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How to Know if Something is True

August 18th, 2012 · No Comments

I have been listening to an audiobook version of “The China Study”.   I was giving Emily a synopsis when my oldest daughter asked me, “Daddy, everyone says to eat something different.  How do you know when something is true?”   I thought that was a very good question — a question that I have been wrestling with for years and that I may be uniquely qualified to answer.

“…Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (2 Cor 13:1b NIV)  The obvious catch here is that popular myths propagate over time — so you may have a majority of people espousing a lie simply because they were taught it effectively.  Ideally the three sources should be unrelated, have different perspectives, be studying different things, and have no reason to borrow ideas from each other.    If they are scientists, it is even better if the truth in question was incidental to the focus of their research — as in pretty pebbles they noticed on the path to a different objective.

Since we’re on the subject of scientists,  the scientific method is a good framework for testing truth (with some notable flaws and vulnerabilities)  Scientific reductionism is one pitfall:  life is complex and in order to eliminate variables from an experiment,  sometimes the scientist cuts down all the trees to study a forest.  Also besides the huge risk that someone will falsify data in order to prove a theory (or disprove),  scientists also can influence data.  Data is influenced in three ways:  rejection of outliers, curve fitting, and psychic phenomenon.   If a scientist gets a bunch of data that doesn’t make sense or seems weird,  he will often reject that data, assuming that it is corrupted, contaminated or faulty.  Rejection of outliers is appropriate most of the time, because variables that were supposed to be excluded sometimes break through their boundaries.  (This is also when many valuable discoveries have been made.)  Curve fitting is where a scientist charts data and moves points slightly to make them line up  or match a curve.  This is often done to create a formula.     The risk is that if too small of a sample is used,  the data might look like a line instead of a curve.  Most scientists are aware of this risk and show their sample points plotted on the same graph as the line.  For us non-scientists, we need to be understand that just because a scientist uses a formula does not make it a hard and fast law.    Oftentimes, the formula is just a mathematical approximation.  The scariest (and most controversial) is that of psychic manipulation of data.    Apparently some scientists have found evidence that a researcher’s expectations can alter the outcome of an experiment with all other factors bing equal.   A fourth risk of science is not a flaw of science but rather a flaw in our application of it — just because a scientist discovered a repeatable phenomenon in a laboratory — or found statistical significance in data from a double-blind test — does not make it a universal law in the real world.    Too often news media say that “research has found” or “scientists have proven” and then make claims which should not have been extrapolated.

Science is the new religion — or rather, Materialism is the new religion and scientists are the high priests.    Today’s world shares similarities with Europe in the dark ages:  scientists can be excommunicated and we have thousands of pseudo-scientists running around selling the scientific equivalent of indulgences.  Therefore, one test of my tests for truth is whether the person is being opposed and ridiculed — persecuted.     The danger of peer-review is that it can become peer-pressure and do more to maintain status quo than further science.   If everything someone says lines up with common knowledge, his passion for truth has been tainted by a desire to be accepted.

Follow the money.  This is very very important.  People will lie, steal and kill for money.   Do not equate sophistication and integrity.   Our country is full of well-dressed, educated, polite thieves and liars.  And  millions of pawns who cannot question an employer’s integrity without risking their livelihood.    If someone is in a position to benefit financially from what he is preaching, be cautious.  I do not begrudge an author getting paid for a book.  Nor do I have a problem with an author promoting his own book — even authors have to pay bills and if he has dedicated a chunk of his life to writing down something important, he is justified in telling others about it and getting paid for his efforts.  However, if the book is just the opener for a line of exclusive products,  a pamphlet for his expensive seminar,an intro to a MLM,  or justification of a big industry that is backing him….  Look for motives.  If a motive is not obvious, dig deeper.

Look for corroboration from ancient wisdom.  Look in the Bible.  Some people get ridiculous and take the Bible to ridiculous extremes.  For years, certain people rejected Pi because the Bible said that the circumference of a particular pool was 3.  Keep in mind that they didn’t have tape measures and micrometers in Bible times.  They measured by cubits and they didn’t have a unit for 0.1415926536….  If you’re not sure, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you.  “…And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.  Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” – Phil. 3:15b-16

That leads to another point:  does he apply what he is teaching in his own life.  Does he drink the water he is selling?

Results:  Does he get results?  Since this discussion started about a healthy diet, does the teacher get results from his diet?  Is he healthy?  Are his patients healthy?  False prophets don’t get results.  “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” Duet 18:22

Use your intuition.  If something doesn’t sit quite right, don’t jump to apply it right away.  Wait for confirmation.  On the other hand, if something feels right and passes most of the other tests above,  jump in.  Your personal experience will help teach you the truth.

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