of this series.  (If you haven’t read part one, it would be helpful to do so before reading further).  We imagined a table upon which I had collected papers that you sent in to me that expressed the various and contradictory beliefs that you have about my dad whom you’ve never met.  Now imagine that I write down a detailed description of my dad and add it to the pile.  Out of all of the descriptions, which description carries the most authority in giving us the truth about my dad?  Obviously it would be my description in this particular case.  When it comes to the truth about my dad, I can speak with authority on that topic, only because I have “inside information” about him as a result of having a privileged, unique, personal relationship with him.  The point is, on any given issue, it is always the case that some people are going to be in a better position than others when it comes to having access to the truth about that issue or topic-  it’s unavoidable.  It’s important for us to note that there is nothing “arrogant”, “intolerant”, or “narrow-minded” about someone claiming to have the truth about something, so long as they have the credentials to speak authoritatively on that topic.

Now let’s apply that same principle in our attempt to find the truth about God.  The question that we all need to ask is this:  Is there anyone in history whose life and words were so unique, so extraordinary, so different, and whose credentials are so obvious that if anyone has access to the truth about God, it would have to be that person?  May I suggest that the most likely candidate is Jesus of Nazareth.  Let’s consider his credentials.  He was born of a virgin.  (It’s worth noting that this detail about Jesus is even acknowledged in the Qur’an).  Those who knew him admitted that they could find no fault in him.  He fulfilled the Old Testament Messianic prophecies down to the finest detail. He was seen by eye-witnesses to demonstrate power over nature, to heal the sick and to raise the dead.  Finally, as the ultimate proof of his authority, he raised himself from the dead, as verified by numerous eye-witnesses including his enemies (Saul, for example).  In short, Jesus’ qualifications put him in such a unique category that if anyone has the “inside track” when it comes to the truth about God, if anyone can speak with authority on this topic, it has to be him.  If Jesus doesn’t know, then no one does.  The only way we will ever know the truth about God is to take Jesus’ testimony seriously.

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Posted in Theology | 2 Comments »

Will The Real God Please Stand Up! (Part 2)

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

In part one of this post, I was taking a look at some of the clichés that have become popular in our culture when it comes to religion-  namely, the idea that “all beliefs about God are equally true.”  In the process, we discovered that slogans of that kind often make the mistake of treating belief and truth as if they are the same thing when, if fact, they are not at all the same thing.  Furthermore, we established that all beliefs about God cannot be true because they are making contradictory claims about God.  This eventually led to the question:  Is there any way that we can verify which beliefs about God actually correspond to the truth about God?  Before proceeding to that question, I think that it would be best to begin by addressing those who would insist that it’s rather pointless for us to even ask such a question since we cannot know anything about God.  In response to that, let me quickly say that if God has chosen to remain anonymous by leaving it entirely up to us to figure it out for ourselves, then they are correct-  we cannot know.  However, if God has chosen to reveal himself to us by some means, then this gives us the ability to sort out which beliefs about God are more likely to be true about God.

There are many compelling reasons why I think that God has, in fact, intentionally revealed himself to us.  Both time and space in this post do not allow for a thorough presentation of the various evidences from philosophy and science for the existence of God.  That alone is such a huge topic that it deserves and requires a series of posts that I plan to address in the future.  For now, let it suffice to say that the list includes such evidence as the origin, immensity, and fine-tuning of the universe, the information content of DNA, the countless examples of obvious design that we observe in nature, and our shared moral intuitions that transcend time and culture.  When all of the evidence is combined, it requires an intelligent Cause of the universe and everything in it, who is greater than the universe itself.  In order to best explain the evidence, this First Cause must be self-existent, eternal and all-powerful (to explain the universe), all-knowing (to explain the complexity and variety of living things), moral (to explain our shared moral intuitions), and personal (to explain conscious, creative human persons).

