By S.M. Chen  |  8 February 2021  |

In my e-mail inbox recently was an invitation to view one of the latest offerings by Josh Fox, entitled The Truth Has Changed (updated in 2021), sponsored by The Walker Art Center of Minneapolis.

Initially a book, then a film, it is a documentary of Mr. Fox’s thoughts, including those about fracking. (His most notable prior work was Oscar-nominated film Gasland.)

I am not prepared to discuss his thoughts. That is not the purpose of this piece. What I wish to reflect upon is the title of the film. The inference that truth has changed troubles me.

Perceived truth may change.

Falsehoods may change.

Those who think they know the truth may change.

But truth?

Does truth itself change?

Some used to believe Earth was flat.

Despite scientific evidence to the contrary (including photos taken from distance, which prove Earth is a sphere), there still exists a Flat Earth Society.

A posting in 2019 indicated that a YouGov survey of those age 18-24 showed a third were unsure of the shape of the planet.

I’m unsure how members reconcile their belief with overwhelming evidence that such beliefs have no basis in fact. Sailors who went beyond the visible horizon either returned or not. In any event, they did not fall off a flat Earth. They lived to tell about their voyage.

Perhaps they told their stories to some who believed the Earth to be flat, and who thought they should have fallen off the Earth.

Into what? Into oblivion? Perhaps onto a giant turtle or tortoise?

“Turtles all the way down” is an expression of the problem of infinite regress. The expression alludes to the mythological notion of a flat Earth setting on the back of a world turtle. This turtle stands on the back of a larger turtle, which (like Russian nesting dolls) rests on the back of an even larger turtle.

Thus the expression: “Turtles all the way down.”

What is beneath the largest turtle?

What would it take for a member of the Flat Earth Society to believe otherwise?

I suspect some members would not be dissuaded.

The photos of a round earth they are shown they may believe to be fake, perhaps doctored. After all, one can justify practically anything if one’s mind is made up.

We have ample evidence of that in our time.

The truth is the Earth was never flat.

We have no evidence it changed from flat to spherical.

Some don’t believe man landed on the moon, despite undoctored footage of that historic 1969 event. Some probably believe the moon is composed of green cheese, and perhaps a cow jumped over it. There is a part of many of us that wants to believe the childhood nursery rhymes we were taught.  

But healthy adults relinquish the charm and nostalgia of the past for weightier matters. We continue to celebrate Christmas and perhaps put out cookies for Santa Claus but, past a certain point, usually don’t insist our offspring continue to believe in him, or Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.

Some deny the Holocaust, despite extensive and compelling evidence of that chilling part of history which we deny at our peril.

2 + 2 always = 4. At least in our universe.

That is truth.

There is at least some truth to this adage:

“As one travels through life, two things do not bend:
‘Don’t whittle toward yourself, or spit into the wind.’”

I maintain truth does not change.

We may not appreciate truth for what it is at a given time, but that is our failing.

Galileo Galilei, the Italian astronomer (1564-1642) who was threatened with torture by the Inquisition for teaching that Earth was not the center of the cosmos, but rather, rotated around the sun, purportedly muttered under his breath, “Eppur si muove” (“and yet it moves”).  

His Inquisitors may have won that battle, but, in the end, truth would triumph.

It took the Catholic church 300 years to acknowledge he was right. That they ultimately did is a tribute to the power of truth.

Those who believed Sir Isaac Newton was right thought he presented truth. It wasn’t until people like Albert Einstein came along that we realized Newton’s truth was incomplete.

Einstein expanded on our understanding of the universe and, years after his death, is still being proved right. He admitted he stood on the shoulders of some who went before him, such as Newton.

There may well be further truth, which we may only someday come to know. I suspect it may astonish us.

We may come to realize how interconnected the universe is. How A is related to B and B to C, and therefore A to C. Ad infinitum. When a butterfly flaps its wings at point A, in point B, miles away, there really may be an effect. It may not be a hurricane.

We may learn how most things, if not everything, happens for a reason. How thinking leads to action and action to consequence. How we chose A and A led to C, and so on. If we had chosen B, B might have led to D, and so forth.

And so the decision tree of our history would have looked quite different had different decisions been made. There is a point before most decisions are made when one can turn back, and not make a given decision.

But few do. That is our truth.

American poet Ogden Nash (1902-1971) wrote a brief poem which illustrates this:

A primal termite knocked on wood,
Tasted it, and found it good.
And that is why your cousin May
Fell through the parlor floor today.

The termite didn’t need to continue gnawing on the wood it tasted. Had it stopped, your cousin May would have never known. And also not fallen through the parlor floor.

But termites are termites, and they do what they do.

Had they not, Terminix may never have become a viable company.

And your house wouldn’t have to be tented.

As I said, it’s nothing personal, but I don’t have a problem with Mr. Fox’s message so much as I do with the title of his work. I’m not at all convinced truth changes. 

The Master told disciple Thomas, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6, KJV).

It has ever been this way, since our beginning. We can only be grateful that we have always had this beacon to guide us through the stormy seas of calamity, misfortune, and disinformation.  

All we need do is, like the serpent-bitten Hebrews in the wilderness, look up.

S.M. Chen writes from Southern California

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