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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Searching for Truth in a Fact-Obsessed World

I've been reading a book called Madeleine L'Engle {Herself}, "written" by Madeleine L'Engle and compiled by Carole F. Chase. It's a collection of Madeleine's wisdom as related through her writing and her workshops. For those of you who don't know, Madeleine L'Engle is the author of numerous books, many with a Christian bent to them. Her website provides a lengthy bibliography, however the book she's most famous for, at least in my mind, is A Wrinkle in Time. A childhood favorite of mine that I've carried into adulthood with me.

Now, a particularly favored passage of mine from {Herself} is this one:

Truth and Fact

[A] lot of the world, including the Christian world (sometimes I think especially the Christian world), is hung up on literalism, and therefore confuses truth and fact. Perhaps that's why someone caught reading a novel frequently looks embarrassed, and tries to hide the book, pretending that what he's really reading is a book on how to fix his lawn mower or take out his own appendix. Is this rather general fear of story not so much a fear that story is not true, as that it might actually be true? And what about the word fiction? For many people it means something that is made up, is not true.

Now, Madeleine focuses very much on truth in fiction throughout this particular segment (she also focuses on truth vs. fact in religious matters). That's important to me, but I want to take the matter a little further, and apply it a little more fully to contemporary matters. Particularly, to the debate of contemporary matters.

Debate focuses primarily on facts, as it should. Neither I nor Madeleine are degrading facts; facts are necessary and they are important. However, facts are not truth.

Case in point, most people who debate are familiar with the myriad quotes that basically say statistics lie, which while enjoyable isn't accurate. Statistics are facts. However, they are not truth. A fact can be accurate. A fact can even be true. But a fact can be accurate without being true. And I think that's an important distinction to make.

Gravity is the force that holds the universe together; as far as we know, this is a fact. It may even be accurate, and it is as far as we can observe. But that doesn't make it true. We do not know whether or not it's true, and we will not know that within the span of our lives, or probably our children's children's lives. For how long did humanity, or certain segments of it, believe that the sun revolved around the earth? That was, as far as observation could tell, a fact. However, it was not true.

Science has frequently proven itself wrong over time. This is not a failing of science; quite the contrary in my mind, at least. However, it does mean we should be cautious as to how we use science, especially if that use is the justification we give for doing unconscionable things. For instance, science told us that human beings of native African descent, i.e. black people, were inferior. Factually, this was accurate as far as science could tell. However, it was not true. Slavery was justified by these facts, as well as the fact that slaves were used in Biblical times. However, this did not truly make slavery justifiable.

In America, individuals with disabilities were deemed inferior by science. This was a provable fact. It was accurate. However, that did not make it true. Irregardless of whether or not it was true, these facts were used to form institutions, which amounted to nothing more nor nothing less than prison camps for the physically and/or mentally disabled. These facts were also used to justify forced sterilization at the hands of the government! Imagine, for a moment, that the government has the right to decide whether or not you can have children -- ever! Sounds more like China then the U.S., huh? However, it happened here. And, worse yet, a true blemish on our nation's history is that Hilter, the maniacle German leader who killed millions of people, studied the United States to learn more about euthanasia. Don't believe me, check out this book. Even the synopsis will scare you.

Facts are useful things, but they are also dangerous. Facts can be used in the search for truth, however facts can also be used to justify the most unconscionable things. Remember that, as you're listening to and participating in the various debates that swirl around you in this contentious world. Ask yourself, is the fact you're using a fact used to search out truth, or is it a fact used to justify something false? Ask yourself whether the people you're debating with are using facts to find truth, or whether their using facts to justify a position that is essentially false? Fact, like anything humanity touches, can be used for good, or for evil. You are responsible for the decision you make.


At 10/26/2006 11:49 AM, Blogger David Schantz said...

During a conversation I heard the other day I heard a lot of facts that I believe are true. I just hope the people involved in the conversation were telling the truth when they were talking about how they plan on voting next month. If they were there could be some new facesin the world of politics soon.

God Bless America, God Save The Republic.

At 10/26/2006 6:02 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Hopefully we do get those new faces, and hopefully people remember how poorly the "other side" performed when these new faces screw up, too. We really need something better than the perpetual flip-flop between the same old "new" faces.


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