Video link: https://youtu.be/17BrXmvqqoE
Today we begin a series of posts on the “fact-value split.” The fact-value split describes how pretty much every modern person thinks. It’s a way of thinking in which all of reality has been divided into two parts—a realm of facts and a realm of values.
Nancy Pearcey describes the fact-value split as “the idea that certain things that were traditionally thought to be a matter of truth—like religion and morality and ethics—are actually only personal ‘values,’ and that real truth comes only from scientific and empirical investigation.” 1
In this modern way of thinking, only “facts” are rational and objective, and they are true for everyone. Facts are what people think of as real knowledge, and include such things as the deliverances of the physical sciences. On the other hand, “values” are those parts of reality that we experience in non-rational, subjective ways that are true only for the subject of experience, which is usually thought of as an individual person. Values include religious experience, aspects of personal and family relationships, and moral claims.
To illustrate the fact-value split, over the next few weeks we will look at different ways the fact-value split is manifested in modern thought patterns.
This week’s topic: Relativism.
In the introduction to his highly influential book The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom observes, “one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”2 But problems are revealed by even the most superficial examination of such a claim.
Let me explain.
The statement “truth is relative” is self-refuting. What do we mean by that? It means the statement “truth is relative” has within it a way to show that the statement is not true. And it makes no sense to say that something can be true and not true at the same time and in the same sense.
Let’s watch this conversation between Asa and Buzz:
Asa: Hi Buzz, what’s up?
Buzz: Hey Asa, I’ve been meaning to ask you a question, you know, because you’re a Christian and all…
Buzz: Do you really think there is a God? I mean, it seems like the Bible is just ancient history and not relevant anymore. What do you think, Asa?
Asa: Well… I believe the Bible. “The Bible says Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and that’s what I believe.”
Buzz: That’s cool, I guess. But that’s like, super-exclusive… Shouldn’t we be accepting of what other religions say? I mean, are those people really going to hell if they don’t believe in Jesus?
Asa: Well, that’s what I believe.
Buzz: It’s just intolerant!
Asa: I believe the Bible.
Buzz: Ok, you can believe what you want to, but I think we should be more inclusive. I don’t have to believe what you believe. After all, I mean—you know, truth is relative.
Asa: I hear what you’re saying.
Asa: But I don’t think you understand.
Buzz: What do you mean?
Asa: You said I can believe what I want to, and you don’t have to believe it. Ok that’s fine. But when you say “truth is relative,” that doesn’t make sense.
Asa: It’s like this. When you say “truth is relative,” is that a relative truth?
Buzz: Whoa, hold on…
Asa: The point is, the phrase “truth is relative” is just a clever way to keep people from judging. If no one objects when you say “truth is relative,” then you have just affirmed an unspoken agreement: I promise to leave you alone to do whatever you want to do and you promise not to bother me about what I want to do. You do you boo!
Buzz: Um… ok, I never thought of it that way.
Asa: Truth that is merely relative has no claim on me, because if truth is relative, then I have my “truth,” you have your “truth.” In other words, I just do what I like. But that’s not what truth is. Truth is always exclusive, and often inconvenient and even painful. Truth is objective and it applies to everybody. Truth exists whether I like it or not.
So the next time someone says, “truth is relative,” remember these four things:
1. “Truth is relative” doesn’t make sense—it’s an illogical statement. When someone says “truth is relative,” you can ask, “Is that a relative truth?” to show that it doesn’t make sense. 2. If truth is merely relative, it has no claim on me. Therefore, people can say “truth is relative” to justify doing what they want to do—and that’s the idea. 3. Truth is not relative. It’s objective: it’s true for everybody and not subject to my interpretation. 4. Truth is exclusive: when something is true, other things are false.
- Amy Doolittle, “Facts and Values at Odds,” The Washington Times, September 23, 2004, accessed January 29, 2021, http://www.arn.org/docs/pearcey/np_washtimes092304.htm.
- Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1987), 25.
The Discovery Institute Dallas Conference on Science and Faith 2021 –
Saturday February 20
Denton Bible Church
1. Stephen C. Meyer – author of Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt. Signature in the Cell reads somewhat like a detective story describing the scientific search for the structure of DNA, and makes a case for intelligent design based on DNA. Darwin’s Doubt makes a case for intelligent design as the best explanation for the sudden proliferation of body plans in the Cambrian explosion.
2. Melissa Cain Travis – author of Science and the Mind of the Maker, an inspiring account of the “Maker Thesis” – the idea that nature itself exhibits rationality and order, and that humans are able to discern the rationality inherent in nature. The universe is ordered so that humans can understand it, which reveals that the whole of nature is a work of the Mind of God.
3. William Dembski – author of many books on intelligent design, including Understanding Intelligent Design, which he co-wrote with Sean McDowell. Dembski’s mathematical modeling of abiogenesis shows that life-permitting chemistry could not have developed by chance. As he says, the probabilistic resources of the universe are too small to account for it.