What is Truth?

Truth in any form is absolute.  This applies to natural law and we will assume that it applies to eternal religious law as well (for in LDS theology they are one and the same).  If God exists, then His existence should be rational and testable. 

The scriptures are replete with promises suggesting that we can test his existence by prayer, exercising faith, paying tithes, etc.  However, as we apply the scientific method to this problem, one of two outcomes is possible.  Either we prove to some certainty that God exists or we do not. 

I am going to assume that if God exists, that He or She can be known.  A god that does not want to be known by us is of no use to us and would therefore be essentially non-existent to us.  That being said, I don’t believe that God wishes to hide his existence.  The scriptures are full of promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him.

It is also given that we cannot prove that God does not exist.  To do so would require that we examine every part of the universe and find that He or She is not there.  Obviously, this is not possible.  Our task then is to prove that God does exist.  In other words, the burden of proof lies with believers.  Evidence MUST support his existence.  Lack of evidence against god is not the same as evidence for him.  If no evidence for god is forthcoming, then we have to assume either that he refuses to be found or he does not exist at all.  Just as in a court of law a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, god must be presumed non-existent until proven to exist (by a preponderance of evidence).

Absolutes of truth exist, either God exists or he does not.  Our belief does not play in.  Our conviction is of no consequence.  And while absolutes of truth exist, proof for those absolutes may not yet.  We will accept probabilities and likelihoods for now.  It will help us in our pursuit for truth if we can tip the scales one way or the other.  Scientific study is the pursuit of truth.  We do not expect to find absolutes of truth at the outset but rather we seek to refine our view of truth as we proceed. 

Our current view of God is not based on evidence but on tradition.  Tradition is not, nor has it ever been a basis for finding truth.  Sometimes we stay in a religion that we know is not true because the traditions are good and it feels like home.  That is absolutely valid.  There is no shame in living in a culture just because it is the culture of one’s upbringing.  My father, a firm believer in the LDS faith, has said of that church, “True or not, it’s a good way to live.”  I believe that to be true.  But culture and absolute truth are two very different things.  If we want the truth (and I do) we must be willing to accept what we find.  The truth as we uncover it may be difficult, unlikely, or unsettling.  So be it.

The scientific method calls for formulation of a hypothesis and then testing it against all available data.  The hypothesis will, by nature of the process, be modified as new data are presented. 

However, that method doesn’t work very well for religion, because we can’t modify the hypothesis when new data are presented.  The word of god is unchangeable and everlasting.  So if new data are found, they must either be ignored, discredited, or otherwise explained away (enter the apologists).  Evidence that fits our idea is welcome, but evidence that does not is rejected.  This strategy works well to preserve our paradigm.  But it does not help us find the TRUTH. 

Intellectual honesty requires that we be willing to accept the most reasonable conclusion, whatever it is, even if that means we have been wrong.

What can be used as evidence?

As I do this work, I seek evidence for the existence of God.  Evidence can come in a few different forms and through a few different means.  The first differentiation is between direct and indirect evidence.  Direct evidence of God’s existence would be direct communication or visualization in such a way that the fact of His existence can be verified by all.  This would require that God present himself to us in a way that all can see, hear, understand and appreciate that he is God and that he is real.  He would need to appear and stay long enough that all could satisfy themselves.  The second coming, if it were to happen, would be such an event.

Indirect evidence is everything else.  Evidence in the archeological record would be good examples of this. Any artifact or sign left by God would serve as this kind of evidence.  Most commonly, in this arena, we look for evidence of the hand of God in His dealings with men. 

There are some kinds of commonly cited “evidence” that are not evidences at all.  Richard Dawkins calls these “god of the gaps” arguments.  This concept applies to situations where we use god to fill in gaps in our understanding.  For example, I don’t know how the world came to be so it must have been created by God.  Or, I don’t know how I was cured of cancer, so it must be God.  This type of evidence requires that we have faith to appreciate it.  In reality, this kind of evidence is not evidence at all.  This argument does not prove that there is a god, it only proves that we have gaps in our understanding.

Evidence can come from philosophical or logical sources.  One problem with philosophical arguments is that they are hard to test and reproduce.  We will consider a few philosophical arguments as we proceed, but for the most part, my standard will be testability and reproducibility.  We will try to apply clear, consistent logic, and conversely we will try to expose unsound logic as well.

For many, theological arguments, or appeals to scripture, have been used in similar discussions.  I, however, am not going to consider theological arguments because they all assume the existence of God at their foundations.  To use theology in this endeavor would be like using christmas stories as evidence of the existence of Santa Clause.  If God does not exist, theologic and scriptural arguments mean nothing.  If God does exist then He can lend credibility to theology (or He may chose not to) but not the other way around.

One final explanation.  While I will try to be general in my treatment of religious belief, I will lean heavily on the LDS religion.  I was raised LDS and have respect and familiarity with that tradition.  Many of the arguments in favor of the existence of god will come from that body of knowledge.  I am willing to consider any source, and welcome challengers.  But for now, I will draw from my LDS upbringing.

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How can we identify truth?