Friday, August 28, 2009

Veritology

This past week, my home church started a 13-week in-depth course of study on the Christian worldview entitled, "The Truth Project." My posts over the next 13 weeks will be centered on addressing each of the topics we cover in the course and providing a forum to comment on, and answer questions about, the weekly discussion. I invite the participants and anyone else who is interested, to join me during the week to further delve into these issues.

I can't think of anything else more important to talk about.

Lesson 1: Veritology

The existence of truth is the foundational concept on which the rest of the program rests, so it is important that you understand what we mean by "truth." The illustration I used was this:

ICE CREAM truth ("Subjective Truth") is true for the subject. It is first person. It is private. It is something we prefer. This could better be described as opinion.

INSULIN truth ("Objective Truth") is dependent on the object. It is "out there." It is third person. It is public. It is something we discover.

Because truth itself is an objective reality, it is actually redundant to label it "objective" truth. Truth, by its very nature is objective. The reason we are forced to add the modifier "objective" in front of it is because of the cultural baggage that has been attached to the concept. I think it's ironic that if you do a Google search of the word "veritology," one of the hits you get is to the Urban Dictionary. There you will find that veritology (the study of truth) is "not defined yet."

That's the culture we live in -- a culture that thinks we have to wait for a definition of truth.

Definition: Truth is what corresponds to reality — it is the way the world actually is.

This is how our understanding of the truth must be judged. We all think we have the truth. But we must evaluate how our understanding of the truth matches up against the way the world actually is. This is the goal of The Truth Project and the strength of the Christian Worldview. The idea is that if Christianity is actually true, it will match up with the way we find the world and make more sense than any other way of looking at things. Living in accordance with that truth is reasonable and consistent. The "Cosmic Battle" begins when we deny that truth or try to order our lives in ways that are not in accordance with the way the world actually is.

A couple of topics related to this idea are these:

1. CERTAINTY
is a property of persons; TRUTH is a property of propositions.

Example: Ptolemy was a 2nd century astronomer who posited that the Earth was at the center of the universe and that the Sun, Moon and stars revolved around it. Ptolemy was absolutely certain of his theory and it stood for nearly 15 centuries until Copernicus came along and theorized that the Sun was really at the center of our solar system. One hundred years later, Galileo proved Copernicus right. As it turned out, Copernicus' proposition was the truth -- Ptolemy's certainty was unfounded.

We cannot confuse the certainty that we (or anyone else) hold about a thing with its truth.

2. The relationship between truth/knowledge and faith is proportional, not inverse.

Our culture has led us to accept the notion that "faith" is blind acceptance of things we cannot prove or know. But this is not the Biblical definition of faith. Faith (Greek: pistis) is defined as conviction, or active trust. In other words, if Christianity is true, the more we find out about the world -- the more truth we obtain -- the more our conviction that we have placed our trust correctly will increase. This is the exact opposite of what the culture tells us about faith.

3 comments:

  1. A Question: You assert that science and the bible are in agreement. While this statement is generally true I see one notable group of exceptions. These exceptions are the miracles. I would not say every miracle in the bible violates a well established scientific theory but many do. Take for instance Jesus walking on water. Science and our personal experience say "No, people can not walk on water." If you discount the possibility it was a trick (water frozen or submerged platform) you have a clear example of the bible violating science.

    Response:

    Science and the Bible mostly talk about different things. You will never find the plan of salvation in a science book. Likewise, you cannot learn about nuclear physics from the Bible. But, in some cases, science and theology overlap and it is in those areas that hey should never contradict one another. If there is an apparent contradiction, it is because we have interpreted one of them incorrectly. In other words, the nature and the Scripture are each complementary expressions of God's truth. Our interpretations of those (science and theology) are prone to error.

    Example: Many Christians believe the earth is only a few thousand years old. Science seems to tell us it is billions of years old. So, in an attempt to find out why there is a contradiction, we study further and find that the Bible makes NO claim about the age of the Earth. Since the age of the earth is not theologically significant, we defer to science. When we do, we find that, properly interpreted, the creation account is perfectly consistent with the scientific account. Problem solved. I'm not saying this (the age of the earth) should be held dogmatically on either side but it is an example of a way the two work to complement one another.

