Author Greg Koukl
Published on 05/31/2021
Christian Living

Discerning Truth in a Divided World

Greg gives advice for discerning truth in a world where people have such wildly different understandings of what is happening.


Caller: In a world that we’re in right now, in fact, it constantly comes to a head day after day, and it’s almost seeming like we live in an alternate universe. I mean, friends and family who watch the same events that I do, including, most recently, the Israel—what’s going on with all the bombing and how half the country—or maybe more—act like it’s all Israel’s fault. And you can obviously, from my question, see where I stand, but this happens in every area, whether it’s men competing in women’s sports, or politics, or Christianity, religion, sex, as you guys were talking about, sexuality. And I just wonder if you could give some advice to me, and probably the listeners, how to discern, really, truth from error in issues in our world—and I’ll leave it at that.

Greg: Sure, I’d be glad to. In fact, just as you were closing there, I thought of an analogy. We have a fireplace. It’s an old one, and we weren’t sure if it was sound or not. And we had a guy come out and take a look at it yesterday and give us some recommendations. But he was the third person out. And the reason that we had three people come out is because we wanted a different opinion. We wanted a second opinion, so to speak. And the second person who came out contradicted, to some degree, what the first person said. And so then, [with] the third person coming out, we can get another perspective.

When you get three perspectives on something—and characteristically, the common conventional wisdom is, if you’re going to have work done on your home, you want to get three bids because you end up talking to three different people about the same thing who sound different to you.

Now, may be that they all sound alike, and if they all sound alike, then they probably all got the same accurate take on the circumstances, all right? But if there are differences, then you have to weigh which one might be telling the truth. It turned out the first guy said I need all these changes here, and it was thousands of dollars, and he was going to sell it to me. Well, maybe I did need it, but I wasn’t sure. The second guy said, “You don’t need any of that.” The third guy said, “If you want to get what the first guy said, you’ll be up to code, but you don’t need to be up to code for safety, and your thing is safe. We just need to have these smaller changes.” So, because I’m getting kind of the back story from different people, different perspectives, it puts me in a better position—you’re going to see how this analogy works, here—better position to know what’s actually happening.

And not only that, when you’re listening carefully and getting the story, if you’re paying attention, some things are just going to ring true for you because the way they’re characterized is straightforward and unembellished, and there doesn’t seem to be any trickery going on, okay? I noticed that in some points of view, there’s a lot of screaming going on—pounding the pulpit kind of stuff. If a person has a weak point, they’re going to make more noise, and they’re going to take detours—rhetorical detours—that are called demagoguery. That means it’s kind of highfalutin rhetoric to make up for weak arguments. They’re demagogic. There’s yelling and carrying on.

Well, when I see people that are demagogic, I ask myself, why are they doing this? Why are they making all this noise? Why are they screaming? Because they have weak points. That’s why they’re doing it. It’s a tell for me. Or they’re trying to silence dissent. If they’re trying to silence dissent, then I don’t trust what they have to say because if what they had to say could survive peer review, they wouldn’t have to silence peer review. They’re silencing it because it probably can’t withstand it.

So, a lot of ideas now that are paraded by what’s called now “the legacy press” are paraded out in that fashion. This is the way it is. The discussion is over. The debate is over. These are settled facts. We’re not letting anybody disagree, and you’re bad if you try. I know immediately that I can’t trust what they say because I can see the tricks.

So, on the one hand, when you’ve got all this other stuff going on, try to get a couple of different perspectives. Maybe three on that issue, okay? And I have resources, and everybody does. You can go on the internet and get other views, and not just the legacy press’s take, but what other people are saying about what the legacy press says, and then you could judge for yourself. Are these guys—who’s making the better case? And if you have three, then that’s really the magic number, kind of thing.

And also, if you have some skills at clear thinking—and this is what we hope you’re not just gaining through what we write but catching through interaction, listening to the radio and stuff like that, then you’ll recognize errors, mistakes, or ploys, like when there’s a misrepresentation of a view, a straw man, or when there’s just rank name calling: “You’re a hater.” Okay, well maybe I’m a hater, but that’s an assessment of my character. That’s not an assessment of my view. You changed the subject. Right? So, you can see those maneuvers, then you know when somebody’s trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

So, I think a combination of getting multiple sources, all right? Not just hearing one side, but asking yourself, “I wonder—that sounded fairly persuasive, but I wonder what somebody who disagrees with that person would say in response?” This is a question we ask a lot of times here at Stand to Reason when we’re writing. We’re saying, what would they say in response? We better cover that. We better cover that if there’s a weakness in our view. But that’s a way to assess somebody else’s view. What are other people saying about it? What’s the critique of that view by others—thoughtful people? And then the ability to be able to see things for yourself. When maneuvers (either fallacies or power plays) are in place, that’s going to be a red flag and alert you to look closer and dig deeper on that issue.