The Truth and the Facts
by Glenn Conjurske
The truth and the facts are both of course true
—-both therefore in some sense the truth —-but I do not mean the same thing by them. In one point of view they are but the same thing under different names, yet they may be distinguished thus: the facts are the things that are or have been —-historical events, or present phenomena. The truth consists of conclusions, principles, or generalizations derived from those facts —-or it may be revealed truth, particularly in those spheres into which the investigations of man cannot penetrate. The truth is doctrinal truth. The facts we learn by personal observation, or by the testimony of others, whether by the living voice or in written books. The truth engages our reason and our faith.
The truth and the facts are both true, and cannot contradict each other. They serve, therefore, as very effectual checks upon each other. That cannot be the truth which contradicts the facts. That cannot be a fact which contradicts the truth. These are axioms. In any sphere whatsoever, the truth absolutely must coincide with the facts.
Take one example. Certain enemies of Christianity have often affirmed that there have been found primitive tribes, untainted by contact with civilization, who live in peace and happiness, without war or fighting, or any of the vices common to Society. These supposed facts are alleged in order to overturn the truth of the depravity and evil of the heart of man. If those “facts” are facts indeed, then that “truth” is not true. The difficulty lies in the fact that most of us are in no position to investigate those facts. We must rely upon testimony. But in receiving testimony, we are always obliged to consider the character (and the animus, if any) of the witnesses. We know (or may know) that hundreds of Christian missionaries have gone to live among primitive tribes, where they had abundant opportunity, from one end of the globe to the other, to know those peoples intimately. Those missionaries bear one uniform testimony of war and fighting, theft and murder, revenge and cruelty
—-so that if these happy and harmonious peoples actually exist, we must certainly regard them as exceptional. We may also very legitimately suspect that these alleged facts are the result of very brief and superficial observation, coupled with a bias against the truth, while the actual facts concerning these supposed harmless tribes are either unknown or suppressed.
Now it so happens that I read a year or so ago, in a dentist’s office, an article on this very subject in a national news magazine.1 The article affirmed concerning these happy and harmonious peoples, that they do not exist. The former assertions concerning their existence were based upon superficial knowledge of the facts. Further investigation has uniformly disproved those rosy assertions.
And to superficial acquaintance with the facts the article might have added a bias against the truth. And by “the truth” I do not mean merely the truth concerning the actual state of some particular primitive peoples, but the truth of the Bible. The Bible asserts categorically, “There is none that doeth good, no, not one. … Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known.” Now if the Bible speaks the truth on this subject, then of course the facts must coincide with it. But this truth concerning the depravity of man is not very palatable to men. Hence their animus to disprove it. Hence their diligent quest for facts which will overturn it
—-for we all know instinctively that the truth and the facts must stand or fall together. Yet that quest has failed, as thoroughly as the quest of unbelieving geologists for facts which would undermine the truth of the Bible.
But we must delve deeper into the principles involved in this relationship between the truth and the facts. Men know instinctively that the two cannot contradict each other. So long, then, as no contradiction appears, no difficulty arises. The real question is, where an apparent contradiction exists between them, which of these is to serve as the check upon the other? Which side shall have the power to disallow the other? Shall the truth disallow what is alleged as fact, or shall the facts disallow what is alleged as truth? The answer is, that which is the most easily or the most surely attainable must have the power to disallow that which is more difficult or obscure. This is only common sense. The side on which we are least likely to err must serve as a check to the side on which we are more likely to err.
But which side is which? There can be no doubt that in general the facts are more easily learned than the truth. The facts may be learned by mere observation. The truth requires understanding. The facts lie more within the realm of knowledge, while the truth lies more in the realm of wisdom. Most facts may be easily learned by most everybody, while there are various qualifications, intellectual or spiritual, requisite to understand the truth. As a general rule, then, it must be the facts which hold the power to disallow those things which profess to be the truth. This is precisely the meaning of the common proverb, “Facts are stubborn things.” The doctrine may be, Men cannot be healed by faith in this age. The fact is, Such and such persons have been healed. To that fact belongs the province to disallow that doctrine. The doctrine may be, The popes of Rome are infallible. The fact is, Those popes have often contradicted each other. To that fact belongs the power to disallow that doctrine. The doctrine may be, The Textus Receptus and the King James Version are perfect and without error. The fact is, The two often disagree with each other. To that fact belongs the province to disallow that doctrine. The doctrine may be, The King James Version is the perfect word of God in English, and Luther’s Bible the same in German, both translated from God’s preserved text. The fact is, (in addition to numerous other differences) there are whole verses in the King James Version which neither are nor ever have been in Luther’s German. This fact overturns that doctrine. To step forward and ask us to hold those doctrines by faith, in the teeth of plain facts, is to make a travesty upon both truth and faith.
