Facts & Truth: What’s the difference?

Facts & Truth: What’s the difference?

Are facts and truth two labels for essentially the same thing? Or, are they separate and radically different from one another? Is it possible to regard certain “facts” as true when they contradict what the Bible says? In today’s episode, we will answer these questions and also learn how genuine facts of science point us to God’s truth. Now, for the Christian, it is particularly important for us to provide a biblical response to the questions at hand, because we live in a world where, increasingly, revealed divine truth is vehemently rejected. Consequently, materialistic facts are championed as the ultimate determinants of reality, when such facts are supposed to be those pieces of information discoverable only within the parameters of scientific investigation. The reality is that in the end, all truth is God’s truth, and the reason why anything is objectively, universally, immutably and authoritatively true is because it flows from the source of all truth: God Himself.

So, is there a difference between facts and truth? Let’s begin by defining terms. What is a fact? Our English word fact comes from the Latin factum, which simply means “something done.” A fact is therefore a discrete piece of information that communicates a reality that exists, that happened, or that can be observed by experience. So, the following are facts: “The sky is blue” and “Last year Christmas Day fell on a Wednesday.” Facts are neither universal nor permanent; rather, facts are isolated and can change. That is to say, facts are not unyielding absolutes. So, for example, if I say “Mr. Smith is my president,” that is an isolated fact for me living in the United States right now, but it is not a fact for someone living in China. Accordingly, when we talk about science, we’re talking about a field of study that describes some facts. When it comes to telling us about the material world, these facts tend to be reliable, but the judgments of science are never absolute, and when a new fact is discovered, old ones are abandoned in favor of those more up to date. And let us not overlook that many alleged scientific facts are simply theories developed out of simpler items of perception.

So, that’s what facts are. What is truth? Truth is defined as how things actually are; truth is that which conforms with reality. To put it simply, that which is true is that which is real. In the New Testament, the Greek word for truth, aletheia, refers to truth in thought and speech; it also refers to moral uprightness in what a person does. Hence, truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character and being of God, whose very nature is truth. It thus comes as no surprise that the Bible speaks of truth as that which is revealed from God to man. Furthermore, because God is eternal and immutable, the truth is true everywhere, all the time, under all considerations. Without this standard, everything and nothing would be true at the same time. Yet, let us never confuse perfect, divine and unchanging truth with the speculations claimed to be truth in the minds of men. This is one reason why God, through special revelation, self-disclosed His Word of truth so we can always refer back to what God said and therefore know what is really true.

Let us explore the biblical idea of truth further. In John chapter 18, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and then enters into sham trials before the Crucifixion. The Jews bring Christ to Pilate, who then proceeds to interrogate the Lord. In John 18:37 Pilate asks, So You are a king?” Jesus then replied, You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate then famously asked Jesus, What is truth?” (John 18:38). This question was curious because Pilate was looking Truth Incarnate in the face, yet still was inquiring as to what truth is. And I don’t think it’s too big of an exegetical stretch to say Pilate’s voice was derogatory in asking his question. However, let us not miss that Pilate’s scoffing at the truth is informative. Why is it informative? Because we live in an age where many think exactly like Pilate. They perceive a truth claim, scoff and then ask, “What is truth?” or “Why bother with truth when can know all the facts?” They also ask questions like, “Can we really say something is true?” Yes, we really can make affirmations about the truth, and if Pilate were paying attention, he would have seen the truth literally staring him in the face. God’s truth is a Person, Jesus, who is divine truth in the flesh. Christ is heavenly, immaterial truth taking earthly, material form. To know the truth means more than knowing impersonal facts; it means knowing something superior. To be precise, it means knowing Someone who is supreme: Jesus Christ. Know all the facts you desire; they will never save you. Trust in Christ, and you will be saved.

