I will restate definitions, which I mentioned in Part I. I use the term TRUTH (all capitalized) to refer to the classical definition of that which is consistent with reality. I will use the lower-case truth to mean, a personal truth. That later word really means “opinion” or “belief” but is often stated as “truth.”
My favorite theologian/philosopher of the twentieth century, was the late Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer, himself, said that there is no difference between philosophy and theology in the area of questions asked, but only in the answers given. So, if the answer involves a concept of god, then it would be classified as theology. But the lines are more blurred than even that. I watched two films yesterday on Curiosity Stream about mathematical patterns in nature. The theoretical mathematician who presented the information, spoke seamless about nature and god as well. Therefore I, personally, prefer the term philosophy, which is simply the love of knowledge or wisdom and doesn’t limit the discussion to god or no god.
Francis Schaeffer wrote at least a dozen best selling books, but his most popular is Escape from Reason, published in 1968. The book follows the history of the philosophies that undergirds western culture. In summary, the Greeks (ca. 1000 BC to 336 BC) observed and described the ways in which we find TRUTH. Using mathematical formulas, they were to describe the basic building blocks of logic, such as if A = B and B ≠ C, then it makes no sense that A = C. It was also noted by the Greeks that the human reason was the most important tool for finding that TRUTH (verses emotional or political sources).
This idea of the virtue of reason thrusted the Greco-Roman cultures into one of the most advanced civilizations at the time. Around 70 A.D. the Christian Church (I use capital C to mean the universal Church as compare to any particular church). The Greco-Roman culture was the canvas on which the Church was painted. The early Church leader, Paul of Tarsus, warned the early Church not to incorporate non-Christian philosophies into its concept of truth or dogma. Unfortunately, the Church has always done just that and continues to do the same today (for example mixing American Nationalism with white evangelicalism). In the background, the Church, mistakenly, adopted the later Greek philosopher, Plato’s view of the universe (in contrast to that of Socrates and Aristotle), which placed the greatest realm of life in another, unseen dimension, which Plato called the ether. The Church borrowed upon this concept but renamed it as the heavenlies of spiritual. Suddenly, life on this earth, including reason, had little value, but the Church and those things considered spiritual were paramount. This secular philosophy was so enticing because it empowered (in a negative way) and corrupted the Church. This created the culture that we now look back to as the “Dark Ages.”
The Renaissance was a reaction to this low view of reason as well as all human endeavors on the material earth, such as the arts and sciences. The Italian Renaissance thinkers continued, as the early Church had, with Plato as their chief philosopher, but redefined his ether as human experience (the foundation of “humanism”) rather than the Church and heavenlies. Therefore, human reason and experiences were the new defining principles of life. The reintroduction of reason reached a zenith in northern Europe with the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. During this time, reason was further defined from its simple Greek roots to complex theories for finding TRUTH such as mathematical statistics and the scientific method for finding TRUTH that is causal and not just a factor of probability. Such exercises ushered in the scientific revolution of the late eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries. There was great hope that science would solve all human problems and bring us into a new, utopian world.
Unfortunately, that did not materialize. The same human reason that brought us vaccines, cures for disease, mechanization of the farm, and the ability to fly, also brought us the horrors of chemical and nuclear warfare. Within this dismay of human destruction, there was a complete loss of optimism in the ability of reason to solve our problems.
In Europe (where Schaeffer lived and wrote in the 1960a) the post-World Wars world had turned away from reason, while in America the scientific optimism continued well into the 1960s and 70s. Schaeffer identifies the shift in philosophical perspective, into this age of non-reason, with things like the Theatre of the Absurd in Europe (where a play could be a man sitting at a table for 2 hours and not moving and no dialog), the composer John Cage’s 4’33”, which is four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. In the visual arts you have things like Jackson Pollock, who painted with random drips of paint (which sold for millions) and Andy Warhol who used common items of everyday life as props for art.
Schaeffer had a warning in the book about the coming age of non-reason and the disaster it would also lead to… such as a new Dark Ages. He exhorted the Church to be the voice that keeps our culture from abandoning TRUTH. Schaeffer was using the term TRUTH in the same way that I am, as the classical sense of that which is. Christians have often redefined truth (sometimes calling it “God’s truth,” “Biblical truth,” or “The truth”) to really mean a particular church dogma. That is not how Schaeffer was using it.
I will comment here that while Schaeffer was an excellent historian, he was not a futurist. His fear that culture would continue on its path of the complete trust in reason and TRUTH did not materialize, however, it was not due to any positive influence of the CHURCH, which did, regrettably, follow this course of non-reason and the love of TRUTH.
