The Triumph of Truth: Overlooking the Obvious

How do we, who so explicitly and implicitly accept the rationality inherent in the scientific method, miss the certainty inherent in simple rational proofs and arguments?

(Photo: Martin Sattler @martinsattler/Unsplash.com)

Given the many technological and scientific advances over the last two hundred years, it is startling to consider the stupefying malaise and paradoxical plague that prevents so many of us from seeing the obvious truths of living.

How do we, who so explicitly and implicitly accept the rationality inherent in the scientific method, miss the certainty inherent in simple rational proofs and arguments? How do we, who properly employ science to find and apply the truths about our physical world, miss the use and power of our rational and logical capacities to find truth in the realms of metaphysics and human nature, in morality and in culture? Such is the inversion and perversion of our modern times.

For the real plague besetting modern times is not the many problems occupying our political and cultural discourse. Nor is it class and race, gender and identity, or even liberal and conservative. Our primary problem is simpler than most of us may surmise and more foundational than we may suspect. Yet, it is so obvious, it is a wonder we overlook it.

Our modern problem is really a solitary and severe one, yet a simplistic and superficial one. It is a self-inflicted crisis of knowing—an epistemological crisis, a crisis of truth. And, derivative from this epistemological crisis, many moderns live with a malignant metaphysical confusion.

As modern “naturalists,” most of us blindly believe only science can give us real truth—practical and demonstrable truth. Truth, in naturalism, is confined to the realm of physical things alone. Consequently, all other truth claims of an intangible nature, be they metaphysical or moral or even aesthetic, are relegated to the realm of raw belief with no possibility of real proof.

Yet, our modern epistemological and metaphysical mindset is wrong to such a degree and with such frequency, it is all but astounding we miss the scale and substance of it. For the assertion of science’s complete hegemony over truth cannot be demonstrated scientifically. This assertion of science’s sole explanatory power is grounded not in the scientific method, but in rational argumentation and deductive reasoning of a faulty and flawed nature.

And this belief in science’s dominance is so silly and irrational, it is hard to find softer and more sensitive ways to describe it. For this belief in science as the sole source of truth is founded on a flagrant and fatal contradiction. For if science is the only way to know truth of any kind, that assertion can only be proved with scientific investigation and empirical experimentation.

Yet the case for science’s supposed singular source of truth can only be made with reason, not with empirical experimentation. In light of this fatal contradiction, science’s limitations are clearly circumscribed. Science is our way of knowing how the physical world works–its many laws, its order, its dynamics, and its composition. In this realm, it is the predominant method, a powerful path to the truth about the physical world.

But in the realm of the intangible—like our human mind, its rational powers, its commonsense, its intuitions, its pre-conscious components—science cannot really help us to determine truth. Truth about life’s inherent meaning and ultimate purpose, about morality and beauty, must be pursued through a different method, a different epistemology than science.

Truth about human love and brotherhood, about courage and sacrifice, and about justice and freedom can only be found with a more human and humane way of knowing, a more realistic and rational way. For these truths are only known through reason and human experience.

Understand that science isn’t really a separate way of knowing, despite our tacit modern assumptions. It is a composite way of knowing that relies on the order of the physical universe, the reliability of our human perceptual senses, and our rational abilities.

Science really is just a rigorous application of reason to the tangible world. From hypothesis development to experimental methods. From data collection and analysis to experimental findings and theory development. From review and replication to application and adaptation, science relies on reason every step of the way.

So, the first obvious error is that science isn’t a separate and competitive way of knowing when compared with reason. Science is a composite way of knowing founded on reason in both its philosophy and in its use. Science is replete with reason. It is reason applied to knowing about things physical.

Science is not a separate way of knowing. It is a derivative way of knowing. It is fueled by rational curiosity and driven by rigorous rational application and review. Science relies on reason and validates reason’s ascendancy by its processes and its findings.

The second error is asserting science as our single and solitary path to actual truth. That assertion cannot be even explored scientifically, let alone proved. Proving that assertion can only be accomplished with reason and to do so would constitute a fatal logical contradiction, as explained above. The typical appeal used to promote this contradictory conclusion is to appeal to the litany of scientific truths and its many applications.

Having appealed to the sheer volume of physical truths discovered by science, most rest their case and are baffled if anyone should take issue with what they think is a bulletproof defense of science’s dominance. But the presence of all these physical truths does not prove its dominance. For its focus is the physical world alone. And its method relies on reason.

