There was no doubt among the authorities and the soldiers as to the facts, as to what had happened. Jesus was raised from the dead, just as he had promised. The authorities had to lie about what had happened because it had happened. Had Jesus’ corpse been stolen it would have turned up. It is not that difficult for cops to find a missing body. Somebody always makes a mistake but Jesus’ body was not stolen. He was seen by 500 people (1 Cor 15:4). They ate fish with him (John 21:8–13) They saw him ascend (Acts 1:9). The resurrection is a fact. The ascension is a fact.
A few days ago someone, somewhere on social media, in objection to something I wrote, used the arresting expression “biased facts.” I learned from the Dutch Reformed philosophical theologian Cornelius Van Til (1895–1987) that there are no such things as uninterpreted facts or “brute facts,” that God has interpreted all reality and that humans must submit to that interpretation or face the consequences. Nevertheless, of themselves, facts are not biased or unbiased. By definition, a fact is what is. Claimsabout what is or is not may be biased but facts either are or they are not. A “biased fact” is a confusion of categories but in an age of “fake news,” which, by definition is an oxymoron, I suppose we should not be surprised .
In an opinion column published yesterday George Will writes, “In today’s therapeutic culture, which seems designed to validate every opinion and feeling, there will rarely be disagreement without anger between thin-skinned people who cannot distinguish the phrase ‘you’re wrong’ from ‘you’re stupid.’” He interacts with a 2005 book by Lynne Truss, Talk to the Hand, her response to the phenomenon of self-entitled rudeness. He also interacts Tom Nichols’ new book, The Death of Expertise. They are each touching on a complex of problems that I have been observing for some time.
The good news is that these are not entirely new problems and there is an answer. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Western theologians criticized the reigning philosophical approach, which had influenced theology considerably, known as realism. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1224–74) is an outstanding representative of this approach. The realists (whom the critics sometimes referred to as the via antiqua, the old way) argued, in effect, that we call things what we call them because things are the way they are. They were deeply convinced of an identity between words (names) and reality (things). The nominalist critics (via moderna) responded by arguing that the relationship between words and things is less about the nature of things and more a convention or even arbitrary. The realists had argued that the world and our perception of it is the result of the divine nature and intellect. The world is at it is because God is what he is. Things could not be other than they are. Some of the critics wanted to assert the freedom of the divine will, they wanted to say that God could have done things other than he did and remain good and just.
The West has been having a similar sort of argument since the 1980s at least. As the Deconstructionist movement has filtered through the University English departments to mass culture and public schools, people have increasingly turned to a sort of skepticism about the relationship between words and things. Even prior to that movement there were powerful influences pushing the West toward a radical sort of subjectivism according to which “I,” the subject, determine reality. That was a basic impulse of Modernity, whether via empiricism (sense experience determines truth) or via rationalism (the intellect determines truth). Modernity removed God, revelation, and the church from authority and put the subject firmly in charge of truth. Capital T truth was replaced with lower case t truth. In the 19th century already there were signs that neither the rationalists nor the empiricists would be able to prevent the slide into radical subjectivism. Religious subjectivism (e.g., Pietism) had been cooking in the other room even before Modernity. Among secularism, by the 1970s “therapy” became the new religion. People began speaking about “my truth.” One of my university professors routinely quoted John Lennon’s line, “Whatever gets you through the night.” Combine the incipient subjectivism of Modernity, the religious subjectivism of the American revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries with literary subjectivism of Deconstructionism and “reader-response” theory, and, to quote Paul Simon, “it’s a wonder I can think at all.”
My university professors in the 1970s and early 80s all pretended to believe in objective truth. It was only a pretense but even that is gone now. Radical subjectivism reigns openly on university campuses. It is not only students who demand to be protected from views with which they disagree, it is faculty members who, only 30 years ago, once described the university as a marketplace of ideas, who defended the principle of toleration. Profs and pupils now insist that the university be a closed “feedback loop” whereby students only hear what is affirming, whereby, as Will notes, all criticism is regarded as morally equivalent to personal attack.