Why the inability to ascertain truth doesn’t matter

just because a particular group or a particular person may not know the truth, that doesn’t mean it’s not out there to be known. It most definitely can be known. Furthermore, if truth can’t ever be known, it is somewhat futile to try and approach it.

If truth existed, then I would have to believe, by the very nature of truth and how we define it, that EVERYONE would know this supposed truth. But because everyone doesn’t know it, because everyone has varying opinions rooted in the same facts, that leads me to believe that some things do not have a truth value, that sometimes, there is no right or wrong answer. Sometimes both answers are “right,” sometimes both answers have easily discerned positive and negative consequences. The reason we pick one is because we make a value judgment, and a value judgment isn’t quantitative, or even qualitative really. It’s like Mill’s greatest good for the greatest number, although defining good and how much of it is always sticky. That’s why truth isn’t “knowable” in an absolute sense.

It’s not futile to approach truth, because great philosophers have said that they know nothing. The one that comes to mind immediately is Socrates. But they also caveat this by saying that even though they know nothing with absolute certainty, that kind of thinking will stifle them, freeze them really, and prevent them from taking action. And so, while truth is not knowable, we must profess “truth” for the purposes of taking action lest we all become frozen in place by our own indecisiveness.

If one doesn’t believe in the things they belong to or claim to adhere to, then one shouldn’t belong to that denomination or political party or political magazine, etc. He should be quiet. If a person advocates things that he does not believe to be true, then he is denying the existence of truth and is thus a relativist. And relativism is a belief that we are all here on earth to get the house with a two car garage and nothing else. It denies the existence of virtue or the need to pursue virtue. That is not the world I want to live in. No, I will continue to be bold and posit that truth exists, is knowable, and is attainable.

First of all, you don’t think I’d rather live in a world where truth is knowable and attainable? I know it isn’t because if truth existed, and if truth was what we really all think of it as, then EVERYONE would acknowledge this “universal truth” (because truth has a certain amount of universality built into its definition that we simply dont find in the real world). But because not everyone acknowledges certain truths leads me to believe they. do. not. exist.

You raise an interesting question with virtue. Going back to the classics once again, this time Plato, Plato makes an interesting analogy with regards to a hammer. He says that the virtue of a hammer is how well it hammers (drives in nails) just as the virtue of an eye is how well it sees. And so, the virtue of human beings is in how well we are humans.

Overall, I think we do a pretty bang-up job at being humans. Look at the people rioting over cartoons. Look at the genocides in Darfur and Rwanda. Look at the holocaust, the Trail of Tears, the Spanish Inquisition, the Reign of Terror, and all the other times in history where people have irrationally allowed sentiments of feeling (hatred, distrust, etc…) to dictate actions that had REAL NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES.

But, at the same time, there are shared qualities of human beings that I recognize that lead me to believe there is some virtue. The times where men and women sit down at tables and set aside petty differences, foolish pride, and wills to power in order to make the changes necessary for this world to become a better place. It’s rarer that we see this at the highest level, but I see it every day in real life, which leads me to believe it does exist.

Now, if this is virtue, like the hammer and the eye, it implies that humans have a purpose. Like the hammer and eye, that humans were designed with an intent. I think Madison was the first to make this argument in one of the federalist papers, that if virtue exists, then it implies a Creator. I do believe in God. But I also believe God is ineffable. There is virtue in human beings, but this virtue is not in any way related to truth. You made too big of an argumentative jump to say that no truth implies no virtue.

I also believe that if there is a God, then that God would have to leave no trace of His/Her existence for this world to make any sense. Truth in the sense that I’ve been talking about it refers to some kind of Absolute Justice. I don’t think that’s for us to know. God is Truth, and because I also believe in free will, you can’t know truth in this world. Because if you could know Truth, if you could know God, then free will falls apart. How can you have free will in the presence of God? How can you have Truth in a world of free will? You can’t.

Furthremore, even though I believe virtue exists, I don’t think anyone can be a “perfect human” here on earth. To quote scripture, somewhere in Romans it says: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (I can already hear the grimmacing as the accusations of being a “cafeteria Christian” or “only taking passages as it pertains to what I believe” are on their way)

But back to virtue. None of us are “virtuous” humans in the sense that we fulfill our purpose or intent here on earth. However, that doesn’t and shouldn’t keep us from trying to be good people. None of us can “know” truth, but that doesn’t and shouldn’t keep us from seeking out the answers to solve our problems.

