Friday, November 28, 2008

Desiring Truth

What are our existential needs? We need sustenance. We require food and water to fuel and hydrate our bodies so we can continue to live. We require clothing and shelter to protect us from the harsher characteristics of the elements of this harsh world. That's about it. We don't need anything that doesn't contribute to these base needs.

Of course, these are the rawest existential needs we have. Our bodies can live, but we are more than merely bodies. Naturalists, today's scientific existentialists, explain every other need we have as contributing to these two somehow. For this, the purpose of life is simply to live.

If the purpose of life is simply to live, then it doesn't matter what we believe as long as it contributes positively to meeting our material needs. This is the explanation we hear from the existentialists regarding religious or other such beliefs in a God or any transcendental force of nature that we have developed no devices to test.

Regardless of our beliefs, there is a state of continuity that exists. If I have never heard of the country of Mozambique and it's citizens, it would exist aside from my perception of it. My father is alive. He existed before I conceived of him. The continuity of his existence is beyond my scope of my cognition. Therefore, his life is a truth that does not require me to belive it in order to be true.
I would argue that nothing is true simply because we want it to be true. But that's an argument for some other time.

But if that which is true is true regardless of what we want to believe, then it can be observed that we either want to know the truth so we can believe it accurately or we don't.

As it is, most people are only interested in the truth only as far as it benefits their desires. The way this works is that it can be used to justify behaviors in various situations. For example, it benefits me to believe that green beans are good to eat inasmuch as I end up eating them and am duly nourished. If I don't like green beans although they would duly nourish me if I ate them, then I may choose to believe something about the green beans that is not true in order to justify not eating them. In this respect it benefits my desire not to eat the green beans although I lose the physical benefit of eating them.

The truth is more than merely existential. In this respect, the principle whereby we are interested in the truth only as far as it benefits our desires extends to moral truth. Certain arguments can be made for morals based in natural law. However, if the natural world is established in eternal essence, then morality is not merely natural, but eternal. Therefore, it is rather the Creator that establishes morality, and this in truth. For example, it is good for a man to keep only one wife and to be faithful to her eschewing intimate relations with all others. It doesn't intrinsically benefit such a man with regard to meeting his physical needs to believe this. However, fidelity and commitment in marriage are eternal moral truths. Inasmuch as our Creator has chosen to reveal these truths to us, we can know them.

So believing eternal truths doesn't benefit our material needs, but it benefts our spiritual needs. (Here I make a distinction between spirit, or pneuma, and soul, or psuche, where the soul is anchored in both the spiritual and the physical.) There is no material reason, therefore, to believe an eternal truth to the extent that one would justify behavior on them. The fact that we do is evidence of the eternal and confounds existentialists, who inexplicably believe things to be true that themselves would be classified eternal if they were indeed true.

So, the fact that we desire to believe eternal things to be true is the work of the Spirit of the Creator.


Next: Desiring Truth in Community

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