Thursday, July 10, 2008
Truth vs. truth
I’ve always believed that Truth (the unblemished, unassailable Truth—with a capital T) exists. But it seems elusive. The closest we ever come is truth (lower case), which is vastly imperfect and can only be intellectually satisfying unless we exert great effort to block out anything that doesn’t harmonize with it. To borrow Jack Nicholson’s line from “A Few Good Men”: Truth? You can’t handle the Truth!
Sorry, but that’s just how it is. You CAN’T handle the Truth.
Instead, you (and yes, not just you; I mean myself as well) settle for the truth, the truth as you see it, not True, but true enough. And yet, AT BEST, truth, because it is not Truth, is a kind of delusion.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try to understand the world about us. It is only an honest acknowledgement of our intellectual limits.
Since Truth is elusory, and understanding that our ability to find Truth has its limits, our best hope is to be honest, or at least as honest as possible. (A discussion of honest vs. Honesty is another topic altogether.) That implies two things: a healthy acceptance of our own fallibility (as Dennis Miller puts it, “That’s just my opinion—I could be wrong”) and the realization that stupidity is NOT defined as “That with which I do not agree.” Both are difficult to achieve, though of the two, the second is the more burdensome. Anytime I observe a heated debate, it’s usually because someone is unwilling to admit to himself that his adversary has a point.
A case in point is an exchange I recently viewed on a science blog. It involved an opponent of Intelligent Design who openly admited that he solicited a scathing review of a book which he never bothered to read. Despite this admonition he could never compel himself to admit that what he did was the teensiest bit dishonest, since the object of his animadversion was a member of the Discovery Institute and therefore instantly worthy of disdain and contempt regardless of what the book says. Surely, any truly reasonable person would agree that in order to offer a valid review of any book, one should first be obliged to read it (as evidenced by the fact that the word “review” has the word “view” in it, implying that one should at least LOOK at the damn thing before damning it), and yet Our Hero, whose claim to expertise was in having "a graduate education in paleobiology" (and never mind that the philosopher he is attacking has two PhDs; a graduate education in paleobiology trumps two PhDs because—well, just BECAUSE), remained adamant in his asseveration that reading a book is no prerequisite for reviewing it. And for anyone who should disagree with him, he could only offer the oh-so-clever retort (which is just oh-so-clever that he felt compelled to use it again and again): “Enjoy your membership in the Discovery Institute IDiot Borg Collective.”
Yes, a mind IS a terrible thing to waste, isn’t it?
What truly flummoxes me is that Our Hero actually thinks he is defending science. He truly believes he is fighting the good fight, standing firm at the bulwark of knowledge and driving away all who would make science a religion and turn back the clock of human progress. Yet all he really does is utter the intellectual equivalent of “Persecute! Kill the heretic!” against anyone not fully in line with his way of thinking (or, rather, non-thinking), which speaks volumes about who is REALLY trying to make a religion of science, even if only inadvertently.
His version of science is not science, but ideology draped in the reliquary of science. It is still ideology, however. Not the open examination of evidence to see what it might reveal, but the automatic shouting down of anything not in accordance with that ideology. It is a witch hunt mentality, all in the name of science.
Like I said, kind of depressing.
Indeed so. I read through that same thread on ERV's blog and noticed that the poster was taken to task (mostly by other stalwart evolutionists) for not being rational in his approach to the book and for going ad hom at the earliest possible opportunity.
I submit that we ought to characterize a movement (such as ID or metaphysical materialism) by its best and brightest rather than its worst and dullest. Surely you don't want the banana argument of Ray Comfort being held aloft as the exemplar of design theory?
The point, rather, is as I stated: Our Hero did something that 99.999% of us would call dishonest: to wit, posting a review of a book he himself admitted he had not bothered to read. Further, he could not compel himself to admit that there was anything at all wrong in doing so.