WHAT IS TRUTH
HOW DO YOU FIND IT
Dateline August 2019…
Coratti’s Restaurant. Main Street, Milford Michigan.
I was having lunch with three Catholic Central, Basilian priests, Father Richard Elmer, Father Ray Paramo and Father Patrick Fulton, Principal of Catholic Central High School. Judge Robert J. Colombo Jr. (Michigan’s premier Circuit Court Judge and a 1968 Catholic Central graduate) also joined us. I told the lunch crowd there assembled, I was struggling with a phrase attributed to Jesus… “I am the Way, the Truth and the Light.” I ask the group… What is Truth ??? It was a limited engagement, social outing, so one took up the challenge. I am left, therefore. to fend for myself, as Johnny Cash did when he also asked… What is “Truth” ???
METAPHYSICAL DEFINITION OF TRUTH
Thanks to Irish Michael Bryce, I recently read an article in Aeon by Crispin Sartwell… Truth is Real (4/14/2022). Sartwell’s piece on Truth is a lively, abstract romp through 2,500 years of metaphysical Philosophers asking the “metaphysical” question… What is Truth ??? Metaphysical, of course, meaning… based on “abstract (typically, excessively abstract) reasoning.” “Abstract,” of course, meaning… highly theoretical, without a real world context.
As Sartwell says, referring to Aristotle,
“Philosophical reflection has not always treated truth as a God, but it was certainly a central concept, commitment and question for some 2,500 years. Characteristically, Aristotle is more grounded than his teacher, Plato, when he gave the classic formulation of the correspondence theory: ‘To say of what is… that it is not, or of what is not… that it is… is false, while to say of what is… that it is, and of what is not… that it is not… is true.’ That’s fairly crisp if somewhat bewildering, but this definition, like many characterizations of truth, appears oddly redundant, notably uninformative. On the other hand, every formulation seems beset by redundancy, and the terrifying question looms: is that definition of ‘truth’ itself true?”
The question, What is Truth… reminds me of my Father’s story about famed Trumpeter, Louie Armstrong. A woman reporter, asked Louie, “Mr. Armstrong, how do you define Jazz” ??? Satchmo replied, “Ma’m, if you gotsta have it defined for you, you never gonna understand it when you hears it.” Satchmo’s comment may also apply to defining Truth in “metaphysical abstractions” (redundancy for emphasis).
Under the tutelage of my 9th grade educated (but brilliant) Father, I grew up on the philosophy of the great Catholic Philosopher, Thomas Aquinas. At the Jesuit University of Detroit, me and my football scrambled brain… persevered though Metaphysics 101 and 102. But, I still needed a flashlight (more like a beacon) and a few rocket flares to find my way through Sartwell’s simultaneously well written, informative and yet indecipherable piece… Truth is Real.
From Socrates (469 BC-399 BC) to Plato (427 BC- 347 BC) to Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC), and all the way up to the dawn of the 21st century, Sartwell covers the waterfront of Philosophers seeking an answer to humanity’s age old question… How do you “define” Truth ??? From the Greek philosophers to such heavyweights as Thomas Aquinas, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russel, C.S. Peirce, Frank P. Ramsey, John Dewey, Richard Rorty and Donald Davidson… the question stubbornly persists. How do you define in the “abstract”… the concept, Truth ??? Not, where or how you find Truth in the real world, but rather how do you define Truth in abstract, metaphysical terms ??? Asking for the abstract, metaphysical definition of “Truth“ is like asking how many Angels dance on the point of a pin… interesting, abstract conceptualization, perhaps, but it just doesn’t push mankind’s need for Truth (and Justice) down the road of life in the real world. I know “real world” just opens the door to another metaphysical challenge, but my flashlight is out of batteries, and my flares burned out, so I’ll stick with the subject at hand… What is Truth ???
The problem with the metaphysical search for an abstract “definition” of Truth is that it asks an unanswerable question… unanswerable because there is no real world context. If you take the question “What is Truth” out of the metaphysically realm of abstraction, and put it in a real world context… then we have an intelligible question for discussion. That bears repeating. Asking the question, “What is Truth” in metaphysically, abstract terms (although a worthwhile pursuit in the abstractions of Metaphysics) is the wrong question because the question has no context, and, therefore, doesn’t provide any mechanism for searching for or finding Truth… on any given issue where the Truth of the matter is actually being debated in the real world.
