Why do people find it so difficult to define?
When lecturing on the topic of truth, I always begin by asking what it is.
The replies can be startling – they range from “Whatever Sister tells me,” to what can be proved mathematically.
None of that is what I am looking for. What I want to hear is “Truth is what is so, even if we cannot understand it; truth is truth, no matter the discipline.”
Why is it so difficult for people to admit?
Truth is truth. Truth is an invariant — no matter what the language, means of description, or medium. Draw a circle on a sheet of rubber and no matter how you twist or turn or crumple that sheet of rubber, the circle still exists. It never becomes a broken figure, or a rectangle. It is always a closed figure.
Even if it looks different than the original drawing, it is still a circle. No matter how it is presented or described, it is a circle.
Truth is truth always, and illusions cannot be truth. Think of this: In the desert regions of the world, mirages are common. With the extreme heat, light rays are bent. The image of an oasis miles away can appear before you. It isn’t there, even though you can see it. The light rays are true; the mirage is not.
Or, consider gravity. We can see its effects. We can use it. We can counter its effects and launch rockets that soar into space. We don’t know what gravity is. We can’t see it. But it is there!
When you use your smartphone, think of these questions: Why does it work? What is electricity? As you look at the screen, think: What is light? With all our human genius, experimentation capability, observation, and pondering, we cannot answer the fundamental questions of the world all around us. We cannot rightly answer, “What is life?” or “What is consciousness?” or “What is the soul?” or “What is God?”
We can establish the characteristics of God. We know the history of the relationship of God with humans as recorded in the Bible. Furthermore, we know about Jesus, his life, his death by crucifixion, and his resurrection three days later. But we do not know the matter or make-up of God.
We can imagine the concept of the soul as what distinguishes each of us as persons. We have memory of ourselves at many stages of our lives and these memories can be construed as our personhood. This characterizes the essence of who and what we are. The same is true for all of us. Perhaps that is some indication of our soul. The soul is what distinguishes us from others, and our soul is what directs our actions. It consists at least of our free will, our power of decision, our conscious, and our motivation.
But how does this affect our concept of truth? Each of us understands every truth from a different perspective.
Consider a sunset. An artist sees the breathtaking array of color, and can invoke and consider the power of God through the glorious display. A scientist like me will say that dust in the air can disperse the light into the colors, so the beauty is hardly benign. The overarching truth between those two perspectives, though, is that the sun is setting as it always does, and it is about to become dark. That is the truth of the sunset no matter how we describe it.
Now consider describing a sunset with mathematical equations. To a Japanese poet describing the sunset, the equations would seem an unintelligible, unrelatable way to discuss beauty, but both the poem and the numbers would describe the same truth. Hence, the means by which we describe truth in no way diminishes the fact that something is true.
Science and theology work similarly. There is no gulf between the truths of science and the truths of religion and theology. The theologian normally shivers and turns away in the face of mathematical or other scientific nomenclature or jargon. The scientist looks askance at logical reasoning to prove a theory that is bereft of equations and experimental results. As the French say, “Chacun a son gout” (each to his own taste). A literal translation for us is, “To each his own.” Truth is truth, but we are all given different ways of finding it, or have different ways of proclaiming it.
I have read Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Maritain, and many great theologians. I have studied relativity, and highly advanced mathematics. One subject common to all is Cosmology – the study of the Earth and its environs in space. These treatises and commentaries all talk about the same thing, and their descriptive matter is vastly different. None contradict each other, but there is no agreement on how to describe Cosmology. Yet this is a real science with direct application to our world.
So there it is. In all its glory, exactness, and application to our own daily lives, however we manage to express it, truth is truth, even if we don’t understand it, can’t see it, or touch it, or even explain why it is so.
Truth is an invariant. That’s life! And life is great with truth.
"Since you are here...
…we'd like to have one more word with you. More and more of you are reading Aleteia, and we are excited to be a part of your life! Our team proves its mission every day by working to encourage and inspire Christian life. We want our articles to be accessible to everyone, free of charge — but quality journalism has a cost...more than ads can cover. To continue our efforts to nourish and inspire our Catholic family, your support is invaluable.