The Search for Truth

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

~ John 18:37-38

If you visit the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy you will find a lengthy page dedicated to the discussion of truth, particularly what is known as the problem of truth.

As it turns out there is a great deal of controversy surrounding just exactly what truth is, or to put it another way, truth is far more complicated for academics than it is for the common person like myself.

When you begin asking people what truth is, you will get a whole host of answers across a wide spectrum and you quickly discover everyone operates on an assumption of what they believe is true or not true.

So interestingly enough, when we pull back the layers to see what lies beneath truth claims, it turns out that everyone is limited by what they know.

That is to say, since we are not individually or collectively all knowing, no one can say with absolute certainty what the truth is about anything.

Social sciences for example cannot prove causality, they can only demonstrate correlation.

The problem of truth is that when you get down to the very core of asking what it is, it’s impossible to attain because of our limitations as human beings.

“Knowledge is like a sphere, the greater its volume, the larger its contact with the unknown.”

~ Blaise Pascal

So the very act of me setting out to find out “the truth” was an exercise in futility.

I was not fully aware of this problem at the time though.

It always seemed obvious to me that God existed. Then again it always seemed obvious to me that humans where wholly distinct from other animals and that intuitive conclusion had just been turned on its head.

Where in the world does one begin with such an ocean of knowledge over such a broad topic?

With my new found faith in the modern sciences, I sought to find out just exactly what psychology could reveal about truth. I went so far as completing half of a masters degree in psychology for the purpose of seeking to answer this question.

I learned that psychology can tell us a great deal about what it means to be human, but the deeper one goes down the rabbit hole, the more questions are created and the more you realize that every science, even the hard sciences, rely on certain fundamental assumptions which are themselves unprovable in the strictest sense.

Post modernism recognizes the fundamental limitations of human understanding through scientific modernity and embraces subjective truth as the only knowable truth, which ironically is itself a self refuting truth claim.

The movie the Matrix serves as an imperfect analogy of the problem.

If you’re in the Matrix, unless there is a glitch, or someone is making an effort to pull you out of the matrix, there is no way to know that the world around you is real and not a simulation.

This leads to questions such as:

⁃ What is real?

⁃ How much of what we see actually represents what is real?

⁃ What are the limitations of human ability to know or comprehend what is real?

⁃ What makes one thing more real than something else?

The latest studies in cognition and perception for example show compelling evidence that what we think and perceive with our senses as reality is not reality as it is.

Cognitive Psychologist Dr. Donald Hoffman sharing the deeper problems surrounding what we think we know about our reality.

The problem gets worse when we look at the psychology and neuroscience of biases and decision making in the brain. Stated simply, all of our big decisions that require intuitive inference, rely on our emotions to fill in the blanks and our emotions are deeply effected by evolution which fundamentally undermines our ability to make truly objective conclusions about the big questions that shape our lives.

I found the more I dug into the questions the more questions there were such as:

⁃ Is my value of truth valid?

⁃ Is my value of truth self seeking?

⁃ Does my search for truth originate from my own pattern seeking evolutionary behavior that kept my ancestors alive?

The exploration of science is endlessly fascinating, but it can also be endlessly frustrating.

After a deep dive into the subject, I found myself more uncertain about everything, including my own uncertainties that led me to searching for the questions in the first place.

Despite a sea of questions begetting questions, I found I could reasonably affirm to my own satisfaction that the preponderance of the evidence clearly pointed to an intelligence behind the universe.

Cosmological constants and the Big Bang theory aside, there was an even deeper reason for accepting that there is an intelligence behind the universe.

Specifically, the idea of the belief in the validity of truth itself.

If there is no intelligence behind the universe and everything is random soup to nuts, then there is no justifiable reason to rely on any of my senses or even my mind itself as being reliable for ascertaining even a partial glimpse into any sort of larger truth.

To put it more simply, I have to have faith in some sort of underlying teleology behind the universe in order to reasonably believe any truth is attainable.

So even the value of truth itself and the seeking for it requires a presupposition of God.

“Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London.”

~ C.S. Lewis

The fact that I accept the science of evolution, also requires faith in the reliability of my own cognitive faculties to perceive an observable reality and faith in a reasonably reliable collective human mental faculty (scientific consensus in this instance) that can make reasonably reliable determinations based on real observations.

To put the issue more succinctly, to believe or conclude anything or come to any conclusions about anything at all, one must operate on faith. It might be faith in the reliability of science or faith in the reliability of one’s own thinking, knowledge, experiences, or those of others, but at the end of the day, ultimately, it is still a matter of faith.

After looking at this question closely, I did not see the logic, reason or data to doubt an intelligence behind the universe.

Author Justin Brierley illustrating the mathematical probability of chance concerning the cosmological constants.

All this being said, just because I reaffirmed my belief that there is an intelligence behind the universe, this did not mean that the same evidence pointed to that intelligence caring about any of us Homo Sapiens, let alone me, in any meaningful way.

Quite the opposite actually. I would come face to face with the unfathomable darkness of this existential thought as a consequence of a life shattering loss which was unknowingly looming on the horizon. A loss I was unprepared for.

Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law—

Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed—

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,

Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal’d within the iron hills?

No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match’d with him.

O life as futile, then, as frail!

O for thy voice to soothe and bless!
What hope of answer, or redress?
Behind the veil, behind the veil.

~ In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 56 by Alfred Tennyson

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