Importance of truth (Part 1)

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Recently the UN held a conference in Poland on the need to move away from fossil fuels and toward energy sources that are less damaging to the environment. At the same time scientists are talking about record high temperatures in the Arctic, which are devastating our polar ice caps and over the next few years will raise the sea level to significant degrees. Which is something catastrophic for the Marshalls and other low islands of the Pacific. Wildfires are laying waste to the forests of the USA Pacific Coast and the East Coast is being hit by hurricanes of extraordinary intensity and frequency.  At the same time the US delegation to the meeting in Poland has argued against climate change and argued for the continued use of fossil fuels, though fossil fuels that are “clean”.

TIME magazine has dubbed “the Guardians” as the Persons of the Year for 2018. They are referring to Jamal Khashoggi and other journalists in the past year who lost their lives for attempting to report the truth. Indeed, the truth seems to have fallen on hard times in recent years, if TIME magazine feels that it is necessary to honor persons who have been killed for seeking to make the truth known to the wider public. I find it deeply disturbing that the truth has become such an ambiguous concept that US government leaders can deny apparent reality and argue for the benefit of coal and oil industry profits over saving the environment and preventing a mass extinction of life on the planet Earth. I find it deeply disturbing that it seems truth has become no more than opinion, which is defined by the person or group of persons who can shout the loudest.

What was the fundamental mission of Christ according to his own words? As Jesus stood before Pilate, the Roman governor asked him if he was a king.  Jesus replied, “You say I am a king.
For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” While Christ came into the world to save us from sin and to establish the Kingdom of God these are only the result of his more fundamental mission, which was to bear witness to the truth. Everything in our Christian faith rests on the foundation of truth.

We live in an age where everything and everyone is suspect. We used to respect our political leaders, clergy, teachers, physicians and other community leaders.  Again, and again they failed us and betrayed our trust. Today we don’t trust anyone. It is too easy to be taken advantage of, lied to and abused by those whom we trust. What was once presented to us as truth now is perceived by many as a tool of manipulation, a power game to defraud the vulnerable and allow an elite to maintain power over society. We’ve become so jaded that often our concern is how well we can play the power games, rather than what is true or what is right.

What is truth? It is a description of the world and that description has a direct relationship with objective reality. That is, our words are an accurate reflection of the situation, event or artifact we are attempting to describe. It is a description upon which we can rely. Our accurate descriptions can come from several sources and each source has its strengths and drawbacks that help us evaluate the reliability of the truth statement.

Science attempts to speak the truth about nature; that is, material reality. Scientific “truth” is necessarily provisional.  It is based on the best knowledge that we have regarding observed phenomena in the natural world. Scientists develop theories on how things in the natural world work and share these theories with the public. Other scientists test the theories through experimentation and observation. When their research confirms the findings of earlier scientists, the reliability of the theory is strengthened. When research contradicts the findings of earlier scientists the reliability of the theory is undercut.  What follows is a serious attempt to find a better theory, or at least a better version of the older theory. It is through this method of research that scientists approach the truth; that is, a clear and accurate description of the natural environment. This scientific “truth” is highly reliable as far as it goes because it is always being tested and refined. There is no claim that it is the complete and absolute truth because it can always be refined considering new data. However, it is the closest approximation of the truth of nature that we can achieve with our human faculties.

So, for example, over the past century a large body of data has built up showing that we are entering a period of significant climate change. The data in support of this finding by scientists is massive, consistent and reliable. It is evident in the changes to the environment described in the opening paragraph of this reflection. From a scientific perspective, climate change is a fact. It is the truth.

Now, all scientific knowledge is provisional, and if enough evidence to the contrary is produced the scientific “truth” must be called into question and revised to account for the contrary evidence. So far, there is little, if any, evidence that climate change is not a fact; is not the “truth”.

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