We live in a strange era of fake news and a plurality of truths, where nobody is objectively right or wrong. It is, in fact, hateful to point out someone may be wrong, as though their ideas are identifiable with their person and cannot be corrected, just as much as their height or skin colour. It is, indeed ironic, that so many hold to the view that one may pick their gender, out of an array of 50+/-, I cannot keep track, or that truth is subjective and mind dependant, but that there exists, objectively, fake/real news. Is truth what our peers let us get away with saying? Surely no one doubts the objectivity of a warning label on a bottle of medicine or rat poison or the objectivity of mathematics when designing a bridge, as an engineer. Why, then, are some truths up for grabs by whoever wants reality to conform to their liking and others are accepted as contractually binding as a deal with the devil, so to speak?
Others have grown apathetic towards the truth, like Pilate, who flippantly asked Jesus, “What is truth?” John 18:38. This type of apathy must be eschewed, not to the end of stirring controversy but controversy for the sake of truth is a divine command, as Walter Martin said.
Truth, some people claim to be in it, some claim to have it and others claim to know it, and others claim there is no such thing and that is the truth—and finally, some politicians claim to tell it. How do we describe truth? There are many theories of truth, and this is called “epistemology” which is a theory of knowledge. Is truth knowable, even if it exists? How can it be known in a theory laden universe?
THEORIES OF TRUTH
What has become increasingly popular, which is what have proffered an idea of truth is what works. Consider a moral action, such as theft, which would be both right and wrong while the act is committed and its value would be determined after the outcome. At best, pragmatism is a negative test for truth. Good intentions, are unfortunately not a criterion for truth.
Others have argued that truth is what coheres. Under this view, an internally consistent story, with no correspondence to reality, would be true. This view may gain some credibility if the state of affairs were what the story had to cohere with, but an internally consistent idea, alone, does not constitute truth.
Matthew 7:13, Jesus notes that the path to destruction is an easy target to hit, but that the path to life is much more difficult, since there can only be one truth, in this case, as it pertains to the nature of God.
Was Jesus right? Some object to truth being exclusive by saying that some have their truth, while others have theirs. A strong example of the exclusive nature of truth is that “2+2 = 4” to the exclusion of all other answers. Is it arrogant to say those who answer 5 are wrong? Given the infinite amount of possible numbers one may answers with, 6…6.5…7 and so on, it is possible to imagine how the wrong answer has a larger target range than the one correct answer.
What about matters of history? There is little room for debate regarding the truth or falsity of an answer in a mathematics department. All one needs is a chalkboard and some patience.
Matters of history are not known with mathematical certainty. There are those who contend the holocaust never happened, while others, using artifacts of the past and recent eyewitness testimony, argue otherwise. The fact is, there is a truth either way.
A recent, revamped, idea is flat earth theory, that the earth is flat and that we, the public, have been fleeced for years by scientists telling us the earth is really round. Setting aside the discussion on the matter, does the earth become round as people believe it is round? Is its flatness determined by the adherents to the belief it is flat? An examination of the state of affairs will settle the matter abruptly and it will be either/or, not both/and.
Those arguing for the inclusive nature of truth are stuck defending that an idea gains truth value by the noses it can count who hold to it. This would be an awkward thesis to defend, and fortunately I do not have to defend that castle.
TRUTH CANNOT BE KNOWN
Some have thrown up their hands at the knowability of truth and claim it simply cannot be known. However, this is a thesis which cannot satisfy itself, since one is claiming to know enough about truth to assert its unknowability. While truth may be difficult to know, it does exist to be known. Historical truths would be an example of difficult truths to know, but still not impossible, and moral truths are ones which are surprisingly easy to defend. One may claim that moral truth is relative, but as Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith note, in “Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Midair” is that one can pay lip service to moral relativism, but when someone steps on our toes, morally speaking, we want the death penalty and we speak in terms of moral absoluteness.
This view is surprisingly taught from the pulpit, as well, that the effects of sin have estranged us from being able to know anything, but, again, this view cuts its own throat because it claims to know enough about truth that it is unknowable.
THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER
I will argue that truth is a metaphysical notion. (I have written a bit on metaphysics here.)
Truth requires two components, a state of affairs, which is how things are, and a proposition, which is a truth bearer to the state of affairs. More on this later.
A property of truth.
Truth can be said to be intentional. One recalling details of an incident and describing it to the court, but lacking some points, cannot be said to be lying. In this sense, truth can be said to be a degreed property of a statement. Some statements are truer than others.
Truth, with a capital “T” is how things actually are, in the mind independent sense while “truth” as we know it is our intellectual, mind dependant, constructs of the state of affairs.
There are theories about Truth and our ideas of it. Some contend that truth is at the center of a web and some ideas are closer or further from the center than others. However, one salient problem with this theory of justification for truth is that it results in an infinite regress of truth as it relates to Truth and there is no way to tell how far or close we are to the center, or the Truth as it really is.
