Reverse Engineering God: Part II–What is Truth?

In this blog series, we are learning how to understand God’s truth in a new way, following the principles of reverse engineering.

But what is Truth?

Almost every book on theology and philosophy spends time discussing exploring the truth. Truth is a strange concept, in that most of us think “of course we understand it”, but when pressed to fully explain it, run short of words.

So as at other times, I’ll revert to stories and analogies to convey a concept that is otherwise hard to explain.

A kindergarten teacher was giving her students time to do crayon drawings after they had spent the afternoon playing outside. It was a beautiful day.

“What color is the sky?” a young boy asked. “Blue” answered the teacher.

So a question we can ask is: Did the teacher tell the truth?

Now it so happened this was the school’s annual parent visitation day, and many parents had taken off work to come watch their child’s day at school. One of these parents was a world-renowned artist who had been mentoring his daughter in the fine art of painting. He leaned over and whispered to his daughter: “Actually, the sky is many hues of blue. In the west, where the sun was beginning to head, the sky was a very light blue, almost white, while towards the west, it was a deeper blue.”

Was the artist telling the truth? In light of this more complex explanation, do we no longer say that the teacher had conveyed the truth?

Another parent, an astronaut who had spent many days in space, after overhearing the artist, leaned over to his son. “Actually,” he whispered “the sky is the blackest black you can imagine, with thousands of little pinpricks of white where the stars are.”

Was the astronaut telling the truth? Certainly any other astronaut would think so.

Yet another parent, who also overheard these whispers, and so happened to be an operator of the Hubble space telescope, bent down to his daughter saying “the astronaut said the sky was black, but it is really completely white. It is only because our eyes are limited, and because our telescope limits the length of exposure that we get the illusion of black. When we leave the camera shutter open a very long time, we see that every speck of space is full of stars, shining away. Because of this, the sky is white.”

A physicist then told their child that “The sun baths our planet in all colors so that it looks white, but the blue wavelengths are heavily scattered by molecules in the atmosphere, giving us the illusion of a blue sky, but the truth is, the sky is no color at all.”

In turn, a poet told his child “The color of a clear sky is the vibrancy of life!”

A blind girl in the classroom said that the color of the sky was warm, while another classmate, one who experienced Synesthesia (google it–it’s fascinating) announced that the color of the sky was a bugle.

Thomas Aquinas, speaking of truth said veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus. That is, truth is the adequation, or conformity, of intellect and thing, and also argued that “God is Truth”. His definition of truth, though contains two definitions.

The first, is that truth is that which is, truth is the thing itself. The second, is related to how well our conception of that truth corresponds to the reality of that truth. If the teacher had not been outside that day, and had told the child that the sky was gray and overcast, her conception of the true state of the sky would be in error. We have often heard witnesses being asked to “tell the truth”. What is being asked, here, is for the witness to describe their conception of the truth without deceit. Whether the witness’s conception of the truth conforms to the truth, itself, is another story.

As the story above points out, truth is more than “that which is”, and more than our conception of the truth. Truth is also defined by our perspective of truth, and our perspective is tied closely with the purposes for which we use the information. For the kindergarten teacher and student, “the sky is blue” is true, because to the simple mind of a five year old trying to select a crayon for the picture he is drawing for his mom, the sky is blue. For a telescope operator training an apprentice on the technical challenges of space photography, “the sky is white” is true. In fact, in our story above, everyone told the truth, all while saying very different and seemingly contradictory things. We can see that because of the great complexity of the world, truth is a many faceted thing. To understand the full, comprehensive truth of the coloring of the sky, we would need to develop a cohesive understanding of every conceivable perspective on the topic, which may be an impossible task.

We can understand, though, that each new facet or perspective that we can tease out, yields back a richer understanding of that truth.

In the next post, we begin to explore one of the constraints to revelation as we discuss Conveying Truth.

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