I have been thinking a lot about truth lately.
When we hear from talking heads and politicians about fake news or such-and-such politician lying, it often has to do with facts more than truth. We confuse the two.
A fact, according to the Meriam-Webster Dictionary, is: 1. a: something that has actual existence, b: an actual occurrence; 2. a piece of information presented as having objective reality; 3. the quality of being actual, which hinges on evidence.
The scientific method is based upon facts that are verified by repeating an observation or measurement multiple times and arriving at the same conclusion. Facts have evidence to verify them, even though it is possible to disagree about what the facts indicate or mean.
Truth is a whole other category. Truth is a judgement, proposition, or idea, and sometimes a component of a larger set of ideas like systematic theology, Newtonian physics, or Constitutional Democracy. One truth is often used to point to another, bigger truth even without facts to verify it. For example, some people declare as a self-evident truth, the American democracy is the best form of government in the history of the world. It is their truth whether or not they also look for factual evidence to support the claim.
Truth is more debatable than fact. Facts are material, measurable, and usually repeatable in the same circumstances. But truth is endlessly debatable. Some truths may never even be capable of verification with facts. “God” is the big truth no one has been able to prove. The greatest minds of Medieval Philosophy, Anselm and Aquinas, put forth complicated arguments for the existence of God that in our post-modern world a middle school student could easily refute. “The Bible is the literal and complete Word of God” may be the truest thing someone believes, but it will certainly never be verified by facts, and probably just the opposite.
The New Physics has a similar but very different problem. It is exploring the dark universe: all we do not see between galaxies, black holes, star dust, and all that swirls out there. They are also chasing dark energy, believed to be an antigravity force pushing the universe apart at accelerating speed. These physicists declare truths about that which we cannot touch, taste, hear, see, or smell.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, we have this massive confusion between fact and truth playing out among political and cultural factions. The truth of the “Witch Hunt” stands in contrast to the indictment and/or guilty pleas of four Trump advisers, 13 Russian nationals, three Russian companies, one California man, and one London-based lawyer (so far). The facts will not diminish the truth for those who believe the President is being wrongly persecuted. They extrapolate from their own experiences of being wrongly judged and impugned by people of other factions, and they see people in other factions abusing power and gaming the system for their own gain while declaring outrage at the President’s abuse of office. All of that reinforces their sense of Trump-truth even in the face of countervailing facts.
As a progressive Christian who has argued with literalists and fundamentalist Christians for decades, I can assure you this conversation does not end well.
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