An Ultimate Truth


If We Ever Discover an Ultimate Truth, How Might we Express It?

By Lloyd H. Whitling

I have heard time and again a denial I cannot believe, an atheist-originated claim that a scientific moral process cannot exist because nobody will ever agree on its basis. Since when is human agreement ever required for something to be true? Judges and juries proclaim guilt and innocence, and later judges and juries verify or reverse their decisions, only to sometimes all be shown wrong when new evidence gets found or science makes a discovery that shines a new light on matters. Those times they agreed and proclaimed something true when it was not are more important than we realize. Evidence proved them wrong, time and again. Their errors verified the value of objective evidence. Corrections are made, human knowledge advances, people complain that scientists can’t make up their minds, textbooks get updated, and the world gets that much safer.

How? DNA has lately contributed to gaining freedom for wrongly convicted inmates, and fingerprinting long before that. Bloodletting is no longer a fad. People now give blood so others can heal. Such stuff as that.

That’s all great, but what matters in this document is that science gains the final say because it applies evidence in a process that requires other, better evidence to successfully counter it by demonstrating its worth. Evidence, the main product of scientific endeavor, enables humankind to express factual information. Opinions, those seat of the pants thought programs judges and juries develop during a trial, cannot (or, should not) take precedence over science except as said: strong countering evidence shows itself as more trustworthy than the evidence about which it raises questions. Yes, the American legal does provide examples for us.

We, humans, rely on evidence gained from trusted processes to know what is true; we rely on truth to make wise decisions of all kinds. When something shows itself reliably true over time, so that we no longer question it, we crown it with the label, ‘truth’. Truth, then, is what evidence proves true until better evidence shows otherwise. Nothing else meets that high standard. Without reliable, verifiable, demonstrable and carefully documented objective evidence, nothing earns the label, Truth.

Although it too often gains that crown unearned.

In life, we arrive at truth in three ways: Trial and error, indoctrination and education, and science. The first two sets yield workable truths; that is, we learn there are other practices people use for satisfactory results, that don’t offer advantages enough to entice most people to make the change. Vested interests play a huge role in that reluctance. As a former print shop owner, I listened to and read the old-timers raves about how the new offset process would never replace their letterpresses. The new systems could not produce the sharp images, the embossing, the color alignment. The offset presses soon matched the letterpresses in every way, and surpassed them by multiples in speed. One by one the letterpress shops stopped advertising and disappeared. Technology did not favor that expensive, messy process in the long run. Now, anyone with a laser printer can set up shop and do most of the common work.

“I think if we could find a way to do this, we could use it for that.” Technology wrought the demise of letterpresses, science drives technology, and now we print with ink jets or laser beams.  In industrial settings, need drives science. In all settings, curiosity, the search for truth or a better way, or the quest to answer to a challenge drives science. The diversity of science has wrought multiple variations in its overall process as people applied it to seek solutions to bigger problems, but the one quest that does not change is the quest for irrefutable evidence—evidence of a quality high enough to induce governments, industries and banks to invest huge sums into the development of machinery, of medicine, of facilities to produce and distribute the results. That does not happen for opinions, and it should not—not without good evidence to support them.

Science, we could say, functions as trial and error at a very high level of refinement. Indoctrination and education, for the most part (and, with the possible exception of mathematics) school us by steeping us in hearsay—things we get told about but seldom ever get to experience firsthand. Hearsay gains admission in court only when good evidence can verify it. It is not, in itself, evidence, but serves as a directive in the search for evidence until it can be verified or discounted. Why?—because people lie. People are often mistaken. People rush to judgment in their haste to blame somebody. People take up their dislike for someone they hope is guilty, and, acting on their honest belief that it’s true, place an innocent person in jeopardy.hedonismNEW

While the condition of ultimate truth may never be found, evidence does exist in many forms, all of which have gained recognition from their known quality of reliability. Data gained from objective testing compares the results of one hypothesis against another. The one with a significantly higher score wins the prize unless or until those favoring the loser can show in a new test why their candidate deserved the crown. New things get learned in that process. Sometimes, in the end, neither candidate wins and an unexpected newcomer runs away with the prize. Evidence, carefully recorded step by step, shows all why one won and others lost. Such events are often duplicated by other scientists in other places so they can assure themselves about the results.

