what is truth


Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective not the truth.

Marcus Aurelius

My friend Rom[ liberty of thinking] gave us a definition of truth that am willing to work with, that is,

In ancient Greek culture, 225 (alḗtheia) was synonymous for “reality” as the opposite of illusion, i.e. fact.

In her post, what is truth? Xandra gives the impression that we can each have our own truths and call it truth. Taken to its logical conclusion, we must accept that a donkey talked and snakes spoke and walked upright for this is held as true by some people. In the same vain we must accept that Mo, piss be upon him, went to heaven, Mecca and Jerusalem on a single night aboard a Pegasus because this is true for many people.

I think, she doesn’t do justice to the question when she writes

Truth by it’s very nature is ever elusive. To explain, for a believer in God, the tenets of their religion may be truth.

In my view this is akin to the argument by some religious apologists that religion has its own language and we can’t critique it with the same common everyday words.

If truth has to make any sense, I think as a quality it has to have a universal applicability. There is no world where I think 2+2=4. This is true regardless of if you are Muslim, Hindu or Christian, well maybe not for the christian for 3=1 and 1=3 but that is a discussion for another day.

While am not a defender of Dawkins, I think attacking him because you disagree is unnecessary. It makes no sense to say you personally don’t dislike him and then describe him in not so favourable terms. But that isn’t our point here.

I take her at her word that she has

actually been told by some atheists that paranormal research is incompatible with atheism

I know I wouldn’t tell her to not study any subject of her choice. For all it’s worth, I may want to study aliens and I don’t want anyone telling me it is incompatible with godlessness.

You will allow me, since she has moved from what truth is, to what other atheists do or say and as an atheist, I can have a word or two to say.

She writes

Equally there are atheists who try to say that you cannot be an atheist and spiritually-minded or a believer in spiritualism, ghosts, or hauntings. Equally bunkum, as they are immediately equating these subjects with belief in god(s), Heaven and Hell, which may not necessarily be the case.

and I grant that maybe but ask the atheist to tell me what they mean by spirit, ghost or haunting. And if possible, show me the evidence and I will believe. I want to know if the atheist who believes in ghosts, spiritualism and so on has ventured to find out the origins of such beliefs. Don’t get me wrong. Am not say anything about whether one is a true atheist or not, I want to know what they can tell me and others what they think the paranormal is.

Nobody denies that Sir Isaac Newton was religious. We know he was also an alchemist. In his Laws of motion, there is no room for gods to play. Citing him as an example of a religious person who was a scientist doesn’t do justice either to his science or his religion and further it doesn’t tell us anything about the truth value of his religious belief. All we can deduce from it is he was religious.

I am trying to wrap my head around

However, if it is, then it logically follows that to bring a child up as an atheist is equally indoctrination.

How would this be?

Do religions deserve respect. Of course not. They are ideas and ideas ought to be criticized, ridiculed if they are worthy of ridicule but never respected. The claim that religion should be respect is one of the major reasons it gets perpetuated as a virtue. I find

Some atheists ask whether we should even respect religions, and some downright refuse to do so. Their argument is that the religious faiths in the world have nothing of value to offer. I find such intransigence to be narrow-minded, arrogant, ignorant and confrontational. There are in fact many truths within faiths which are good guides for life, and which one need not believe in god(s) to follow.

to be an impediment to enquiry. It’s not any different from saying before you critique my bible, revere it. It can’t start from reverence to critique. I should, after reading, find the book worthy of reverence but not before.

And to claim

Christianity has given us the Golden Rule; “Do unto others as you would have them treat you.” Islam teaches that practising undue usury upon an individual is corrupt but charity unto others is fruitful. Hindu and Buddhist beliefs give us Karma – that we reap exactly that which we sow.

is to me to play with the facts.

In conclusion, I respectfully disagree with Xandra on most of her accommodationist views. I don’t begrudge her for being a pacifist. I want us to have more pacifists but while at it, we can’t get there by spreading half-truths. We can’t claim that truth is culturally dependent. I don’t claim to know what truth is or whether it is desirable. And the claim that religions have given us morality is not supported by fact. We agree on so many other things with Xandra and I was hoping she would elucidate more on truth than she did attacking atheists.

