In the last couple of weeks I have found myself slightly uncomfortable with the way people are using ‘truth’ and ‘facts’. There are two places in particular that have caught my attention. It began with an email from a Catholic blog I write for insisting that we should stick to the truth. In the context what was actually meant was that all the writing should be consistent with Catholic teaching. I have no problem with the latter given the mission of the site. But to equate this with truth without equivocation is a big problem.
Don’t get me wrong I do think that for the most part Catholic teaching is pretty good. There have been a lot of wise people working on, and revising the teaching for a long time. But I hope and trust that it will continue to evolve and change as our understanding of our world and who we are grows. Some of what is official teaching does rankle and I sincerely hope in time there will be changes. In general I’m happy to say that Catholic teaching is a good solid guide, but I won’t hang my hat on it being ‘truth’.
The other sphere has been the rhetoric around the March for Science. I am a scientist and I really do want policy guided by evidence based research. But let’s not forget that all data is interpreted. Just because it is labelled ‘science’ doesn’t mean it is good science. Not only is data collection subject to a range in reliability, but we necessarily interpret through the lens of our best understanding to date.
I am sure that understanding of pretty much all physical phenomena is more accurate than it was a decade ago, precisely because we have more data, and the data has helped us hone our understanding. But we could still be missing a giant part of the picture. I do put my faith in the process of science, which does occasionally allow for the paradigm shift. It really is the best we have. But again I’m not hanging hat on it being ‘truth’.
In both cases discernment is necessary. I’m not going to upend my life based on one scientific study, or one line in the catechism. But as more information becomes available and I begin to study around these things, I will begin to see whether this is indeed trustworthy. And then I have to act, and to continue to discern.
(Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not suggesting at all that the catechism and science offer the same kind of information! That is a whole other conversation – this is simply a commentary on certainty)