Francis Schaeffer developed leukemia and eventually came to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota for treatment. He died there in 1984. In his honor, a school, now K-12, was started and named The Schaeffer Academy. I moved to Rochester to take a job at Mayo Clinic in 1997. Part of my motivation, beside a great job and getting my wife closer to her family, was the fact that Francis’ wife Edith and his team of writers and thinkers (L’Abri Fellowship) had moved from Switzerland to Rochester when he was ill and were still there when we moved there.
While studying at L’Abri, I became familiar with the Schaeffer Academy (wanted to put my own kids in school there but it was more than we could afford). The basis of the school was not religious indoctrination, like some “Christian schools” but classical training in the basics, math, science, literature, arts, Latin, logic and rhetoric. I know that Francis Schaeffer had on his heart was the value of knowing TRUTH rather than just dogma (truth without capitalizations).
I am taking a sidebar here, but I, as a Christian, would much prefer spending an evening with a group of atheists who love TRUTH, than a group of Christians who just love truth (dogma) and have total disregard for TRUTH. As I’ve said before, if God is there, and I think he is, then the more time you spend in pursuing real TRUTH, the closer you come to knowing him.
I will continue this in at least one more part.
5 responses to “Ramblings: The Loss of TRUTH Part II, From Aristotle to Donald Trump”
I like your thoughts. Keep them coming.
Mike, I so look forward to your philosophical ramblings and savor reading and thinking through them in my quiet moments at the end of the day’s work. I am grateful for your gift of thoughts into words, and time to appreciate them. As always, prayers for your medical predicaments and prayers for Denise and your family walking the road with you.
Mike, can you give examples of Christian dogma, personal truth or opinion in relationship to Truth. Trying to understand what you mean. So appreciate your writings, they challenge me to deeper thinking.
Many American evangelicals require you to believe things like 1) the imminent return of Christ or 2) The earth is about 6 thousand years old. Those are just a couple of countless spoken and unspoken beliefs.
I think my understanding is influenced by linguistic deconstruction (I should probably read some Derrida). I’m definitely influenced by Alfred Korzybski whose writings predated the deconstructionists by a few decades.
It’s interesting that recent findings related to your example actually show how contextual color is. Check out this radiolab episode: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/episodes/211119-colors and this article: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/what-is-blue-and-how-do-we-see-color-2015-2
The TL:DR of it is that blue is actually a fairly recent invention, and people before modern times (or in some other cultures today) do not see the color blue or see the sky as blue. Homer, for example, described the ocean as the color of wine in his epics.
You can also think of how men and women frequently have color models that differ in complexity. Men are more likely to have about 8 colors, while women tend to have many more. In a simple color model, it can be true to say that object “A” and object “B” are the same color, they are both blue. However someone with a more complex color model will say that it’s not true to say they are the same color, one is azure and the other is navy.
Not only is ‘blue’ a linguistic abstraction, but ‘the sky’ is also an abstraction. Each direction from each point in Earth at each instant is distinct and unique. We make compromises with the real world for the sake of simplicity and comprehensibility by using the concept sky. We need to make this type of simplified model to achieve any understanding though. If you want to increase the accuracy of your model at the cost of increasing complexity, you can add modifies. Instead of “the sky is blue”, say “the daytime sky when there are no clouds is blue”, or even more complex and more predictive “the maximum emission peak between 400 and 700nm an overhead arc between 45 and 135 degrees between the local times of 10:00 am and 3:00 pm in temperate latitudes when the maximum humidity at any elevation of the atmosphere is 90% will have a be between 400 and 450nm.
I’m curious how you unpack your idea that TRUTH is what is consistent with reality. How can a linguistic statement be consistent with reality? Logical consistency means that two propositions can simultaneously be true, but the ground-state of reality is not made of propositions and cannot have any truth value and therefore not be logically consistent with anything. It’s a category error to evaluate the consistency of reality with propositional statements. The best you can do is to say that consistency with reality means true statements are those that are testable or have predictive power.
But that’s rather limited when it comes to saying what’s true. That’s why I really like the three-fold criteria for conceptualizing the truth of any statement: It allows accurate predictions, It provides understanding (explanatory power), and it is simple (Occam’s Razor). I find this to be a good approximation of what people mean by truth. This definition has the nice properties of simultaneously allowing different (sometimes contradictory or incompatible) ideas to be true (especially in different contexts), yet still providing criteria for comparing truth claims and rejecting claims which aren’t true. It’s a contextual understanding of truth, but not an arbitrary one. I think to understand science, you need a definition like this.