Mike Potemra contributed a post to National Review Online, The Ethics of Social Change, in which he asserted that he strongly believes in absolute truth. In response to his article, he received a comment via email around which he wrote a second article, Truth Matters. Here is the section of the email comment to which Potemra responded:
Perhaps there is “absolute truth”. Let’s put aside, for now at least, the intellectual side of this discussion (quantum physics, ego, consciousness, conscience, mind, matter, soul, god, etc.)
You do realize, do you not, that people who “know” the “absolute truth” have committed unspeakable mayhem throughout all of history? Yes?
The list is long, and infamous, and while it includes obvious monsters like Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Castro, and Hitler, it also includes lots of religious figures, from pretty much every major religion, including many, many Christians. I know you know this – it is simply a fact.
Let’s face it, my friend. The quest for “absolute truth” pretty much always leaves behind a trail of broken bodies, broken minds, or even corpses.
Or, at minimum, plenty of hatred. I know you must be familiar with the comments at The Corner regarding SSM. A lot of people there, armed with the “absolute truth” provided by Christianity, refer to gays as “disordered”, with “totalitarian impulses”, and worse. . . . [The writer goes on to quote some combox comments, which, I will stipulate, are --- how to put this delicately? --- well, let’s just say they don’t seem to be exactly on fire with Christian love. --- MP]
I am writing only to say, think about it. The quest for “absolute truth” has a pretty dismal history.
And isn’t this because, there isn’t any obvious way to ascertain the truth? So people end up looking for truth in ideologies, both religious and secular. And there you have your problem.
Potemra went on to say that this email “is one of the most spectacularly wrongheaded passages I have ever read. To say that it is completely unhelpful to the human cause would be an understatement.”
Surely, Potemra is correct, but He makes a mistake by accepting the framework of his interlocutor. He should have rejected the premise of the writer’s argument outright because the debate centers not whose truth is absolute, but the authority behind the truth. If the authority of the truth is mankind, as secular humanists would argue, then all truth is relative and, by construction, absolute truth can not exist. Dig deep enough and you’ll find that most atheists are loathe to accept the consequences of their theology.
On the other hand, if the authority behind the truth is transcendent – higher than mankind – then the truth as expressed by that authority is absolute. The greatest evils ever committed in human history have been committed by people for whom a transcendent definition of truth does not exist. Their moral compass is set by themselves so they have no one to answer to but themselves. In the twentieth century alone, atheists – beholding to no higher authority than themselves – murdered over a hundred million men, women, and children.