Re: [asa] Truth

From: Charles Carrigan <>
Date: Wed May 30 2007 - 16:00:35 EDT

I've been through the DVDs and some group discussion with our Sunday School group about the Truth Project. Some of it was quite good, other parts, especially the part on science, were not so good. In the end, I found it disappointing. The science portion essentially takes the view of TDI that evolution is false, and partly because it leads to all kinds of bad things in the world. It did not promote a YEC agenda, but neither did it allow for a TE viewpoint. Very much anti-"darwinism". But, it did attempt to provide an integrated Christian worldview, which is sadly lacking among many Christians who seem to think their beliefs have no impact on anything else in life.
Charles W. Carrigan, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Geology
Olivet Nazarene Univ., Dept. of Physical Sciences
One University Ave.
Bourbonnais, IL 60914
PH: (815) 939-5346
FX: (815) 939-5071

"To a naturalist nothing is indifferent;
the humble moss that creeps upon the stone
is equally interesting as the lofty pine which so beautifully adorns the valley or the mountain:
but to a naturalist who is reading in the face of the rocks the annals of a former world,
the mossy covering which obstructs his view,
and renders indistinguishable the different species of stone,
is no less than a serious subject of regret."
          - James Hutton

>>> Merv <> 5/30/2007 12:35 AM >>>
James Dobson has kicked off an outreach called the "Truth Project"

It has polished multimedia flash & bang, and is apparently exciting small group audiences around the nation. While I gravitated to the "science" lesson first to note the celebrated correlation between evolution & evil in the world, I did find their first lesson (veritology) to be truly thought provoking. Truth, Dr. Tackett tells us, is that which accurately mirrors reality. I found myself in full agreement with that statement (who wouldn't be?), but with some inexplicable troubling of spirit. I am re-reading "Being Reasonable About Religion" (2006) by William Charlton (the book I am supposed to be submitting a review on one of these days.) and it provided an interesting counter-point to this "mirror" truth assertion that made me wonder where I stood. Partly inspired by the "Truth Project" above, and mostly drawing on influence from having read "Being Reasonable...", I composed an essay to organize my thoughts. (This is NOT the book review, but only draws on Charlton for inspiration.)

For any who care to read several pages worth pasted in below and give feedback -- thank you.

Truth & our approaches to it

Truth has been defined by some scientific thinkers and Christians alike, as “that which mirrors reality”. It is an empirical approach that places high value on actual observable reality, and measures the truth of any statement by how well it matches that reality. And very few, outside perhaps a few modern sophists, would bother to question this. And even among self-styled post-modern cynics, we could argue that, despite their attempts at universal skepticism, they don’t really question this when it comes to practical choices of life.

Some, of the “softer” sciences and humanities have attempted a revenge on “harder” sciences by demoting them to “just another” category of thought that could have no more claim on truth than any other. And to this, a physicist may respond with all the vehemence of any religious apologist defending absolutes: “but these effects are directly and repeatedly observable! –airplanes fly, electricity shocks you... here, let’s measure it together!” And, of course, on the Christian side of things, we are just as eager to see that same defense of Christian doctrines, and we take up arms along side the physicist, albeit while fighting for an expanded set of truths. But on the question: “should truth be (at least in principle) empirically observable to everybody?” we seem to be in full agreement.

I don’t wish to challenge the above assertion, but I want to expand on it. Such empiricism, began to be embraced at beginnings of modern science in Galileo’s time. (And even then, academia fought it tooth and nail.) As this conflict found its way into religious/scientific controversies of the nineteenth & twentieth centuries, something of empiricism was “smuggled” into Christian thought (particularly those who would describe themselves as Biblical inerrantists) that failed to register on their radars and might have merited their critical objection if they had noticed it. And that loaded assumption is this: All truth claims must be subject to empirical testability (at least in principle) or such empirical evidence as what a historian or archaeologist can muster. I.e. truth (if it is to earn that label) must match empirical reality in every way we can possibly observe. This is not to say such Christians believe empirical methods can reveal all truth. But, they accepted the empiricists’ claim to absolute veto power. E.g. if a Scriptural claim or promise is given, and our direct observations contradict that claim, then our observations trump our understanding of Scripture, and it is our understanding of Scripture which must change. Hence, the importance of the “science” label to creation science promoters. This granted “veto power” given to empiricism is not a bad thing, except that it has significantly changed the answer to “what is truth”. We have swallowed empiricism with a vengeance, and it has become our measure (and more importantly – our limiter) of truth. I am using the term ‘empirical’ in a slightly wider sense than the physical scientist would, by including such things as historical scholarship.

