Do We Really Live In A “Post-Truth” World?

It’s official. The 2016 word of the year is “post-truth.” Last year it was an emoji. In 2014 the word was “vape.” And in 2013 it was “selfie.”

With the truth twisting, emotional appeals, and personal attacks that characterized this past election season, Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as the word for 2016. According to the dictionary, “post-truth” means, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Post Truth

Simply put, we now live in a culture that seems to value experience and emotion more than truth. While modern technology and social media certainly contribute to the phenomena of emphasizing style over substance—just read Amusing Ourselves to Deathtwo thoughts stood out to me when I first heard that “post-truth” was the word of the year.

First, the idea of changing, avoiding, or moving beyond truth is not new. Judges 17:6 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” In other words, there was no standard the people were accountable to, and so they decided for themselves what they believed was true. No doubt they followed their experience and feelings to determine what was right. And by doing so, they demonstrated a universal human proclivity—the denial of truth. Humans always have, and always will, find ways to avoid truth.

Second, we don’t really live in a post-truth world. In fact, a post-truth world is impossible. Not too long ago I was speaking at a youth event. Afterwards, a student came up to me and said, “You talked about truth a lot. What’s the big deal? Why is truth even important?” I looked at him and simply asked, “Do you want the true answer or the false answer?” He clearly valued truth, even though he didn’t realize it. The same is true for all of us.

We make daily decisions based on what we think is true—waking up at the right time, taking the correct medications, and choosing the right directions to get to work. Truth is inescapable.

Trying to ultimately deny truth is like pushing a beach ball under water. Push it down on one side, but then it pops up the other. Each time you push it down it comes back up. Its nature is to float to the surface, even when we try to submerge it.

Truth is the same way. We may live in a “post-truth” world, in which people make choices based on emotion and experience rather than objective fact, but the reality is, truth simply won’t disappear. Truth will keep popping to the surface and reminding us that it’s important.

Deep inside the human heart is the knowledge that we need truth to live a meaningful life. We know that truth matters. In fact, that’s why we’re so quick to correct those we feel are mistaken. We may choose experience and emotion over truth, but deep inside the human heart is an awareness that we should follow and believe what is true.

Let me know if you think I got something wrong in this post. But just realize that if you do, you’re making my point for me—Truth really does matter. And we ought to get our facts right, even if Oxford dubs “post-truth” the word of the year.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:


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36 replies
  1. Luke says:

    Sean McDowell said:“Second, we don’t really live in a post-truth world. In fact, a post-truth world is impossible. ”

    Why is a world presenting “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” impossible?



    • Louie says:

      Luke – When I read his post, I interpreted his view as such…
      It is impossible because if you made your decisions based on information that was NOT based on truth, you’d eventually kill yourself. You’d take the whole bottle of advil because you had a really bad headache. You’d eat only candy, because it tasted good. You’d turn left instead of right, because you felt like it, even though it was into oncoming traffic. Stuff like that. Maybe I misunderstood his point, but that is how I read it.

  2. Andy Ryan says:

    ‘Post-truth’ rose as a concept as a result of a Presidential campaign when Trump continually said things that were not only untrue, but demonstrably untrue. He would even deny having said something when we had video evidence of him saying it. And this happened over and over, throughout the campaign for months. He would say he had always been against the Iraq war, even though we had him on tape saying he supported it.

    And people still supported him, even claimed that he was clever for doing this. And this site supported him. So one has to assume that the blog authors here are all for this brave new post-truth world.

    • Louie says:

      Andy – I do not give Trump the credit for this word being the word for 2016. He may have assisted, but there is more to this than him. This type of thinking has been building for years, and its not surprising, since the truth & facts are not cool to talk about. Social media gave rise to this being the popular trend, not Donald.
      Trump was elected president, and not because of what he stands for. He was elected because he was the alternative to the Clintons & establishment in Washington. It is a testament to how much distrust there is of politicians in the US right now. This was the year for a 3rd party to win, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if they could have brought forth a quality candidate.

