What is Truth? Part 1: Modernity and the Correspondence Theory of Truth

What is truth? Pilate asked Jesus who stood before him. This remains the question. In the gospel of John, Jesus says that he is “the way, the truth and the life.” What does this mean? How can a person be the truth? The most popular contemporary theory of truth is the correspondence theory of truth. According to the correspondence theory of truth, truth is the correspondence of propositions to reality. This theory of truth seems to me to be severely inadequate. It seems to me to be very modern, not modern in the sense that it is somehow superior or advanced, but modern in the sense of being post enlightenment and reductionistic or naturalistic. It seems to carry some modernist or enlightenment assumptions within it. To spell out these assumptions, I will have to draw a picture of how the correspondence theory of truth (CTT) sees the world, truth, and our relationship to it.

Foundational to CTT is the idea that there is a real, knowable, physical reality. Reality is not a construction of our minds as the idealists would have it, but rather, our perceptions correspond to something ‘out there,’ that produces those perceptions. In short, the CTT entails realism about perceived reality. On the CTT, truth is when our ideas or propositions correspond to reality. So, in order for there to be such a thing as truth, there must be something real to which our propositions correspond. This is where I argue that the person who holds to the CTT must also believe in a perceiving consciousness, outside of space and time, who sees all of all of history, past, present, and future, in one long flow: God, in other words. Take a historical example; a CTT proponent might argue that the proposition “John lived in 500 BC” is objectively true. Now, let’s say there is no evidence that John ever existed, (let’s leave aside the question about how our CTT proponent could know about John in that case) to what would the proposition correspond? John is long dead, he doesn’t exist anymore, there is no evidence that he ever existed, how could it, on the CTT, be true that John lived in 500 BC? The proponent of CTT would have to argue, absurdly, that John is somehow real, that he is somehow existing in 500 BC contemporaneously with the person from 2018. The only way out of this dilemma, in my mind, is to have John exist in God’s eye view of the world: the vision of all of space-time reality from the perspective of an all knowing, timeless God. This is the Monarchical vision, a static, motionless view of all of space and time, stretched out like a long tube. (See Figure 1)

Screen Shot 2018-11-17 at 5.12.51 PM.png

Figure 1: the Monarchical Vision

So, the CTT seems to entail realism about perceived reality and the existence of a deistic God. The CTT also seems to presuppose scientism: the view that science is the only way to truth. Science seeks truths about the physical world; but can’t say anything about ethics, aesthetics, and so forth. Like science, the CTT falters when dealing with symbolic, subjective, moral, aesthetic truths. Think of the following propositions: “Mona Lisa is sublime.” “Love is a rose.” “Murder is wrong.” “I feel sad.” To what do these propositions correspond? I can’t think of anything. The CTT proponent seems to be compelled into scientism; only truths about the physical world can be objectively true. Metaphorical, subjective, moral, or aesthetic truths are either rendered meaningless or relativistic. Not the best epistemological situation to be in.

So I have now sketched out the correspondence theory of truth and simultaneously exposed its naturalistic proclivities. It seems to presuppose materialism with a deistic God observing the whole show from a far away, disinterested perspective. It seems to border on scientism, dismissing other domains of truth as irrelevant “subjective truth.” Of course the Christian proponent of the CTT would object to the charge of naturalism and would want to affirm a “supernatural” realm in which these other kinds of truths can be grounded. I think however, that this is to simply fall into the modernist trap. This separation of “natural” and “supernatural” or heaven and earth leads to wide ranging distortions of Christianity and truth itself. In his 2017 Gifford Lectures, NT Wright lists 4 ways the God/world split has impacted how we see various domains of life. I will paraphrase Wright’s list and add my own thoughts.

