This is the second post in our Total Truth series: a collection of blog posts dedicated to exploring the definition of truth across today’s dominant global worldviews. Here are the earlier posts in the Series (Introduction, Part I):
Total Truth (Introduction to the Series)
“After all, the goal of philosophy is to explain the facts of experience, not to deny them. Anything less is ducking the issue. The problem with reductionism is that instead of explaining things, it tries to explain them away. Outside the ivory tower, ordinary people are not interested in a worldview that spins out a logically coherent system, and yet contradicts human experience. They are looking for a worldview that makes sense of the world we actually inhabit. They want one that explains the undeniable facts of human experience, not one that suppresses those facts for the sake of its own internal logical consistency. Besides, the facts suppressed by materialism are exactly the things people care most about – the whole realm of conscious experience. Most of what makes life worth living consists of experiences: love, happiness, fulfillment, moral ideals, a sense of purpose, and so on.” (Pages 110 – 111, Finding Truth by Nancy Pearcey, 2015)
In our last post in this Series we offered several preliminary definitions of truth. Truth is a judgment all human beings make every day about the world they experience and about the claims they and others make. Truth is a “consensus reality” that most human beings believe exists outside the consciousness, minds, or existence of any one person or group of people, though their existence is part of that reality or truth. Today, what any individual believes is referred to as subjective reality, and what actually exists is referred to as objective reality. Many believe they’re Elvis, but, unfortunately, most today would agree that the King is dead.
The primary point of Part I of the Series was to demonstrate that every human being makes a leap of faith in accepting anything as true, false, or real because all implicitly adopt a presuppositional or intentional theory of knowledge in believing anything. In this regard, atheists, naturalists, secularists, or humanists are no different whatsoever than theists, dualists, spiritualists, or supernaturalists. If everyone places their faith in a theory of knowledge (or uses several to their advantage or disadvantage, depending), then in that sense every human being is religious. On this basis alone there’s no conflict between faith and “religion.”
Where theists and atheists differ most is on the source of truth. Most theists believe God is truth and its source, and most atheists believe humans are (or no source is needed). Theists and atheists often agree on a reality beyond human existence. Some theists also distinguish between God’s ultimate reality and the one humans experience in this conscious life on earth.
All beliefs are based on so-called facts, though the nature of “facts” varies wildly. Indeed, the definition of facts depends on one’s theory of knowledge and truth. Moreover, the claim that one is obviously and certainly correct about one’s theory of knowledge, coupled with an attempt to impose it on others unnecessarily, is a form of elitism.
(This observation raises the issue of how society should govern itself—the issue of Governance being one of Praxis Circle’s eight Worldview Pillars. All worldviews address these pillars in answering life’s most important questions. While we will save our discussion of the Governance pillar for later Circling posts, it becomes obvious how all worldview pillars are related; how they all hold up our metaphysical or worldview edifice constructed over the course of one’s life.)
This is not to say that humans are incapable of agreeing to a consensus called reality or truth. They most certainly do and must to have any hope of surviving and prospering. Indeed, our national inability to agree on the nature of truth and its consequences explains much of our current difficulty. What we are exploring here is whether “truth is relative” or not; whether your truth is yours and mine is mine; whether all “truths” are equally valid. The only way to address these issues is to take a more granular look at truth as a concept, and that is our goal in this short Series.
After publishing our last post we got a note from a Contributor saying, essentially, that he did not believe truth was so tough to understand that it required a great “leap,” as famously suggested by Soren Kierkegaard. Our response was “we could not agree more,” and “stay tuned for the next post” (this one).
Kierkegaard had a very low opinion of human reason, humans in general, and man’s ability to approach the divine. That’s why he believed we need to rely so heavily on revelation through blind faith, the Bible, and otherwise. In contrast, our Contributor believes God designed human beings in His own Image with reason and an ability to use it to determine truth on the facts of revelation, both general (God’s creation) and special (God’s direct contact with us, also known as grace).
Our point here is that truth at a minimum is a human concept based on the sum of all human consciousness and experience, past and present. While God or the cosmos likely existed before human beings and therefore truth likely precedes us (from both atheistic or theistic points of view), there is no articulated concept of truth outside of human existence that we know of. Moreover, this human awareness seems to exist outside the concept of language.
We believe the average person relies most heavily on their own experience as they age, and secondarily on what tends to be reinforced or not (in which case beliefs change) by others (including God) living or not in whatever form communication occurs. Our perception of truth is only as good as our perception, memory, and God’ work (in the case of some theists).
As the written word began to take hold several thousand years ago and as other forms of communication have taken hold more recently, mankind’s ability to document truth or reality has increased. The average person also understands that knowledge is usually conveyed most effectively in narrative or story form (into which personal bias can enter the picture).
The problem is “story” is essential to truth and the function of reason itself. All of this obtains without any need for the application of language, which is the perch postmodernism uses to inflict most of its confusion, even mayhem. We will touch on this important topic in Part IV of IV. Truth needs human consciousness and thinking to be perceived, but it does not need language. Human perception and cataloging of truth does improve greatly with language, and for this we are grateful in the post Tower of Babel world.
At top we offer a fascinating playlist of 17 video clips that highlights PC Contributor insights concerning worldview, truth, and human experience. Each of these Contributors is an extremely intelligent and accomplished person, and together they form an extremely diverse group. Their opinions vary widely. The playlist, Truth II: Human Experience, is 39:25 minutes long, averaging 2.31 per clip. You can watch it straight through or select individual clips with your cursor. The playlist continues with the next clip automatically, unless you direct your attention to another clip.
