Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On the subject of "usefulness"

One of the topics that comes up in defense of modern thought is that scientific truths are the only truths that are "useful."  Improvements in health, wealth, and efficiency are touted as truths worth pursuing in exclusion to other truths that are deemed unknowable.  Truths such as the existence of God.

As discussed ad nausem neither Christian nor atheist is disputing the contribution that science has made to sectors of human life.  What I as a Catholic dispute is that these things that atheists tend to value are the be all and end all that we can know about truth.  In particular, the notion that unless a truth is "useful" with regard to these predefined values, such truths are not only not worth pursuing, but cannot even be known.

Yet the problem with such ideas as always is the underlying assumptions to arrive at that point.  In particular, one must define "usefulness".  Without a proper understanding of what usefulness really means, evaluating truths in such a manner becomes a question begging exercise.

Secondly, the values or objectives that such truths are meant to pursue must be defined.  This is often done in an ad hoc fashion by materialists.  Usually this is based on health, longevity, and advancement of technology.

A problem arises really quickly with this.  How exactly does one come to the conclusion that such values are worth pursuing under these premises?  That technology can improve health is not in dispute.  That health is worth pursuing is what is up for debate.

The Christian believes that health is worth pursuing due to his faith.  The denier of objective truth (or at least the ability to know objective truth) has no recourse.  The value of truth is determined by its usefulness.  But how we arrive at a truth's usefulness is an unanswered question.

The only way we can know what truth is worth pursuing is to have a framework with which to evaluate that truth's value.  But that framework cannot be determined, because only truth that is useful is what can be knowable.  Without such a framework, the ability to determine a truth's value is impossible.

This is the dilemma of the usefulness advocate.  If truth cannot be known unless it is useful, then truth cannot be known.  For truth to be useful, it must correspond to a value.  But the value cannot be known, because the framework must be determined independent of a truth's value claim.

This shows that the Christian view on truth is more reasonable.  Unlike the denier which biases the question, the Christian holds that ALL truth is worth pursuing.  This is due to all truth ultimately pointing to God, the source of truth.

The above does not prove the Christian view true.  But the Christian view of truth stands more of a chance to be true than the utility view.  And this is why the denial of objective truth and its ability to be known is not only wrong, but undermines itself.

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