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.
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.