Monday, November 07, 2005

What is Truth?

BJ Woodworth, fellow PTS seminary student, has posted his reflections on "What is Truth" which I found quite insightful.  He draws a contrast between a scientific method of knowing and how Christians know "Truth" since Truth is Jesus Christ.  Here are my comments…

"Scientific language seeks to remove ambiguity by using precise and absolute statements"

This is often a characterization of science (and something that people who are not scientists claim science can do but in reality, even science ends in ambiguity.  (This shouldn't be taken as a critique of BJ, what I'm saying is that even science actually ends in ambiguity also).  Back in my science days I would do experiment after experiment and on each and every one of them I had to record my percent error.  Even the best instruments a scientist uses has a limit to how precise it can be.  Even dear old mathematics can't escape ambiguity, as there are significant figures that control how precise a mathematical calculation can be.  To put it plainly, you can't keep 19 decimal places if your original data doesn't have 19 significant numbers.  You ultimately end up with some ambiguity no matter what you do.  When doing measurements we cannot have exhaustive knowledge because there are limits to how precise we can be.  

"Scientists seek to be objective and disengaged with the thing they are studying and that supposedly gives you pure and unbiased insight"

In certain elements of science being disengaged is quite easy.  For example, if I am studying how fast a rock drops off a building I can remain disengaged because there is nothing to be engaged in – a rock is not relational.  So for the physical sciences this is somewhat easy.  However, when scientists are dealing with fellow humans (or even animals), problems arise when people seek to collect data about people in an objective way, because people cannot be objectified (in fact, it’s a sin to objectify someone).  As BJ rightly points out, the problem with reducing "truth statements" about Jesus to objective propositional statements is that Jesus as a person, the incarnate Son of God who is of one substance with the Father, is a relational person.  Indeed, to objectify Jesus and turn him into an object is a great travesty.  

Okay, science junk aside – I think BJ did a great job with this sermon as far as what is Truth.  I was sitting there reading it and laughing at myself, because as I've been reading a number of things on Postmodern Theology, etc. I've been trying to wrap my mind around how we talk about truth in a Postmodern world, and yet the answer was staring me right in the face the whole time (and an answer I already knew).  Jesus Christ = Truth.  One need not worry about objective truth, absolute truth, etc, because Jesus is the Truth, and to know Jesus is to the know the truth.  

One thought – one of my most recent lines of thinking has been the concept of Critical Realism (I posted a lengthy but somewhat scatterbrained introduction to the concept over the weekend).  Critical realism eliminates a dualistic approach to know (which BJ appears to draw here – knowing scientifically vs. knowing relationally) by saying that one adopts a way of inquiry appropriate and dictated by the "object" that one seeks to learn about.  So for example, when I learn about rocks dropping I adopt an approach appropriate to that, when I want to learn about a person I adopt an approach appropriate to learning about a person.  But in both cases, the "object" of my inquiry sets the agenda so that if something I learn from my inquiry disagrees with one of my presuppositions or hypothesis I have to change my assumptions.  What you end up with is a dialectical approach, where we approach the object of study with a set of assumptions, then have our assumptions questioned and modified and then we go back to the object of study, and the cycle continues.  Specifically scripture we approach the text with our presuppositions and methods, and then have our methods and presuppositions modified by what we find, and then with those modified presuppositions and methods we return to the text, to have them further reshaped and refined.  Important in this dialectical process is that eventually we start being questioned by the text, or as BJ put it, the text starts to interpret us.  


At 12:26 AM, Blogger Bob Robinson said...

BJ is a bright guy. A former staff member in my ministry, the CCO, his "Open Door" recently hosted a meeting I ran that featured Tony Jones of Emergent talking about postmodernity. Good stuff at his blog!!

Jesus IS the truth! You've got that right!

Check out number 5 in my series on a Christian Response to Postmodernity--it deals specifically with Jesus being the "Truth."


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