24 May, 2007

Truth? That's bullshit!

Why is it that when there is a contradiction, there is instantly an idea that one must be true and one must be wrong? Let us take, for instance, the conflict between science and religion, namely the debate over whether evolution or intelligent-design(creationism) should be taught in children.

You have one side arguing that life on Earth derives from a process called evolution, which was developed by Charles Darwin (simultaneously with Alfred Russell Wallace1). On the other side you have people arguing that life shows "intelligent" design to it, meaning that there was an "intelligent" designer behind the creation of life. There is a contradiction here. One side says it was a natural process, ape-ancestor to man. The other side says, man, designed by an intelligence. The very nature of our society is to interpret this as there is one person being wrong, and one must be wrong, because there can only be one truth. Only one interpretation of the truth2.

So I argue that this is where most conflict is derived from. There is the idea that there is only one truth to all matters. But looking at the world, we are consistently faced with contradictions and are easily able to deal with both truths:

  • We know3 that scientifically it is impossible for a woman to get pregnant without there being two gametes to complete a fertilization developing into a zygote. However, 2 billion of us believe that it has happened, and yet we can live perfectly fine with this contradiction of two "truths". (This example came from Annie Ross)
  • It is often that we exemplify our beliefs and its truthfulness from the very fact that our faith is strong. In the same stroke, however, we argue that others' beliefs are not true even though they would argue that they have the same strength of faith. It is a contradiction that we all readily live with. (Reference to the closing scene of God on My Side - Andrew Denton)

1 Everyone seems to forget poor little Alfred Russell Wallace. This dude developed the Wallace Line. He was a pretty smart cookie.
2 I understand the irony of me talking about the "wrongness" of there being only one truth and the one truth is that there are possibly many, contradictory truths. It hurts my head too.
3 An interesting side note, the word know in Ancient Greek is οίδα which in Modern Greek directly translates into the word for "I have seen". One could argue that the idea of truth as being something that one has seen. Effectively, most of western epistemology derives from Ancient Greek philosophy.

Some little points that are related to this topic that I haven't dealt with here, but I may talk about later: Post-modernism versus modernism; Lewis Binford (that's for all you archaeology people out there!); Processualism and post-processualism (again, archaeology bums!); cultural relativism; epistomology

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