Skeptical Inquirer

Review of Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research for Skeptical Inquirer (November-December, 2012) by Richard Bond.

Richard Bond writes, “He [Gardner] has a unique ability to take a complex philosophical topic and make it clear and readily understandable;” and he ends his review with, “Handling Truth should be of interest to anyone in psychology or politics, as well as those who have an interest in philosophy.”

Irreconcilable Truths

Underlying theme of William Melvin Gardner’s Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research.

Disputes between the four domains of truth are inevitable, and the resulting controversies endure simply because they cannot be resolved. The domains can coexist, even within a single head, but their differences can- not be reconciled. To the extent we wish to dwell or travel in multiple domains, we must learn to accept irreconcilable truths.

The Information Express

Final assessment of the human predicament as we enter the 21st Century.

Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research (2012) by William Melvin Gardner.

So the Information Express roars into the twenty-first century, destination unknown. We all have a one-way ticket and a seat by the window; we are going somewhere together, at a faster and faster pace. Where are we heading? Should we try to slow down, to return to the search for truth, or must we speed onward, gathering more and more unvetted information?

Why We Agree

To the extent we wish to search for truth in more than one domain, we must learn to accept contradictory truths. If we expect truth to be universally accepted, we will remain blind to the primary and enduring source of these contradictions and disagreements. Only when we understand and respect the borders and rules of all four domains of truth can we hope to understand why we disagree. Or, for that matter, why we agree.

A New Generation

Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research (2012) by William Melvin Gardner.

Members of the older generation tend to believe that right and wrong are obvious, that they can look into your eyes and judge your character, and that “good men” do their duty and don’t ask questions. There is, however, a younger generation that tends to judge what is right or wrong based on consequences, to judge a person’s value by his or her credentials and successes; and to ask many questions before making a commitment. Members of this younger generation tend to place trust in the facts of science and inferences of logic, rather than in personal opinions and traditional beliefs.


Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research (2012) by William Melvin Gardner.

We know no higher experience than human experience, no higher understanding than human understanding, and no truth higher than that formed within the confines of, and expressed with, language. We know only the truth of the four sovereign domains of truth.

In the oldest domain, RHETORICA, statements are advanced or discredited by the process of persuasion and debate, or rhetoric. In Rhetorica, truth always remains a matter of opinion. In the second domain, MYSTICA, truths are articles of faith or beliefs, arising from and tested by spiritual revelation, prophecy, sacred texts, personal enlightenment, or other mystical processes. In LOGICA, truths are inferences or proofs that have been validated with the methods of logic. The fourth domain is EMPIRICA, and its truths are empirical findings, confirmed and documented by research.

Can an Islamic state be a democracy?

Democracy requires public discussion and compromise, whereas articles of religious faith cannot be negotiated. When believers take power through revolution or election, democracy is threatened. In an Islamic Democracy (or a Christian Democracy, for that matter), laws must pass the test of compliance with religious doctrine, and heretical speech tends to be criminalized. Without free speech and unrestricted political debate, a society does not, and cannot, have real democracy. To use the terms described in Handling Truth (2012), democracies seek truths in Rhetorica, not Mystica. Mystica’s truths guide theocracies.

–William Melvin Gardner–

Truth and Language

The popular notion of truth is that it is the actual state of affairs, whether known or not, whether tested or not. But until a specific state of affairs is asserted, we cannot test and confirm that it is true. So to say truth can be unstated and therefore untested leaves the word truth pointing vaguely into the unknown.

For an assertion to be tested and found to be truth, it must be spoken or written. This may seem an innocent requirement, but it carries a heavy implication:  truth is a product of language.

To establish an assertion as true, we must have an accepted method for evaluating assertions, but this does not restrict the establishment of truth to the methods of logic. In Handling Truth, four traditional methods for evaluating the truth of assertions are recognized: debate, faith, logic, and research. While you or I may accept or reject any of these methods, we must recognize that others may accept the methods we reject–and reject the methods we accept.

It may be unsettling to think that truth relies on the rules of a testing method, but the truth we find depends on the test we select; if we use two different testing methods (e.g. faith and scientific research), we will find contradictory truths. And when we do, we can only reject the findings of one of the two methods, or live with dissonance.

William Melvin Gardner–