SS: on finding truth

There are several competing religions, and each claims it has the Truth. We read daily of clashes between Sunnis and Shia. The last time I counted there were 144 different flavours of Christianity. How could they all be true at the same time? How would one determine which, if any, has a corner on truth? I think the most damning criticism of religion comes out of considerations like this one. David Hume pointed this out long ago in his essay on religion. Is there any truth to the claims of religion?

And what about science? Does it do any better? One day coffee is said to be good for you and a week later it is bad for you. Is sunshine good or bad?  Is global warming real or just “the sky is falling” fear mongering? Compare religious claims with scientific claims. Religious claims depend on authority. What is different about scientific claims? Don’t they too depend upon authority?

One of the strengths of science is its capacity to resolve controversies by generally accepted procedures and standards. Many scientific questions (especially more technical ones) are not matters of opinion but have a correct answer.

Scientists document their procedures and findings in the peer-reviewed literature in such a way that they can be double-checked and challenged by others. The proper way to challenge results is, of course, also through the peer-reviewed literature, so that the challenge follows the same standards of documentation as did the original finding. [Source]

Also on topic is this discussion between Krauss and Dawkins.

Sunday’s Sermon: Suzuki

Screenshot-2018-1-12 consumers - Google Search

My parents were born in Vancouver — Dad in 1909, Mom in 1911 — and married during the Great Depression. It was a difficult time that shaped their values and outlook, which they drummed into my sisters and me.

“Save some for tomorrow,” they often scolded. “Share; don’t be greedy.” “Help others when they need it because one day you might need to ask for their help.” “Live within your means.” Their most important was, “You must work hard for the necessities in life, but don’t run after money as if having fancy clothes or big cars make you a better or more important person.” I think of my parents often during the frenzy of pre- and post-Christmas shopping.

Read the “sermon” here.

On truth

“Truth” like so many other terms is not clear and unambiguous because we use the term in many different ways. Let me talk about just two: there’s capital T Truth and there is small t truth.

Capital T truth often finds its home in certain kinds of texts, most often those called scripture by those who are insiders in a particular group. Religious Truths, political Truths, are the sorts of claims I have in mind. They are proclamations, articles of faith, rules of the game.

  1. The free market is the only way to economic nirvana.
  2. God is love.
  3. God is peace.
  4. Three strikes and you are out.
  5. There are three downs in real football.
  6. On Easter Christ rose from the dead.

Small t truth is quite different. It never parades as fixed and eternal, but is more modest. It is quite clear about its function in a sentence and disappears as soon as possible once its job is done.

  1. It is true that there are 4 beer in the refrigerator.
  2. “It is raining” is true if and only if it is raining.
  3. Evolution is true.
  4. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.
  5. It is true that the NFL and the CFL have different rules.

Notice the first set is made up of proclamations. These capital T statements are constitutive rules of the language game they establish. They really are not true or false, but are just True by definition of the game. Notice the absurdity of a baseball player trying to argue with the umpire that he should be allowed four strikes. Or a Christian who doesn’t believe in the resurrection. Small case true is a relational term – it claims a relationship between a statement and a state of affairs. If Noam has scoffed two of the beers in the refrigerator then it is no longer the case that there are four beer in the refrigerator.

Capital T TRUTH is always delivered with certainty. Small case truth is more modest. It attempts to say what is, but can be emended if someone has drunk some of the beer.

Certainty tells us about the speaker’s state of mind and not about a state of affairs. Certainty is demonic.

Mark Twain 2

Mark Twain 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mark Twain gets it right: We are always hearing of people who are around seeking after the Truth. I have never seen a (permanent) specimen. I think he has never lived. But I have seen several entirely sincere people who thought they were (permanent) Seekers after the Truth. They sought diligently, persistently, carefully, cautiously, profoundly, with perfect honesty and nicely adjusted judgment- until they believed that without doubt or question they had found the Truth. That was the end of the search. The man spent the rest of his life hunting up shingles wherewith to protect his Truth from the weather.

Antonio Ciseri's depiction of Pontius Pilate p...

Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Pontius Pilate presenting a scourged Christ to the people Ecce homo! (Behold the man!). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“What is truth?” asked Pilate of a now famous Roman prisoner a couple of thousand years ago. Unfortunately Jesus did not answer. But let’s imagine that the conversation was recorded by a Jewish scribe.

What IS truth?

Truth is a relational term, Pilate, just as “larger” or “heavier” it requires a relationship between two things – a belief and a condition that IS the case.

A belief? Do you believe that you are the son of God?

As I have said on many occasions I am the son of man. Beliefs come in three flavours, Pilate.  True beliefs, false beliefs, and untested beliefs. It is our obligation as humans to eliminate false beliefs by constantly evaluating and testing our beliefs as to consistency and correspondence. Those that pass these tests we call true beliefs.

Your accusers have called you a miracle worker, a magician, a false prophet. Are these charges true?

That is for you, not me, to determine.

But what of the miracles?

Miracles are in the eye of the beholder, Pilate. They are also used in stories to indicate a special person, a hero. You will recall that your Caesar is called a god and a miracle worker.

The crowd is getting restless, Jesus, I must end this conversation now, interesting as it is.

Stirred up by false beliefs the crowd insisted that this charlatan, this philosopher, this challenger to the TRUTH be put to death.

And it came to pass.

Listen on soundcloud.

Searle vs Lawson: After the End of Truth

Searle vs Lawson: After the End of Truth – part 1

Is there such a thing as objective truth? One of the world’s most influential analytic philosophers defends realism and philosophy’s classical values.
John Searle | American philosopher noted for his seminal work in the philosophy of language and mind.

Searle 39 2

Read the alternative perspective on the existence of objective truth from post-realist philosopher Hilary Lawson here.

I have been a professional teacher of philosophy now for 60 years. One persistent philosophical confusion I have discovered is the temptation among intelligent undergraduates to adopt a conception of relativism about truth. It’s not easy to get a clear statement of relativism, but the general idea is something like this: there is no such thing as objective truth. All truth statements are made from a perspective and the perspective is inherently subjective and the result is that truth is always relative to the interests of the truth-staters. So what is true for me is true for me, and what is true for you is true for you. Each of us has a right to our own truth.

Part of the appeal of this view is that is seems both empowering and democratic. It is empowering because I get to decide what is true for me, and democratic because everybody else has the right to decide what is true for them.

I think this view cannot be stated coherently, and what I want to do is to expose its incoherence.


Photograph of John Searle

Photograph of John Searle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)