Where is the Logos?

Where can one turn for truth? The modern truth-seeker is in a tough predicament. Information flows more freely than ever in the Internet age, yet accuracy and honesty are unlikely to be found even in the oldest and most respected institutions. How can we find truth, whatever it is, if we can’t find a trustworthy source of information? And where do we find the ultimate truth about a purpose, or lack thereof, of existence?

News agencies have always been known to be wildly inaccurate in their publications and broadcasts. The news which pertains to the federal government is particularly tainted, since the government itself tends to be the primary source for many of those stories. It’s interesting that those who disbelieve the government’s account of a particular event are widely derided as conspiracy theorists, though its plainly obvious that any account coming from the White House has always been heavily politicized. Additionally, those reports dealing with military action tend to be informed by people whose job is to lie. Intelligence isn’t just the collection of information; information hiding plays an important role.

Ultimately, a government spokesman is either a politician or someone working for a politician. Though society expects one to believe the official government story, ultimately it comes down to being credulous enough to trust a politician. The epithet of conspiracy theorist is best left to those who believe the most improbable tales of government coverups, such as reptile-men and secret deals with humanoid aliens. Otherwise conspiracy theorist simply becomes another way of saying not gullible.

Well, if one can’t be certain of what’s going on in human society around him, he can at least turn to science, can’t he? Unfortunately, Thomson Reuters compiled data showing that the number of retractions in scientific journals has skyrocketed in the last decade. Most of the retractions were for simple errors, but astonishingly over a quarter of them were for fraud. Science is becoming heavily politicized, and additionally a “publish or perish” mentality in academia has exacerbated the problem of sloppy research.

Mistakes and fraud aren’t the only problems facing science, however. Science doesn’t seek for ultimate truth: It only searches for a useful model. By the time we survey the field of science and get to the most fundamental of sciences, physics, we find that even a complete model might be beyond the capability of science to create. Originally such a model was thought to be had with Newtonian mechanics. It was later superseded by Einstein’s general theory relativity, which was found to be incompatible with another important emerging model: quantum mechanics. Since then the holy grail of physics has been the unification of the two models.

Things got pretty weird with general relativity and quantum mechanics in the first place. Between time dilation and wave-particle duality, it became clear that, at least according to physics, reality wasn’t very realistic. It appears that it will only get worse with a unifying theory. The best bet at present is string theory, which so far can’t be tested empirically, and requires inclusion of the existence of unobservable dimensions beyond the normal spacetime in which we seem to live and act.

Well, if the model has any relation to reality beyond the ability to make accurate predictions, the universe is even weirder than was thought before. Worse yet, even if string theory holds, there’s no guarantee that it is the be-all and the end-all of science. It is just as likely to turn out to be the 21st century’s Newtonian mechanics in a few hundred years. Truth is incredibly elusive.

Empiricism is problematic anyway. Philosophers have long noted that the senses can be fooled. The existence of hallucinations indicates that experience can’t be completely trusted. Furthermore, the empirical sciences are based on the testimony of witnesses. Nobody can reproduce every scientific experiment to verify that the researchers weren’t lying; one merely plays the odds that if the research was reproduced by others, it is less likely that all the parties are lying. Less likely doesn’t mean impossible.

“Math is truth” reads the graffiti in the math building at UCSD. Logical reasoning based on a set of accepted axioms seems promising at first. One quickly runs into problems, however, when it becomes clear that mathematics cannot solve everything. Gödel’s incompleteness theorems show that there exist facts which can’t be proven, particularly that even algebra can’t be proven to be consistent. Additionally, even assuming consistency as a given, why accept the axioms in the first place? One usually, in the end, accepts them because they’re as good as any other starting point.

Some form or degree of mysticism may be the only hope to finding an ultimate truth. A direct experience of whatever ultimate reality or god that may exist would be the path, since human powers alone are apparently far from capable of acquiring truth. In Mormonism — the author’s preferred religion — the Holy Ghost performs this role, providing a direct knowledge of truth in a manner that provides a complete certainty that cannot be had through reasoning or the senses.