The metaphysical search for the abstract definition of “What is Truth” ??? is a journey that begins on the unsure footing of abstract, esoteric concepts, which then engages redundant, circular reasoning, finally… ending up in the graveyard of lifeless words and verbose phrases. Such is the ultimate destination of the search for the metaphysical “definition” of Truth. Why ??? Because we must never lose sight of the fact that there is a real world that demands from all of us, not metaphysical abstractions, but that… we expend effort to find the truth, and then tell the truth.
As a 17-year-old kid, diagnosed with a “dull normal” I.Q. at Catholic Central High School, I grew up struggling with what is true and what isn’t… even finding the standard “true or false” tests challenging. As a Trial Lawyer for 45 years, the “dull normal” I.Q. may have remained “status quo”… but the “search for the truth” intensified each in each andd every ensuing year as the stakes became financially and emotionally higher and higher for my underdog clients, and for my own one third, contingency fee that hung in the balance with the Jury’s verdict. It doesn’t require Socrates, Plato, Aristotle or St. Thomas Aquinas to figure out the mathematical abstraction that… a one third contingency fee of nothin’ is also nothin’ as in, “I ain’t making a livin’.”
Despite the inherent abstractions that may surround metaphysical Truth in a Philosopher’s world of abstract thinking, the search for Truth necessarily continues, day in and day out, in our world of pragmatism… “pragmatism” meaning, of course, measuring the value and utility of Truth in the real world in which we all live. If we have no practical, workable way to find or measure Truth in our real world, then we Parents (of children), we Teachers (of students), we Trial Lawyers (of clients), we Doctors (of patients), we Politicians (of constituents), etc… are all antiquated and hopelessly obsolete. But, in reality, we will never be obsolete or antiquated… because Truth matters greatly in the real world. Therefore, Humanity must deal with the concept of “truth” in never ending pragmatic contexts of our own, real world. Whatever the the erudite Philosophers of Metaphysics say about defining Truth in the abstract, the rest of us must look for “agreement” or “disagreement” (amongst reasonable, unbiased, open minded and fundamentally fair people) about What is Truth…
* What most likely happened in the past, in any given situation being discussed, e.g. the Vietnam War ???
* What most likely is happening in the present, in any given situation being discussed, e.g. the path of Covid 19 ???
* What most likely will happen in the future, in any given situation being discussed, e.g. Climate Change in a temporal dimension or Eternal Life in a spiritual dimension ???
As I must, I, therefore, shift the focus from the unknowable (the abstract definition of Truth in the world of Metaphysics) to the knowable… the practical definition of Truth in real world contexts, the real world where we all live, raise children, work and, eventually, depart for places unknown ???
As I say, a discussion of What is Truth in our world requires “context” and “solutions”… not metaphysical abstraction. I, therefore, will answer the question, What is Truth and Where do you find it ??? Now, that I have seen the great Philosophers argue abstractly about the definition of Truth in their Metaphysical world, I press on, in the discussion of what is Truth in our real world.
The metaphysical philosophers of abstraction, eventually (and thankfully), gave way to the later Philosophers of 20th Century Pragmatism who (channeling Aristotle) tell us the obvious… “That which is true, is true because it is not false, and that what is false, is false because it is not true.” Or, more pragmatically stated in a real world context, “The election was stolen from Donald Trump is true, if it is not false, and it is false, if it is not true”… perhaps, more a statement of redundant wit than enlightenment, but, at least, something we can work with… and understand in an attempt to find Truth in real world contexts.
The bottom line, If there are two mutually exclusive statements (both of which cannot be true), the question becomes, which one is shown to be the true statement ???… by the rules governing the various degrees of proof ???
* What is “more probably true than not”… Civil Court cases.
* What is shown to be true by “clear and convincing evidence”… Fraud cases.
* What in the Prosecutor’s case, if anything, is shown to be true “beyond a reasonable doubt”… Criminal cases.
By, turning away from the abstract definition of Metaphysical “Truth” to the pragmatic statement, “It’s either true, or it’s not true” (or, perhaps, half true)… allows us to begin a discussion in the real world about where and how you find “Truth” amongst diametrically opposed or contradictory statements, e.g. the election was stolen or it wasn’t. I, therefore, take up the task of answering What is Truth, and where do you find it in a real world context ??? What I lack in intellectual I.Q… I now make up for in “hubris.” Stand aside, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. The kid from Northwest Detroit is now going to tell you… “What’s up with the Truth” ???
