Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Does Absolute Truth Exist?

The following is the opening argument I made in a debate years ago over whether absolute truths exist with a friend . Please tell me if you agree or disagree.

To say that absolute truth does not exist, is to imply that in some sense, that all knowledge is subjective or relative, and that no piece of information could be independently and objectively verifiable. In abstract concepts like numbers and mathematics we clearly find universal constants that have no deviation. Einstein’s beautiful equation that E=mc2, has been proven repetitively by the most modern scientific instruments of today. And even if it were to be disproven, all that would simply mean is that there is another truth out there, which is currently beyond our scope of knowledge.

Surely of course there are ideas that have their truth lay in opinion. For example, if one were to ask “Is Brittany Spears talented?” this of course would be a matter of individual tastes. An absolute truth cannot lay in opinion or preference, or even consensus, it must be objective. It must be true and verifiable regardless of whether anyone agrees with it or not. That is one of the beauties of science: it’s true whether you believe in it or not. The close-minded religious fundamentalists who think the Earth is just 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs coexisted with man have no argument in the face of contradictory evidence. Their “reality” is forever intellectually silenced, and the evidence in this case is the objective truth.

Now suppose that you believe that reality is just a projection of one’s thoughts and ideas. So in a sense, if in my reality the inverse-square law doesn’t apply, then it is not an absolute truth. Let’s say I regard it just as another person’s mathematical theory, unsupported by evidence, easily falsifiable, and made up by some geek with too much time on his hands. Or let’s say that in my reality, the Aztecs defeated the Spanish conquistadors and their empire is still prospering to this day, unabated. One can go on believing these things all they want, and for as long as they want, but wouldn’t they be a little detached from reality, much as the wildly imaginative Don Quixote? This also reminds me of my gullible father falling for The Secret and thinking that his mere thoughts were going to change the nature of the whole Cosmos.

Absolute truth is also married to absolute reality; that is to say, a reality that is objective to anyone’s subjective interpretation of it. September 11th, was a joyous day for some, but a devastating day for others. Regardless what how one thinks about those events that transpired that day, the objective truth is that they happened. Now I don't deny that we have evidence that our consciousness can affect quantum particles and in a sense affect reality, but even if aspects of reality are subjectively true, it would still be absolutely true that aspects of reality are subjectively true. 

Logically speaking, saying that absolute truth, or any truth for that matter, doesn’t exist, is contradictory. For example, if you assert absolute truth does not exist, then if you’re right, wouldn’t your statement then be an absolute truth? In other words, wouldn’t it be absolutely true, that absolute truth doesn’t exist? This assertion would then be a logical contradiction, because such a statement would be completely self defeating. You cannot say that truth doesn’t exist, because in order for this to be right, it would have to be true. The only logical option is that truth does exist, and if truth does exist, absolute truth follows thereafter. 


  1. Now I don't deny that we have evidence that our consciousness can affect quantum particles and in a sense affect reality
    I don't think this is the case. If we assume the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM (which involves collapse), even a dump particle collector is enough to trigger the collapse.

  2. This assertion would then be a logical contradiction, because such a statement would be completely self defeating.
    That would depend entirely upon what system of logic you were operating within, wouldn't it?

    1. See, for example, paraconsistent logics which aim to deal with and include statements which would be contradictory in other systems of logic.

    2. I'm no expert on paraconsistent logic, but to get around this problem you'd have to find a way to circumvent the law of non-contradiction. It seems to be either way you're stuck accepting it.

    3. I'm no expert either.
      As I understand it they either relax or do not include the law of non-contradiction (in the similar way "fuzzy logics" ignore the law of excluded middle).

    4. I think the law of non-contradiction is the most important law of logic, it's important for every dichotomy. Imagine someone saying god both exists and doesn't exist and trying to have a debate about god with such a person. It's as bad as debating a creationist!

    5. I think that the context of the claims is important and therefore claims to "absolute truth" don't make sense.
      If you're making claims about reality, concerning whether some entity exists or not, then you end up with something akin to classical logic to model this.
      however, the axioms underlying classical logic fail to model quantum phenomena, and so we have a different system of logic to model those (Quantum Logic).

