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What Is Truth?
.by Retired Prof
Question #14 What is Truth?
I define truth as what I believe today. Tomorrow it will be different. Truth is not future, truth is today. Truth is not something I claim but something I seek.
Truth is based on gathering all the facts and rationally trying to understand them. The facts I am able to gather tomorrow may be different than the ones I have today.
This is done with the understanding that people, governments, religions and other businesses shade and manipulate and hide the truth about the past and the present to suit their own purposes.
I think that the only people that are sure of what Truth is are the ones that are living in a fantasy world. Did that for twenty-five years. Some people are so dogmatic about their beliefs that they will not believe anything else even if they are hit over the head with it. They can't change because they have too much of their lives invested in their beliefs. To admit that they have been wrong for so long is something they can't accept. They would rather not even think about it. And, of course, the cult feeds them the crap about losing their salvation if they "turn back." Its all mind control.
I like Ed’s answer to the question "What is truth," (#14 on the FAQ’s page) but I think the question itself needs some examination.
First, a bit of personal background. I attended Ambassador College because my parents expected me to. I never fully accepted Worldwide (or Radio) Church of God teachings, never entertained the idea of becoming baptized, and left AC for good at the end of my freshman year, in the spring of 1960. I didn’t argue, didn’t rebel; I just wanted out because I obviously didn’t belong there. The separation inflicted very little trauma. I was left with a big credentialing problem involving my transcript from a non-accredited school, but I managed to overcome that by finding a college that would accept my AC credits on a probationary basis. If it matters, it was another private religious college, John Brown University, in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. After my sophomore year there, JBU gave me a transcript that validated my freshman credits. It was now possible for me to enroll in a state school as a junior, and I did. Eventually I got a Ph.D. and had a reasonably satisfying career as an English professor.
How well I remember Herbert W. Armstrong’s repeated assertion: "TRUTH is SINGULAR! There is NO SUCH THING as multiple truths!"
Considering with what frequency and what vehemence he repeated this dictum, I can’t see how he kept a straight face whenever he announced that some NEW TRUTH had been revealed to him. Eventually he accumulated a whole long sequence of new truths. Sure sounded multiple to me. But that’s not the point I want to dwell on.
Trouble with the word truth is, outside the context of a specific question, it doesn’t mean a damn thing. If you show me a fist-sized rock, for example, and ask me to tell you the truth about it, I have no idea how to answer. Do you want to know how much it weighs? What minerals it is composed of? How the crystals are arranged? What period in prehistory it was formed, or by what process? Whether it broke off from local bedrock or got carried here from afar by a glacier or a dump truck? Whether or not I used it to vandalize a stained-glass window? Whether or not it fits the indentation in a murder victim’s skull? What will become of it in the future?
The ultimate, whole, singular truth—even just the truth about that small rock—would have to include answers to all these questions and untold trillions of others, most of which (such as the configuration at any one moment of electrons in their orbits within each atom) cannot even be answered with any conceivable analytical procedure. The truth is that (even in theory) nobody can possibly discover the entire truth. Even if somebody could, and could communicate it, your mind could not contain it. Obviously, the truth about the universe as a whole would be infinitely harder to grasp. So I never believe a man who tells me he has THE TRUTH, eternal and unchanging.
Completeness aside, take an analogy to a word much narrower in scope but presenting similar problems in interpretation: ripeness. What if someone said, "RIPENESS is SINGULAR! There is NO SUCH THING as multiple ripenesses!"
Hah! Is the ripeness of wheat the same as the ripeness of apples? For that matter, is the ripeness of a Red Delicious apple the same as that of a Granny Smith? And then what about the ripeness of a virgin, or a corpse?
The word "truth" is like that. We can’t tell whether we’ve got it or not till we know what kind of material we’re dealing with and what qualities we’re looking for in it. In other words, this is another reason there can be no such thing as a single, all-encompassing truth. The comforting thing is that, once we do ask specific questions in specific contexts, we can find individual examples of truth (or of ripeness.) We can look at a grain of wheat or an apple and test it with our teeth, and answer truly whether it is ripe or not. Even in figurative cases, we can usually reach an assessment that others will agree is true. Most of us pick up on the signs that a teenaged boy or girl is ready to become sexually active; we know when a body stinks enough to call it "ripe."
This is why I like The Painful Truth answer about truth: it’s not something eternal hovering up there enveloping everything. Instead, it is contingent. Ed says, "Truth is not something I claim but something I seek." Seeking (for either ripeness or truth) demands that we formulate specific questions in a way that lets us test the answers—by "gathering all the facts and rationally trying to understand them" as Ed says. He points out that the facts gathered tomorrow will not be the same as the ones today, but I suspect also that tomorrow’s questions will be different—adapted to the facts gathered today. This ongoing recursive process of asking and answering is what human brains are suited for.
I don’t have faith that we were created, but if we were, whatever force or will created us must have intended for us to exercise this talent: to ask hard questions, then gather facts and construct answers with them, striving always to reach our potential as rational beings. Those of us who doubt the existence of a creator still find that goal worth pursuing; we just set it for ourselves.
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