There are numerous other ways the truth is distinct from, and superior to, facts. Truth is divine and comes from heaven down to us here on earth. We don’t begin on earth and then project our truths up to God. Furthermore, God’s ultimate truth can only be known by revelation from a divine mind to a creature who has the ability to reason; that communication is not merely an opinion, because a sovereign God reveals truth that is absolute. This is why, by logical necessity, absolute truth requires God. Without Him, there cannot be an absolute anything. Absolute truth also means that anything that contradicts it is an absolute lie. Absolute truth is never partial and never subjective; where real truth exists, I cannot have my truth and you cannot have yours. God’s truth is impartial and objective, so it is not based on personal opinion or public polls, nor is it formalized over time by tradition. Certainly, it is not discovered by personal feelings or intuition. God’s truth is also exclusive of cultural or social preferences”?

God’s truth is also coherent and singular. Jesus is one complete God-Man; He doesn’t come to us in separate parts. There is never a truth somewhere out there disconnected from the whole. Truth is singular because its source is the Lord our God who is One (Deuteronomy 6:4). And just as God does not change, neither does His truth (Psalm 119:80, Isaiah 40:8). Finally, what has been implied thus far is that God’s truth is always authoritative. This means that a sovereign God speaks the truth, and we are now accountable to it. God’s truth does not present mere options to consider. Yes, there are many who may regard God’s truth as a soft suggestion, but that simply means they are living a lie. Authoritative truth is binding upon us and therefore demands our response. All ought to listen to God’s truth because it will have the final word in eternity.

I hope this wide-ranging discussion of the truth depicts a sharp contrast to the very limited and narrow scope of facts. Let’s now go back to the question I asked at the top: What’s the difference between a fact and the truth? And the answer is, facts are a subset of truth; truth is broader. The truth represents a cohesive whole that is composed of facts. Being true is what qualifies a fact, in that when someone champions the validity of a fact, they are moving beyond simple apprehension and making a higher rational judgment that the fact is true and not false. Truth is the higher standard by which facts are judged. So, although there may be a distinction between facts and truth, there is not a separation.

I previously mentioned that the truth is cohesive and singular. Accordingly, what cannot be missed is that the totality of truth provides not only meaning to reality but also a way of interpreting reality. In other words, the whole truth is something much more than its parts, the constituent facts. Scientifically speaking, then, God made the world. He also made the world to be governed by certain laws and left evidence of His handiwork in the design of creation. If we were to study one small piece of creation, what would we discover? Lots of facts. But when we put all those facts together, what do we get? Not the brutal fact that the universe simply is. We get insight into something beyond mere fragments of information. When we begin to see the whole, cohesive picture of truth, we can better discern the meaning of reality. We can discern, for example, that God exists, and that He is an Intelligent Designer with the power to create. Facts that we discover are just the tiny fingerprints that He left on creation. Facts tell us the structure of your DNA and the chemical composition of your red blood cells. Truth tells us that you were made in the image of God and have a specific purpose with desires and dreams; it also tells us that you have been imbued with a sense of the divine on your conscience (Romans 1:19).

Think of it this way: facts are the notes on sheet music. Truth is what happens when the symphony plays Handel’s Messiah. Facts are individual stone bricks. Truth is the castle made up of thousands of said bricks. When all the pieces are in place, we can see not only how the bricks line up with and relate to one another, but also how each brick fits into the totality of the castle. No individual brick provides as much meaning and interpretive ability as does the entire castle. There are many, many bricks (facts), but there is only one castle (truth).

So, if someone were, for example, to hold a bag of bricks and claim, “These are the facts!” … yet those bricks are alien to the ones found in the castle’s walls, then something is amiss: someone is rejecting truth to fabricate their own non-factual worldview. This is important to understand when it comes to responding to the claims of a secular worldview that deifies science, that body of established data that can be secured by observation or experiment. Yes, science can discover and verify a plethora of facts about the natural world and even develop models of prediction based on those facts. Yet what science does is merely descriptive; that is, it is descriptive of a world that was created by God and in which the scientist finds himself.

