What is Truth?

What is Truth? July 1, 2022

What is truth? Truth is the revelation and acceptance of what is genuinely real.

Time. What is Truth?

The public theologian needs an answer to the question, what is truth? Further, this answer needs to be intelligible. Why? Because of the relentless and merciless shelling against the theistic citadel by new atheist artillery. Believers in God, allegedly, cannot live in the truth because there is no deity. God does not exist. This makes all theistic claims not only false but unintelligible. It is time to ask this question: what is truth?

Despite the diversity of atheists, the American Atheists website makes clear that the “common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods.” Some of these atheists load their cannons with scientific ammunition. Is there a connection between science and atheism? Really?

Atheist Feldmarschall Richard Dawkins demands that the question of God’s existence be treated as a scientific hypothesis. If so treated, the evidence will show that no god exists, rendering the theistic hypothesis disconfirmed. Dawkins contends that religious belief is not true in the scientific sense. This makes religious belief “one of the world’s greatest evils.”

Not so, according to Cambridge University hybrid physicist and theologian, the late John Polkinghorne. Polkinghorne finds the natural world intelligible and celebrates this intelligibility. Polkinghorne also finds that the intelligibility of the natural world is enhanced when grasped as the creation of a loving and gracious God. God and the world are most intelligible when viewed together.

“The universe is astonishingly open to us, relationally transparent to our enquiry….The most we can require is an interpretation that is coherent and persuasive. Theism provides just such a response to the meta question of intelligibility. If the world is the creation of the rational God, and if we are creatures made in the divine image, then it is entirely understandable that there is an order in the universe that is deeply accessible to our minds. Putting the same point in a different way, one could say that science discerns a world in which its rational beauty and rational transparency is shot through with signs of mind, and the theist can understand this because it is indeed the Mind of God that is partially disclosed in this way” (Polkinghorne, 1998, pp. 72-73).[i]

In other words, the most coherent understanding of the many scientific propositions which disclose nature’s secrets requires a worldview inclusive of nature’s creator, God. A worldview that incorporates both God and what we learn about nature through science is more comprehensive and more intelligible than science without reference to God can provide.

So, when we ask, “what is truth?,” we are asking that genuine reality reveal itself to us.[ii] This happens in science, we trust. This happens in faith, we also trust. How might these cohere with one another in worldview construction?

The Public Theologian Relies on Truth

Unless the claims of Holy Scripture and the Christian tradition are true, no one would want to believe them. The task of the public theologian is to make Christian claims intelligible, so that those within the church and outside the church can test them for their truth value.[iii]

Pilate’s Question: What is Truth?

Pilate to Jesus: “What is Truth?”

What is truth?”  That was Pilate’s question to Jesus in John 18:38. Elsewhere, in John 14:6, we find Jesus saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” What does “truth” mean here? And everywhere we use this word?

If truth is propositional, then the assertion—”Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life”—could be either true or false. How would we measure the truth or falsity of this proposition? On the basis of what appears. On the basis of what has been revealed to be real. On the basis of what is yet-to-be revealed to be real.

In the Johannine passages cited above, note the Greek word for truth, aletheia. Philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) analyzed this term (Heidegger, 1947). He noted how aletheia means unveiling or uncovering or revealing, Entdeckung. Truth is an event in which something concealed becomes unconcealed, Unverborgenheit.

Truth as Unverborgenheit, as unconcealment or revelation.

Curiously, the unconcealing of one truth sometimes requires the concealing of another truth, leading to an ongoing dialectic of revealing and hiding. In sum, truth is the unconcealing or disclosing of being (Water, 1969).

Scientific Truth versus Phenomenological Truth

What modern culture loves about science is that scientific facts and theories are transcultural. Scientific claims are universal, according to Polish philosopher Jósef Tischner. “The fundamental property of scientific truth is its universality—scientific truth is the truth for everyone…basic truths are the same for all people” (Tischner, 1982, p. 33).

Society of African Missions

Scientific truths come in the form of propositions or assertions. “Truth and falsity are…properties of propositions” (Inwagen, 2009, p. 33). Propositional truth presumes a correspondence between what is thought or asserted via language with objective or mind-independent reality. So far, so good.

