What is the difference between absolute and relative truth? (2023)

What is the difference between absolute and relative truth? (1)

(This is one of the 40 key questions I address in my new book,Keeping Your Children on God's Side: 40 Conversations to Help You Build Lasting Faith.If you're a parent, grandparent, church educator, or other special person in a child's spiritual life, check out my book for guidance on how to have the most important conversations about faith in today's secular world.)

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 corrected it immediately.

“Nathan, you are NOT right! The bird was black and red. There was no yellow. You are wrong."

Nathan yelled at him, “No! I'm right! The bird had yellow on its ass.

The Tired Mother Syndrome appeared here and I joined the fray with this false answer: “Guys! It doesn't matter. Sometimes people see different things. They can all be right at the same time.”

(Video) Is Truth Relative or Absolute?

Fast forward to next week. My other daughter, Alexa, ran into the kitchen screaming, “Mommy! Kenna hit me!"

Kenna followed her in with a casual shrug. "No, I didn't. Now stop talking about it. We can both be right. Sometimes people see things differently.”

I couldn't believe it. My lazy response from the week before completely confused my daughter's understanding of the truth! It gave him the idea that no one is right or wrong about anything, and everyone can be right at the same time.

As obvious as it seems that there are many things that are true or not (Kenna hit Alexa or not), this basic understanding of truth, fundamental to Christianity, is under attack today. Kenna isn't the only one confused.

The Great Confusion: Absolute and Relative Truth

Any bird my kids saw was either 1) black, red, and yellow (as Nathan claimed), 2) just black and red (as Kenna claimed), or 3) something else entirely (if both were wrong). But contrary to my lazy "everyone could be right" answer, the bird simply cannot be all of those things at once.

(Video) What is relative truth and absolute truth? (Subtitles: EN-NL-IT-PT-ES-DE)

The color of the bird is an example ofabsolute truth. To say that something is absolutely true means that it is independently true for all people, even if they don't know or recognize it to be true.

The opposite of absolute truth isrelative truth. To say that something is relatively true means that it may be true for one person and not for another. If Kenna had said, "The bird is beautiful!" and Nathan replied, "the bird is ugly!" both could have told the truth, because beauty is a matter of opinion; it is a relative truth.

the existence ofabsolute truthit is a necessary foundation of Christianity.

God did not mince words in the Bible because what he revealed was the only truth. Very directly, in John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

However, the secular world increasingly teaches that all truth is relative, a simple matter of one's point of view. This is why understanding these terms of truth and making them clear to our children is so important: we can spend years giving reasons why we believe Christianity is true, but if the answer is one day to shrug our shoulders because our children come to believe that all truth is relative ("Christianity may be true for you, but not for me"), all will be in vain.

Make Your Kids Think: The Relativist Chorus

(Video) Relative vs Absolute Truth

Here are four common statements rooted in the secular confusion of relative and absolute truth. Talk about each one with your children. The bird examples can help you drive the concepts home.

"All religions point to the same truth."

Even the most basic survey of the world's religions shows that they contradict each other on major claims. They simply cannot be completely true at the same time, although eachclaimsbe entirely true. It's like the bird that can't be black, red and yellow And just black and red at the same time.

That said, it is important to understand that different religions can to containpartsof absolute truth. For example, both Judaism and Islam believe in one God, as does Christianity. But no religion believes that Jesus is the son of God, which is central to Christian belief (and which Christians claim to be the absolute truth). If the bird was black, red and yellow, Nathan's belief was true. Kenna's belief that it was black and red containedpartof absolute truth, but in its entirety, his belief was not true because he was wrong about yellow.

"Christians are not tolerant of other beliefs."

Tolerance is the most misused word today. By definition, tolerance simply means tolerating ideas other than one's own. Most people who throw the word away, however, treat it as if it means agreeing with or accepting these other ideas. Agreeing with all ideas is the ultimate nod to relative truth. Christians, however, must treat all people with respect, but maintain the firmness of what we believeonlyChristianity is true. Believing in absolute truth is not intolerant. Nathan could treat Kenna with respect while firmly stating that he believed she didn't know the truth.