  1. History and Modern mythology. This split of “supernatural” and “natural” has spawned what I call the modernist mythology. It’s a creation myth, not unlike those told by the ancients, though far less profound and much more muddled and untrue. The story, repeated over and over in new atheist circles, can be seen as a variation of the glorious Christian drama of creation, fall, redemption and renewal: evolutionism (evolution without God), Humanity’s fall into superstition, redemption by science and the eschatological triumph of science, reason and technology. This narrative is reflected in the periods we use to describe history: the dark ages, the enlightenment, modernity. Basically the idea is this: people of the past were stupid and superstitious, they didn’t know anything, and we have nothing to learn from them. We now have science and that makes us way smarter. CS Lewis called this attitude “chronological snobbery.”
  2. Separation of Church and State: Christianity becomes something relegated to the private sphere: practice your beliefs in your own home if you like, but don’t let it influence your decisions, politics, or anything in the “public sphere.” Religion becomes an activity, instead of a life. It gets a small parcel of space and time: once a week on Sunday. I often wonder about the impact of the implementation of “clock time,” in which our day increasingly became controlled by the clock. Did this have the effect of giving religion its own “time slot” within the day? Instead of all of life, all of nature, all of our activities being for the Glory of God and under the dominion of the King, we divide our day into the “spiritual” and “earthly.” Going to church is “spiritual,” it’s the parcel of time God gets, its “food for the soul.” The rest of the day? Well, that’s earthly. That sounds more like the deistic God of naturalistic supernaturalism than the Christian God of creation.
  3. Nature and God: We have also separated God from his creation. The Pauline distinction between “spirit” and “flesh” is distorted to mean heaven set against earth or supernatural set against the natural. Paul wasn’t speaking, like the Gnostics, of an evil natural world and a pure soul, he was instead affirming the goodness of the created order and calling us to renounce our carnal self (what Kierkegaard would call the aesthetic stage) and to “live in the Spirit.” A further distortion is the distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” causation, this is again, a deistic view of the world. It envisages a clockwork universe, run by natural laws, with a God who occasionally “supernaturally” intervenes, violating the laws of nature to perform a miracle. The medievals made a distinction between primary causation: God acting directly within his created order, and secondary causation: God acting in the world through his creation. God is always acting in the world and bringing his purposes to bear. Christian Eschatology is also distorted. The wonderful hope of resurrection and renewal of creation is turned into “souls going to heaven.”
  4. Epistemology: This fourth point leads me to the heart of my argument against the CTT. The modern split of heaven and earth has also deeply affected our ways of knowing. For the medievals, rationality was a way of being, a proper integration of all spheres of human knowledge within a properly ordered life. A unity of knowing with existing. Our modern notion of reason is something quite different. For us, the word reason conjures up the idea of the dispassionate pursuit of objective truth, ensuing existence and subjectivity. To be rational is to transcend yourself and to accept the results with stoic indifference.

This is part one of a three part series. Part two can be found here, part three is here

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11 thoughts on “What is Truth? Part 1: Modernity and the Correspondence Theory of Truth

  1. “For me, reason is the natural organ of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination is not the cause of truth, but its condition.” [C S Lewis] In other words, we don’t grasp the meaning of a word or concept until we have a clear image to connect it with.

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    1. Its impossible to separate reason and imagination I think. As I conceptualize it, reason requires you to abstract yourself out of your subjective experience of the world and try to emphasize with others and see the world from a different perspective.
      These are things I need to think about much more.

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      1. I may have the distinctions and sub-divisions structured differently to the structure that Watchman Nee, Dallas Willard, Chuck Missler and quite a few others have pointed out, as the basic “pattern” for our “being” which we can see as evident in the structure of the Jewish “tabernacle” or “temple”. I also think that this is “God’s image” that He made us in, and that this Bible-based basic structure has helped me clarify a form of hierarchy or distinction between the Spirit, the Soul and the Body for further analysis. So when Hebrews 4:12 says the Word (Christ, the Bible and or the Holy Spirit) is able to “divide or discern” the difference between “soul” and “spirit”, where would you position “reason” and “imagination” ?
        1 – SPIRIT
        – HOLY OF HOLIES
        1.A. – COMMUNION
        1.B. – CONSCIENCE
        1.C. – INTUITION
        2 – SOUL – INNER COURT
        2.A. – HEART
        2.A.1. – will
        2.A.2. – character
        2.A.3. – imagination
        2.B. – SOUL
        2.B.1. – sensibilities
        2.B.2. – affections
        2.B.3. – emotions
        2.B.4. – desires
        2.B.5. – appetites
        2.B.6. – passions
        2.C. – MIND
        2.C.1. – understanding
        2.C.2. – the faculty of intelligence
        2.C.3. – thoughts
        2.C.4. – memories
        3 – BODY – OUTER COURT

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  2. Fascinating, I have never heard about the temple as a representation of the human being. I can see how this works with the creation narrative in Genesis.The creation of the cosmos can be conceptualized as the creation of a temple, earth as the dwelling place of God. The 6 days can be split into two groups of three. Does what you outline here about the outer court, the holy of holies, and the inner court also correspond to the days of creation?

    Now where would I put “reason” in the fascinating outline you’ve provided here, I really need to think this through. Is the list you’re providing here hierarchical, with body and mind at the bottom? If you could point me in some directions for exploring the biblical outline of our being, I would be very interested.