Everyone knows that Courtrooms provide the historical venue for the “Search for Truth.” Everyone has heard the old adage that there are three stories in a Courtroom, the Plaintiff’s story, the Defendant’s story and the real Truth… somewhere in between. Although I don’t necessarily agree that there are three stories, I know there are always two stories, and that’s where the Search for Truth comes in… with the real world “context” of two contradictory stories with the Jury left to figure out…
* Which story is “more probably true”… in a Civil Court case ???
* Which story is shown to be true by “clear and convincing evidence”… in a Fraud case ???
* Whether the Prosecutor’s story is shown to be true “beyond a reasonable doubt”… in a Criminal case ???
The “truth” found in American Courtrooms, although not immutably written in stone, is, in fact, based upon the tried and true formula that the Truth cannot hide from “toe to toe” confrontation and rigorous cross-examination… assuming, however, that the lawyers are of equal caliber, equally prepared, and the Judge gives the lawyers equal time and unbiased consideration. As the legendary Judge, Joseph Gillis Sr. (of Recorders Court in Detroit), was won’t to say about “Truth” (as he called his Court to order), “Let the perjury begin !!!” Then, as any good Judge must do, Judge Joe Gillis stepped out of the way, and left the Truth of the matter to the talent of the Trial Lawyers and to the fairness of an unbiased Jury.
I acknowledge that the search for Truth in an American Courtroom is, at times, more akin to shooting at a moving target. I also acknowledge that Courtroom Truth can be elusive, fragile, always debatable, and, like the weather in Michigan, it can change in a heartbeat. I also acknowledge the effect of the fallibility and the weakness of human nature that attends any search for Truth… American Courtroom or otherwise. Lay witnesses (some well intentioned, some not) with their own “subjective” version” of factual “truth” (all colored by their own preexisting biases aka “confirmation bias”). Expert witnesses (some well intentioned, some not) with their own subjective “version” of forensic “truth”… all colored by the reality of who is paying those expert witnesses for their time, research, expertise and opinions. The time honored “Search for Truth,” therefore, (generally speaking) starts off with a discussion of Courtroom oaths, lay factual witnesses and forensic, expert witnesses… those who routinely parade through American Courtrooms to tell the Judge and Jury which way is up.
Speaking of Courtroom oaths and bias, I love the comical story of a Law Firm that interviewed three accountants for forensic accounting testimony in an upcoming trial. The head of the Law firm asked but a single question… “What’s 1 plus 1 ??? The first two accountants bewilderedly answered “2.” They didn’t get the job. But, the third accountant replied, “What answer did you have in mind, counsellor” ??? He got the job. I am not jaded by my 45 year experience as a Trial Lawyer. Far from it. I relished my decades in American Courtrooms where words (and concepts) are weapons, and the inarticulate come to the battle unarmed. I regularly crossed swords with opposing counsel, witnesses and Judges… with the ultimate goal of appealing to both the “intellect” and the “humanity” of a Jury of Peers.
A word of caution. Even though different witnesses tell diametrically opposed versions of the “truth”… no one is necessarily lying. That bears repeating… “no one is necessarily lying.” Lay witnesses (many times) truly believe their “subjective“ version of the Truth… of what they think they saw, felt or heard. Likewise, forensic, expert witnesses (many times) truly believe their supposed, objective theories and expert opinions to be true. But, the reality ??? Courtroom truth is “subjective,” and frequently based on a witnesses’ own preexisting, “confirmation biases.”
* Remember what the great German philosopher, Goethe, said in defining “confirmation bias.” “We tend to find what we are looking for.”
* Remember what pop singer, Paul Simon, said about “confirmation bias” in his song, The Boxer. “All lies in jest, ’til a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.”
* Remember what Ruth Hubbard said about “truth” in her 1988 essay, Science, Facts and Feminism. It’s “in the eye of the beholder.”
