Michael Ots: Searching for Truth in a World of Fake News | HUMAN

this whole week is really an opportunity
to to really think and to investigate some of these big questions about what
it means to be human and sometimes the problem when it comes to the big
questions of life is that we don’t always think for ourself but we just
kind of regurgitate what other people say we copy others it reminded me of a
story of a little boy I’m at school called Johnny and his teacher called
them into the classroom one day and said Johnny I think you’ve been cheating in
your exam and Johnny says no it wasn’t me sir but the teacher said no no I
think you were teaching cheating on the exam and you were copying your friend
Tommy he said well how do you know that he says well here I have your exam paper
Johnny and here is Tommy’s and in question one you say the answer is 10
and Tommy says the answer is 10 and you’re both correct and Johnny says well
so what sir doesn’t make any difference you to weight question see Tommy says
the answer is five and you say the answer is five and you’re both wrong and
he says well so what so it’s just coincidence he said wait in question
three Tommy has written I don’t know and you have written
neither do I now maybe when you’re five and you’re
cheating in exam that’s okay but when it comes to the big questions of life it is
important isn’t it to think for ourselves and what’s what we want to
encourage this week to really think deeply about some of these big questions
of life and we’re talking today about this question of truth and we went out
onto the university today and we were asking people what’s they or where they
thought truth came from and people were giving various different responses to
that question but truth of course is an interesting and concept particularly in
the climates that we live in at the Collins English dictionary every year
produces or announces the word of the year a word that sums up the kind of
cultural and political discussions of the previous year and in 2016 and the
words that set was the word of the year was the word Briggs it’s and we won’t
talk about that tonight but in 2017 the word was fake news and it was obviously
the concepts particularly in 2017 but certainly since then that has been
talked about a lot the idea that news can be fake news and
the way that news can travel fast around the world and BuzzFeed and at the end of
the last couple of years have produced a list of the top ten pieces of fake news
by the amount of times they’ve been shared on Facebook and I succumbs to
BuzzFeed’s advertising and this is well I’ll just give you the top eight okay so
in number eight and North Korea agrees to open its doors to Christianity and no
it hasn’t at number seven two altar boys were arrested for putting weed in the
sensor burner clever idea but no they didn’t number six Florida man arrested
for tranquilizing and raping alligators in the Everglades thankfully he didn’t
number five Donald Trump and the school shootings by banning schools not sure
whether anyone believed that but it did make me laugh number four Michael Jordan
resigns from the board at night and takes his eye
makes his air jordans with him number 3 woman sues samisen for 1.8 million
dollars after cellphone gets stuck inside her vagina number 2 which I’m not
sure I think this basically was fake news because they announced it before it
actually happens I’m former first lady barbara bush dies at 92 she did I think
it was just announced rubber early but number one lottery winner arrested
dumping two hundred thousand dollars of manure on Xboxes lon
which made me smile but unfortunately you might say is not true
so they’re all examples of fake news now that kind of fake news can make us laugh
and we can think well maybe it’s a little bit original and I don’t know
what it shows about contemporary culture rather than possibly we’re very gullible
but of course some son is fake news is more serious as and sense when fake news
influences people and influences world events and political decisions it isn’t
so much a laughing matter is it and it’s amazing how lies and untruths can spread
like world fire you may have heard this expression ally gets halfway around the
world before the truth gets its boots on now that wasn’t an expression that was
invented after the advent of the internet but actually four hundred years
ago but actually since the advent of the internet and social media it’s
particularly true as in sets particularly true because it’s very easy
to share things without really thinking and it’s particularly true because it’s
very easy to make up stories without having to give any particular sources so
the stories that you’re sharing so we see the effects of fake news and untruth
but a question that I’d like us to think about more generally in regards this
topic is this is there such a thing as truth does truth actually exist
objective for we might say absolute truth and actually some people would say
no it doesn’t a philosophical trend over the last twenty or thirty years is the
philosophical trend of post-modernism that denies the reality of such
thing is objective or absolute truth we use expressions like that’s true for you
but not for me to say that actually true is subject truth is subjective and it’s
