The word “absolute” is used in many areas of life. In a brief Google search you will find “absolute adjectives” and “absolute phrases” in English and grammar. In mathematics you will find “absolute values and equations”. In an Excel worksheet you may find “absolute values” in formatting cells.
An absolute in the apologetic or philosophical sense is something that is free and independent of anything extraneous. It is complete in itself and independent of any other cause.
(Note: My aim in this series is to awaken a desire in the reader to explore in detail the principles and concepts presented. I am not fully able to expand on all, for it would be a tedious and untidy task on my behalf and a burdensome read. Thus the many links to sources.)
In Apologetics the “absolutes” we are concerned with are philosophical. In the concept chart below from the “Importance of Philosophy” 2001 Jeff Landauer and Joseph Rowlands, the hierarchy of relationship within the five branches of philosophy is identified.
Absolutes form an important aspect of, and are addressed generally within, each branch. At the root and forming the foundation of philosophy is metaphysics, the study of existence.
Metaphysically, reality is an absolute. It has a specific nature independent of our thoughts or feelings, it is important for us to form a correct understanding of this reality.
“The primacy of existence states the irrefutable truth that existence is primary and consciousness is secondary… Existence is primary because it is independent of, makes possible, and is a prerequisite of consciousness.” Landauer, and Rowlands.
Closely related to metaphysics is epistemology, the study of knowledge, how we know about reality and existence. In epistemology we use reason and logic to come to an understanding of how we know what we know and to maintain consistency in how we acquire knowledge.
In epistemology logic is an absolute. Logic guides us to the understanding of reality because it requires us to reason within the boundaries of its laws. They are the Law of Identity, the Law of Non-contradiction, the Law of the Excluded Middle.
J.P. Moreland explains in “What Are the Three Laws of Logic”
The basic laws of logic govern all reality and thought and are known to be true for at least two reasons: (1) They are intuitively obvious and self-evident. Once one understands a basic law of logic (see below), one can see that it is true. (2) Those who deny them use these principles in their denial, demonstrating that those laws are unavoidable and that it is self-refuting to deny them.
The basic laws of logic are neither arbitrary inventions of God nor principles that exist completely outside God’s being. Obviously, the laws of logic are not like the laws of nature. God may violate the latter (say, suspend gravity), but He cannot violate the former. Those laws are rooted in God’s own nature. Indeed, some scholars think the passage “In the beginning was the Word [logos]” (Jn 1:1) is accurately translated, “In the beginning was Logic (a divine, rational mind).”
These laws help us decide which is true and which is false. It within this discipline we find the ability to reason logically and consistently. These fundamental laws of logic form the basis of the “Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God.” This argument is heavily debated and admittedly difficult to follow because of the implications of it validity.
We find absolutes in the field of ethics, the third branch of philosophy. It is the study of what is the right thing for man to do. What is right and wrong? How do we decide? Again in this field you will find debates regarding absolutes. Are there moral absolutes? Do we discover them or do we create them? It is here I disagree with the reasoning of Landauer and Rowlands. They believe that morality needs no God. It is difficult for a theist to comprehend how that could be. Within this discussion you will find that there are moral absolutes and they form the basis of the “Moral Argument for the Existence of God.”
Absolutes are found in politics, the fourth branch of philosophy and a subset of ethics. Basically, it is how ethics is applied to a group of people. In society we are at our best when individuals follow a shared ethic and morality based upon the absolutes found in Scripture. In America we enjoy a system of government founded upon the framework of principles which enable and empower individual liberty under the law. The Ten Commandments formed the basis for laws established in America.
The structure of a representative republic is found in the Old Testament when Moses was directed to establish leaders over groups of tens and fifties and hundreds and thousands. Exodus 13:18-27.
The principle of three branches of government is found in the words of Isaiah 33:22.
Landauer and Rowlands state that
“Reason is man’s prime means of survival…the prime goal of a political system must be the preservation and enabling of the faculty of reason. Reason does not function under coercion…A moral political system must ban coercion… or the initiation of force”.
The means to protect society from evil being the use of retaliatory force and objectifying laws.
At the link below you will find a brief reflection on the character of our founders and how their reasoning from Scripture was integral to the formation of our government.
Finally in the fifth branch we find absolutes in the study of esthetics. What life can be like, the study of art and the sense of life and what makes it all enjoyable and fulfilling. This area depends upon the understanding of the others. Absolutes are part of what make esthetics fulfilling and enjoyable and valuable for the character, vitality and moral of a society.
In the essay “Art and the Christian” Jerry Solomon and Jimmy Williams attribute the creative drive of man to the creator God.
“He has permitted humans to take the elements of His cosmos and create new arrangements with them. Perhaps this explains the reason why creating anything is so fulfilling to us. We can express a drive within us which allows us to do something all humans uniquely share with their Creator.God has thus placed before the human race a banquet table rich with aesthetic delicacies. He has supplied the basic ingredients, inviting those made in His image to exercise their creative capacities to the fullest extent possible. We are privileged as no other creature to make and enjoy art.”
However the consequences of man’s rebellion also appear in the creative process.
“Man is Jekyll and Hyde:noble image-bearer and morally-crippled animal. His works of art are therefore bittersweet.”
The absolutes that help us evaluate and appreciate art in all forms can be found in scripture.
Phillipians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.”
Absolutes are found in the five branches of philosophy. The concept of an absolute is difficult to grasp for the definition of an absolute itself renders it dependent upon its relativity to something other. We use the word absolute in a casual way many times when we should strive to be more deliberate. In a pure sense the absolute is free and complete and is not dependent on anything. It is self-existent, apart from and independent of anything else.
From the Christian understanding everything that exist is created by God. That which is created cannot be a pure absolute. Only God, being self-existent, having always existed with no beginning or end is absolute. His incommunicable attributes (Self-existence, Immutability, Omnipresence, Omniscience, Etc) are what make Him absolute, His communicable attributes (Love, Mercy, Justice, Knowledge, Etc) allow us to be His image bearers. Those who are redeemed and guided by His Spirit who reflect upon the absolutes found in all God’s attributes become disciples and in turn will make disciples thus influencing nations and people to become more like Him.
“”A” is for Absolute” is an installment in the “Apologetics A-Z” series. Thanks for reading!