(Video) Is Truth Relative or Absolute?

"I like to live by compassion rather than a predetermined set of beliefs."

Many young adults today turn away from biblical Christianity in favor of living only according to "good values". This quote suggests that it's okay to decide what we believe based on whatas, as if spiritual truth were simply a matter of preference (relative truth). I may like bluebirds better, but that has nothing to do with the true color of the bird my kids saw.

"Christianity just doesn't make sense to me because (fill in a number of reasons)."

What makes sense varies from person to person. Christianity makes sense to me. Atheism makes sense to someone else. The appeal to common sense implicitly promotes the concept of relative truth. But our subjective perspectives have nothing to do with reality. Christianity can be true or atheism can be true, but both cannot be true just because they make sense to different people. It might not make sense to me that there is a black, red, and yellow bird in this area now, but that doesn't mean the bird wasn't actually there.

Can you think of other common statements that confuse absolute and relative truth? I would love to hear your thoughts!


What is the difference between absolute and relative in philosophy? ›

Absolute and Relative are philosophical terms concerning the mutual interdependence of things, processes and knowledge. 'Absolute' means independent, permanent and not subject to qualification. 'Relative' means partial or transient, dependent on circumstances or point-of-view.

What is the difference between relative truth and absolute truth in Buddhism? ›

Essence-function in Korean Buddhism

The polarity of absolute and relative is also expressed as "essence-function". The absolute is essence, the relative is function. They can't be seen as separate realities, but interpenetrate each other.

What is the meaning of absolute truth? ›

Absolute truth is something that is true at all times and in all places. It is something that is always true no matter what the circumstances. It is a fact that cannot be changed. For example, there are no round squares.

What do you mean by relative truth? ›

Declaring that something is true for one person, but not for another, is to claim that the truth is relative to or dependent on the subject being considered.

What is an example of absolute truth? ›

Absolute truths involve universal definitions for when certain crimes are committed. Many religions contain absolute truths. For example, a Christian might say, “ I know Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. By following his teachings, I will live in heaven when I die.” To the Christian this may be an absolute truth.

What are the examples of relative and absolute? ›

General Example of Absolute and Relative Location

Addresses of a place are an example of absolute location. Someone may live at 123 Main Street. What is this? That house, when explained as a relative location, may be described as being four houses down from the corner.

What is relative truth according to Buddhists? ›

Relative truth includes all the dualistic phenomena- ourselves, other beings, material objects, thoughts, emotions, concepts-that make up our lives in this world. These are sometimes called maya, or illusion, because we mistakenly believe they are solid, separate, and independent realities.

What is relative and absolute in Buddhism? ›

The absolute or ultimate is the inherent nature of everything, how things really are. The conventional or relative is how things appear. In the teachings, these are known as 'the two truths', but they are not to be understood as two separate dimensions, rather as two aspects of a single reality.

What does the two truths in Buddhism refer to? ›

Nāgārjuna, in his Mūlamadhyamakakārikā [MMK], attributes the two truths to the Buddha as follows: “the Dharma taught by the buddhas is precisely based on the two truths: a truth of mundane conventions and a truth of the ultimate” ([MMK] 24:8).

What does the Bible say about the absolute truth? ›

God is absolute truth. His truth doesn't depend on a set of circumstances. Truth is true for all people everywhere all the time, regardless of the form of government they live under. In John 14:6, Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

What are some absolute truths in the Bible? ›

There is a loving Father in Heaven, and His Son, Jesus Christ; there is an adversary, Satan; through agency, all of us choose our own course; the temptations of the devil can always be overcome.

Is there any absolute truth in the world? ›

There are no absolute truths in science; there are only approximate truths. Whether a statement, theory, or framework is true or not depends on quantitative factors and how closely you examine or measure the results.