Thirdly, science, in this vein (which is really scientism), relentlessly asserts that the physical world is the only reality there is. Yet, science relies on reason across the breadth of its empirical process. Yet such rational reliance also contradicts science’s assertion of the solely tangible nature of the world and human experience. This naturalistic view that everything is simply matter and energy reduces reason to neural activity and eliminates the reality of rationality, rational order, deductive and inductive proof, as well as mathematics and even science itself.

Fourthly, using reason alone and some simple observations about the physical world, we can prove the physical realm that science claims is its dominion must be a contingent reality—not a first or final reality. Just look at the law of cause and effect briefly. Every effect must have a prior cause. That is a fundamental presupposition of the scientific method. It is also a fact of reality.

If every effect is the product of a prior cause, sooner or later wouldn’t there have to be an uncaused causer? Because effects follow causes, the sequence of causes and effects requires a pre-existing uncaused causer, an intangible uncaused causer. Shocking though it may seem to our modern conceptions and assumptions, the physical universe is not the ultimate reality and science is not its dominant epistemology.

Our physical universe, which is an effect, is a contingent reality reliant on an intangible uncaused causer. Because causes precede effects, the effect that is our cosmos must be preceded by some intangible cause that is not part of the physical universe. That is a rational necessity and a scientific inevitability. Indisputable. Incontrovertible. Irrefutable. And, that is a cataclysmic fact for our modern naturalistic theory of knowledge and for many of our secular and scientific assumptions.

Finally, the existence of reason, its rational order, its deductive power must also be explained. How did this powerful and definitive order, the backbone of science and mathematics, come to exist in the first place? How did the power of logic and rational analysis that compels the development of science and guides it even still, be overlooked so completely in our modern and sophisticated times?

It is indeed unbelievable that these aspects of science’s dependency on reason and reason’s primary epistemological position would be so overlooked, so misunderstood, so misapprehended. Yet, this epistemological error is really the root cause of so many of our modern woes.

Our loss of meaning, our confusion, our despair, our anger, our doubt all find some degree of causation in a universe where science is the sole way of knowing and where reason is merely manipulative, a rhetorical gimmick used for dominance, persuasion, exploitation. For naturalism’s implicit dominance is truly the root of so many of our cultural and political ills, our philosophical and religious confusions, as well as the rampant relativism we encounter every day in our public and private lives.

And it is simple to demonstrate. If the only truths we can know are scientific ones, then we have no truths to guide us in all the personal, social, moral, political,  and relational areas of our lives. We can only follow the laws and the norms in our public lives and the expectations of others in our personal lives, knowing full well these are merely arbitrary aspects which happen to be dominant or democratically adopted. There is no truth about life, for in life the only real truths are the laws of the various sciences.

Paradoxically, we know this because reason tells us this is so. If we begin with this false assumption about knowing, then all the truth we can possibly know is found only in the sciences and through the scientific method. And so reason cannot reveal any truth to us. Commonsense, logic, and intuition can’t tell us any truth. Even a synergy of all these methods including science can’t tell us any real actual and factual truth.

And, this faulty idea leaves anyone, who implicitly adopts this view of science and knowing, with a deep knowledge of the physical universe and in complete ignorance about everything else. For them, everything else is arbitrary, a product of individual or collective whim.

But if we embrace a more rational and sophisticated view of knowing based on reason and commonsense, our humanness becomes a reality—not a sensation and not a neural illusion. By expanding nothing more than our theory of knowledge to encompass the rational essence of science and reason itself, we can see and embrace our true and real humanity.

Now, we know we are truly human in the fullest sense. For our full humanity is only ours if we are more than just biochemical machines, more than just an accidental composition of mere matter and energy. For correcting our faulty epistemology changes everything. And that everything includes all the aspects and areas of life that make human life truly human and magnificently Divine.


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About F.X. Cronin 1 Article
F. X. Cronin has studied on a graduate level in education at Harvard University and at the University of Connecticut, in leadership at Columbia University and in theology at Regent University and Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He also writes regularly for The National Catholic Register and appeared on EWTN’s "The Journey Home" with Marcus Grodi following his 2007 reversion to the Catholic faith from atheism and evangelical Protestantism. His book The World According to God: The Whole Truth About Life and Living (2020) is now available from Sophia Institute Press.

9 Comments

    • This excellent .. so well said!
      Was it Chesterton who said “you can’t find truth with logic, unless you start with truth without logic”.

