One of the engines of democracy is freedom of the press because it fosters the idea that knowing the truth is an essential human right. Assertions and biases are hard to hide, and, aside from opinion stories, press agencies generally pride themselves as institutions who report the facts of the stories that will likely have the most impact on the citizens they serve. It’s not hard to agree that reporting the truth is better than a lie, even if the press will let bias get the better of them from time to time, but all of this leads to an obvious question. Where does this innate, and universal, desire to know the truth come from?
Before answering that answer it’s important to note that some people claim that there is no such thing as “the truth.” On this view, truth is a matter of opinion, which means that no one can ever really say that murder is wrong, or spousal abuse should end, because to say that would be to commit oneself to a truth claim, namely, it’s true that these things are wrong. This view is in some ways appealing, especially to millennials like me, because in one sense it seems to allow people to live in harmony with their neighbor, by banishing any thoughts of judgment. Unfortunately, (aside from the obvious downside that no action could rightly be condemned) it’s a contradiction to say, “It’s true that there is no truth,” because if it’s true that there is no truth, the view refutes itself. Serious scholars would never take such a view, unless they are willing to remain silent.
What about Darwinian evolution, is it possible for humans to have evolved a system of truth? We should be careful here for a couple of reasons. First, it’s far from clear that Darwinian evolution is correct. In 2016, the Royal Society of London expressed grave doubts about Darwin’s theory, especially because after 160 years, scientists still have no way of accounting for the origin of the information in DNA, or how any complex body plan could evolve into another.
Second, even if natural selection were true, then according to the theory, our species would have evolved based on our ability to survive, not our ability to decipher the truth. Without even knowing it, the post-moderns would be right, truth, along with rationality, morality, and objectivity would be completely arbitrary and survivability would be the only measure by which to weigh ourselves. World war II already taught us the implications of this view, and Western thought is generally far more progressive than antiquated Nazi ideology around survival of the fittest.
Another option, which is shared by Jews, Muslims, Christians, a great number of non-religious people, and not ruled out by agnostics, is that a supreme being, namely God, is the author of truth. The idea here is that God Himself is the truth, and acts as a sort of super natural plumb line. It’s not that what God commands becomes the truth, but that without God, there would be no anchor by which to compare what is right from wrong, or true from false. God then, is an uncreated being, who is beyond space, and time (and culture), who brought the universe and its inhabitants into existence. He then made special creatures called humans and gave them the unique quality of free will. This gives them the option to acknowledge God as the locos of truth, or, because of their freedom, to benefit from truth but ignore the rationality behind it.
This third possibility is the only one which seems plausible to me. I also believe that many Westerners value this last option intrinsically, and often reflect the wisdom, justice, and purpose, which will only spring to life when the truth is upheld.
I have watched and listened as politicians, and popularizers, sometimes steer people away from the objectivity of truth, but Christian values in the West run deep, and the citizens of Western nations should not be persuaded. Take responsibility for the gift of deliberation, consider what it means to know the truth, explain its source to your neighbors, and don’t forget to thank the older brother, friend from school, pastor, teacher, or institution, who is committed to bringing it to you.
Jeff Morris a writer from Hamilton, ON and author of A Moment in Time. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.