In various ways, science, religion, philosophy and the arts all claim to represent the truth. But what truth means is different in each case, and increasingly controversial.
The traditional religious idea of absolute Truth has long been considered dubious. A radical skepticism was at the heart of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment.
By the end of the 20th century, though, many feared healthy skepticism had given way to a destructive hostility to all truth claims in the guise of post modernism and various forms of relativism in politics and culture, as well as notoriously in academia.
In recent years there has been a backlash against postmodern ideas and a reassertion of truth claims. From Al Gore's touting of scientific consensus against those who doubt the reality of climate change, to Pope Benedict XVI's railing against relativism in the name of religious Truth, there is a palpable yearning for certainty in a seemingly uncertain world.
Politicians increasingly look to ‘the science' - data passed off as truth - to legitimize 'evidence-based policies', meaning argument is replaced by conflicting research findings.
Others argue religious faith is essential to a fulfilling life, and some scientists have responded by challenging religious truth claims. Disputes around ‘Creationism’ raise thorny questions about what is true and how to challenge untruths.
If all you can rely on is scientific evidence and dry facts, what hope is there for passionate and substantive political debate? Is the search for truth merely about accepting the world as it is, or might it mean understanding the world the better to transform it?- Institute of Ideas
Colin Blakemore, FMedSci, FRCP (Hon), FIBiol (Hon), FRS, is Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Magdalen College Oxford.
Blakemore also holds a Professorship at the University of Warwick and is Chairman of the Neuroscience Research Partnership in Singapore. He was recently appointed as Chair of the Food Standards Agency's new General Advisory Committee on Science. From 2003-2007 Blakemore was Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council.
Claire Fox is the director of the Institute of Ideas (IoI), which she established to create a public space where ideas can be contested without constraint.
Fox initiated the IoI while co-publisher of the current affairs journal LM magazine (formerly Living Marxism). The IoI has since worked with a variety of prestigious institutions in Britain and abroad.
Fox is a panelist on BBC Radio 4's "The Moral Maze" and is regularly invited to comment on developments in culture, education and the media on TV and radio. Fox writes regularly for national newspapers and a range of specialist journals. Fox has a monthly column in the Municipal Journal.
Frank Furedi is a social theorist and a prolific author whose books have been translated in 12 languages. He is Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury.
Furedi’s research is oriented towards the study of the workings of precautionary culture and risk aversion in Western societies. In his books he has explored controversies and panics over issues such as health, children, food, new technology and terrorism. At present he is completing on education and the contestation of authority in contemporary society. Furedi’s books and articles provide an authoritative yet lively account of key developments in contemporary cultural life. Using his insight as a professional sociologist, Furedi has produced a series of agenda-setting books that have been widely discussed in the media. Furedi regularly comments on radio and television. He has appeared on Newsnight, Sky and BBC News, the Today programme, and a variety of other radio and television shows.
Furedi’s articles are published in the New Scientist, Guardian, Independent, Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express, Daily Mail, Wall Street Journal, Independent on Sunday, The Times, Sunday Times, Observer, Sunday Telegraph, Toronto Globe and Mail, Christian Science Monitor, Times Higher Education Supplement, spiked-online, Times Literary Supplement, L’Espresso, Harvard Business Review, Die Welt and Die Zeit amongst others.
Susan Jacoby is the author of Never Say Die and The Age of American Unreason. She began her writing career as a reporter for The Washington Post, and has been a contributor to a wide range of periodicals and newspapers for more than 25 years on topics including law, religion, medicine, aging, women's rights, political dissent in the Soviet Union and Russian literature.
Jacoby has been the recipient of grants from the Guggenheim, Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2001-2002, she was named a fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. Jacoby's other books include Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (2004); Wild Justice: The Evolution of Revenge, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1984, and Half-Jew: A Daughter's Search for Her Family's Buried Past.
David Albert Jones
David Jones was born in 1966 in Leicester and brought up in Wrexham, North Wales where he attended the local co-educational comprehensive school. Both parents were teachers. He read Natural Sciences and Philosophy at Cambridge (BA), Theology at Oxford (BA, MSt, DPhil).
In 2001 he was appointed Director of the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics. In this capacity he gave evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Stem Cell Research. In 2002 he helped establish a Master's Programme in Bioethics at St Mary's College and was appointed Professor of Bioethics there in 2007.
His works include: The Soul of the Embryo : A inquiry into the status of the human embryo in the Christian tradition. This has been favourably reviewed by, among others, Julia Neuberger in The Lancet, and Sir Anthony Kenny in the TLS. It was short-listed for the Michael Ramsey Prize for Theological Writing. His most recent work is Approaching the End: a theological exploration of death and dying Oxford.
He has also supported the Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, helping in the writing of Cherishing Life and The Mental Capacity Actand Living Wills: a practical guide for Catholics.
He is currently working on a Very Short Introduction to angels.