Even more, these discovered facts only partially begin to give insight into the truth, because science as a means of acquiring knowledge is severely limited. Science is neither divine nor omniscient; it is limited by the creatures who engage in scientific analysis. Science also cannot provide a description for all of those non-observational and non-experimental facts about reality: examples include consciousness, morality, love and beauty. The point is that if one ever were to artificially limit what is factual or true based upon what is verifiable by science, then they would have to reject core components of reality. The scientific method is not the sole gateway to complete knowledge, and to claim otherwise, science demands a scientific experiment. The deification of science is largely concerned with the results of the scientific method, but what many in the modern world fail to remember is that the essential nature of science is not in the results you get … it’s in the methodology. Hence, true science is not concerned with the question of whether God exists or not. Rather, it is meticulous in how it observes, analyzes and verifies the natural laws that God fixed and what He made. 

In conclusion, what I will say is that in the end, all true facts are God’s facts, and all truth is God’s truth. This is logical considering that all of reality was made by God, and thus all of reality is contingent on Him. Truth does not come from man, it comes from the Lord. Men never create truth; they only apprehend what God has revealed both in His Word and in creation. Consequently, science and secular investigators may in fact discover a wealth of facts about the world, and when we subsequently learn more about what God has created, we praise God. We can embrace scientifically verifiable data because it progressively describes the incomprehensible complexity with which the Master Designer impregnated creation. Through it all, God’s never-changing truth is what guides us, and we can have confidence knowing that if anything falls out of alignment with God’s truth, then the thing in question is not factual and is a manufactured lie. God’s truth is simply better because it is God’s truth, which is supreme and sufficient.

Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal

 


4 responses to “Facts & Truth: What’s the difference?”

  1. Your rather over-long treatise would not be hurt by the intervention of, if not God, then a good editor. Given that it is impossible to encompass the experience of the entire universe or even of our entire planet or any part of it, any proposed whole will always be conditioned upon the unspoken premises used to define and deliminate it. If the premises are false or incomplete, then the whole or elements of it that follow from these premises will be a fallacy outside of these conditions, even if it is internally consistent. Science, although not all scientists, nor, for that matter, science as it is taught to most of us in school, try to be aware of this limitation, which is why science continually seeks to test current premises by expanding the frame of reference.

    The fact that you speak of Christianity as opposed to science or to many other religions and cultures, to say nothing of other planets and galaxies, seems to confirm that it is neither inclusive nor universal — that is, “the whole’ as opposed to a mere subset. This is not to say that I would mind hearing your concise argument otherwise. More generally neither philosophy nor theology capture the whole, since any particular religion or system of philosophy tends to work in terms of certain sets of premises defining ‘systems’ of thought. Metaphysics in contrast is the investigation of premises, with the presumption that any thing in particular presumes everything else.

    For example, what does the Bible have to say about the thought and experiences of whales or the civilization of China or Native Americans at the time of Christ, or about the many other different civilizations and cultures both then and before and after. Christians and other proselytizing faiths, including the discipline of economics in its charade of being a science, tend to treat other possibilities only in terms of their negation, which hardly encompasses them.

    Even those civilizations that contributed the ideas current among the Hebrews at the time of Jesus and that appear in the Bible are not acknowledged as such. For example, the Adam and Eve and deluge stories have been discovered in recently translated Babylonian texts created on clay tablets written long before the Hebrews incorporated those stories during their relatively recent Babylonian captivity. In them Eve and the Snake, like the Greek Prometheus, were treated as heroes for having given people knowledge. The Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve were banished from originated from the gardens of the gods on the ziggurats. In the Babylonian version, Noah was warned by a lesser God who had befriended his family when the chief god was setting out to destroy humans due, not to sinning, but to the racket they where making that disturbed his sleep after he had created them. This was emblematic of the noisy conditions that arose with the emergence of cities. Even today we continue to not only complain about the racket of cities, despite our tendency to gravitate towards them, but we create entire disciplines of study concerned with them. That God would destroy people with a flood came out of the frequent inundations of these cities brought by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

