Last week, my friend asked me the question above. I’ve thought about it, read about it and spoken about it, but have never tried to formulate concrete ideas about in writing. The first point I was trying to make is that simply because there is an unknowable number of opinions on this topic from people who are passionate, educated and sincere doesn’t mean everyone is right. A small group of people will know the truth, but they will never be able to prove it. As we aim for finding truth, we shouldn’t shoot higher than the people we come in contact with because that’s the nature of our perception of truth; it is relative.
This week, I hope to outline the next important aspect of truth: we all live by faith. This might sound strange to some because we live in a culture which on the one hand is very scientific and on the other hand which suggests that science and faith are incongruent. Without wanting to enter into this debate, I would like to suggest that as individuals, our minds are too small, our experience too limited and our time to finite to live without making leaps of faith. That is to say that everyday, all day, we have to “give the benefit of the doubt” to countless people, philosophies and institutions. It is the nature of being human, it is our condition.
Here are two examples:
A few years ago, leading physicists and philosophers held a conference to discuss the possibility that human existence might be nothing more than a computer simulation. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the moderator of the event, put the odds at 50/50 that our existence is a real. Yet, looking at all the good work that he does, is there any doubt he believes his work matters and isn’t predestined by some intelligent software designer? What could this be except an act of faith? He admits to not knowing, but lives likes he certain.
We all know there are enough nuclear weapons to destroy every city in the world. We have no control over this. Yet, we go on living – even being consumed with petty things – because we have faith the world is not coming to an end. Some might say this isn’t faith that allows us to go on living, it’s experience. Humanity has lived for 70 years without an all out nuclear conflict. To which, I would suggest if experience or history has taught us anything, it’s that we can never underestimate the depths of violence in man’s heart. Experience should make us more afraid of nuclear war, not less. It’s faith that keeps us sane.
What does faith have to do with truth? If we are going to be seekers of truth, we have to examine what we have faith in. It is these faith assumptions that will determine the course of our lives and will either open or close the door to finding truth . If we leave these faith assumptions untested, we give power to our parents, community or society to choose for us where we place our trust. When we freely choose where we place our faith, we live with our eyes open, checking to see if how we are living is true. When we put our heads in the sand about our assumptions, we drift along without learning truth from our experience. Plato said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” If truth is something relative to each of us, then we have to exam every belief that we can, because being human requires us to have faith.