Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What Is Truth?

In John 18, Jesus stands in judgment before Pilate and speaks these words: “My kingdom is not of this world…You are right in saying that I am a King. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Pilate’s response is pretty telling: “What is truth?”

I want to start there tonight, because the idea of truth is the foundation for everything that we are going to do.

So… What is truth? And how do we know?

Postmodern thought tells us that there’s no such thing as objective truth. It simply doesn’t exist. How many of you have ever heard the phrase, “Well, they may be true for you but it isn’t necessarily true for me”? Postmodern thought has made truth relative. Truth is no longer based on the objective study of facts and information; instead, truth is about what makes us happy. What is true for one person isn’t necessarily true for anyone else.

In 2005, Stephen Colbert introduced a new word to the American populace: truthiness. His argument is that truthiness is anything we want to be true, regardless of the facts. Truthiness is something we know from our gut, by feelings of intuition, without the backing of facts and opinions. Colbert states: “It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It's certainty.” He goes on to say, “So, what is important? What you want to be true, or what is true? Truthiness is 'What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true.'

It's not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There's not only an emotional quality, but there's a selfish quality.”

Colbert also created another word: Wikiality.
Reality that is edited by the masses. “Any user can edit any entry, and if enough people believe it then it becomes true.” He encouraged his readers to log onto Wikipedia and edit the Elephant entry to contain the erroneous fact, “Elephants are reproducing at a three times greater rate than they did before.” And people believed it!

We live in a world that likes truthiness more than truth. We prefer Wikiality to reality. As long as we want to believe it, than it really is that way. But there’s one small problem. Wikiality is based on group consensus, not on fact. Group consensus told us that blacks were not real human beings and, thus, could be enslaved. Group consensus told us that it was a good idea to put Japanese Americans into containment camps during WWII, and Arab Americans into internment camps in 2001. Groupthink is not reality; it is Wikiality. The difference between truth and truthiness is facts.

So, what is truth? How do we know? Is it what people tell us? Is it what we instinctively feel? Do we find it in our textbooks, professors, or friends? What is truth, and how do we discern TRUTH from FALSEHOOD?

It is a question of epistemology: “How do we know what we know?”

The problem isn’t just in determining between truth and lies; it is bigger. Sometimes we have to determine between truth and Truth.

Let me see if I can explain. When I was growing up and taking science class, we were taught that the smallest complete particle was the atom. Although it was made up of different parts, the atom was the smallest complete particle that couldn’t be divided down any more. But now we know about the existence of neutrons (complete particles), quarks, etc. Was my science teacher lying to me?

Or compare it to the way life came into existence. My biology textbook told me that scientists had recreated the exact conditions of the earth at the beginning and were able to create amino acids from goop. What they never bothered to tell me was that the earth has now been proven to NOT consist of the very atmospheric conditions that they postulated; yet the ideas were still thought of as fact.

Now I am not saying that these things aren’t true. They do seem to be truth, at least when they taught them to me. But these truths are changing and modifying based on new information we are learning and receiving. This truth is open to debate and change. We are constantly changing our truth.

But I believe that there is a greater Truth out there. Let’s call it Big-T Truth. This is truth that is never changing; it is non-negotiable. Things like: I exist; I think and feel; I need community to achieve my potential. These are Big-T Truths that even the secular, or pagan, world would agree with.

But I think there are greater Big-T Truths out there. Things like,

  1. God exists.
  2. God created.
  3. God’s love for you is limitless.
  4. God’s love for you is never-ending.
  5. Jesus lived.
  6. Jesus died for your sins
  7. Jesus is resurrected and will return.
  8. You have a chance at eternal life; you can’t earn it, but you can receive it.

These are the Big-T Truths that never end. They won’t change. God will ALWAYS love you, regardless of how bad you screw up. God created the universe by his power. Jesus lives and is returning. These things will never change!

How do we discern this big-T Truth? Can we trust that these things are, indeed, true? Well, through both a priori truth and a posteriori truth. We know it through reason, through our understanding of the world. Also through the knowledge of others who came before us, and our understanding of their thoughts, And we understand it because of our own experience, our interaction with these thoughts and realities.

What are more of these Big-T Truths? (Please give me feedback.)

More tomorrow!

No comments: