Thursday, April 05, 2007

IC Column: On the Existence of Truth

This Column provoked an interesting correspondence with the chair of a department at my school. See above for the correspondence after reading this.

Always for the truth

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 3/29/07

There are few things more absurd than advancing the truth-claim "there is no truth." The self-referential inconsistency of such a notion is not difficult to grasp, but it is not for that reason any less popular.

Undergraduates, being suggestible creatures, heteronymously live at the behest of a great number of forces. University administrators mandate which classes to take at which time and where, professors say what to believe, parents insist on good grades and a "useful" (I shudder at this word's application to the university) major for financial support. Such suggestibility, however, begets a certain amount of unreflective belief.

Consider a few diverse examples. Do you know anyone who believes in God, the liceity of abortion or the injustice of the Iraq War (these people are almost as bad as the pro-abortion group) who when pressed to defend their beliefs cannot adduce a single logically compelling reason? For instance, at this stage your answers should not be "because the Bible says so" or "women have rights" (well what about female fetuses?) or holding a sign bearing the words "Troops out now!" (Give me a break).

Or consider this scene: someone says, "I don't believe in God." And you ask why not. He responds, like one of the character's in C.S. Lewis's Pilgrim's Regress, "Christopher Columbus, Galileo, the earth is round, invention of printing, gunpowder, [you believe in God] because you do not have the benefits of scientific training." Can anyone say non-sequitur? This no more disproves God's existence than closing your eyes disproves yours. It simply doesn't follow.

The issue here betrays a crisis of reality. Most famously, it was stated in the words of Pontius Pilate who, in response to Jesus' statement that all who belong to the truth listen to Him, asked, "What is truth?" Indeed.

The moribund but stubborn trend in academia and among the intelligentsia has been to deny truth's existence. That is, to make the following logical proposition: it is true that there is no truth. Wow! And these supposedly clever people are teaching us bioethics, religion, literature, and science. These are not unimportant subjects like modern art or sociology about which we can be cavalier.

Yet, so it goes. Undergraduates eagerly jump on the bandwagon of whatever intellectual fashion is in ascendancy among their peers and professors. The materialist presuppositions of Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory are the latest "scientific" dogma? Sweet, count me in on that one. The evangelical or Catholic Christianity of my parents is for buffoons? Too bad for my parents. There is no truth? Why, I believe that is true.

You see the problem? One has to take a stand on issues and not just accept simpliciter what professors or your friends believe. Recently, someone wrote a provocative little piece on the idea that the search for truth never ends. Well, yes, not until you find it. If the search for truth is a journey, it must have a destination, a goal. Questions demand answers. Those who describe themselves as being on a never-ending "journey to discover truth" are by definition lost. The road they're traveling leads, by their own admission, nowhere.

Truly one should never become complacent in one's beliefs. So you believe in God? Fine. The truth of God's existence is your conclusion, but don't ever stop searching for premises to support that conclusion. Live like He does, and let that truth vivify your intellectual pursuits and all other aspects of your life. Don't let the proposition become banal, for surely it is the most important issue of all.

So, for all you Pontius Pilates out there, consider Aristotle's observation, "If a man says of what is that it is or of what is not that it is not, he speaks the truth." So then, truth is simply "telling it like it is."

Truth is the conformity of mind to reality. Call me a rube, but I'm sure glad I believe what is true. I think my future patients will also be glad that I'm not a relativist. "What are we gonna do about my cancer, Doc?" "I dunno, I don't want to jump to any hasty conclusions about the existence of truth [i.e. the best medicine] - let's just do nothing and see what happens."

Lastly, I'm sure my lawyer will be glad when I tell him that I practice medicine according to the truth and not from the perspective of an ever-tortuous, do-whatever-I-feel-like-at-the-moment perspective. I'm sure that will make his job a bit easier. Semper pro Veritate.
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