Truth “in the eye of the beholder” ??? Absolutely. Case in point. A White, retired cop witnessing the arrest of a young Black man by a White police officer, will generally support the arresting officer’s version of “resisting arrest”… by the young black man being arrested. Another witness, an elderly Black man, witnessing the very same physical event from a different, emotional and cultural vantage point… reports “police brutality” and “excessive force” by the arresting officer. Both will pass a lie detector test because both see the same incident through the lens of the “subjective eye” of their own preexisting experiences and biases aka “confirmation bias.” That’s why… all well-intention men and women, everywhere, must be vigilantly on guard to discover their own, subjective, confirmation biases, and be willing to impose “intellectual honesty” as a check and balance against those confirmation biases. See my third book, The Fightin’ Irish of Detroit, Fightin’ in the Streets… Fightin’ in the Courts (an American Story)… pages 127-130.
But, confirmation bias aside, that doesn’t mean that unscrupulous witnesses (or unscrupulous people) don’t lie. They do lie… all day long, every day. See Francis L. Wellman’s book… The Art of Cross-Examination, a key to uncovering lies and reducing witnesses’ exaggerations to their proper proportion. Our system of Law looks to the skill of Trial Lawyers to ferret out the “truth of the matter” through confrontation and the time tested Art of Cross-examination. Rigorous cross examination and “toe to toe” confrontation in Courtrooms is required because even well intentioned men and women view life through the lens of their own subjective confirmation biases. Many times, witnesses (through their own knee jerk reaction), lie and cover up to protect themselves, their families, their friends and those they consider their spiritual compatriots… a natural response of the human instinct of survival. But, though the knee jerk reaction to lie to protect yourself and others and to cover-up may be understandable as a natural, psychological “instinct” of humanity… that doesn’t make it acceptable. I stand by the platitude, “Tell the truth, and shame the Devil.” The reality, however… witnesses take the Oath to tell the truth “so help me God,” everyday, day in and day out… in Courtrooms across America, and then lie (or distort the truth), everyday, day in and day out in Courtrooms across America.
(1) Witnesses intentionally lie and mislead… when they testify to that which they know darn well is not true. They will usually get caught (in their lies).That’s why Abraham Lincoln insisted, “Tell the truth”… because a lie is so hard to remember. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when at first we practiced to deceive” (from Marmion by Sir Walter Scott).
(2) Witnesses unintentionally mislead when they purposely tell their subjective version of “truth” at one point in time, and then later contradict that version at another point in time. Honor, integrity and truth are admirable. Memory, however, is fallible.
(3) Witnesses don’t lie, but do mislead… when they tell a subjective version of reality and “truth” that they believe to be true, but that is roundly and convincingly rejected by mere logic, deductive reasoning, critical analysis or by a legitimate consensus of what reasonable, fair minded, honest people consider to be the “truth” of the matter.
(4) Witnesses mislead when their preexisting, confirmation bias convinces them they are telling the truth while, the reality is… the witness is simply mistaken, and the truth is unwittingly betrayed by their confirmation bias.
The search for truth in Courtrooms is a pragmatic attempt in the real world to find out which of contradictory, competing versions of fact or expert opinion are the true versions of the truth. That search for Truth via “toe to toe” confrontation” and the art of cross-examination in Courtrooms is not full proof, but it is as close to finding truth in the real world as we humans have been able to discover.
No matter what you think of the process of finding the Truth in a Courtroom, it sure beats the glaring deficiencies of the alternatives… Trial by Battle between the litigant’s hired Gladiators who fight it out hammer and thong with the winner of the Truth the one whose Gladiator prevails, or Trial by Ordeal with some of those “let’s get to the truth” (torture) devices like dunking chairs submerged in water, with the one who can hold his breath the longest declared the truthful litigant. In the last analysis, the “search for truth” in a Courtroom is a mortal attempt at finding Justice… in an imperfect world. Does it always work ??? Heck no, but, as I say, it beats the alternatives.
MATHEMATICAL TRUTH… IMMUTABLE TRUTH
1 + 1 = 2… no matter whether 1 stands for cats, cows, dogs, electrons, atoms, galaxies or universes. 1 plus 1 = 2. Always true… was in the past, is in the present, and will be in the future. An equilateral triangle has three, separate and equal 60 degree (interior) angles… no matter the length of its three equal sides. Always true… was in the past, is in the present, and will be in the future. When you add up the three (interior) angles of any triangle, the sum of the angles will always be 180 degrees… no matter the size or shape the triangle. Always true… was in the past, is in the present, and will be in the future. An algebraic formula always yields a truthful, reliable answer for an unknown. If 2X = 4, X equals 2. Always true… was in the past, is in the present, and will be in the future. Those mathematical realities are always reliable and predictable. They never change. They are immutable truths.