Yet, phenomenologically speaking, the truth of propositions is dependent on a more fundamental and more comprehensive human experience, namely, the ostensive self-revelation of reality. Only what has been uncovered or disclosed about nature’s mysteries can rise to articulation in assertions or propositions.[iv] Then, when propositions or assertions correspond with what has been unconcealed, they are said to be “true.”[v]

Here is the takeaway. A propositional claim is like a single Blue Gill hooked by someone fishing, reeled in, and landed in the boat. Even though this single fish is real in every respect, it is abstracted from the fisherman’s total experience with the entire lake and the unknown number of fish that have not been seen, caught, or reeled in.

So, we must grant with Stuart A. Kauffman that “Science is not the only pathway to truth” (Kauffman, 2008, p. xii). Or, perhaps more precisely, scientific truth is an abstraction. It finds its meaning within a more comprehensive horizon of truth as experienced.

This applies to true living as well, living in behalf of the common good. “The truth is deeper than facts,” contends Patheos columnist, Victorious Living. “More important. More real, even. We cannot pursue truth while avoiding facts. But we cannot make sense of our facts while avoiding the deeper truths.”

Physics as “Revelation”

Let me tell you about Charles Townes (1915-2015). Charlie was a Nobel Prize winning physicist. Among his achievements was the discovery of a black hole in the center of our galaxy, designing the scientific agenda of the first astronauts on the Moon, and inventing the laser and maser. The final decades of his career were spent at the University of California at Berkeley, where I had an opportunity to get to know him and his vibrant wife, Francis. Charlie served on the board of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences.

Charles Townes (1915-2015)

Charlie loved physics. Physics was his passion. Even as he neared the age of a hundred, he spent almost every day engaged in scientific research. “I get to do physics all day. What could be better than that?”, he once said to me with glee.

Now, here’s what’s startling. Charlie told me and then an audience that I assembled that the invention of the laser was due to a special revelation. The laser came to him as a vision. While sitting on park bench in Washington DC, a vision appeared before his eyes with the physics and engineering necessary to make the first laser. He copied on his brown lunch bag what appeared in the vision. And, thus, the laser was born.

Charlie did not describe the vision as supernatural. Yet, is was a revelation that came to him as a gift.

One evening, Charlie and Francis were visiting at my Berkeley condo. A number of students were seated around Charlie, eagerly asking questions. “Ya know,” Charlie began one of his rare pontifications, “I believe all scientific discoveries are revelations. Oh, yes, discoveries come at the end of experiments. But, what’s really happening is that nature is revealing itself to the human mind. Isn’t it wonderful!”

Before a scientist can enunciate a proposition, nature must reveal itself. That’s Heidegger’s phenomenological insight. Revelation as disclosure applies as much to science as it does to theology.

Truth Requires Understanding—standing under truth

If you are motivated to harken to the call of truth, then you will want to understand truth. To understand truth, is to subject your mind and your will to the reality that is uncovered in a truth event. Understanding requires us to stand under the authority of truth.

Truth is self-defining. And truth compels us to respect it by submitting to it. Here is theologian Alan Padgett: “I want to stand under the truth and receive (understand) what light it brings” (Padgett, Alan 2006). Truth asks us for submission so that we can gain understanding.

Or, more completely: “I will simply propose that we understand truth as the mediated disclosure of being (or reality). Sometimes that truth will be mediated through everyday experience, or common sense, sometimes through the specifics of propositions” (Padgett, Alan 2006). In short, truth calls the human mind to humility. This applies to truth in all forms, especially theological truth.

Grace to You proposes an understanding of theological truth.

“Here’s a simple definition drawn from what the Bible teaches: Truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. Even more to the point: Truth is the self-expression of God. That is the biblical meaning of truth. Because the definition of truth flows from God, truth is theological.

Truth is also ontological—which is a fancy way of saying it is the way things really are. Reality is what it is because God declared it so and made it so. Therefore God is the author, source, determiner, governor, arbiter, ultimate standard, and final judge of all truth.”

Relativity, Context, and Perspective

Now, we turn to hermeneutics. Truth is tied to interpretation.

Our human receptivity for revelation is conditioned by our personal past experience, our historically inherited culture, our linguistic capacity, and our willingness to learn new things. You and I come to every new experience with a pre-understanding, a Vorverständnis, to use the terminology of Hans-Georg Gadamer (Gadamer, 1965). An open-minded person ready to learn avoids allowing this pre-understanding to become a prejudgment (Vorurteil) or prejudice. A prejudice prevents new learning. A pre-understanding is always necessary for receiving new truth. But, a prejudice is optional.