Is God absolute or relative? ›

God is absolute insofar as he is eternal, cause, activity, creator; he is relative insofar as he is temporal, effect, passive (having potentiality in his nature), and affected by the world.

What are the two types of truth? ›

Normative Truth is what we, as a group, agree is true. (English speakers agreed to use the word day to name that time when the sky is lit by the sun.) Subjective Truth is how the individual sees or experiences the world. (Today is a good day for me.)

Is reality relative or absolute? ›

Absolute truth and reality would be everything – and also unknown to us. Therefore falling outside of our scope of reality or ability to perceive and know, except as a conceptual imaginative creation, an ideal. Within our perception of reality, Truth is relative. Reality is relative.

What is an example of 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.

What are the three absolute truths? ›

Throughout history, many religious, ideological, political, and even scientific truths have been shown to have no basis in fact.
These are three of those absolute truths:
  • We all will die. ...
  • We're all created from the union of a man and a woman. ...
  • We are all born from a woman.
Jan 15, 2017

Who is the Supreme absolute truth? ›

The Upanisads and other Vedic scriptures clearly state that Brahman is the Absolute Truth and the possessor and source of multifarious energies. In the Bhagavad-gita (14.27) this Brahman is said to be the bodily effulgence of Krsna (brahmano hi prastisthaham).

Are morals relative or absolute? ›

The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.

What are some examples of absolute words? ›

Examples of absolute language include words such as 'all, none, must, except, every, not, always, just, only, and never'. Absolute language is very specific, and test-takers need to be aware that these types of questions can appear not only on the SAT, but in any test, standardized or not.

What is a relative example? ›

Parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, nieces and nephews — they're all relatives. A relative can be connected to your family through blood or by marriage.

Is it true that truth is relative? ›

According to the relativist, there is no absolute or objective truth; truth is relative and subjective. For example, a relativist can't consistently claim that 2 + 2 = 4 because the answer 4 is neither right nor wrong. It just depends. Your math teacher likes 4, but you like 6; so for you, the answer is 6.

What is relative truth according to Gandhi? ›

Gandhi said, “Truth is not only Relative Truth of our conception but the Absolute Truth, the Eternal Principle, that is God.” Thus, while Absolute Truth is God, the Relative Truth is something what we perceive as Truth. No proof is required to know the Absolute Truth because it is eternal and infinite.

What is absolute in Buddhism? ›

The Absolute, the whole of reality, is one and eternal, always the same and omnipresent, but it is also the kind of whole that divides from itself, encounters itself, arises anew each moment, engenders itself as the transient flux of each unique and individual moment of experience of every sentient being.

What is the difference between relative and absolute importance? ›

Relative is always in proportion to a whole. Absolute is the total of all existence. 2. Relative is dependent while absolute is independent.

What are the three 3 core beliefs in Buddhism? ›

Buddhism is a religion that is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. The main principles of this belief system are karma, rebirth, and impermanence.

What is the difference between absolute and relative in physics? ›

3. What is the difference between absolute and relative motion? Absolute motion is the change of position of a body from one absolute place to another; relative motion is the change of position of a body from one relative place to another.

What is the belief that there is no absolute truth? ›

Alethic relativism (also factual relativism) is the doctrine that there are no absolute truths, i.e., that truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference, such as a language or a culture (cultural relativism).

Who said there is no absolute truth? ›

Friedrich Nietzsche Quotes

There are no eternal facts, as there are no absolute truths.

What are the four absolute truths? ›

The Four Absolutes are Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness, and Love.

What is all truth is God's truth? ›

Science. “All truth is God's truth” is probably the most familiar and famous quote from St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430). Those five words express confidence in God, truth, the Bible, science and the ultimate alignment of all inquiry and discovery.

Is God the absolute reality? ›

Summary. God, being absolute and infinite, is both the Reality that transcends the cosmos and the Principle that generates it.