    One further thought, there might be some disagreement about the word “reason.” I’ve been rethinking the idea that “reason” means the tyranny of the mind, the “objective intellect” who lives in a abstract realm and is not in tune with what you call the soul and the spirit. I think rather, to be rational, is to properly order and integrate all of these different spheres.

    Interested to hear your thoughts.

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  3. Firstly, I hope you have a truly blessed new year Julian and may you receive everything God desires for you in a peaceful year.

    I have never thought about relating the structure of creation to the structure of the temple and the structure of human existence, so thank you for that idea, I will investigate further. Do you have any outlines, clues or hints that you have found to point me at?

    I would have to dig up my research but Scripturally the New Testament tells us repeatedly, more than 38 times, and in other terms as well, if I remember my research correctly – “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” [ 1Corinthians 3:16 ] – that we are “the temple of God”, – (a few verses are :- 1Corinthians 3:9; 1Corinthians 6:19; 2Corinthians 5 (nearly the whole chapter); 2Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:20; Hebrews 3:6; 1Peter 2:5; 1Peter 4:17)

    As regards the order of the structure, I, and I believe Scripture agree with – “A higher dimension, by definition, is a more inclusive one. The lower dimension is included in the higher one; it is subsumed in it and encompassed by it. Thus biology is overarched by psychology, psychology by theology” [Dr Viktor E Frankl]

    Personally, like you, I am very wary of the “tyranny of the intellect or mind” and I prefer to “reason” rather than to “rationalize” simply because reasoning always involves going back to thinking about “good” and “evil” which are the origin or source for everything “good” or “bad” and in rationalizing this step is not necessary.

    To “rationalize” involves thinking about “good” and “bad”, relatively, and this introduces the possibility of “means” and “ends” being separated by a third or “neutral” way, which makes it possible for “means” to no longer have any “end” except absolute, impersonal rational efficiency or pure functionality, and then they are no longer subject to objective “good” and “evil” value judgements. I also think, like Ayn Rand, that this “rational” or possible third or “middle” way of thinking, can only be “evil” simply because “the man who chooses the wrong or bad still retains some respect for the values of truth and deception, if only by accepting the responsibility of his choice”, whereas the third or middle way allows the man to imagine he can “sit on a fence” and avoid any responsibility. So I prefer these old definitions for the words:

    REASON – noun: the capacity for rational thought or inference or discrimination (eg.”We are told that man is endowed with reason and because he has reason he is capable of distinguishing good from evil”)

    RATIONALIZE – verb: structure and run according to rational or scientific principles in order to achieve desired results (eg. “We rationalized the factory’s production and raised profits”)
    ▸ verb: remove irrational quantities from (“This function can be rationalized”)
    ▸ verb: think rationally; employ logic or reason

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  4. Thank you Patrick, wishing you a blessed New Year as well.

    I was hoping you could help me with this! I get the idea of cosmos as a temple from NT Wright and John Walton. (see Wright’s Gifford Lectures, I can’t remember in which lecture he discusses this, but they are very much worth watching.) In his book “A House for My Name” Peter Leithart distinguishes between dividing in the first 3 days of creation and filling in the second three.
    Day 1: light/dark Day 4: Sun, Moon, Stars
    Day 2: waters above/below Day 5: birds and fish
    Day 3: waters/land Day 6: Land animals and man

    If you look at the first nine plagues in Egypt, there are 3 cycles (1-3, 4-6, 7-9) of undermining the water, land and sky.

    The theme of creation, descent into chaos and then new creation, is, I believe, a common biblical theme. You might be interested in the Paul Vanderklay discussion on the book of Job, I found it fascinating.

    All I have time for right now, I will get back to you with the rest later.

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    1. I try and watch all Paul’s video’s and enjoyed this discussion on Job although I cannot tell if you are Jess or not, but regarding the fascination with Leviathan, I loved the monks sketch of God using the line (age) of David to hook the beast from the sea. My personal view, however, of both beasts, Leviathan and Behomoth, has been influenced by Eugene Peterson’s very logical argument proposed in “Reversed Thunder”.
      Consider that it was the three “collectives” or beasts of “religion”, “politics” and “finance” that Satan used to tempt Jesus with in the wilderness before beginning His ministry, and it was those same three beasts that were responsible for getting Him crucified, “mammon” or financial security being the common foundation for both land and sea beasts –

      “The dragons quarrel is not with the race of Adam, as such, but with the people of faith whose lives are marked by God-obedient actions and Jesus-witnessing words. Since it is not against creatures that he will mount his assault but against creatures of Christ, he requires a stratagem that will deflect their obedience and falsify their witness. He will frighten them into disobedience, he will deceive them into illusion.

