My definitions: truth=anything a particular group calls truth using terms like, “my truth” or “Biblical truth.” TRUTH = that which is consistent with reality, or the classical sense of truth.
It was very hard for me to pry my fingers away from the keyboard, where I’m editing my novel Rock Harbor, to return writing on this series of articles.
I had written the next article in this series about the loss of truth, but when I went back to read it, it was long—about six pages—and convoluted. My writing kept going down rabbit holes in order to explain my next point. So, I trashed that article and am starting over. Instead of writing in such a convoluted way, I will break it down to about three or four major topics, which I will try to tie together at the end.
But first, I must take us back to a review of my purpose for writing. I am not the only one who has observed that we have entered a post-truth era, at least in America. There have been several great articles about that, such as the one in Time Magazine.
I started my discussion talking about the breakdown in the way that we get truth with the fragmentation of reality based on personal viewpoints. This was best exemplified in the niche cable news outlets. Then I mentioned that in the 1960s Francis Schaeffer, my favorite theologian, was concerned that the West was heading back to a post-reason, post-TRUTH world. He drew on history in how the West did leave reason and truth for the period we call the Dark Ages and that was due to the Platonic influence in our basic metaphysics. He then looked at how we were heading that way again, but for different reasons.
Schaeffer believed (as he wrote about in his book, Escape from Reason) that there was a great disillusion in reason and TRUTH after the two great wars of the twentieth century. He was observing in Europe (where he lived) that absurdity movements were already starting in the arts and if it moved into science and other areas of life, we would re-enter a new dark age. He urged the Christian Church to play a role because the Judo-Christian views are that God created reason and TRUTH.
Fortunately, Schaeffer’s fears were not realized. It wasn’t because the Church stepped in and prevented this travesty, but simply because absurdity does not work in science. The skeleton which holds up science is mathematics. Mathematics, by its very nature, is built upon principles of logic and real TRUTH. So, it was a natural act of self-preservation that science never took this step very far, not nearly as far as the arts had (for example John Cage’s “recital” where he just sat at a piano and never played a single note).
I will give one example of how science did flirt with the absurd and then backed away. I met a PhD physicist, I will call “John,” in the early 1990s who worked that the powerful particle accelerator/collider, CERN, in Switzerland. This physicist was a Christian (I met him at a L’Abri conference, the organization started by Francis Schaeffer). This man said he was very anal about his experiments on the collider, doing the math very precisely and doing it over and over again to make sure it was right. As a result, he had a good record there of successful experiments. But he had a colleague, I will call “Bill,” who was a bit jealous of John’s good track record, who kept saying that the giant machine, the accelerator “liked John” more than it liked him (Bill).
John thought that was silly as the soulless machine, made up of wires and electromagnets, had no will or favoritism, but it did work on the natural laws of physics and nature, which God had created, and when you got those right, the experiments worked.
In this article I will discuss a couple (of many) movements within what you might call secular philosophy which did impact the loss of truth. I’m sure I will omit many important movements and I will over-simplify the ones I will mention, so much, that some will say I did not present them fairly.
Linguistic Deconstruction (aka, Deconstruction): You can do your own reading about this movement but basically it states that we all carry a bias in the way we write or read any material. So, we have an agenda. If you take it to the extreme, because I’m a white man, then every thing I write will be as a chauvinist (when I address it to women) or racist (if I address my writing to people of color). This principle states that we cannot escape these biases. Therefore, nothing that we read or write is factual, but layers of meaning based on our biases. To try and understand what is being communicated, you must deconstruct the text. However, if you take this thinking to its extreme, you end up in a place of intellectual nihilism, where TRUTH is unknowable, but everything is chaos.
This movement has had some modest influence in our present situation with the loss of truth. It is best seen when one niche news outlet, for example the conservative Fox network, places doubt on all non-Fox news or narratives about national or world events because the other sources have a “liberal bias.” The same is said of Fox News by those who are not conservatives, but of course saying the news is not factual because Fox News’ conservative bias. But real TRUTH, should be measured on the merits if it reflects reality, while considering the bias of the presenter is worthwhile.
Synthesis (aka, Thesis, antithesis, synthesis): In the classical sense of logic, things are broken down into a mathematical black and white (most of the time). For example, a fish is not a bird. In this series of statements, the thesis is presenting the fish as a real creature. The antithesis is that non-fish, such as birds, are not fish. It is just a baby step in the long description of defining fish (where you can add things like has gills etc.).
A modern development in this classic logic was that truth (small case) can be reached by a synthesis of the two prior exclusive statements. So, in that way of thinking, you would say a fish is not a bird, but then the synthesis, you would add, however, a fish and a bird are a lot alike.
To bring this up to a more relevant level of understanding truth I will use an illustration of this phenomenon.