Because each one of us lives within a specific context with its own horizon of pre-understanding, our experience with a truth event will be inescapably perspectival. A purely objective or absolute truth with no pre-understanding is not an option. All of our seeing is seeing-as. We must grant a certain level of relativity to our truth experience. What passes for objective truth is, for all practical purposes, an inter-subjective interpretation.

Theologian Catherine Keller acknowledges the inescapability of relativity in perspective. “Relativity, which we must strictly distinguish from relativism, just describes the reality of a relational universe. The human observer belongs to that universe. Therefore all human truth-claims are relative to context and perspective” (Keller, 2008, p. 4).

The truth of God–the truth that brings knowledge, forgiveness, comfort, and joy–is always pro me, says Martin Luther. The objective truth of God is revealed within subjective trueness for you and for me. To understand God is to stand under God’s Word addressed to you or me.

One Truth or Many Truths?

When we review our history, we must ask honestly: is truth one or many? The astute theologian Lisa Stenmark at San Jose State University notes how the claim to one single and final truth has become a tool supporting colonialism. When Asians were visited if not invaded by the Europeans, Christian truth and scientific truth appeared as one.

“The key element in Western religion is note merely the existence of a singular, universal deity (monotheism), but the existence of a community which has exclusive possession of a singular, universal truth, and which is obligated to convince others to accept that truth and act in accordance with it. Elective monotheism supported colonial ideologies—first through claims of a unique religious exclusivity, which were replaced by claims of a unique scientific exclusivity” (Stenmark, 2018, p. 70).

Stenmark’s plan for post-colonial restorative justice includes recognition and respect for multiple truths, a different truth for each subjugated community. But, would this not gut the very notion of truth? When we stand under truth, we allow our perspective to be changed by truth. Truth is not subject to perspective. It’s the other way around. Perspective gets corrected by truth. So, would it be better for Stenmark to substitute for ‘truth’ a term such as ‘worldview’ or ‘knowledge system’ or ‘perspective’?

The Truth about Divine Reality

The uncovering of what is genuinely real is the essence of all truth. This applies to God’s emergence from hiding as well. God defines God-self in events of self-revelation. And because God is the ultimate reality, all truth becomes dependent on what is revealed by God about God. At least according to Calvinist philosopher Alvin Plantinga. “There is such a thing as truth, and it is intimately connected with God” (Plantinga, 1998, p.36).[vi]

Moses at the Burning Bush by Sebastien Bourdon, 17th C

This is the theme that runs through Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. “The freely acting God Himself and alone is the truth of revelation.” (Barth, 1936-1962, p. I/1 15). According to Barth, the Bible mediates God’s Word through the human words on the pages.

T.F. Torrance, a scholar quite concerned with the interaction between theology and science, elaborates with regard to Scriptural truth.

When all is said and done in biblical interpretation and theological formulation, the ultimate criterion to which appeal is to be made is the Truth itself, that Truth independent of themselves too which the Holy Scriptures direct us and to which they themselves are subject.  All faithful interpretation must allow the Truth to assert itself in its own intrinsic weight and majesty and to maintain its own ground over against us and our prejudices, for in the last resort we have to reckon with the fact that God alone can name himself and bear witness to himself and prove himself to us (Torrance, 1982, pp.118-119).

On the one hand, what we assert in propositional or second order form derives from what is uncovered in first order experience. Reality comes out of hiding and becomes unconcealed at the level of first order experience. Then, when we formulate an assertion about what has been revealed, we abstract from the embedded first order experience. In sum, propositions are second order discourse reporting on the first order experience of disclosure.

One task of the systematic theologian—along with the public theologian—is to press for coherence between what has been revealed to us by God and what has been unconcealed for us by our scientists. But, constructing coherence requires distinguishing prejudice from pre-understanding.

Here is the late Wolfhart Pannenberg on overcoming prejudice in constructive theology.

“The truth of Christian doctrine cannot be maintained where Christian proclamation gives priority to adaptation to the secular mentality. It has to challenge that mentality and its prejudices….Since secularism produces meaninglessness, the human person suffers from the lack of meaning. There is a need, then, for the Christian message, perhaps more urgently so than in other periods of human history. But the message can reach its addresse only if the prejudices of secularism against Christianity can be overcome”  (Pannenberg 2002, 1).

