Our next question is that of “truth.” Vardy discusses the assault of the popular atheists on the notion of religious truth, namely that it is both lightweight and dangerous, a “virus” to use Dawkins’ term. Vardy disagrees, obviously, championing the idea of knowledge beyond the empirical realm. In doing so, he rubbishes Ayer’s view that the unverifiable is worthless. Kant suggested that though we are confined to the phenomenal world, this does not preclude the existence of the noumenal. On occasion, Vardy argues, the noumenal can make itself known to us through something other than the normal senses, perhaps through aesthetic experience. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to believe.
Vardy raises the realist and anti-realist ideas of truth. Religious truth claims tend to be realist, i.e. they correspond to what is believed to be reality: “The Qur’an was dictated by an angel” is true because it is what really happened. Of course, such truths cannot be proved and will often contradict other realist truths: “The Qur’an was not dictated by an angel” is true because it didn’t happen, says the Christian.
Such competing truth claims will not go away. Because of this, “good” religions ought, as a starter, to spread their truth claims “by persuasion rather than coercion [and with an] openness to other perspectives” (p.31). The honesty and humility evident in St. Paul’s dark glass would be an emblem of a “good” religion in Vardy’s scheme.
A move to anti-realism might seem to be a useful way to settle competing truth claims: truths are true within their own communities. Within Islam, the statement about the divine origin of the Qur’an is true; within Christianity it is not. Vardy, admits, however, that only academic audiences are likely to be happy with such an approach. It is too postmodern, and postmodernism has not been kind to religion. If Dawkins wants to eradicate the virus of religion, an insistence on anti-realism might be the way to go.
As Vardy wants to eradicate bad religion, not religion itself, how are we to solve the truth problem then? And it is a problem, as the doctrine that “error has no rights,” to take one example, led to the torture and murder of heretics. One solution would be to ignore truth altogether. A feature of “good” religion cannot be, says Vardy, that it has the “truth” as that is a claim that will also be made by demonstrably “bad” religions. In other words, whether or not a religion is good or bad cannot be judged by whether it is true or not.
Next: the Euthyphro Dilemma.