      • Andy Ryan says:

        Interesting to watch the shoe slowly drop for Trump supporters that if they elect a guy who lies all the time then it’s not that surprising that he does back on all his promises.
        Clinton getting locked up? Not going to happen.
        Building a wall? Actually, that may not happen either, and perhaps much of it will be a fence (despite Trump previously correcting anyone who referred to it as a fence).
        Draining the swamp? Well actually, Trump’s going to hire a bunch of people with ties to Goldman Sachs and Putin, not to mention his own family.

        Hey, maybe facts, experience, integrity and character matter after all.

        • toby says:

          It’s funny that the republicans are often the ones that dismiss politicians with “Oh, they’re all a bunch of liars” and then go out with their party blinders on and vote for one.

          I heard something said like, “Democrats claim that the government will give you a job, make you healthy, and mow your lawn. Republicans say that the government can’t do anything right. Then the republicans get elected and prove it.”

          • Louie says:

            I would urge all people not to pledge allegiance to a party. Pledge it to your country and vote for the person who will best serve the country’s people. This particular election had no clear choice, it simply came down to businessman vs. politician. Whatever happens in his term, I could not blame or give credit to the republican party for the results. He is not a republican.

        • Louie says:

          I agree with you about Trumps supporters, they will go away if he starts acting like a career politician. He hasn’t even started is term yet, and people are up in arms, I say let the man have a chance to do the job. I will hold my tongue until he’s been in office a year. Like I said in previous blogs, both major party candidates were poor. The 3rd party blew it.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            People are up in arms due to the terrible appointments, the huge gaffe over Taiwan, the continuing abuse of social media to target/punish people who criticise him, the numerous attempts to boost his business interests during meetings supposedly about his presidency etc. If you’re fine with all that then you deserve Trump and all the damage he’s already doing to your country and its reputation.

          • Louie says:

            I could take your post, insert Clintons name, reword a couple of sentences and make the same case against her. I will not follow this “fear selling” media, but instead will hold my tongue, and give the man a chance to do the job before I make a judgment call.

    • Aaron Brown says:

      I would say it has far more to with the New Age beliefs and moral relativism that is becoming more prevalent in American culture.

        • Paragon of Restraint says:

          Obama preceded Trump, did he not? I mean chronologically. Obama lied numerous times during his Presidency, did he not? I can think of 4 100% lies right off the top of my head. So Obama did not contribute to this culture of lying? Trump was not even a candidate (or relevant figure) when he told those 4 lies. The media supported the lie to the death. The media soaked up 8 years of attention doing nothing but talking about the lies. They did not declare them to be lies, but they discussed the lies. To this day, Hillary and Obama continue to declare that an unheard-of video was the cause of the murder of the 4 men in Benghazi. Is that the Truth? Does the chronology of events matter in your determination of Truth? If A caused B, and B caused C. Can you really say that C caused A, even though C didn’t exist when A was created? This seems like a very odd conclusion. fails the most basic modus podens requirements. Regardless of what the Washington Post writes in its pages, those with memories know what actually happened in Benghazi. Islamic terrorists on a jihad hated Americans because of their values, and therefore they killed those men. That is the truth. Denial of reality is one of the most basic traits of the Liberal. Rewriting history is one of the most common practices of the totalitarian state (which is always run by liberals), precisely because they hate Reality. Reality does not correspond to the liberal worldview. So they are always attempting to rewrite History to suit them. Truth matters.

      • Kyle says:

        Do you mean the moral relativism of evangelical Christians voting for a thrice married and unrepentant pathological liar? I’d agree.

        • Louie says:

          This is only evidence of how bad the opposition was in the eyes of the people. Both choices were bad, but people don’t trust politicians and that left him. The democrats screwed up, almost any other candidate (maybe even Bernie) would have beat trump. But she would not be denied her crown, and she screwed over the democratic party & more importantly the American people with her arrogance. How many times will the American people have to tell you to go away, before you actually do it.

          • toby says:

            All the while ignoring the fact that nearly 3 million people more wanted her in office than him. Win by a quirk of the constitution. Good luck selling the idea of having a mandate to do anything.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            Trump won by the EC system. But it’s odd for you to say that the American people told Hillary to go away when she got more votes that any other presidential candidate in history bar Obama.

