I once said to someone, truth is truth no matter where you find it. I still stand by that statement. Many people however accept as truth what is not truth. By doing so they are deceived, a condition to which the ancients referred to as error. Discerning truth from error can be a formidable task, however. One of the characteristics of someone who is deceived, or adhering to error, is that they do not know they are deceived until the deception is revealed, either through circumstance or having an encounter with an opposing concept of truth that proves the previously held concept as untrue. Often when deception is revealed it is too late for the deceived person to escape the consequences of the deception, like the person who has their bank account drained because they accepted as truth something a con artist said or led them to believe. The most persuasive and deceptive errors are the ones that come close to the truth and my even have elements of truth embedded within in order to complete the deception.
This begs the question; how do you know what is truth and what is not? This question has been tossed to and fro from Plato to the present. Many of the great intellects and thinkers regard as true what many others regarded as false. Not all even agree on the extent to which truth can be known by man. Some of the ancient philosopher’s regard as true whatever one thinks is true. According to Freud, what one thinks is true is above criticism from others. Then there are Skeptics who ascertain that nothing is true of false.
Many propositions can be determined to be true or false all, like the statement, “this is a tree” while pointing to the object (the tree). Thus, there is correspondence between the words and the object by common definition; just as 2+2=4. This correspondence is the center of the evidence of truth. Such a view is held by Augustine, Aquinas, and Descartes as seeing truth as a correspondence between thought and reality. Ohers postulate that there must be a correspondence between thought, words, actions, and reality. One may think that they are pointing to a tree (action) which exists, but say it is an elephant. Due to lack of correspondence between all the facets involved, the speaker is in error.
What is reality? The establishment of reality is a different problem, as reality is a product of perception. Perception may differ greatly between individuals. R.D. Lang (The Divided Self) states that during one of his schizophrenic states he believed he was made of glass (thought), said he was made of glass (words) and walked very slowly and gingerly lest he shatter himself (actions). There is an external correspondence between all, but he obviously was not made of glass, so he was in error. This negates the correspondence rule as it does not allow for various mental states and perceptual issues. Some can be very lucid, educated, reasoning, logical beings …but still be in error. Seeking a criterion for the nature of truth brings froth many suggestions but no objective, immutable, universal sign of truth. Pilate asked Jesus, “what is truth” and Jesus replied, “I AM the truth.” Accepting Jesus’ words as revelation from God (often mentioned by others in regard for a search for truth) revelation (mentioned below) would be the highest form of truth as God is by definition, all knowing and cannot lie.
Hobbes believes that truth and error exist only in speech, in the absence of speech there is neither truth nor error (he ignores the possibility of error in the mind or intellect (pure thought without speech). William James takes a pragmatic view of truth. If it works, it’s true. But what works in one situation may not work in another. Freud believes that truth is a correspondence between conciseness and what lies independently outside of ourselves. This makes perception the key to truth which is fallible as has been previously stated; perception varies from individual to individual. Then there are those, even today, who view truth and ethics as variable between different situations. Even making such statements as “what is true for me may not be true for you and vice versa.”
Look at some of the more common means of determining truth. Truth is unchanging, it is immutable. Consider the law of gravity, it is the same anywhere on the planet, if you toss something in the air it will fall back to earth. It is demonstrably true and self-evident. Many say that what may be true in one situation is not in another. This is known as situational ethics, where a person may justify certain actions in one instance but change in another.
The various criteria for determining truth are myriad, below are some of the more common means of discerning truth from error, none of which guarantee the seeker to find the truth.
Authority. Authority leans on the knowledge or experience of someone who is qualified as an expert on the subject. Someone must not just claim to be an authority but have evidence of education, training, or experience in the subject area. Authority is not an adequate test of truth; however, many expert opinions differ on the same subject. At times, an authority figure will be used in a “halo effect” to lend credibility to another area of which they are not an expert on. For example, Life magazine used to have an ad on the back cover with a sketch of a physician and the statement, “Nine out of ten doctors who smoke, smoke (brand name of cigarette).” Halo effect.