God in exodus tells its chosen people[ already a case of preferential treatment without basis] not to kill and shortly after to kill their neighbours.

If we can’t be truthful, let us at least be honest both in our beliefs and criticisms.

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

54 thoughts on “what is truth

  1. “If we can’t be truthful, let us at least be honest both in our beliefs and criticisms.” Couldn’t agree more. Well said post, once again. I admire an honest person, be it a bigot, a preacher, or a scientist, much more than one who dances around trying to shelter his true thoughts behind a politically correct word salad.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. tildeb says:

    Another “I’m an atheist, but…” person. Dawkins has a good criticism of such approaches and why it’s pernicious.

    So although there is hope for Xandra (she’s gotten off the train to Crazytown, but… ), it looks to me as if she’s comfortable in her accommodationism and capitulation of respecting what’s true more than what’s believed to be true and is quite willing to vilify atheists who think this is problematic. Nice.

    Like

  3. ladysighs says:

    To be honest I am not sure what truth is. To be truthful I probably have not always been honest.
    Best stop right here. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  4. A Guy Without Boxers says:

    Good post! Thank you! 🙂

    Like

  5. john zande says:

    Do religions deserve respect. Of course not. They are ideas and ideas ought to be criticized, ridiculed if they are worthy of ridicule but never respected. The claim that religion should be respect is one of the major reasons it gets perpetuated as a virtue.

    That, right there, is the message. Succinct, beautiful, perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “There are in fact many truths within faiths which are good guides for life, and which one need not believe in god(s) to follow.”

    Let me guess, this person is making this claim but wouldn’t for a minute follow so other religion than her own.

    Like

  7. archaeopteryx1 says:

    In his Laws of motion, there is no room for gods to play.

    Not entirely true. Via his Laws of Motion, Newton was able to calculate the orbits of the planets, and noted that each manifested slight perturbations that, over time, would result in planetary collisions. Being unaware that those are self-correcting, Newton determined that meteors and comets were angels, sent down periodically to correct the orbits of the wayward planets.

    FWIW, Newton died a virgin.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. xandrad says:

    And while we are on the subject of truth, why don’t you try telling some, instead of misrepresenting me? You’ve really stirred up a hornet’s nest here. I will happily put my hands up when I’m in the wrong, but the one thing I cannot abide is anyone accusing me of things I am not guilty of.

    “Truth by it’s very nature is ever elusive. To explain, for a believer in God, the tenets of their religion may be truth.”

    What I actually wrote:

    “Truth by it’s very nature is ever elusive. To explain, for a believer in God, the tenets of their religion may be truth. For me anything which can be demonstrated, explained, and conclusively proven is one truth.”

    In other words I was speaking about personal truths here. The original question posed was “Can two truths exist?” and that was presented by a Quaker:

    https://clareflourish.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/two-truths/

    “While am not a defender of Dawkins, I think attacking him because you disagree is unnecessary. It makes no sense to say you personally don’t dislike him and then describe him in not so favourable terms.”

    What I said about Dawkins:

    ” It’s not that I dislike Richard Dawkins; I recognise he is possessed of a marvellous intelligence, and I respect and admire that greatly. Unfortunately, Dawkins also realises he is highly intelligent, but has failed to learn the humility which should accompany that. Smart he may be, but Richard Dawkins’ public persona to me comes across as arrogant, elitist and condescending, and he does neither himself nor other atheists any favours by the way he pours derision upon believers.”

    So I actually said I admire and respect his intelligence, but not the way he puts that across, and I stand by that remark.

    “I want to know if the atheist who believes in ghosts, spiritualism and so on has ventured to find out the origins of such beliefs. Don’t get me wrong. Am not say anything about whether one is a true atheist or not, I want to know what they can tell me and others what they think the paranormal is.”

