Why Truth Matters Most: An Apologetic for Truth-Seeking in Postmodern Times
Groothuis, Douglas, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
The word "truth" is a staple in our language and in every language. One cannot imagine a human language lacking the concept of truth. Such a language would never inform anyone of anything: it would lack any intellectual access to reality. No language qua language could be so constrained (although some political and celebrity "discourse" comes close). The idea of truth is part of the intellectual oxygen that we breathe. Whenever we state an opinion, defend or critique an argument, ask a question, or investigate one kind of assertion or another, we presuppose the concept of truth-even if we do not directly state the word, even if we deny that truth is real or knowable.
The notion of truth haunts us, ferreting out our shabby thinking, our lame excuses, our willful ignorance, and our unfair attacks on the views of others, both the living and the dead. Conversely, when our own ideas are misrepresented or our personal character falsely maligned, we object by appealing to something firm and hard that should settle the issue-the truth. In these cases, we sense that something is wrong-not with the truth itself, but with its inept handlers. Truth seems to stand over us as a kind of silent referee, arms folded confidently, ears open, eyes staring intently and authoritatively into everything and missing nothing. Even when an important truth seems out of reach on vital matters, we yearn for it and lament its invisibility, as we yearn for a long-lost friend or the parent we never knew. Yet when the truth unmasks and convicts us, and we refuse to return its gaze, we would rather banish it in favor of our own self-serving and protective version of reality.
Nevertheless, a variety of postmodernist philosophies and postmodern social conditions have tended to undermine the notions that objective truth exists in the first place. Truth has been dissolved into language games, ethnicity, and other contingent social arrangements. It is constructed, not discovered. Rather than elaborate on these truth-eroding acids,1 this paper develops a general apologetic for the significance and value of both objective truth and truth seeking. Many works of Christian apologetics assume that unbelievers want to know the truth, but have simply failed to avail themselves of good arguments to that end. While good arguments are indispensable, they are not sufficient because the unbeliever may never seriously consider these arguments due to their various truth-suppressing habits and proclivities. The apologetic seed, however excellent, must find fertile soil in which to grow.
Reflecting on Jeremiah's concerns along these lines (see 17:1-5), Eugene Peterson notes that "[t]he presumption here is that the kinds of lives we lead, who we are, not just what we do, are huge factors influencing our access to truth, any truth, but especially the Truth that is God." In other words, "The understanding of the knower must be adequate to the thing being known."2 Many in the postmodern world have given up on the existence of objective truth entirely, and so find no need to pursue it. There is, therefore, an apologetic need and duty to: (1) defend the concept of a knowable and objective truth philosophically and to (2) commend the virtues requisite to attaining it. The focus of this paper is on (2).3 Although I will not give a rigorous defense of the reality of objective truth, I assume that the concept is neither unknown nor absurd to even to the most ardent postmodernists. In fact, the concept is tacit in all their assertions and in all their denials. The arguments presented here will build on this assumption and proceed to challenge the truth-denier to become a truth-seeker.
In the pursuit of an honest reckoning with truth for apologetic purposes, I will first broadly explore the relationship of truth, self-deception, and personal virtue. Then I will consider specifically how humility relates to the quest for truth, address the vice of intellectual apathy, and discuss the truth-avoiding temptations of diversions, and the truth-attracting possibilities of silence. …