Thursday, July 20, 2006

Truth Versus Fact

Science is the pursuit of facts, not truth. A scientist leaves the ownership of truth to philosophers and theologians. The currency of science is the provable, not the believable.

This is the kind of mumbo-jumbo you'd hear if you were a pupil in thousands of biology, archaeology, and paleontology classrooms. But this kind of thinking is a rejection of the concepts of both truth and fact.

Truth is, by definition, the extent of all truisms. Everything that is true is part of truth. In every trial, the man is either guilty or innocent, never both, never neither. Despite what the fallible court may rule, a truth exists. Hidden from all human knowledge, perhaps, but true nonetheless. The thing that is true is also a fact. Fact, in scientific terms is something that is *observably* true, but not different in substance from truth.

The purpose of this rhetorical slight of hand is to disarm the still under-developed critical thinking abilities of young university students. What better way to supplant the truth that the students know than by convincing them that there is room for two truths in their world view: one under the banner of truth, the other flying the flag of fact.

As the impressionable students make space in their minds for the second truth, they never realize that they are doing so at the expense of the first. After several years of thinking this way, they come to realize that the notion of truth versus fact was nothing more than another way to say that whatever is not proven is false. Thus the conclusion: whatever is believed by faith is false!

Secular university can be a dangerous place for young people of faith. Like a minefield, knowing the devices of one's enemy can arm him with knowledge enough to neutralize that advantage.

Facts are always true, and all that is true is also factual. Everything that is not true is false or fiction. That there is a God is not only true, it is fact. Everything that suggests there is no God is false, untrue.

Critical mass is achieved in a compression type fissile reaction when two solid objects are forced together to occupy the same space at the same time, beyond natural mass. This redefines the composition of both in terms of each other. Neither survives in its original state. It's a messy process, I understand.

It is no less messy when two mutually exclusive truths attempt to occupy the same mind at the same time. The composition of both is decomposed, and the subject is left with the belief that there is no truth.


Throwback 13 said...

* I had just been noticing this type of thinking, especially in the reporting of expert testimony about intelligent design. I hadn't gotten to the point of examining it like you have, and you have saved me the trouble, and probably done a better job at it than I would have.
* An excellant posting. You have provided support for my theory that computer programmers will restore order to the world.
* I mean that from the depths of my hat.
* ... Joel

Anonymous said...

Truth is dependant on one's perspective; one man's truth is not necessarily the same for another. Christian's believe Jesus was the messiah, other religions do not. All religions believe their view to be the "the truth" which is correct. Since no religion is based on proven fact, there are many "truths" and versions of "truths" floating around in all religions, hence the need for divided groups within all beliefs. If one religious message was proven factual, there would be no room for (mis)interpretation. Facts can be proven regardless of perspective to anyone not suffering from cognitive dissonance; unfortunately one must suffer from this to have faith in mysticism.

Anonymous said...

"Facts are always true, and all that is true is also factual. Everything that is not true is false or fiction. That there is a God is not only true, it is fact. Everything that suggests there is no God is false, untrue."

I really don't see how you can make a statement like this. This is the kind of thing that makes people want to differentiate between what is considered 'fact' and what is considered 'true'. The existence of God is a BELIEF not a FACT. Truth, unfortunately, is relative, based on what people know and/or believe. You have just proved this point by stating something as true which has no way of being verified.

Jason Hodge said...

Mr. Anonymous,

I hadn't realized that it was I who had started this whole truth/fact mumbo-jumbo against which I have been arguing. I'll have to be more careful what "statements" I make in the future!

The problem I see with your thinking is that you differentiate between truth and fact based on subjective arguments. That is, since it isn't proven to YOU, it can't be called fact, only belief.

In all actuality most of what we know is merely belief, not proof. I've seen plenty of pictures of the earth showing it to be round. I absolutely believe that the earth is round. This is because I have set the burden of proof to a certain level and that level has been met to my satisfaction.

