While we’re diving into notions of “evidence” and “truth,” I’d like to bring into focus a related element: Replicability.

In science, nothing is considered true unless it is replicable. That means if I make a scientific “discovery” of y, y doesn’t become a scientific truth unless you–and everyone else, too–can replicate that finding, i.e., you get the same results under the same conditions. 

This requirement can be applied loosely to define social truths. If I say something is a fact, I should be able to point to the evidence for it, and any other reasonable person without an axe to grind would look at the same evidence and agree, yes, that looks like a fact. (Unfortunately, this standard has frayed badly in recent years.)

I think religious truth is different from scientific truth in that religious truth is not replicable. 

I read Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu and the world melted around me. Those books contain profound religious (spiritual) truth for me. I don’t expect, however, that you will have the same experience when you read them. They could be just pretty poetry and bizarre nonsense to you. You aren’t wrong if you don’t experience them the way I do.

Similarly, “I know the power of the risen Christ because I have experienced it” is a perfectly valid religious and spiritual truth. So is, “I asked and God gave me faith.” Or even, “I believe the Bible is God’s infallible Word.” I have zero beef with anyone who holds those truths. But I would be delighted if people who hold those truths would not claim that they are replicable. “I asked, and God gave me faith” does not mean that if Joe asks, God will likewise give Joe faith. Acknowledging that limitation can be a bitter pill for some.

Atheists like me have non-replicable truths as well. A friend once said she’d heard that everyone has one thing they know for certain. She asked what mine was. Without hesitation, I replied, “God is evil.” (I also believe God is a fictional character. So: an evil fiction, not an actual evil entity.) All this is non-replicable. I can’t create in someone else the same circumstances that led me to those beliefs and verify that they come to the same conclusion as I did.

So: We talk about whether truth is subjective or objective. Is my truth just as valid as yours? How is this for an approximate answer: Truth that is replicable is objective. Truth that is not replicable is subjective. Living with that understanding may help us live in relative peace. What do you think?

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