So on a question of, say, the account of Job, or of Jonah, while it may be noted that the accounts seem mostly beyond our historical-empirical investigation, nevertheless, inerrantists have allowed empirical thought to frame how they think of those events. The over-riding question is the literal truth of those accounts. If it was the case that one of these accounts did not happen in the way described (i.e. it is either wholly or in part “merely a story”), and some overwhelming evidence compelled the inerrantist to accept this, then it would be a severe (maybe even fatal) blow, in his estimate, to Scriptural integrity. The literal historical truth of the story is the only truth that counts, because this is the only kind of truth that (again – in principle) is empirical. Any other “truth” or theological teaching to be found in the story is a lesser truth because of its subjectivity and its immunity to empirical verification. But an inerrantist believes all accounts (which are not explicitly labeled as parables) must be historically accurate as well as true in every subjective sense, so any empirical challenge to any of it is a challenge to the whole enterprise. Either it is true, or it is not. –that could be the empiricists’ battle cry.

The literal inerrantists’ hostility towards non-empirical interpretations of Scripture is very understandable, since such subjectivity invites the believer to “spiritualize” away any account that is deemed miraculous or incredible – right up to the resurrection of Christ himself. This is a very real danger that will often be referred to as a “slippery slope” by those who maintain their position solidly on literal inerrancy. And anyone else who does not maintain such a stand should acknowledge the intellectually attractive & progressive nature of these doubts. It is much simpler, though not necessarily easier, to maintain one’s stand on one extreme or the other. Those on the “it's just a story” extreme probably have lost any faith except in a pragmatic sense of “what works for me” as they attempt to retain the benefits of a social club that occasionally recites extraneous ritualistic words.

But on the other side, the literalist must be careful in their readings (and even in their study of Scripture itself) that any apparent discrepancies in even the minutest details must be resolved so as to preserve the literal truth of the whole. The reader is then, forever the detective on the lookout for any difficulties at the literal level & how to resolve them, which often distracts from the intended message.

It is also hard to maintain any position between these extremes, as one is always pulling against the tempting slippage towards more and more marginalization of God’s work in this world until He is not seen, by our estimate, to have ever done anything spectacular in any observable sense. That cannot be a faithful reading of what Scripture tells us. There is no easy answer to this for a mature Christian who wishes to delve into Scripture and ask all the hard questions of it. But we aren’t called to be intellectually lazy.

I agree that truth is a mirror of reality provided that the said “reality” is not limited to the empiricist domain. Christians accept that there is a God who is not (like the Greek gods) a mere part of the universe, but who caused it to be. So there is at least one truth a Christian must hold beyond empirical reach (let alone angels, demons, spirits, our own souls...) that require us to consider that the Bible speaks of more than just this world. In 1 John 4 we are asked, if we cannot love our brother whom we can see, how can we love God who is unseen? Faith alone reaches some places where empiricism must drop by the wayside. Scriptures speak of this world, to be sure, and what empirical truth we can know does rightly influence how we understand Scripture. But our understanding of many passages should not be limited to mere empirical truth which, by itself, is the wisdom of this world. It isn’t that some deeper Truth may contradict empirical truth. Logically, that is impossible. Rather, Scriptural Truth may sometimes go in directions where empirical truth cannot follow. And that may be where we have the most to learn about a world that makes this world look like the grass of the field which is here today and gone tomorrow.

Have I, as some would accuse, simply smuggled in a “let’s be intellectually respectable” card that will allow me to pick and choose what I want to consider physically true so as not to have to believe anything too embarrassing? Well – I believe God raised Jesus from the dead (both in the physical sense and more). And I believe God created the universe and everything in it, and did (literally) many other miraculous things described in the Bible. If He can do that, then obviously it isn’t a question for me of what He can do. It is a question of knowing, through accurate understanding of Scripture, what He has done.

We also are much in need of correction in our false assumption that God only acts in special cases we call miracles. Actually, God causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall... He does it all whether we can give a natural explanation for it or not. Providence within God-given natural laws is not to be disdained. If, for example, it was strong wind that brought & removed the locusts on Egypt, it is still no less an act of God (Exo 10:13, 19). If he mediates his actions by working through natural laws, He is still just as sovereign in that event. But that is all a departure from the main subject of this essay, though it does show precedence for God choosing to operate within natural laws – giving at least some Biblical endorsement to the speculation that He may prefer to work that way most of the time.

For understanding we have much direct & indirect empirical knowledge on which to lean. And just as importantly, we have the Word, the Holy Spirit, & the body of Christ (i.e. ALL Christians whatever their views on these issues) all working in combination to teach and admonish us regarding not only this world, but also in a domain that empirical knowledge can’t reach that must remain in the eyes of faith until such time as it can become knowledge. That requires a certain humility of readers to realize they may not yet have the last word on how a passage is significant. But it also requires us not to hide behind that humility as an excuse not to witness confidently of God’s work in this world. That is the excuse I am too prone to raise.

--Merv Bitikofer

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Received on Wed May 30 16:02:02 2007

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