Is there absolute truth? Or, is truth relative in the society in which we live? Or, is truth relative to each individual’s perception? How could one know? If there is no absolute truth, what are the consequent realities with which we then must live? If there is absolute truth, what difference would it make?
Like the object in this first illustration, truth may seem elusive, non-sequitur, or even contradictory so it is easy to assume that there is none but wait…the object still seems to exist even with its illusions! So, what is truth, as Pilate once asked Christ. During our mortal existence truth is like this image: a musician with a saxophone, or the face of a young woman? We can choose or just accept both, which is of little consequence here but in matters of eternity, one of those three choices will go on to affect everything else in our lives.
For example, I have always been struck with the 1970’s newspaper story of the Japanese, Buddhist photographer who was watching one of his pictures develop in the chemical solution. He had taken a picture of the melting snow on the side of Mount Fuji. The black and white image formed as the solution took effect and he, with stunned amazement was converted to Christianity as the loving image of Christ crystalized on the paper. Can you see it?
One agnostic writer noted: “We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations. Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow. I call this process belief-dependent realism, where our perceptions about reality are dependent on the beliefs that we hold about it. Reality exists independent of human minds, but our understanding of it depends upon the beliefs we hold at any given time.”
Less we think that this is agnostic propaganda, please note this passing comment in Mosiah 26:3
“And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.”
Understanding follows, rather than precedes belief. Must one believe without understanding??? That seems illogical and contradictory to modern thought, right?
According to this thinking from both sources above, we paint our understanding of our world as a result of our belief rather than discover it through experience. This personal mental map of reality is then constantly being tested and adjusted as we use it to navigate a terrain that we assume really exists…but does it? Could my life, as I experience it all, just be a dream or some “Matrix” product of my imagination or someone else’s?
Postmodernism creates a society that considers that there is no objective truth, all truths are “constructions” … all values, beliefs, lifestyles and statements of truth are equally valid. One might say “No one dares to molest or make afraid!” Tolerance reigns as the only social mantra that seems to gain popular favor. But where does this lead? The consequences of a “relativistic paradigm” compared to a “Truth paradigm” might look like this:
In a relativistic paradigm “…moral life is not built on the continuum of right and wrong; it’s built on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion.… But everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion. There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd. It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along.…” Elder D. Todd Christopherson, Conf. 4/17
The motivating influence becomes the avoidance of shame. Anciently, it was recorded as a means of acquisition and influence, “and this that thy father may not know it,” which in this larger culture could be enlarged to “that no one will know” what you did. This shame motivator leads to a shame culture as opposed to one built on law and conscience where guilt (rather than shame) is the result of misbehavior… because law has been broken or truth violated.
“In a guilt culture, you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture, you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you.
The guilt culture could be harsh, but at least you could hate the sin and still love the sinner. The modern shame culture allegedly values inclusion and tolerance, but it can be strangely unmerciful to those who disagree and to those who don’t fit in.
Contrasted to this is “the rock of our Redeemer,” a stable and permanent foundation of justice and virtue. How much better it is to have the unchanging law of God by which we may act to choose our destiny rather than being hostage to the unpredictable rules and wrath of the social media mob. How much better it is to know the truth than to be ‘tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.’ How much better to repent and rise to the gospel standard than to pretend there is no right or wrong and languish in sin and regret.” Elder D. Todd Christopherson, Conf. 4/17
So, there are many good reasons to desire the existence of “Truth” but how would it be defined. When Pilate asked Christ, “What is truth?” he didn’t wait for an answer. Plato insisted that truth was dependent on a human observer, which is consistent with the conclusions of modern quantum physics. According to light studies and the math models used to explain the observations, parallel realities exist until the energy involved in the act of observing establishes which reality remains, resulting in the elimination of all others parallel to it. That seems to support relativism, but what if the observer that determined “Truth” is God? Hence, the probationary conditions of mortality would enable His observations to eventually establish what is True, a final judgement of our “becoming” rather than our performance.