Scientists have developed other methods of generating evidence. Double Blind testing, data produced from large samples, other processes according to circumstances, serve to confirm or deny a proposition. Science widens its horizons as data confirms or denies the integrity of its processes.

Few of us, as ordinary people, can afford the time or the facilities and must consider that a luxury beyond our means, but we can look at the data and understand the conditions in which scientists gathered it. We can learn to understand the basis upon which they formed judgment, and so, know the conditions that had to be met. We can learn to understand why that set of conditions formed the most pertinent set of parameters, and why others do not apply. Data available to us is generally presented as a summary of the results, which may have required reams of paper to record. Such evidence is not considered hearsay because we have the original data from the people involved, to which we can turn to settle any disputes that may arise, including those about methodology.

Should we not require that the basis upon which we should evaluate moral standards must be that which best fits the requirements of its application and best serves that purpose? If a god named God decreed the 600+ injunctions, and more that can be found throughout whichever version of the Bible you may use, it did so for its own reasons, which cannot be verified by anything other than hearsay. If the god you favor ordered a different set of moral injunctions and cannot be made present for verification, words accredited to it must be regarded as hearsay, not evidence, for so long as that remains its status. A legal system built on that foundation remains subject to all the errors inherent to hearsay. It incorporates everything the refusal to recognize unverifiable hearsay as evidence intended to avoid.

With justifiable reasons, we find actual evidence requires science and its secular process. Only science yields trustworthy results, even if they are still several steps away. Only science, in its practice, has the integrity required to acknowledge and admit to its errors and, in fact, take pride that it discovered them. Only science regards discovery of an error as a good thing to celebrate and publicize. Only in science are practitioners rewarded for discovering errors and the resulting corrections. Only science promulgates results that are the same around the globe. Only science searches for, rather than proclaims, truths beyond those already found. Only science steers away from going beyond its limitations.

That it cannot test for nonexistence may be one of its limitations; especially so where the interested parties require absolute certainty. That, however, appears to be a problem of logic rather than science. Logic says the god named God will be made demonstrable by his presence during the End Times. The End Times have been predicted by various persons, some (such as the Mayans) from other cultures. Each of many predicted dates has come and gone with no result. Jesus made the first prediction of interest when he told his disciples they would still live when that end day arrived. Apologists attempt to counter that by tying that statement to the resurrection. In doing so, they effectively invent a ‘third coming’ wherein Judgment Day will occur.

In like manner, logic would predict what a moral statement from secular science would say. The conversation may begin with a question. “What do we want to know?”

“We wish to discover a set of natural precepts that serve to govern human behavior, so that the laws we develop are meaningful, and serve justice without condemning innocuous behavior,” provides a likely response. From that, we may infer natural processes will serve as the authority in accordance with “the way things work”, that research may have to be done to see what we already know about it, that ‘precepts’ will have to be written as governing principles to accord with that. We may already know, if you need an example, that rules of justice may be a first concern. A new Golden Rule may say, “If I love my neighbor as myself, I will treat him how (s)he wants, and (s)he will do the same for me.” Epicurus called it ‘reciprocity’ 300+ years BCE. Medical science has established that it begins internally as ‘homeostasis’ and externally as ‘homeorhesis’. We need to update our governmental systems to accord with the current state of knowledge and our current use of language.

It seems evident humanity does not need to know the ultimate truth to be our best according to this world’s terms. In science, we have found a pathway to it that we must keep building and refining so we can step forward in full confidence our way will take us to the stars, or, doom our children’s children’s children by our digression and avoidance.ahedonismNEW

Copyright ©2014 by Lloyd H. Whitling. Permission to excerpt is granted if accompanied with credit to the author. Permission to reuse unchanged is granted only if accompanied with this notice and proper credit. All other rights reserved.