What is Truth?
Today's entry was written by Rev. Charles Alley. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what BioLogos believes here.
Human beings ask “what is Truth” because we have an innate drive to be correct and to live lives that are significant. In his essay “Of Truth,” Francis Bacon said “the inquiry of truth…is the sovereign good of human nature.” In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis articulated the same point when he wrote, “human beings, all over the earth, have a curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it” (bk. 1; ch. 1; para. 11). There is something “out there” that is termed the Truth – the golden ring that gives this merry-go-round of a life purpose and meaning.
In my own life, the question “What is Truth?” led me on a path of discovery. I cannot say that I knew I was searching for Truth early in my life, but I was certainly searching for explanations and meaning. The drive to learn how to do things, what made things work, and how things were made so that I might create them myself fueled my first vocational dream to be an engineer like my father. Later I was taken by the visual as well as functional beauty of buildings and structural environments, so modified my dream toward becoming an architect. But while in college, I fell in love. My new mistress was the cell and the incredible choreography of the organelles and intra-cellular structures that danced an intricate ballet of function and reproduction. My love led me on a path that took me into medical research and towards the Truth behind the beauty and wonder of the human body.
In my approach to biomedical research, I always saw myself as participating in a piecemeal revelation of the mysteries of this world. My search was given a new focus while I was in graduate school. I can remember being in the middle of Gross Anatomy my first year, going from cadaver to cadaver for an exam, and suddenly realizing that we could do this, and we could successfully perform surgery, because 99+% of the time whatever we were looking for was in the same location and had the same appearance regardless of the particular body. The beauty and efficiency of the packing of the organs, nerves and blood vessels within the body cavities, as well as their predictability even among vertebrates of different species was a work of art in my eyes. At the level of logic it became increasingly difficult for me to interpret such an observation as supporting the argument for chance and serendipity. The only other alternative to chance would be design or meta-narrative, and that would dictate a narrator. If it were to be a true over-arching narrative, then the speaker must be outside what was being spoken. For me that One is God, the Creator.
It followed that if I were going to seek the Truth about the physical universe, I would need to come to know its Creator. Ultimately this focus on knowing God resulted in a growing understanding of who he had been preparing me to be. And while the change from science to theology seems dramatic, it was really only a shift from one form of healing to another, more holistic form. Still, my call into the ordained ministry was a twelve-year process of experimentation and discernment, rather than a particular transformative event. I purposely use the term “experimentation” because I approached the question of my being ordained as a scientist would—by designing various experiments to test the call. I was seeking the Truth for my life.
This thumb-nail sketch of my faith journey does not describe the full spectrum of influences that drew me to find the Truth in a Person. Relationships tend to lose their enlivening nature when studied under the microscope of science. For example, you may “Google” the name of a person-of-interest in order to learn more about her, but until you commit to the adventure of personal give-and-take, the richness and beauty of that person cannot be fully known. To do otherwise is to learn about an object – the pigments and techniques used by the artist to produce the work, without ever learning the nature of the artist himself. As physicists and mathematicians see beauty in an equation that renders an elegant explanation rather than just a correct answer, Truth is beautiful and becomes known when it is experienced and not just as it is studied.
In his Commentary on the Divine Names (IV, 5-6), Thomas Aquinas taught that beauty in the created order reflects the beauty of the Creator God. The One who in the beginning brought order out of the chaos (Genesis 1) is reflected in the music of Bach and Handel, the painting of Monet and Raphael, the fine tuning of the physical universe and the exquisite detail of the genetic code. When we experience beauty we are touched by the Spirit of Truth and drawn toward a relationship with the One who is Truth. Beauty of itself is not the Truth, but rather a window into the Truth. Just as the Incarnate Lord stood before Pilate and Pilate for a moment uncharacteristically declared him innocent (Luke 23:4), beauty stands before us as we ask the question, “What is Truth?” Pilate walked away without finding the answer (John 18:38). Beauty beckons us into a relationship that will answer our question. If we want to find the Holy Grail of our Quest we must enter into beauty and be guided to the prize. As we engage beauty in this world we find that Truth is not an object or a concept, but a Person – the Beautiful Person, Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Charles D. Alley, Ph.D., is Rector of St Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, VA. Dr. Alley received his B.S. and M.A. in Biology from the College of William and Mary and his Ph.D. from the Department of Anatomy of the Medical College of Virginia/VCU. Prior to earning his M. Div. from Virginia Theological Seminary and entering parish ministry in 1991, Dr. Alley was a cellular immunologist with interests concentrated in the areas of mucosal immunology and autologous bone marrow transplantation.