      • Yes indeed. “Logic, then, is not necessarily an instrument for finding truth; on the contrary, truth is necessarily an instrument for using logic….” G. K. Chesterton (Daily News, Feb 25, 1905)

  1. We read: “For if science is the only way to know truth of any kind, that assertion can only be proved with scientific investigation and empirical experimentation.” Two comments:

    FIRST, about different kinds of proofs, Ratzinger/Pope Benedict said this: “Christianity’s claim to be true cannot correspond to the standard of certainty posed by modern science, because the form of verification here is of a quite DIFFERENT KIND from the realm of testing by experiment—pledging one’s life for this—is of a quite different kind. The saints, who have undergone the experiment, can stand as guarantors of its truth, but the possibility of disregarding this strong evidence remains” (Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, Ignatius, 2003, p. 226, CAPS added).

    SECOND, science can say nothing, either, about the concrete Incarnation itself, since this is a most particular and singular event in human history—and therefore not capable of mere replication and verification under controlled laboratory conditions. The only evidence would have to be some trace left behind (like unique fingerprints at a murder scene!). And, this living (!) trace is what the indwelled Church itself claims TO BE (as when we point to our Founder). The only possible replication of the incarnate Christ, then, is those who accept the gift of sacramental incorporation into the eternal life of Christ—millions and millions under all possible “laboratory conditions” throughout history! (Recycle to the first point.)

  2. A very excellent commentary. If I were teaching an incoming class of college freshmen, I’d provide this as a handout right off the bat.

  3. Reason applied scientifically here defined as logical sequence and inference is essential to defining and understanding what we believe. This is where I believe Cronin sees value. Insofar as what we believe as the ground for scientific explanation and definition, belief in the existence of a supreme being responsible for creation is proved by reasoned inquiry. Insofar as the primary religious belief which centers on the revelation of God in the person of Christ that is a matter of faith rather than science. Evidence understood as scientific evidence requiring physical proof as Peter Beaulieu demonstrates is neither available nor relevant because the evidence is found in our faith, as the Apostle says faith is evidence of what we hope for. As confirmed in the Catechism we believe not because of rational argument. We believe because God has spoken. Reason follows faith to make comprehensible the mystery of that revelation. Nonetheless the revelation of the Father in Christ is truth of the highest order of intelligibility. The human intellect is designated by God to apprehend that infallible and primary truth, which is why Our Lord says to the Apostles when preaching from village to village those who refuse to believe will be condemned, those who believe in the Son of Man will be saved.

  4. Thank you Mr. Cronin. As I sit here in my office feeling sorry for myself because my sons were told that they are to rot at home in front of a screen indefinitely instead of messing around with their friends, teasing girls, dropping 40 yard passes, coming in 3rd in the butterfly, score the winning three pointer, being the class clown at the Homecoming dance or a number of events in what it means to be human in service to the great will of science in saving the lives of out-shape old guys like myself who sit behind a desk rotting for a living; That it is indeed good to remember that God is God and the Holy Spirit will help us endure this test of faith. And so once more I profess that ‘I trust in you Jesus Christ!’

    • I asked a particularly anxious co-worker what the point of this all is. She replied “to save lives”. I asked “Whose and for how long?”. She said “Predominantly older people, I guess, for how ever long God wills, I guess.”. I asked given that presupposition, what makes her think that this virus is not the will of God (it is one way or the other: active or permissive) and that it’s up to us to determine when people die. No real answer for that question.

      This is a situation in which otherwise healthy people are being locked up, losing jobs, etc. for the sake of older people. The same co-worker commented on how sad it was that 15 of the states then 37 deaths were of people in a memory care unit (ah…Alzheimer’s ward) of a nursing home. All death is sad in the meta way that God did not intend us to die. But given it as an eventuality, is it really sad when somebody with Alzheimers or dementia age 70 and over dies? Put a different way, in July 2019 if the average American had been approached and asked if they would support a 28 year-old father of four being fired from his job and losing his means to support his family, becoming depressed, etc for the sake of potentially keeping somebody with Alzheimers alive for a few more weeks, months, years, what would the normal person have said (after establishing that we weren’t talking about the person with Alzheimers being deliberately killed if the younger man kept his job)?

  5. Excellent article-very well written and very timely! In a culture that has forsaken the idea of truth and abandoned reason, this article really addresses the underlying issues in our current cultural climate (and really going back several generations!).

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