When it comes to the existence of God, some people place the burden of proof so high that even the personal appearance of Christ, hundreds of miracles and a miraculous ascension among many witnesses would be dismissed as fraud because they have "other evidence" against it. And by the way, if you haven't attended Sunday School, that's the precise evidence that we have. That it didn't happen in front of you or during your lifetime is of little consequence. No doubt you believe that Shakespeare existed. Yet it wasn't in your lifetime. How do you KNOW he existed? The answer is that you believe. Sufficient evidence has been provided to overcome your decided burden of proof.

Your belief in Shakespeare has no bearing on whether he lived. Neither has my opinion any bearing on whether the earth is round. Truth is objective, not subjective. Thus, to say something is "fact" is nothing more or less than a truth-claim.

I find it disingenuous and sly for educated people to try to convince young people of the difference between truth and fact. At the very least, an honest attempt to break down epistemology would arrive at two categories of knowledge: the proven and the unproven. But to break them down into truth versus fact is mere slight of hand. It's educating with an agenda.

Anonymous said...

"This is because I have set the burden of proof to a certain level and that level has been met to my satisfaction".

But the burden of proof is much more for some philosophical truth than for some observable empirical fact and is the reason for the need for faith. If the burden of proof was met for the belief in a god than there would be no need for faith and a basic tenant of your religion vanishes. (FYI- I am a science teacher).

Jason Hodge said...

Mr. Anonymous,

Again, thanks for taking the time to read my reply.

I still think that you make the word "fact" a subjective concept when you use words like "proven". Proven to whom? And by what burden of proof? Who decides it? You mean to stress the concrete nature of "fact", but in doing so, you make it as pliable as silly-putty.

I want to challenge the idea that you assert that:

"the burden of proof is much more for some philosophical truth than for some observable empirical fact and is the reason for the need for faith"

What I want to make clear is that scientists do, in fact, believe many true things. But their most deeply held, personal, and darling beliefs are those that are, by nature, unprovable. Consider the short list:

Man-made Global Warming
The Big Bang Theory
Homosexuality a Genetic Disorder

Now, interestingly, all of these are both hostile and destructive to a Christian world-view.

Man-made global warming with a catastrophic end derails the Biblicaly prophetic time line consummating with the physical return of Christ.

The Big Bang speaks against both the seven, literal days of creation.

Evolution divests humanity of the image of the Creator, and remakes him as an accident of chance. He has neither purpose nor destiny other than what he makes for himself. Once applied, this philosophy destroys nearly every Christian tenant. Destiny, providence, charity, hope, patience, meekness: none of these make sense in a dog-eat-dog continuum of timeless, gradual evolution.

Natural homosexuality makes God unjust for creating a man the way he is and then destroying him for being that way. It also makes God the author of homosexuality, which He strictly forbids in Scripture.

These worldviews are mutually exclusive. Were these physical instead of mental constructs, they would resemble oil and water.

There is a reason that scientists use such methods of slight-of-hand, philosophical traps, "trust me" and "what do you know" antics, ridicule and intimidation (see Ben Stein's new movie: "Expelled"). It's because they don't have any real proof for such things. They don't admit it or publish it when their findings counter their presuppositions (such as when modern animal fossils, or even evidence of humans are discovered in much "older" layers of strata - this happens constantly with little or no mention, and this is a commonly known phenomena in the field of paleontology) or the Lazarus Effect, or any of a dozen other wide swaths of contrary evidence.

Let's suppose it's the 1700's and none of the scientific study of the last 300 years has been done. If I told you that life goes back, not 6,500 years as the Bible says, but 4 billion+ years and that just 250,000 years ago, man was still just a primitive primate somewhere equidistant between chimps and modern man, what would prove it to you? If you're honest, then a time machine would come in real handy. Nothing scientists have "proven" in the ensuing 300 years even approaches the certainty that you could achieve by going back in time and watching it all happen, seeing that it's real. Observation, we're all taught, is the starting point for all hypothesis, theory, experiment and scientific law. It must be observable and reproducible!! But that's not at all what Scientists present.

