- Revd J. Andrew Kirk
How do we know what is true?
One often hears the affirmation that societies, in the Western world in particular, are living in a 'post-truth' age. The recently deposed American President seems to sum up this claim with his reckless assertions made public on his Twitter account. The final attempt to overturn the presidential election, with the reiterated shibboleth that “we were robbed of the election,” followed by a number of wholly unsuccessful court cases to prove his case, has been the crowning achievement of his tendency to use 'fake news' to support his political aims.
The fact that he was not able to present any convincing evidence to confirm his claim is proof that actually we do not live in a 'post-truth' environment. It is desirable, and certainly possible, to 'fact-check' any allegation that anyone or any group wishes to make about their impressions or presumptions concerning real life events. It is an unfortunate part of current human existence that, in spite of strong evidence to the contrary, people still prefer to believe wild statements rather than facts of the matter. A recent example of this has been the anti-vaccine coalition putting out wholly false conspiracy theories about the detrimental effects that would be caused by being vaccinated. This happened prior to anyone having been vaccinated!
However, what one should deduce from such extravagant suppositions is that truth is still alive and kicking, for people who disseminate preposterous ideas presumably believe them to be true. Advocates of the belief that a man can exist as a woman by undergoing hormone treatment and surgery to change his body believe that such interventions do in truth produce the desired effect. Or people who believe that objective reality can be changed by subjective feelings is absolutely convinced that this is exactly what happens in their case. Those who deny that gender is fluid, and the sex with which one was born can be changed, are accused of being irrational, even though the theory that supports such a conviction is about as untenable as that which persuades some people to believe the earth is flat.
The fact of the matter is quite simple: those who deny that truth is attainable are making a statement about what is true. The main title of my book, therefore, is perfectly consistent with the experience of everyday life. Telling the truth is not a fantasy, even less is it a bid to exert an unjustifiable authority and power over other people. So much for the groundwork. The question remains, though, how do we know what is true?
I attempt to answer this question in the first chapter by adopting a method that is normal in scientific experimentation, known as 'inference to the best explanation'. It is a mode of reasoning that infers the truth of a situation on the grounds that a particular theory offers the best explanation of the greatest amount of evidence relevant to a particular question. Thus, for example, in the medical sciences, a particular diagnosis of an illness is adopted because it offers the best explanation (cause) of the symptoms manifested. In a court of law, the best explanation of the case before the judge and jury is the one that clarifies best all the evidence that is made available. This method of examining and demonstrating the truth about an issue explains the sub-title to the book.
So, the purpose of the book is to be able to offer Christians (and non-Christians) credible reasons why they can claim that their convictions about life provide the best explanations for the meaning and realities of human existence. Its intention is to examine the most basic questions that confront every generation and to show why and how the core beliefs and practices of Christian faith
present the most convincing answers.
Apart from the question of truth itself, other basic questions that appear most frequently in people's thoughts and conversations revolve around the meaning and purpose of human existence, identity, the origin and existence of evil and how can it best be addressed, and what is the good life and how it may be practised. My approach to these questions is to compare the answers often given by thinkers who have embraced a secular, humanist world-view with those common to mainstream Christian beliefs and argue for the pre-eminence of the Christian world-view in each case. Each chapter is then followed by a set of questions intended to stimulate personal or group discussion around each basic question. In this way I aspire to put into people's hands a brief handbook that displays ways in which Christians can confidently advocate one of the main reasons why any person should become a Christian – because it is true.
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