Proven mathematical formulas are always true. Their Truth is not in the eye of any (subjective) beholder. They are not contingent upon, and cannot be altered by “subjective” interpretation nor “confirmation bias.” Those mathematical realties will not change. They are reliable, predictable and “immutable truths.” Some would say that using the immutable truths of Mathematics, is the equivalent of the phrase, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Light”… meaning in context (I guess) that when we follow the “message” of Jesus, we come out of spiritual darkness and toward the light, and onto the path of immutable, spiritual truth (in the same sense that Mathematics is a reliable path). Who knows ???. I have no crystal ball, nor any special wisdom, nor any preconceived agenda in the search for “Truth.” And, in a perfect world… neither does anyone else.
PHYSICS TRUTH, IMMUTABLE NOW… BUT CHANGEABLE IN THE FUTURE
The Sun is the center of our solar system and Earth orbits the Sun at 67,000 miles per hour. That is “Truth”… proven by the mathematics of today. That truth is not subject to “interpretation” nor “confirmation bias.” But, but, but… that “truth” is only “true” at a given point in time, because… (1) there was no Earth for billions of years after the Big Bang, (2) the Earth (as we know it today… orbiting the Sun at 67,000 miles per hour) evolved over the eons time, and (3) the Earth’s orbit and speed of today (2022) will surely change in the future as our solar system and the Universe continue to evolve… aka “immutable truth” for today, but subject to future change. Perhaps, a paradox (a seeming contradiction) or an actual contradiction in terms, but still… an oxymoron that conveys the idea of how hard it is to pin down even mathematical truth and the certainty of physics.
PHILOSOPHICAL TRUTH… IMMUTABLE TRUTH
Certain “Philosophical truths” and concepts (although not mathematically precise) would always seem to be just as true as Mathematics… such as the “philosophical and fundamental truth” that, in any human endeavor (teaching, music, medicine, baseball, mathematics, physics, astronomy, accounting, finance, parenting, etc), repeat… “any human endeavor” requires mankind/womankind to always start with the fundamentals. We can argue about what is (and is not) a fundamental… but the truism about starting with the “fundamentals” is always true in all contexts (I think). It is fundamental that you must walk before you can run. It is fundamental that you must learn the alphabet before you can combine letters to make words. It is fundamental that you must learn to count to ten before you can count to 100. It is fundamental that you must learn to read music before you can write a musical composition. It is fundamental that you must learn general chemistry before you study organic chemistry. It is fundamental that you must learn anatomy before you do surgery. It is fundamental that you must hear a melody before you can sing it. It would seem, therefore, beyond dispute and also fundamentally true… that beginners must start with the fundamentals of any subject undertaken.
Perhaps, the strongest immutable Philosophical truth that was ever proclaimed… was the July 4th 1776 statement by the American Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence… “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain Unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Forgetting for the moment that… that particular truth (“all men are equal”) was only half true (discounting, as it did, the rights of Black slaves), I ask ??? Doesn’t it immediately follow that the philosophical concept of “self evident” truth (which precedes the phrase) “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” also includes the “Unalienable, self evident Truth” to have all life and human dignity protected… especially the helpless children, the physically weak, the elderly, the mentally ill, the disabled and those who are physically, mentally or emotionally unable to compete in the highly competitive and sometimes vicious, “dog eat dog,” predatory system of Laissez Faire Capitalism ??? (an economic system I endorse in general terms, subject to necessary exceptions).
And, ???… doesn’t the “self evident truth” of the “unalienable Rights” of Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness also include the human right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, have medical care and attention, have a “living wage” for those willing to work hard, and have equal education opportunities for all of America’s children, regardless of their financial circumstances, if they are mentally capable and willing to work hard to get an education… dependent, of course, on the obligation to pay back in some fashion or other for educational support given, and to pay forward for next generation’s education. If Jesus were alive today (2022), wouldn’t he say about those “Truths”… that’s what I’m talking’ about” !!!
THE TRUTH IN THE HOLY BOOKS ???