    I actually made the point that paranormal researchers tend to be atheist or agnostic – we seek answers, and because of that we tend to be the ultimate skeptics. But many atheists, and I have encountered this many times, automatically assume that researching means belief, when that is not the case. And furthermore, because of the subject matter, we tend to be ridiculed and not taken seriously. As to what the paranormal is, it is defined as – anything which is beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding. Most of us would refine that however to include anything untoward (not just scientific) or out of the ordinary.

    “Nobody denies that Sir Isaac Newton was religious. We know he was also an alchemist. In his Laws of motion, there is no room for gods to play. Citing him as an example of a religious person who was a scientist doesn’t do justice either to his science or his religion and further it doesn’t tell us anything about the truth value of his religious belief.”

    In the first part, I agree. I have often said that it is for his science we remember Newton, not his piety. And yes, I am aware and have also made the point often that Newton was an alchemist who believed in transmutation – turning base metals into gold. However, as you well know – or you should know if you have actually read my blog – I was making the point that there is nothing to stop theists from being scientists as well, nothing more, nothing less.

    “However, if it is, then it logically follows that to bring a child up as an atheist is equally indoctrination.”

    And here is what I actually said:

    “However, if it is, then it logically follows that to bring a child up as an atheist is equally indoctrination. Better surely to give each child a general grounding in world religions and atheism, and leave them to make up their own mind whether or not to follow a particular faith when they are mature enough to decide. Doing any other is not respecting either the child, nor the beliefs and philosophies of others.”

    ” It’s not any different from saying before you critique my bible, revere it.”

    Utter nonsense. I neither said nor inferred any such thing. I equally agree with things from books as diverse from Das Kapital to The Wealth of Nations. That does not mean I agree with them completely, and I would thank you not to put words in my mouth.

    As to the paragraph:

    “Christianity has given us the Golden Rule; “Do unto others as you would have them treat you.” Islam teaches that practising undue usury upon an individual is corrupt but charity unto others is fruitful. Hindu and Buddhist beliefs give us Karma – that we reap exactly that which we sow.”

    I am fully wililng to accept that the ideas in that paragraph are older than the faiths represented, but I was speaking in general terms, and not for one moment suggesting that those faiths originated them.

    “we can’t get there by spreading half-truths”

    Then don’t perpetuate half truths when representing myself and others. Give full quotes instead of cherry-picking.

    “And the claim that religions have given us morality is not supported by fact.”

    Except I never claimed religions gave us morality, so you are being untruthful there. I actually said:

    “You cannot argue that morality comes alone from your God, because experience tells us otherwise. Morality is manmade and fluid, changing with time and between cultures, and one does not need to believe in god(s) to be a good person. The great many good and kind people who are atheists, humanists and agnostic are testament to that. Morality at it’s simplest level is a cultural concept, not a religious one.”

    And neither did I “attack” atheists. I stated I dislike the “New Atheism” and those who would try to turn atheism into a movement. At the same time however, I made the point that unlike faiths, the only commonality in atheism is disbelief in god(s), and contrary to what some theists may claim, atheism is neither a faith or a relgion. I even made the point that it cannot even count as a movement, because every atheist is an individual with their own ideas and perceptions.

    And if I did criticise some atheists elsewhere, I do not see why others should get personally upset about that. I am pretty sure the atheists I was referring to will survive some constructive criticism.

    Given that the entire blog was meant to be on the nature of whether faith and atheism can co-exist, I was arguing that it is only through mutual respect that we can ever advance. And perhaps I was wrong to use the term “truth” in the context of the sharing of ideas, and perhaps you should take that up with Clare Flourish, who posed the original question.

    However, I stand by the fact that I would sooner sit down and debate theists than attack them, which will only ever put them on the defensive. That does not ever mean capitulating to them. I actually made the point, directed to theists, that if they wish to be taken seriously, they must not see every discussion as an opportunity to proslytise. So to claim I am being “accommodationist” is wholly untrue. This I will say: go on and attack theists all you want, and see how far that gets you when they dig their heels in and refuse to listen. You will never change minds by deriding, abusing and attacking. You can only achieve that through educating and exchanging ideas.

