The Argument from Truth

Omniscience could not fail to comprehend all truths, and anything less than omniscience would fail as an understanding of the whole truth. Further, only omniscience could fully understand the whole meaning of even a single proposition, so as adequately to evaluate its truth value; for the infinite extent of the realm of the possible entails that the potential consequences in experience of the truth of any proposition are necessarily infinite in number, and until one knows all the consequences of a concept, one cannot fully comprehend its meaning. So only an omniscient being can know the whole truth, or the whole meaning of any one truth. If therefore a proposition is true, it must necessarily be found among that set of propositions entertained by God as the whole truth. So only the propositions entertained as true by God can in fact be true. Other beings may understand their truth, to be sure; but if any truth is to be at all apprehensible by any creature, it must first have been entertained as such by the Divine Mind – for had it not been thus Divinely understood as true, it could not be true at all, to anyone. I.e., it would be false.

Put another way: If God knows a proposition is true, then other beings may have a shot at recognizing that truth. But if he knows that a proposition is false, then it just is false, and no being whatsoever can have a shot at recognizing its truth. If there are truths at all, then, it can only be because God has known them as true.

The only question, then, is whether there be such a thing as truth. If so, God necessarily exists. OK, then, here we go:

  1. A proposition can properly be said to be true if and only if God exists & has understood it as true.
  2. So, if any proposition is true, God exists & has understood it as true.
  3. “There exists no true proposition,” being self-refuting, is necessarily false.
  4. Some proposition is true.
  5. God exists.

Note that, because 3 is necessarily true, so is 4. So, God not only exists, He exists necessarily.

The weakness of this argument is that, like Anselm’s Ontological Argument, it proceeds from a definition, which is open to challenge as being tendentious. So how strong is the definition? The definition follows, not from a presupposition that Divine omniscience is a fact, but from the consequences of a Humean skepticism about the possibility of accurate, adequate creaturely knowledge. Such skepticism says that, if there be no God, then in our scientific efforts we have nothing but our own frail faculties to rely upon, & we are left at best with an ultimately unjustifiable pragmatism as the only criterion of “truth.” Pragmatism is a way to cope with Hume, & a good one. But under a wholly Pragmatic epistemology, there can be no justifiably privileged opinion about the true state of affairs. But this just means that so far as Pragmatism is concerned, beings can agree with each other only happenstantially, and not because they agree with the truth. And this means that there cannot be any such thing as a true state of affairs – or, to put the case more bluntly, there can be no such thing as a state of affairs, at all – and, thus, no coordinated world such as the one we seem to live in. Rather, all our impressions of the order and regularity of the world are mere illusions. Hume saw this quite clearly. If he is right, then we live in chaos. But one can’t live in chaos; lives, personal careers through the world, depend upon the good order thereof. If that order does not really exist, then it is not even possible to be a skeptic. Skepticism, then, presupposes a world, which is ipso facto ordered (a state of chaos cannot constitute any thing or system), and with which we may potentially agree. For skepticism depends upon the possibility of error, and if truth is absolutely unattainable, then there is no way to err in its apprehension. If you cannot possibly be exactly correct, it is nonsense to talk of error, for in that case the categories both of correct and incorrect are simply empty, and there is therefore no way to make a meaningful statement.

To be a skeptic, then, one must presuppose that there are true propositions. But the truth of those propositions cannot derive from mere creaturely epistemological operations, for these are fallible. The truth of true propositions can derive, then, only from the epistemological operations of an infallible omniscience. Only omniscience can know that absolute truths are absolutely true; and if omniscience knew that there were no such truths, there just wouldn’t be any. But, in that case, it would be true that omniscience truly knew that there were no truths; a contradiction. The utter non-existence of true propositions, then, is utterly ruled out.

Here, then, is a more accurate statement of the argument:

  1. Only an infallible omniscience could absolutely establish the whole truth of a proposition.
  2. If there is no such thing as that absolute establishment, there are no wholly true propositions.
  3. “There exists no absolutely true proposition,” being self-refuting, is necessarily false.
  4. Its opposite is therefore true: there exist absolutely, wholly true propositions.
  5. There is an infallible omniscience.

11 thoughts on “The Argument from Truth

  1. Hi Kristor,

    The argument depends in an essential way on excluded middle (3 to 4). If we are to uphold the Platonic conception of truth embodied in excluded middle, that for any proposition, either a proposition or its negation is true then we must either accept it blindly, as many mathematicians do, and treat it as an essentially meaningless rule of inference, or to offer some sort of metaphysical justification. However I would contend that the only coherent metaphysical justification for it is the existence of God (otherwise we may be led to suppose that propositions have some sort of independent existence.)

