Thursday, February 26, 2009

Truth and Belief

Several years ago my wife and I were privileged to lead Focus on the Family’s worldview lesson series The Truth Project. In lesson 1 the participants were asked, “Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?” Did you count the times r-e-a-l appeared in this question? Returning to the title of Focus’s workshop series, consider the keyword: truth. The concept of truth seems underused and misunderstood in today’s postmodern society.

A web search of truth will lead you to a discussion of truth theory. One finds there are over a dozen categories of truth. Which truth is the one Christians traditionally endorse? Which truth did Christ reference when He said “I am the way and the truth and the life” or “For this cause came I into the world, to testify to the truth” (John 14:6, John 18:37 NIV)? The Truth Project clearly refers to a category called correspondence truth: a statement corresponding to objective, external reality, or corresponding to the actual state of affairs. Other types of truth are coherence, constructionist, and consensus truth, to mention several of many.

The lively disagreements people often experience are more related to their personal beliefs than to objective truth. Let’s envision truth and belief as circles. The circles of truth and belief may partially overlap. The common area of the two circles is sometimes called knowledge, as classically understood. Individuals and groups sometimes have difficulty acknowledging that their beliefs may not be true. Christians must constantly put their beliefs to the test to establish and affirm whether their beliefs are really true.

Scientific discoveries since mid-20th century have clarified not only details of creation events, earth time scales, and the causes of earth's geologic features, but also have revealed previously unknown facts in physical, biological, and earth sciences. These discoveries have powered life-enriching advances in medicine and technology. Acquiring true beliefs in science or theology is not simply a matter of picking and choosing as we do at a buffet table. Belief testing is a principle advocated in scripture. We must be sure our beliefs overlap with the truth to produce knowledge.