What Is Truth?

Truth is a funny thing. It is something that humans naturally desire, yet can never agree upon. This failure to come to agreement is the root of all sorts of problems, from theological and philosophical speculation to practical and civic application. At the core of our disagreements is what philosopher Rene Descartes claimed as the human propensity to “lead our thoughts along different paths.” Different paths lead to different conclusions, but as Descartes rightly lamented, truth ought not be so fragmented.

And fragmented our societies are. How many different paths do we as a species lead our minds down? From worship style to culture wars, the demon behind our conflict is our inability to reconcile the practices of our minds. Take our current societies dysphoric love affair with all things transgendered. The currents of reason run in so many directions that it is a tolerated argument to self-identify against my biochemical composition. Not only is the argument tolerated, but also we will be governed by such inanity as this Massachusetts bill testifies.

Take a second to think about the structure of the argument being proposed. I, a man (XY), may lead my mind down the pathway of concluding that I am actually a female (XX) situated in a body developed according to the biological laws germane to XY. For those with a nerdy bone in their body, the conclusion of the transgender argument looks something like (XX & XY), where XX and XY are understood as the chromosomal markers for female and male respectively. The brass tacks of the situation is that the conclusion entails a violation of the law of non-contradiction. It implies that a person is both XX and not-XX, due to the fact that he identifies XY. But, we know that something cannot both be the case and not be the case at the same time, ~(XX & ~XX).

Now this is not a post about gender dysphoria. This is a post about our reaction to the fragmentation of reason, a fragmentation that is empirically well verified by the transgendered conversation currently fashionable in our society. Most of us, when faced with the absurdity of the world quietly reflect that if only people would be more reasonable, society and the larger universe might become slightly less mad. This thought often takes the following expression, “if only people would think slightly more like me, my church, my favorite cultural critic, progress could be made to approximating Truth.” After all, if those struggling with gender dysphoria only understood the biological truth of the situation, then they would recognize that simple desire to be something else doesn’t make it true that you are something else.

I mean let’s face it, the cold hard truths of logic are not something susceptible to human reinterpretation, every sane person must agree with that if he or she is to retain the descriptor of sane! I agree with this sentiment, I am a philosopher, but logic is a funny thing. It is a purely formal enterprise. It lacks content in the sense that it really doesn’t care what the world is actually like. It tracks the possible relationships between given ideas or concepts no matter their reality or desirability. If you remember your introduction to philosophy class at all, it is most likely the crazy scenarios discussed, hypothetical situations involving teletransportational devices, swamp men, zombies, evil geniuses, trolleys, and brains in vats to name a few. Philosophers call them thought experiments and it is the stuff of science fiction and fantasy. But, much like science fiction and fantasy they track certain logical truths about our actual world through exploration of possible worlds. But thought experiments do raise an acute philosophical issue facing all humans. How closely do our logical models of what is true fit the facts so to speak? For a vivid picture of this phenomenon simply recall the last time you assembled a piece of IKEA furniture. A fifteen-minute project ends up taking an hour as the instructions rarely map well the reality.

Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri c. 1880

Think about the whole scenario between Jesus, Pilate, and the chief priests. Examining Pilate’s question “What is truth?” finds a civil servant disgusted in the inability of a supposedly just system to maintain goodness and truth. He washed his hands of the whole affair after all. Turn to the Jewish people’s cry, “Not Jesus, but Barabbas” and we hear the jaded cry of a people, manipulating the system for their own stubborn reasons. We see two different groups, Rome and Israel, leading their minds down different paths to different conclusions. Yet, in the cosmic plan of the Father, this is exactly what had to happen. Our inabilities to discern and preserve truth(s) ushered in the divine plan of salvation promised in Genesis 3:15. Truth was shackled in our midst and plain to all, yet sentenced to death none-the-less.

This raises a pressing set of philosophical and theological observations for Christians in our contemporary world to reflect upon. How often are we in the same boat as Pilate ready to give up on the truth? How often do we share in the Jewish people’s eagerness to manipulate truth for our own gains? How often do we ignore the shackled Truth in our midst?

Consider Matthew 7:3-5, the well-known verse regarding planks and specks in eyes. We usually read this as implementing moral behavior, but we might do well to consider its intellectual application as well. Perhaps my solutions to contemporary social issues are more a reflection of my own personal logical scheming and commitments than anything else. Perhaps I simply desire an ideal situation rather than working with the truths God has provided. Perhaps I share more intellectually with the transgendered than I previously thought, putting desires before facts! And why shouldn’t I? We are all bound by our sinful genetic condition while desiring something more, feeling let down and abandoned when it doesn’t go our way. Surely, that is the truth of the matter.

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