Truth and Reality

NickImage

Among people who discuss such things, truth is understood to be a function of propositions. While the terms truth and reality are sometimes used interchangeably in popular conversations, they are distinguished in technical discussion. As a function of propositions, truth is (roughly speaking) about reality, but it is not reality itself.

Since Christians affirm the existence of a real, created world external to themselves, they typically incline toward some version of the correspondence theory of truth. Stated simply, the correspondence theory affirms that a proposition is true if and only if what it asserts corresponds to reality. Suppose someone proposes that the sun is shining outside. That proposition is true if and only if the sun actually is shining outside. If the sun is not shining outside, the proposition is false.

The nature of propositions is to make connections. This is the difference between naming and telling: telling always involves some form of predication. Propositions assert the existence of links between facts (ideas and objects), activities, and concepts. Consequently, propositions are always interpretive, which means that they are always more than merely factual.

The connective nature of propositions is important because of the interconnectedness of the universe. Simply to point and say “cow” is not particularly useful unless the notion of a cow can be connected to other aspects of reality. By making connections between “cow” and the rest of reality, propositions not only factually assert “cow,” but they construe what a cow means.

Truth, therefore, is more than a matter of asserting existence (though even an assertion of existence is already an interpretation). It is a matter of rightly construing the various aspects of the universe so that their relationship becomes evident. It is a matter of putting facts and connections in the right contexts. These contexts include not only material reality, but also moral and personal reality.

Here, for example, are some facts. One percent of the earth’s atmosphere is composed of argon, an inert gas. The average human breath takes in 3x1019 atoms of argon. Each breath drawn by an average human will include approximately 150,000 argon atoms that were breathed by Alexander the Great, 200,000 that were breathed by Anna Nicole Smith, and upwards of 400,000 that were breathed by Queen Victoria.

The propositions that assert these facts are true as far as they go, but their truth is of no value. Without a larger context they remain factoids: disconnected and meaningless bits of information. A proposition may be true but remain inconsequential until we know its meaning.

Meaning requires context. Ultimately, the meaning of all facts has to be discovered in their relationship to all other facts, values, and persons. Sometimes the experience of larger contexts leads to a complete reinterpretation of the facts.

At one time, people assumed as a fact that the earth was flat and that the heavens revolved around it. Their evidence was directly empirical. They could appeal to their immediate perceptions of the phenomena for confirmation. As the context of noticeable facts began to expand, however, it proved incapable of sustaining the notions of a flat earth or a geocentric universe. The apparent facts (the phenomena) had to be reinterpreted within a larger context. People abandoned what they once thought they knew in favor of the new construal. Interestingly, both Columbus and Copernicus had finished their work before Galileo offered visual confirmation through the use of the telescope.

Occasionally, entirely new contexts emerge, requiring the rethinking of very large explanations. Something like that occurred when quantum mechanics was proposed as the solution to the problem of black body radiation. The new explanations that were developed had the effect of overturning much that people thought they knew, sometimes with strange results.

Larger contexts can and do overthrow cherished interpretations. Yesterday’s supposed truths become today’s antiquated theories. That being the case, how can anyone ever be certain that one has a large enough context to ensure that the next discovery will not overthrow his or her vision of the universe? What other unknown contexts may remain to be discovered? How can anyone know whether propositions that seem to be true today might not turn out to be false tomorrow?

In order to be sure, one would have to know the largest context possible—all of reality. One would have to know all events and objects. One would have to know all the connections between them. Furthermore, one would have to know all of moral reality and understand exhaustively its connection to material reality. Most of all, one would have to know all persons intimately and comprehensively. In short, one would have to know, not truths here and there, but the Truth.

An explanation of facts is true (it is a truth) if it corresponds to the way that things actually are. A comprehensive explanation that includes all facts, all connections, and all of material, moral, and personal reality is not simply a truth. It is the Truth.

Only one mind ever has been or ever will be able to know the Truth. Only one mind exists whose interpretation of reality is exhaustive and incorrigible. Consequently, any claim to truth must be tested by its conformity to that mind. For the Christian, the truth of propositions is tested not so much by its correspondence to the facts as by its correspondence to the Truth. In short, truth is known by its correspondence to the mind of God. What humans believe and think they know is true if and only if it corresponds to what God believes or knows about Himself and the world He has made.

