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How can I know what is true?

It is getting hard to know what the truth is. President Nelson recently warned us "The adversary has [many] disturbing tactics. Among them are his efforts to blur the line between what is true and what is not true. The flood of information available at our fingertips, ironically, makes it increasingly difficult to determine what is true." (What is True?, October 2022 general conference) The apostle Paul foretold a time that people would "not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables."(2 Timothy 4: 3-4)

One way we can protect ourselves from being deceived by the adversary is to know how learning works. When we know this we will be able to sort out the fables from the sound doctrine at our fingertips, as well as root out the lusts that are in our minds.

In order to learn something you must use logical reasoning, so lets go over the four different types of logic.


1. Proposition: In propositional logic you propose a statement which has a truth value. For example I can propose the statement “This apple is red.” This proposition does not make the statement true, but when you are using the statement later you assume that it is true, because of your proposition.

2. Abduction: In abductive logic you take statements where their truth value is unknown, then experiment on them to adjust the truth value that you perceive that they carry.

For example if you are at a party trying to hit a piñata blindfolded you can start swinging your bat in one direction, if you don't hit anything, then you try a different direction, and you keep picking new directions to swing until you find where the piñata is.

3. Induction: In induction you can make general statements after seeing specific examples.

Sampling uses inductive reasoning to find information about an entire population from looking at only a few individuals. If you interviewed 25 kids in a school of 1000, and you found that 20 of the 25 liked ice-cream, then you could infer that about 800 of the kids at the school like ice-cream.

4. Deduction: In deductive reasoning you look at several statements that you already know the truth value of, and you then derive new statements from the original statements. For example from the statements "This apple is red", and "All red apples are sweet" you can derive that in addition to being red the speaker's apple is also sweet.

When we use a logical method to learn it links our thoughts and ideas to the real world. Logic can be applied in two different ways, one to find truth, the epistemological methods, and the other to support an opinion, the anti-epistemological methods. They are exactly the opposite as we will see soon. Together they are the eight gnosiological methods.

Epistemological Methods:

Proposition: You use a hypothesis to determine how you should act.

Abduction: You use the data from the world to adjust your hypothesis.

Induction: You combine a few hypotheses that you have into a theory to determine how many different things should work.

Deduction: You use the data that you have to deduce how your theory needs to change.

Science uses the epistemological methods in order to find new truth. In the scientific method you come up with a hypothesis, and you think of experiments you can do to falsify your hypothesis. If your hypothesis does not hold true in the experiment then you must adjust the hypothesis so that it agrees with the results of your test. After you have several hypotheses that work you can construct a theory which encapsulates all the hypotheses you have constructed. These theories are how you infer that the universe will always work. You can then deduce the ways that the theory fails from the different things it can't explain.

Historians of science have found that the creation and acceptance of new theories is quite rare. When these new theories gain enough favorability among scientists to be generally accepted it is called a scientific revolution. Most of the time scientists test a specific hypothesis from an already existing theory and usually they find that it holds true. Overtime all of the natural world is reinterpreted according to the currently accepted theories. It is only after these new interpretations of nature show enough flaws that we are able to pinpoint the aspects of the current theory that are wrong, and we replace it dramatically in another revolution.

Anti-epistemological methods:

Proposition: You allow the outside world to act on you.

Abduction: You adjust the data that you are willing to accept based on the hypothesis that you have about how the world works.

Induction: You let a few data points that you come across determine how you think the world works.

Deduction: You deduce which of the data points you come across agree with your hypothesis.

When you are defending your opinions you use the anti-epistemological methods. You start with gathering evidence. Then you sift through the evidence that you have to find the data that fits the hypothesis that you have. After gathering enough evidence to support your case you use the most convincing evidence to construct a story for why you are right. After you have found that story you can run through it to see if there are any flaws in it.

In a court setting this form of thinking is beneficial, because there are two different parties that have to defend their opinions. There is also a judge, or a jury, who decide which story that is presented is more convincing. If only one side of the story was presented this would be biased, and it would be much harder to deduce the truth from it.

Unfortunately all information that people present to us is biased, and we often only hear one side. We must act as a judge to determine what part of the information we were presented is correct, and what is a lie.

How to spot lies

Lies are always motivated. Using the anti-epistemological methods a person can shape their ideas into a convincing story, but that story will always show what their motivations are. To detect lies you can look to see what a person has to gain by spreading the story that they are telling you. If you can see that they have a clear financial motivation, or if they can obtain power over others through their story, or if they have a history of lying this is a red flag.

Another red flag you can spot is if the people you are getting your information from are leaving out information. For a person to construct a lie they usually must leave out important details from events. For you to know this you must compare different accounts of events. There will usually be some discrepancy between accounts, even the same person will sometimes share the same story differently. To determine if some of the information that was left out was important you should again look at the motive. How does changing the narrative benefit the story teller?

A third red flag, and probably the biggest, is to see if some part of the story you hear is obviously wrong. We come across ideas that are new and surprising to us all the time in order to learn and communicate. Sometimes these will call into question something that you know, or that you think you know. When this happens you should remember why you know that thing is correct. You may find that you had your ideas because of some opinion that you heard, or some untested intuition that you had. In this case you could accept the unfamiliar idea as correct, or you could do some tests to see who is correct.

But you may also find that the things you know are absolutely true. This does not always mean that the person is deliberately lying, or that everything they said is false. But you should again look into their motivations, and check if the rest of the story adds up if that detail is wrong.

In the end there is no hardfast rule to know when someone is deceiving you. The truth could be so strange that you notice many of these red flags, but still the story teller is telling the truth. You have to figure that out for yourself. This will take some work on your part.

Evaluating your own thoughts:

You also have biases, but for most people it is easier to use the anti-epistemological methods and further entrench their biases with every piece of information they consume. When you do this recklessly it is called pride. With the amount of information that you can access on the internet it is very easy to allow pride to turn you away from the truth and to believe in fables.

To combat this you need to evaluate your own opinions using the epistemological methods, this is called being humble. When you are humble you grow in light and knowledge with every piece of information you consume. So be humble, and surround yourself with truth.

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