    If we accept excluded middle blindly (or somehow manage to afford an agnostic justification for excluded middle) then we come to a problem with 5, that there might exist absolutely wholly true propositions that cannot be established. This is not as absurd as it sounds, variants of it happen all the time in mathematics. For example by using the full axiom of choice (which implies excluded middle) it is often possible to prove that certain mathematical objects exist yet impossible to exhibit an example of that object (for instance it may be proven with the axiom of choice that every vector space has a basis, so that the real numbers have a basis as a vector space over the rationals. However, Exhibiting such a basis has never been done). Yet these “potential” objects are treated as existing. It is thus correct in that mathematical framework to say that it is wholly true that such and such object exists while not being possible to exhibit it. In the same way I see no reason in the framework of accepting excluded middle without justification not to allow wholly true propositions that cannot be established.

    • Interesting. So without God, you get a Pythagorean Limit but no actual exhibitable act of Limitation. You can infer the Limit, if only because inference per se supervenes upon it. But there seems then to be nothing to stop thought from wandering at any moment into the outer darkness where there is no thought.

      Or, as the Fathers might have said, without God you have a Stoic logos but no Living Word. Or as the Prophets might have put it, a Law with no Lawgiver.

      It was this problem that led Plato to infer the Demiurge, and Pseudo-Dionysius to assert the necessary eternity of the manifest Trinity, as distinct from the Supra-Personal Godhead.

      All arguments that we don’t need a First Cause to explain what is because existence is just a “brute fact” beg this question. A merely brute fact is simply unintelligible. But we find the world intelligible. So existence *can’t* be merely brute.

  2. Pingback: The Argument from Finity | The Orthosphere

  3. It’s a bit weird in that the lynch pin of the argument is statement 3, otherwise stated, there are absolutely no absolutes. I hate predicating anything on a prevarication of a term in clearly stating such an act of intellectual dishonesty as false. Let’s try this.. 3. Absolutely speaking, there are absolutes. Ah@! But man is a relative being subject to change, growth and decay. HIs intellect is sequential in nature able to only think one thought at a time. But absolutes aren’t anything like that. They are complete and precise, not subject to change neither can one assert he understands a truth as an absolute when he only knows such truths in part. So if man is a relative and not an absolute being how can he assert that there are such things as absolute truths, much less KNOW an absolute?

    (talk among yourselves and stay tune)

    • So if man is a relative and not an absolute being how can he assert that there are such things as absolute truths, much less KNOW an absolute?

      We can know that there are absolute truths because the proposition that there are none is self-refuting. It is necessarily false; so it is necessarily true that there are absolute truths. And, we can know an absolute because we can know (at the very least) that there are therefore absolute truths.

      From our partiality and relativity it does not follow that we can comprehend no absolute truths. It follows rather only that we cannot comprehend them wholly and absolutely.

  4. Hello Kristor,

    I find your argument extremely interesting. I am a theist myself and I know there is a direct link between God’s existence and the existence of Truth. I think there is great potential with this argument, but that it can still be improved. I think more explanation should be given as to what truth is and why it cannot exist without God. Perhaps it’s just me who hasn’t fully grasped the depth of your argument though. I think a further argument should perhaps be made to explain why “If truth exists, then there is a God who has apprehended it as absolutely true.”

    Also, you have put a lot of emphasis on God’s onniscience, and His knowing absolutely and infinitely the truth. My question: is there an infinity of truth to know, and, if so, how could it ever be known (since it’s infinite)? In fact, mustn’t you yourself be omniscient to make this assertion? Is there an infinite realm of possible? And why can’t we recognize the truth value of any proposition? I understand we’re limited in knowledge and that because of that we may not be able to see all the implications of ar least some propositions, but, then, is there anything we can actually “wholly” know? Someone else in the comments said something similar.

    Moreover, I’m not even sure why God Himself, and His attributes, have to be infinite. He could be immensely, unimaginably great, but why infinitely so? Is that really necessary? Does it even make sense?

    What are you thoughts?

    • Thanks for your interest. Those are a lot of good questions! I’ll take a shot at answering them, in the order you have presented them.

