What they or I meant by ‘absolute truth’


It seems that whenever a creationist doesn’t understand something I said, they immediately accuse me of lying. It could never be that I’m mistaken, or that they simply don’t agree; I have to be deliberately attempting to deceive someone.

As if.

Religious people have every motivation to lie, not just because they believe something that isn’t true, but because their faith requires that they defend that belief even when they know it’s not true, and I can show plenty of references to where believers have admitted that.

I have no motivation to lie, and every reason not to.  My position depends on truth, because science seeks to improve understanding, and the only way to do that is by correcting errors -including my own- if anyone can point one out to me. Once that happens, and they show me my mistake, I thank them and carry on correctly.  That has happened many times in my life.  However this is NOT one of those occasions.

The ‘most blatant error’ this guy points out is where he dices my comment in order to remove the explanation, and where he completely misunderstood what I said.

Which brings us to the third foundational falsehood of creationism; the assertion that any human’s understanding of their various internally-conflicting and inter-contradictory beliefs should, -or even could- be considered infallible or inherently accurate. 

In reality, there is no such thing as “absolute truth”, [because] everything within the capacity of human understanding contains a degree of error, and everything men know to be true is only true to a degree.  Everyone is inevitably wrong about something somewhere.  We don’t know everything about everything.  We don’t know everything about anything!  And what we do know, we don’t know accurately on all points nor completely in every detail.  Honest men admit this.  Anyone claiming to know the absolute truth is not being honest, especially not when they claim to know anything about things which can only be believed on faith.  Even if men were given genuine revelations by truly omniscient beings, they must still be filtered and interpreted by weaker minds influenced by our limitations, biases, and misimpressions, as well as linguistic and cultural barriers.
In the history of history itself, no account human journalists have ever given has been absolutely complete, inerrant, and perfectly accurate…..

The bolded lines are the ones he mined.  See how it means something different when you keep them in context?

Now, granted I did not say ‘because’ in the original video. I didn’t think I had to. I thought it was pretty obvious that I took ‘absolute truth’ to mean essentially the same thing as a perfectly complete knowledge. I guess I was trying to be philosophical, looking for the deepest possible meaning of ‘truth’. What I meant, (and I admit that I didn’t say this as clearly as it seems I should have) is the limits of human understanding are such that our knowledge will never be perfect enough to be called ‘absolute’.

However in November of 2011, I was in a debate with Pastor Bob Enyart, and he pressed me on this same point -making the exact same argument.  It quickly became obvious in the course of our discussion that he wasn’t using so lofty a definition as I was. So I asked him to clarify.  Turns out, all he thought -and all ANY apologist thought- that ‘absolute truth’ meant was whether we could know anything for certain.  That’s it!

It was so simple!  Here I was playing way beyond their game and having to repeatedly re-explain the quoted paragraph for every newbe-leaver who saw the 3rd Foundational Falsehood of Creationism.  When I found out how utterly basic the theists’ definition was during that debate, I remember saying, “I wish I knew that before”!

So later on, when I met Eric Hovind at the Reason Rally, he immediately asked me whether we could know anything for certain, and I said “yes”.  Later he tried to say that I actually said ‘no’, but he kept the video available online. So people will know better. The point is that if I had met him back when I made the 3rd FFoC, and he had asked me whether I believed that humans could claim knowledge of absolute truth, I would have given the opposite answer.

But since this guy brought it up. Yes, there are some things we can and do know for certain. The testable and verifiable fact that the Bible is wrong -about ‘the flood’, about the Tower of Babel, the firmament, the Garden of Eden, and a host of other things, is a matter of scientific certainty. Through an independent international consensus analysis of overwhelming evidence by expert specialists in every relevant field, regardless of religion, we can know that certain elements of the Bible’s fables have been conclusively disproved beyond redemption.  Even though we don’t know absolutely everything, and we don’t know anything in completely flawless detail, we do still know that much for absolutely certain. Your man-made mythology is wrong. Sorry. Get over it.

Comments

  1. tonyinbatavia says

    I love it when you get them off their scripts. The minute they are off script, they have to quickly shuffle through their neurons to see if they have an apologetic for the unexpected. Or, like Hovind, act like you never changed your answer.