In 1991 President George Bush nominated the conservative Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court to replace retiring judge Thurgood Marshall. During Thomas’ confirmation hearing, after almost no objections to his character, a FBI interview with one of his previous subordinates, attorney Anita Hill, was leaked to the press. She was then called to testify before congress.
During Anti Hill’s testimony, she reported acts of sexual harassment by Thomas toward her. From Anita Hill’s entry in Wikipedia:
According to Hill, Thomas asked her out socially many times during her two years of employment as his assistant, and, after she declined his requests, he used work situations to discuss sexual subjects. “He spoke about … such matters as women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes,” she said, adding that on several occasions Thomas graphically described “his own sexual prowess” and the details of his anatomy. Hill also recounted an instance in which Thomas examined a can of Coke on his desk and asked, “Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?”
In response, Clarence Thomas categorically denied every word of Hill’s testimony.
As an interesting sidebar to this, just like in the Bret Kavanaugh case, immediately conservatives, including evangelicals, sided with Thomas’ testimony and immediately started a detailed process of character assassination of Anita Hill. Liberals stood with Hill.
During this whole process, just like with the Kavanaugh one just a year ago, I was amazed how people had hard positions, not based on any evidence, by on their own political position. However, I will never forget one commentator on a Sunday morning news show in 1991 saying, in the middle of this firestorm something like, “I believe that both Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill are telling the truth, because we each experience truth in our own way.”
This is how synthesis works. While it has a good intention, of finding peace were there are opposing opinions, it harms our ability to find TRUTH. In the case of Hill Vs Thomas, either Thomas said and did those things reported by Hill, or he didn’t. I don’t know, because I wasn’t there. Even at the time I was an evangelical and very conservative, I had no clue which one was telling the truth while everyone I spoke to at my church said that Hill was a liar and a tramp. I saw the same play out with the Kavanaugh situation. So, either he did do what Christine Blasey Ford said, or she is lying. I have no clue because I was not there. But saying they both were telling the truth would be synthesis and a move away from finding TRUTH.
At this juncture, I will move back to talking about the influence of the Christian Church in America to this process of the loss of TRUTH. I bring Christianity back into this discussion for a couple of reasons. First, although we are living in a post-Christian world now, Christianity has had a powerful influence on the thinking of the West, including secular thinking.
Secondly, I had a twenty-year history with American White Evangelicalism and am out of that movement for an equal number of years. I am still a simple Christian, taking the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, every seriously, while I’m not a big fan of organizational religion, especially the mixture of Christianity and cultures, including the American. I don’t hate organizational religion and have respect of the positive contributions it has made to our history and have respect for whom it is very important. However, I also do not hesitate to criticize the historical darkness that came out of religion and their errors today.
Footnote: I have been blogging for more than a decade about some of these issues and have had many meaningful dialogs with friends around the world. I mentioned before that when I was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, I had about 160 newbies come here as I also use this space for updates about my cancer. Maybe that was my mistake of mixing the two audiences in the same space. I do try to label them differently as “Updates” and “Ramblings.”
I have respect for those who simply don’t care about these rambling topics and tune them out, which is an excellent way to handle this. Unfortunately several well-meaning people who have come to follow my cancer, also read my ramblings and take great offense at or are deeply disturbed by things I say. I have had many warning e-mails and personal conversations where people are upset that a) I’m not a real Christian, or b) I don’t know God in the right way, or c) I don’t have the Holy Spirit, or d) I have some error in my theology, or worst of all, e) I am an agent of the devil. The list goes on and on and on. If what I write disturbs you, then either stop following this blog altogether or at least, only read the posts about my health.
I suspect that I have had 100 conversations or more with Christians over the years who feel called by God to tell me that I’m either going to hell or that I don’t know God in the right way. With all the things on my plate, dealing with death and cancer as major ones, I have absolutely no patience for such comments and views at this time.
Yeah, now back to the novel and without taking the time to proof-read.
3 responses to “Ramblings: The Loss of Truth from Aristotle to Trump: Part V”
Mike, Thanks for dealing with the Synthesis issue. This is something I’ve encountered frequently, and it is particularly sinister because it sounds so polite. So, if one asserts “Jesus is God,” and someone responds “no he’s not,” we can have a discussion about both statements. We may not ever agree, but we acknowledge that both statements can’t be true. In Synthesis, when I say “Jesus is God,” and someone responds “no he’s not, but you have your truth and I have mine, and BOTH statements are equally TRUE” there is no way to continue, and the discussion, as you point out, has to transition to a discussion about truth.
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Shouldn’t you be boarding a plane to Africa?
I’ve exchanged a few more messages with my hospice colleague who has been living there and she’s planning to actively involve me in some of the groups she leads. Really looking forward to connecting with the people of Rwanda and not just going as a tourist.