Thomas Gilby OP wrote, "Civilisation is formed by men locked together in argument." Our hope in this blog is to help generate a good healthy argument by challenging common assumptions about the question of God's existence. This blog is a resource for my students--and anyone who is interested--studying topics in the philosophy of relgion at A Level and beyond.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Seek the Truth

What does the world teach us about the meaning of truth?

Our world is filled beyond imagining with the traffic of the human voice. The airwaves are jammed packed with words and ideas. Cyberspace is bursting with billions of images, travelling like light from one end of the earth to the other at the press of a button. Instant messages, Myspaces, Blogspots and chat rooms give an equal platform to any and every idea. Newspapers and TV lend an air of expertise to the torrent, but these are often mistaken and biased, too.

The thoughtful insight has its moment on the stage before it is quickly replaced by the latest popular and superficial rant. For a short while, one cause is championed; then dropped as another is scooped up in its place. The images come fast and furious, forming an endless and incoherent monologue. Soon, words themselves begin to loose meaning.

Who can possibly, on his own, sift all of this and find the truth here? The person who wades into this cacophony looking for meaning will surely be disappointed. He knows in his heart that he wants the truth, but he will not know how to recognise it. He will be confused by the vast number of claims being made every fleeting minute. In the end, the disappointed seeker will become cynical or frustrated. He will stop looking for the truth because he thinks that it is too hard to recognise. Instead, he will settle for what most everyone else seems to be doing: living and exchanging in a world of endless opinion.

Finding the truth has never been easy. Most philosophical, scientific, technological discoveries—and often even religious awareness, too—come after hard labour, sometimes spanning decades, centuries and millennia. A man or a woman can spend a whole life in the pursuit of just one strand of human wisdom. Consider the life of a physicist, who gives thirty or fort years to discover one reality: that the nucleus of an atom is made of protons and neutrons. Think of the life of one scholar of an ancient language who spends the same amount of time translating just one short book of the bible.

The truth, at the best of times and in an ideal condition, is hard to find. Locating it depends on a number of factors including: the attitude of the seeker; the intelligence of the seeker; the nearness to us of the thing we want to know.

The seeker of the truth must be open minded, but not indiscriminate. Being open minded does not mean accepting everything as being equal to the truth, or accepting everything as being equal as opinion. It means being willing to seek everywhere without being a slave to prejudice. This entails a willingness to change. It requires a pure heart that admits its own weakness and welcomes the light of truth.

The seeker of the truth must be intelligent. “Intelligence” is the ability to form a judgement, to choose wisely between what is good and bad, between what is sound and what is false. Intelligence doesn’t mean simply being clever. True intelligence speaks of a person’s character, not simply what information they carry in their head.

The seeker of the truth must come to the understanding that the cause of truth is further away from us, while the effect of truth is nearer to us. This is both the reason for the difficulty in knowing the truth and the method by which it is to be known.

Imagine an object sitting in front of you. You see that it is something tangible; you pick it up, it has weight and texture. You know that it is real, but you do not know what it is and so you ask, “what is this thing?” You have come into contact with the effect of something, and now you wish to know what causes it. “What is it made of?”; “What is it for?” Knowing the answer to these questions will explain some of its causes; later, we may add to our questions, “Who made it?” and, “Why was it made?” When we have exhausted all of these questions, we can say that we have knowledge of the thing.

From here, we can move to higher planes of truth: we can form complex judgements about the world in which we live, judgements which will be based on what we have come to know through careful questioning. But we will find as we move along that things that are further away are harder to know. A distant planet is harder to know than a cup on the table in front of me. There is also distance in time; the customs of an ancient civilisation are harder to know than the one we live in. There is also distance in being: the causes of Justice are harder to know than the causes of peanut butter. The further things are from us, the harder they are to know. The hardest of all is to know what “being” itself is.

Ultimately, the search for truth will bring us to ask questions about where we come from and where we are going. What will happen to me when I die? Why am I alive in the first place? Why is there something at all, rather than nothing?

Human kind has been searching for answers to these questions since the dawn of time. Because the answer to them is furthest away from us, they are hardest to know. But over the millennia, the collective discovery of humankind has been the same: there is a higher power responsible for our existence. There is a dimension to reality that evades us. There is more to this life than meets the eye.

This collective awareness of mankind is persistent; it is loud and clear. It is unwavering and repetitive in every age, in every culture, among all peoples: there is a higher power; we have a destiny beyond this mortal existence.

Do not let the cynicism we spoke of earlier cloud this reality for you. It is a reality that bears within it great beauty and great joy. Do not let that cynicism dissuade you from seeking it. Nor should the seemingly conflicting responses to this reality be a cause for cynicism. Some people point to the fact that there are so many different religions as evidence that this great truth is unknowable. It is not evidence that it is unknowable: it is evidence that this greatest of all truths is the hardest to find. Things that are very hard to find are always subject to multiple theories. This is true of world religions as it is for science. This is the human condition.

Do not be confused by multiple religions. Rather, be amazed and heartened that religion is such a consistent and powerful expression of human yearning. Understand that they all cry out with a single voice in recognition of the same thing: we are born of the Divine. With that as a starting point, a true search is possible.

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