Does a mask reduce your chances of getting Covid? Will Covid vaccines cause damage to you cellular DNA? Did Covid-19 spread by animal contact or from an experimental lab? Each of these is an issue of truth – only one of two possible answers (yes or no) is correct and they cannot both be true at the same time. However, the truth is hard to discover because two opposing answers are being vehemently argued for, with evidence being produced for either possibility. And therein lies the rub – which source of truth do we believe? How can we discern what it true when we did not see it with our own eyes or don’t have the expertise/resources to make a determination on our own? This is no minor issue. In a world where information proliferates and nearly everyone can express their “informed” opinion (how many amateur epidemiologists appeared on Facebook in a matter of days after Covid hit), finding the truth can seem like the quest for the Holy Grail.
In this edition of Truth, Justice, and the American Way we will work our way through the issues involved in pursuing a “practical epistemology,” a method of finding truth in a world of lies. For the believer there are really two issues involved. How to draw the truth from our infallible source, the Bible, and how to discern truth through the fallible sources of nature, reason, science, and information.
How to Draw Truth from Our Infallible Source
Believers spend much of their time and resources answering this question and we will deal with it only briefly in this article. Although the Bible is the inerrant, authoritative, sufficient Word of God, the “big T” truth through which all other truth must be interpreted, it must still be deciphered and understood in order to be useful in determining the truth. This begins with being personally trained in effective methods of Bible study, becoming increasingly familiar with the truth in the Bible as a whole, and accessing good resources such as Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and language tools. A good church with godly elders gifted and active in teaching and training is another essential. Reading books about the Bible and listening to expository preachers teach the Bible are additional important means of getting the truth from the Bible (TFB) right.
The majority of our pursuit of truth should be spent in this arena. To know the truth of God’s Word is the key to all other knowledge. Each believer is to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who do not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).”
One important word of caution. It is always a temptation for God’s people to pursue doctrinal or theological fads, rather than steadily deepening in their foundational understanding of Biblical truth. These whims produce a quick “thrill of the unknown” but are of no value in helping a person to be grounded in the truth. This is an increasingly pervasive problem with the proliferation of blogs, YouTube pastors, social media gurus and a host of theological “hokery” just a click or a swipe away. Ephesians 4 is clear, “ . . . we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” Biblical truth is found by staying carefully within the “box” of Scripture and being taught by gifted men whom Christ has established for the edification of His church. When the truths in the Bible are properly understood, they can be used to guide the search for truth outside the Bible and in daily living.
How to Find Truth Outside the Bible
Biblical truth is not the only form of important knowledge. How can truth outside the Bible (TOB) be found? These are truths that do not come from an infallible source, but represent the reality of what God has ordained in the natural world and in the daily affairs of men
The reality of sense perception
The first means of acquiring TOB is through direct observation and experimentation. This is sometimes called the “reality of sense perception,” and forms the basis of our interaction with the world around us. Without this kind of “truth” there is no foundation for knowing anything at all. The Bible presupposes this reality by communicating in rational, propositional statements about the experiences of men in the real world in relationship to God.
In general, sense perception can be trusted, and the things we know most surely are those things we have personally seen, heard, and experimented with. The practical application of this reality is manifest. We are not to declare authoritatively that we know something is true unless we have seen or heard it ourselves. Even then we must be careful, for our perception can be skewed and our observation incomplete. Nevertheless, if the world would follow this simple rule, there would be a lot less heartache, misinformation, vitriol, slander, and disastrous decision making.
Using accurate sources
There are, however, many decisions we must make using information that does not come directly from our own sense perception. In fact, in our complicated, tech driven, world we are increasingly dependent on outside data.
We need, therefore, to learn to recognize and cultivate trustworthy sources of information. This has become frustratingly difficult now that nearly all information has become personalized (is it true for me?) and politicized (does it match my political ideology?). However, reliable resources can be found. We should work hard to cultivate trusted sources and learn from them, even as we always seek to verify the information we receive. Proverbes 1:5 states, “A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.”
So, from whom do we acquire this counsel? First, Godly men who are applying Biblical principles as they compile information and give advice. Those whose character and actions can be observed personally are most valuable, such as a trusted doctor whose past decisions have been wise and helpful. People whose reputation has been built over time and tested in various levels of difficulty are often good sources of TOB.
Next, are men and women who may or may not acknowledge the God of the Bible, but whose education and experience make them true experts in their fields. These are not the quacks who magically appear on Facebook (and now, increasingly, on CNN or Fox News) with a lab coat and an agenda, but those whose books (not six months of personal blogging), peer reviews (not number of Instagram or Tic Tok followers), and longevity (not five minutes of fame) in their field identify them as truly knowledgeable. There are real specialists and experts – even though the ease with which anyone can create a profile and spin out a video have made them hard to discover. These should still be verified as carefully as possible by determining if their education and experience are sufficient for the level of truth they are dispensing.