personal it’s not objective or universal now there’s a few problems I want to
suggest with that philosophical idea of post-modernism at the first is actually
in certainly it seems to be contradictory because it’s making an
absolute statements to deny the reality of any absolute statements you’re saying
there is absolutely no such thing as absolute truth which seems to sound like
an absolute truth claim but also the reality is although we may talk about
truth being relative and there being no such thing as absolute truth
we only normally talk about that in areas of life that we don’t really care
that much about in areas of life that are important often we like the idea
there is such a thing as absolute truth most people don’t want to go to a
postmodern doctor most people don’t want to get into an aeroplane with a
postmodern pilot’s we like the idea that there are some things that are
absolutely true that we need so adhere to that we can’t get away from and
actually think about more meaningful and perhaps emotional things there are so
many in Justices in our world aren’t there so much inequality countries where
people’s human rights are denied them are we to say that our desire for
justice in equality and human rights is just a relative truth that we happen to
hold in the West but it doesn’t matter if other parts of the world don’t hold
them or do we believe that actually some things are true and should be true in
every part of the world and for everyone so post-modernism as a denial of
absolute truth pulls down in different places but it’s another way of looking
at truth that is to say if if ultimately there’s no god if we live in a world
that is nothing more than a material physical place then where do we get this
idea of truth from and if we are just the result of
an evolutionary process and nothing more then how do we account for this idea of
truth the person who first raised this question it was a philosopher called
alvin plantinga and he basically put forward the
arguments in this way he said look if at the end of the day we are just the
product of the evolutionary process and nothing more than the thing that has
driven that process and has resulted in us being who we are today is the need
for survival and he says therefore the need for survival is the most important
thing and truth is going to be subsidiary to that it’s not as
importance and actually therefore he says why should we think that the
products of our brains that have been designed ultimately to survive rather
than to discover truth particularly in the metaphysical realm are actually
trustworthy now Alvin Plantinga is a Christian philosopher but actually there
are plenty of philosophers and thinkers who are not Christian who’ve raised the
same question and seen the same implication Thomas Nagel was quoted at
lunchtime in fact his book mind and cosmos of which this is a quote is on
the bookstall if you’d like to read it in German but he says in the
introduction evolutionary naturalism implies that we shouldn’t sake any of
our conviction seriously including the scientific world picture on which
evolution evolutionary naturalism itself depends it is ultimately if that’s all
you have to explain mind and cosmos as his book suggests it’s very hard to
explain your mind and your rationality and your belief in such things as truth
well the philosopher john grey put it this way modern humanism is the faith
that through science humankind can know the truth and say be free but if
Darwin’s theory of natural selection is true this is impossible the human mind
serves evolutionary success not truth and actually this implication of the
evolutionary world picture was realized by the guy who theorized about it
himself Charles Darwin in a letter to a friend of his he wrote this but with me
the horrid doubt always arises where were the convictions of man’s mind which
have been developed from the mind of low animals are of any value or are
all trustworthy with anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind if there
are convictions in such a mind see what all these people are saying is if that’s
all you have to explain who you are as a human being it’s very difficult to
account for our belief in truth it’s very difficult to find a foundation for
its and that’s why I think it’s worth looking again at the Christian faith
because the Christian faith says actually there is a foundation for such
a thing as objective truth and that’s because we are more than just the result
of an evolutionary process we are created in the image of a God who is
rational and being created in the image of a rational God means that we reflect
something of that rationality we have a brain that can discover truth and is
encouraged to discover truth and it’s a good thing to do that now you might say
at this point that sounds kind of ironic though because you’re saying that
Christianity is the foundation for the very concepts of truth but for many of
us I guess we might assume that actually Christianity is the biggest fake news
going um surely Christianity is just a good
example of some 2,000 year old fake news that has been quite successful in being
perpetuated down through the generations and around the world well so how was
think about that at once it just mentioned and show you a clip from this
