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.

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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.


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