Pannenberg advocates a coherence theory of truth, not a correspondence theory of truth. “Coherence provides the final criterion of truth, and it can serve as such a criterion because it also belongs to the nature of truth: so that truth is only one, but all -embracing, closely related to the concept of the one God” (Pannenberg, An Introduction to Systematic Theology 1991, 6). How coherence works should become clear in what follows.

Believe only if it’s true

Belief in God requires belief in the truth. No rational person would place his or her or their life in the hands of a God who does not exist. “It all depends on truth,” says Pannenberg when asking why a non-Jew might believe in the God of Israel. “If we suppose that the God of Israel and of Jesus is the one and only true God, then and only then is there sufficient reason for believing in that God, even if one is not a Jew” (Pannenberg, An Introduction to Systematic Theology 1991, 4-5). Belief includes confidence and trust in truth. And, truth depends on revelation. Did divine revelation take place in Israel’s history?

Revelation from, and about, God

Revelations from God about God always leave some residue, some dimensions that resist codification in assertions or propositions. This is because God remains mysterious even in unconcealment. The more that God reveals, the more we become aware of the divine mystery. Religious propositions, then, must convey the dialectic of concealment with unconcealment. Religious propositions must be symbolic at their most fundamental level.

A holistic self-disclosure of reality rises to articulation only in symbolic speech. Binoy (Jacob) Pichalakkat, mathematician and theologian in Pune, India, makes this observation. “In symbols reality becomes aware of itself and mirrors itself…” (Pichalakkatt, 2006, p. 26). Note the direction of movement: reality discloses itself, and we mark the event of this disclosure with a symbol. Symbols both reflect and participate in the reality they disclose.

Please get this point. Propositional truths are literal assertions that intend a single meaning. Symbolic truths are multi-valent with two or more levels of meaning. We live in a worldview with both.

Austrian philosopher Eric Voegelin reminds us of the distinction between symbols and propositions. “Truth is not a body of propositions about a world-immanent object; it is the world-transcendent summum bonum, experienced as an orienting force in the soul, about which we can speak only in analogical symbols” (Voegelin, 1956-1987, p. 3:363). Symbols point to and even participate in the reality they uncover; but symbols cannot exhaust the meaning of what they reveal in propositional form. Symbols come first. Propositions come second.

As double-valent, symbols connote concealment and unconcealment simultaneously. Religious symbols are pre-propositional in character. Symbols participate in the truth, to be sure. Yet, first order symbols stop short of reducing truth to proposition. Second order propositions interpret first order symbolic experience. Scientific propositions interpret experience in the form of empirical evidence and experiment.

Literal Truth

Do religious people believe in literal truth? No. Scientists do, though.

Well, wait a minute! Some evangelicals and fundamentalists pridefully exclaim that they stand on the literal truth of the Bible. Patheos columnist Vance Morgan was born into a fundamentalist family. He has since become a Progressive Christian. Morgan explains what it means to believe in literal truth.

I was born into the fundamentalist Protestant world…and I am thoroughly familiar with how literalists read the Bible. I was taught that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God, dictated by divine inspiration to specially selected human beings, then assembled into the Word of God that we call the Bible. The Bible is God’s final word to us, I was taught; all the guidance a Christian needs to live a life pleasing to God can be found between its covers. Many of the vehicles in our church parking lot sported a bumper sticker expressing the appropriate attitude toward Scripture: “God Said It. I Believe It. That Settles It.”

Because the linguistic expressions of Holy Scripture include deliberately non-literal forms–psalms, aphorisms, parables, metaphors, and such–it would be irrational to treat all biblical texts literally. Contrary to common belief, Protestant fundamentalists do not believe in the dictation theory of the Bible.

The predominant view of Scripture’s inspiration within fundamentalism derives from the late 19th century Princeton Theology. According to that Princeton Theology, the Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament writers who then mediated God’s Word through their own language and experience along with the their own writer’s agenda. In the heat of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the 1920’s, fundamentalist Clarence E. Macartney announced in his famous sermon, “Shall Unbelief Win?“, the following. “Those who hold the New Testament idea of inspiration, that holy men of old ‘spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost’, have never thought of the Holy Ghost dictating to Moses, Isaiah or St. Paul.” What could be more clear! There is no warrant to believe that the words of the text were dictated by God, even for a fundamentalist. So, what Morgan reports here seems a tad extreme.