    “I respectfully disagree with Xandra”

    And I respectfully suggest that you have wholly misrepresented me by twisting my words, cherry-picking quotes, telling half-truths, and even outright lies about me. If you think that is showing respect, then I can only say you have a very strange concept of what you think the word means.

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    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      I don’t have a horse in this race, as I haven’t read your blog. I do, however, disagree with one thing you said above:

      Better surely to give each child a general grounding in world religions and atheism, and leave them to make up their own mind whether or not to follow a particular faith when they are mature enough to decide.

      I’ve raised a number of children, one of whom is an atheist, another a Christian, and a couple more who don’t think much about it one way or another, and I contend that there is no reason to even mention religion to children until questions arise, then answer those openly and honestly, reminding them that you are expressing your opinion only.

      It is an interesting and demonstrable fact, that all children are atheists, and if religion were not inculcated into their minds, they would remain so.”
      — Ernestine Rose —

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      • makagutu says:

        One must ask, why must children be taught religion when they can’t discriminate between what is reality and what is fable?
        Why shouldn’t their education be restricted to being virtuous boys and girls and with a little math education and maybe some science

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    • makagutu says:

      Hello Xandra. Thanks for taking time to respond.
      In the first paragraph you say you were talking of personal truths and I keep asking what then is truth? Is there a standard is it desirable. So I don’t see in what way

      “Truth by it’s very nature is ever elusive. To explain, for a believer in God, the tenets of their religion may be truth. For me anything which can be demonstrated, explained, and conclusively proven is one truth

      improves your statement and takes from my criticism.

      I didn’t ask you apologize for the remark about Dawkins. I merely said it is one thing to say you dislike someone and go ahead and say unfavourable things about him. Your whole quotation doesn’t take away from what I said.

      You realize in my comment about the paranormal, I didn’t in any way say anything unbecoming of your research. I only asked those atheists who believe in the spiritual to explain what they mean by spiritual. And thanks for the definition of paranormal- now I know.

      You see we don’t disagree on whether scientists can be religious. So I don’t see why you are saying you were misrepresented.

      About indoctrinating a child brought up atheist, I only asked how could this be. Beyond that, I made no comment. So you are raising dust where there is none.

      It appears you are forgetting something. You wrote

      Some atheists ask whether we should even respect religions, and some downright refuse to do so. Their argument is that the religious faiths in the world have nothing of value to offer. I find such intransigence to be narrow-minded, arrogant, ignorant and confrontational. There are in fact many truths within faiths which are good guides for life, and which one need not believe in god(s) to follow.

      And I said it is akin to asking us to revere the bible before we critique it. So what did you mean here and how did I misrepresent you?

      The inference of morality coming from religion I made from your statement that religion has given us truths. The same statement quoted above. In no way have I misrepresented you.

      Xandra, the claim I cherry picked passages from your post and misrepresented you isn’t supported by fact. And as I said in the OP and say again, let there be more pacifists. And yes, it is a good thing not to attack theists, just debate them. I wouldn’t for the life of me ask you to do it differently.

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    • tildeb says:

      Time to put up your hand, xandrad.

      Unfortunately, Dawkins also realises he is highly intelligent, but has failed to learn the humility which should accompany that. Smart he may be, but Richard Dawkins’ public persona to me comes across as arrogant, elitist and condescending, and he does neither himself nor other atheists any favours by the way he pours derision upon believers.”

      A lovely drive-by smear. It certainly accommodates the the religious narrative, which must be merely coincidental.

      If you have watched Dawkins in his many public appearances, TV, radio, and various debates, almost inevitably he is the calmer, more rational, and much more polite person than those who oppose his New Atheism. But you seem to have no difficulty accepting their greater lack of humility, deeper arrogance, incredible elitism to the point that god has specially selected them to whisper these so-called ‘truths’ in their ears, and a vaster condescension about trying to save people from eternal damnation. None of this bothers you one jot or tittle, honest person that you are and respecter of those seeking truth. I cannot imagine why anyone might consider you just another “I’m an atheist, but…” accommodationist. No, not you.

