Fact vs. Opinion, take 2

Quiz:

Fact Vs. Opinion:

Q1: Brigham Young was a liar.Q2: God is great.
Q3: Christ is the ultimate source of truth.

Q4: My son is cute:

Q5: Humans have evolved:

Q6: President Obama is the President of the U.S.

Q7: Islam is bad

Q8: Mormonism is true

Q9: Secularism is growing

(I’m too lazy to fix the paragraph spacing :P)

Okay, I’ll stop. Answer those questions to yourself, as either fact, or opinion. Then ask yourself the question, how do we define fact and how do we define opinion? Webster says a fact is, “something that truly exists or happens : something that has actual existence.” What is the problem with that definition? Depending on who you ask, several of the items on this list would be facts to one person and opinions to someone else. That is problematic. Webster’s 5th definition is this, “a piece of information presented as having objective reality.” That is a little bit more clear. But then again, how do you define objective? Here are some definitions of objective: 1) “based on facts rather than feelings or opinions : not influenced by feelings”. Well that one won’t work since we’re starting a bit of circular logic here. 2) “expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.” That definition would be perfect, except of course that it is impossible, since no one is free of feelings, prejudices, or interpretations, and by implication then, nothing created by people is free of those things either. Even statistics, which are about as free of feelings and interpretations as possible, are still easy enough to manipulate to your liking. Take for example something Ricardo and I were talking about this morning: church membership numbers. Seems simple and straightfoward enough. The church anounces the number of members world-wide each conference. And the number always grows as far as I have seen. But then most people don’t realize this number includes all people who are inactive, all people who have ever been baptized ever, and possibly even people who have had their name removed from church records (according to one church record keeper, so who actually knows on that one). Really, who knows at all, since the church does not release this other information we actually have no idea if more people are attending church this month as were a year ago. 3) “limited to choices of fixed alternatives and reducing subjective factors to a minimum.” This is probably my favorite definition, since it is the only definition of objective that actually seems objective to me at all. This definition implies the scientific method, where you do a controlled experiment under controlled circumstances.

So, given these definitions, here is my own personal, working definition of fact and opinion. Fact: something that is either testable, and to date has not been disproved, or something that is not testable, but is nearly universally perceived as in existence. Example: evolution is testable, and has not been disproven, despite extensive testing. I think it qualifies as a fact. Human love, is hard to define, and therefore hard to test, but almost every human experiences it in a similar enough way, so I think love is an actual, existing thing, or a fact. Opinion then would be everything that does not fit this definition.

So lets get back to our quiz. Brigham Young was a liar, fact or opinion? Well, you could analyze every written thing he ever said and find out if those things were true (or some of them you could anyway). Ultimately, I am pretty certain he said some true things and some false things, and a whole bunch of things that would be untestable. So I think it is impossible to say that this statement is a fact. This is an opinion, in my opinion 😉

God is great. This question is untestable for multiple reasons. A significant portion of humans either have not experienced a great God, or have experienced no God at all, or have experienced Gods plural, or have had some other experience surrounding a divine. This question is an opinion for me.

Christ is the ultimate source of truth. See the previous paragraph. Even though there is a significant amount of evidence that Christ existed (and some evidence that he did not), him being the source of truth is entirely untestable and also seen as a false statement by most of humanity. So this, for me, is an opinion.

My son is cute. That is a fact (yes, that is sarcasm Sheldon (Big Bang Theory fans, anyone?).

Humans have evolved. While this is not testable in a lab, per se, evolution has been tested in rapidly developing creatures and, thus far has never been disproved. We also have significant enough archeological and DNA evidence to confirm this for humans. The scientific community is solid about this. This is a fact to them, and thus, to me.

President Obama is president. That’s a fact Jack. All healthy humanity experiences this as fact when they watch the news or see him in person.

Islam is bad. Mormonism is true. Both are untestable, and both are experienced very differently by different people. Both have contradicting evidence to suggest otherwise. These are opinions in my book.

Secularism is growing. This is probably testable, and the test has probably been done. These statistics would be easy to manipulate though depending on what sample of people you tested. Whether or not this is true, I am not sure, but it is testable, so it is knowable, and therefore it is either fact or it is false, but I’m not sure which personally.

 

Okay, so why is this topic important at all? Well, I think it’s important because it helps people discuss ideas in a respectful way. If one person thinks it is a fact that God exists, he/she could at least realize that, scientifically speaking, this is not a fact since it is not testable. Maybe it is a fact to you, but by realizing that not all of humanity experiences God in the same way, or experiences God at all, a person can talk about their belief in God as an opinion, rather than talking about it as fact (at least around people who disagree with them). The same is true of people who feel Brigham Young was a liar. Maybe they have good evidence to suggest that is true, but as I mentioned, he certainly told both truths and lies, so that has to be an opinion. And certainly not everyone experiences Brigham Young as a liar. Therefore, it is best to talk about this idea as an opinion, rather than a fact (at least around people who feel differently).

What is the implication of what I am saying? Well, I think people need to talk about their beliefs, not just religious beliefs, but all opinions they feel fairly certain about, as facts from time to time, even though they are really just opinions. The reason for this is security and sanity. People need to have a feel for what is and is not real. People walk around and make decisions each day based on what they think is real. So a person could drive themself crazy by feeling that almost nothing is certain (that’s an opinion I just stated as fact). This is okay and good. In many, maybe even most places, it is probably healthy to talk and think this way.

There are times and situations where it is important to be extra-aware of opinions you hold that really are just opinions. When you are trying to have a respectful discussion with people who feel differently than you, this is important.

I guess I am writing this because I want other people, and myself, to realize that respectful discourse on sensitive subjects takes effort. It takes effort to place yourself in a situation where you have to be aware that some things you feel certain of, are not certain to everyone. It takes effort to decide to engage in conversation where you have to start thinking about how every single other person in the conversation may possible feel or what each of those people is certain of that you disagree with.

The fact (jk, opinion, I tricked ya) that respectful discourse takes so much effort should both help us all realize that we need practice, and help us to realize that other people are going to fail at this regularly. This should give us compassion and understanding when other people talk about a belief they have as a “fact”, when, in fact, you disagree with what they are saying. This should help us want to work at this important skill so that we can talk to all the wonderful people out there who think differently than us.

I failed at this multiple times the last couple of days. I think I still had more successes than failures, at least I hope, I did, but I damaged some relationships because of my lack of understanding and compassion. I guess that’s okay, even if it is dissappointing, because I am human, and humans make mistakes. But I hope I keep trying to become better at thoughtful discourse since it is such a wonderful, magnificently powerful skill.

And that’s my opinion on that.

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