film the film is called the invention of lying it’s directed by and the lead
actor is a guy called Ricky Gervais you may know him from a British television
series called the office and he’s quite outspoken for his belief that there is
no God his Navia stand that certainly comes through in the film at the film is
telling the story of a man called Mark who he plays who lives in a world where
no one can lie everybody has to tell the truth and then on one particular day
mark discovers a unique ability the ability of lying and in a world where
everyone tells the truth and therefore assumes that other people are telling
the truth he has a lot of fun with his ability to lie he can walk into a bank
and he can say to the bank man I have lots of money give it to me now
and the bank manager does it’s he can walk up to the lead actress in the film
and say to her I am a really good-looking guy and for some reason she
seems to be blind and she believes us but things take a different turn when
his mother is in hospital and she’s dying and I want to show you now their
clip of what happens next it’s very powerful scene isn’t it it’s very moving
and yet the reality of course is that what Ricky Gervais is saying through
that scene is that all of that is it’s a life that this belief in this
supernatural power this belief that there is life beyond this life this
belief that there might be something more all of it is just a lie and the
reason why people believe it is that they want it to be true it’s some kind
of wish fulfillment now actually of course Ricky Gervais sua’s not the first
person to put that idea forwards and fire back and then Freud we’re both
thinkers who put this idea forward that Christianity and religion was just some
form of of psychological crutch but what are we to make of that we’re going to
look at this Anna’s gonna look at it later in the week in one of the
lunchtime talks but as we’re saying at this point at least just one thing if
Christianity isn’t sure you and if there is no God then that is a very good
explanation for why people might still believe it because they want it to be
true but also it’s worth saying that if Christianity actually is true and there
is a God and there is a day of judgments and life after death
then actually he has inadvertently give us another good reason why people don’t
believe it and that is of course that people might not believe it because they
don’t want it to be true atheism just as much as Christianity or any other
religion could be a form of wish fulfillment couldn’t sets just for
different reasons the problem of course with this kind of arguments is it
doesn’t actually help you answer the question is it – it just explains
whether or not people might believe things given whether or not it’s true
do I know whether a religious claim in particular the Christian claim is true
when it comes to religion in general what I want to say is it’s actually
quite hard to answer that question isn’t sense because when we think about
religion if we think about it at all we often assume that religion is one or two
things we think it’s either a system of philosophy a way of thinking all we
assume it’s a system of morality a way of behaving and in both of those cases
they’re subjective in their personal aren’t they how do I prove or
demonstrate whether your philosophy is right or wrong or whether – how can I
show that my morality is better than yours you might like it you might
dislike it you may say it works for me you may say it doesn’t but it’s very
hard to objectively demonstrate that it’s true or its false in a sense to
demonstrate whether something is true or false it needs to be at least in theory
falsifiable and claims that are not in theory falsifiable are hard to know
whether they’re really really true and that’s why I want to say this tonight at
the heart of the Christian claim and the Christian faith is something I think is
unique in that it’s different in this regards the heart of the Christian faith
is not just a system of philosophy a system of thinking or a system of
morality a system of behavior a whole of the Christian faith is an event a person
an event that’s rooted in in history and an event that were invited to
investigates the events of Jesus life and his death and in particular and
crucially his resurrection from the dead and right throughout the last 2,000
years Christianity has stood on that foundation of this objective historical
events and the sense what that invites us to do is to investigate it
objectively and historically and that’s what we want to encourage you to do this
week why don’t you just take at for a second this and book that’s on your
table and this is actually one of the accounts of the life of Jesus and just
look on page 4 for a second and if you can read German and you can read this
one you can’t like me you can read it from up here
but this is in English what this hopefully says in German and this is the
introduction of a prologue to this a biography you might say of the life of
Jesus Luke a medical doctor writes many have undertaken to Joran accounts of the
things that have been fulfilled among us just as they were handed down to us by
those who were first eyewitnesses and servants of the words with this in mind