You will gain all kinds of valuable insights from watching it.
As you proceed, notice how often the words “experience” or “experiences” are used, and note the radically different types of experiences mentioned. Who caused these experiences? Where do worldviews originate, and how do they change based on the truth of human experiences? What types of experiences have the most effect? To what extent do you see a difference between “facts” and “values”? Can they merge to become simply self-evident truths to the individual or a related group?
Humanity’s State of Nature
With the little space remaining, we want to propose a thought experiment both to comment on truth and to highlight the importance of human thought to truth itself. Thought experiments are not to be trifled with by either scientists or ministers. They relate to a certain type of truth that we will describe in Part III of IV next.
In any case, Albert Einstein performed a famous thought experiment involving the Bern, Switzerland clocktower to produce the theory of special relativity, and Erwin Schrodinger illustrated the mysteries of the quantum mechanics with his famous cat in a box. Cosmologists engage almost wholly in thought experiments as they imagine the first few seconds of the Big Bang or the possibility of many universes.
No, there is nothing goofy about thought experiments. They are often confirmed by reality or used by human beings to understand and shape it. (Of course, doing so is an act of faith.)
Today, we will refer back to the humanity’s state of primitive nature invoked by the Bible in Genesis and in early modern times by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau. Still supremely relevant today (perhaps more than ever), we have the story of Creation, Eden, Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel. By the 1600’s Europe had gained much familiarity with “primitive” societies around the globe from its Age of Exploration. With Europe’s Biblical background and ongoing global experience, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau made popular philosophical arguments by referring to man in his imagined primitive state.
Hobbes argued that primitive man was naturally bad and murderous and made better by “modern” society; Rousseau argued that primitive man was good and gentle, but corrupted and enslaved by modern society; and Locke argued that early man was both and that man could improve himself in current times, if free, through society. Each applauded different forms of a social contract made good by individuals who freely create them.
We don’t believe that we can know much today about man in his most primitive state (much of our “scientific” knowledge of early man is quite speculative), but we do think we can make a few observations about human experience and reality by imaging ourselves outside the Garden, justifiably banished, at the dawn of Fallen Time’s world:
- First, we know that if we were to place a new born baby into the wilds alone, that baby would not survive long. There are certain necessities of life that all humans require. Humans naturally love their children and, under normal circumstances, would never want this to happen.
- Second, we know a human baby has never been born into a world as a pure “individual.” Birth cannot occur without a mother and father. Science really cannot explain how the two sexes were created, but we know it happened. Human beings are always born into a world with other adults who must care for them and each other to survive.
- Third, the ability of the parents and others to do their jobs well depends on whether their view of reality is correct and on how well they learn to pass on to others their knowledge of reality and how to shape it advantageously.
- Fourth, the most successful human groups or tribes in history have created an agreed upon consensus or worldview about how reality works; if they are correct, they tend to prosper. If they are not, they tend to fold.
In sum concerning human experience and truth, everybody is doing it. Everybody right now and all day long. Don’t kid yourself.
The leap of faith is one we all make, and it’s not difficult. Only idiots refuse to consider the vast record of history, continuously and arrogantly trying to reimagine or reinvent everything all over again, believing they are far smarter than the average person and their predecessors, when most thoughts and social experiments have extensive, proven track records. We know how progress occurs, and we are not on the right pathway in America today. The U.S. is doing illiberal regress now.
The Elements of Truth: For Next Time
So far in Parts I and II of this Series, we’ve merely tried to show that we all have a theory of knowledge underlying a personal theory of truth that requires faith, and that we all quickly make the leap at birth into reality. It is collective human experience that shapes our perception of truth, and one’s worldview tends to be one’s underlying metaphysical suppositions.
Some are more truthful and accurate than others. This is undeniable. There are hierarchies or degrees of truth, but truth is an exclusive claim.
Is truth more local or more universal? Good question, and we would suggest that it’s both.
Next time we will get extremely granular and describe the elements of truth that most of us would agree pertain universally. It will be critical to understand that personal, human, and historical experiences are not and never will be repeatable and measurable in any scientific sense. And while we tend to think in terms of language, we don’t think any of truth’s granular categories are in any way dependent on language, even though skillful use of language enhances every group’s ability to create accurate and successful consensus.
We hope you had a relaxing 4th of July Weekend. That was our experience!
Until next time . . .
PS – Here’s another Bonus Feature (the end of Nancy Pearcey’s quote begun at top from Finding Truth). In America, we are in a mental turnaround scenario as a nation, and this is why PC is leading with a defense of truth for ordinary people like us (who are on average extremely intelligent and quite capable, thank you very much). America arose from their leadership and effort, and on them our future continues to depend:
“Finally, ordinary people are sensitive to the practical and moral consequences of worldviews. Radically reductionist views of the human person are not just harmless speculations—idle amusement of philosophers. What the dominant classes hold true as true tends to shape social and political practice. If the elites hold a materialism that reduces humans to computers, then they will treat people like computers. Thinking will be reduced to computing: the neuroelectrophysiology of the brain. People will be judged solely by how well they perform their assigned functions. And when they stop functioning, they will be tossed in the garbage heap with the other electronic trash.”