“All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.” DC 93:30
So, whether truth is a set of facts, including the description of the terrain we attempt to duplicate in our mental maps, or whether it includes the individual…who he or she is, what is this truth? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says, “1a (1): the body of real things, events, and facts: actuality. (2): the state of being the case: fact. (3) often capitalized: a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality.” God says:
“Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” DC 93:23
But now we have three problems! If the truth about something or someone is the knowledge of it in the present, and I can only know things through my senses filtered by my personal paradigms (past experiences, conclusions and feelings), then objectively knowing its true nature (even observable right in front of me), needs to be approached with caution and acceptance of my own subjectivity.
Secondly, if the truth about something or someone requires that I know its past – its history, then I am doubly limited. Not only do I need to concern myself about my own bias but also about those that write or tell the history. I cannot, in reality, know the past because I cannot experience it. So, my ability to know the truth about something is just like what Paul wrote, “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” We must be conscious about our own limitations and not insist that we know of ourselves. This allows open dialogue unfettered by personal self-focused-“know-it-all pride.”
Thirdly, if the truth about something or someone includes knowing its future, we are blocked completely. Until the future becomes the present, the best we can do is predict, based on the history and observations, the earlier two limited lenses above.
So, can people even come to know truth and know that they know? The philosophers who occupy themselves with thinking about how we think – metacognition, call this study of how to acquire knowledge, “epistemology.” Elder Gerald N. Lund contextualized our epistemology:
Whether he recognizes it or not, every person holds to a metaphysical position, trusts in at least one system of epistemology, and holds a personal axiology or set of values and ethics. Furthermore, these three areas of our own philosophy are interrelated. Our metaphysics (our view of reality) influences our epistemology (the way we gain knowledge), and together the two determine our axiology (our values). Elder Gerald N. Lund, Ens. 7/92
Since, as we have seen, we are either inculcated by tradition in our metaphysics or we consciously choose it when options and opportunity present themselves. The effects of that choice dramatically color what is acceptable to us in terms of “how to know” sources. That initial choice makes all the difference as we will see!
Epistemologically, there are three generally acceptable sources and their combinations used to arrive at what we conclude is true:
- Rationalism – the process of gaining and evaluating knowledge by reason through the application of validated rules of logic. Critical thinking skills are just that, skills that need to be learned and honed. There are many professional fields that rely almost solely on rationalism like: psychology, sociology, philosophy, etc. These fields generally deal with non-sensory information like emotions, ideas, etc.
- Empiricism – by contrast empiricism deals only with knowledge that comes from primary sensory experience gained in variable-controlled experimentation or observation using the scientific process of controlled observation culminating in the progressive formation of hypothesis, theory, and finally law; validated in the theater of repeatability by peer review. Some fields relying on Empiricism as the primary protocol for acquiring truth include anthropology, astronomy, agronomy, chemistry, physics, etc.
- Authoritarianism – Used here to mean gaining knowledge from personally accepted authorities which can include books, teachers, leaders, or God. While the two former sources for truth are primarily internally and personally applied, this use of authoritarianism relies on truth gained from outside self, from an authority who gains knowledge from either or both of the two other sources. Those whose choice of metaphysics omit God also limit the possibility of a divine epistemological source.
It is interesting that in the effort to know truth, (though many insist that they know what is True with a capital “T”), that the process of knowing begins with a choice that sets our paradigm through which we will then not only unconsciously filter all the data and experience but also limit or allow potential sources. Since Truth is defined as the knowledge of the past, present, and future characteristics of a thing or person, each of which is outside of individual human reliability, it seems that what is needed is a source outside the limitations of time, one for whom the past, present and future state of all things is always present.
