What is Truth?

“…I was talking to a 17 or 18-year-old young man two or three years ago, and he said to me “I don’t understand all that controversy about the Virgin birth.” Keep in mind; this is a devout Christian kid. When I asked what he meant, he exclaimed, “Well of course I believe in it; it’s so absolutely beautiful, it has to be true whether it happened or not.”

I heard this quote the other day and tracked it back to Phyllis Tickle via the Christianity Today website and her interview “Blowing Holes in Spiritual Formation.” I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit ever since.

In connection with that, I read this piece on creationism and science on Peter Rollins blog. He talks about the way fundamentalists and classical scientific method folks are basically two sides of the same epistemological coin. I’ll allow Rollins to explain with his usual eloquence,

This means that beliefs such as a six-day creation, a fruit tree with the power to bestow knowledge of Good and Evil upon eating from it, a snake with the ability to talk, the transfiguration and the new Jerusalem descending from heaven all exist on the same mundane natural level as a phenomena such as snow falling on a winters evening and are, in principle, able to be proved true (or false) on scientific grounds (truth here being defined as ‘actual material occurrence’, i.e. if a video camera existed at the beginning we could have recorded the snake talking to Eve).

He then goes on to point out the similarities between two camps that are typcially seen as polar opposites,

Instead then of saying that evolutionism (by employing the ‘ism’ here I am referring to those who embrace a metaphysical naturalism which claims evolution as a fact) and creationism are opposed to one another, one can say that evolutionism and creationism are intimately joined together by their belief that reality is empirical and thus in the view that the only good beliefs are those which are factual. In a sense people like Dawkins and Harris are thus profoundly religious in the fundamentalist sense and thus closer to their supposed enemies than they think.

So, back to the original quote from Phyllis Tickle. I guess I’ve still got the old scientist’s thoughts imbedded somewhere. I agree that beauty is importantly connected to truth, but I’m not sure I can agree that what is beautiful is necessarily true. I realize here, that “true” is the point of question here. Is truth necessarily corrospondence to empirical reality?

Well, I’m not sure I’d want a doctor operating on me having the view of truth expressed by that teenager! Doctor, that suture isn’t in the right place! But nurse, it’s so beautiful, it has to be true. Oh yes, I see what you mean – fine stiching Fred. OK, OK…I know that some will suggest that we’re talking about two different fields: Theology and Science. But, I don’t think we should make the mistake of segregating the world into distinct spheres. What do you think? I’m open to conversation on this point.

5 thoughts on “What is Truth?

  1. Last year we serendipitously found ourselves watching “Secondhand Lions” and “Big Fish” back-to-back. Have you seen either one? If not, I highly recommend them. They both movies deal with the question, “What is truth?” It’s handled particularly eloquently in the case of Big Fish.
    No answers, just an observation.

  2. Interesting mix of movies! I find that with books many times – the mix of books you read together results in totally different ideas and perspectives. Increased volume = increased chance of serendipity, eh?!

    Although I would have really like an answer that solved the issue of truth once and for all, I will accept this in the meantime. 🙂 Those are great movies, and I think you’re right about being food for thought on this subject.

  3. “I agree that beauty is importantly connected to truth, but I’m not sure I can agree that what is beautiful is necessarily true.”

    Good thoughts about truth and beauty.

    If beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, then beauty and truth cannot really be equated. For a film that seems to have the message that beauty is inherently redemptive, check out the Oscar winning flick “American Beauty.”

  4. Thanks for stopping by Larry. I appreciate the comments, and saw that movie awhile back. I didn’t pick up that theme at the time, but can see what you mean.

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