Beyond the absolute/relative truth binary wrt postmodernism

Being incarnate as we all are (and being less aware of the religious connotations as I am), embodied and incarnate seem to mean pretty much the same. Either way, being as we are, there are advantages and entitlements but there are also limitations which should keep us more humble in the specificity with which we speak for what is more than we are.


I’ve got two old carrier bags in my loft, one of them contains the internet and the other contains the objective universal absolute truth.

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Solved with “There is no universal absolute truth, apart from this.”. What else, in any meaningful way, could universal absolute truth, like free will, be?

If something is demonstrable, then it is embodied, that it is relational.

1 + 1 does not equal 2. 1 apple + 1 orange = does not equal 2? 1 apple +1 apple = 2 apples.

If something is demonstrable, then it is the same for everyone – that is objective.

If there is a reason, then it is not just convention – that is absolute (i.e. not relative).

If it is not relational then how is it any more than just imaginary.

it does equal 2… fruit… 2 fruits.

how about 1 apple + 1 sofa?

Yep it still equals 2… things… 2 things. :grinning:

Of course there are limitations. But those do not erase the absolute and objective nature of science – it still remains a search for reasons which are demonstrable. Otherwise you are indulging in the same error of atheists who take the limitations of religion to call it “veridically worthless” (Carl Sagan). My discovery that religion does have value is FOUNDED on the acceptance of its limitations - which includes far less objectivity than what science has to offer (I simply refute the idea that the subjective has no value). And yes we must do the same for science – accepting its limitations.

But that is not a very good description of science. In science the consensus is driven by demonstration. It is a community highly motivated to look for opportunities to contribute and that requires them to check those demonstrations ruthlessly looking for any flaw they can find.

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Postmodernist: “There is no universal absolute truth.”
Opponent: “Then what was that you just uttered?”

oh man, I just spent last weekend at a Christian Hip Hop festival and if anyone is familiar with the CHH landscape you’ll know that it’s filled to the brim with people OBSESSED with apologetics and having the perfect retort to say to stuff like this. It’s infuriating because to someone who is less skilled at things like this (I prefer data to philosophy) it just makes you end up looking like you really haven’t thought out your positions.


The other common retort I’ve heard a lot … (okay - I shouldn’t pretend I haven’t repeated this myself too -sorry about all the hives, @Christy) is after somebody has declared that we all decide for ourselves what is right or wrong, the moralist could then declare their intentions to go help themselves to whatever goods they want in the relativist’s house because they’ve decided that is right for them. Then, (in the apologist’s fantasies), the poor relativist back-pedals and finds some universal morals in a hurry, and the “so long as” caveats start getting tacked onto all the former freedoms they were allegedly reveling in.

It isn’t (I would say) that the moralist has no valid point here - but maybe more that the relativists are always getting caricatured, and the simplistic argument is tiresome. Being tired of something isn’t the same as refuting it, but it is tiresome if the simplistic argument is all the further the moralist ever gets, and is thereby shut down from listening or from considering any valid considerations that the relativist has to offer.

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I think part of the problem is that epistemology and morality have been conflated by the apologists in unhelpful ways. Whether there are moral absolutes or whether all morality is relative is a different argument than whether we can know absolute truth or whether all our knowledge of truth is relative. “There is no absolute truth” got taken to mean “You can’t make any statement about moral imperatives.” I think that is a bit of a leap. It comes from deciding the Bible is absolute truth so therefore biblical commands are absolute truth. I’m not sure that really follows though. Can an imperative be a “truth.” I think something like the sanctity of life or the image of God is “truth,” but how we act on it or the commands we give in response is something different, at least in my mind.


I think part of the problem is that the word “absolute” has more than one meaning and equivocating between the two muddles everything.

From Google:


  1. not qualified or diminished in any way; total.
  2. viewed or existing independently and not in relation to other things; not relative or comparative.

The first applies to so few things if anything at all. And that is what post modernism and most people are objecting to when they complain of the use of the word by the religionists. It is not to say that there is no morality except what is relative to the decisions of society, but that they should not be applied blind to all the circumstances. Certainly when I claim that the truths of science are absolute, I am not claiming there are no conditions and qualifications – of course there are. All I am saying is that there is more to it than just some arbitrary agreement to talk that way. Of course science does use conventions – lots of them, such as our units of measurement. But it knows the arbitrariness of those conventions only too well and knows how to get to conclusions which are independent of those arbitrary elements.