      1. What is truth? What do we mean when we say that a proposition is true? We mean that it agrees with reality. In what does that agreement consist? In the homology between the proposition and the experience to which it refers; which it intends to indicate, and which (by means of a synecdochal participation) it means. In what does that homology consist? As the aetymology of “homology” indicates, it consists in a shared logos, or form: homos, “same” + logos, “relation, reason, order.”
      2. Why can’t truth exist without God? Because if there is no perfect knower, there is no perfect knowledge; and without perfect knowledge there can be no such thing as imperfect knowledge. You can’t err from a perfection that is not there to begin with. There is no such thing as borogoves, for example. So, there is no way to be a defective borogove.
      3. Is there an infinity of truth to know? Yes. Consider: is it possible that there are infinitely many possible worlds? Obviously, yes. Well, if it’s possible that there are infinite possibilities, then all those infinite possibilities are possible. It’s tautologically true.
      4. How could infinite truth be known? By omniscience, only.
      5. Mustn’t you yourself be omniscient to make this assertion? No. We can know things without being omniscient. And this is true even of our knowledge about God. We can know things about him without knowing everything about him. And we can know those things about God without fully understanding what it is that we know. Consider: you don’t comprehend infinity, but you do know that infinity is boundless, right? I mean, boundlessness is right there in the structure of the word “infinite,” and in its definition. But you don’t need to be boundless yourself in order to know this. Why? Because the boundless is implicit in the bounded. Just as you can’t be an imperfect man if there is no way to be a perfect man in the first place, so that the perfection of manhood in its fullness is implicit in your imperfect manhood, so likewise you can’t be bounded if there is no unbounded in which to be bounded. The boundless is the Receptacle of the bounded. But this entails that the bounded partakes of the boundless.
      6. Is there an infinite realm of the possible? Yes. Why? Because that realm is possible. See the third bullet item above.
      7. Why can’t we recognize the truth value of any proposition? We can. It’s just that we can’t establish the truth of a proposition; nor can we exhaust its meaning, so as to comprehend it perfectly. We can, rather, only discern it. And we can discern the truth of a proposition only if the truth is already there to be discerned; is already established; which is to say, is already exhaustively comprehended.
      8. Is there anything we can actually wholly know? No. We can know only in part.
      9. Is it necessary that God be infinite? Yes. For any finite being, no matter how great, it is possible that there could be some greater being. But God is ultimate. By definition, there can be nothing greater than the ultimate. So he must be infinite.

      Now to respond to one of your statements:

      I think a further argument should perhaps be made to explain why, “If truth exists, then there is a God who has apprehended it as absolutely true.”

      I’m pretty sure what you are really asking for here is not another argument, but a fuller explanation of the argument that I have already given, on some points thereof that still perplex you. Rather than rehashing the whole post again, I would prefer to address those points precisely – especially since it is not unlikely that other readers have encountered difficulties with the very same scandals. Could you please tell us what they are?

      • Thank you for your quick reply, Kristor!

        I think I understand your argument better now. If one is to believe there is such a thing as a complete knowledge of reality, and that truth exists, then one has to conclude that God is the only sensible explanation for that belief since no human can possess such a complete knowledge, although we do know that it exists and we know about it even if only in parts. Hence the field of science which aims at discovering more and more of that complete et of knowledge. Correct?

        I am going to have to ask for some more clarifications about infinity. I have read about possible worlds when I studied Alvin Plantinga’s version of the Ontological argument. However, I am not certain I really understood what He meant. Isn’t there only one possible world, namely, this one? That is, all that is actually possible also actually exists?
        I am not yet convince that there must be an infinity of possible realms anyways. I mean, there has to be a limit to the ways reality could be, or to what God could have created, logically speaking at least. When you speak of an infinity of possible worlds, do you mean by that that there is an infinity of ways reality could have been? I guess you could always have a bigger universe. Perhaps God could create more kinds of substance and material. Perhaps He could make more laws. But infinitely so?

        Now, the only thing about God at this moment that I’d be ready to admit is infinite is God’s eternal existence (whatever that exactly means, whether it be in the form of an infinite timeline or in some form of absoluteness). To me, the concept of infinity doesn’t really make sense. I mean, it does but only in principle, not in actuality. In what other ways could God be infinite?

        Btw, if there is an infinity of truths to know, does God Himself even know them all? It doesn’t seem possible to reach the completeness of infinity, you always have an infinity left to know.

        Ok. The last point now. Actually, your argument prompted me to express my ideas in the form of an argument. Here is what I meant by a further argument (I already had something in mind), though this is still more of a draft:

        I define the truth as being the proper interpretation of reality, the proper way to think and view the world.

        The basic form:
        1. If God does not exist, then truth does not exist.
        2. Truth does exist.
        3. Therefore, God exists.

        The more complex form:
        1. The statement “There is no absolutely true proposition” being self-refuting, there is at least one true proposition that exists and that is the statement’s negation.