This information alone begins the process of narrowing down the options in our attempt to determine which beliefs about God are more likely to be true.  If we begin with the evidence, as well as the characteristics that God must possess in order to best explain that evidence, it serves as a “filter” through which we can process various beliefs about God.  For example, if the combined evidence points favorably in the direction of God’s existence, then it is highly unlikely that belief systems such as atheism, agnosticism, or Buddhism are true, because they either deny God’s existence or imply that God doesn’t exist.  They disqualify themselves on the basis that they do not fit the observable evidence.  If conscious, self-aware, creative human beings (persons) are best explained by a personal Creator, then any belief system which claims that God is an impersonal force or energy immediately loses traction.  Again, they disqualify themselves because they do not comport with the observable evidence.

Once we’ve processed all of the world’s beliefs about God through this “filter”, the only three belief systems which remain are Judaism, Islam and Christianity.  Is there any way to narrow down our search any further?  Is there any way to determine which of the three “finalists” is most likely to give us the truth about God?  That will be my topic in the third and final part of this series.

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Posted in Theology | 1 Comment »

Will The Real God Please Stand Up! (Part 1)

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

“All religions are equally true.”

No religion is the ‘right’ one or the ‘only’ one.”

“It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.

It’s not uncommon these days to hear such catchphrases whenever the topic of religion or God is being discussed.  In fact, our culture today places such a premium on tolerance and diversity that if someone even suggests that all religions are not true, that person is going to be labeled as everything from “naïve” to “hateful”.  It certainly seems to be the case that over time, more and more people have come to accept the idea that all religions are true.  But is that really the case?  Is it possible for all religions to be equally true?  If not, then why have so many people bought into the idea that all religions are true?

The more I encounter this question, the more convinced I am that one of the biggest reasons that there’s so much confusion and disagreement on this is the failure of most people to understand the difference between belief and truth.  In conversation, I have found that it’s quite common for people to use those two words interchangeably as if they were the same thing, but they are not the same thing.  As we are about to see, there is a significant difference between belief and truth.

To illustrate, suppose that I asked those of you who never met my dad to write down what you sincerely believe to be an accurate description of my dad.  Write down what you believe about his physical appearance, as well as a description of his character and his personality.  Suppose that I asked all of you to submit your descriptions to me, and then imagine all of your papers spread out on a table in front of me for review.  What we now have represented on that table are various beliefs that people have about my dad.  Obviously, there will be a great deal of diversity among those beliefs because they are contradicting one another in their descriptions of my dad’s eye color, hair color, weight, height, personality, etc.

Even though this is a simple illustration, it contrasts the stark differences between belief and truth.  It tells us that:

1)  All beliefs cannot be true because they are oftentimes making contradictory claims. (My dad cannot be five feet, ten inches tall AND six feet, two inches tall!)

2)  No matter how sincere a belief may be, if it doesn’t agree with the truth, it is a false belief.

3)  The truth is not going to change in order to conform to one’s beliefs. His beliefs must change in order to conform to the truth.

Since it is reasonable to think that these unchanging, fundamental principles regarding the nature of truth apply to other truth claims as well, we have every reason to think that these same principles apply to truth claims about God.  Even though we recognize and respect the fact that there is a diversity of different cultural beliefs about God, that is a very different thing from saying that all of those beliefs are equally true!  In fact, as we’ve just seen, it is impossible for all of them to be true because in most cases they are making contradictory claims.  The atheist believes that there is no God.  Most religions believe that there is a God-  both claims cannot be true. Some religions believe that God is a vague, impersonal force whereas others believe that God is a specific, personal, moral, intelligent Being-  it cannot be the case that they are both correct.  Just as with the illustration about my dad, all beliefs about God cannot be true, and any belief about God that does not correspond to the truth about God is a false belief.

I’m not sure why we are so shocked or offended by that.  After all, entire cultures have been shown to hold false beliefs about much simpler truths.  For example, throughout history there has been a diversity of cultural beliefs about the earth with regard to its shape, its composition, and the means by which it travels.  But regardless how long or how sincerely those cultural traditions were held, their beliefs turned out to be false.  The point is, if entire cultures have been wrong in their beliefs about something that is much more accessible to them, it should come as no surprise to us that they may also be wrong when it comes to something that is much more difficult to grasp- that is, the truth about who God is and what He is like.

So, where does this leave us?  Is there any way to verify which beliefs about God correspond to the truth about God?  Can we know the truth about God?  If so, what is it?  In my next post, we will examine these questions and more.

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  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.