15 Nov Tips for Discerning Truth (Part 2)
This is Part II of “Tips for Discerning Truth” To get the most out of this post, visit Part 1 here first.
For readers that don’t know me yet, allow me to introduce myself a bit! I currently serve as leader of our Young Women’s Bible study group, but most of my day-to-day is spent at UNT working on biophysics research in pursuit of a Ph.D. My greatest interests are the Bible and biology, scripture and science, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Though appearing to conflict in particular spheres, it isn’t surprising that these are my two favorite topics. They share something I am passionate about, something incredibly important: the recognition and pursuit of a single truth. My role as a scientist has encouraged me (forced me, really) to practice discernment every single day, asking what is true and how I know it’s true. My relationship with Christ has refined my approach to it and taught me to treasure it.
In “Part I” we discussed the importance and value of discerning truth. We cannot discern truth well from our feelings,1 circumstances,2 popular opinion,3 or the most recent bright idea.4 These bad strategies may seem obvious but check your heart and I promise you have felt the temptation to lean on them. So how are we supposed to discern truth? I don’t have all the answers, but I’d like to share a unique approach based on my experience as a Christian scientist. These tips have helped me, and I pray they help you also!
HOW TO TELL IF SOMETHING IS TRUE: A SCIENTIST’S APPROACH TO CHRISTIAN DISCERNMENT
Review the literature. It’s difficult to tell if something is true without knowing anything about it. Gather information! There are two kinds of sources: scriptures (from God) and others (from human beings). For every source of information, ask the following:
Whose interests are they working towards?
What gives them the authority to speak on it?
Where did they get this information?
Scripture is the number one source, and the only one which is inerrant. We can be certain that God is working towards our good and His glory5 and that He has full authority to speak on everything because He is the author of truth itself.
Every other source must be evaluated. Look for evidence; don’t just believe something because someone said it with confidence! A good source will defend their claim, but not all defense strategies are equal. Systematic evidence–information widely supported by data collected from many places–is always better than anecdotal evidence. You never know if the anecdote is an outlier. Systematic evidence reveals trends.
Example: An attitude of surrender to God leads to peace.
Test the truth. Does this hold up to testing when we start looking closely? Does it align with other evidence? I feel it is important to mention that testing does not indicate a lack of faith. In fact, God doesn’t just expect us to do it, He instructs us to do it.6
Scientists use two common approaches that we can use for our own thought experiments. One is to ask, “what happens when we remove this thing?” We call this a “knockout.” Knocking something out reveals whether it is necessary for something else to happen.
The second approach asks, “what happens when we add this thing to a place where it does not already exist?” This is called a “knock-in,” and it reveals whether something is sufficient for something else to happen.
These are just two places to start but you can test the truth by asking almost anything. Get curious!
Evaluate the test. What other explanations could there be? What other factors could be influencing my opinion here? Identify flaws in your thinking. Consider whether you are comparing apples to apples. Analyzing error and checking bias is critical for a scientist and for all of us to know how certain we should really be about something. This requires humility because prideful minds cannot learn. Prideful minds have already made up their mind that they are right.7 Prideful minds assume they are just as wise as God is (or worse… wiser).
Peer review. Any respectable scientist’s work is published in a journal that requires peer review. The process of peer review involves sending the work to other experts in the field (typically three of them) who provide critiques and advice. Outside opinions help us fill in gaps and notice things we may not have. None of us can discern truth alone. We should not lean on our own understanding,8 but we should lean on the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and the community of believers around us.
When your work goes through peer review, your reviewers must be peers (or rank above you). For scientists, that means not letting the graduate students be reviewers. For followers of Jesus, that means the people you go to are fellow believers with a mutual value for the things of God and truth itself. Pastors, church friends, not unsaved people, people who ignore the Word, people who are not mature enough in the faith to help.
|1||Claire, my friend and sister in Christ, values the Word of God and studies it with me weekly||Yes! Fellow believer, loves Jesus, takes the Word seriously|
|2||Oliver, my friend and classmate, grew up in church, thinks the Old Testament is mythology but Jesus was real||No. Does not value the Word as truth, has shaky faith or none at all|
|3||Tara, my friend and mentor, has earned a seminary degree and lived more life than I have||Yes! Mature believer, has learned truth through experience and education|
The work of discerning truth is a lot of effort. But glorifying God and representing him rightly is worth it. “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”9 We value truth because God values truth, and the Holy Spirit helps us through it all.
Father God, thank you for creating truth and for revealing it to us through your Word and your Spirit. Empower us to love you will all our minds. Motivate us to value what you value. And it is my prayer that our love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that we may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.10 In Jesus’ precious and holy name, Amen.
- Jeremiah 17:9
- Hebrews 11:3, Ecclesiastes 11:5
- Exodus 23:2, Romans 12:2
- Ephesians 4:14
- Romans 8:28
- 1 John 4:1, Romans 12:2
- Proverbs 12:15
- Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs 28:26
- Proverbs 4:7, NIV
- Philippians 1:9-10, ESV