What is Truth?

At the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judea asks Jesus a pointed question (all quotes are from John 18:33-38 in the NIV) “Are you the king of the Jews?” To which Jesus answers:

“Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?”

Irritated Pilate replies: “Am I a Jew? Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

That comment characterizes our world today.

I am an Engineer. My credentials are an MS in Physics, PhD in Electrical Engineering (major in Electromagnetics, minors in Solid State Physics and Quantum Electronics), 20 years working in the Defense Aerospace Industry in Research and Development and 20+ years after that as a Professor of Electrical Engineering; with about 40 patents to my name. I say this not to boast, but to point out that I know how to search out for, and find, the truth. That is fundamental to R&D. And it is fundamental to the Engineering profession.

If a Professional Engineer has signed off on the plans for a building, he is not only staking his reputation on that signature by saying that all the requirements have been met for the structural soundness of that building, he is staking your life on it. If that engineer took shortcuts, did not verify the materials used or the certifications obtained, when you go live or work in that building, your life could very well be in danger.

Engineering is a profession where Truth is mandatory. And that, not only on the truth of facts, but on the truth that the accepted Laws of Physics used to make all those calculations are indeed true, knowable, immutable, and reliable: You can bet your life on them.

That doesn’t mean that Engineers and Physicists cannot lie… They are all human; they can choose to lie. But it does mean that if they lie, it is straight-forward to call them to account because scientific truths have been subject to scrutiny, test, debate, and validation over the centuries. And all those results are available to be read and consulted in what is called the peer-reviewed literature.

So, be skeptical when you read “popular” accounts about a new scientific discovery that has invalidated some classic theory. That is usually newspaper hype. (Or researchers on purpose hyping their results in hopes of getting more funding… (yeah, it happens.)) Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a scientist that understands the field in question to sift through the subtleties and find the fallacies in such accounts.

However, on most other subjects that impact our daily life, I think everybody has enough innate common sense to be able to discern the truth.

The only advantage I (and other scientists have) is that we have been trained to automatically think of everything in terms of cause and effect, and the rules of logical proofs. But everybody else can train themselves to do the same.

The Divine importance of Truth

We all know, lying breaks one of the ten commandments:

Exodus 20:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

A lie is a distortion of the Truth for the purpose of injuring somebody else or gaining an unfair advantage for myself. (For example, to escape the consequences of my actions.)

This comes through clearly in the recap in Leviticus, where it says:

Leviticus 19:11 Ye shall not steal, and ye shall not deal falsely, and ye shall not lie one to another.

Stealing, dealing falsely (e.g. in business), and lying are all interconnected.

Why is lying wrong? Because Truth is an inherent attribute of God. When we lie, we are defying God Himself. As Jesus said to Pilate: John 18:37 “…the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the Truth. Everyone on the side of Truth listens to me.”

Which is why He said to the Samaritan woman at the well: John 4:24 “God [is] a spirit; and they who worship him must worship [him] in spirit and truth.”

In Isaiah, as the prophet is talking about the end times and the final defeat of evil, he gives God a new name…

Isaiah 65:16 …he who blesseth himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth; and he that sweareth in the land shall swear by the God of truth: because the former troubles shall be forgotten, and because they shall be hidden from mine eyes.

So, what happens when truth is abandoned and lying becomes rampant? Like with any other sin, we end up separating ourselves from God.

Isaiah 59:1-2 Behold, Jehovah’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither his ear heavy that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid [his] face from you, that he doth not hear.

What was the state of Judah when Isaiah said these words?

Isaiah 59:3-5 For your hands are stained with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips speak lies, your tongue muttereth unrighteousness:  none calleth for justice, none pleadeth in truthfulness. They trust in vanity, and speak falsehood; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity…

As Paul told Timothy, Scriptures like these are there, not because those things happened to those “people of old”, but to warn us against making the same mistakes. The state of Judah described above may seem horrible to us. We can be tempted to say, ‘thank goodness we are not like them’. But how did they become that way?

