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.

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–


New Book Review of Handling Truth

The South African Medical Journal (SAMJ) Vol 102, No 3 (2012) contains a review of Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research. See at the following link to SAMJ:

In the same issue of SAMJ there is an editorial analysis of health care in South Africa. The four domains of truth—Rhetoria, Mystica, Logica, and Empirica—defined in Handling Truth are used in analyzing the differences between scientific medicine and traditional healers. See at the following link to SAMJ:


Q/A: Political Truth

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

Question:  Is “political truth” a contradiction in terms?

Answer: Some people refuse to apply the word truth to politics, but no less a document than the Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths [italics added] to be self evident….” The political positions that followed were affirmed by 56 of our Founding Fathers and defended in the Revolutionary War—but were these political assertions really true? In a secular democracy, political truths must pass no test of scriptural doctrine, logical analysis, or scientific research. They need pass only the tests of judgment that result from rhetorical debate and persuasion.  Senators and Representatives decide, after formal debate and discussion, which assertions should be accepted as true. There is no practical alternative. We cannot cede the final decisions of government to theologians, philosophers, or scientists. We must rely on politicians to discover the truth.


Juanie Noland’s Review of Handling Truth

Getting at the truth has for millennia challenged philosophers, theologians, scientists, and jurors, along with private detectives and the rest of us. It turns out, as in the song “Lookin’ for Love,” we may have been looking for truth in all the wrong places. William Gardner’s interesting, readable book Handling Truth helps us look in the right places. According to Gardner, there are four domains of truth: Mystica (which includes religion), Rhetorica (common sense), Logica (reason), and Empirica (research). Each domain has its own rules for deciding what is true; this means the domains often conflict with one another. For instance, in the Empirica domain, truth is revealed only through supportive research data. Reason alone is insufficient. In the Mystica domain, “God created man,” is a truth unacceptable by the rules of Empirica. In Empirica, “Human beings evolved from an earlier species.” Is any domain superior to another? No, but each has its own assumptions; and the listener or reader should learn to recognize each domain and the boundaries of its truth claims.

In Chapter 9, “Truth, Language and Information,” Gardner connects human language development with emergence of the four truth domains. From primitive referential gesturing, humans evolved to speak, then write and read. The printing press invention made information available to all, and computers further accelerated its supply. As language and its dissemination methods evolved, so did our conceptions of truth. Thanks to abundant print materials and the Internet, we are more informed now than ever before, but also less discerning. Gardner reminds us that information is true only within its domain of origin.

Handling Truth is an excellent book, one you will find yourself referring to long past the first read. I particularly recommend it for college undergraduate courses. As a retired teacher education professor, I regret that Handling Truth was unavailable when I was teaching.