Is All Truth Truly Scientific?


The following is an open letter to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson challenging the notion that all that is “truth” is scientific or observable. I have no notion that the renown scientist would actually read this or be swayed by my argument . . . it was a paper I submitted as part of my coursework at Biola University. The letter is mainly addressed to counter his theoretical society he calls “Rationalia.”


Dear Dr. Tyson,

A few years ago you posited a virtual nation— “Rationalia”—whereby constituent states “would embrace rational thinking in their conduct and policies.”[1] While I am in violent agreement that rational thinking may lead to a more preferable government than the subjectivity of current politics (focused largely on money, popularity, and power), I contend the underlying premise behind Rationalia—while somewhat veiled in your description—is false: that evidence such as science provides must be the source of all policy, i.e., that which is considered truth.

While the scientific method and related systems (such as examination of criminal evidence, historical research, etc.) do answer many questions, senses-based approaches are not the only means of discovery. Many verifiable facts exist that are not subject to such inquiry. In reference to Moreland’s lecture “Christianity and the Nature of Science,”[2] I ask you to consider four other areas where truth originates: mathematics, logic, personal awareness, and ethics.

In full disclosure, I confess I am a practicing Christian. However, as an accomplished engineer with many years of experience and graduate-level education in my field, my quest to show that truth exists apart from scientific discovery is not an appeal on the basis of personal faith.[3] Rather, my goal is to demonstrate that while science and other sensory-based methods uncover very profound truths about physical existence, they cannot claim a truth monopoly. Having shaped my worldview through available evidences, I contend that acceptance of truth outside the physical realm can open one’s mind to the existence of God as a rational concept worth considering, not one that is purely faith-based.

Mathematics

Because it has an intimate relationship with science and is a fundamental tool thereof, I begin with a discussion of mathematics.  To pose an example, one does not conduct experiments with 1+1 to understand that its result is 2. While visual aids may help the early learner, this concept is a priori[4], that is, it may be deduced through logical means. No amount of scientific method will be enough to prove this to be anything but the truth in all cases. As we certainly both know having taken our share of university-level mathematics courses, the comparison does not stop at simple arithmetic, but propagates into very intricate and detailed theorems and proofs in topics from elementary calculus to complex analysis and abstract algebra.  Such concepts are not observed; rather, they are deduced using advanced mathematical reasoning.

Logic

Philosophy is a diverse field where non-scientific truths are continually debated. One timeless topic is the existence and origin of the universe. To scratch the surface, consider the so-called kalam cosmological argument advanced by Craig and described by Copan[5]:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

As a world-renown astrophysicist, you know how scientists struggle over the origin of the universe. While refraining from taking this argument to the conclusion that deity created all that is, I will point out a couple of things. First, let us consider Craig’s statement that “(w)hatever begins to exist has a cause.” This claim is based in logic—the very idea that something begins to exist necessitates a cause for that beginning. Nowhere in our current reality do we undeniably observe a violation of this principle. Second, quite simply, the universe exists. We know much about the cosmos through scientific discoveries, such as those you have led. But we know of its existence by virtue of the fact that we exist.  Even the ancients with their primitive understanding of reality came to the correct conclusion that the universe (whatever that may be) does exist. Of course, many more examples are available where logic is preeminent in truth discovery.

Personal Awareness

To demonstrate truth discovery through personal awareness, I will use an example. Is science required to verify that you know, for instance, if you are sad? I am not talking about the source of sadness itself, which may due to such a physiological mechanism as depression or anxiety and diagnosed using scientific methodologies. I refer to self-awareness of the emotion of sadness occurring at a particular point. Must I objectively weigh the evidence before coming to the conclusion that I am sad? Or rather does my observation that I am experiencing this emotion speak to the truth that I am—in fact—sad? Extending to the social realm where Rationalia would operate, the condition of hopelessness—while likely caused by scientifically-verifiable events like poverty and racism—is wholly verifiable through awareness of one’s own suffering.

Ethics and Moral Truth

The final topic I would like to broach in my plea for you to acknowledge truth outside of science are the concepts of ethics and morality.  While granting that not everyone subscribes to an absolute basis for morality, nonetheless human history is rife with examples of personal and societal collapse when certain principles are violated.

This is where we must look at the nature of values themselves. Moral truths are not simply fact claims—they tell us what ought to be. They act as imperative.  One should not steal. One should not torture.  One should not murder. Violation of such ethics brings with it a sense of personal guilt that goes beyond societal shame.[6] As imperatives, moral laws have a sense of force behind them. To use an old cliché, could one conceive of a world where child torture is acceptable to more than the sociopathic or psychotic few?  Whether or not you believe in a deity, and regardless of how different societies espouse them, the fact remains that moral truths exist.

Final Appeal

Dr. Tyson, even if you do not conclude that truth must include the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing creator God, I hope you can see that certainties exist apart from scientific discovery. Recognition of this would allow you to evolve the concept of Rationalia into something that speaks not only to the scientifically-minded, but also those who have discovered that the entirety of reality includes those things not physically observable. And while such a society would not likely formally recognize the presence of deity, it would at least admit that those who do hold such beliefs may have a very rational basis for doing so.


[1] N. D. Tyson, “Reflections on Rationalia,” https://www.facebook.com/notes/neil-degrasse-tyson/reflections-on-rationalia/10154399608556613/

[2] J. P. Moreland, “Christianity and the Nature of Science,” Defending the Faith II—CSAP 602, Biola University, 3-4.

[3] Doing so, I feel, would be an insult to anyone who does not already hold the same beliefs as I.

[4] Moreland, 3.

[5] Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument,  Volume I (New York: Bloomsbury Academic), 4.

[6] J. P. Moreland, “Arguments for the Existence of God,” Defending the Faith I—CSAP 601, Biola University, 5.


Works Cited

Copan, Paul and William Lane Craig. 2018. The Kalam Cosmological Argument: Volume I. New York New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Moreland, J. P. “Arguments for the Existence of God.” Defending the Faith I—CSAP 601. Biola University, Los Angeles. 2019.

Moreland, J. P. “Christianity and the Nature of Science.” Defending the Faith II—CSAP 602. Biola University, Los Angeles. 2020.

Tyson, Neil deGrasse. “Reflections on Rationalia.” https://www.facebook.com/notes/neil-degrasse-tyson/reflections-on-rationalia/10154399608556613/ (Accessed 23 October 2020)

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