      There doesn't seem to be any actual candidates for "The Logic", at least we don't have one as yet.

      So I think the question "Does absolute truth exist?" nonsensical, rather than true or false.

    6. I'm well aware that quantum phenomena violates some of our classic logic. I even use that as an argument against the theist's assertion that "something from nothing" is axiomatically impossible.

      However, it is possible that an absolute truth could exist relative to a particular subjective reality. The existence of the subjective reality would itself be an absolute truth. So we could say, "It is absolutely true that relative to X, Y is true.

    7. I think we actually agree, though I wouldn't actually call that "absolute truth", since it is relative to the axioms you adopt, etc.

      I'm not sure what you're trying to get the term "absolute" to do here.
      My only discussion concerning "absolute truth" was with a fairly confused theist who tried to use the claimed existence of absolute truth as evidence for the existence of God :-)

    8. When I say absolute here, I mean objective - irrespective of opinion and not completely subjective. Really though this argument I made was to show that at some level absolute truth must exist, even if the only absolute truth is that there is no absolute truths.

    9. Maybe we don't agree :-)

      I think you need some sort of context around that, whether it be the axioms of classical logic, or whether it be reliance upon empirical investigation, or what have you. In lieu of this sort of context, I don't see how you can say something is true.

    10. Looking at this from a purely logical point of view, if you say there is no such thing as an absolute truth, wouldn't that be an absolute truth, if it were true?

    11. I don't see why. From my perspective, the phrase "absolute truth" doesn't make sense without additional context.
      If you're simply using "absolute" as a synonym for "objective", that's all well and good, but what does it mean to say something is objectively true?
      It seems to me that in explaining what you mean, you end up including a lot of context (within the axioms of classical logic, within external empirical reality, etc). To simply state that "absolute truth exists" without including this context seems to me to be nonsensical.

    12. It is true that absolute and objective are not necessarily the same thing. For example, absolute morality and objective morality are not the same. So would you say that objective truth exists? Objective meaning independent of opinion. Do you believe that there is an objective external reality?

    13. For example, absolute morality and objective morality are not the same.
      I find that absolute is often taken to mean transcendant, esp with regards to things like morality and truth.

      So would you say that objective truth exists?
      Something can be true in a system of logic regardless of the preferences of a person. Regardless of how much I might wish "2 + 2 = 4" were not true using standard mathematical notation (and relying upon set theory/peano arithmetic, or what have you), that doesn't change the fact that "2 + 2 = 4" is correct within that system.
      That doesn't mean that you and I could not state that "2 + 2 = 5" and have it also being objectively true, assuming I change the notation in use, or something else.

      Objective meaning independent of opinion.
      I'm not really sure what you mean by this.

      Do you believe that there is an objective external reality?
      I accept that the evidence of my senses, applying some axioms of logic (simply applying reasoning to the problem) shows that an external reality exists, but this still relies upon the rules of right reasoning and the like.

      I'm not sure if you're saying this, or if I'm not understanding you, but I don't see how you can say "X is true" or "X is objectively true" or "X is absolutely true" without referring to some set of rules or axioms or something. I don't see how "truth" can exist independent of a theory of truth (I also don't know if what I'm saying makes sense if one studies theories of truth extensively, since I have not).

    14. 1. Theists like to hijack morality and ground absolute/objective moral concepts in transcendent beings, but it doesn't work. For something to be objectively true it need not transcend the universe.

      2. Aside from notation of course, wouldn't mathematical truths be absolute and true in every possible world?

      3. When I say for example "X is absolutely true", I mean that no one's opinion can falsify that truth, and that its truth is dependent on a logical and/or physical reality that everyone could in principle, independently verify and reach the same conclusion, regardless if there is a given external objective reality as an axiom.

    15. 1. Agreed. Objective is often used with different meanings depending on what is being argued at the time.

      2. Mathematical truths are derived from the axioms of whatever mathematical system you're working in. If you have the same system with the same rules, then the same truths can be derived.

      3. I think we agree on this, I think I just disagree with your terminology, since it's too easy for people to mistake your meaning :-)



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