Beliefs and Reason

Absolute truth has the major defect of being multiple

Let us remember that the truth of a proposition only makes sense within the framework of a theory. In this context, "truth" generally means "axiom".

Whereas science establishes only provisional truths at the cost of gigantic efforts, religious truth is absolute, immutable and is simply given to us to believe. What a contrast! Truth-seekers therefore have a great advantage in avoiding science and entering religion.

In the religious field

The truth is given. It only asks to be listened to. We have immediate and unimpeded access to it.

In the scientific field

The search for truth is a difficult and demanding task. The study of science gives us a lesson in modesty.

In the religious field

The only truth is the word of God. For example, for the Catholic Church: "God is the Author of Sacred Scripture. The divinely revealed truth contained and presented in the books of Sacred Scripture has been recorded there under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit". It is enough to believe in it.

The Catholic Church adds dogmas, including that of pontifical infallibility. Believing in it is obligatory. In the end, truth is defined by obedience to the Vatican, which proclaims the truth.

In the scientific field

What is true is what is verifiable. There is no science without verification: other teams have to redo the experiments, observations, and reasoning independently. Authority, however prestigious it may be, is not an acceptable argument. On the contrary, providing evidence that contradicts a famous character can bring glory.

In the religious field

By its divine origin, the truth is absolute and immutable. Any attempt at change is heresy, unless it is a reform led by the supreme authority. The "absolute truth" is part of the rhetoric of indoctrination which serves to establish the authority of the Church. Dogmas are the expression of the successive crises of authority emanating from the caste of bishops.

In the scientific field

Principle of revision

Truths must be constantly updated to reflect new data. It follows that truth is evolutionary. A scientific model reflects the knowledge of the moment; it is the best possible model, without being able to judge the perfection of its veracity. For example, the astronomical model of Ptolemy, with the Earth at the centre of the world and the circular motion of the stars, was scientific before anything better was found. Science is not capable of presenting the ultimate truth.

In a few rare fields, mainly in mathematics and logic, definitive truths can be issued. But these disciplines, limited to the study of the coherence of intellectual constructions, do not affirm anything about the real world.

In the religious field

Together with the duty of mission, absolute truth is a slippery slope. Since it is absolute, it cannot be contradicted or refused. Out of moral duty and love of neighbour, everything must be done to convert all men to the true faith. Short is the distance between Truth and intolerance. History has kept painful stigmata of it. We can mention the crusades, the killing of heretics, clericalism, etc. Whoever passionately seeks the Truth finds conflict. Theology is a sister of the Inquisition: one decrees the truth, the other sanctions those who deviate from it. When it begins with a capital T, Truth can be murderous. In the search for the truth, the greatest danger is to believe you have found it.

From the 18th century onwards, with the separation of Church and State, public life gradually freed itself from absolute truth and its depositary, ecclesiastical authority. If the particularity of Catholicism is to hold the Truth, then this privilege must be shared with the claims of all other religions. In the secular space, truth has become relative, more realistic and more modest. Enlightened by reason, it is also more human, more civilised and more tolerant.

In the scientific field

The exposition of facts and rational argumentation are enough to convince. Truth has a force of its own that makes it impose itself. The use of force is senseless. Imposing the truth does not belong to truth, but to dictatorship.

In the religious field

Demarcation criterion [as per Karl Popper]

Ideologies are irrefutable. Thanks to their flexibility of interpretation and their relative independence from reality, there is no argument that can deny them, nor any fact that can contradict them. But competing ideologies have the same qualities, which shows their partly arbitrary character. This is how they can be distinguished from the sciences.

For this reason, the alliance between a religion and a philosophy can be very comfortable. This is how Thomism was able to establish itself as an impregnable fortress in which the follower is convinced that he knows the essentials of everything. For example, a Thomist does not believe in God - that would be falling into the heresy of the Faithful - but knows that God exists, as St Thomas Aquinas demonstrated. What pride! Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) already said that "The Church's error is to believe that there is only one way to philosophize: that of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas".

1  See epistemological considerations about neo-Thomism in Faith, science and epistemology

Even today, neo-Thomism remains the official philosophy of the Church. But if, as it should be, the true philosopher has the modesty to admit that he has few definitive answers to the questions he asks himself, then the neo-Thomist is nothing but a presumptuous and pretentious 1. Lack of modesty is called arrogance.

In the scientific field

Demarcation criterion [as per Karl Popper]

Truths are refutable (or falsifiable), i.e. they are subject to being contradicted by observations or experiments. For example, Michelson-Morley's experiments led Einstein to completely overturn Newton's classical physics.

Truth and error are not symmetrical. A single experiment is enough to prove that a theory is false. On the other hand, repeated experiments do not show that a theory is true, but only that the theory is, according to current knowledge, compatible with the facts. In the end, it is not possible to know whether a theory is true, but false theories can be discarded.

In the religious field

Ideologies are numerous and contradict each other. Each religious current has its own specific truth which is brandished like the flag of a clan: "My religion is the true one, and I deplore the fact that everyone has their own. If all human beings were properly enlightened, they would all have mine!". If, in matters of faith, a religion sanctifies obedience and elevates it to the dignity of virtue, beware: believing will make you captive!

In the scientific field

Truths are universal. The same science applies to all people.

We smile at childish statements such as "My father is the strongest, yours sucks". Adult statements such as "Your god is a false god. Only my God is the real one" would also be a reason to smile if they did not lead to exclusion, discrimination, conflicts and wars.

Absolute Truth is propaganda rhetoric

When man becomes attached to an idea and decides not to question it any more, he calls it truth. The opposite of truth is not only lies, but also conviction seasoned with naivety and lack of critical thinking. The thirst for truth leads one to believe in chimeras and, when it is absolute, truth manifests the will to exercise the monopoly of ideology. While scientific truth is universal, isn't it pungent that absolute and immutable truth has the major defect of being multiple? May the gods first arrange among themselves to send us a common message! But since the gods were created by men, the cacophony of beliefs can flourish.

Worse, these imaginary beings have very real effects. The desire to propagate absolute truth generates oppression. Is it possible to establish that religious wars have claimed fewer victims than the total number of heinous crimes? The vanity of believing oneself to be the depositary of the Truth has largely contributed to the feeling of superiority and encouraged the paternalistic attitude that prevailed during colonisation. Heine wrote "Men will get along when no one has the claim to hold the truth".

Better than Truth: reasoned decision making

Truth is a theoretical and ideal notion. In the real world, it is reduced to an estimate of the degree of uncertainty. Since "absolute truth" is only adherence to false knowledge, let us reserve our commitment to what is universal and flee from the circles that cultivate Truth. Everything that is fundamental, such as humanism inherited from the Enlightenment, human rights, democracy, respect for minorities, the search for the common good, is not based on Absolute Truth but, in better conformity with the human condition, on decisions that it would be unreasonable not to take. Who would want to live in a society governed by brute force and lacking respect for people?

It is necessary to escape the totalitarianism of those to whom the truth has been revealed. Religious Truth is not necessary for the smooth running of society. Let us base our teaching, not on the authority of the Church, but on the development of reason and critical sense within a secular framework.


Do you think you have touched the Truth? By renouncing to impose it on others, you can rise even higher and reach wisdom.

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