Why is absolute truth not possible in history? ›

Finding truth in history is about understanding that this truth is not absolute. In this sense, truth is based on perspective. The perspective of the person who captured it and the person interpreting it. And the perspective of the translators and editors and primary sources.

Which philosophers believe in absolute truth? ›

Although many philosophers in history believed in relative truth versus absolute truth, Plato accepted absolute truth. He believed that the trust on Earth was merely a form of absolute trust that exists in the universe. Plato expresses and emphasizes his ideas in Phaedo.

Is truth relative or subjective? ›

They are subjective. Truth is objective and open to disputation and debate; matters of personal taste are not. Matters of individual tastes and preference are about you.

Is everything in this world relative? ›

No. Many things are not relative. For example, whether two hings bump into each other gets the same answer in all different reference frames (points of view).

Can two truths contradict? ›

Dialetheism (from Greek δι- di- 'twice' and ἀλήθεια alḗtheia 'truth') is the view that there are statements that are both true and false. More precisely, it is the belief that there can be a true statement whose negation is also true. Such statements are called "true contradictions", dialetheia, or nondualisms.

What are the two truth values? ›

According to Frege, there are exactly two truth values, the True and the False.

Are two truths and a lie? ›

If you're searching for a great icebreaker game for a group of friends or colleagues, Two Truths and a Lie is a fun way to get to know one another. In this game, everybody takes a turn saying three statements out loud. Two of them must be facts about yourself, or truths, and the third should be a believable lie.

Which philosopher said truth is relative? ›

“Man is the measure of all things: both of things that are, and of things that are not,” says Protagoras in Plato's book aptly called Protagoras.

What is the difference between absolute method and relative method? ›

Relative dating does not offer specific dates, it simply allows to determine if one artifact, fossil, or stratigraphic layer is older than another. Absolute dating methods provide more specific origin dates and time ranges, such as an age range in years.

What is relative philosophy? ›

Relativism is the belief that there's no absolute truth, only the truths that a particular individual or culture happen to believe. If you believe in relativism, then you think different people can have different views about what's moral and immoral. Understandably, relativism makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

How do you compare absolute and relative terms? ›

The relative difference describes the size of the absolute difference as a fraction of the reference value: relative difference = absolute difference reference value = compared value − reference value reference value .

What is the difference between absolute and relative morality? ›

Absolute morality has no exceptions, it is not dependant on the situation as it values acts and not end and is a fixed set of rules which govern society, as actions are either moral or immoral despite the circumstance or individuals belief. Relative morality has open exceptions and is mainly based on situation ethics.

Is relative or absolute more accurate? ›

Results: Our findings indicated that the accuracy of the relative values was always much higher compared to the absolute values. Conclusion: This finding can be explained by “combined errors” which affect absolute cell counts and which are directed for all cell counts of one run into the same direction.

What is absolute vs relative confirmation? ›

Absolute Vs Relative Configuration

The absolute configuration refers to the exact three-dimensional arrangement of the atoms in a molecule, while the relative configuration only describes the spatial arrangement of the atoms.

What are examples of 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.

Why is relative better than absolute? ›

Relative changes on small numbers can appear to be more significant than they are. This is because a small absolute change in the number can result in a large percentage change. So if I got a $50 return on my $10 investment, my relative change was a 400% increase.

What is ethical absolutism vs relativism? ›

Ethical abso- lutism is a position which argues for the existence of objective values and intrinsically moral acts. As such there can exist moral principles which are always valid and correct. Ethical relativism is a position that holds that moral values are relative to some further instance.

What are absolute and relative moral principles? ›

There are two types of moral principles: absolute and relative. 1Absolute principles are unchanging and universal. Relative moral principles change depending on the situation.

What are examples of moral absolutes? ›

Moral absolutism is an ethical view that some (potentially all) actions are intrinsically right or wrong. Stealing, for instance, might be considered to be always immoral, even if done for the well-being of others (e.g., stealing food to feed a starving family), and even if it does in the end promote such a good.


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