What Is Truth?

Among my many odd interests is at least some interest in the field of mathematical philosophy, which is a discipline of philosophy that seeks to use mathematics to help sharpen philosophical thinking [1]. This week’s lecture in the class I am taking on in the subject was a bit disappointing in that most of the examinations of truth in the lecture itself were rather trivial, even to the point of being tautological (that is, A = A). That said, there was one aspect of the lecture that I found interesting, and that is the two elements of the lecture that dealt with the Bible, and it is that area I would like to briefly examine today.

When Jesus Christ was on trial before Pontius Pilate, part of their frustrating tete-a-tete included this revealing exchange, told in John 18:37-38: “Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.”” Interestingly enough, the lecture and Pilate themselves fail on the same ground of not understanding what truth is, at least truth in the way that Jesus Christ testified to it.

It is difficult for many people in contemporary society to recognize God’s truth because they did not, and cannot, come to it themselves. There are essentially two ways that truth can be found. Either that truth can be obtained from the ground up, or it can be obtained from the top down, by revelation. Few people, except for the most radical and solipsistic among us, deny the validity of truth that is uncovered from the ground up. This can be done a variety of ways, either through seeking enough data and evidence from the world to deduce conclusions from or whether we form models in our head and inductively apply them to the world around us, refining them based on our results. In both of these cases, we as the intelligent agents are the ones who are the discoverers of these truths, and so as long as we have some degree of faith in our bounded rationality and our capacity for correctly interpreting data and evidence (and most of us have at least some level of trust in our own competence in these matters, or trust in those who are specialists in data analysis and related skills), we do not see this sort of discovery of truth as illegitimate in the least.

The problem comes with revealed knowledge, and the fact that it comes from above. There are legitimate concerns about the use of revealed truth, given our ability to properly understand and interpret it, but these concerns out to make us more humble and appreciative of such wisdom. There is a deeper reason why our generation tends to be highly skeptical of such truth, even as science and medicine have greatly aided our ability to verify the purpose of many of the laws of God, including laws against incest or eating unclean foods or blood as well as quarantining or debt forgiveness or land sabbaths. Sadly, our greater ability to use truth from below to verify truth revealed from above has not given us an appreciation of the advantages of those truths in those areas where our understanding remains defective of the purpose and design of the universe. Instead of showing gracious appreciation of God for telling us thousands of years before we found out for ourselves, we act as if our abilities to discover more areas of truth from below mean that we no longer need to pay attention to revealed truth at all.

Yet this is a serious error. For one, as we have seen, the whole scientific enterprise with its dependence on rigorous mathematics as well as data and calculation and empirical verification, has been questioned seriously about its legitimacy on at least two different grounds. The illegitimate and solipsistic criticism of the inability of any verification or understanding of truth to be possible because of the unreliability of our abilities to see the world around us and make any kind of firm understanding cuts the ground from any sort of confidence in our abilities to understand and recognize truth at all. Those who hold to this view ought to be particularly humble in the face of our presumed state of infinite ignorance, yet this view is often accompanied by the most insistent and unmerited arrogance against those who seek to uncover those aspects of truth that are within our purview. On the other hand, all too easily science has found itself basing its worldview and even the definition of science on unsupported and illegitimate philosophical assumptions that have harmed its ability to recognize reality as well as recognize the legitimacy of other areas of study. Our edifice of conceptual schemes and models is only as strong as its foundation, and those who have built on a foundation of sand cannot reach the stars, no matter how noble or how mighty the effort.

[1] See some examples of this in my own writing:





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to What Is Truth?

  1. You state the case SO well. The invisible Creator is proven by the visible creation. True science is not incompatible with scripture; historical discoveries are deferential to the biblical accounts. People subconsciously shrink away from any foundational, concrete definition of “truth” because it is holy–personified by the Word Himself–and proceeds directly from His mouth. Truth conflicts with all worldly beliefs, subjective standards and sliding-scale morality. It is objective and does not change with the times. Truth stands apart and is separate from any human (or other-worldly) interpretation of it.

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  6. Adrian says:

    One of the principles of modern science that has had a huge and negative impact on truth is “the uncertainty principle” The scientists who introduced this in the late 1920’s radically changed people’s thought processes and successfully hid the truth from many. Classical physics did just the opposite; it sought out the reasons and the laws that governed everything, explained them, proved them and established them. It reminds me of what Paul said in Romans that “…yea, we establish the law” and that, not only in matters of science!

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