In various ways, science, religion, philosophy and the arts all claim to represent the truth. But what truth means is different in each case, and increasingly controversial. The traditional religious idea of absolute Truth has long been considered dubious. A radical scepticism was at the heart of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment. By the end of the 20th century, though, many feared healthy scepticism had given way to a destructive hostility to all truth claims in the guise of postmodernism and various forms of relativism in politics and culture, as well as notoriously in academia.
In recent years there has been a backlash against postmodern ideas and a reassertion of truth claims. From Al Gore’s touting of scientific consensus against those who doubt the reality of climate change, to Pope Benedict XVI’s railing against relativism in the name of religious Truth, there is a palpable yearning for certainty in a seemingly uncertain world. Politicians increasingly look to ‘the science’ – data passed off as truth – to legitimise ‘evidence-based policies’, meaning argument is replaced by conflicting research findings. Others argue religious faith is essential to a fulfilling life, and some scientists have responded by challenging religious truth claims. Disputes around ‘Creationism’ raise thorny questions about what is true and how to challenge untruths.
If all you can rely on is scientific evidence and dry facts, what hope is there for passionate and substantive political debate? Is the search for truth merely about accepting the world as it is, or might it mean understanding the world the better to transform it?
|Professor Colin Blakemore
professor of neuroscience at the universities of Oxford and Warwick; chair, Neuroscience Research Partnership, Singapore; chair, general advisory committee on science, Food Standards Agency
|Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, What's Happened to the University?, Power of Reading: from Socrates to Twitter, On Tolerance and Authority: a sociological history
author, The Age of American Unreason; programme director, Centre for Inquiry - NYC; fellow, Centre for Scholars and Writers, New York Public Library.
|Professor David Jones
director, Anscombe Bioethics Centre; co-editor, Chimera's Children: Ethical, Philosophical and Religious Perspectives on Human-Nonhuman Experimentation
director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
A passion for conservative values has united diverse Christian groups, giving them influence way beyond their numbersSusan Jacoby, The Times, 31 October 2008
Susan Jacoby, Old Street Publishing, 25 August 2008
Outright fiction is being peddled as historical and scientific fact, warns Damian Thompson in an extract from his provocative new book.Damian Thompson, Telegraph, 15 January 2008
David Noebel, Harvest House Publishers, 15 August 2001
"The audience were the stars of the Battle of Ideas - engaged, informed and enthusiastic. As a panellist, I felt both ashamed and educated. Exactly as it should be."
John Street, professor of politics, University of East Anglia