What is the Difference Between Absolute and Relative Truth?
By Natasha Crain
(This is the fourth post in my “65 Questions Every Christian Parent Needs to Learn to Answer” series. Sign up to receive posts via email to make sure you can answer each one!)
I was driving with the kids recently when my son announced that he had seen a black, red and yellow bird on his side of the car. My daughter Kenna immediately corrected him.
“Nathan, you are NOT right! The bird was black and red. It did not have any yellow. You are wrong.”
Nathan screamed back at her, “No! I am right! The bird DID have yellow on his bottom.”
Tired mom syndrome kicked in here and I entered the fray with this disingenuous response: “Guys! It doesn’t matter. Sometimes people see different things. Everyone can be right at the same time.”
Fast forward to the following week. My other daughter, Alexa, came running into the kitchen screaming, “Mommy! Kenna hit me!”
Kenna walked in behind her with a casual shrug. “No I didn’t. Now stop talking about it. We can both be right. Sometimes people see different things.”
I couldn’t believe it. My lazy response from the week before had totally confused my daughter’s understanding of truth! I had given her the idea that no one is right or wrong about anything, and everyone can be right at the same time.
As obvious as it may seem that there are many things which are true or not true (Kenna hit Alexa or she did not), this very basic understanding of truth – fundamental to Christianity – is under attack today. Kenna’s not the only one getting confused.
The Big Mix-Up: Absolute and Relative Truth
Whatever bird my kids saw was either 1) black, red and yellow (as Nathan claimed), 2) only black and red (as Kenna claimed), or 3) something else altogether (if they were both wrong). But contrary to my lazy “everyone can be right” response, the bird simply can’t be all of those things at the same time.
The color of the bird is an example of an absolute truth. To say that something is absolutely true means that it is independently true for all people, even if they do not know it or recognize it to be true.
The opposite of absolute truth is relative truth. To say that something is relatively true means that it can be true for one person and not for another. If Kenna had said, “the bird is beautiful!” and Nathan had replied, “the bird is ugly!” they could have both told the truth, because beauty is a matter of opinion; it’s a relative truth.
The existence of absolute truth is a necessary foundation of Christianity…