The Dead
Jones Very (1813-1880)

I SEE them,—crowd on crowd they walk the earth,
Dry leafless trees no autumn wind laid bare;
And in their nakedness find cause for mirth,
And all unclad would winter’s rudeness dare;
No sap doth through their clattering branches flow,
Whence springing leaves and blossoms bright appear:
Their hearts the living God have ceased to know
Who gives the springtime to the expectant year.
They mimic life, as if from Him to steal
His glow of health to paint the livid cheek;
They borrow words for thoughts they cannot feel,
That with a seeming heart their tongue may speak;
And in their show of life more dead they live
Than those that to the earth with many tears they give.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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RPittman's picture

Kevin Bauder wrote:
Only one mind ever has been or ever will be able to know the Truth. Only one mind exists whose interpretation of reality is exhaustive and incorrigible. Consequently, any claim to truth must be tested by its conformity to that mind. For the Christian, the truth of propositions is tested not so much by its correspondence to the facts as by its correspondence to the Truth. In short, truth is known by its correspondence to the mind of God. What humans believe and think they know is true if and only if it corresponds to what God believes or knows about Himself and the world He has made.
As the Prophet Isaiah wrote: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9)."

Who can know the mind of God? This includes not only knowing truth exhaustively but knowing the profundity of truth as God knows it. Whereas we may know certain aspects of truth, we cannot understand its full height and breadth as God does. It is, therefore, much as Van Til proposed that we think and know analogically to what God knows. We know not bare truth face to face except as we conceptualize it within the confines of our own limited experience and understanding. Although agreed in language, two people would not conceptualize the same truth in precisely the same way. It is much like two people seeing the color green. Both may recognize the reflected light and identify it as the color green but one does not know how the other experiences it.

RPittman's picture

Kevin Bauder wrote:
Since Christians affirm the existence of a real, created world external to themselves, they typically incline toward some version of the correspondence theory of truth. Stated simply, the correspondence theory affirms that a proposition is true if and only if what it asserts corresponds to reality. Suppose someone proposes that the sun is shining outside. That proposition is true if and only if the sun actually is shining outside. If the sun is not shining outside, the proposition is false.
Propositions as representations of truth are tricky affairs. How far does a proposition reflect truth. Any propositional statement is subject to the vagaries and limitations of human language.

Even the simple proposition that the sun is shining is tricky. Does this mean that there are no clouds or does it mean that the sky is generally clear of clouds? What about a slightly overcast day so that the sun is only partially obscured by light cloud cover? Then, there are those bright days when a drifting stratus will cover the sun for a few minutes. So, what does it mean that the sun is shining. For some days, the statement is obvious and incontestable but some conditions are borderline enough to bring argument between two observers. In one sense, the sun is always shining; we just are not able to see it shining.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Quote:
The nature of propositions is to make connections. This is the difference between naming and telling: telling always involves some form of predication. Propositions assert the existence of links between facts (ideas and objects), activities, and concepts. Consequently, propositions are always interpretive, which means that they are always more than merely factual.

Great article, and a great reminder for us to be alert to our personal confusion between fact and our interpretation of fact. I know I have to remind myself of this often.

To change angles on this, let's consider the intuitive. Our ability (in varying degrees and with varying degrees of dependability) to connect dots subconsciously and to perceive information subconsciously adds yet another complex layer to our embracing or rejecting propositions. I -- and I am sure many SI participants -- have embraced assumptions based on intuition. Often enough, these propositions proved true so that we cannot ignore our intuition, but not so consistently that we can depend upon them.

I might suggest that, in the post modern world, intuition is elevated above objective reasoning. People thought the world was flat not only because of evidence and tradition, but also because it was intuitive to think of the world as flat. In this instance, objective science has overcome human intuition.

"The Midrash Detective"

RPittman's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:
Quote:
The nature of propositions is to make connections. This is the difference between naming and telling: telling always involves some form of predication. Propositions assert the existence of links between facts (ideas and objects), activities, and concepts. Consequently, propositions are always interpretive, which means that they are always more than merely factual.

Great article, and a great reminder for us to be alert to our personal confusion between fact and our interpretation of fact. I know I have to remind myself of this often.