I truly appreciate the Holy Books, aka the Bibles. They are Pulitzer Prize writings… works of high literary art. They tell compelling stories that give great comfort and insight into life, and into the spiritual struggle that human kind has been engaged in for thousands of years. But, as hard as it is to do so (coming from a kid who spent most of his educational life in Catholic schools)… I must say that when I exercise my God-given free will, my God-given intellect, my God-given deductive reasoning, my God-given sense of logic and my hard earned skill of critical analysis, I cannot (cannot) accept that the Gospels are, indeed, the actual words and thoughts of God… from God’s mind and lips to the human hands of the biblical scriveners. Stay with me for a moment. Hear me out, please.
Given the great disparity in the highly sophisticated human mind versus that of the animal kingdom, isn’t it a fundamentally self evident truth that the animal kingdom (although able to see us humans and follow our prompts) cannot read the minds of us humans… especially when we are not even in their view ??? Hey, we can’t even read each other’s minds. Extrapolating further, given the infinite capacity of God’s intellect, and given the finite capacity of our human intellect… isn’t it also a fundamental, self evident truth that us humans cannot read the mind of God ???
Deductive reasoning and human logic tells us “humans of finite intellect” that we are not intellectually capable of reading the mind of our unseen God. Yet, we humans have many, well intentioned (and some not) controlling men and women from across the globe telling us we don’t have to read the mind of God to know what God “intends” for us or “expects” from us… because, well because, God’s actual words about his intentions and expectations were penned in the Holy Books by the human writers to whom God spoke. For Jews, it’s Moses and the other writers of Old Testament. For Christians, it’s Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (but not the other New Testament writers whose Gospels were discarded by the wayside, including the so-called Gnostic Gospel writers… claimed to have been written by apostles, Peter, Phillip, Thomas and Judas). For the Muslims, it’s Muhammed and the Quran (plus other Gospels from the Old and New Testaments).
Am I to believe that the words of one God created three different religions (Jewish, Christian and Islam) with each religion professing to be the “one true religion,” supreme and unerring unto itself… with each of the great religions ready and willing to kill off the heretics and infidels from their own group and from other religious groups (all… as part of God’s will) ???
My finite intellect, exercising my God given volitional power of “free will” and my God-given cognitive power of intellect, leaves me with of four possible choices, of “beliefs”…
* Become a convert to Judaism, and “believe” what the Old Testament says.
* Become a convert to Islam and “believe” what the Quran says.
* Stay with my Catholic School background, and “believe” without debate… that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John had a pipeline to God, and faithfully wrote down what God told them to write (all of which was unerringly translated to English over Centuries).
* Pick and choose what I like about the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Gnostic Bibles, the Quran (or other Holy Books from other religions), and become an ecumenical member of all of God’s religions.
At the risk of being, again, labeled as a “Cafeteria Catholic”… I am “momentarily” drawn to option four, above. But, I must respectfully decline even that invitation of exalting any of the Holy Books (Old Testament, New Testament, Gnostic, Quran) as a model of the one “Truth” where the actual words of God can be found. Call me a Doubting Thomas… if you will. But (rather than put my God-given free will and my God-given intellect to bed, and become a “true believer” through the indoctrination of any particular Holy Book of any particular religion), I believe it a better service to the existence of God, to the miracle of life I received at conception, and to the free will and intellectual powers bequeathed to me as a child of God… to scrutinize the Holy Books with logic, deductive reasoning and critical analysis, and see how their claimed “infallibility” stands up. With (hopefully) no sense of hubris or lack of humility, I must report that a general scrutiny of the Holy Books leads me to doubt that any of them carry the full endorsement of absolute Truth.
1. If we have only one God, why do we have so many different, monotheistic religions with so many differing Holy Books… all claiming to be the one true “Voice of God” ??? Translated, why didn’t God just endorse a single religion’s Holy Books, so we could all rally around a single voice of a single God ???
