Friday, July 13, 2012

Truth is that which is true

Truth is that which can be objectively verified. It can be objectively verified that the previous statement is true. Nothing can be said to be true with 100% certainty, so the circular nature of that argument is true for any other system of finding truth. The questions are, which system is better and how do you determine which is better.

To determine that objective verification is valid, you use it and have others check how you used it and compare your results. For example, people have recorded the Sun coming up in the morning for thousands of years. Many reasons for it have been proposed. Currently the best explanation involves the motion of our planet. Even without the explanation, the odds that the Sun will not rise tomorrow where it is expected to rise are so low that there is no reason to doubt it as fact. Although I can’t be absolutely certain, I consider that “truth”.

Many other experiments have been done and much data has been collected for similar phenomena throughout the universe. That these experiments have proved to be consistent in their results proves that we can rely on the premise that physical laws are consistent throughout the universe. Many questions remain. Every day earlier experiments are corrected and new results are obtained. That shows that we are learning, not that the system of learning is wrong.

Perhaps, tomorrow, the Sun will not rise. If that happens, we will need to use our system of reasoning and objective verification to determine where we went wrong. Most likely, something in our local solar system will have changed. Maybe a giant asteroid flew so close that it halted the rotation of the Earth for a few hours. But, if we abandon that system, submit to wild speculation, and jump to a conclusion that demons are taking over or God is bringing on an apocalypse, only harm will come of it.

I hope I made it clear that this system does not lead to 100% certainty. It does not lead to a fountain of knowledge. It only gives us a way to obtain knowledge, one little bit at a time. I have avoided any religious language so far, but here is why I bring this up:
On YouTube and maybe in your local area, there are people going around claiming to be able to prove the existence of God with 3 or 5 or 6 questions. The first one will be something like, “Is it possible that you are wrong about some things?” or “Do you know everything?” The next couple ones vary, then they get to how God is the source of all knowledge and if you accept his love, you will know it and be able to verify it through his word. Basically they are taking my two opening statements and changing it to “Truth is God. Truth is verified by God.”

As I said in the beginning, nothing can be known with 100% certainty. People who follow the above line of reasoning are taking that fact and misconstruing it to mean God exists. It is something along lines of the ancient idea that we don’t know everything, but somewhere, somebody must know everything, therefore there is an entity somewhere that does know everything, therefore God. This was seriously discussed by intellectuals in the 15th century, but should be dismissed as backward thinking today.
So the answer to that first question is, “No I don’t know everything, no one can know everything, everyone is wrong about something some of the time. Your question is mal-formed. The question is, how do we learn? How do we best discover truth?”
Those who propose these arguments can’t explain the mechanism for how God’s knowledge gets to you. It is not in scripture, although they might say it is or read something cryptic and explain to you that it does. There are claims and assertions, but no instructions. It will come down to, “you just have to read the Bible and pray”. If that doesn’t work, you are reading and praying wrong. They can’t demonstrate anything about how this works, although they might tell you about miracles they have witnessed. Just google them, if you have that kind of time to waste.
If you want to spend your time more productively, google the scientific method. The history of it is quite fascinating. High School did not teach it very well, if you went to the average American High School. Terms like “hypothesis”, “theory”, “empirical evidence” and others are not well known to the average American. They should be. As E.O. Wilson recently said, “We live in a Star Wars world where people think like the Middle Ages. That’s dangerous.”
Thanks to Aron Ra and JT Eberhard for help with this one.

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