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Caged in Truth
Imagine yourself as a blob of life in its simplest form, an organism surviving the harsh, challenging conditions of earth’s beginning. After enduring multiple millenniums from living as a single cell crawling about earth’s primitive surface, to swaying from one tree to another with arms longer than its legs as a monkey, the human form has finally succeeded to manifest itself and become a civilization. Or you may prefer the other story of coming to life through Adam and Eve, and thus through a Creator. What first started as an adventure of the mind, science today stands as a formidable opponent of religion, competing in a battle to define truth. Countless polar contradictions of truth in science and religion often clash with skepticism of the other, but we fail to notice their fundamental similarity of the nature of truth. Religion and science both have journeyed on a quest to satisfy mankind’s desire to know the truth, being one in all the same in their philosophies of truth. In both aspects, although truth to the extent of conventional facts can set free those bonded to false, misleading beliefs and open doors to improvement, mankind’s application of its relativism may do exactly the opposite.
In the context of the Bible, “Truth” is the Word of God and Jesus Christ says he came down to earth to “bear witness to the truth” (John 17: 17). Hence, Christ himself became the truth by witnessing God’s Word, living it to exemplify a specific lifestyle that “set us free.” Here the truth was not a general truth or a way of philosophizing, but rather a concrete promise and way of life. Believers of the Bible can fully rely on this truth with the faith that Jesus is the key to salvation and freedom from sin. Christ referred to “the truth,” as a distinct message, an unambiguous purpose, and thus was able to claim that “the truth shall set you free.”
Yet when we apply this truth from the context of the Bible into our own world, humanity falls apart to disunity. Due to man’s disagreeing perception of “truth,” numerous variations of Biblical “truth” have developed, sprouting the countless different sects of Christendom.
Vividly depicting such a scenario is when Martin Luther introduced his new-found variation of truth, the Ninety-Five Theses to the public in 1517. Instead of setting its audience free from the corrupt Catholic Church, it inevitably bound them to deeper strife. In fact, his truth condemning the Catholic Church by boldly listing its wrongdoings stirred the audience to act for or against it, while some withheld to the traditional truth and others to that of Martin Luther’s, creating an arch rivalry situation of the traditional Catholics and Protestants. Thus one perception of truth altered the course of European society. Although actually intended to set free those bonded to “false beliefs,” truth rather chained people to the most passionate and calamitous series of war that Europe had never experienced. The new “truth” divided Christian churches in Europe, leading to a series of armed conflicts and constant warfare for over a century.
Take the St. Bartholomew Massacre as a more specific example, which confirmed Europe’s imprisonment in warfare and hatred, provoked by warring truths. On this infamous day in 1572, French soldiers and the Roman Catholic clergy, who for the longest time esteemed themselves as a most civilized culture, living in a sophisticated hierarchical structure, fell upon the unarmed people – men, women, and even children. Fighting for their traditional religion which they trusted to be the truth, almost 100,000 Protestants perished within one week. The conflict of “truths,” in which one truth could not ever be defined, led perhaps, the first World War fought in Europe (Goyau, Georges).
Religious truth in general varied depending on who, or what the searcher viewed as final authority, and still does today. But because individual perspective defines the ultimate truth, minor disagreements within the same religion have chained us to hostility. Whereas completely different religious truths, such as that of Hinduism and Christianity rarely heat up in argument as Catholicism and Protestantism have, the vast gap between their “final authorities” imprisons them to reluctance from each other and hesitance to cooperate. Thus, truth perceived by each individual leads to belief and faith-a private matter at issue too sensitive to attack, which only tolerance may resolve, as the perpetual wars of religion show.
After thirty years of untiring bloodshed, the Treaty of Westphalia finally ended the religious wars in 1648. The Treaty, allowing each state to decide its own religion and recognizing Calvinism, ended the wars not by defining the truth, but rather through tolerance. Defining the truth, an impossibility, was exactly the cause of the destructive religious wars. Mankind’s varying application and understanding of “truth” set the scene for the decay of human society, and only tolerance relieved it by providing a path to freedom.
Furthermore, the religious wars show how Christian denominations have always been bounded by the necessity of defining truth in order to assert political or societal power. This presents another prison religious “truths” cage us in – one of corrupting truth itself to acquire power.
Consider the current, ongoing event of Sunni versus Shiites wars, illustrating the problems provoked mainly by the desire for political power. The difference in truth between the Sunni and Shiites, as well as mankind’s confident, individual faith in the variety of truths also prove the need for tolerance for the function of society. While the two distinct yet similar Muslim groups argue to claim truth, they do so to simultaneously achieve political power, with the struggle for acquiring truth allowing its destruction. Much more complicated than simply just a religious truth quarrel of the real Mohammad’s successor, this strife shows man’s manipulation of truth to achieve worldly goals by whatever means. The Sunni and Shiites’ use of truth as an excuse to assert power today evince that the concept of truth, in fact, may disturb us from acquiring the freedom mankind can enjoy otherwise.
