Friday, 2 December 2011

Truth versus sincerity

Often times it is claimed that error in the name of a greater good is acceptable. A variant on the end justifies the means I suppose. This is argued in many of the larger paradigms that compete for our allegiance: evolution, climate change, socialism.

Biologist Coturnix argues deceit is acceptable in the battle over evolution,
You have to bring them over to your side, gain their trust, and then hold their hands and help them step by step. And on that slow journey, which will be painful for many of them, it is OK to use some inaccuracies temporarily if they help you reach the students. If a student, like Natalie Wright who I quoted above, goes on to study biology, then he or she will unlearn the inaccuracies in time. If most of the students do not, but those cutesy examples help them accept evolution, then it is OK if they keep some of those little inaccuracies for the rest of their lives.
A more subtle comment by climate researcher David Viner about factual inaccuracies in a movie,
The film got a lot of the detail wrong, and the direction of change as well - cooling of this sort is very unlikely with global warming. But the fact that The Day After Tomorrow raises awareness about climate change must be a good thing.
And Tony Juniper said about the same movie,
Although the depiction of the science is exaggerated and at times misleading, the scale of the threat and the underlying politics are all too true.
In defence of this, people argue the issue is so important—and the issue is manifestly true—that deceit is justifiable. Some may even raise the lying-to-save-life dilemma; though forced information is a different category.

Such beliefs may also be held by Christians. Scriptural defence of the same is appealed to in Paul
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (Philippians 1)
However this verse does not speak of the truth or falsity of the message, it speaks of the "truth" of motivation.

The claim that is suspect is
  • Lies are acceptable if we are sincere about our beliefs
Paul in Philippians is saying
  • Truth is acceptable, even if the proclaimer is insincere about his beliefs.
It is not sincerity that matters, it is truth. And Proverbs directly contradicts the claim that sincerity is more important than truth, in fact without truth it is potentially dangerous,
It is not good to have zeal without knowledge,/
nor to be hasty and miss the way. (Proverbs 19:2 NIV)

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