by William Melvin Gardner; Logica Books, 2012; 190 pages; $12.95
“What is Truth?”
Former Jacksonville State University psychology professor William Melvin Gardner asks this seminal question to open his new book, “Handling Truth.” What follows is not a definition of truth, but a precise, readable and easily understood explanation of the various ways people have sought truth in all its ambiguity.
“Truth is rarely self-evident...” Gardner, a long-time Anniston resident, writes. “And truth is not a vague term that remains open to definition; four clear definitions are evident in the traditional tests by which assertions come to be established truths.”
Gardner, currently retired from JSU and living in Fairhope, identifies four “domains,” or approaches to establishing the truth.
Arguing among ourselves about what is true, as in courts of law, the rhetorical method in which “statements are advanced or discredited by the process of persuasion and debate ...” Here, truth always remains a matter of opinion.
In the theological domain, “truths are articles of faith or beliefs, arising from and tested by spiritual revelations, prophecy, sacred texts, personal enlightenment or other mystical processes.”
In the realm of logic, “truths are inferences, or proofs that have been validated with the methods of logic.”
Gardner calls the fourth domain “Empirica.” There truths are empirical findings confirmed and documented by research. Science and history own the fourth domain.
The assertion by Gardner that what is true in one domain may not be true in another is one of the most provocative and insightful observations in the book.
For example, Gardner writes: “the four domains do not agree on what constitutes a person. Is a person an individual in society, an immortal soul in a temporary body, an interacting mind and body, or an intelligent organism? What points mark the beginning of a human life, and when has life ended?”
The truth about personhood is answered in four different ways, depending on which domain is considering the question: opinion, religion, academia or science.
Each of the four domains may lay claim to the truth about an idea, event or phenomena, but no two domains may make the same arguments to support their claims.
Thus, according to Gardner, conflicting definitions of the truth are inevitable. One need look no further than the current conflict between the religious domain and the scientific domain over the truth about creation and evolution.
Gardner’s other theme in the book involves the problems that will arise when one domain attempts to export its idea of truth to another domain.
For example, returning to the question of the creation of the universe and how life came to be on Earth, Gardner asserts that when the religious domain imposes its faith-based belief in creationism onto the domain of science, the result is a blurring, or outright denial of the observable truth of evolution. The same is true in reverse: Science cannot verify matters of faith and has no business trying. No formula can prove the existence of Heaven. The two views of the truth about life must learn to coexist. It is up to each person to side with faith or side with science, according to Gardner. One cannot accept both.
There is much more of interest in Gardner’s book, including a series of questions that will help determine what kind of truth-seeker you are. The author’s thoughtful, comprehensive and unbiased examination of the ways people seek the truth make this book well-worth the time to hunt it down.
For more information or to purchase the book, visit www.handlingtruth.com.
Art Gould is a former newspaper reporter and book publisher. He lives in Anniston.