We must not despair of finding actual facts and basing our lives on true principles. There is real science out there. Principles of mathematics and physics hold so we can build bridges and rockets. Principles of medicine can be discovered and practiced so that we can have medications, vaccines, and heart surgery.
A practical example of pursing important TOB is my decision to receive the Covid-19 vaccination. Regardless of which view a person takes – there is only one truth. Either the vaccine works or it doesn’t, either the vaccine is safe or it isn’t. So, I had to choose a course, and I did. This is clearly a conscience issue (not Biblical command or principle) and my receiving the vaccine does not mean that anyone else should or must. However, my reasoning (highly abbreviated) to find this “truth outside the Bible” was as follows:
I was not motivated by inordinate fear of catching the disease. I understand that it is 99% survivable and that my age demographic (53) is still within the “really pretty safe” zone. I amnot at all afraid to die. I was not driven by blind acceptance of all vaccines (I don’t ever get the flu shot). The science of the effectiveness of many vaccines seemed to indicate a high probability of the effectiveness of this vaccine. This included the personal experience of myself and all my family members having been vaccinated from various diseases and having suffered no ill side-effects (and having never contracted those diseases). Importantly, vaccines are not directly “political” in that they are an established science developed long before the current crisis. The information I studied revealed that although the Covid-19 vaccine production process was new in type and rapid in result, that the science was sound and the testing broad-based. The objections seemed mostly to have to do with possible problems, not documented ones. Additionally, the practical, real-world results indicated that millions of people had gotten the vaccine and that the vast majority had suffered no ill effects (and most hadn’t gotten Covid). Of great importance was that the medical professionals I trusted, and had observed to be correct in other situations, recommended it. There seemed to be value to other people to be vaccinated – both so that I could not infect them and that my risk of infection would be lower. Finally, there seemed to be several opportunities for ministry which would open up more quickly if I were vaccinated (regardless of whether I agreed with that approach or not!).
So, for better or worse, I pursued truth outside the Bible and made an important decision without fear or anxiety.
Where not to get information
Before leaving the topic of truth outside the Bible there are several further considerations. It is helpful to know where not to get information, bad sources to base important decisions on include:
1) Any form of social media
2) Internet Blogs (in general not as reliable as print sources)
3) General articles on the internet
4) So called experts with no credentials and no track record
5) Experts who are driven by political ideology
6) Reports full of buzzwords or click bait
How to determine if information is good
How can we determine if information is good? The Word of God helps us here: “The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him (Prov 18:17).” A summary of evaluating good sources includes:
1) Does it have sources that can be checked?
2) Does it present a balanced view of the situation?
3) Does it give evidence of knowledge of information and/or possible motive for opposing viewpoints?
4) Does it develop a line of reasoning that is logical, or does it just make statements of opinion?
5) Are possible misunderstandings or lack of information admitted (where it is appropriate)?
6) Does it seem to follow common sense?
What kind of truth is worth knowing
With so much information out there – which kinds of truth should we pursue knowing and verifying? Following is one paradigm for the pursuit of truth – ranked from most to least important:
1) Things which affect your spiritual health and future directly.
2) Things which affect your family church spiritual health and future directly.
3) Things which directly affect the spiritual health of the world around you.
4) Things which affect the physical and economic health of yourself and those around you.
5) Things which affect the physical and economic health of your city, state, country.
Pursuing conspiracy theories
One illustration of the prioritization of truth involves the multiple conspiracy theories (such as Q Anon, 9/11, etc.) that have proliferated in the past 20 years. The issue is not so much, is what this conspiracy saying true (there are real conspiracies out there)? But what does it matter if it is? Should you be pursuing it? What value will it be to figure out the truth of it? How much time will you waste? What priorities will be set aside? How does pursuing this theory change my attitudes and actions in Biblical ways?
Summary questions as you pursue truth
So here are a few final questions to ask yourself as you pursue truth outside the Bible:
1) Does this need to be known?
2) Do I have the time to know it?
3) Can this ever be verified to be true?
4) Do those I know and trust believe this?
5) How does knowing this or pursuing this knowledge make me a more affective member of the Kingdom of God as represented in my local church?
6) If this is true is there anything I could do about it?
7) Does knowing this make me more holy?
8) Is my pursing this particular knowledge hampering my witness or ability to maintain my God given priorities?
9) Given my unique position and responsibility as a Christian should I spend my time pursuing this knowledge?
10) Given my eternal perspective and true reward in eternity is this worthy of my time?
11) Does this demonstrate both intellectually, practically, and spiritually the supremacy of Christ in my life?
The Danger of Believing, Living, and Spreading Lies
Truth matters. We are called to know the truth of Scripture, but also to be able to apply those truths in discovering and living according to the truth in world around us. When Christians live according to lies or When Christians repeat or spread information that is false, they make it much more difficult for people to believe them when they tell the truth about Christ. Might we make it our commitment to know and live the truth that it might set us and others free.