Relative, religious truths that constantly change and differ overtime according to the difference of man himself has driven mankind to waging wars, separating and placing people against one another. Human massacres have occurred throughout centuries in the name of “truth,” a cause too noble to dispute. But when surveying religion, it itself a type of philosophy, all religions claim to have the truth, though varying in numerous beliefs. Worn out by this unfathomable claim, society refers to tolerance of such claims, necessary to prevent another holocaust from happening. In the midst of religious truth’s failure to set mankind free, bounding us to its various philosophies we confirm our beliefs in, science on the other hand, may seem to present itself as the one and only hope to set us free from false beliefs in relative “truth.”
Scientific truth has progressively proven to free people from false ideas, such as that the earth is flat, and that the earth is the center of the universe, through its observations producing evidence of its claims. It has taken knowledge to heights unimaginable before with the practical application of scientific truths in industry, as well as in the fields of communication and transportation, freeing people from unnecessary drudgery and, to a degree, from the limitations of time and distance. Additionally, scientific truths applied in preventive medicine and health care have helped free people from premature death or a morbid fear of disease. But if evidenced science must be true, then why must scientists continuously test conclusions already proven? Why do scientists oppose new truths empirically derived from other fellow scientists?
Doubt may prevail within such “truths” generated by man, causing us to live in more fear as new truths we assume to confide in, but not necessarily do, develop. Scientific truths, in fact, may be doubted as much as religious truth. Unlike how religious truth is revealed by a divine source through the Bible, the Koran, or the Talmud depending on whether the searcher is a Christian, a Muslim, or a Buddhist, in science, the searcher for truth has no final authority to turn to, neither a book nor an individual that can confirm its discovered “truths.” This necessitates a system of trial and error, with the searcher for scientific truth often finding himself in a fruitless endeavor. Testing theories based on observation through experiments may consist of flaws and inaccuracy because they are conducted by imperfect men who each have different understandings of their results. Yet, we hold the equally imperfect men accountable for their discovery of scientific “truths,” imprisoning them in responsibility. Despite this hit-and-miss method, scientists have over the centuries built up an amazing amount of scientific knowledge. But attempts to transform seriously flawed scientific truths into applied science have produced disastrous results.
An obviously calamitous example is the development of insecticides. Highly valued at first for its effectiveness of preventing insects from infecting our crops, insecticides bolstered the increase of agricultural productivity which we gladly welcomed, until another truth completely disqualified this application of scientific truth. Further scientific research revealed that most insecticides leave residues harmful to human health, to the severity of causing cancer (Sinclair, Wayne). The application of truth, which seemed to free us from the worries of insect contamination in our foods, had in reality tied us to terror of death. Such misapplication demonstrates how the search for scientific truth is, and must be an ongoing operation because of its potential to bind us to actual lies and misconceptions when attempted to apply.
Insecticides, however, barely petrify us in fear when compared to that of the invention of nuclear weapons and atomic bombs through the application of scientific truths. War can seriously ruin civilizations, but ironically, wars today usually try to avoid the use of such forces. Everyone knows the incurable damage such weapons may result in, even those threatening to utilize them. Certainly, the purpose of discovering scientific truths is not to directly kill, but rather to possess more power than others and thus restrain those who lack the same power in fear, even confiscating their freedom to act or speak. Similar to the Sunni versus Shiites situation, the driving force of gaining political power to discover scientific truths encage humanity into a world of terror where we cannot trust anyone or anything.
Nevertheless, scientific victories are celebrated on the ruins of scientific defeats as formerly accepted views are rejected to make way for new ones viewed as more nearly correct. Most would agree today that facts and laws derived from the truth of principles unraveled by science free man from limits preventing advancement. On the other hand, even the freedom to advance, particularly in a technological manner provided by such “beneficial,” accurate scientific truths deceptively enslave us to its creation of the increasing speed of trend and the rush of society. We enjoy the freedom of communicating in an instant through the telephone and now the internet without uttering a word to the other person, despite the separation of hundreds of miles. But such technology invented by the collaboration of scientific truths forces us to abide by its structure, in relationships, travel, and our entire pace of living. Such applied scientific truth – technology, deceives us with the convenience it offers while we actually become victims of it, obsessed with its reliability we can no longer live without.
The grand truths of science gradually replacing those of religious philosophy should be acknowledged with precaution, for it is just as relative and doubtful as the latter. As shown, shocking lies may be hidden beneath the truths, for even the purest of truth imprisons us when the imperfect man’s application or intrusion of individual perception of it comes into play. We must keep in mind that scientific "truths" of today may be tomorrow's mistaken, and possibly even dangerous, ideas of yesterday.
Truths of science and religion are only as credible as that of the other, for they are often delineated by the individual, flawed by imperfection, or really a lie of tomorrow. Truth presents danger because the pursuit of it requires extermination of alternatives, for it to become an identity. Thus, such relativity and application of truths from both science and religion does not set us free, but rather abandons us in confusion and disunity we suffer from. If man, however, lives in concord with a concrete definition of truth as the famous orator Jesus Christ presented in the Bible, then the truth may actually be the key to solve all problems. But in a world where prejudice and misconception hold a strong grasp on truth, truth must stay relative, and each belief of it tolerated to prevent society’s suicide. Thus, mankind is imprisoned in “truth”, whether it is the one of Adam and Eve or evolution, the choice up to each individual. On the contrary, if freedom to you means the opposite of what was assumed or anything else, even “imprisonment” in reality itself, then perhaps the truth, or any truth, has indeed set you “free.”