Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., director of the Philosophy of Religion program at Denver Seminary, reviewed True to Life: Why Truth Matters by Michael Lynch.
Lynch defends four basic and interrelated claims in this brief but meaty book. First, truth is objective; it is not mere belief. Humans are fallible. We often hold beliefs that we later reject because they have been refuted by reality. Believing something does not make it true. Neither can two contradictory beliefs (such as 'There is a God' and 'There is no God') both be true.

Second, it is good to believe what is true. Therefore, third, truth is worth pursuing intellectually. Fourth, truth has objective and intrinsic value. That is, truth is not a means to an end, but an end itself. If we are thinking clearly, we don't use truth for something higher than truth itself.

'True to Life' addresses more deep philosophical issues than a short review can adequately accommodate. Especially noteworthy, though, are his arguments against relativism ('True for me, but not for you') and pragmatism ('What's true is what works'). These philosophies dominate popular culture and have infected much of the academy as well. Nevertheless, they fail to survive Lynch's careful scrutiny. For example, when Martin Luther King Jr. cried out against institutional racism (speaking truth to power), he based his arguments on objective-truth claims: that African-Americans were equal to whites, that African-Americans had been exploited and that they deserved freedom as equal citizens of the United States. King's power came not merely from his oratorical abilities, but because he was challenging the social consensus and the law itself on the basis of objective truth.

Appeals to relativism and pragmatism would have carried no persuasive power. As Lynch notes, 'Having a concept of truth allows us to make sense of the thought that a claim, no matter how entrenched in one's culture (such as racism), no matter how deeply defended by the powers that be, may still be wrong.'

Lynch rightly notes that if truth exists, and if we should pursue it, certain dispositions or habits of the mind are appropriate. This "involves being willing to hear both sides of the story, being open-minded and tolerant of other's opinions, being careful and sensitive to detail, being curious, and paying attention to the evidence. And it also involves being willing to question assumptions, giving and asking for reasons, being impartial, and being intellectually courageous - that is, not believing simply what is convenient to believe." How much of popular American culture - especially television - encourages these virtues?
Groothuis also questioned "Lynch's secular worldview" and believed that he left unanswered from where did human's derive this desire for truth. Nonetheless, without reading the book, Lynch and Groothuis have provided a concise template for those of us who "believe" in truth.

No comments: