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Correspondence or Coherence?

by Chris Corlett

This author previously wrote on correspondence truth which requires that truth must correspond to reality. The truth, or the falsity of a statement, depends on whether the statement accurately describes the world and its properties.

Evidence is the currency in this theory of the nature of truth and historically is the sort of truth found in courtrooms. “Do you swear (or promise) to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” presupposes that the witness is giving eyewitness or expert testimony to be entered into a record of evidence. The Federal Rules of Evidence govern what evidence is admissible and how such evidence is admitted. Its eleven articles cover such topics as relevancy, witness and (famously) hearsay evidence. The savvy attorney will object to evidence damaging to the client. Any closing arguments or briefs must rely on the evidence in the record and not on any evidence that has not been admitted.

Mathematicians immerse in the principle of correspondence truth. From a set of facts, new facts are deduced. A formula must accurately model real-life situations. The Newtonian laws of motion describe the relationship between the motion of an object and the forces upon it. These three laws are used to accurately explain and predict what was observed in experiments and in nature. Mathematics relies on a correspondence to reality that is sufficient to launch with pinpoint accuracy a spaceship from Earth’s surface and send it hundreds of thousands of kilometers to an awaiting lunar surface.

Scientists organize the forces that we experience daily into four fundamental ones:

  1. Gravity
  2. Electromagnetism
  3. The Strong Force
  4. The Weak Force

Recently, scientists reported that a tiny subatomic particle called the muon behaves in a way not predicted by these four forces.1 Related to the electron, particle physicists gathered evidence that muons are more magnetic than the four forces above predict. This discovery gives rise to the possibility that there is a fifth force at work of which scientists are investigating and experimenting.

Correspondence Truth

Correspondence truth appeals to and applies to law, mathematics, and science. New evidence (like the muon) obligates the sincere scholar to reconsider long-held positions; prevailing winds of change do not. And this reconsideration holds no equivalence or allegiance to abandonment. “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”2

Coherence Truth

Coherence truth takes a different view of the nature of truth, and it asserts that truth is based on its coherence and consistency with a set of already held propositions or beliefs. It comes in several forms (as all these theories do) and for the purpose of this article, coherence truth relies on the individual’s worldview. Especially vulnerable to confirmation bias, the adherent (whether consciously or subconsciously) must fit a new idea or observation into the existing catalog of truths and beliefs. If a new idea does not cohere with the pre-existing ones, it is rejected or repackaged to be a better fit.

Politics loves coherence truth, or at least it is the rich soil in which to plant its ideas. We see daily from the headlines of the legacy media and the clickbait titles of the online offerings descriptions that immediately reveal how the author or the producer sees the world.3 Left versus Right. Naturalism versus Supernaturalism. Pragmaticism versus Idealism. National versus Global. Secular versus Sacred. Individualism versus Collectivism. Oppressors versus the Oppressed. Elitism versus Populism. You get the point. Each of these is a worldview, and that is the lens through which truth is determined. A new proposition or a new incident is evaluated less on the evidence and more on the prior commitments of the thinker.

Those of you who faithfully read this publication may recognize the word “prior” used above. A couple of months ago, I introduced Bayes Theorem, which serves a bigger purpose than a formula for computing probabilities. It instead opens a branch of epistemology – Bayesian Epistemology – which recalibrates a prior belief into a posterior belief on the introduction of a new piece of evidence. It obligates the scholar to reconsider (there is that word again!) the Standard Model upon the results of research on the muon particle described above. It obligates the jurist to reconsider the verdict as new evidence is entered. Any change or creation of truth is based on new evidence and not on old opinions.

Correspondence theory of truth relies on evidence and must correspond with reality. Coherence theory of truth relies on beliefs and must correspond with a worldview. While insufficient to cover the nuance and the history of these two ideas, the utility (pragmatism?) of these characterizations is enticing. Correspondence relies on external, objective data. Coherence relies on internal, subjective ideals. Correspondence adherents want to research everything and then have the report in full view during the debate. Coherence advocates talk of “my truth” and subjective truth and frequently talk about us versus them. Ben Shapiro is famous for coining the phrase “facts don’t care about your feelings,” and correspondence truth fully embrace his words. Coherence truth embraces feelings and experiences as a part of the road to truth. Somewhere in this tension belongs Paul’s words to “speak the truth in love.”4 I submit that both evidence and worldview are a necessary and vital part of finding truth and persuading people.

The Naturalist will rely on the theory of evolution to explain the world around us, including its tenet of “survival of the fittest.” There is no explanation from this worldview for any idea that all life is precious or the need to be kind. These ideas are incoherent (see what I did there!) The secular view that marriage is a contract, is inevitably at odds with the view that it is a sacred covenant established by God. And to these issues, we add the notion that “math is racist.” “The Oregon Department of Education is promoting and encouraging its educators to register for a course that likens modern math instruction to the ‘toxic characteristics of white supremacy culture.’”5 This smacks of a conclusion from the coherence model rather than the correspondence model. If the worldview is that all systems are inherently racist, then education in general and mathematics education specifically would be racist. And this worldview is well entrenched in the minds of many. Racism is not seen as an act of racism by an individual – offensive language; refusing to talk or be near somebody; even acts of aggression and violence – and instead is a system of racism by a people who make the rules.

This worldview is much harder to move, and this is increasingly obvious. Individual debate is replaced by groupthink. Evidence is replaced by experience. No longer is the goal to refocus or reframe a particular conclusion, and instead, an entire system of beliefs is at stake. Correspondence to objective data is replaced with coherence to subjective belief. As a society, the conversation has moved from Josh McDowell’s popular book Evidence That Demands A Verdict (first published in the early 1970’s) to the book Worldview Wars by author Ifiok J. Ukobo.

“In Worldview Wars, Ifiok J. Ukobo exposes the hidden, but very aggressive, war of worldviews being waged against righteousness in our personal lives and community. This battle has now arrived in every home, community, and country. We are under attack, and the battlefront spans our schools, media, national policies, and pulpits. Families are breaking down, children are becoming rebellious; communities no longer have shared values, and a cultural flux is emerging. In Worldview Wars, the author presents practical ways to win the battle in your life, family, and community. This book will renew your mind and help you to stay free and bring freedom to others that have been taken captive.”6

It is easy to scoff at reports that mathematics education is racist. And this mathematics teacher will vehemently defend against this accusation. With this article, I recommend taking a deeper look into the divisive positions of today. And of the utmost importance is the truth of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Jesus, the relevance and the reliability of the Holy Bible, and God’s sovereignty in the creation of the universe and the redemption of mankind. To be effective, we must be fluent in the evidence that corresponds to the truth and wise when pushing back against the narrative produced by a perceived coherence of a strongly held worldview.

I always welcome your comments and criticisms, and you can email me at chrisc@khouse.org.

This article was originally published in the
May 2021 Personal Update NewsJournal.

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1 For a short and interesting video introducing you to this development, click on: https://youtu.be/O4Ko7NW2yQo

2 Credited to several personalities including F. Scott Fitzgerald – see https://quoteinvestigator.com/2020/01/05/intelligence/

3 The very meaning of a “worldview”

4 See Ephesians 4:15

5 https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/oregon-promoting-teacher-course-on-dismantling-racism-in-mathematics/ar-BB1dDgW8

6 https://www.westbowpress.com/en/bookstore/bookdetails/696221-Worldview-Wars