Objective Truth Is One Thing, But Objective Moral Truth Is Another

I get the opportunity to train church groups all the time and I relish the chance to talk about the nature of truth. Brett Kunkle and I have been taking a similar approach in this training, offering a “Truth Test” to Christian groups across the country. We begin by describing the difference between “objective” truth (which is rooted in the nature of the object under consideration and transcends the opinions of any subject considering this object), and “subjective” truth (which is rooted in the opinions and beliefs of the subjects who hold them and vary from person to person). We provide several examples of truth claims and ask groups to tell us whether the statements are subjective or objective.

Objective vs. Subjective Truth Claims

As an example, we offer the proposition, “Jim’s car is a Hyundai”. Is this an objective claim or a subjective claim? It is clearly objective. My car is either a Hyundai or it is not, and my personal opinion will not change this fact. The truth is rooted in the nature of the object, the Hyundai automobile, and it is not dependent upon my subjective opinion. Now let’s examine another claim: “Hyundai’s are the coolest (hippest) cars”. This second claim is highly personal depending on what each of us considers “hip” or “cool”. Our opinion about this is rooted in each of us as subjects who hold varying opinions about “hipness” or “coolness”. See the difference? “1+1=2” is an objective truth statement; “Math is fun” is a subjective claim.

Objective Spiritual Claims

But it seems to get trickier for people when they begin to move away from physical realities or math facts. Consider the following claim: “God exists”. Surprisingly, many Christian groups I work with struggle to define this statement as objective. But the existence of God is either a true reality or it is not, and our personal opinion is not going to change this reality. It is something we can either acknowledge or reject, but doing so does not change the reality of God’s existence. Does that make sense? Spiritual truth claims about the existence of God are objective, they are rooted in the object under consideration: God. He either exists or He does not; my opinion won’t change that fact.

Objective Moral Claims

At some point toward the end of our “Truth Test,” Brett and I will begin to post moral claims such as, “Premarital sex is morally wrong.” Now things usually get interesting as the Christians in our groups struggle to decide if there are such things as objective moral claims. Some are very uncomfortable identifying this statement as an objective truth claim. It’s one thing to say that we, as Christians, might believe this statement to be true, but some Christians hesitate to say this is a truth claim that transcends those who don’t accept our Christian values. The culture has effectively eroded our confidence in objective moral truth claims. The new cultural definition of “tolerance” obliges us to embrace all truth claims as equally valid or true. This is an important re-definition, because classic “tolerance” acknowledges disagreement and allows each person to hold an opposing view without having to embrace the other view as equally true. Classic tolerance requires us to endure and respect the people who hold opposing views, even as we resist these views themselves.

The Evidence of Objective Moral Truth

As a result, those of us who fail to respect and retain the classic definition of tolerance are far more likely to deny the existence of objective moral truth claims. That’s why it’s so important for us to be able to provide evidence of such claims. If there are examples of moral claims that transcend time, individuals and culture, we’ve got evidence of transcendent objective moral truth. Let me offer such evidence.

There are many examples of moral behaviors that must be interpreted within a situational context in order to determine their “rightness” or “wrongness”. Consider these important moral questions: Is stealing wrong? (What if you are stealing the detonation code to a terrorist’s nuclear bomb that would otherwise kill millions of innocent people?) Is it wrong to lie? (What if I have to lie to accomplish the theft of the very same code?) See the problem? There are many classically “immoral” behaviors that could be rendered moral if the circumstances were different! But once we add a simple expression to the end of our moral questions, everything changes. Is it every right to steal for the fun of it? Is it ever right to lie for the fun of it? The mere goal of experiencing joy (or fun) is NEVER proper justification for doing what would otherwise be considered immoral or wrong. As a police officer, there are times when I may be justified in using deadly force, but I am NEVER justified in taking a life for the mere fun of it. When we add these few words to the end of our moral questions we discover a plethora of objective moral truth claims that transcend time and culture. It is NEVER right, regardless of location or time in history) to lie, steal, cheat, kill (etc., etc., etc.) for the mere fun of it.

And if we can provide evidence that objective truth claims such as these are a reality in our universe, we must eventually account for such objective, transcendent moral laws. Precisely what kind of transcendent moral lawgiver is required if these kinds of moral laws exist? When Christians are unable to think clearly about the nature of objective moral truth, they lose an important piece of evidence related to the existence of God. That’s why it’s so important for us to continue to train Christians to think clearly about the issue of objective moral truth.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

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