How do we test our current ideas against the Truth, then? Are our models, or conceptual schemes accurate, and how do we tell? I would argue that we can test our ideas against reality by their ability to yield predictive and replicable results. For example, there are those who contend that the evolutionary paradigm contains much truth to it and that one must understand evolution in order to do evolutionary medicine. Now, there are those who rightly argue that evolution is not a complete theory, but it is undeniable that there is enough truth to the theory that we can make predictions based on it. Less controversial, is when one is doing archaeology, and if one has a good understanding of an ancient civilization, that they will be able to make good predictions as where to find ancient artifacts and so forth.
Take a simple statement, “It is raining!” This statement is neither true or false and until examining the state of affairs outside it remains both true and false. In Truth Decay, Douglas Groothuis notes that it is by this that we say “truth is antithetical/exclusionary.” A true statement excludes all other competitive statements. Truth, therefore, can be said to be exclusive, not inclusive. There may be room for diversity in society, but not truth. A popular saying is that the law of non-contradiction isn’t just a good idea, it’s the law. While there are laws that can be broken, like speed limits, there are laws which are inviolable and as soon as we try to violate them they are able to come to their own defence. A denial of normative laws, such as the law of non-contradiction, involves an undeniable use of the law in order to indicate it is said law being denied, not another one.
The Law of Noncontradiction (LNC) states that “A” cannot be non-A in the same time and place.
Bertrand Russell, in the Problems of Philosophy says that we should not be amazed that the aforementioned LNC is how we happen to think, but more notably that this is also how the universe behaves. While it seems to be a rule of thought, it also seems to be an absolute law of nature.
It is important to note that there are necessary and contingent truths. An example of a contingent truth would be that Abraham Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865. It could have been the case he was shot the day before, or the day after, or that he was never shot at all. This is where one gets into modal logic, which surveys the realm of possible worlds. More on this another time, but the important thing to note is that there are contingent statements which are, at first, second or third glances not incoherent or contradictory even if they are not true. An examination of the actual world determines their truth or falsity. This is why it is important to read a newspaper critically, rather than by accepting the source as a sufficient authority on the matter. Even in the case of modal logic, however, the LNC is upheld in all possible world scenarios. It is a ubiquitous feature of all possible worlds we could imagine, including the actual world we live in.
That it is raining outside has no truth value. States of affairs, in themselves, are not declarative like propositions. A state of affairs simply is. States of affairs are what are called “Truth-Makers” in that a proposition exists which affirms or denies a certain state, but the proposition finds a counterpart in reality.
The statement “It is raining in my city” is true if, and only if, the state of affairs exemplifies this in reality.
NOTE: Propositions are not to be conflated with sentences here. Propositions are the meaning of a statement. They pick out, or affirm/deny what a state of affairs obtains. In Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, the authors note that propositions have neither extension in time and space, nor are they to be confused with the linguistic entities which express them. That they convey meaning is why one may translate from one language to another, or why we have so many Bible translations, different Bible translations attempt to best convey the propositional content of the original meaning in the manuscripts.
THE NATURE OF TRUTH
Back to the simple sentence “It is raining!” This sentence claims to know something about the nature of reality, that it is raining. This sentence is true, if and only if it is raining, or more specifically, that it is raining in a specific location, since it is always raining somewhere in the world. That it is raining in a certain geographical area at a specific time is to the exclusion of its negation, that it is not raining at a certain time and place. As previously mentioned, truth is antithetical and unforgiving. We live in a mind independent reality which shapes our minds, not the reverse. This is why truth is “inconvenient” because it corrects is, we do not correct truth.
As seen, denials of truth lead to incoherent beliefs and contradictions. There are different theories of truth, all which fail and are unliveable. Truth, then, is what corresponds to reality. If the reality we live in fails to exemplify our ideas, then our ideas simply are not true. There can be degrees of truth, as in the case of history. Some historical or scientific models are partly true, in that they partly describe the objective truth of the matter. This is where one gets into fuzzy logic, where there are degrees of truth, but that there is objective, knowable truth, is undeniable and to say we cannot get to the facts of the matter leaves us without knowing what degree of truth we are even at in our models or constructs of reality.
How this relates to the existence and nature of God: Remember the portion about modal logic and necessary vs contingent truths. Consider how there are ways the world could have gone, such as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. While some theologians, such as Richard Swinburne disagree, for reasons I cannot fully comprehend, God either exists necessarily or He does not exist necessarily. There is no maybe about this one. Either way, God is a necessary being or He is a necessary non-being. If God does exist, one cannot wish His existence away with fanciful thinking, nor can one wish Him into existence if He does not exist. Therefore, God and His attributes are not subject to modal logic.
Truth is just the way things are and it is our responsibility to proportion our beliefs accordingly. As a philosopher, I should hope that I am probably more committed to proving truth than I am God. In the order of epistemology I hold God to be a by-product of truth, but my commitment must be to truth, because no matter what that is what I will be left with, even if God does not exist. Truth must be pursued dispassionately and without self interest.