To change angles on this, let's consider the intuitive. Our ability (in varying degrees and with varying degrees of dependability) to connect dots subconsciously and to perceive information subconsciously adds yet another complex layer to our embracing or rejecting propositions. I -- and I am sure many SI participants -- have embraced assumptions based on intuition. Often enough, these propositions proved true so that we cannot ignore our intuition, but not so consistently that we can depend upon them.

I might suggest that, in the post modern world, intuition is elevated above objective reasoning. People thought the world was flat not only because of evidence and tradition, but also because it was intuitive to think of the world as flat. In this instance, objective science has overcome human intuition.

Ed, this snippet on intuition is interesting. Are we assuming that intuition is the working of a rational subconscious mind? It may or may not be. Many define intuition as the result of subconscious ratiocination rising to consciousness. There are, however, other possibilities. It may be the realization of a subliminal suggestion. Or, it may be the spontaneous recall of forgotten knowledge or previous solution. An evolutionary psychologist might say it was genetically encoded information in our brains from millions of years of phylogenetic development. And this does not exhaust the store of reasonable explanations. The fact is that we really don't know what produces intuition but it does seem to work.

Again, you are on target, I think, in recognizing connectivity as the key. In modern learning theory, learning occurs when new information is assimilated and accommodated to existing information. New connections are made between the new and old data. There is accommodation and adaptation as conceptualization occurs. Old concepts are modified and a new concept develops as neural connections are made. Could intuition be when the new neural associations and connections happen. There are no conscious and definable steps in this process that are apparent to the individual--it's intuition.

Could it be that we call it reason when we can trace the step-wise process of our thinking but it is intuition when the process is hidden to our consciousness? I don't know. This sounds like a rational, sensible explanation but intuition may be much more complex than that. Regardless, intuition is real and it's a means of knowing for the individual. Whereas, it ought not be necessarily elevated above reason, reason ought NOT deny its existence and validity either. Reason is NOT the only means of knowing and it is NOT necessarily superior in all realms. One would hardily deny that reason using the scientific method with empirical data is very powerful and useful in the physical world. It is when this methodology is applied beyond the limits of observation and human cognition that its weakness is revealed. We cannot always consistently depend on reason either. We must limit each means to its proper use and application.

Then, there's the question of the Holy Spirit. Does the Holy Spirit play a role in our knowledge and understanding today? I seriously doubt that rationalism and empiricism can answer this question. Only revelation can tell us. If we do decide from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is operant in leading, guiding, and directing the believer today, then it is still an individual and experiential matter, for the most part, in recognizing the prodding of the Holy Spirit.

Jeff Brown's picture

Kevin, a minor point: I agree wholeheartedly with your argument that new constructs determine how people think about the world. Copernicus brought forth a new construct (non-emperical). But the voyage of Columbus really had nothing to do with that. There is probably no writer after AD 1300 who wrote about the shape of the earth, who said it was anything other than a sphere. The debate Columbus had with others was about the distance from Spain to the Far East. It was about measurements and not about constructs. The shape of the earth had already been emperically established from the time of Eratosthenes (240 BC). Columbus used calculations that were wrong, by roughly 80%. Fortunately North and South America lay in between.

Jeff Brown

RPittman's picture

Jeff Brown wrote:
There is probably no writer after AD 1300 who wrote about the shape of the earth, who said it was anything other than a sphere.
Jeff, your point is well taken and you are essentially correct but I think you may have slightly overstated your case. Although you are correct that arguments contemporary with Columbus were more about size than shape, Zacharia Lilio did apparently make argument for a flat earth in 1496. Then, you have Samuel Rowbothan who wrote Zetetic Astronomy resulting in the formation of the Zetetic Society in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These flat-earthers carried out the Bedford Level Experiments near Norlfok, England. The Zetetic Society included E. W. Bullinger and Edward Haughton in its membership. Although there is a consensus among scientists, individuals and small groups have maintained the flat-earth view well into the twentieth century and some may persist into the twenty-first.