    In the New Testament, the idea of Messiah had actually originated with the Persian Zoroastrian religion, which is why the kings and Zoroastrian maji from ‘the East,” meaning Persia (as a child I’d always envisioned India), appeared in the Nativity story. The Hebrews at the time of Jesus were very aware of the source of authority of this idea. Jesus, furthermore, was called “teacher” and later “rabbi” by his Hebrew followers. But as Christianity spread among the gentiles several decades following his execution and eventually was taken up as the official religion of the Roman Empire, he came to be called Lord and King. This seems ironic because in life he had confronted the authority of the Roman empire. When the Jews did rise up and attempt to overthrow the empire several decades after Jesus’ death, they were severely put down and forced to disperse. It is in this situation of great persecution that the word zealot, after it became to mean a militant band of insurgents, was eschewed by both Jews and Christians fearful of being associated with the militants by a wrathful Rome. Such use of the term to refer to militants was different from its meaning in Jesus’s day as a person of zeal, or rabble-rouser, which could have been used to refer to Jesus in his day.

    Given the impossibility for humans to encompass the whole given us by our universe, or even of our world or any human-created subset postulated as the whole requires unspoken premises which allow it to be conditionally treated as a whole. If the premises are false or incomplete, then the whole or elements of it that follows from its premises can be a fallacy outside of these conditions, no matter whether the postulated whole is internally consistent.

    Treating a postulated whole as “the whole” is a common mistake made by even the most educated and thoughtful scholars, so no need to feel bad about it. One needs merely to mend his ways, a process, of course, which good scientists and probably Jesus too would tell you is continuous and never ending, as the story continues to develop as long as humans as storytellers exist.

    • Mr. Mikesell:

      Thank you for your comment.

      First, allow me to say that after carefully reading your response, it seems you misunderstood what I wrote and are making rebuttals to arguments that I never made. You based your response on many premises that were false or incomplete, beating up a straw man that did you no offense. Nowhere in the essay is biblical Christianity ever pitted against science. What the essay did speak against was the deification of science. A central point I made was that science is limited in what it can teach us; still, it remains helpful. In fact, as stated, science is a useful tool that helps us to describe facts about the natural world and those facts point to a cohesive truth. So, you are free to weaponize biblical Christianity against science if you wish, but that is a fight you may watch by yourself.

      Furthermore, true science is not concerned with the question of whether God exists or not (or who the Messiah is, etc.) but scientism is. Scientism is a philosophy that doesn’t want God to exist, so it rationalizes an emotion. The result is an endless stream of explaining away without any bread of understanding.

      Second, no where in the essay is the claim made that the Bible has a monopoly on all truth. After all, for example, when I went to medical school, I didn’t open the Old Testament to learn how to take out someone’s appendix. In fact, there is nothing in this world that is a one-stop-shop for all truth (“the whole”): this includes science. Yet, just because we don’t know everything, does not mean that some things aren’t true. Are you really going to dismiss the validity of the Bible based on the fact that it doesn’t tell you what whales think? Seriously? What hole in your heart demands to filled by a sea creature?

      As you have stated, “science continually seeks to test current premises by expanding the frame of reference” because real science is skeptical and is always looking to determine if its “premises are false or incomplete.” Meaning what? That faith in science to know “the facts” or what is “true” equates to chasing after the wind because those “facts” and “truth” are always up for debate. Anyone is free to trust in uncertainty but their logic demands that they must also be uncertain about their uncertainty.

      Third, I am glad you mentioned Jesus at the end of your comment. We don’t have to presume what He may of said about “the whole.” His words in John 14:6 are crystal clear. There, the Lord says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” In other words, God was telling us that there is no never-ending process because He is the Truth incarnate. This world was made by Him and through Him so the buck stops at Him. According to Jesus, there is no plan B, back door or escape clause. He is the Way. In His infinite wisdom, God chose not to reveal to us far more than He did. But what He did reveal is absolutely, universally true. What makes me feel bad is the person who has a worldview in which there is no absolute, universal truth. In said case, everything and nothing is true at the same time.

  2. Thank you for a complete and succinct exposition on this subject of the modern false dichotomy men hold of the conflation of truth versus mere fact.

    • I’am do glad I found this fact and truth because spiritually there is a difference. As Christians we must be mindful and get revelation of the truth. Thanks ?

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