5 comments

  1. You are not a Christian, you are a Deist. At best, you are a deist. It is comical how you still refer to yourself as a “Christian,” yet have no faith and continuously attempt to mold Christianity to come in line with your modernist “principles.”

  2. you’re probably right. ever since last year i’ve been having an “experiential contradiction” between the fact that i want the social comfort and acceptance that goes along with being christian, but that i cant simply make the leaps of logic and understanding required to give myself over to some of the ideas… mainly, that mankind isn’t capable of doing good acts on its own, that an individual can only do good through god. if that is true (and i dont know that its not) then that kind of inability to possess authorship over my life makes me sick to my stomach to the point where i wish i hadn’t been born. -dh

  3. David, I am truly impressed how intellectually honest your above statement is, in regards to the untenability of on the one hand claiming the title of Christian, and on the other hand essentially rejecting all of Christ’s tenets. So many (I’d say vast majority) of our so called “Christian” counterparts are so blind to their own hypocracies and contradictions, that they cannot see this. And most people would have gotten incredibly angry and self righteous with my statement above, but you rightly recognize it as true, instead of getting all defensive. Too many people want that warm and fuzzy feeling or status of saying that “I am a Christian,” but then not really understanding or even attempting to understand what that “leap of faith” really entails.As for your other comments, I think you somehow got some bad theology along the way, or in the converse, only got a little good theology and have not taken the time to think it all the way through yet. Man most definately has free will, and as St. Augustine said, this free will is a gift from God and a sign of God’s love for us. Also, as Augustine says, man has the freedom to choose good and evil, with evil being defined as those willful decisions which are defective of God’s will/desire.So, it is not at all true to say that man cannot do good acts on his own, as that would be contrary to the very notion of a God given free will. Man does good acts on his own, every time he “chooses” to live his life in line with the will of God, since God is the definition and source of all that is truly good. Thus, a more accurate statement is not that man cannot do good without God, but that anytime man does do “good,” he also pleases our Lord, because it is in accordance with His Will. Anyway, it seems to me that your view of Christianity, is very Calvinistic, in the idea that one is pre-destined to good or bad and therefore anyone who does good was pre-destined towards that good by some directive by God. This of course is the error of Calvanism, which to my knowledge was not known to the Christian world for the vast majority of the Church’s history.Lastly, there is a key element which the inexistence of precludes one from fully understanding notions of Truth and God. And that key element is the theological virtue of faith. If you can’t put your faith in what the Lord revealed to us through St. Paul, St. Peter, and the Four evangelist’s, then one technically cannot say they are Christian. If you can’t read the Apostle’s Creed and accept it as incontrovertible Truth, then one is not a Christian because one has no faith, and to be a true Christian, faith is the ultimate pre-requisite. That said, faith is a virtue and all virtue’s take hard work and self discipline. Our Lord understands the difficulty of placing our faith in something that is not observable to our five senses, but that is why He gave us the Church, and that is why faith is considered the highest virtue.

  4. I would also add that in conjunction with faith, or maybe as a subset of faith, one must love our Lord with all his heart. If one can do this, all the rest becomes far easier.

  5. David,That realization–the Christian belief that one cannot do good apart from God–is none other than a recognition that all good finds its source in God. I think it hits our pride the hardest. But I think we know it’s true. We know there are things we can’t really control, even about ourselves. There are habits we can’t kick. There are people we just really can’t love. In fact, this hopeless situation would remain just that, hopeless–were it not for God. It is of greatest comfort to me that I’m not the source of good in my life–were it true, there wouldn’t be much good to speak of. I can understand your concern about authorship–but realize what you gain when you give that up. I sense that what you’re really concerned about is not authorship but self-worth–how will you, as you, be valuable having given up authorship. Isn’t authorship what makes what you do attributable to you, giving you worth? It’s a tough question and one that all Christians constantly deal with. But think of this: there’s incredible value in knowing that you’re fulfilling the purpose of the Almighty, the purpose He created you for, when you rely on Him to do great works through you. You aren’t the author, but you, connected to the Master of the Universe, can assist in the working out of his will. What you come to see is that any value you have in your own works pales in comparison to seeing God glorified through what He does through you. It’s the most liberating experience–you know longer rely on your own strength. And it’s the most fulfilling–you’re no longer limited to you and your resources but have transcended all that, having tapped into the Creator–you’re then involved in something INFINITELY greater than yourself. When faced with going it alone or becoming part of something that transcends all space and time, I’ll choose the latter. The truth is, we can’t really author much of anything, but we can assist in the accomplishment of great things, through God, when we realize this.

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