How do we know what is true and what is false in everyday life? Isn’t it true that most of us don’t know things from first hand experience but rather we learn them through other people who tell us or teach us about truth? For example, where was Abraham Lincoln when he was shot? Or was he shot? Maybe he died of a heart attack. How do we know these things? We don’t know by having seen it with our own eyes. We don’t even know because we personally did hours upon hours of research to find out. Most of us know because someone, probably a teacher in school, and the textbooks we used told us what happened to Abraham Lincoln.
Most of us who use math at the every-day level don’t know the truths underlying the math, although we probably could. For example most people don’t know from personal investigation how fractions and common denominators work. But if we use them at all, we were taught how to work with fractions and we know that the methods work and that is good enough for us. But my point is that we didn’t learn it from personal investigation and discovery. We believe the principles because people we trusted and who we assumed were authorities taught us, and what they taught us works.
What is interesting to me is how and why we choose the people we decide to believe. In elementary school and probably through most of high school we believed what we were told by our parents and teachers. But as we grew older we began to distinguish one opinion from another and we began to argue and debate whether what we were being told was true or not. What is interesting to me is how we decide who to believe when we receive conflicting messages. Politics is a good case in point. Someone on TV says that the reason we are in the economic mess we are in is because we are spending billions on unnecessary wars. There are really two messages there: 1) the economic mess is caused by the wars and 2) the wars were unnecessary. The purpose of this article is not to delve into the politics, but to observe that people on each side of the argument will rant for hours on their point of view. How do they know the economic problems are caused by the war expenditures? How do the people on the other side know that it was not the wars that caused the economic problems? Have any of these people looked at the numbers, compared the graphs and analyzed all of the factors? No! We mostly listen to what people tell us. For some reason each one of us has a propensity to believe one explanation of events rather than another. In this particular example, some believe war caused the mess and some do not. These beliefs are based on who we have decided to listen to and who we believe.
Shouldn’t we be interested in truth? What is the truth? In many cases we could know if we took the time to do the research. Take historical events for example. I brought up Abraham Lincoln a moment ago. How does one know he was assassinated? I’m not a philosopher nor a historian so this is not a rigorous academic treatise, but it seems to me that to verify historic events which no one living now witnessed, we need to go back to original documents, news reports, photographs, etc. and put together the best scenario we can as to what actually happened. This takes a lot of time – more time than we have if we are trying to determine the truth about everything we hear. So we decide who we will believe and base our opinions on what they say.
These methods of determining truth pretty much work for day to day living. But the possibility exists that we have chosen to believe things which are not true simply because of who we listen to. We need to be open to the possibility that what we believe might be false. We need to be ready to discuss our ideas and to probe other people’s ideas and to give and receive facts and arguments in order to get at the truth. The problem is that today several things stand in the way of discussions of this sort. We’ll discuss these in more detail later, but basically discussions of truth end because 1) People don’t really care what the truth is – it doesn’t matter; 2) Truth is felt at the emotional level and so if it feels correct, it must be true no matter what the facts say; 3) Truth can’t be known so why bother talking about it; and 4) Truth doesn’t exist.In future articles I want us to think about how we as Christians get at the truth of Christianity and why we believe it is true. I want us to think about the implications of saying that it is true. I also want us to see how the four hindrances to seeking truth even impact our understanding of the Bible and the differences of opinion among us.