considering the care and feeding of the mind

What is truth? Three words uttered by the prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, during the trial of Jesus Christ.[1] Pilate asked because he was honestly attempting to determine the truth surrounding the man who was brought before him for judgment and as reported in all four gospel accounts, could find no reason to convict Jesus of a capital offense.

Dawn of Truth

Dawn of Truth

His question is one for which man has been seeking an answer since the very beginning. Some of the greatest minds have attempted an answer with only partial success for objective truth can neither be empirically determined by mathematical formula nor proven through science with absolute verifiable certitude in every circumstance under every and all conditions.

And yet we live in an age where the prevailing thought is overwhelmingly biased toward the view that man, through reason and science, can ultimately ascertain any and all truths. The problem with this view rests within what is known and unknown, what objective truths we know and what we only subjectively believe to be the truth. And then there are those truths which are unknown to us and for which we cannot and may never have any knowledge of at all.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s well-known response to a question concerning lack of evidence for weapons of mass destruction is especially illustrative of this problem. He said, “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

There are those who would add yet another category to this cognitive framework. Psychoanalytic philosopher Slavoj Žižek would add a fourth, the “unknown known” or that which we intentionally refuse to acknowledge that we know. Similarly, German sociologists Christopher Daase and Oliver Kessler while agreeing with Rumsfeld on “what we know, what we do not know, and what we cannot know” would add another, “what we do not like to know.”

Both the “unknown known” and “what we do not like to know” are subjective and relative characterizations of the truth. They misrepresent the truth and what can and cannot be objectively known by introducing personal bias into the equation. The truth can never be objectively determined by one’s subjective and relative feelings, desires, likes or dislikes.

It is what we cannot know, the unknown unknowns that are the most troubling to those who believe that man can ultimately know the truth that rests behind all things; a belief that is not only delusional but the height of hubris. There are truths that quite simply cannot be known or become known by inductive reasoning.

While we can know and learn much about the laws of nature, i.e. the gravitational force, the speed of light, etc., we can never discover their causality, what caused them to be, to exist. Likewise, neither science nor philosophy can quantitatively and authoritatively provide “a natural explanation of existence as such; it is an absolute logical impossibility.”[2] Such unknown truths can only be known by God.


[1] Jn 18:38.
[2] David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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