Wednesday, June 01, 2005

What is truth?

I have discussed below the headline at the top of this blog. The pursuit of truth is, in my opinion, ultimately the pursuit of God, and is therefore the proper activity of human beings. God is there, and has made himself known, and as God's creatures, it is for us to seek our creator so that we can know him.

But the very idea of truth is being eroded by the structures of society. The political parties seek to present information in such a way as to maximise the benefit to themselves. People used to lose public office for public sin - these days, they lose office for visibly distorting the truth ("A good day to bury bad news") - but that doesn't stop this from being the modus operandi of the political parties. The new "candid" versions of Tony Blair and Michael Howard we saw in the election campaign were like this not apparently because they particularly cared for truth, but because the image of caring for truth was one that was more likely to get them elected.

I am also disillusioned by the fact that large sections of the press aren't making a balanced case. This is one of the reasons I like blogs so much - it isn't that I believe that the opinions presented in blogsites are more than subjective - but at least they are genuine opinions, that have circumvented the controls of the institutions that are so keen to ensure that it is their version of the truth that is heard.

The battle for truth is present as much in science, particularly at the moment in the debate between naturalism, creationism and intelligent design. This has been rumbling for some time - a college in the UK with good results was criticised because of a commitment to creationism - this link was simply the first one I found on the subject. In the last few weeks, Richard Dawkins has been keen to present naturalistic science as endangered by ID and creationism. Paul Nelson, on ID - The Future, talks about the sudden, unforeseen cancellation of a seminar. An evolutionist attempts to buy off the Smithsonian which has agreed to show the film of The Privileged Planet. The editor of the journal that published Dr Meyer's review paper on the Cambrian Explosion met with what amounted to a vendetta from his peer-group, along with a whole series of completely unfounded charges about his professional competence.

From a theological point of view, it is possible to argue that there is more going on than the routine spinning of one's own opinion. The book of Romans talks about people "suppressing" what they know to be true. In If there's a God, why are there atheists?, R.C.Sproul instead interprets the word as "repressing" (in the psychological sense) the truth. People don't want the truth to be heard, and will resort to dirty tricks to prevent it from getting out. ID isn't even theism - let alone Christianity - and yet the very fact that it diverges from straightforward naturalism means that it is going too far for the many people - it is allowing just too much the possibility that there might be a God - it is threatening to remove one of the pegs upon which they hang their atheistic hat.

It always takes guts to stand for something you believe to be true, when it is a minority opinion. People ought to ask themselves: Why is the ID community doing it? What is the point in making yourself a target for vilification? Why should somebody risk professional isolation and ridicule? Loss of tenure? Would people do this simply because they were stupid? Of course not - the easy thing is simply to let things alone - to keep your head down. People will only do this if they genuinely believe something to be true. Galileo risked the wrath of the Inquisition because of his commitment to what he had come to see through his studies. The popular conception is that the ID community is the "inquisition" of today - played up by Richard Dawkins in his article in the Times. In practice, the ID community today stands not with the Inquisition, but where Galileo stood, vulnerable individuals facing an all-powerful, media-controlling and manipulating elite. What is needed is a fair discussion - a scientific evaluation of the truth in this debate, stripped of ad hominem arguments and manipulative tricks. The truth is more important than winning the debate.