- Truth Matters: Knowledge, Politics, Ethics, Religion ed. by Lambert Zuidevaart et al.
Truth Matters announces itself as a collection of essays about the concept of truth. The essays began as papers presented at a conference sponsored by the Institute for Christian Studies, and, as the title reveals, the motivation for the conference was to combat what the organizers saw as a skepticism that has become pervasive in popular culture and the academic [End Page 370] world. The collection aims to show, in the words of the editors, “why good, well-founded conceptions of truth are vital to public discourse and society in general.” This is a laudable aim, especially coming from an institute that is religious in its outlook. It is a dispiriting fact about our current public discourse that many of the most high-profile challenges to the truths disclosed by scientific inquiry have come from people who appeal to religion as their inspiration. Though such anti-science voices have perhaps been loudest in the United States, in Canada we can see a dramatic example of this phenomenon in the Cornwall Alliance, an evangelical coalition that has made it their chief crusade to deny that humans are causing climate change.
Looking at the collection as a whole, I do not think we can conclude that the contributors have met the challenge given to them by the editors (and implied by the title itself ). Rather than offering a sustained case for the importance of truth in public discourse, the essays are mostly quite narrow discussions of particular themes, such as narrative truth in Canadian historical fiction, the concept of artistic truth prompted by Biblical wisdom, and Søren Kierkegaard’s idea of truth as subjective. Some topics that we might see as more salient to the overall theme are ignored or given short shrift. Reviewing the first volume of the Cambridge Medieval History early in the twentieth century Hilair Belloc pointed to a striking omission: there was not a single mention of the Mass. Here we have a volume on the importance of truth, and the index entry for “science” has only five citations, with the subheading “scientific truth” having only one. It (along with three of the four other citations for “science”) comes in a thoughtful essay by the physicist Matthew Walhout. In another essay Pamela Reeve mounts a spirited defence of Darwinian evolution, but her concern is to assure us that evolutionary science is compatible with a conception of human history as progress toward the beatific vision. (The idea is that evolution has allowed our brains to develop to the point that intellectual participation in God’s goodness becomes possible.) Meanwhile, many of the essays develop notions of truth or truthfulness as fidelity to subjective experience and in doing so come perilously close to endorsing precisely the sort of modish skepticism the editors claim it is their purpose to combat.
For people who are interested in contemporary theology, there is much in these essays to reward their attention. There is no dogmatism on display here, and the contributors have thought carefully about many problems that will be of interest to educated Christians. However, I think the editors would have done better to pitch their volume differently, in order to alert readers more fully to its focus. [End Page 371]