- “past, present, and future… are continually before the Lord” DC 130:7
- “Lord your God, even Jesus Christ… the same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes” DC 38:1
- “all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men.” Alma 40:8
If such a being exists how could one come to know Him and trust Him enough to use Him as a source of knowledge let alone THE ultimate source for Truth? This is a metaphysical proposition that begins with a choice… even before or even without evidence. Before rejecting it based on a past choice to reject something seemingly unobservable, please remember that all conclusions about what we know are subjective even though we have learned to mitigate the risk of deception with controlled peer-review repeatability and rules for critical thinking.
“The decision to believe is the most important choice we ever make. It shapes all our other decisions.”
What is more settling is that the choice to accept the proposition need not be permanent. Like any experiment, the results will be measured after the observations, not before or even during. Believing such a thing as the existence of God sufficient to trust Him can be tested like any other proposition by shifting one’s paradigm temporarily, experiencing the potential benefits, and then skeptically analyzing the results. But belief is a choice and must come first, then understanding will follow. The process of validating this proposed belief is called faith. Though we often use faith to mean acting blindly in the absence of real evidence, that is not what faith means to God. And though we often put our faith (read trust) in a future given outcome, that, again is not faith but rather hope. As we will see, faith is a trust in God not in hoped for outcomes. Much more has been written on faith but note these simple essentials:
Faith is defined in scripture as:
“Now faith is the substance (Greek=assurance) of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
Joseph Smith added that “faith is a principle of action.” (Lectures on Faith 7)
Do you see what I see?
- Evidence comes from the past
- Assurance focuses on a hope in the future.
- A principle of action addresses the present, the only time one in which one can take action.
I don’t think that it is coincidence that Truth requires a knowledge of something across time and the elements that define faith cover those same time phases. And, since Truth, by definition, is unknowable to time-locked, biased humans, but not to a time-transcendent being as God, the solution to accessing Truth is understanding the process of faith by which both God and Truth can be validated and trusted.
Though a correct understanding of God and His nature is essential to trusting Him, lest our incorrect expectations leave us disappointed and accusatory, the focus here is the process of faith by which Truth can be validated. That process must begin by believing in or accepting that the thing in question is true and acting as if it is for a time. During that time, like any empiricist, notes are taken of the observed changes and results experienced. Lest one become enamored with short-term benefits and shallow appetite satisfying results, patience is required while understanding real validating results. These results should reflect each of the source inputs from the epistemology in a measurable manner:
- Rationalism: The results should enlighten the mind, improve understanding, bind other known truths into a more coherent and consistent map.
- Empiricism: It should work and make things easier. With spiritual Truths, it should measurably improve one’s own nature and spiritual capacities such as patience, love, hunger for more knowledge, serviceability, etc.
- Authoritarianism: Here, it is the concept of God that is being tested so as one does what God (the authority) says, then God promises his grace which is desirable to one’s inner spiritual nature and hence delicious – subjective but essential. If it weren’t edifying, then the other two wouldn’t be sufficient.
Furthermore, these three sources serve as how one proceeds through the process of discovery called faith, and thereby, transcend the human time handicap whereby knowing and trusting God and hence, Truth, is possible:
- Past: Evidence from previous experiences both personal and historic rationally analyzed for consistency.
- Present: Empirical data applied in practical, variable-conscious ways that yield real-life measurable results and improvements.
- Future: A growing assurance and hope in divine authority; God and all that He teaches. This results in a delicious, growing, covenantal relationship full of promise and possibility. I say covenantal because in the bi-directional covenantal promises made, we learn to trust God by receiving the promises and He comes to trust us as we are integrous in our promises to Him.
Faith is to Truth as travel is to destination. Knowing absolute Truth is desirable, delicious and essential but requires us to make the trip (faith), and make a choice, in the first place, to believe in the divine source that transcends time and gives access to it. Those who reject God or even just don’t make a choice, also reject absolute truth, condemning themselves to the resultant shame culture like the one in which we are embroiled. Testing God through faith, real applied faith, opens an eternity of possibilities otherwise unavailable, and a life of peace given only by Him.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27
 John 18:38
 Quoted from agnostic author: Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths (New York: Time Books, 2011), 5; by Ash, Michael R. (2013-06-17). Shaken Faith Syndrome: (p. 8). Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research..