2. And, assuming the words spoken by God were accurately heard and precisely written down by God’s Gospel writers (itself a leap of faith), the Holy Books are not a model of clarity. Many times, the Holy Books are vague and ambiguous… subject to subjective “interpretation.” Therefore, the actual meaning of the Holy Books of the New Testament (even if accurately recorded and accurately translated) are still subject to a number of “interpretations” by a number of readers. And what do we know today, in the third decade of the 21st Century about subjective interpretations ??? As the German Philosopher and writer, Goethe (1749-1832 AD) said about “subjective interpretation”… “we tend to find what we are looking for.” As Plato (427 B.C.-347 B.C.) said, “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.” As Paul Simon said in his song The Boxer, “All lies in jest, ’til a man hears what he want’s to hear and disregards the rest.” How much of the Bible is lost in subjective interpretations of confirmation bias with well intentioned men and women seeking out that which they are already looking for ??? Who knows ???
3. My 45 year history as a practicing Trial Lawyer also informs that a simple law passed in the 21st century, in a single language and for a single culture is often ambiguous, and subject to differing interpretations… resulting in majority of five Supreme Court Justices saying that a given statutory law passed a few years ago says “Yes”… while an almost equal number of four Supreme Court Justices say that very same law says “No.” How much more uncertainty is there in the Bible… a Bible of ambiguous words, phrases and concepts, written decades after the crucifixion of Jesus, in numerous other languages, numerous Centuries ago, translated over the Centuries to many other languages for numerous other cultures ??? How much “truth” and reliability can we expect to have in the Bibles of the Old Testament, the New Testament or the Quran ??? Who knows ???
4. The story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis is the story of God’s Creation of man and woman, followed by Paradise Lost (John Milton)… because Adam and Eve, contrary to God’s command, ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge (of good and evil). The Jews, however, were not the first people to pen such a creation story. The Babylonian story of creation came before the Adam and Eve of the Old Testament. How the Babylonian story unfolds is different, but the Babylonian version is the same story of God’s creation of man. Since the Jews were captured and enslaved by the Babylonians, it is more than plausible that the Jews were aware of the Babylonian story of creation before Moses supposedly penned the Adam and Eve Story of Creation in Genesis. See the Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve by Stephen Greenblatt. Genesis, discusses the creation story of the first humans, Adam and Eve on the 6th day, standing-erect, “walking on two feet”… humans who simply dropped into the historic record in B.C. fully formed. Yet, the historic record of humans from skeletal remains and fossils, tens of thousands of years old, scientifically shows that humans are far, far older than all the “begats” of the Old Testament, and that the evolution of today’s homo sapiens (as scientifically established by Charles Darwin in his Origin of Species) is based upon tens of thousands of years of evolutionary natural selection… not a one time cosmic event with an Adam and eve dropping into Earth’s historic record at a moment in time, fully formed, standing erect and walking about on two feet. Solid evidence of Man’s historical record shows that man and woman did not just arrive in a fully formed fashion as the first “begatters”… of the Jewish, Old Testament as Genesis claims. How do we separate Bible truth from Bible fiction ???
5. After strong, initial rejection of evolution by the Roman Catholic Church (a rejection that to this very day lives on in the Christian Evangelical community), a very conservative Pontiff, Pope Pius XII, produced his 1950 encyclical, Humani Generis (Of the Human Race), that (in rather defensive and controlling language) allowed Catholics to, at least, discuss the scientific concept of evolution. Then, on 10/22/1996, another very conservative Pontiff, Pope John Paul II, in his message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, stated that, “Today, almost a half Century after publication of the Encyclical [Pope Pius XII’s Encyclical, Humani Generis] new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than an hypothesis.” Finally, on 10/27/2014, the present Pope, Pope Francis, a more liberal Pontiff, stated to the very same Pontifical Academy of Science that, “Evolution in Nature is not inconsistent with the notion of Creation.” If the Bible captures the literal word of God, how did the Old Testament get the Adam and Eve story so wrong, for so many centuries while stifling the science of evolution with the threat of death and imprisonment to so many ??? Think of the Scopes Monkey trial in 1925 in Tennessee with John Scopes convicted of the crime of teaching evolution along with the Creation story. See the Spencer Tracy movie, Inherit the Wind. Again, how do we separate Bible truth from Bible fiction ???
6. Ditto for the story of Noah and the Great Flood (also from Genesis). The entire story of Noah’s Arc presents many similar dilemmas. One such dilemma was recently depicted in a cartoon in the New Yorker Magazine where (after the great flood receded), male and female Emperor Penguins, stand on dry land in the Middle East desert at the bottom of Noah’s Ark. The male penguin, looking over his shoulder and up the gang plank to Noah, asks, “What’d we suppose to do now; schlep all the way back to Antartica.” Is there a little hyperbole in the story of Noah’s Ark ??? Again, how do we separate Bible truth from Bible fiction ???