I think it is impossible to commit only one kind of sin. Sin breeds sin. Look at the way it continues in Isaiah:

Isaiah 59:6-8 …they cover themselves with their works; their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths; the way of peace they know not, and there is no judgment in their goings; they have made their paths crooked: whoso goeth therein knoweth not peace.

Lying is not an isolated sin: Isaiah 59, verses 3-5 lead to verses 6-8. And lying is rampant in our society.

You have your truth and I have mine

Have you ever heard that, or something like it? Someday, a really modern translation of Pilate’s words in John 18:38 will be rendered that way.

At least Nietzche was honest when he said it: ‘You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.’

Honest, because if Truth is relative, there is no Truth.

Let me give you somewhat innocuous examples of how predominant this fallacy, that opinion is truth, permeates our society today.

Remember how this Summer there were record breaking high temperatures all over Europe? Time and again, either the reporter or an interviewed person made the statement that those kinds of temperatures had never been seen in the recorded history of Europe. If you have trained yourself to seek truth, you can almost sense when something is fishy. Did these people really read all the historical records? Because I happen to have Thomas Edison’s Encyclopedia from 1893. Here is the front page…

And he has a section entitled “Excessive Heat in the Past”. Here is a picture of it. Read it…

Just to repeat some of it: In 1303 and 1304 the rivers Rhine, Loire, and Seine ran dry… In 1718, in France there was no rain for six months. In 1773 the temperature reached 118 F (48C).

And, keep in mind, back then there was nothing close to the urban heat island problem we have today with all the concrete and black asphalt around us. Can you imagine what that would have been like in one of our cities today?

In 1778, the heat was so intense in Bologna that a great number of people died, unable to breathe, and people sought refuge by going underground.

And yet, all over the news and the web we had statements like this:

CLIMATE CRISIS

How 2022 compares to Europe’s hottest summers: In just over two decades, Europe has experienced its five hottest summers since 1500. As temperatures rise above 40C across Europe this week here’s a look at the history of recent heatwaves that have hit the continent.

From https://www.thelocal.com/20220718/how-2022-compares-to-europes-hottest-summers/

Did you see that? “Temperatures rise above 40C…” I wonder what they would have said to that 48C from 1773… Yes, recently, in 2021, Spain got up to 47C. But again: It has happened before, and the record is there to read, if you want to find it.

Now, in the interest of equal time, here is another example: The last year (or more) it has become almost impossible to watch broadcast TV without having to listen to political ads. One of the statements repeated, over and over again, is that the present administration’s policies are responsible for the inflation we are suffering.

If you think that is true, look at this graph (from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/06/15/in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world-inflation-is-high-and-getting-higher/)

This is a chart of the change in annual inflation obtained by comparing the first quarter of 2022 to the first quarter of 2020. At the extreme high end are Israel, Greece, and Italy. At the low end are Japan, India, Indonesia, and China. The US is close to the middle.

Look at the scale… Twenty times or more increase in inflation for Israel, Greece, and Italy. But just about four times increase for the US and Canada. Now, if the present administration’s policies caused our (US) increase in inflation, did it also cause the massive increase in inflation in Greece?

Wow…

The thought reminds me of a line in one of my favorite movie versions of Pride and Prejudice, when Mr. Bennet says to his wife, “Good grief, woman. Your skills in the art of matchmaking are positively occult.”

No, the present administration did not cause the worldwide increase in inflation. Which suggests it did not cause our increase in inflation either. It is a worldwide phenomenon.

But if such statements are not true, how can those adds say it? As the Institute for Free Speech reminds us:

Many false statements are protected by the First Amendment, for good reason. In the landmark 1964 case New York Times  v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court recognized “[t]hat erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate, and that it must be protected if the freedoms of expression are to have the ‘breathing space’ that they ‘need . . . to survive.’” Even more directly, a 2012 opinion noted that “[t]he Court has never endorsed the categorical rule . . . that false statements receive no First Amendment protection.”

