The Truth of the Matter
The “X Files” premiered on television in the early 1990s and found FBI agent Fox Mulder searching for the truth behind the many other-worldly happenings that had been reported. In the opening scene to the trailer of the 2018 season, a simple message appears on Fox’s computer screen: “Do you believe what you want? Or do you believe what is true?”
In a time where the truth has become an endangered creature, how does one even recognize the beast when it shows itself? So, let’s start there- What IS truth? There is no easy answer and its definition has been debated for centuries. Our good friends at Wikipedia liken truth to what is in harmony with reality and fact. They think of it generally as the opposite of falsehood. Terry McLaughlin expands on this thought in The Union , “Truth is not simply what is coherent, understandable, or believed within a group. Because falsehoods are understood, agreed upon, and believed by a group of people, that does not make them true.” So here is where the circular logic begins-if truth is based upon facts, what happens if the facts you believe to be true are, in fact, false? Moreover, if a truth is based upon a fact that was once accepted as true but has now been proven false, was it ever a truth?
To better understand these variations of truth, let’s categorize them by perspective. Below is a listing of “types” of truths that are built from a variety of knowledge and facts:
· Scientific truths - These truths are built upon facts observed in the natural world and tested rigorously to arrive at a sound conclusion based upon those facts. The goal of scientific truth is to create accurate and reliable knowledge as to how the world actually works. To muddy the waters, these truths can become untruths as more scientific knowledge is discovered; i.e. “Just how many planets are now in our solar system?” “Is the world flat?” “Isn’t the Earth at the center of the solar system?”, etc.
· Spiritual truths - These truths are based upon facts pertinent to specific belief systems that guide actions of those that follow that system. Even though science cannot investigate these concepts, it is faith in these facts that provide the basis of these truths. It should be noted that some spiritual beliefs and scientific beliefs can coexist.
· Cultural truths – These are truths based on the life experiences and values of a particular culture. To carry this concept further, it is important to note that people can embrace the same fact from different perspectives spurred on by different life experiences, and come up with “truths” which are different from others.
Some truths, then, can be true for some and not for others. This is where the differences between relative and absolute truths live.
· Relative truths - These truths are true for one person but not another, due to life experience, opinion, or values. For instance, one could believe as truth, “That cardinal is beautiful!” while another believes it to be ugly.(Think “my truth, your truth.”)
· Absolute truths - This truth is something that is independently true for everyone. For example, “That cardinal is red.” Unless one is colorblind, then this is a truth for all. (But wait, does that not just make it a relative truth? I’m confused now.)
So which truths are worthy of deeper thought and acceptance? Terry McLaughlin shares this logic:
“The philosophy of relativism says that all truth is relative and there is no such thing as absolute truth. So, is the claim that all truth is relative a relative truth or an absolute truth? If it is a relative truth, then it is meaningless. If it is an absolute truth, then absolute truth exists.”
In my opinion, absolute truth would seem to be the Holy Grail one should seek when determining what is real. But I maintain one must also recognize at the same time that relative truth influences everyone’s perception of reality, even our own. It is through understanding the positions of others and their truths as they see them, as well as our own truth, (relatively speaking) that we can more correctly determine the absolute truth.
What IS truth? This is just one way of looking at it from many. Hopefully a take away is that it is not easy to discern. This post will be the first one in a series whose aim is to provide specific thinking skills and behaviors that will allow you to become better at finding the facts and analyzing them to determine if it’s something you want to believe, or if, in fact, it is true.