Saturday, November 28, 2009
What is Truth?
I am currently working on a novel that deals with the meaning of truth through the eyes of science, religion, and two different cultural backgrounds. Frankly, I’m discovering this is not an easy task. I recently read Dan Brown’s latest work, The Lost Symbol, and was quite disturbed at the conclusions he draws about what is true. I wondered whether most of the world shared his views or if people were able to decipher between what is fiction and what is non-fiction. From the public's response and media coverage of Brown’s DaVinci Code a couple of years ago, I’m beginning to think the general public is not that smart.
Since time's beginning, man has argued the issue of what is truth. Just a few weeks ago I started a lively debate with my son about whether or not truth was absolute. He debated that truth is whatever a person thinks it is. I disagreed and, drawing on the scriptures, said, “Truth is truth, has and always will be truth, whether a person understands it or believes it.” This debate continued for a couple of weeks, but without either of us agreeing with the view of the other.
I started researching the topic on the Internet and found quite a heated argument taking place. One asked, “If there were such a thing as absolute truth, how could we know what it is?” Another said, “I don't believe there's one truth. There are a variety of people in the world, so there are a variety of ways of looking at things.” One individual went as far as to say, “People who believe in absolute truth are dangerous.” I laughed at that one. I never thought myself as a dangerous person.
In my research, I discovered more about these different viewpoints, and so I’ll explain them as far as I understand them. First, the correspondence view of truth, or belief of absolute truth, claims that any statement is true if and only if it corresponds to or agrees with factual reality. Thus questions, commands, and exclamations are neither true nor false, because they do not make claims about reality. To further clarify this view, those who believe in absolute truth claim that any clear-cut, declarative statement must be either true or false. It cannot be neither true nor false; nor can it be both true and false. Either the world is round or it is flat.
Those in opposition to truth as an absolute believe in relativism, a view that espouses that truth and morality are relative to a person's situation or standpoint. They deny that any standpoint has the advantage over another and, that since there is no way to prove that something is true, truth has to be whatever the individual or culture deems it to be; it is true only if it works for that particular person or culture. The earth is round, but if another person believes it is flat, then it is both round and flat.
Somewhere between the realms of correspondence and relativism is that of pragmatism, a view that truth should be tested by the practical consequences of belief. Pragmatists are concerned with results rather than with theories and principles. The earth is round because pictures from space verifying that fact exist .
Hmm…is it just me, or is anybody else struggling with the latter concepts? If I believe in absolute truth, then either absolute truth or relativism is true. They can’t both be true. If I believe in relativism, both can be true, if I believe it to be so. And if I'm a pragmatist then someone will have to prove that correspondence or relativism is true before I believe either of them. This brings up some interesting questions.
» Can anything be considered truth?
» Can contradictory ideas explaining two different realities both be true?
» If I believe relativism is false, then is relativism false?
» Where does truth come from? An individual/culture or from some entity with more knowledge and understanding than that of the world? Or does it spring out of nothing? Does it just exist?
» If truth is manifested by an entity with more knowledge and understanding than that of the world, or if it just exists, does mankind have the right to create his own truth?
» If truth is whatever an individual or culture decides it to be then will truth really ever exist?
» Is proof necessary for something to be true?
To me, relativism and pragmatism miss the mark. What do you think?