            “Or the, the runner up and the public acceptance of a want-to-be president who lies with impunity”

            Nonsense. Hillary has apologised in the past for getting stuff wrong. Comparing her mistakes with Trump’s brazen attitude to the truth is absurd. Trump will literally deny he’s said stuff that we have him on tape saying. And he’s done that not just once but over and over again. Bleating about Hillary’s emails in the face of the vast scale of Trump’s deceit takes blindness.

          • Louie says:

            They told her to go away when she ran against BO, they tried again as she ran against BS, but they handed her the nomination. Finally she was turned away against DT. It is the united states of America, not he united people of America. I understand the issues with the EC system, but it is the way to go, to let the states have a say, no matter how populated they are. Otherwise, it would be the coasts calling all the shots, while middle America gets screwed. It could start a civil war if it was purely vote quantity. It makes it tough when a country is so large. Don’t kid yourself, she is every bit the liar that he is, except she’s been doing it while serving the public, which is worse. Just wait a few more years, then the juicy stuff will fall out. Please don’t try and tell me she is better than him, its like telling me Hitler is better than Stalin, whatever…

          • toby says:

            One person = one vote. If you don’t believe that then I don’t know what to make of you. The electoral college.negates that from time to time and it should be done away with. This whole notion of the coasts and middle america is a myth. A civil war? What?

          • Louie says:

            toby: Sure, one person does equal one vote. But when you take a million people and stick them in a concrete jungle, and make rules that ripple throughout the country that consists of city and rural people, that means trouble.
            A small example is heating ones home. In the rural area, people commonly burn wood to heat their home. In the city, they commonly outlaw this heat source. Now, since you already have millions that decided to outlaw it, they get to outlaw it for the rural people too? No way. But in your one=one view, the city people would impose whatever rules they wanted on the country people.
            And yes, if you piss off enough people, civil war is not out of the question in the USA. Especially with the current division, plus qty of unemployed, eventually they get bored.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            We’ll have to agree to disagree, Louie. I’d say don’t kid yourself that Trump’s no worse than Hillary. He is genuinely something else in American politics for disregarding basic facts. As I already said, he’ll happily deny saying things we have him on video saying a few months earlier. The most astonishing one was where he claimed Obama had been screaming at a Trump supporter, when anyone who wanted to check the video could see Obama calmly saying “Hey, let’s let this guy talk and let’s show him respect”. No-one cared – they liked hearing Trump attack Obama, and it didn’t matter if what he was saying had no basis in reality.

            To throw your hands up and say “Hey, they’re all as bad as each other” is tantamount to rolling over and giving up.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            “And yes, if you piss off enough people, civil war is not out of the question in the USA”

            If the worry is large numbers of people having their opinions ignored, don’t you see any civil war danger from having a POTUS who lost the popular vote by almost three million people?

          • Louie says:

            Yes, we will have to agree to disagree. I’ll give him the chance to do the job now. We’ll see what he does when under the intense microscope of the media over the next 4 years.

          • Louie says:

            Andy: I worry more about pissing off the multitude of middle America, when they take only so much crap, and they have large numbers of registered gun owners.

          • Louie says:

            Andy – I agree, we’ll agree to disagree! I’ll watch and see what he does after taking the job. Perhaps in the end, we’ll simply agree.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            Wow, so you’re admitting that it’s pretty dangerous for so many middle Americans to be armed. That’s quite an admission.

            And yes, I expect we will eventually agree – I have little doubt that more and more people will eventually be forced to see that Trump is a disaster (though some will never admit it). The number of pointless mistakes he’s already made shows he’s not changing course any time soon. For conservatives it will probably only be when it hurts them personally, but that won’t take too long.

          • Louie says:

            Andy – Do not put words in my mouth. I did NOT say it is dangerous for middle America to be armed. Thank God for middle America and their guns; and people like them, since those people keep the government in check. Its people like them that kicked out Britain back in the day and its not past them to kick another regime in the face today. That was my message. I can love them and worry about them at the same time. I do that with same thing with my government.

  3. Ed Vaessen says:

    “and she screwed over the democratic party & more importantly the American people with her arrogance.”

    How does one do that?

  4. Ed Vaessen says:

    “Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University,”

    That doesn’t sound like having scientific credentials.

