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Questions, Questions

truthIn his encyclical last week PopeFrancis/Benedict XVI poses two questions that surely must be at the core of our understanding of the meaning of all human life: What is Truth? What is Faith? Or are they the same thing?

What is Truth?  - what we are told by the scientist?

What is Faith? - knowledge? superstition?


Irrelevant questions or the wrong words
What is knowledge and what is belief
Questions for intellectuals and scholars
For ordinary people - what is necessary
Faith is never knowledge - it is hope - it is speculation - God can not be known by empirical science no matter what it was called in Latin

Edited at 2013-07-13 10:29 (UTC)
I'll start with the easiest one. Faith is something you believe because you are told by an authority figure or by someone you otherwise hold in high regard that that's what you should believe. You accept it because you believe it's the right thing to do. Faith needs no evidence, and in fact once you start producing hard evidence, it moves out of the realm of relying on faith.

As to what is "truth", apart from things that we say are true because they are defined that way, eg 2+2=4, it's a very slippery concept. I tend to be of the opinion that there is no such thing as absolute truth, only things that appear to be true under certain conditions.

Regarding "our understanding of the meaning of all human life", that is not the right question to be asking. Human life has no meaning, no more than a tree has meaning or a mountain. It just is.
Many have "faith" in something that they themselves decided, not because 'an authority' told them.
These answers seem to be very superficial,even for non-intellectuals.

There must be more to human life than this,

I could also ask 'What is Beauty?'

What is 'Love?'

All these words appear to have been stripped of a deeper, richer, meaning.
"Truth is Beauty, Beauty Truth. That's all ye know of heaven, and all ye need to know."

Don't literally believe that quote, but does contain some Truth, or at least truth, which is also a thing I love.
If you want to try to construct elaborate fantasies about the meaning of human life, well that's OK if you enjoy that kind of thing. But it won't get you anywhere and it won't make you happier or a better human being.

There is nothing superficial in understanding that there is no underlying "meaning" to human life.

As to what is beauty, it's what we point to when we say, "That's beautiful!" There is no universal agreement as to what is beautiful. It varies from culture to culture and also over time. For example, before the Victorians, mountain scenery was seen as awful and dangerous. It was the Romantics who first started describing landscapes as "beautiful". Just have a look in a good art gallery at portraits of women who were hailed as "beauties" in their time. Most of them wouldn't get a second look on TV or in the tabloids.
Is that all my long life was about?
Would it be any different if your life was short?
Life is about living a good life to the best of your ability. We are, however, only human and we make mistakes -- something I have to keep reminding myself of because I am my own harshest critic! But if on balance the good we do outweighs the bad, then we're doing OK.

Why do you feel that there has to be a meaning to life? Isn't the miracle of being alive and sentient and able to appreciate all the beauty and wonder of the world and the universe beyond it enough for anyone?
You imply that we are not intellectuals?
Can we have a definition of intellectual?
I mean that even non-intellectual types like myself try to find a meaning to our lives, otherwise we are, as I see it, nihilists who empty human existence of meaning, truth, purpose, and value.

This reminds me of interminable student conversations:

- there must be a purpose to the universe.

- why?

- because there must.

- why?

and so on.

Truth is something with strong evidence and therefore a high probability.

Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder!

Faith is trust in something based on emotion rather than objective evidence.

Truth is something with strong evidence and therefore a high probability.

'Truth' and 'fact' needs further distinctions, as I was clumsily saying in my comment way below.

Perhaps the only 'truth' we can be sure of, is tautology. Euclid's statements about lines and circles and planes are true or false because of how the elements were defined in the first place. 'Zygote is a child' is that kind of 'truth', for those who accept a certain system of definitions.

A truth -- fact? -- based on evidence and probability, is quite different.
I, personally, see no difference between 'truth' and 'fact'. If a 'truth' is based on faith or emotion alone, it cannot be 'true'.
It reminds me of the song from My Fair Lady -
"Words,words,word I'm so sick of words"

Meaning of Life - Do what you can to make the most of what you have. Make the space you occupy as positive as you can.
Beauty -That which speaks to something inside of you and makes you smile
Love - being there when someone, or thing needs you. Giving of yourself.

Is there an afterlife? I don't believe it. Something we made up to make us feel better about limitations. Live for now as best you can. Do that and you give meaning to your life.
Shakespeare says 'The evil men do lives on. The good is oft interred with their bones."
But it is up to us to leave good behind not evil.
'Shakespeare says 'The evil men do lives on. The good is oft interred with their bones.'
But it is up to us to leave good behind not evil.

But surely 'good' and 'evil', 'beauty and love', mean nothing in such a world as you describe. Why should they?
Words mean what the individual makes them mean.
There are many good people. People who try to make the world better. There are many interests - and people - who don't care.
The world is not a kind place. It never has been.
In every age and time there are people who want something better.
The world is ever changing. How these people group themselves and find meaning for their life changes also.

Some philosophers say we have come to a post-christian world. That may well be. Not that the message of Jesus does not have power. But the words and concepts which were used to deliver the message no longer have meaning.
Speaking from the point of view of someone currently preparing for ordination...

Truth is NOT what we get from scientists. Scientists study FACTS. They are very highly specially trained to do that (I used to be married to a scientist). But they cannot give us TRUTH.

