ObiterClifford R. Goldstein March/April 1997 "Truth is what the majority thinks it is at any given moment
precisely because the majority is permitted to govern and redefine its values constantly." - Robert Bork
"Sooner orlater we all have to accept something as given,
whether it is God, or logic, or a set of laws, or some other foundation of existence." - Mathematical physicist Paul Davies
"Shatter, O my brothers, shatter these ancient
law-tables of the pious." - Nietzsche
Postmodernist icon Richard Rorty - whose concern was not "getting reality right" but just coping with it - once asked, "Did Newton's laws exist before Newton?" which is like asking Did America exist before Columbus? or did the sun revolve around the earth before Copernicus?
One doesn't have to be Descartes - who rejected as vain anything not "certain and indubitable" - to realize that objective reality exists even before we discover and interpret (however subjectively) its nature. The sum of the squares of the two sides of a right triangle equaled the square of its hypotenuse (at least on a Euclidean plane) even before Pythagoras was born, which shows that Pythagoras only discovered (as opposed to created) the theorem that bears his name, just as the famous "Mandelbrot set" (popularly known as fractals) existed before Mandelbrot.
"The Mandelbrot set," wrote Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose, "is not an invention of the human mind; it was a discovery. Like Mount Everest, the Mandelbrot set is just there!"
Thus we no more create reality than Einstein curved space or Kepler made planetary motion elliptical. And because objective reality exists, objective truth does as well; and because that reality is rooted in Jesus Christ, the one in whom "we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28), truth is too - which no doubt is why Jesus said, "I am... the truth."
For that reason, the very "is" of being implies an "ought," because the "is" is rooted in a moral God, and a moral God - by definition - must rule over a moral realm. Therefore, absolute standards of right and wrong do exist, and society can no more eradicate, weaken, or change them - either through the ballot box or the sword - than MIRVs can alter Plato's Forms. In fact, one could argue that the moral absolutes are the Forms or (to shift the language from Athens to Jerusalem) that the moral absolutes are embedded in God's laws, the tables that Nietzsche urged his brothers to smash, and which - by the looks of things - they have done.
Yet smashing the law tables no more voids divine law than burning a criminal code legalizes, or even removes the pain from, rape. And that's the principle behind our moral and social malaise: we're being destroyed by the very sin whose existence is denied. Nietzsche, after all, said that God was dead, and later died insane (of course, one could argue that syphilis helped, but that's a less metaphysical proof of the point: Nietzsche faced the consequences of breaking a divine law that he assumed wasn't extant). You don't have to believe in God's law to suffer from violating it, any more than disbelief in gravity will save a man who jumps off a building from either the fall or, even more consequentially, the sudden stop at the bottom.
Of course, to believe not only that moral absolutes exist, but that we can know what those absolutes are, isn't synonymous with the assumption that government should enforce them (especially if among those absolutes is the notion of personal autonomy!). In Karl Popper's definition, closed totalitarian societies-believing that they possess absolute truth (revealed, for instance, in Mein Kamph or Das Kapital) - must oppress the masses into conformity with that truth. In contrast, an open, free society, recognizing the elusiveness of these absolutes (or at least the subjectivity in which they're individually perceived and processed) builds institutions and laws designed to protect different concepts of truth. And in the United States, an expression of these laws occurs in the religion clauses of the First Amendment, which ensure that no religious truth will - politically - dominate the rest.
Yet an open society's stance that any truth, or even The Truth, shouldn't oppress opposing "truth" or even untruth doesn't mean that it should act as if there is no truth. Law, implicitly or explicitly, implies morality, which reflects various concepts of "truth." The Nazi, Communist, and apartheid regimes all reflected moral precepts based upon assumptions about truth (Hitler, after all, claimed that "Christianity is the unshakable foundation of our people's ethical and moral law"). Thus moral dilemmas can arise not only from disregard of the law, but from the law itself, which is why man's law, ideally, ought to reflect God's.
But can this be done without breaching the wall of separation? That all depends, of course, on how high and impregnable that wall is. A wall that separates church and state is fine; one that separates morality from law isn't. When, in the name of separation, a school protects a child from government-sponsored religious exercises, it's defending the moral principles of God's universe (which includes personal autonomy); on the other hand, when, in the name of separation, a school teaches condom use instead of abstinence, it's violating principles of that same moral universe.
And inevitably, bitter consequences are the only consequences of violating the moral code that God has imbedded in the creation-a code that exists whether we recognize it or not.
Clifford R. Goldstein
Article Author: Clifford R. Goldstein
Clifford Goldstein writes from Ooltewah, Tennessee. A previous editor of Liberty, he now edits Bible study lessons for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.