Let’s talk about how we know when something is true.
Where have we traditionally gotten our knowledge? I can think of only four possibilities. These are, in no particular order. –
- authority figures
- personal observations
- historical writings
- deeply held beliefs
Authority figures, gurus, pundits and the like can be experts on one or two subjects, if any at all. But if you ask a rabbi, for instance, the best way to model a database for DNA sequencing he is unlikely to provide meaningful instruction. If you ask him what the Talmud says about eating shellfish he can give you a meaningful answer. You cannot trust all that they say on every subject. Indeed, you often can’t trust anything that they say, since so many of them are ignorant and bloated egotists. This source of knowledge has persisted from the time before writing when all information was passed down verbally. It was, for millennia, all we had for passing information from one generation to the next. That is no longer the case.
Personal observations can be terribly misleadingIf someone says they saw the Virgin Mary on a highway sign, thousands of the faithful will visit the site to pray. There is a pecking order as to the veracity of observations and it has little, if anything, to do with their reality. If an observation bolsters our already-held beliefs we usually give it credence, whether or not there is any actual evidence one way or another. If you see a rabbit pulled out of a hat you can surmise that it’s a trick because contemporary society has tumbled to that. If someone says that they saw a sasquatch most people will dismiss it out of hand even though the person who claims to have seen it swears with one hundred percent certainty that they did.
Deeply held beliefs can be dismissed as a source of truth just for the fact that two people can hold mutually exclusive ‘truths’ deeply enough to fight and kill and die for them. That scenario is as common in history as war, and indeed is often the cause of war. So this can be eliminated as a source of truth.
Historical writings are simply personal observations recorded in some fashion and are subject to the same problems as authority figures. They can in no way be regarded as a consistent source of truth.
We have just struck down as unreliable all of our non-scientific methods of finding truth.
We can define truth fairly simply. Is it observable, predictable, repeatable, and measurable? If the answer is ‘yes’ to all three criteria, it is true. If not, it is something else. I won’t try to say what that ‘something else’ may be, or make a value judgment about that ‘something else’ because we’re focusing here on the definition of truth and I don’t want to cloud the issue.
If I drop a coin it will fall. You can watch. I will do it again and it will fall again. It will fall every time. You can drop the coin. It will fall. I can watch. It will fall again. I can predict that it will fall and be right every time. Your cousin Andy can drop the coin and both of us can watch. It will fall again. Not only that, but the speed at which it falls is observable, predictable, repeatable, and measurable. This little exercise passes the test for being ‘true’. If it only works when your cousin Andy drops the coin, or if it falls up sometimes, or if only special people can see it happen, we must say that it fails the ‘truth’ test. It’s actually pretty simple and most, if not all, of the great discoveries that propelled our world forward from the dark ages into the modern era were made using this set of criteria.
All religions crumble under the weight of this simple test for truth.
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