7. The great mind of Galileo (1564-1642 AD) borrowing from the great mind of Copernicus (1473-1543 AD) told the world that the Sun (not the Earth) was the center of our Universe (really our Solar system). Since Galileo’s science contradicted the New Testament language that proclaimed our Earth to be the center of the Universe (“from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof”), Galileo’s scientific theory was labeled “heresy”… forcing Galileo to renounce his scientifically correct theory or be condemned to death. Galileo recanted, and lived to see another day, while the Roman Catholic Church of 1993 under Pope John Paul II finally acquitted Galileo posthumously, three and a half Centuries after labeling him a “heretic”… subjecting him to capital punishment for contradicting the Bible. Again, how do we separate Bible truth from Bible fiction ???
So, am I to give up my God-given volitional power of free will and self determination and my God-given cognitive power of intellect, logic, deductive reasoning and my critical analysis skill to those demanding my allegiance to the “unprovable” beliefs of religion ???… those who insist I let them and their interpretation of the Bible control my life… such as the great, right wing, Christian thinkers of the 21st Century… Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Brett “I like Beer” Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and the Notre Dame, Homecoming Queen, Amy Coney-Barrett (who didn’t even have the sound parental judgment to put masks on her young, helpless children when she attended her own Covid super-spreader inauguration) ??? I know her response… “God will provide.” My reply… “God provides for those who provide for themselves.” And, for those who “knock on the door… it shall be opened.”
I take no pleasure in doing so, but I am compelled to say that, although I find the Holy Books to be filled with great writing and good stories about the relationship between God and his creations, I cannot, ultimately, rely on the Holy Books for Truth. My first football and baseball Coach, Benedictine Priest, Father Livius Poali, once wrote in the St. Scholastica Sunday Bulletin that he had finally finished reading the Bible from beginning to end. He commented that he was more impressed with the Bible as a story that described the relationship between God and humanity… rather than than the infallibility of the words therein. Jesuit like ??? No ???
THE TRUTH OF SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
An important disclaimer. In my search for… “What is Truth,” I am not using Jesus as a choice or as support for a particular belief system (Christianity), or in an attempt to prefer Christianity’s belief system over the belief systems of other religions. I am merely using Jesus as an historical figure in the same way I used the Founding Fathers as historical figures, and their words in the Declaration of Independence as an historical document. That way, I keep fully “alive and well” a firm boundary between the “unprovable” religious belief systems on the one hand and the system of secular government on the other.
An important takeaway. We must always preserve the “Separation of Church and State” … giving to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and giving to the myriad of religious organizations in America that which is their’s… the Doctrines of God. Stated differently, it is “imperative” to insure that the government of America punish only the “actions” of its citizens, and never (repeat for emphasis… “never”) punish anyone for what they believe or don’t believe. The surest way to allow our citizens maximum freedom to think what they want is to give a vigorous acknowledgement to the “non establishment” (of religion) clause of the 1st Amendment, and keep Church and State separated.
America is a Democracy. Pray God, we never become a Theocracy. By keeping Church and State separate, we can insure that America will never resemble ISIS, the Taliban or al Qaeda or any other zealot religious organization who drown, set on fire, crucify, maim, ostracize, punish, shun, discriminate against or reduce in social stature any of its citizens for what they “believe” or don’t believe. Never forget the Salem Witch Trials in Salem Massachusetts in 1692-93 (rapture gone wrong) … where Christians accused 200 as witches, including a five-year-old girl who was imprisoned, including 19 innocents who were hanged and including an innocent, but strong-willed Giles Corey who was crushed to death because he refused to enter a plea to the charges against him. Thank heaven in America, we can stand “mute” to criminal charges without having to be crushed to death because of someone else’s, unprovable religious beliefs. Salem Witch Trials – Events, Facts & Victims – HISTORY
AND WHAT OF JUSTICE ???
And for those who ask about the relationship between “Truth” and “Justice”… I can only say that, without “truth,” the search for “Justice” is severely compromised. For a further explanation of the definition of Justice, see my third book Fightin’ Irish of Detroit, pages 197-198 where I use the Law as the vehicle to tell the story of Life, Liberty and Justice.