Is Truth Sacred?

Two things came together this morning.

Firstly, over the weekend I engaged in a Facebook thread by Sabine Hossenfelder discussing Brian Keating’s brief video: “What’s a Greater Leap of Faith, God or the Multiverse?”.

And secondly, this morning I listened to Elizabeth Oldfield in conversation with Tom Chivers in Theos’ “Sacred Podcast”.

Brian’s conclusion in the multiverse video, agreed by Sabine, is that as leaps of faith, they are at least on a par. I also agreed with Brian that the difference is that the scientific leap of faith is a dishonest one:

“It’s a brief video, and lots wrong with Keating’s choice of examples and arguments. Most scientists? … sure … I happen to be in the camp that would agree that a multiverse theory (there are many variations) that permits anything, explains nothing. Sabine and many others have pointed this out before. I agree it’s just as big a leap of faith as any theist, BUT more importantly (as Keating suggests) a dishonest one. The real problem is the dishonesty. As Rick Ryals says – this denial overlooks an alternative simple natural explanation that life – and ever more intelligent life in fact – is fundamentally inevitable. Emergent information > time > entropy laws. Entirely natural. Nothing is less surprising than life.”

“When it comes to Ockham and explanations that explain anything explaining nothing – people should look at David Deutsch’s concept of “explanatory reach”. (Particularly intriguing in his case since Deutsch IS in fact a multiverse advocate!) Sabine you should also give Erik Verlinde’s ideas another chance – aside from mathematical rigour 

In the Theos podcast, Tom says a lot of things I don’t agree with – he’s a free-will denier for example. But for me he is simply and quite typically “scientistic” – a greedy reductionist who sees objectivity of evidence as some kind of absolute standard. That’s several longer conversations.

What Tom says he holds sacred is “truth” – which sounds fine apart from this problem with defining truth as something absolute – the result of objective causal reductionism. However imperfect the state of our human empirical quest to get there, this absolute sacred object nevertheless exists on a pedestal somewhere? Truth with a capital “T” as it is often referred in philosophical circles.

There is no such thing, not even in science. And many scientists do in fact agree, though it’s not penetrated the post-Dawkins / New Atheist Horsemen memeplex in public culture yet. Enlightened science really is Post-Post-Modernist. It really has got over the slippery-slope fear of cultural relativism unleashed by relativity and quantum weirdness in public science consciousness.

My point here is more specific – Tom also agrees with Elizabeth, and myself – private conversations can be more honest. As I say, public conversations in science are often dishonest, largely political in fact, about playing to galleries and tribes. In complex situations evidence is always moot and dependent on chains of authority and trust. Faith dare I say?

What is really sacred here is Honesty. Not honesty in the sense of a narrow syllogistic truth of all evidenced premises and individual statements made, but in a wider honesty and integrity sense – character, intent and care for outcomes. Virtue anyone?


Also published on Medium.

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