(from https://www.ifs.org/blog/false-speech-trump-democrats-first-amendment/)

So, can you outright lie in your political ads? Absolutely, with impunity. The article I just cited goes on to say:

Explaining its decision to apply First Amendment protections to even demonstrably false political statements, the Supreme Court in Sullivan highlighted our “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

That’s the country in which we live.

It makes sense if our Society understood what debate means. But we no longer debate… A debate is a discussion where different points of view are aired for the express purpose of allowing the interested audience to analyze both viewpoints and get to the underlying truth.

If we honestly look around at our Society, debate today means trumpeting our own personal call-to-arms against those who don’t agree with us.

The Humpty Dumpty principle

In Through the Looking Glass, Alice has a rather frustrating conversation with Humpty Dumpty.

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

Indeed, a central tenet to the belief that Truth exists is the requirement that language must be precise. You cannot change the meaning of a word to win an argument.

Which brings me to one more example that made me chuckle. From the newspaper, two days ago (https://www.azfamily.com/2022/08/26/judge-tosses-lake-finchem-lawsuit-stop-use-voting-machines/).

In early June, a motion was filed seeking an injunction to keep the state from using “unsecure black box electronic voting machines.” That complaint was filed by Kari Lake, the GOP nominee for governor, and Rep. Mark Finchem, the GOP’s secretary of state nominee. They claim there was massive voter fraud in the 2020 election

…Lake and Finchem claimed in the suit that electronic voting “created unjustified new risks of hacking, election tampering, and electronic voting fraud” and that “without objective validation,” the machines violate the voting rights of all Arizonans…

…On Friday, Judge John J. Tuchi dismissed the lawsuit, saying that while the right to vote should be protected, Lake and Finchem “lack standing” and presented only “conjectural allegations.”

What made me chuckle? Finchem’s reaction:

“The so-called ‘lack of standing’ seems to be a catchall for dismissing things that the court would rather not have to rule on,” Finchem wrote in a text message. “If we don’t have standing, then who does?”

It makes you wonder what Finchem thinks the legal definition of standing is. All you have to do is research it; even if all you do is Google it:

In simple terms, courts use “standing” to ask, “Does this party have a ‘dog in this fight? ‘” Standing limits participation in lawsuits and asks whether the person(s) bringing a lawsuit, or defending one, has enough cause to “stand” before the court and advocate, since not anyone can go to court for any reason.

To have standing, a party must show an “injury in fact” to their own legal interests. In other words, has the party itself “suffered” some sort of actual harm? (In constitutional law, this generally refers to one’s legally protected rights and freedoms.) If the party cannot show harm, the party does not have standing and is not the right party to be appearing before the court.

(from: https://adfmedialegalfiles.blob.core.windows.net/files/WhatIsStanding.pdf)

The fact that neither Finchem nor Lake could provide proof (that is what show means) that they were harmed by these electronic machines, automatically meant they had no legal standing.

The answer to Finchem’s rhetorical question: “If we don’t have standing, then who does?” Is simple: Anyone with proof. As long as you don’t have proof, you are wasting the court’s time (and taxpayer’s money).

Yes, that was also a political example… but you can find the Humpty Dumpty principle at work all over the place, whenever people are trying to prove they are right and you are wrong. A very common version is when someone uses the term “God” in an ethics argument (usually against established religion) but they do not really mean the Infinite Personal Creator of the Universe. Their meaning of the word God is whatever they decide it means.

What’s the danger of the rampant disregard for the truth?

All we have to do is go back to Isaiah:

Isaiah 59:9-11 Therefore is justice far from us, and righteousness overtaketh us not: we wait for light, and behold darkness; for brightness, [but] we walk in obscurity. We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at midday as in the twilight; amongst the flourishing we are as the dead. We roar all like bears, and mourn grievously like doves: we look for judgment, and there is none; for salvation, [but] it is far from us.

Eventually it is too late…

Isaiah 59: 14-15 …judgment is turned away backward, and righteousness standeth afar off; for truth stumbleth in the street, and uprightness cannot enter. And truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey. And Jehovah saw [it], and it was evil in his sight that there was no judgment.

Let’s hope it is not too late for us.

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