Sunday, March 30, 2014

Responding to the Feelings Barrier for Determining Truth


Have you ever heard anyone make statements like the following: "I feel it is only right to (fill in a moral choice or issue)" "Something bad happened, it can't be true!"  This is the "Walt Disney method" for determining truth, where a person uses their feelings and emotions to create the foundation for one's reality.  In this posting, I want to address the real issue of the use of feelings and emotions as a means for determining truth.

Don't get me wrong, feelings are very real when it comes to physical situations, and emotional scenarios. But are feelings a good test for truth? The answer to that is a firm, "No!" Let me explain.

Taking the feelings path for testing truth is known as the subjective approach or formally known as "subjectivism." Geisler and Holden define subjectivism as "the belief that one can use feelings, emotions, and/or intuitions as the keys to determining something to be true.[1]  Some people think that truth "feels good" and error "feels bad." If you and I were to talk to a Mormon, they would tell you that they have received a feeling of a "burning in the bosom" after reading The Book of Mormon for the first time. This feeling is, for them, the test that the Book of Mormon is true.  But there are a handful of flaws when it comes to using feelings as a truth test.

Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings. . .

Feelings are very real to the person who is experiencing them. But making moral choices based on feelings, or determining why life takes different turns and direction is not a good standard for determining reality.[2] Here are some reasons.

First, feelings are a poor test for determining what is true because feelings change. We are emotional creatures to where some people's emotions change like the New England weather. Changing feelings cannot be used as a basis for determining reality. If truth could change right along with our feelings think of the things that could happen. Laws of physics like the law of gravity would have to be changed and updated daily depending on the feelings and emotions of the scientists for each day. Reference books like encyclopedias that contain historical truths would have to be updated regularly to reflect the current feelings and emotions of the editor. We would never have a realistic understanding of reality.

Second, can you imagine if two people had different feelings about the same statement? Whose feelings or emotions about statement x to we accept? Is it true? Or is it false? How do we determine which emotional interpreter of the statement is right, and who is wrong? Do you see the problem?

Feelings are good, and they are very real. I can't express that enough. God wants us to experience and use our feelings and emotions. At the same time, there is a proper and an improper way of using feelings, while holding to, expressing and sharing the truth. But is also improper to using feigns to prove, test, and support the truth.

Finally, have you ever thought that bad news can be true? Think of the bad things that have happened, in this country over the last several years, like the hurricanes, storms, terrorist attacks etc. But if only what feels good is true, you and I would have to reject all the news events that have happened that meal us feel horrible. Think of it for just a moment.  The doctor tells a patient they have a terminal illness. The dentist tells you that you have to have oral surgery or else something bad may happen to your jaw. Of if you are a student taking exams, the professor/teacher tells you that you flunked your one exam for the semester and you flunk the course. If we dismiss events like these because of all the  unpleasant news or information, we are putting ourselves at a great risk if we are on the receiving end of the news.


At best, feelings can be a result of or a reaction to truth, but feelings cannot be a basis for determining the truth. God has given us feelings for specific things. We will experience feelings and emotions and they are very real, but they do not determine and cannot be used as a gauge for determining that which corresponds to reality (i.e., the truth).


[1] Norman Geisler and Joseph Holden. TruthQuest Living Out Loud Defending Your Faith. (Nashville: Broadman Holman Press, 2002), 35. According to Evans "Subjectivism is a philosophy or life perspective that attempts to view what is normally thought to be objectively true or false as subjective. In ethics, emotivism, which views ethical judgments as expressions of subjective emotions, is an example of subjectivism. Subjectivism is in effect a type of individual relativism." (C. Stephen Evans. Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downes Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2002: s.v., "Subjectivism."

[2] Remember in the beginning of this series, we determined truth to be that which corresponds to all of reality.

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