Lovers of Truth
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (Jesus Christ in His high priestly prayer, John 17:17, ESV)
I know people who are totally convinced that human-caused global climate change is an undisputed scientific fact. I know of others who are totally convinced that the “science” which supports belief in human-caused global climate change(1) is fraudulent, that the methods of climate science which allege to demonstrate a human cause are flawed, and/or that the whole thing is ultimately propaganda designed as a smokescreen for greater government control of our economy and more government intrusiveness in our daily lives. As for me, while I definitely lean toward being skeptical (and even somewhat cynical) of the claim that global climate change has a human cause, at the same time I must admit that I am not a climate scientist, nor can I claim to have researched this topic with any degree of real depth. In other words, I must admit that I am not really competent at this point in time to have definitive views on the topic one way or another. Epistemological humility(2) demands that I admit my limitations and lack of competence to address the issues of climate science with any kind of real authority, and that I be open to going wherever the evidence might lead. Holy Scripture demands that as a professed follower of Jesus Christ, the One who called Himself “the Truth” (John 14:6), I am to be a lover of the truth and a seeker of truth. Of course, from a biblical standpoint the most important truth we are to seek is that spiritual and redemptive truth which is revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, that truth which results in eternal salvation to all who believe. But the truth of redemption is not to be divorced from the truth of creation or the truth of providence, for (as the saying goes) “all truth is God’s truth,” God’s Word speaks (either directly or indirectly) to all these areas, and God’s mighty acts of redemption take place within the context of God’s creation and providence.
I use this illustration of the issue of human-caused global climate change to bring up two points: 1. I believe that many who have strong convictions on controversial issues like this do not really have an objective basis for their strong convictions; for they, like me, are not really competent to address such matters. In the case of an issue like climate change, I believe that this is the case on both sides of the issue. Many who believe strongly in human-caused climate change simply don’t have the scientific credentials nor a well-researched knowledge of the subject to hold their convictions with integrity; and likewise many passionately convinced “deniers” lack the credentials and the knowledge to hold their views with such conviction. Epistemological humility is sorely lacking on both sides when it comes to controversial issues like this one. 2. When it comes to controversial issues like this one, we all tend to believe what we want to believe, instead of being willing to go where the objective evidence leads, even if it leads us to uncomfortable conclusions. We choose ideology over truth. Like zealous sports fans, we pick a “team” to cheer for, and we support our team no matter what. But if we claim to be believers in the God of all truth, and if we claim to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself the living, Incarnate Truth, then we have an ethical obligation to be lovers of the truth.
Of course, one of the biggest apologetic(3) challenges in the church today is defending the very notion of objective truth. It used to be that the biggest challenge in Christian Apologetics was to defend the objective truth claims of Christianity (for example, the existence of God, the miracles and resurrection of Christ, the inspiration of the Scriptures, etc.). Now it would seem the biggest challenge is defending the reality of objective truth. As those who profess to be Christians and who believe in a biblical worldview, we are convinced from Scripture, sound reason, and daily experience that objective truth does indeed exist. In fact, whatever philosophy or worldview we may profess (whether Christian or not), we all live our lives as if objective truth exists. It is impossible to do otherwise. For example, even the most skeptical, postmodern philosopher who denies the reality of objective truth still looks both ways before crossing the street. He lives his life as if it were objectively true that stepping out into the street in front of moving traffic will almost certainly result in bodily injury or even death, even though in the setting of a philosophy class he may deny the very philosophy of objective truth that leads him to look both ways before crossing the street. (All of which demonstrates that he doesn’t really believe his own relativist philosophy.) But the issue of apologetics aside, assuming that objective truth exists (and God’s infallible Word affirms that it indeed does), then should we not be lovers of the truth, seekers after the truth, and confessors of the truth which we embrace? The biblical answer, of course, is absolutely yes!
Here’s the bottom line: When dealing with issues about which the Holy Scriptures are either silent or which they do not directly address, let us as believers exercise more epistemological humility. Let us not be afraid to pursue the evidence wherever it leads. Let us not be afraid to ask hard questions. (Indeed, let us be suspicious of those who would seek to prevent us from asking hard questions by imposing speech codes or who would seek to cut off debate on controversial issues; such tactics are usually an indication of a hidden agenda.) Let us avoid abusive ad hominem(4) and name-calling(5). By the grace of God, in all things let us be seekers of truth and lovers of truth, for we confess and follow the One who is the living, Incarnate Truth of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
(1) Which, as skeptics of human-caused climate change like to point out, used to be called “global warming” not too long ago.
(2) Epistemology is that branch of philosophy which deals with the question, “How do we know what we know?” It deals with theories of knowledge. When I use the term “epistemological humility,” let the reader understand that I am not using it in a radically postmodernist sense which would basically deny that we can know anything with any kind of absolute certainty. Scripture teaches that some things can be known with absolute certainty because of the fact that God has revealed these truths in His infallible Word. But Scripture also teaches that we cannot know God or His truth exhaustively or comprehensively, and that in this present age we see as through a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). So a biblical worldview supports both an absolute certainty in the truths which God has revealed in Scripture, as well as an epistemological humility when it comes to matters about which the Scriptures are less clear or which they don’t directly address.
(3) Apologetics is that branch of theology which has to do with the defense of the Christian Faith and its truth claims. An “apologist” is one who seeks to defend and vindicate the truth claims of Christianity in opposition to the arguments of skeptics and critics of the Faith.
(4) Ad Hominem is a logical fallacy which involves attacking the person instead of dealing with the substance of his arguments. This fallacy tends to deflect attention from the issue at hand and puts the focus on personalities. It tends to stir up emotions and usually creates more heat than light. This fallacy is a very common feature of today’s cultural and political discourse, and it is unworthy of those who confess Jesus Christ as their Lord.
(4) An extreme but very common example of such uncharitable name-calling would include certain believers in human-caused climate change who slanderously label anyone who even questions their position with the emotionally-freighted term “denier!” This is a particularly offensive term, since it implies that those who either deny or question belief in human-caused climate change are on the same ethical level as those who would deny the Holocaust. A “right-wing” example of such name-calling rhetoric would be those who label all pro-environmentalists as “tree huggers.” Such childish rhetoric is unChristian, and it contributes absolutely nothing to civil discourse or to the intellectual life of our society.