In modern times truth has become a moving target. While ideally, truth should not move, relativism and the post-modern view that no absolute truth has made truth unclear. What does it mean for anything to be true?[1] If everyone has a personal reality, we have no reference point, and discourse over propositions becomes impossible. We may make a declarative point in a sentence, but whether the declaration is true or false is only in the derivative sense. So if we say, “Carlos knows medicine,” the sentence is only valid in the derivative sense if that proposition is true.

Propositions proposed in syllogisms are close to declarative sentences. However, we cannot place declarations and proposals in a one-to-one correlation. We can look at propositions as sharing meaning with declarative sentences. A declarative sentence can express different propositions, just as distinct sentences declare the same proposal.

Correspondence Theory

So what is Truth? There are several fundamental answers, but Aristotle states, “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false,” Aristotle continues, “while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.[2] This is a heady way of stating that the truth most closely resembles reality as it is known. These statements define the correspondence theory of truth. If proposition P is true, then fact relates to P.  The correspondence theory requires that it is a fact and that the proposition corresponds to reality.[3]

Coherence Theory

Another philosophical theory of truth is the coherence theory. In this case, a proposition is true if it aligns with other proposals. The coherence theory allows us to make claims to support other propositions, but only if those proposals are factual. The downside is which recommendations the request should cohere to, to be fact? We also face the dilemma of which propositions are relevant to truth, and possibly no set meets the criteria. If all truth claims in coherence theory are equivalent, every proposal would be true and false. The resulting state violates the logical law of noncontradiction.[4]

Coherence has other problems. As Burgess and Burgess ask, “May not a paranoid’s delusions of persecution be frighteningly coherent?[5] Coherence does not mean that the propositions that cohere represent a valid view of reality. So coherence theory ultimately refers back to correspondence theory in that the proposals cohered to must truthfully represent reality.

Pragmatic Theory

The pragmatic theory also states that the truth must be practical or possess value. It “means this function of a leading that is worthwhile.” The pragmatic approach also faces a problem in that false beliefs can also be practical. As Friedrich Nietzsche points out, false beliefs—beliefs that lack verisimilitude— might be valuable and essential to one’s wellbeing.

Now we are back to what is truth? All of the theories presented here require that there be an objective standard. Some suggest that reality is not external to the mind. For example, Philip Kenneson’s: Truth cannot be out there—can not exist independently of the human mind—because sentences cannot so exist or be out there. The world and God are out there, but descriptions of the world and God are not.[6] Only descriptions of the world and God can be true or false. However, it is a non-sequitur in that truth depends on human minds.

Truth depends on the mind of God. Fundamental abstracts such as mathematics, logic, and moral codes exist universally, independent of individual thought and language. While Kenneson’s claim of taking up a view from nowhere, he means that a worldview is not limited. He then concludes that there is no objective truth. These unsubstantiated assumptions would require him to challenge God’s omniscience.

What is Truth Then?

Truth has several theories that attempt to establish a pattern of recognition. Basic presuppositions put different perspectives and worldviews in competition for the ultimate meaning of truth. The correspondence theory most closely follows accepted modern logic practices in science, but science is limited to what it can prove. Too often, scientism is unchallenged, which is ironic since science’s essential requirement is to challenge assumptions.

See also: Knowing God Intimately

              [1] This section concerns what it means for a proposition to be true; it does not concern itself with how one knows a proposition to be true. As important as that latter issue may be, one should not confuse it with the former. Moreover, even if the question of knowledge were unanswerable (and truth were thus inaccessible), it would not follow (despite postmodern protestations) that there is no truth. Still, the question of knowledge can be answered. (In my judgment, Alvin Plantinga has answered it quite successfully. For Plantinga’s account of knowledge, see his Warrant and Proper Function [New York: Oxford University Press, 1993] and Warranted Christian Belief [New York: Oxford University Press, 2000].) Those claiming otherwise tend to believe (à la René Descartes) that knowledge requires certainty; they then infer the inaccessibility of truth from the elusiveness of certainty.

              [2] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1011b25. The reference is to W. D. Ross, trans., Metaphysics in The Complete Works of Aristotle, vol. 2, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 1597. While this passage serves as the locus classicus for the view of truth here in view, this view does not originate with Aristotle. Cf. Plato, Sophist, 263b.

              [3] Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder, eds., In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishing Group, 2013).

[4] The law of noncontradiction states that a proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense.

     [5] Cf. Burgess and Burgess, Truth, 3.

             [6] Philip D. Kenneson, “There’s No Such Thing as Objective Truth, and It’s a Good Thing, Too” in Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World, ed. Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1995), 159.