What Truth are we talking about?

I believe or hope that thoughtful modern people (like us) are caught to some degree or other in a battle of mind that we will soon outgrow. The battleground is the war over truth. The particular form of the battle that I am referring to has many names such as: reason vs. faith, science vs. religion, objective vs. subjective, deduction vs. intuition. This battle erupted dramatically when the enlightenment thinkers of Europe championed the power of reason over what they saw as the superstitious dogma of the church. It erupted again when the Romantic thinkers insisted on a mysterious creative universe that could never be fully known or understood.

Oh by the way, I do have a second part to my investigation of Peirce to post, but before that I wanted to continue with the exciting stream of inquiry that has recently been fueled by our commentator named Chuck. Chuck is clearly a recovering mystic, and I am a recovering atheist/materialist – so it seems that we have met here in the middle.

Chuck has (rightly to some extent) pointed out some fuzziness on around the edges in some of the writing on this blog. I would claim that in the medium of the blogosphere this is probably inevitable, but still it is by magnifying fuzzy thinking that we all get clearer. I think that before we can get into the science vs. “whatever” debate, we have to first think about the nature of truth because at bottom how we think about truth is going to set the terms of this discussion.

There are three ways of arriving at truth that I believe are most pertinent to the discussions on this blog. The first we could call scientific truth, which would stand in opposition to the second which we could call revealed or perhaps intuitive truth. The third which we have devoted considerable space developing on these posts is Pragmatic truth. All of them will defy exact definition, but in the interest of moving forward together I would like to try to rally some agreement about the definitions of these three types of truth.

Scientific Truth is largely rooted in the ability to produce empirical, objective and measurable evidence. This means that for something to be scientifically true you should be able to show something to other people that they will independently find satisfying as proof or verification. Philosophically this type of truth is often associated with the school of Logical Positivism.

Revealed or intuitive truth is truth that is verified by ones internal experience. The truth of the bible is considered revealed truth and it is verified because it arose from the inner revelation of saints. In a non-Christian context what we more commonly call intuition could be considered a modern variety of revealed truth. When we intuit something is true what we are trusting is some inner experience or sense of truth. It just feels true.

The classical American philosophers, Peirce, Dewey and especially James pioneered a Pragmatic view of truth. In this sense truth is seen as a way of navigating human activity into the future. The way to see what a person believes to be true in this sense is to look at how they act. The ideas they act upon are the ones they believe to be true because they believe that acting on those ideas will lead to the best possible future outcome.

To move on then I would say that a person would be a Religious Fundamentalist if they believed that only Revealed truth was real. They would not believe, for instance, in the scientific evidence in favor of evolution because they would insist that the Bible reveals that God created the earth.

If there is such a thing as Scientific Fundamentalism (which has been referred to as Scientism in some places) it would be the condition in which someone would only give merit to scientific truth. In this case the person would deny that any form of intuitive or revealed truth was valid.

For now these two types of fundamentalisms are what has come up in this blog. When I was an engineer trained in physics and more or less atheistic in attitude, I assumed that everything that anyone told me about spiritual experiences was just some kind of fantasy and even if they did have some validity I didn’t believe that there was any way to determine that validity except through strict scientific inquiry. When I discovered that I had questions about life that I could not answer with science I started to seek in cognitive psychology, philosophy and eventually in spiritual practices. When I experienced spiritual revelations that I both could not deny and could not explain I was well on my way along the spiritual path. I have completely confidence that I have experienced something remarkable and I am still trying to refine how I can communicate it and also how I can better understand it myself.

The converted are always the strongest advocates of the cause they say, so I guess that Chuck and I are both strong advocates. Yet I do suspect – as I believe you do Chuck – that there is a way out of this either/or – science or spirituality – dualism. I think that there are new ways to look at science and at our universe and new ways to look at spirituality and spiritual experience that leave me with the hope and a deep intuition that a truly integral view of everything is possible and can become part of a new shared vernacular.