Biblical speech is fundamentally symbolic and double-valent. Biblical speech connotes invisible realities while it denotes ordinary experiences. This is why Jesus strained to convey truths about God through parables. We today must always treat Holy Sculpture hermeneutically, soliciting the Holy Spirit’s inner witness when we  apply scriptural truth to our own daily lives.

Not so with scientific propositions. The laboratory scientist swims in eddies of experiment, fact, data, hypotheses, theories, and revisions of theories. Then, with corroboration and caution, the scientist tenders a proposition. That proposition is intended to be a literal assertion. It is intended to denote a fact. And only a fact. That’s it. Nothing more. No meaning. No significance. No metaphysical implications. Just a fact.

Keep clear: it is science that communicates literally through propositions. Not religion.

Do theologians ever make propositions? Yes, indeed. The Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed are collections of propositions. To theological propositions we now turn.

Proleptic Truth

Theological propositions—called “dogmas”—are hypothetical assertions about ultimate reality. They are hypothetical because their truth depends upon confirmation or disconfirmation by God’s future actions. Drawing from the multi-valent symbols found in Scripture, dogmas point prophetically to truths about divine promises yet awaiting fulfillment. Doctrinal propositions are not absolute, not final. Only tentative. Only hypothetical. Only future fulfillment can determine the truth or falsity of such Christian theological claims.

Such dogmatic propositions are also doxological. That is, the reality yet to be revealed will be far more glorious than these propositions can convey. Even if a theological proposition gets confirmed by God, its literal meaning will be engulfed with a penumbra of glory that will bring an unanticipated fullness. Here is Pannenberg on dogmatic statements requiring eschatological confirmation to determine their truth value.

“Dogmatic statements have a proleptic tendency in that they have all of reality, history as a whole, in view, since in Christ, the consummation of history, the future of us all, has already begun….Thus, the doxological element in the dogmatic statement is founded upon the proleptic, and both are interrelated through the universal meaning that inheres in this particular event” (Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology, 2 Volumes, 1970-1971, p. 1:205).

Right now, the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed are statements of faith awaiting divine confirmation or disconfirmation eschatologically. These collections of Christian propositions about God are abstractions from more robust multi-valent biblical symbols. Even in propositional form, dogmas still resonate with symbolic meaning that is supra–propositional. Historically, creedal collections of dogmas are frequently called, “symbols.”

Creedal symbols remain second order discourse, still subordinate to the first order discourse of Holy Scripture. The more basic biblical symbols articulate what our ancestors experienced in revelatory events where truths about God were disclosed. Today we look forward to the eschatological future anticipated by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

“The scriptures themselves tell us that the universal recognition of God’s glory will not occur before the eschaton. Until then, the truth of his revelation continue to be in dispute.” (Pannenberg, An Introduction to Systematic Theology 1991, 17)

Rejection of Coherent Truth by Wikipedia and Constructionist Theology

Not everyone is dedicated to standing under the truth in coherent form. Wikipedia management, for example, holds that multiple truths exist without cohering with one another. We all have different truths. We all have different biases. We need to listen to voices other than Western white men. We should share power. Rather than talk about the truth, then, we should focus on what we believe and what we can agree on. What is important is that we all get along, according to Wikipedia’s Katherine Maher. Yet, despite this well-intentioned gesture toward social harmony, my question here is still this: what is truth?

The Wikipedia rejection of coherence finds a sibling in spirit among a deconstructionist brand of non-systematic theologians who call themselves, “constructionists.” When pursuing doctrinal theology, the new constructionists collect perspectives–truths?–from previously subjugated knowledge systems. The resulting collection of discrete context-dependent perspectives sits on the theological drain board like flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and eggs. Unmixed. But, rather than baking these ingredients into a single loaf of communion bread, the constructive theologian simply leaves them to sit and age side by side. “

“As abandoning the adjective ‘systematic’ implies, [constructive theology] refuses any pretense that suggests theology can be completely systematized, and every doctrine logically cohered into one grand system” (Wyman, 2017, 324).

Pluralism without coherence. Construction without system. The Wikipedia style constructionists have overcorrected on the risk of premature absoluteness, leaving us with ingredients but no shared bread at all. Now, I really want to know the answer to this question: what is truth?

