When you drive from Regina to Moose Jaw across the flatlands of central Saskatchewan, the TransCanada Highway unrolls endlessly before you. One after another, telephone poles rise over the horizon. The kilometres click by. But the horizon never gets any closer.
Bruce Sanguin must have been driving over a road something like that when he penned a prayer for his book, If Darwin Prayed. “This search for truth and its infinitely receding horizon,” Bruce wrote, “frustrates our need to nail it down. Humour us, will you? Freeze the horizon, and fix a point that assures us of truth’s location.
“Or convince us, once and for all, that we wouldn’t know what to do with truth if we held it in our hands, and remind us that whenever we try to nail you down, you always rise up and go ahead of us—luring us toward the mystery beyond our intellect.”
My friend and publishing partner Ralph Milton scorned men who need to pursue every woman. “They’re like a dog chasing a car,” Ralph would say. “If they ever caught it, they wouldn’t know what to do with it.”
That’s what Bruce is talking about, slightly less graphically. If we were ever granted comprehension of absolute truth, it would probably destroy us.
One of my favourite chapters from the children’s classic, The Wind in the Willows, describes Moley and Ratty looking for a lost infant. On an island in the river, they encounter Pan, the mythical god of nature. They are stunned, overwhelmed, crushed.
And then the vision fades away. Moley and Ratty can look around again, see their own familiar world once more. Author Kenneth Grahame explained, “For this is the last best gift that the kindly demi-god is careful to bestow: the gift of forgetfulness, lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and the great haunting memory should overshadow the lives of little animals…”
That`s why, with the wisdom of infinity, truth is always somewhere on the horizon, something towards which we travel, but never quite get there.
The horizon didn’t roll up as quickly when settlers lumbered across empty grasslands in ox carts. Today, we hurtle towards horizons much faster in modern cars on paved highways, and faster still when we fly in airplanes. The last century has given us a virtual blizzard of information, facts whirling at us like leaves in a hurricane.
But information is not truth—it is merely a means of seeking truth.
Sometimes—perhaps often—we think we have reached the horizon. We think we have found truth, grasped truth with both hands, nailed it down for all time. My experience suggests that whenever this happens, the holders of this fragment of truth become so fixated on what they are absolutely sure of that they lose sight of the horizon.
Truth narrows down to the spot their feet occupy.
If they`d look up, they`d see that the horizon is still out there ahead of them.
Truth that can be nailed down is like the butterfly collection in our local museum—beautiful, but no longer a mystery that can fly to the horizon.