since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the
beginning I too decided to write an orderly account for you most excellent
Theophilus so that you may know the certainty of the things that you have
been taught so what Luke is doing right at the beginning of this document is
he’s saying actually I’m inviting you to investigate and to look into the basis
of this claim Christianity opens itself up so historical and objective
investigation where you can actually ask those questions about whether it’s
really true and of course you may have lots of questions about whether this
book of course 2,000 years on written in a different language or translated into
a different language is Chi we can’t go into great detail tonight but there
might be four good questions that we worth asking of it’s when who why and
how firstly when was it written and we have very good reason for thinking that
it was written in the first century most every scholar would agree that we’ve got
manuscripts evidence of the Gospels accounts from early in the second
century we know this wasn’t written hundreds of years later at a time when
myths could have evolved and but at a time when contemporaries of the events
would have still been alive secondly the question is who well who wrote them well
of course in scholarship there is a number of an amount of debate about the
authorship of the Gospels but what is generally agreed upon is that actually
within the Gospels we have genuine eyewitness testimony if you want to look
at a book that investigates that in more detail a scholar called Richard Baulkham
in his book Jesus and the eyewitnesses is an excellent book to go to he’s a
scholar it’s and since Andrews University in Scotland but thirdly the
important question you might want to ask is why why woods and the authors of
these books writes the kind of things they do was
just to perpetuate fake news did they stand something to gain and what it’s
really important to remember at this point is that actually in the first
century and indeed for the net following three centuries those who believed what
they believed about Jesus and shared what they believed about Jesus stood to
gain nothing politically or economically and actually stood to lose a lot most of
the first followers of Jesus were persecuted indeed many of them were
killed for their belief in Jesus and for the resurrection so you have to ask the
question why on earth would they invent this fake news if as it did it got them
into such great trouble when I was a child I used to make up stories quite a
lot I used to say things like my sister did
it or the dog ate it or it was on fire when I arrived those kind of stories I
would always make up stories to get myself out of trouble and normally my
sister or the dog into trouble but I never ever made up a story to get myself
into trouble because that’s not what people do is it and yet why on earth
would the Gospel writers make up stories that actually got them into the greatest
trouble of all if it wasn’t based on something that was real or true it’s big
questions to ask and then fourthly the question we might want to ask is how how
did such ideas gain such traction so quickly we know from the Roman historian
Tacitus that within twenty years this has spread like wildfire writes the
heart of the Roman Empire Rome itself how did this gain such traction and such
popularity despite the fact that full weights of all of the authorities was
against it and despite the fact these claims would have been so easily
falsifiable to the people in the first century who were around at the time so I
want to say before we write this thing off as fake news we need to ask the
question how do we account for these things and maybe just maybe this is
worth investigating in more detail now that doesn’t of course prove that it’s
Chi and technically speaking of course proof is not something that you find
outside of man but they’re good reasons for taking it
seriously and for asking some serious questions about it and of course there
are many claims in this book that you can’t necessarily investigate
objectively by other sources as some claims that would be difficult to do so
I mean the claim of the virgin birth for instance would be quite difficult to
kind of investigate in that way but there is a very big claim right at the
heart of the Christian faith that has been investigated critically and is able
to be investigated and that is not only that Jesus lived for billions of others
have done that not only that he died for everyone who has ever lived and will
ever lived will at some point do that but uniquely that he rose from the dead
now we’re gonna look at that claim more on Thursday lunchtime if he wants to
look at the details of its but can I say if we’re looking at the topic of truth
that is an investigation that we can make let me tell you a story a friend of
mine and pizza at went to a university in the South of England a university
called at Bristol and while he was at university they had a similar Christian
student group to the one that has organized at these events this week at
around Easter time and they decided to organize an event called the great
resurrection debate and they took out a sensor page advert in their student