Now it will be observed in all of the examples which I have given that the facts involved are such as can be easily and certainly ascertained, by mere study or observation, whereas the doctrines must be the result of reasonings and conclusions, based upon various assumptions or interpretations of Scriptural statements, a mistake in any one of which may lead to a false result. It must be evident therefore that we must employ the facts as the check upon the doctrine. To reverse the process were to make the complex and difficult the test of the simple and the easy. It goes without saying, it is self-evident, that this cannot be right.
All men understand this principle instinctively. They all know very well that to the facts belongs the power to overturn those principles which profess to be the truth. This is precisely why men go to such great lengths to rid themselves of the facts, when they are determined to uphold a pet theory which stands against those facts. We all know what twisting and turning men will do to evade the force of the facts. Why do they do this, except that they understand very well that ascertained facts are fatal to any proposition which they may stand against? No doctrine, theory, principle, or proposition can maintain any claim to be the truth while it stands in contradiction to plain observable or demonstrable facts.
Some of the King-James-Only advocates, weary as I suppose they must be with constantly endeavoring to turn aside the force of plain facts, have found a shorter way, claiming to hold their doctrines by faith, and decrying the recognition of facts as rationalism. This is really a pernicious principle, and it is as directly against faith as it is against Scripture and reason. Any faith which sets facts at defiance is no faith at all, but only superstition. The Bible squarely bases faith upon facts, and faith cannot exist without them. To believe on the basis of instinct, without a factual basis, opens wide the door to every vagary and false doctrine in existence. This is the faith of Mormonism, the early preachers of which, having no facts to offer, always appealed to the inner consciousness of their hearers, and so moved them to believe in the existence of golden plates which no man ever has seen nor can see. Even one of the professed witnesses of the Book of Mormon affirmed that he saw the golden plates “by the eye of faith,” which is the same as affirming that he did not see them with his natural eyes. Another of the three witnesses plainly declared that he had never seen them. But faith which demands no foundation in facts, but believes on the basis of instinct, may well believe anything.
Mohammedanism stands upon the same shaky basis. Herbert Marsh says, “To those especially, who seek for conviction in certain inward feelings, which the warmth of their imaginations represents to them as divine, I would recommend the serious consideration of this important fact, that the foundation, which they lay for the Bible, is no other, than what the Mahometan is accustomed to lay for the Koran. If you ask a Mahometan, why he ascribes divine authority to the Koran, his answer is, Because, when I read it, sensations are excited, which could not have been produced by any work, that came not from God. But do we therefore give credit to the Mahometan for this appeal? Do we not immediately perceive, when the Mahometan thus argues from inward sensation, that he is merely raising a phantom of his own imagination? And ought not this example, when we hear a similar appeal from a Christian teacher, to make us at least distrustful, not indeed with respect to Christianity itself, but with respect to his mode of proving it? He may answer indeed, and answer with truth, that his sensations are produced by a work, which is really divine, while the sensations excited in the Mahometan are produced by a work, which is only thought so. But this very truth will involve the person, who thus uses it, in a glaring absurdity. In the first place he appeals to a criterion, which puts the Bible on a level with the Koran: and then to obviate this objection, he endeavours to shew the superiority of his own appeal, by presupposing the fact, which he had undertaken to prove. Let us leave then to the enthusiast these imaginary demonstrations, while we are seeking for proofs, which will bear the test of inquiry, and satisfy the demands of reason.”
Yet this is just the sort of faith which is demanded by the King James Only doctrine, and explicitly preached by many of its advocates. I read in a King James Only publication, “I instinctively know that the King James Version is the inerrant, preserved, immutable Word of God.” Yes, he knows instinctively a doctrine which overturns both the truth and the facts. Now very frankly, the church of God ought to be able to reject the King James Only and Received Text Only doctrines purely on the basis of truth
—-purely on the basis of doctrine. I do not mean merely upon the basis of proof-texts, valuable as that method may be in its place, but on the basis of a general understanding of the whole truth of God. They ought to perceive at first sight —-instinctively, if you will —-that this system is false, for it undermines at every turn the Bible doctrines of faith and of human responsibility. Yet aside from my own occasional endeavors I have never seen an attempt by anybody to deal with the system on a doctrinal basis, and I fear that the Bible doctrines of faith and of human responsibility are generally too little understood in this day to be used effectually against these errors. But if so, so much the more valuable are the facts. If the doctrinal truth which would overturn these errors is not easily attained, yet the facts are plain to all who care to know them.
