19 Dec Alethia & Maya
Two elementary school girls were seen quarreling with each other during lunch break. They were sitting on one bench but were not on the same page. One of them shouted, “That’s not true. You don’t have proof. There is no God”. The other kid was equally smart, she replied gently, “Well, I don’t believe you. Can you prove that?”
How do you know something is true? Or is there an objective truth beyond and above all the subjective opinions? If so, how do we arrive at it after all? These are the questions that have troubled the so-called ‘wise men’ since the time of Socrates and continue to inspire research papers to this very day.
An objection to objectivity
Everybody knows the age-old story the Jains use to disseminate their doctrine of the many-ness of reality (Anekantavada): 6 blind men describing an elephant as a pillar, rope, wall, snake, fan, and tree. They want us to believe that reality is multi-faceted and that there is no such thing as objective truth. But the fact is that there are a lot of problems with the story. None of the blind men depicts the truth. All of the false claims about the parts can never be put together to form a truthful whole. Tim Keller beautifully sums up the contradiction in this narrative: “How could you know that each blind man only sees part of the elephant unless you claim to be able to see the whole elephant?. . . How could you possibly know that no religion can see the whole truth unless you have the superior, comprehensive knowledge of spiritual reality you just claimed that none of the religions have?”
The reason why contemporary western philosophy and postmodernism in particular have an incredulity towards metanarratives is that for the truth to be objective, there needs to be an ultimate parameter to judge what is true and what is false. Only the Bible can provide such a consistent and coherent metanarrative by which we can test and approve of anything in the world.
Validity of knowledge sources
All the valid types of knowledge can be classified and belong to either one of the three: Sensation, Revelation, and Intuition.
The things we see with our eyes, touch with our hands, smell with our nose, and hear with our ears…These could be called objects of sensory knowledge. The question is whether or not we can trust our senses. Well, a lot of philosophers point out that they can at a lot of times be deceiving.
The 8th-century Indian Philosopher Shankaracharya, inspired by the Upanishads, went to the extreme point of saying that everything that we experience through our sense organs is unreal when compared to the ultimate standpoint (level of Paramarthika). Indian Philosophy says that it is Brahman who deceives the people through Maya, which is the unreal projection of the external empirical world. Shankara better explains this through the analogy of the rope-snake illusion where a man who gropes in the dark, comes across a rope, mistakes it for a snake, and escapes in fear. It is called the level of Prathibhasika or the dream state where the mind creates for itself unreal projections and believes them to be true. Shankara says that one is to gain liberation in this life (jivanmukthi) by attaining knowledge of the reality of the oneness of everything i.e. we are one with the Brahman. His school of Non-Dualism (Advaita) is one of the most famous and influential schools of Vedanta in India.
Now let’s look at what the Bible says about the reliability of our sense organs. Proverbs 20:12 says “Ears that hear and eyes that see— the LORD has made them both.” Why would God want to fool us by giving us tools that give us false impressions of the world around us?
When John writes his first letter, falsifying the first-century heresy of Docetism, he testifies to the humanity of Jesus by appealing primarily to the sense organs.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” (1 John 1:1-3)
Let us now examine ‘Revelation’ which includes all kinds of knowledge derived from authority. Revelation is ‘authoritative’ knowledge acquired supernaturally. Here God is active in emanating his wisdom and the message that he wants to communicate either through nature or through people. 1 Thess. 5:16 says that we can test prophecies. God doesn’t want us to blindly believe anybody; even his ministers aren’t exempted. Similarly, we can also examine the Scriptures and understand that it is the God-breathed word, written for our edification. Only the Bible can withstand the test of truth; correspondence, coherence, non-contradiction, and consistency. Other religious writings can easily be invalidated if it has inherent logical contradictions and inconsistencies or if it goes against obvious scientific facts by pronouncing absurdities like “the sun sets in a pool of muddy water”. One of the prominent scriptures says that its god is the master of deceivers, and it goes on to reject the historical crucifixion of Jesus by saying that it was also a deception. The sad truth is that millions of ‘believers’ blindly believe these lies because the Bible says that it is the god of this age who has blinded the eyes of ‘believers’ so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4). We who are born again serve a God who claimed to be the truth for he has enlightened our hearts to reveal the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)
Some things are known to us intuitively. We have our conscience always telling us what is right and what is wrong. That is how God originally wired our bodies. But when we, in our unrighteousness, started rebelling against God by suppressing the truth, our consciences became seared as with a hot iron (1Tim 4:2). This is why we need thousands of law books with millions of words to guide us in our actions. That is exactly the reason why God revealed His wisdom through the Scripture so that we might not be like the blind leading the blind.
Not only conscience, but we also have our consciousness built by God, which according to Cornelius Van Til, reveals God to us even before any kind of reasoning or sense perception.
“Man’s mind is naturally in contact with God’s revelation. . . It is itself inherently revelational. It cannot naturally be conscious of itself without being conscious of its creatureliness. For man, self-consciousness presupposes God-consciousness.”
Even unbelievers presuppose the truth of God though they verbally reject it. And because of this reason, it is never our burden to convince unbelievers that God exists by giving evidence after evidence. Jews always demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom (1 Cor. 1:22) whereas our mandate is to preach Christ Crucified, not the cosmological argument for the existence of God.
Some valid practices
We live in a post-truth world where almost everyone denies the existence of absolute truth. Many of our friends and colleagues would be agnostics and atheists. While it is important to reveal to them the absurdity of their worldviews, make sure we do that in gentleness and respect. Respect does not mean that we are accepting their views, but respecting them as individuals. We need not call them a ‘brood of vipers’ as John the Baptist did, nor as ‘Fools’ like the Psalmist says. We need to learn to give our friends due respect, by talking gently and not in a harsh manner.
Finally, always revere Christ as Lord. We should never put God on trial; He is to be the judge. Sometimes I feel that many of us refrain from sharing the gospel with others because we feel that we are bearing an unnecessary burden of proof and don’t consider ourselves worthy of having all the answers to the questions the world is going to strangle us with. Consider how Peter, who was just a fisherman, could encourage fellow believers to always be ready with the reasons for the glorious hope that we have (1Pet. 3:15). What is our hope if we don’t believe that the Holy Spirit will give us the right words at the right time? (Luke 12:12). After all it is the work of the Holy Spirit that sets anybody free from bondage and captivity by convicting them of the truth. John writes in his third letter about how joyful he was when he heard that his children testified of the truth that was in them. May God rejoice in us when he sees us, his children, walk in truth.
Danny Heric Pereira is a philosophy graduate doing Masters in Kerala University. He loves engaging in debates and discussions which are thought provoking and sometimes mind numbing. He believes in being always curious about everything and anxious about nothing. He is currently the secretary of the Friends of Neighbors Cell, Kerala.