newspaper and they invited people would say given accounts for their explanation
for the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus
other than that Jesus rose from the dead and they outlined the number of the
pieces of evidence so almost all scholars Jewish atheist or Christian
would agree upon and the facts of Jesus death and the fact of the empty tomb and
the fact that his disciples for some reason were convinced that they had
encountered him risen from the dead and the fact of the explosion of the
Christian movement in the first century and they explain this and then they
invited people to give a written response and then the entries would be
shortlisted down to I think it was 5 and they will be invited to come an address
a gathering in the Students Union bar over cheese and wine and to explain
their theory and by Court judge who himself wasn’t a
Christian was invited to adjudicate and award a 500-pound cash prize which this
was ten years ago it was quite a lot a battery for a student that is still
quite a lot isn’t it but anyway this happened people submitted their entries
the event came around people enjoyed their cheese and wine and so interesting
things happened over the course of that evening and beyond at the first is that
the High Court judge who was adjudicating who remember it wasn’t
himself a committed Christian and said in his closing remarks that all of these
explanations that have been given to try and explain away the historical evidence
for the resurrection of Jesus would have not stood up in a court of law and that
ultimately they were very weak but the second thing that happened is that the
guy who actually won the 500 pounds he gave a kind of version of what some
people call the swoon theory that Jesus hadn’t actually physically died on the
cross and as he accepted his prize actually admitted that he himself wasn’t
convinced by the explanation that he had given but he was very happy to receive
the five hundred pounds thank you very much
but there’s something else happens in the weeks after this events having
investigated it more he himself actually became a committee christian having
become convinced of historical evidence for the resurrection of jesus now I’m
not suggesting that after such a brief investigation it’s denied that that’s
necessarily convinced you and I’d invite you to come back on Thursday but what we
are saying is Christianity invites that kind of objective investigation and we
invite you to do that this week and a great way to start would be to actually
take away one of these accounts of the life of Jesus and to read it for
yourself another thing to do be to maybe look at some of those books on the
bookstore but investigate some of these questions in more detail and read them
and of course that another thing to do would be to keep coming to these events
and to keep asking your questions and we’d happily do that and will normally
provide you with a coffee and some food as we discuss those questions – but can
I just say this as I finish the heart of the Christian claim is not only
that there is such a thing as objective truth and the heart of the Christian
faith is not just that Christianity is objectively true the heart of the
Christian claim is not even just that Jesus speaks truth but actually the
heart of the Christian claim in regard to truth is that in the person of Jesus
we find truth personified or embodied because actually one of the other
accounts of Jesus life he says this he says I am the way the truth and the life
so Jesus doesn’t just claim to say that he’s got the truth but he says he is the
truth and so if he wants her to see truth and encounter truth encounter
Jesus okay I can I say just why they think that’s important is like ladies I
think one of the reasons why maybe we’re suspicious of the idea of objective
truths sometimes or we’re concerned particularly when religious people start
talking about this concept of truth is we can see how sometimes truth claims
can be used aggressively or oppressively to bolster one’s position and suppresses
subjugate others and so we’re fearful of the way that truth has been used and can
I say when I look at the person of Jesus who claimed to be truth I see something
that is so different because Jesus who claimed to be the truth said that he
hadn’t come to be served but to serve he hadn’t come so that other people had to
do what he wants but he came to serve them and he didn’t come to use his truth
as a as a sword or a weapon to attack his enemies but as the truth he
willingly dies at the hands of his enemies and for his enemies and so can I
say if you think see the truth is something that is dangerous or
oppressive or ugly I invite you to look at the person of Jesus and in these
historical accounts because I think what you’ll discover is that potentially
not only is this tree but it’s also beautiful and if truth looks like Jesus
Christ then maybe that’s a truth that we’d really want to investigate not a
truth that there’s too good to be true but so good because it is tree but
listen we’re gonna have some music which will give us an opportunity to think
about that and then there’ll be a time to be messaging your questions and we’ll
come back to those in a moment but I’ll hand over to bat now

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