And this system is as much against the facts as it is against the truth, and this case will well illustrate the extreme value of facts in establishing the truth. There are many who lack the capacity to deal with this system on a doctrinal basis
—-for doctrine is a complex thing, not easily attained —-who yet have the honesty to face the facts (which are very easily apprehended), and so can overturn the system purely on the basis of facts. This is the proper province of the facts, to act as a check upon false doctrines and false theories, and as such those facts are of extreme value, and the more so because they are within our easy reach. Some men who are really very shallow in doctrinal understanding have yet done very well in opposing the King James Only doctrines, simply on the basis of facts which are easily attainable. On the other side, the advocates of the King James Only doctrines have constantly misstated, ignored, and shunned the facts, and many of them have gone so far as to disallow an appeal to facts at all. Their treatment of the facts presents the strongest presumption that what they call the truth is in fact error. Those who have the truth court the facts, while those who have not the truth shun them —-and both sides do so instinctively. We have no respect for a lawyer who endeavors to suppress the evidence, by keeping certain facts out of court, but here are men who profess to teach the truth of God, who with one stroke disallow all the facts. Any appeal to the facts is labelled with the reproachful name of rationalism. If they condescend to deal with the facts, it is often only to misrepresent them. This is the way of error. Truth has no need to proceed after this fashion, for the facts are the strongest ally of the truth.
In days gone by there were some who denied the Messiahship of Christ, and of course his resurrection. To convince them of their error on a doctrinal basis were a very long and laborious process, and perhaps impossible in the face of the pride and prejudice which were at the bottom of it. Yet against this error stood one stubborn fact
—-the empty tomb. We all know, however, that pride and prejudice can be just as stubborn as the facts, and these men must therefore exert themselves to explain away the empty tomb. “His disciples came and stole away his body by night.” But against this falsehood stood some other facts, equally stubborn. The presence of the guard was the first one, and any man who could believe the idle story about the guard being all asleep thereby manifested only the determination of his heart to resist the truth. It lies, no doubt, within the realm of remote possibility that the guard had actually fallen asleep, but how did the disciples roll away the stone without waking any of them? And supposing that were possible, we are at once confronted with another stubborn fact: “the empty tomb” was not empty at all. No, it contained the grave clothes in which the body of Jesus had been wrapped. No honest man could believe that the disciples came to steal away the body of their Lord, and, as their great good fortune would have it, finding the guard all sleeping, rolled away the stone without waking them, and then (trembling all the while lest the guard should wake), took the time to unroll all those yards of cloth in which the body was wrapped, so that they might leave them in the tomb, and carry away the naked body. Such an act would have been foolish and purposeless under any circumstances, but it would have been insane in the presence of a sleeping guard.
The facts, then, serve as a most effectual ally in establishing the truth, and in disallowing everything which is not the truth. This is not rationalism, but reason. It is Scriptural also. The apostles’ first faith in the resurrection of Christ stood upon those grave clothes which they found in “the empty tomb,” though they had “many infallible proofs” to confirm that faith afterwards. “And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they KNEW NOT THE SCRIPTURE, that he must rise again from the dead.” (John 20:5-9). The doctrine of the resurrection of Christ in the Scriptures
—-such Scriptures as they then had —-was an obscure and complex thing, certainly not easily grasped. The facts lay nearer at hand. The empty tomb and the empty grave clothes were facts which they could see in a moment, and on the basis of those facts the truth was established.
This is the proper province of facts. They are always the best ally of truth, and always the best check to error. No doctrine can be the truth which will not square with the facts. Let its reasonings and interpretations of Scripture be ever so plausible, and its adherents ever so confident, yet if it stands in contradiction to plain facts, it cannot be the truth.
Yet we must allow that in certain spheres the case is reversed, and it is the province of the truth to disallow alleged facts. In those spheres in which the truth is plain and the facts elusive or unavailable, it is certainly the province of the truth to disallow supposed facts, which are alleged against it. In the matter of creation, the truth is plain, not only by revelation, but by reason also, whereas the “facts” which men allege on the other side are but guesses and theories
—-and in some cases deliberate frauds. Here it is certainly the province of truth to disallow such “facts.”
Yet in most matters the facts are certainly more easily and surely attained than the truth. They therefore act as a constant and most legitimate check upon whatever professes to be the truth.