Conclusion

In this Patheos post, we have been asking: what is truth? In addition, we have been asking whether a theological worldview could be intelligible when coherently incorporating scientific knowledge. Standing under the truth requires the theologian to strive not only for coherence but also intelligibility.

No theologian need answer atheist shelling with a counterattack. Rather, the theist may simply live truly within the symbols which participate in God’s self-revelation. Then, of course, the theologian should formulate intelligible propositions. Such constructed propositions will be hypothetical. They will turn out to be proleptic assertions, awaiting divine confirmation or disconfirmation in the eschaton.

Every searching soul welcomes truth whenever an event of unconcealment makes something invisible visible. Scientific truth along with personal truth and divine truth belong together in a single worldview. Pannenberg rightly reminds the public theologian: “The question of the truth of Christianity cannot be enquired into without also enquiring into the question of the truth of all areas of human experience,” including scientific knowledge about the natural world (Pannenberg, Theology and the Philosophy of Science, 1976, p. 255).

I’ve been working with the following hypothesis: truth is the revelation and acceptance of what is genuinely real. If God is the ultimate reality, then all truth must come from the one God. “All truth, no matter by whom it is uttered, comes from the Holy Spirit” (Omnis veritas, a quoquo dicitur, e Spiritu Sancto est). Ascribed to St. Ambrose of Milan.

Thank God that our minds hunger and thirst for truth. Thank God that truth comes to us. Thank God that truth satisfies that hunger and slakes that thirst.

Ted Peters

Ted Peters directs traffic at the intersection of science, religion, and ethics. Peters is an emeritus professor at the Graduate Theological Union, where he co-edits the journal, Theology and Science, on behalf of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, in Berkeley, California, USA. He authored Playing God? Genetic Determinism and Human Freedom? (Routledge, 2nd ed., 2002) as well as Science, Theology, and Ethics (Ashgate 2003). He is editor of AI and IA: Utopia or Extinction? (ATF 2019). Along with Arvin Gouw and Brian Patrick Green, he co-edited the new book, Religious Transhumanism and Its Critics hot off the press (Roman and Littlefield/Lexington, 2022). Soon he will publish The Voice of Christian Public Theology (ATF 2022). See his website: TedsTimelyTake.com. The fictional spy thriller, Cyrus Twelve, follows the twists and turns of a transhumanist plot.

Endnotes

[i] “Truth cannot contradict truth” (Pope, 1998).

[ii] “No religion is genuine unless it be joined with truth,” according to John Calvin (Calvin, 1960, p. I/v.3.50.).

[iii] In the case of the Father of Liberal Theology, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), intelligibility recursively confirms the dogmatic value of theological propositions. Public intelligibility actually measures the degree to which a theological proposition can be accepted as doctrinal, as dogmatic. “The less there is of publicly accepted matter in any such presentation, the less does it answer to the conception of a Dogmatic”  (Schleiermacher, 1960, p.90). This leads Claude Welch to conclude that “for Schleiermacher the only possible Christian theology was a ‘public’ theology, one whose warrants could be made clear and whose statements would be intelligible outside the bounds of the believing community. Those statements must also not be in conflict with other, nontheological claims to truth.” (Welch, 1972-1985, 1:62).

[iv] Fuller systematic theologian Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen promotes the dialogue between theology and the natural sciences, because the doctrine of creation itself requires the access to reality provided by science. Specifically, the scientific worldview differs from previous worldviews within which theology worked. “This engagement happens under a radically different worldview from that of the past: ours is dynamic, interrelated, evolving, in-the-making” (Kärkkäinen, 2015, pp. 10-11).

[v] Let’s compare correspondence with coherence. Scientific propositions rely on the correspondence theory of truth, according to which propositions correspond to reality as revealed. The coherence theory of truth, alternatively, relies on the coherence of one proposition with others in a web of claims. Borrowing the metaphor of the web or net of beliefs formulated by logician W.V.O. Quine, Nancey Murphy at Fuller abandons the correspondence model of truth in favor of a coherence model. Truth is found in coherence, where beliefs require one another is a web or net. This “new picture of knowledge is salutary for religion scholars,” she writes. “No longer is there a need to find an unquestionable starting point, a theological foundation, before we can begin the task of theology proper” (Murphy, 2018, p. 71).