It’s an individual path, but it begins with the myths. Myth can be an uncomfortable word with which to describe one’s beliefs, but it need not be a bad word. It is correctly understood as referring to a story that explains something about the nature of existence. No implication of fact or fiction is made. The Big Bang can be one’s preferred myth, as can the Assyrian’s story of the council of the gods Anu, Enlil, Shamash, and Ea discussing with the Anunnaki the progress of creation.

In the arche was the logos — the organizing principle of the universe was part of the -archy, or government. Thus begins a particularly interesting myth found in the New Testament. It continues: The logos — the creative force — was with God, and God was the creative force…. And this creative force became flesh.

God became human. The message of Christianity is much more beautiful and profound than the shallow ramblings of the evangelicals.

God became one of us. We complain and curse heaven for our suffering, we say that God cannot be good if he allows so much evil in the world. God didn’t wave a magic wand and make all evil disappear, but He did come down Himself and suffer it along with us. He suffered even more than the rest of us. He didn’t make it go away, but He showed us by teaching and by example how to deal with it, how to react to it. The rest is up to us: We choose to send out armies into the world, to destroy and plunder, to engage in all manner of evil, and still we blame God when bad things happen. Yet He suffered too…

There’s a myth the author can get along with. The world is a cruel place, and the creative force behind the universe can sympathize with our situation. One might hate and fear a cruel god, but one can relate to and love the suffering God — the One who did not make us go through what He wasn’t willing to go through Himself. The One who became like us and shared our pain, and promises that it is only temporary: The Church Militant becomes the Church Triumphant.

What is truth? If truth is the knowledge of things as they really are, where does one find it? The author has pursued it in politics, science, philosophy, history and other fields of study and has come up short. Science only wants a model, government wants control, and academics have their own agendas, so how much can one really expect? Religion offers some hope, but the author’s religion is also brutall
y honest: “For now we see through a glass, darkly,” says Paul, telling him that he must wait for the afterlife to be able to obtain truth in its complete form. If even mysticism — the last recourse — has failed to completely satisfy us, only the hope of an afterlife remains.

What is the truth? Only time — and specifically the end of time — will tell. “Seek and ye shall find” is the promise, but a timeline is not given. At least we’ve found what to look for: Is there life after death? Why does life seem to be filled with suffering? Did God become human and suffer, and did that unlock the promise of a brighter future? These questions dig deeper towards the answer of the existential Who am I?

The myth gives us direction. It takes one farther than mathematics, science, or politics is willing or able to go. When neither government nor technology has been able to make us happy, when Prozac and Zoloft can’t solve the problem either, when consumerism has failed us, where do we turn? The wonderful power of writing has existed among humanity for the last six thousand years, and we can turn to the writings of our predecessors for the wisdom they left behind. They may not answer all our questions, but they can give us hints about where to look.

We ask: Where is truth? They respond: In the beginning…

2 Comments to “Where is the Logos?”

  1. Jeremiah. I enjoyed this. We have been discussing this very issue in meetings we hold with a number of people bimonthly. It is interesting that although you come from a different starting point, you tell a very similar story as to how to approach knowledge. There is a real sense, that given all of our limitation that all we can do is grab onto a true vine/story/myth and then try to tie/graft all we see into that story. The proof is of course in the pudding/fruits. I see that you also have a very christocentric view basing your views in that one "true" story which for me personally guides how I read every other story and event. btw, I noticed your blog from the lengthy pure mormonism discussion/argument that I unfortunately prob added less light to than I originally had hoped once it descended into nonsense. I hope you do eventually write more about pacifism/mormonism. We definitely need more people discussing these ideas.

  2. Thanks! I’ve enjoyed your and Ron Madson’s input into the discussion at Pure Mormonism, even as it descended into chaos, not to mention your work at The Mormon Worker. I found the latter (both sites, actually) as I began taking an interest in and writing about Mormon Pacifism. I’m not a terribly frequent commenter since I become argumentative too easy (much like LDSA did in the Pure Mormonism thread, so I can’t really hold it against him), which too often leaves me regretting my choice of rhetoric. Old habits die hard: harsh rhetoric got good grades back in my early years in college.In any case, I’ll be around, hopefully commenting and writing here and there. My post-mission readings of the Sermon on the Mount struck me more forcefully than any other teaching I’ve studied, and I think it ought to occupy a more central place in Christian discussion — without the usual qualifiers that excuse us from taking it seriously, of course!

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