Seeking the truth about truth

I know it’s been asked before, but what is truth? I’ve been thinking about truth this week after reading about a conference held last week, organized by the Vatican. I read about it last weekend at my friend’s blog. Here is one of the links he provided, to a National Catholic Reporter article on the conference. 

One can hear a variety of opinions about truth these days. Some hold firmly to the idea that truth is an absolute that exists outside or beyond ourselves. Others understand truth to be relative, something that circumstances can shape. Some would claim truth as knowable, others believe it is unknowable.

How do we recognize truth?

  • Is it verifiable?
  • If so what is adequate proof?
  • Is truth found via revelation?
  • Are there different kinds of truth?
  • Is the truth of science different than the truth of religion?
  • Or do science and religion look at different small parts of a larger truth? 

When we speak to each other about truth, are we talking about the same thing?  Is a lawyers search for truth the same as an artists, or a historians?

Is your head spinning yet?

I think that part of the difficulty in speaking about truth is that the word “truth” can be used in a variety of similar, but not equal ways. When we ask someone to tell the truth, we mean don’t lie. We’re concerned with honesty.

Often truth has to do with accuracy in the material or physical world.  When we talk about scientific truth, we are concerned with the accurate description of natural or physical phenomenon. Historians strive for accuracy about the past. Sometimes the truth is about facts.

For lawyers, truth has to do with accuracy but the idea of justice also shapes their concept of truth. Artists and musicians will speak about the truth found in a work of art or music. Sometimes truth is about something other than facts.

My sense is that when we’re thinking about religious truth we’re talking about something different. Facts, yes, but also more than facts. I think of it as a move from truth to Truth. But this is not a move from concrete to abstract. As my friend Bill pointed out in his blog, for Christians truth is a person.

I have spent some time thinking about truth this week and I have more questions than answers. I’d like to know what do you think?


3 thoughts on “Seeking the truth about truth

  1. Me, too.

    Christianity has long lived under the umbrella of dogma, and it’s given us a false security, too often fueling exclusionary debate and judgment – with the results being written by the winners.

    Some years ago, I read something about the metaphors of salt and light – modest metaphors, and perhaps God is bringing us to a modest reality. Though absolutists cringe at the suggestion that truth is personal and subjective, I think that’s the simple “truth” – it’s always been that way, but we’ve been able to create the illusion of objective truth.

    Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” remains unanswered and unanswerable – our Lord’s silence is instructive, if not a model.

    Let truth be nothing less than our love for one another, and our love for the outcast and the oppressed.

    They will know us, then, not by our dogma, but our dogged determination to live Micah’s vision: to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.

    I guess that means we can only share with one another and let the Holy Spirit determine the outcome. I guess this means an end to our debates and judgmental efforts to determine who’s right, who’s in, who’s wrong and who’s out.

  2. In a way, “scientific truth” is an oxymoron. Although science is engaged in trying to ascertain facts, the underlying premise seems to be that things are not as they appear, that what we think of as accurate and real may be something other than what we observe or have been able to “prove”. Scientific truth is limited by what can be observed and rationally interpreted. With all respect, I would disagree with Tom about all truth being relative. While it would be nice in some ways to think so, I don’t see how two or several opposing points of view could both be true. If that were so, then there would be no truth at all. That said, believing in objective truth does not mean being judgmental. It’s up to God to judge. We ought to seek truth, but to think we have truth is something else entirely.

  3. Is religious truth antipodal to “false”? Is such truth true in the sense of logic? If so, is God limited by logic? I argue in my posts that religious truth is sui generis (i.e., unique). I’ve been posting on this in conversing with comments and thought you might be interested.

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