      But then comes the standard trope so favoured among the accommodationsit crowd, that it is only through mutual respect that we can ever advance. Yes, nothing says respect more than demanding respect for ‘truths’ that reality has the bad manners to arbitrate and find inaccurate. This marvelous dialogue always turns out to be a monologue when ‘truth’ claims between religion and reality are in conflict and it is never, ever, religion correcting reality… in case you hadn’t noticed and apparently you haven’t. Religious belief doesn’t ‘advance’ anything other than empowering belief to be imposed on reality while telling the rest of us that this delusional thinking is somehow worthy of respect because it’s ever so compatible with an incompatible reality. This kind of thinking is the kind of mewling accommodationist crap that actively promotes magical thinking that harms real people in real life every day to be somehow worthy of protection from the criticisms of those nasty, militant, strident, and hateful atheists who don’t kowtow to the men in skirts but dare to ridicule their beliefs that are privileged in the public domain.

      But by far the most asinine statement you make is This I will say: go on and attack theists all you want, and see how far that gets you when they dig their heels in and refuse to listen. You will never change minds by deriding, abusing and attacking. You can only achieve that through educating and exchanging ideas.

      This is your belief imposed on reality and it is factually wrong. One the one hand we have thousands and thousands of examples where direct confrontation does lead to changed minds; just check out Dawkins’ Converts Corner or listen to any of the New Atheists who receive many such testimonials. In contrast, where oh where is the equivalent evidence that only polite reasoning brings people around. Ever heard of BioLogos? It doesn’t seem to work… not that you care. Your accommodating narrative – you being an atheist and all – isn’t so much concerned about what’s true independent of beliefs held about it. But in your haste to kiss the ass of the pious and go along with their misrepresentations to vilify vocal atheists willing to stand up and challenge religious privilege in the public domain, you assert that this method doesn’t work.

      So raise you hand, Xandra: you’re wrong. Time to own it. Your accommodationism is an embarrassment to those of us who happen to care more about respecting reality than respecting the cherished false beliefs of the intellectually impaired.

      Like

  9. Veracious Poet says:

    I think truth is not the same as reality but rather a “convergence of realities.” I have made a detailed post on the nature of truth. Those of you whose interest is aroused may check my blog.

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  10. BTW, Mak, I’m getting Bart Ehrman’s new book today. I’ll let you know what I think when I’m finished.

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    • makagutu says:

      I will be looking forward to your comments. That way I don’t have to read it

      Like

      • Just got it. How Jesus Became God is the title. Ehrman differs from Carrier, as you know, in that he thinks a real dude named Jesus lived and the myth grew from that. Carrier believes there never was a real Jeebus. I’m curious to read books by both guys, as both seem like good scholars, and both have excellent credentials.

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        • makagutu says:

          I tend towards Carrier, in fact, I don’t tend. Am on the side of Carrier

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          • I am too, but it isn’t beyond reason that some obscure apocalyptic Jewish preacher (or preachers) lived and some of the myth began with that. Just curious as to what Ehrman says.

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          • makagutu says:

            There have always been preachers, that I don’t dispute.
            One born of a virgin, walking on water and calming storms, that I need more evidence

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          • Ehrman is not remotely claiming that THAT guy is real. His claim is a human being named Jesus lived and preached and got divine shit added to him as a myth/cult grew around him after he was whacked by the Romans. Where Ehrman isn’t convincing me is in WHY such a guy had to really have lived at all. Was there a real Zeus? Thor? Odin? I doubt it. So, while it is clearly possible a real human named Jesus could have lived and preached, I do not see why it is remotely necessary for this to be so, as the mythological Jesus is clearly made up and not remotely a real guy. Couldn’t he, like Thor, be pure fiction? And, if not, why not?

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