TRUTH is what we are striving towards when we take the FACTS and apply our FAITH to them. Notice, I said STRIVING TOWARDS. I would say that Truth is something that is only fully comprehensible by God, and the humans are only capable of rare glimpses of it. I am basing this statement upon the fact that there are greatly divergent Truths all over the world. How can that be? Are they all True? Or, is only MY Truth True, and everyone else is just WRONG?

My job, as a minister, is to assist people in their own responsible search for truth and meaning.

Faith is real... but so are Facts. Truth is where to two come together.
For some, the Truth is that all living beings are equal, so don't drive your car when there are bugs on the road that might get crushed by the tires -- even if you need to drive your wife to the hospital to stop her bleeding to death.

I don't think that quite works.

"All creatures are equal" is real on one level (to some of us). But we can't always apply that without craziness on another level.

The logic of "a zygote is a human in potential so should always have all the rights of a human 'child' " is beautiful on the Euclidean Plane, if you like. But facts and necessities "on the ground" give a different result for our "on the ground" actions.

(Also, I think we need to distiguish two kinds of 'facts'. What some scientists with their latest scan and study say, may actually be just their latest THEORY, ie their latest OPINION. -- Contrast this with the better established 'fact' that when we see blood pouring from an open wound, that person will die soon unless treated. Of course there is a lot of gray area here, some medical problems and treatments being better established than others But even if you ask a scientist, 'what are the odds of abortion saving this woman's life' is a different SORT of question from 'is this egg a 'child' yet'?)
In the Jain tradition, all living beings ARE equal, and the Jain definition of "living" is quite broad. In the Jain view, rocks are also alive, but have only one sense. This is Truth to a Jain, which is why Truth is relative.

In the scientific process, observers collect facts... that is, (in my ex's case) "how many earthquakes of what magnitude have occurred at this site over time?" Then the facts are collated to see if the data suggests a pattern... which it does in California. This pattern suggests that there will be a major earthquake in California in the near future. Of course, this is a theory, based on collected data... but I've been here since the 60s, and we haven't had one at that magnitude yet. So, theories are not facts. Theories are theories based on facts (data). But humans collect data and devise theories.

Scientists cannot really give us moral direction. They are really good at giving us facts and theories, but we have to make our own moral determinations thereafter.
Are ARE equal, but our physical actions cannot always treat them all equally, imo.

The Jains have a principle of 'minimizing harm'. There is no way to live without causing some harm, but we can minimize it.

One aspect of minimizing, is to give prefernce to the creatures that have the most senses (so can feel the harm worst). But we can't just draw a sharp line between species either, and say that with those below the line, anything goes.

For example, say, there are two paths, and both have the same kind of worms crawling on them. We don't just stay home, and we don't say "Who cares, they are just worms." We adjust our route to take the path that for some reason has less worms on it, or adjust our timing to use the time of day when there are fewer worms out.

Or we take preventive action, like putting up good window screens to keep bugs from getting into the house.

Have you looked up Jaina policies on abortion? Encouraging contraception as preventive action would seem to fit, as well as minimizing later term abortions (when the fetus is more developed), etc.

(An exception where Jainas do draw a sharp line, is vegetarianism: not even a little meat."

Edited at 2013-07-13 22:44 (UTC)
I haven't looked specifically at Jain policies on abortion, but I would suspect that it would not be viewed in a positive light.

In Jain thought, all things have a Jiva, which can be thought of as a "soul" but it is envisioned quite differently. Jivas go about collecting karma, good and bad. The goal is to collect as little bad karma as possible. Bad karma can be cleared by certain actions. It is a very, very complex system which I only studied for one semester.

At any rate, it is all dependent on the existence of the Jiva, which cannot scientifically verified, just as there is no scientific proof of a soul. This is where matters of Faith and Truth come in. At what point does a fetus have a Jiva? At what point a Soul? Do Jain fetuses have Jivas and Christian fetuses souls? What about Atheist babies? None of this is provable one way or the other. Hebrew scripture says that a baby does not have a soul until the father breathes it into the baby, and, I don't believe the New Testament says anything about it at all.

I personally, believe that there is only one soul... the soul of a single living organism which is constantly doing everything in its power to survive and grow. Our individual consciousnesses are an illusion, but a necessary one. By each individual consciousness striving for its own individual survival, the organism as a whole continues to grow and improve itself.

Can I prove this? No. But neither can anyone prove the existence either of a soul or of any form of divinity. Some things we just take on faith. I, personally, like the idea of one massive soul and a beneficent divine, but not everyone else does.
Render to Caesar the things which are Caesar's.

Common sense doctors, using common sense observation, on physical objects, have long noted that bleeding results in physical death unless a physical tourniquet is applied, physically. This sort of thing is sometimes called FACT.

Statements like 'blood cells are living creatures who want to be free' or 'tying up a limb without the patient's consent is bondage' -- are OPINIONS.

We don't allow such opinions to keep us from the physical action of applying a tourniquet to save a known obvious commonsense human woman.
Thank you. I see your point and hope you are at peace. But I find many of the above comments very depressing indeed.
I'm sorry to hear that. You might have gotten different answers in a different context. But this set of questions came in context of prohibiting non-Catholics from having contraceptives or abortion even for medical reasons.

It's that sort of regulation, which gives 'meaning of life', 'Truth', etc a bad name.

HOwever those terms and concepts may be used at their best, too often they're used to keep poor women in pain, or make the woman die along with a malformed fetus.
Truth is what cannot be falsified. Faith is what we will not let be falsified.