Ed Vasicek's picture

RPittman wrote:

Quote:
Could it be that we call it reason when we can trace the step-wise process of our thinking but it is intuition when the process is hidden to our consciousness? I don't know. This sounds like a rational, sensible explanation but intuition may be much more complex than that. Regardless, intuition is real and it's a means of knowing for the individual. Whereas, it ought not be necessarily elevated above reason, reason ought NOT deny its existence and validity either. Reason is NOT the only means of knowing and it is NOT necessarily superior in all realms. One would hardily deny that reason using the scientific method with empirical data is very powerful and useful in the physical world. It is when this methodology is applied beyond the limits of observation and human cognition that its weakness is revealed. We cannot always consistently depend on reason either. We must limit each means to its proper use and application.

Then, there's the question of the Holy Spirit. Does the Holy Spirit play a role in our knowledge and understanding today? I seriously doubt that rationalism and empiricism can answer this question. Only revelation can tell us. If we do decide from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is operant in leading, guiding, and directing the believer today, then it is still an individual and experiential matter, for the most part, in recognizing the prodding of the Holy Spirit.

IMO, intuition is a broad category of seeming knowledge, conclusions, suspicions of outcome, instinct or direction that surfaces from within. Its causes can be more than one, although I think perceptions hidden from our conscious mind or memories that we cannot consciously recall affect our thought process. Reason is not the only way of knowing, but it certainly is the main arena for debate. Some people are more intuitive than others, whether lost or saved.

The question of the Holy Spirit's leading is a giant one. How can we tell when the Holy Spirit is directing us a certain way or our subconscious mind is directing us? We can obviously rule out directives that run contrary to God's Word. But beyond that, I think we have to argue that it is a mystical knowing that is more like conviction than a hunch. Even then, our minds can deceive us.

Whatever we call it, it is not an exact science!

"The Midrash Detective"

RPittman's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:
RPittman wrote:

Quote:
Could it be that we call it reason when we can trace the step-wise process of our thinking but it is intuition when the process is hidden to our consciousness? I don't know. This sounds like a rational, sensible explanation but intuition may be much more complex than that. Regardless, intuition is real and it's a means of knowing for the individual. Whereas, it ought not be necessarily elevated above reason, reason ought NOT deny its existence and validity either. Reason is NOT the only means of knowing and it is NOT necessarily superior in all realms. One would hardily deny that reason using the scientific method with empirical data is very powerful and useful in the physical world. It is when this methodology is applied beyond the limits of observation and human cognition that its weakness is revealed. We cannot always consistently depend on reason either. We must limit each means to its proper use and application.

Then, there's the question of the Holy Spirit. Does the Holy Spirit play a role in our knowledge and understanding today? I seriously doubt that rationalism and empiricism can answer this question. Only revelation can tell us. If we do decide from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is operant in leading, guiding, and directing the believer today, then it is still an individual and experiential matter, for the most part, in recognizing the prodding of the Holy Spirit.

IMO, intuition is a broad category of seeming knowledge, conclusions, suspicions of outcome, instinct or direction that surfaces from within. Its causes can be more than one, although I think perceptions hidden from our conscious mind or memories that we cannot consciously recall affect our thought process. Reason is not the only way of knowing, but it certainly is the main arena for debate. Some people are more intuitive than others, whether lost or saved.

The question of the Holy Spirit's leading is a giant one. How can we tell when the Holy Spirit is directing us a certain way or our subconscious mind is directing us? We can obviously rule out directives that run contrary to God's Word. But beyond that, I think we have to argue that it is a mystical knowing that is more like conviction than a hunch. Even then, our minds can deceive us.

Whatever we call it, it is not an exact science![emphasis added ]

Amen! Wouldn't this call for some, although not unlimited, toleration of others' views? Even the individual is not completely certain of all inner sources of what passes for knowledge.

Ed Vasicek's picture

RPittman wrote:

Quote:
Amen! Wouldn't this call for some, although not unlimited, toleration of others' views? Even the individual is not completely certain of all inner sources of what passes for knowledge.

Sometimes, particularly with subjective matters like leadings or supposedly Biblical extrapolations. Once we are a step removed from Scripture, the certainly level drops. We have different levels of certainty about different things.

I think we agree that objective truth exists, the Scriptures being the ultimate. We must make judgment calls, but we need to do so with humility -- and differing degrees of conviction. Discernment is a mark of spiritual maturity, but viewing every thing as black and white is not. Some things are black or white, but many things are shades of gray. Intuition is definitely in that gray category. Part of what we must do is to decided when a shade of gray is dark enough to consider it in the black camp.

"The Midrash Detective"

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