[vi] Truths from God belong together with truths from science. The task of the systematic theologian is to make them all coherent. “A limited rational validation of the truth of the Gospel is possible….Negatively the Gospel must and can be validated by exploring the limits of historic forms of wisdom and virtue. Positively it is validated when the truth of faith is correlated with all truths which may be known by scientific and philosophical disciplines and proves itself a resource for coordinating them into a deeper and wider system of coherence” (Niebuhr, 1949, p. 152).

Bibliography

Barth, K. (1936-1962). Church Dogmatics, 4 Volumes. Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

Calvin, J. (1960). Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 Volumes. Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox.

Dawkins, R. (1997). Is Science a Religion? The Humanist, https://web.archive.org/web/20121030144700/http://www.thehumanist.org/humanist/articles/dawkins.html.

Gadamer, H.-G. (1965). Wahrheit und Methode. Tubingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).

Heidegger, M. (1947). The Essence of Truth. Berlin: UNKNO.

Inwagen, P. V. (2009). An Essay on Free Will. Oxford UK: Oxford University Press.

Kärkkäinen, V.-M. (2015). Creation and Humanity. Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans.

Kauffman, S. A. (2008). Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion. New York: Basic Books.

Keller, C. (2008). On the Mystery: Discerning God in Process. Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press.

Murphy, N. (2018). A Philosophy of the Christian Religion for the Twenty-First Century. London: SPCK.

Niebuhr, R. (1949). Faith and History. New York: Scribners.

Padgett, Alan. (2006). “I am the Truth.’ An Understanding of Truthe from Christology to Scripture. In e. Alan G. Padgett and Patrick r. Keifert, But Is It All True? The Bible and the Question of Truth (p. Chapter 6). Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans.

Pannenberg, W. (1976). Theology and the Philosophy of Science. Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox.

Pannenberg, W. (1991). An Introduction to Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans.

Pannenberg, W. (2002). The Task of Christian Eschatology. In e. Carl E. Braaten and Robert Jenson, The Last Things: Biblical and Theological Perspectives (pp. 1-13). Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans.

Pichalakkatt, Binoy (2006). “Dialoging with Symbols Exploring Zero, Sunyata and Trinity for a Holistic Reality,” Omega: Indian Journal of Science and Religion, 5:2: 25-41.

Polkinghorne, J. (1998). Science and Theology: An Introduction (1 ed.). London and Minneapolis: SPCK and Fortress.

Pope, J. P. (1998). Evolution and the Living God. In e. Ted Peters, Science and Theology: The New Consonance (pp. 149-152). Boulder CO: Harper/Westview https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP961022.HTM.

Schleiermacher, F. (1960). The Christian Faith. Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark.

Stenmark, L. (2018), “Thinking Through Three Revolutions: Religion, Science, and Colonialism,” Unsettling Science and Religion, eds., Lisa Stenmark and Whitney Bauman. Lanham MA: Lexington, 69-88.

Tischner, J. (1982). The Spirit of Solidarity. New York: Harper.

Voegelin, E. (1956-1987). Order and History, 5 Volumes. Baton Rouge LA: Louisiana State University Press.

Water, L. v. (1969). Truth as Unconcealedness: A Way in the Thinking of Martin Heidegger. International Journal for Philosophy and Theology 30:3, https://doi.org/10.1080/00062278.1969.10596877.

Welch, C. (1972-1985). Protestant Thought in the Nineteenth Century. 2 Volumes: New Haven CT: Yale.

Wyman, Jason A. (2017). “Interpreting the History of the Working Group on Constructive Theology.” Theology Today 73:4: 312=324.

About Ted Peters
Ted Peters directs traffic at the intersection of science, religion, and ethics. Peters is an emeritus professor at the Graduate Theological Union, where he co-edits the journal, Theology and Science, on behalf of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, in Berkeley, California, USA. He authored Playing God? Genetic Determinism and Human Freedom? (Routledge, 2nd ed., 2002) as well as Science, Theology, and Ethics (Ashgate 2003). He is editor of AI and IA: Utopia or Extinction? (ATF 2019). Along with Arvin Gouw and Brian Patrick Green, he co-edited the new book, Religious Transhumanism and Its Critics hot off the press (Roman and Littlefield/Lexington, 2022). Soon he will publish The Voice of Christian Public Theology (ATF 2022). See his website: TedsTimelyTake.com. The fictional spy thriller, Cyrus Twelve, follows the twists and turns of a transhumanist plot. You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

4 responses to “What is Truth?”

Close Ad