Yes. Had a hard time putting my own thoughts into words last night. I was mainly trying to get clarity on what you meant by abstract in your binary formula. When you threw in the thought that “Truth” is embodied in language, it seemed to me that nothing was left on the other side of that divide but the ineffable.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the contrast you appear to be making is between truth as God knows it, which we can’t fully access or comprehend, and truth as humans experience it, which is limited by our language, culture, and experience. Big “T” and little “t” if you will. You’re absolutely right that God’s truth doesn’t exist independently, with no relation to human truth. The two are related; we simply don’t have the access that he does to things.

What you’re saying reminds me a bit of Gadamer. Each of us has a “horizon” beyond which we can’t see. Other perspectives – whether from reading, travel, or simply listening to others’ experience – extend that horizon and afford a better view of reality.

I understand why you chose “abstract” a bit better, but I’d still suggest you try out some other possibilities. Just to avoid having to explain it over and over to dummies like me! haha


To my way of thinking, if the skill in question involves mastery of a number of set pieces to be applied as often as possible wherever they fit I wouldn’t call that philosophy. Philosophy would involve obtaining whatever clarity is possible for whatever question one is focussed on. Apologetics seems more like a kind of performance as you describe it, and maybe also deliberate deception? (Admittedly I’m not a big fan.)

As for not having thought out ones positions, isn’t that what the whole rest of your life is for? If that part is finished, the rest becomes just a kind of word gun slinging. I think it is kinder to share your progress on an issue without pushing for a conclusion if doing so requires coercion. Motives and regard for others are always relevant.


Now that’s funny.

I was “that guy” in my teens and 20s. Despite grinding people into dust, I never once argued someone into the kingdom. Hmmmm.

True. Take, for example, C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.” The moral argument for God’s existence isn’t very strong.


I feel complelled to say that I have struggled with both modernity and postmodernism as the latter seems to be a reaction to the former (a product of the enlightenment). Perhaps for anyone interested in this contrast, I have found an interesting contrasting account in postmodernism | Definition, Doctrines, & Facts | Britannica

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I do sympathize GJDS. Last century I baulked at pomo; ‘What do you mean there are no absolutes!?’. For decades I was swaddled by impervious modernist fundamentalism. I have noticed that they have something in common. In fundamentalism the Bible is a flat cookbook in which all is as literal as one can make it in the secondary, subordinate light of science. So I wasn’t, we weren’t, YEC. But anointing for healing came before doctors. It was smooth, homogenous, each properly grammatically-historically understood statement, inspired and preserved by the Holy Spirit, was fact. We made it all work as one. Which made God somewhat… pragmatic. The big plus was that He was far more capable than orthodox Christianity’s God: He saved the large majority as shown by His plan in the Holy Days… So what could pomo have in common with that? Homogeneity. In some folk pomo everything is a story and all stories are just stories. All stories are valid, are as invalid as each other. Which means that eternity is just a story. It isn’t a fact as facts, concepts, words are just stories. Lost in the meaninglessness of meaning.

Eternity is the single greatest fact.

What does it mean for an idea to be embodied?
What does it mean, for example, to embody justice, truth, hope, love, charity, or loyalty?
Embodying an idea differs from defining the idea with language.
However, those biblical ideas have been defined by men and women.
To embody an idea, therefore, is to bring out the idea-in-action to life in encountering particular human situations.
When embodying the Christian faith, the human reveals their own character at the same time signifies the idea or the principle through that actions.
That moving principle of action comes from Aristotle.
Meaning a person can respond to what is unique to any situation rather than preferred (subjective) interpretations of the word of God shaped by predominantly Western, male, Reformed, Enlightenment worldviews.
I would suggest you are talking about a biblical application (embodiment)

Back to embodiment - that idea/ or principle is scripture and not my personal perspective.

For me, to put it into words, story, images, or actions.

Language is one way of embodying truth. Because specific people use specific languages in specific contexts.

But this assertion that an idea “is Scripture” and that something that “is Scripture” is an abstract idea untouched by personal perspectives is an assertion I reject because it doesn’t describe reality. In reality, all of us encounter the truth of Scripture embodied in the text of Scripture (story, poetry, history, exhortation) and reembody that truth in our own ways of putting it into our language and living it out in our context.


Reminds me I’ve come across a quote that directly relates to this though it isn’t scripture. I’ll try to post something on the pithy quotes thread later.

I read your comments as an application, definitely not text exegesis.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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