    • Paragon of Restraint says:

      Ah. The appeal to authority. Why does that matter? Truth matters. Is your critique substantive? no. No, it is not. His title is a statement of truth. Do you dispute that he is the professor of Christian Apologetics? Do you dispute that he earned a Ph.D.? Which part of the article do you dispute, that makes your post relevant?

  5. Ed Vaessen says:

    “Otherwise, it would be the coasts calling all the shots, while middle America gets screwed. It could start a civil war if it was purely vote quantity.”

    In the Netherlands, we do very well without civil war and accept thet popular vote.

  6. Andy Ryan says:

    Louie, I note that the Washington Post actually did a comparison of Clinton and Trump to see who lied more. As expected, Trump was off the scale. Here’s from June 2016:

    “Here’s the tally so far. Three Pinocchios could be viewed as mostly false, Two Pinocchios as half-true, One Pinocchio as mostly true and the rarely given Geppetto as completely true.

    Trump (52 rated claims)
    Four Pinocchios: 33 (63 percent)
    Three Pinocchios: 11 (21 percent)
    Two Pinocchios: 5 (10 percent)
    One Pinocchio: 1 (2 percent)
    Geppetto Checkmark: 2 (4 percent).

    Clinton (36 rated claims)
    Four Pinocchios: 5 (14 percent)
    Three Pinocchios: 13 (36 percent)
    Two Pinocchios: 11 (30.5 percent)
    One Pinocchio: 2 (5.5 percent)
    Geppetto Checkmark: 5 (14 percent)

    As you see, the ratio of Trump’s Four-Pinocchios ratings is sky-high. In fact, nearly 85 percent of Trump’s claims that we vetted were false or mostly false. A line graph of Trump’s numbers would show a very steep sky jump. By contrast, Clinton has a bell curve of a typical politician. The number of false claims equals the number of true claims, while her other claims fall mostly somewhere in the middle.

    Clinton earned Four Pinocchios for a fanciful and tendentious claim that illegal immigrants, as a group, pay more in taxes than some corporations. She also falsely stated that the Defense of Marriage Act was enacted to thwart an anti-gay-marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But both of these were close calls, as we nearly made them Three Pinocchios.

    More problematic was Clinton’s claim that U.S. prisons are overflowing with inmates mainly because of marijuana convictions. (In fiscal year 2014, in the federal system, 187 inmates (0.9 percent) were sentenced for simple drug possession — of whom 75 were jailed for marijuana possession.) Clinton also made the absurd claim that she was the only candidate in either party who had a plan to both raise incomes and not raise middle-class taxes.

    Clinton earned a bushel of Pinocchios for her claims about her email arrangement. After the conclusion of the FBI investigation, we elevated the Pinocchio count on her statements that she did not send or receive classified material, which she sometimes specified as “marked or designated classified.” While the markings found on her emails are now being disputed, the FBI has confirmed there were 110 emails that contained classified information at the time they were sent or received.

    Trump’s Four-Pinocchios claims are too numerous to tally; we even have created a Web page that contains a complete list. The volume of his false claims is extraordinary, especially because he so often repeats them. He continued to say that he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrate the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when that never happened. He repeatedly says he opposed the Iraq war from the start, when that’s false. He constantly says the Islamic State terrorist group controls the oil in Libya, when that’s wrong. He routinely inflates the unemployment rate from 4.9 percent to as high as 42 percent.

    In that sense, the raw numbers do little justice for how cavalier Trump is with the facts; there’s certainly never been a major-party politician with Trump’s Four-Pinocchio score.”

    • Paragon of Restraint says:

      Let me see if I have this right. You used the Washington Post, who claims to be the ultimate standard of Truth, to issue a ruling on whether or not its own previous statements of Truth were true? Is that true? Is the Washington Post biased? If I say that X is true. Then I go back and review it and say, yes, it is true. And then you go back and say, yes, you did review it to say it was true. Does not mean that the original judgment about X is true. Or does it mean that the newspaper printed newspapers on the day in question which did in fact contain a review of the original claim? Claims of true are not true because you claim them. Claims of truth can only be true if they correspond to Reality. Most of what the Washington Post has written does not correspond to Reality. And now I will review the truthfulness of my own post, for everyone’s amusement. My post has been posted. And that is true. Therefore everything in my post is true. // QED


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