      He recruits help from the underworld, two beasts, one out of the sea, the other out of the earth, to execute his malign will within the believing community, these people whom God commands and saves. St.John’s scripture-reading congregations have no trouble recognizing the animals; the beasts are Leviathan and Behemoth; portrayed in God’s whirlwind speech to Job as the ultimate in ferocity(Job 40-41), but also known to be crushed and disposed of, no longer any threat to God’s rule.
      Leviathan and Behemoth were awesome, but there is also an unmistakable touch of the ludicrous in St.John’s description. The sea-beast is a patchwork job, assembled from left-over parts of leopard, bear and lion. The land-beast is a fake lamb, a clumsy counterfeit of the magnificent true lamb(Rev 5:6, 7:17). St.John allows for their capacity to strike terror still, but he also shows them as considerably shopworn. The old beasts have been around too long and are starting to lose their stuffing.

      Politics(Leviathan) reaches into dimensions of behaviour and belief. The authority of government is exercised to maintain order, defined in civic and criminal law (otherwise there is Babel). Most political systems, ranging from family to empire, combine the elements of government and religion, as the Romans did. Dissenters in a society are as dangerous as criminals to the political establishment. Our socially expressed behaviour and religously expressed beliefs are equally political. If the devil’s design is to separate our behaviour and our belief from the rule of God, politics will be a field in which he deploys his picked troops.

      The land-beast(Behemoth), characterized by the capacity to deceive. St.John expects the deceit of the land-beast to be penetrated by the Christian mind: hard critical thinking. The land-beast is, more than anything else, religious. It has a Christ-like quality, it is like a lamb(Rev 14:11), but it is a parody, not a derivation, of Christ. It’s main task is to get people to worship. In order to subvert our religious life, it uses religious means with all the trappings of the miraculous. When a person or movement is religious, appears to be on good terms with the supernatural, and urges us to engage in religious acts, we let our guard down. There is something seemingly incompatible, on the surface anyway, between a sceptical mind and religious faith. For people whose habit is faith, whose disposition in matters of God and the supernatural is towards acceptance, it is easy to be deceived by religious leaders. There is, in fact, no part of life in which deceit is more prevalent than religion (just as there is no part of life in which violence is more prevalent than in the state). Organized behaviour is prone to violence; organized belief is prone to deceit. How do we protect ourselves from organized deceit? St.John is blunt, use your heads. Figure out what is going on. Most of the conspicuous religion that is in vogue at any one time in the country derives from the land-beast. Expose these religious pretensions. This religion has nothing to do with God. Get it’s number: it is a human number. This is not divine mystery, but a confidence-man’s patter: it is religion that makes a show, religion that vaunts itself, religion that takes our eyes off the poor and suffering and holy Christ. In the language of numbers, 666 is a triple failure to be a 777, the three times perfect, whole, divine number. It is a recurring characteristic of this land-beast religion that it is commercialized. It requires huge budgets to maintain itself. It manipulates us economically, getting us to buy and sell at it’s bidding, marketing advice, solace, blessing, solutions, salvation, good feelings. The devil’s strategy here is not the black mass, but the mass market. The buying and selling of religion is the mark of the beast. Dragon, sea-beast, and land-beast are a satanic trinity that infiltrates the political world in order to deflect our worship from the God whom we cannot see to the authorities that we can see, and to deceive us into buying into a religion or belief-system that has visible results in self-gratification. “

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      1. Fascinating comment once again Patrick. I am not Jess, but I did talk to Paul recently as well, find the conversation here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZr8L7vP4IU)

        I don’t think what Jess outlines is in conflict with what you get from Peterson, the Leviathan works well as a chaos monster in Job. I don’t quite see how interpreting the leviathan as Politics works in the context of Job.

        What you outline though, is very interesting, I was thinking as I read of Dostoyevsky’s famous chapter in The Brothers Karamazov called “The Grand Inquisitor.” According to Dostoyevsky, by rejecting the 3 temptations, Christ was calling people to freely follow him, instead of compelling them to do so through Miracle, Mystery and Authority. To Dostoyevsky, the Catholic church had given into the 3 temptations and had rejected the freedom so central to Christ’s message.

