Thursday, October 16, 2014

3 Characteristics of Truth-Seeking

The title of this blog might make me sound presumptuous or big-headed. "Oh, so you understand truth and you're going to explain it to me?" The irony is that I believe very much the opposite. I agree with Cornel West that we can never know Truth, but can only focus on the way to it.(1) It is in that vein that I offer the following remarks about truth-seeking.

I share this because I am passionate about truth-seeking and because I wish more people would think about these things. My comments come from a lot of reading and thinking and exposure to philosophers and theologians who have wrestled with life's biggest questions. I don't assume any superior knowledge or intellectual high ground. I could be misguided. If you think I am, please share your thoughts with me. I want to be a humble truth-seeker, and if anything I say comes off as arrogant, please let me know so I can grow in wisdom and understanding.

With that, here are 3 things I've learned about truth-seeking.

1. Truth is Subversive

I keep learning again and again that truth does not care about what I want. It doesn't care what makes me comfortable, or what I've always believed, or what I like. Truth is subversive.

The way to truth will never look like a continual affirmation of what we believe. It must be regularly challenging, scrutinizing to many of our beliefs and presuppositions. Truth-seeking is arduous, convicting, unsettling, and even distressing at times.

Why? Because of our finitude. People don't realize how arrogant they are when they claim certainty. How can you be certain when you're so finite?

So when we're assessing something's truth-value, we need to make a distinction between what is traditional, likeable, comfortable, and what is true. Oftentimes, I will find myself resisting a certain conclusion, not because I think it's false, but because I don't like it.

The answer to "Is this true?" will often not coincide with the answer to "Do I like this?" or "Is this coherent with what I believe?"--but it is a much more important question.

"To live outside the law, you must be honest" - Bob Dylan

2. Truth-Seeking Will Cost You

I'm realizing more and more that for a lot of people, altering a belief in something is not about whether or not the evidence points them in an alternate direction, but it's rather about how much the change costs.

If someone believes A and is presented with evidence for B, what is often more important is how much it costs to adopt B in place of A, so that if the cost is too high, B will be rejected even if the evidence points to it.

What is comfortable is often made more important than what is true. But what is true is often uncomfortable, and if we are honest, we will let truth-seeking change us. It might mean letting go of beliefs, traditions, and assumptions that we grew up with, or that we're passionate about, or that we just really like--but what ultimately matters is not what's comfortable and likable, but what's true.

However, it should be said that cynicism is not equivalent to truth. Just because you make the negative conclusion that makes certain people uncomfortable, doesn't mean you're right. For example, oftentimes in biblical scholarship there's a negative conclusion to make (like, "this event did not actually happen") and a positive conclusion to make ("this event did happen"). It is flawed to assume the positive conclusion because it's more comfortable, but it is equally flawed to assume the negative conclusion because it's challenging to believers.

"There is nothing so stable as change" - Bob Dylan

3. Questions Will Lead the Way

Jesus--maybe the most subversive person to ever live--said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 18:3). Children are led by questions. They're always asking them. They are bewildered by the world, and they want to understand it, so they ask questions.

We lose our child-likeness when we think we have life figured out. It's the arrogance of adulthood to suppose that because we have come as far as we have, we have arrived at truth. Child-like truth-seekers will never stop asking questions, and so will never stop growing in truth.

Questions are so beautiful. They guide us to uncharted territory. They teach us not just about reality, but about how to think. Asking questions is to truth-seeking what lifting weights is to strength-building. The more you do it, the more you understand, and the more equipped you are to understand even more.

If something is true, asking questions will lead you to it. This is why I suspect that those who condemn asking questions are secretly aware that what they believe does not have truth-value. If it had truth-value, the question-asking and the evidence would suggest it.

I wish more people would teach kids to keep asking questions, instead of trying to spoon feed them propaganda and control the boundaries of their minds.

"I was born knowing the truth. Everybody is. Trouble is, they get it knocked out of them before they can walk." - Bob Dylan

What have you learned about truth-seeking? What should be added to this list?


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