Neil Shenvi - Apologetics

III. Evidence for God from science

E. The intrinsic goodness of truth

Finally, I want to ask what the search for truth itself can tell us about God's existence. One prerequisite for the entire scientific enterprise seems to be the assumption that truth is intrinsically good and that we ought to seek it. If truth is not intrinsically good, then why seek the truth at all, either through science or some other means? Any worldview which cannot explain why we ought to seek the truth is going to undercut the very foundations of the scientific enterprise. So let's ask the question: is truth intrinsically good and should we seek to know the truth? The difficulty arises when we try to explain why truth-seeking is intrinsically good and morally obligatory if naturalism is true, if Nature is all that exists.

Most naturalistic theories of morality tend to equate ultimate value and moral goodness with human flourishing. So if we wanted to try to explain why truth is good on naturalism, we could say something like "Truth is good because it promotes human flourishing. Scientific truth enables us to cure diseases and feed the hungry. That is what makes it good." Unfortunately, this approach doesn't work in this case because it makes truth an instrumental good not an intrinsic good. What do I mean? An intrinsic good is something that is an end unto itself. It is good because of what it is. An instrumental good is a means to an end. It is good only insofar as it leads to some other, ultimate good. So why does it matter that naturalism makes truth an instrumental good rather than an intrinsic good? It matters because truth-seeking and human flourishing are often in deep conflict.

For instance, let's imagine that you are an atheist and your Christian grandmother is dying; her only comfort is that she believes that she will soon be in the presence of Jesus. She says "I'm sad that I'm dying, but I'm so happy that I'll soon be face to face with Jesus, that I'll be reunited with my husband and my little son who died when he was young." Do you urge her to seek the truth? No, because it will diminish her flourishing. Or perhaps atheists like Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre are right in their assessment that atheism is a terrible, miserable, agonizing truth. So what if it turned out factually that most people would be happier believing religious delusions rather than believing the truth of atheism? In that case, a commitment to human flourishing as the ultimate good would require us to promote religious beliefs, even if they are obviously false, because we're ultimately committed to human flourishing, not to truth.

So it doesn't seem that naturalism can furnish us with any reason to think that truth is intrinsically good or that truth-seeking is morally obligatory. And that inability tends to undercut the entire scientific enterprise. So can any worldview explain why truth is intrinsically valuable and why truth-seeking is morally obligatory? Yes.

If a truth-loving God exists and commands us to seek the truth, then we can explain why truth-seeking is good and obligatory. We can even resolve the tension between truth-seeking and human flourishing because -if Christianity is true- then the truth will ultimately lead to our eternal flourishing. Jesus Christ claimed that he himself was "the way, the truth, and the life" and said: "You will know the truth and it will set you free." So no matter what hardships or difficulties or miseries attend truth-seeking here, there will be no ultimate conflict between the truth and our joy.

So we have a very odd paradox. Atheists, who tend to rightly value truth very highly, have no way to explain why it is valuable. This inability also calls into question the entire scientific enterprise, which is founded on the assumption that truth is a good thing. Moreover, if an atheist approaches a Christian and says "You ought to abandon Christianity and seek the truth of atheism," I think that the Christian is well within his rights to ask "Why? If you are right and atheism is true, why should I seek to know the truth? Is truth intrinsically good? Am I obligated to seek it?" On the other hand, Christians can always urge everyone to seek the truth because the truth is intrinsically good and because God commands us to seek it. So Christianity provides a foundation for truth-seeking and for the entire scientific enterprise not available to atheists.

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If anyone reading this essay has questions about it or about Christianity in general, feel free to e-mail me at Neil -AT- Shenvi.org. I also highly recommend the book The Reason for God by Tim Keller. It is phenomenal. Free sermons treating many of the topics covered by this book can be found here.

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