        I can see the parallels between “religion” defined in a negative sense and “miracle,” Dostoyevsky writes:

        But seeset Thou these stones in this parched a barran wilderness? Turn them into bread and mankind will run after Thee like a flock of sheep, grateful and obedient, though for ever trembling, lest Thou withdraw Thy hand and deny them Thy bread. But thou wouldst not deprive man of freedom and dist reject the offer, thinking what is that freedom worth, if obedience is bought with bread? Thou distst reply that man lives not by bread alone. But didst Thou know that for the sake of that earthly bread the Spirit of the earth will rise up against Thee and will strive with Thee and over come Thee and all will follow him crying “Who can compare with this beast? He has given us fire from heaven?”

        and also:

        Is the nature of men such, that they can reject miracle, and at the great moments of their life, the moments of their deepest, most agonising spiritual difficulties, cling only to the free verdict of the heart? Oh, Thou didst know that Thy deed would be recorded in books, would be handed down to remote times and the utmost ends of the earth, and Thou didst hope that man, following Thee, would cling to God and not ask for a miracle. But Thou didst not know that when man rejects miracle he rejects God too; for man seeks not so much God as the miraculous. And as man cannot bear to be without the miraculous, he will create new miracles of his own for himself, and will worship deeds of sorcery and witchcraft, though he might be a hundred times over a rebel, heretic and infidel. Thou didst not come down from the Cross when they shouted to Thee, mocking and reviling Thee, “Come down from the cross and we will believe that Thou art He.” Thou didst not come down, for again Thou wouldst not enslave man by a miracle, and didst crave faith given freely, not based on miracle. Thou didst crave for free love and not the base raptures of the slave before the might that has overawed him for ever. But Thou didst think too highly of men therein, for they are slaves, of course, though rebellious by nature.

        I also see a connection between “politics” and “authority”:

        (the Grand Inquisitor speaking to Jesus) Perhaps it is my own lips that you want to hear it from—then listen: we are not with you, but with him, there is our secret! We have long been not with you, but with him, eight centuries now. It is now just eight centuries since we took from him that which you in indignation rejected, that final gift he offered you, when he showed you all the kingdoms of the world: we took from him Rome and the sword of Caesar and announced that we alone were the kings of the world, the only kings, even though to this day we have not succeeded in bringing our task to its complete fulfilment.

        I am not entirely sure how you get “finance” out of the 3 temptations, can you expand on that?

        Also, if you’re interested, I’ve written about the temptation in the wilderness here: https://wordpress.com/view/coffeewithkierkgaard.home.blog

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      2. Although the YouTube URL you type out in your reply works, for some reason, whenever I click on any of the hyperlinks you enter into your reply that point to your other web pages, in this or any of the replies to me, I get re-directed to a pointer to my own web-page or home page, it just says “Please select a site to open View” and then there is nothing to click on. Perhaps this needs reporting to WordPress? In the meantime I will explore your site further.

        Dostoevsky, in my personal view, is up there with Dickens, Tolstoy, Elliott and C S Lewis as an author, and I happen to be struggling through “The Devils” at the moment. I rate Crime and Punishment along with The Brothers Karamazov as two of the best books I have ever read but I do struggle to get into his stories because of the Russian names of the characters in them and his habit of using multiple names for a the same character.

        How did I relate the concept of “finance” into the concept of “bread”? – In the Lord’s Prayer—“give us this day our daily bread”— bread represents basic necessities and logically the price of a loaf of bread is the lowest measure of an economy. The Ancient Roman poet Juvenal, penned the Latin term “panem et circenses”, which means “bread and circuses,” or independence — in thought, action and economics. Bread was the quickest way to the heart of the crowd. The temptation was – would Jesus be a welfare king? Why not miraculously feed the poor and needy and circumvent the need for the “price of bread ?” Free food would surely bring a groundswell of public support in Galilee. Why not miraculously feed the masses and throw a divine banquet for his followers ? “Feed ’em, Jesus, feed ’em,” the tempter whispers, “You have the power. Go ahead. Bake the bread!” The three big social institutions of Jesus’s day, and still today, are: political (mountain), religious (temple), and economic (bread). … Was Jesus tempted to turn stones into bread merely because he was hungry? This interpretation may hold some truth. But the fuller significance of the temptation lies in the economic plight of Palestine’s masses at that point in time. Bread symbolized the heart of material life. The core of many diets, it appeared on every table meal after meal, week after week. Through His literal hunger, Jesus identified with the thousands of poor peasants whose daily existence revolved around the search for bread. Thinking of bread reminds Him of God’s manna freely distributed during the Israelites’ forty-year roam in the desert. He sees ruthless creditors pushing poor peasant farmers off their land and a system of double taxation oppressing the masses. He hears the lepers, the blind, and the poor—trampled by the pious and greedy—crying for help. [I got a lot of this from “The Upside Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill]

        Have you ever wondered why Jesus used “bread and wine” instead of “fruit and water” when initiating the constituents of the eucharist?

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