Consistency. Data or statements that are inconsistent cannot be held as true. If one statement contradicts another it can’t be true. Consistency may invalidate one or more statements but cannot validate one as true without resorting to some other form of truth. For example, a defendant in a trial may have a consistent Albi that he or she was in another place at the time of the alleged crime, but without further evidence it cannot be proven true or false even though it is consistent. If, however, the defendant is portrayed on video making purchase at a store twenty miles from the crime at the same time, then this additional evidence can substantiate the consistent statement. Such supporting evidence is not always available, however. Aristotle said the consistency is the least of all virtues as it may just represent a stubborn unwillingness to change.
Intuition. Intuition is like a “hunch” that comes to the mind and just “seems” right. It is non-scientific and not subject to validation though often it proves to be true by pragmatism over a period of time it remains an unsatisfactory criterion of truth, often being proved wrong over time.
Coherence. Something may make logical sense in that it is coherent, but coherence alone is not a suitable test for truth. Coherence and logic may be represented by a syllogism. Consider the following, “all cows eat grass, Elsie is a cow, therefore Elsie eats grass” is correct. But conversely; “Elsie eats grass, all cows eat grass, therefore Elsie is a cow” is incorrect as the premises are not properly framed because eating grass in not a sole characteristic of cows, many other animals also eat grass.
Correspondence. Correspondence is not a valid criterion of truth as there may be correspondence between thought, words, actions, and perceived reality. Again, perception is in the eye of the beholder and various across individuals. The example of R.D. Lang’s schizophrenic state of mind exemplifies this.
Majority Rule. Majority rule does not validate truth but only serves as a means of making a decision in difficult cases involving conflicting views.
Tradition. Many things abide by tradition alone. A little girl asked her mother why she cut both ends off a ham before putting it in the pan to bake. The mother said that she did not know and that she learned to cook hams from her mother and advised her to ask grandma. The little girl went out on the porch and aske grandma why she cut both ends off a ham before putting it in the pan to bake. Grandma replied that it was because she only had on pan, and it was not big enough for a whole ham! Such traditions can be carried on and on from generation to generation without being challenged, that does not make them true or correct.
Custom. Custom, like tradition may be culturally embedded in a society. Cannibalism is customary in some cultures but not all, it is not universal and cannot be the construct for determining truth.
And finally, there is Revelation that is attributed to God. The highest form of obtaining truth would be by revelation from God. Certainly, God would know what truth is. All the other means of determining truth can lead to deception. Again, this begs the question, “what has God said?” The Bible is God’s revelation to man and meets many of the criteria for truth such as consistency, reliability, etc. and anyone who open mindedly studies the origin of the Scriptures will have to admit that fact, if no they are still deceived. Doubters should read my posting on this site concerning the Bible but do so with an open mind. The Bible is a very unique book. People looking to support a predetermined bias will find it, misinterpreting Scripture in unorthodox ways. This is sometimes referred to as “confirmation bias.” To be unbiased, one must be willing to empty the mind of preconceived ideas, and sincerely seek God’s revelation by the power of the Holy Spirit, then truth unfolds within the pages. There are a few instances where someone researched the Bible with the intent of proving it false and became converted to Christianity in the process.
Whatever system of thought you adhere to, only Christianity and the Bible deals effectively with eternity. All other fall short or don’t address the issue at all. Think about it, what happens when you die? Some believe nothing, that it is all over. Some believe you are immediately burned up (annihilationism) if you are evil and go to heaven if you are “good.” Some believe all will go to heaven. All the previous ideas are false or else God is a liar, unjust, and unrighteous. What do you believe? Plato said the” unexamined life is not worth living.” The unexamined eternity is the worst error of all. Jim Elliot (that is a life worth reading about) once said, “he is no fool to give up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Someone else once said that if he led a life according to Scripture and there was no hereafter he lost nothing but gained a good happy life in the process. What do you have weighing in the balances of what you believe that will follow you into eternity?