    It reminds me of one of those choose your own adventure books. You can re-read it a number of times with different roles, but ultimately it is a finite story and a finite number of pages. After apologists have followed the known paths, they have nowhere else to turn. And because it’s all just one big closed system linked to their holy book, they never add any new knowledge into the system. And that’s the absolute truth.

  2. hoary puccoon says

    Just free-associating from this: I can’t know absolutely the length of the coastlines of the United States or the Netherlands because coast lines are basically fractals. Do I measure every inlet, every rock, every grain of sand, every molecule or atom or quark? But I can know for sure that the coastline of the United States is longer than the coastline of the Netherlands.

    This is the kind of thing Karl Popper was getting at when he said science proceeds by disproof. You can’t know down to exactly the last quark what the world is like. But you can eliminate a whole lot of possibilities.

  3. mobius says

    His quote-mining was even worse than you point to with

    In reality, there is no such thing as “absolute truth”,

    and

    what we do know, we don’t know accurately on all points nor completely in every detail. Honest men admit this. Anyone claiming to know the absolute truth is not being honest,

    He goes even further and cuts the second quote down to

    what we do know, we don’t know accurately

    and uses this statement to argue his point. But this is not a good representation at all of what you said. In fact, it says something quite different. This is a case I have noticed with so many apologists. They have no sense or understanding of qualifiers.

  4. says

    I really have to gawk at these people sometimes. Are they aware they’re living, or do they just not care? How do they rationalize the immorality of lying when they claim to be representing the bastion of morality?

    It does render any discussions difficult, because it’s like sitting down at a computer, trying to interact with it, and all the screen displays is random gibberish.

  5. Freethinkin Franklin says

    Appears to me whoever the meme is in the video, has lots of time logged chasing his primordial tail. Sticking with the videos thyme, all in all hes just another brick in the wall….. Well done

  6. Mr. Dave says

    If I ever find myself in a situation where an apologist such as the likes of Hovind or any other apologist requested an interview, I would never do so without measures in place to preserve the recording of that interview as it actually happened. Even then, it would only be if I was particularly motivated by some reason to want to converse with someone that I would have no trust in right off the bat. At this point, it looks like all of the most popular apologists not only do not care about the truth, they do not care about honesty or honoring their given word. The faithful that think I’m being prejudiced against these apologists need to take a closer look at their history. There are plenty of examples of behavior that are worthy only of mistrust and contempt. That is, if the faithful themselves aren’t just as dishonest and contemptible.

  7. otrame says

    Ha. I have often thought of making up a t-shirt that says “The earth is about 4.6 billion years old.” and then on the back it says “Get over it.”

  8. says

    It’s a simple concept fundies can’t ever seem to get. There is an absolute truth to the universe. We’re human. We’re limited by our brains and our resources, so we can only get approximations of it.

    Many fundies like to say that we have no excuse for not believing in their god, but the fact that we’re human provides no shortage of “excuses.” We realize this and hedge our bets based on our observations and how well they line up with our predictions. We also keep an eye out for the times when we can be proven wrong so we can humbly change to more accurate theories if it happens.

    Faith is picking out an explanation through arbitrary means and having the arrogance to stick with it when the falsity of its predictions piles up.

  9. says

    I think you’re probably being a little more deferential to the concept of “absolute truth” than you need to be with regard to what science knows and doesn’t know.

    F=ma. Won’t ever change. That’s an absolute truth.

    There are millions of scientific facts, factoids, and formulas that are absolute truths. It’s when you start coalescing these into theoretical frameworks that you run into some small difficulties.

    Although since the Higgs boson (and Higgs field) were confirmed, the standard model of particle physics is now complete. Which means it’s an absolute truth that there can be no such thing as an afterlife. Because it would be a hidden field that the model says not only does not exist, but cannot exist.

    When you’re talking about dynamic, fluid processes like evolution, I think you’re right in saying that the “absolute” truth is harder to get at. Primarily because the “absolute truth” of the processes of evolution are not as cut-and-dried as those of particle physics. There’s Darwinian evolution, non-Darwinian evolution (eg, gene transfer), epigenetics, and on and on.

    But the “absolute truth” underpinning it all is that life (as we recognize it) started as single-celled organisms and then evolved over the eons into fish and flowers and fluffy bunnies and dinosaurs and us – not necessarily in that order. That’s as absolute a truth as you can get. Do we know the precise pathways? No. Don’t have to. Anymore than we need to count the individual grains of flour in a loaf of bread in order to bake it.

