Wronger Than Wrong

I discussed truth with a friend, questioning if humanity always progresses toward it. We explored theories like correspondence (truth aligns with reality), coherence (truth fits beliefs), and pragmatism (truth aids experience), with no single view being definitively correct.

Wronger Than Wrong
Generated by Ideogram

I've been chatting with a good friend of mine over the weekend about the nature of truth, and he asked me some really good questions that made me think.

He shared a link with me to a quote from an article in the Skeptical Inquirer:

When people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together. (Wikipedia)

I am highly sensitive to the presence of the belief that humanity is increasing in our knowledge, that, each day or each year or each decade or each generation, we are slowly converging on the true nature of reality. I view this as a sort of arrogance and, though I respect and admire scientists (and don't believe that there need be tension between science and faith), I don't believe that we are constantly progressing towards truth. I think we are always learning, and in a sense, that is progress, but we're not always getting closer to the truth. Sometimes we're getting further from it and I think it lacks humility to say otherwise.

I imagine a picture of all the various paths of knowledge that we've pursued as a human race. Some of the paths have led to dead ends, some have continued on. All of the paths that we are currently pursuing, that haven't yet reached a dead end, may keep going on and on, they may remain fruitful lines of enquiry, but they could also be dead ends and we just don't know. If you imagine knowledge as the centre of this diagram, then some of our paths could start moving towards it, only to take a sharp turn and begin moving away from it, to eventually hit a dead end. Sometimes we'll branch off, move away from the centre, but that'll give us some insight that will open a new path that will move back towards the centre.

Generated by Ideogram based on the previous paragraph

So, in reference to the idea of 'wronger than wrong', we could only make such a claim if we assume that we have some sense of how close we are to the truth. And, of course, this depends on one's view of what truth is.

Correspondence and Realism

One view – I think we could call it the traditional view – is the correspondence model of truth.

In its simplest form, the correspondence theory of truth is the view that a claim—technically, a proposition—is true just in case it corresponds to reality; that is, a proposition is true when what it asserts to be the case is the case.

Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith (Geisler & Meister, 2007)
Most natural and widely held view of propositional truth, which holds that a proposition is true if it corresponds to or agrees with reality. The core of the correspondence theory of truth is the commonsense notion that the truth or falsity of a proposition is determined by an independent reality.

Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion (Stephen, 2002)

This view is linked to the philosophical idea of realism.

There is no single theoretical position univocally termed realism, but rather various clusters of views which, broadly speaking, stress the independence of reality from the human mind.

New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (Martin et al., 2016)

There are alternatives (or different approaches) to realism: naïve realism, critical realism (which I think is where I land, but it really is too soon to tell), positivism, empiricism, idealism, and skepticism – and probably others.

Other Views: Coherentism and Pragmatism


The coherence theory of truth … holds that for a proposition to be true is for it to cohere with a certain system of beliefs.

— The Tapestry of Reason: An Inquiry into the Nature of Coherence and its Role in Legal Argument (Hoecke & Ost, unknown date)

And a quick search told me that there are even more views than this:

Philosophers, theologians, and historians often disagree as to how we should best understand truth, assuming there is something to be understood in the first place. There are pragmatists, coherentists, deflationists, Strawsonians, disquotationalists, and correspondence theorists.

Truth Considered and Applied: Examining Postmodernism, History, and Christian Faith (Kelly, 2011)
The coherence theory of truth, or coherentism, asserts that truth is found in its coherence with a particular set of propositions. That is, we can know that an idea is 'true' when it fits logically into a larger, more complex system of beliefs without contradicting anything.

— Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered, Volume 2 (2014–2021)


Truths for Pragmatists do not consist of a static description of a given reality separated from human experience. According to James, truth means 'nothing but this, that ideas (which themselves are but parts of our experience) become true just insofar as they help us to get into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience.'

— The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Chinese Philosophy Methodologies (Ram-Prasad & Tan, unknown date)


One frustrating thing about this discussion is that we can't really know which option is right. Despite what some people would have us believe (citation required), no one view is obviously true.

There are a variety of valid ideas about how to imagine truth and different views will lead to different conclusions. This is what, I now think, was happening with my friend and I in our discussion – we had different views on what truth was. He seemed partial to pragmatism (not sure which, and I'll have to ask him one day) and I to the correspondence/realist view.

N. T. Wright discusses this a little in his Christian Origins and the Question of God series, particularly in The New Testament and the People of God:

All epistemologies have to be, themselves, argued as hypotheses: they are tested not by their coherence with a fixed point agreed in advance, but (like other hypotheses, in fact) by their simplicity and their ability to make sense of a wide scope of experiences and events.

— The New Testament and the People of God (Wright, 1992)

And that's all I have time for today in my writing. Perhaps I'll revisit this topic another day.

General Disclaimer
I often write about topics where I haven't even begun to scrape the surface of the discussions, so take everything I say here with a grain of salt – it's just what I currently think.And, as usual, I've probably made some unsubstantiated claims here – the ones I'm aware of I've identified with (citation required).