Redefining truth.

I’m reading an article in the Huffington Post about a group of Islamic scholars attempting to reconcile their faith with evolution.  The most common argument by those types was present here.

My own suggestion to Muslims grappling with such an issue is to recognize that when it comes to what we believe, science and religion address two kinds of truth: empirical and revealed. Empirical (observation-based) truth is the stuff of science. It’s contingent on our sense perception, and humanity’s current state of knowledge. It’s truth with a lower-case t. It’s relative to what the human senses can access at a given point in time, and makes no claims to being absolute. This is not to belittle it, as most empirical truths are what we consider facts, like the fact that the spherical earth goes around the sun.

Revealed truth, by contrast, is based upon revelation which, if you believe it, is Truth with a capital T. For the believer, it is absolute, not relative. Our knowledge of empirical truth can and has improved over time; just as the once held ‘fact’ that the sun goes around the earth has been corrected with the passage of time. No reasonable person believes this ‘fact’ today; though the ancients may have been justified in thinking it was genuinely scientific. Revealed truth, on the other hand, claims to be constant, absolute, and unchangeable.

The main problem here is obvious: those absolute, unchangeable, truth-with-a-capital-T “truths”…they change all the time, bowing to the ever-evolving conclusions of science.  The claims about whether or not someone rose from the dead or whether or not the sun orbits the earth are not subject to two different kinds of truth.  If science says it’s one way and your faith says it’s another, then the position of your religion is neither revealed or truth – it is just wrong.

And plenty of charlatans and deluded people have claimed “revealed truth” over the millennia.  Given time, “revealed truths” become indistinguishable from someone ignorant of what humankind knows asserting equal reliability to the experts by claiming to have heard it from god.  Absent experiment and evidence and given time, god’s revelations always wind up looking like the opinions of a human idiot.

Just try to think of a position for which we once had a religious answer, but for which we now have a scientific answer.  This is easy.  Now try to think of a question for which we once had a scientific answer, but for which we now have a religious answer.  Quite simply, there are none.  So much for revealed truths being immutable.

The point is that even religions are only considered true to the degree that they match up with human knowledge.  If your religion says that the sky is green and grass is blue, guess what – your religion is wrong.  Human perception clearly trumps your “revealed truth”.  The scenario doesn’t get any better when you start making claims about what we don’t know or when you make your claims more vague (example: when god the bible said god made all the stars, it must’ve really meant he conceived of the Jeans Instability, see how the bible got science right before scientists omg?).

Redefining your own assertions as “truth” gives you all the same fuzzy feelings as putting in the work required to have a defensible opinion, but if you actually want to have a defensible opinion then this is not the way to go about it.  It’s like taking a sharpie and adding six zeroes to a one dollar bill and asserting that you’re a millionaire.  Feels great, but makes you look like a moron while not making you a single penny richer.

“Revealed truth” is just code intended for the gullible for “We’re more right than scientists, we just don’t need all the education and experiments.”  Anybody unwilling to be taken for a fool should see straight through this.  However, religion has the nasty ability to make people eager to be taken for fools.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Glodson

    The whole truth and Truth thing is something that I know form personal experience. As you read the Bible, and not pay attention to sermons as was my case, you start to notice the disconnect with the word of your holy book and reality. They don’t synch up.

    Commandments form the past don’t match with today’s understanding. Much of Leviticus is barbaric nonsense. Revelations makes a ton more sense when you learn the guy might have been on mushrooms. The Book of Job seems more like the movie Saw than it does a lesson in morality. But you are informed that the Bible is true by the authorities around you. They are blind to the faults because they went through the same experiences as you, and came out believing the lie.

    Some find it is easier to completely dismiss the truth. They create things like Young Earth Creationism. They invent ideas like the Hydroplate Theory, which led to the epically named Lunar Bukkake Hypothesis. They take all sorts of mental gymnastics just to keep the truth at bay.

    Some of us can’t do that. Our knowledge of why we should accept the truth is too extensive to be denied. So we invent the Truth. This is the reveal nature of god that the Holy Spirit leads us to find. Atheists call this bullshit which allows the theist to resolve the cognitive dissonance they feel knowing the Bible is mostly full of lies.

    • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      The fact that in order to reconcile faith with reality you have to build such towering, teetering edifices of interdependent rationalizations is one of the sources for my optimism about the decline of faith in the future. Every hastily-invented excuse for why the facts don’t match the claims is another weak spot in the structure, and if just one of them starts to give under the strain, the entire sham can come crashing down as things which were previously believed don’t make sense when you realize the assumptions it was based on can’t be true.

    • David E

      “The Book of Job seems more like the movie Saw than it does a lesson in morality.”

      Thanks for saying that. I noticed very quickly that Jigsaw’s defense of his actions was very much like the soul-building theodicy but I’ve never before, until now, heard anyone else mention noticing that SAW can be seen as a metaphor for the absurdity of this defense against the problem of evil.

      • Glodson

        I just kind of thought of it today. It was either Saw or Hostel, given what God does in both. But Saw is the better fit with the way it is explained by apologists.

  • DaveL

    Science and religion address two kinds of truth: “empirical truth” and “not truth”.

    • iknklast

      You need to put that on a bumpersticker! Seriously, this sums it up so succinctly that I don’t think anyone will every say it better.

  • B-Lar

    “… For the believer, [Truth] is absolute, not relative.”

    Err, no. For the believer, it is always relative. Why not come to the understanding that if you have to bastardise the meaning of “absolute truth” in order to be able to claim that you believe the absolute truth, then you are devaluing your own belief.

    Absolute Truth is far to big to fit in the mind of a human, (maybe unless they have undergone some vigourous mind expanding excersie) so anyone claiming ultimate access to Absolute Truth is selling you something.

    • baal

      The various xtian apologists we see with some regularity are convinced in an absolute Truth and make fun of us atheist as a bunch of moral relativists. Ms.Yoke of recent conversion fame’s key argument for why catholic was the existence of objective Truth. So I’m going to accuse you of moving the goal posts and maybe also not reading the inset quote.

  • Quintin

    I couldn’t fail to notice that, in diametric opposition to al-Azami’s claims, “revealed Truth” is relative and empirical truth is absolute. After all, no two people agree entirely on religious matters, even if they hold those to be revealed, yet no reasonable person will deny what can be empirically verified.