    What theists are doing, of course, is playing a little bait-and-switch game. They want “absolute truth” to be completely granular when it comes to science, but when it comes to their brand of absolute truth, they want it to be completely amorphous. For Christians, it’s John 3:16. Problem is, after the first word, us atheists can provide plenty of questions about this “absolute truth”. Their “absolute truth” is nothing but meaningless, nonsensical illogical twaddle.

  10. tiberiusbeauregard says

    Some self-famed apologist tried his stunt on me and I summed up his position like this:

    “Because we (=every non-christian non-theist) can’t know -anything- to a 100% degree of certainty (because our epistemological axioms like “I exist” cannot be ultimately verified), we therefor know -everything-to a degree of 0% certainty. Unless of course, our epistemological basis of knowing is ‘Gawd’.”

    And that’s all presuppositional apologetics has to offer – a simple non-sequitur, mixed with some word play…
    What a fcking waste of time…

    • Monocle Smile says

      I usually call this the “99=0″ fallacy…the idea that anything less than 100 on any given scale (certainty, knowledge, completeness, etc.) is the same as 0 on that same scale.

  11. says

    All certainty necessarily exists on a scale from 1-99 (with 0 and 100 being absolutes). To claim that absolute certainty exists would be to claim that no possible future discovery can be made which might necessitate a revision or update of our current knowledge set.

    Since no one can reasonably make that claim, no one can claim absolute certainty about anything.

    When certainty meets a particular threshold, one calls it “knowledge”. But knowledge is just a word we use to express a relatively high degree of certainty – not an expression of anything absolute.

    Creationists speak in such elementary-school terms that you have to pretty much meet them on surface-level terms in order to even understand what they’re saying. It’s like talking to a third-grader.

    I’ve known creationists that literally cannot define even the most basic terms such as “faith” and “belief”. I am not exaggerating. And the punchline is that when I point to a dictionary they accuse me of making up definitions as I go along.

    • Freethinkin Franklin says

      Also bewildering is their lack of understanding the term “theory”…. Most are clueless as to the fact that electricity and gravity are “theories”….. It speaks volumes about them.

  12. Mohamed says

    Someone said on debate.org that an absolute truth is exist, here it is :

    “Absolutely, I say. Absolute truth must exist because the negation of the claim is self refuting. Suppose I say, “Absolute truth does not exist.” The statement itself is either absolutely true, or it is not absolutely true. If it’s absolutely true, then it must be false (it contradicts itself). If the statement is not absolutely true, then it must have an exception. If it has an exception, then that exception is absolutely true. Besides that, I can name some absolute truths. It’s absolutely true that contradictory claims cannot be true at the same time and in the same sense. It’s absolutely true that circles are round. It’s absolutely true that the sum of the angles of any euclidean triangle is 180 degrees. Etc.”

    Then, a rational individual respond like this : “The idea that something must be definitely this or that is a human creation that is useful in every day living, but may not be actually valid. In quantum mechanics, an electron doesn’t have to be here or there, it exists everywhere in a cloud of probability. Just the fact that I’m arguing with you now assumes that the answer must be “yes” or “no.” However, perhaps our concept of truth is flawed, perhaps truths aren’t polar, but exist on a continuum or have a probability. How can we know anything for sure if we are constrained by our physical bodies?”

    Then, an anon (maybe a desperate theist?) responded : “Are you absolutely certain that “the idea something must definitely this or that” may not actually be valid? Is it absolutely true that in quantum mechanics, an electron doesn’t have to be here or there, it exists everywhere in a cloud of probability? Is it absolutely true that perhaps our concept of truth is flawed? Is it absolutely true that truths perhaps aren’t polar, but exist on a continuum or have a probability? Are you certain that we can’t know anything for certain if we are constrained by our physical bodies?

    Do you get it yet?”

    How to disprove absolute truth? Those annoying theists still insisting that absolute truth exists.

  13. corwyn says

    Suppose I say, “Absolute truth does not exist.” The statement itself is either absolutely true, or it is not absolutely true. If it’s absolutely true, then it must be false (it contradicts itself).

    Nope. That is a category error. Absolute truth does NOT mean that every statement is either absolutely true, or not absolutely true.