15 February 2006
The Truth is Out There – Or is It?
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There is no god higher than truth.” The pursuit of truth has long been a motivator of man, and perhaps the sole motivator. Ever since humans came into existence, the pursuit of truth has marked our evolution. It began in the stone ages with mythical tales of creation and the inquisitive nature to understand the world around us – observing, and learning through these observations how to manipulate our environment. As time progressed, these two paths contrast more and more sharply.
Just as man has evolved over the years, so have these two schools of thought – into religion and science. Science can be understood as a comprehensive understanding of the truth – a pursuit that attempts to understand everything that is to be understood. In contrast, religion can be thought of as a conceptual understanding of the truth – its value inherent but not overtly stated, calling upon faith at an individual level with results not so easily repeatable by others. Both pursuits touch on the foundation of what the truth truly is, and yet neither understanding of the truth is correct.
Science has long been the endeavor of intellectual men, yet perhaps because of this, its validity is constantly under attack. Take, for example, a rudimentary history of science. First, Newton revolutionized scientific thinking with Newtonian Mechanics. Many years later, as his theories were debated and talked about, some realized that they implied a deterministic universe – ultimately one in which there was no choice, because everything was a reaction to something that had happened before it. Some sought new understanding with quantum mechanics (which itself implies a probabilistic universe), while others (led by Einstein) sought to retain most of Newtonian mechanics and merge it with a new theory – the theory of Relativity. Physicists have long sought for a Unified Field Theory, one that explains all there is to know about everything. Both quantum mechanics and relativity imply that reality is different for each observer. In the theory of relativity, each observer experiences time in a unique way, while in quantum mechanics, the observer affects reality merely through observing.
Many forget, however, that science is intrinsically incapable of discovering the truth. Due to the way the null hypothesis works, science never ‘proves’ a hypothesis. It simply attempts to mount enough evidence so that a hypothesis must be rejected for another, improved one. There is never enough evidence to say that a hypothesis is true. Scientists say “this is false,” but they never say “this is true.” Hypotheses may be particularly strong but never true. This is a fact that is often forgotten as the distinction between science and truth is blurred. Sometimes it is the scientists who are guilty of this blurring, but more often it is the ‘believers,’ those people who prescribe to the version of reality that science provides without technically being scientists themselves. Essentially, the truth is understood on an individual level, even though science never purports to know the truth.
In contrast to science, religion requires no proof of itself. There is no way to prove the central ideas of most religious texts (e.g., the existence of deities). Though certain stories (particularly from the Bible) have been verified through investigation, such verification is not necessary to understand the view of truth that religion provides. It is much more common that scientific theory and observation conflict with religion, in fact, than the alternative. (This tends to be a driving force for some scientists, who attempt to reconcile science with God but never seem to reach an agreeable compromise on the matter.)
Religion and its believers have no qualm with the fact that it can not be factually verified. In fact, religion calls for faith and not proof. Faith, by definition, is “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence” (www.dictionary.com). One must believe, without fact, in order to understand the truth that religion provides. Yet this begs the question – what prompts the individual to believe in the first place? Most often it is a personal experience that is not verifiable by other individuals. Thus, religion is a view of the world whose truth relies on the experience of the individual, and is best understood individually.
Both science and religion touch on a core element of the truth, and that is that the truth is inevitably understood best on an individual basis. Yet both science and religion attempt to unify the populace in their understanding of truth – a practice that leads only to division, disagreement, and inevitably hatred. While both science and religion have their benefits, people must understand their practical limits. Truth is best understood on an individual level, and because of this, perceptions of truth will inevitably have differences. These differences must be respected in order to attain true progress and for individuals to be able to freely find their own personal truth in this world.