        2. Therefore, truth exists.

        3. Truth is true independently of any human opinion. (That is, if someone does not know about it, or if someone denies it, it remains true nonetheless. Ex: the earth is round and orbits around the Sun)

        4. However, truth can only be apprehended by a mind.

        5. Truth is therefore a subjective experience.

        6. If there were no mind to conceive it, the truth would stop existing, which would be a contradiction, for if truth is to be absolutely true, then it must exist absolutely as well and hence couldn’t stop existing. (Or else, it is only relatively true and that means it isn’t actually true. Truthfulness would not be any more true than wrongfulness, if it could only be so relative to us, for it would only be an illusory impression, devoid of any real significance (see C.S Lewis’s argument against naturalism (Miracles chap. 3) and Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism). Our experience of truth would only be physical in nature and essentially a colliding of many atoms and arragmgement thereof. How could one physical state be said to be any truer than another? And if natural evolution brought our reason and experience of truth to exist, how could we say it’s really reliable and meaningful? We couldn’t really say that our minds were made to make sense of the world accurately, but only to increase our survival chances.)

        7. Since truth is absolute, and that it depends on at least one mind to exist, it follows that there must be (at least) one absolute and eternal mind that experiences the truth.

        8. There has been a time when humans did not exist, and it is also highly probable, if not certain, that humans will stop existing sometimes in the future. (the implosion of the universe someday, or the sun exploding)

        9. The truth therefore cannot depend on a human mind in order to exist.

        10. Therefore, God exists.

        My argument focuses more on the need of a conscious mind for truth to exist. I know it isn’t perfect and that it needs some refining and adjusting, but I think there is some good potential with it. What do you think about it?

      • Truthseeker, thanks again for your interest in these topics. I will try to respond to each of your queries, again in the order in which you presented them:

        [Your argument is that if] one is to believe there is such a thing as a complete knowledge of reality, and that truth exists, then one has to conclude that God is the only sensible explanation for that belief since no human can possess such a complete knowledge, although we do know that it exists and we know about it even if only in parts … Correct?

        Not quite, although you are aiming at the same insight. The argument does not concern itself with whether or not we believe that there is such a thing as complete knowledge of reality. Our belief has nothing to do with it.

        The key premise of the argument is that, because it is the only sort of sentience capable of fully understanding any one thing (and, by implication, all things), infallible omniscience is the only sort of mind that could establish the truth of any given proposition. Lesser minds could establish that certain propositions are false, but cannot establish truth. Lesser minds can’t create truths. We can only discover them.

        Isn’t there only one possible world, namely, this one? That is, all that is actually possible also actually exists?

        No. It is possible that there could be no worlds. There is at least one world, etc.

        For something to be possible, all that is needed is that it avoid internal contradiction. E.g., a square triangle is impossible.

        It may be that everything that is possible does in fact actually exist. But we can’t know that this is the case. And there are good reasons to think it is not. The most important, to my mind, is that, being perfectly good, God would not create a world wherein evil outweighed the good; for such a creation would contradict his perfect goodness.

        When you speak of an infinity of possible worlds, do you mean by that that there is an infinity of ways reality could have been?

        Yes. The limit here is not our own poor power of conjecture, but that of God.

        I guess you could always have a bigger universe.

        Yes. However big a universe was, there seems to be no reason why its career could not possibly be extended by at least one atomic event.

        Perhaps God could create more kinds of substance and material. Perhaps He could make more laws. But infinitely so?

        Sure. Why not? What could limit him, other than his own Nature?

        In what other ways [than his eternity] could God be infinite?

        He is infinitely powerful to create; i.e., he can create anything that can logically come to pass.

        He is infinite in knowledge: he knows every one of the numbers on the infinite number line; indeed, the number line is infinite in virtue of his knowledge thereof (if he knew that the number line ended at 23, then that’s where it would end).

        He is infinite in goodness: because he can create an infinite number of good things, there is no limit to the good he can do. This is just a way of restating his omnipotence.

        Etc.

        By the way, if there is an infinity of truths to know, does God Himself even know them all? It doesn’t seem possible to reach the completeness of infinity, you always have an infinity left to know.

        Yes, he knows them all. His infinity is competent to infinity. Remember, it isn’t as though God knows things one at a time, as we do. He knows everything all at once. His knowledge of all truths then occurs in a single act of knowledge.

        Recall also that there can be only one actual infinite. If there were two, then neither of them would be quite like the other; i.e., neither of them would quite cover the other; and so neither of them would be truly infinite; for, each would be limited by the other. This is why we can be sure that the infinite system of truths is a feature of God himself, and not something separate from him.

        Your argument that truths are states of minds is good. The version you have laid out could be tightened up, but the central premise that ideas can’t exist on their own, but only as features of minds, is I think solid.

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