 Moses 5:29
 For more details see Oxford University Press, https://global.oup.com/us/companion.websites/9780190628703/sr/ch4/summary/
 For scientific references from quantum physics see the quotes and footnotes in: https://latterdaysaintmag.com/the-surprising-insight-that-quantum-physics-can-add-to-our-understanding-of-repentance/
 See Alma 42:4, 10
 See DC 93:23-24 Ye were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth; And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;
 1 Corinthians 13:12
 Elder L. Whitney Clayton, “Choose to Believe,” Conference April 2015
 “Methodological Doubting and Believing: Contraries in Inquiry.” In Embracing Contraries: Explorations in Learning and Teaching. Peter Elbow Oxford University Press, 1986. 254-300. Sample quotes:
“…Our culture hasn’t developed methodological or systematic believing to match methodological doubting. We haven’t learned to use belief as a tool–as we use doubt as a tool. That is, over the centuries, we learned to separate the process of doubting from the decision to reject. But we haven’t learned to separate the process of believing from the decision to accept. This separation that we made in the case of doubting will feel difficult in the case of believing…The process itself of believing seems tainted; our concept of belief tends to connote commitment. So we tend to feel that believing can never be a part of careful thinking. … methodological believing is a discipline–decoupled from commitment–decoupled from temperament or naiveté or credulity. …it is possible and …makes sense to try to believe things that we don’t believe–especially things we don’t want to believe. And …trying can lead to a kind of conditional or temporary believing.… Just as you don’t have to be a skeptical person to use methodological doubting, we don’t have to be credulous or weak minded to believe lots of things–temporarily–and try to believe even more.
The flaws in our own thinking usually come from our assumptions—our ways of thinking that we accept without noticing–assumptions that are part of the very structure of our thinking. And some of our assumptions are invisible to us because we are part of a community and a culture. But it’s hard to doubt what we live inside of: we can’t see it and we unconsciously take it for granted.
Here’s where the believing game comes to the rescue. Our best hope for finding invisible flaws in what we can’t see in our own thinking is to enter into different ways of thinking or points of view–points of view that carry different assumptions. Only from a new vantage point can we see our normal point of view from the outside and thereby notice assumptions that our customary point of view keeps hidden.
We need the believing game in order to achieve goals that the doubting game neglects. The believing game develops a different kind of thinking, a different dimension of our intelligence or rationality, and also a different way of interacting with others.
“So now I’ll contrast the doubting game and believing game as ways of using the mind and functioning with others:
- The doubting game teaches us to fend off, guard ourselves, spit out.
- The believing game teaches us to welcome or swallow…
…trying to believe an alien idea can make us fear being changed or polluted.
With regard to learning, the doubting game teaches us to extricate or detach ourselves from ideas. In contrast, the believing game teaches us to enter into ideas–to invest or insert ourselves. Wayne Booth talks about the need to learn to “dwell in an idea” if we want to understand it”
 Further discussion on the time transcendence of faith by Elder David A. Bednar here: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2007/09/seek-learning-by-faith?lang=eng Sample quote:
“These teachings highlight three basic elements of faith: (1) faith as the assurance of things hoped for that are true, (2) faith as the evidence of things not seen, and (3) faith as the principle of action in all intelligent beings. I describe these three components of faith in the Savior as simultaneously facing the future, looking to the past, and initiating action in the present.”
 See Alma 32:28
 Bilateral trust is the basis for any relationship. The benefits of being trusted by God include:
- DC 82:10 I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.
- “The reason we do not have the secrets of the Lord revealed unto us, is because we do not keep them.” https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-c-1-addenda/46
- DC 76:5-10 “I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory. And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom. Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations. And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught. For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.“
 See Neal A. Andersen, “Faith is Not by Chance but by Choice,” Conference October 2015