    Obviously, this only works for areas in which the two overlap -- places like: origin of the universe, origin of man, nature of man, purpose of the creation etc ... But this does not mean that science must "explain" miracles. A miracle is, by definition, a suspension of the laws of nature. Some can be explained by an altering or "speeding up" (like drying up a river so the Israelites can cross ...) of those laws and so may have some kind of natural "explanation." Others have no such explanation. The greatest miracle of all was the sudden emergence of the entire known universe (all matter, energy, space and time) from nothing. This "creation event" (which corresponds perfectly with the Big Bang discoveries of modern science) has been verified over and over again (we will talk about some of this in later weeks). If that was the first miracle, and we have solid evidence that it actually happened, all subsequent miracles seem to pale in comparison. In other words, I don't contend that miracles must jive with science. Quite the opposite. But saying that does not mean that because we have evidence of miracles, that science and the Bible are not compatible. Indeed, the Bible predicts and records miracles but also comports with modern science. I find that extraordinary.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A second question:

    "A second minor point you say that if the remains of Jesus were found it would undermine your faith. I understand this was just a thought experiment. Jesus is not the only person the bible reports as coming back to life. There was a Roman solder's daughter and Jesus's friend Lazarus. Would you be surprised to find either of these bodies? I doubt their discovery would have a negative impact on your faith. So I have just established that the existence of a body does not mean that the person was not brought back to life. If so why would Jesus's body bother you so? Is it because his return from the grave was to eternal life? Ok, now I am going out on a limb. I suggest that human bodies are not of use in heaven. Therefore his body could have been left behind when he returned to heaven as it is useless there. Just a thought."

    Response:

    Great observation. I would say that I would not be surprised to find the bodies of Lazarus etc. because they subsequently died again and were buried. But you can't say the same for Jesus. He ascended with some kind of "glorified" body. This is a common misperception among Christians. The Bible does not say that our bodies will be useless in the afterlife but that they will be changed. I have NO IDEA what that means except to say that Jesus seems to have given us a hint of what it will be like. Remember, the disciples did not recognize him in his new state but it had to be, in some sense, physical because he ate meals with them and let Thomas touch his wounds. Anyway, Jesus took that "reconstituted" (?) body with him to heaven -- which is why I say that finding his bones would disqualify the claims of the resurrection.

    ReplyDelete
  3. A third question:

    The third and final point you suggested that the proof required to establish the bibles authenticity should not be held to a higher standard than other historical documents. Forgive me but I can not buy this one at all. The real life consequences of believing that a battle occurred at some distance point in the past is zero. The real life consequences of believing in the authority of the bible are completely life altering. Our legal system recognizes that more serious charges and consequences demand a higher level of proof. Clearly the burden of proof is at the highest level when the outcome determines how we live the rest of our lives.

    Response:

    I agree that we desire a higher level of proof for life-altering decisions. My point was not that we shouldn't seek the most evidence we can get, it was that the evidence we have is sufficient to warrant our acceptance of the claims that rest on that evidence. Even the most horrendous crime (like murder) only requires evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt" -- not irrefutable evidence. Just because the implications are greater, the evidence we require does not suddenly rise to the level of undeniability. There is always an element of doubt. The question is, "does the evidence support the claim being made."

    My point last week was that we do have that kind of evidence for the resurrection. Consider that even the most ardent, anti-Christian, anti-supernaturalist Bible scholars accept the following "minimal facts" about the resurrection account:

    1) That Jesus of Nazareth lived
    2) That he died on a Roman cross
    3) That the tomb was empty 3 days later
    4) That several hundred witnesses claimed to have seen him alive afterward
    5) That his most adamant detractors (James and Saul) made a sudden reversal in their belief system and became leaders of the newly formed church
    6) That first-hand eyewitnesses went to their deaths without denying their claims
    7) That devout Jews changed their day or worship from Saturday to Sunday and claimed this as the reason for that change

    The questions are, "What would cause people to die for something they knew to be a lie?" and "What is the best possible explanation for all these claims taken together?"

    I contend that it is reasonable to accept the resurrection as a viable explanation for all these and that only a anti-supernatural presupposition would be cause for denying it.

    ReplyDelete

Though I do not moderate comments, I reserve the right to delete any comment that I deem inappropriate. You don't have to agree with me, but I don't tolerate abusive or objectionable language of any kind.