Scientists have convinced half the population, with the same level of certainty as if each one of those people had a personal tour of the Paleozoic Era. How did this happen? Through all the means I've mentioned above. Using these tactics to control the conversation, pushing evolution in children movies, teaching evolution as fact (exclusivity has the same affect), producing photo-realistic, IMAX movies as real as if you'd taken a film crew back in time, all these don't amount to proof! They amount to a great number of convinced people, but not proof!

So which worldview is it, again, that sets a lower burden of proof to establish something as fact?

I'll be visiting Israel next June. I'll get to see the court of Pontius Pilot, the house of Cornelius, the Pool of Bethesda, the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem, the Garden of Gethsemane with 2500 year-old olive trees, mount carmel, Beersheba, Ashkelon, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jappa, and a hundred other Biblical sites, just a tiny fraction of the possibilities. It's not as good as going back in time, but it's a lot closer than anything you can produce. Some of the buildings are still standing. The writings and names are just as the Bible says. The locations, cultures, events are just as the Bible says. Does it still require faith? Yes, of course. I don't have a time machine either! But even according to Scripture, faith will one day be replaced with sight.

You offer, not evidence, but presuppositions. You seek to re-define the meaning of proof. Build a time-machine, then we can talk.

Paul G. - Knotts Island, NC said...

I came upon your blog as I was preparing for Sunday school (I am a high school Sunday school teacher). I am discussing evidence that drives one to a conclusion about who Jesus is. I was reading various sites discussing truth vs fact. I was blessed by your expressions and explanations. I hold very similar views (even similar interests going by you brief bio). I often discuss these scientific areas with my students and their parents, friends, co-workers, etc... I do not believe that my faith is in any way contrary to science. God told Adam and Eve to fill the earth and subdue it. I believe that he gave us the capacity as well as the desire to understand the world that He created. It is when people (scientists or otherwise) attempt to use contrived or self serving malipulated evidence that causes the division between faith and "science". Eventually, facts (things observably true) will align with truth. And that truth is that God has revealed Himself to us through His creation.

For those interested, look up Romans chpt 1, and see verses 18-32... this is a timeless issue, not as "new age" as some would say. It is not because we are now more educated, this has been a common world view issue for at least thousands of years... probably with little change other than insignificant details that show how people are really just trying so desperately to loose themselves of the accountability of a Father who loves them; and they do not understand how His way is actually leading to an eternity of beautiful life and trying to keep them from the ultimate danger of eternal separation from him... just like when my own children do not always realize that it is because I love them and not just trying to ruin their good time when I warn them to not play with fire, electrical sockets, running across the street, wearing a life jacket in a boat, sword fighting with sticks, and yes... putting all of their trust in someone just because they have a few initials behind their names like BS, MS, PhD, etc...

BTW... I did not come to believe in Jesus as my Lord and Saviour until I was 24 years old. I have always been scientifically minded and consider myself to be fairly well educated. I once argued on the side of evolution and atheism. I was eventually CONVINCED beyond doubt that I was completely wrong. (I also believe that God does not believe in "true" atheists... he created you and knows you better than you could know yourself. He knows that you are desperately seeking to fill a void that you do not understand. To deny God is simple rebelion. He does not hate you for it. He just wants His created children to turn back to Him. He will bless you, even as a rebelious child returns to a parent pleading for forgiveness, that parent is thrilled at the safe return of their children.)

Thank you for your time to read my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Just for the record, I am a different anonymous than the first poster. It seems to me that your responses to your original statement provide a strong argument that there is a difference between truth and facts; that truth is often subjective. I think a good example of this is when a person testifies in court, he/she is asked to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth--the court's attempt to get at the facts of the situation. This explains how five different witnesses to a traffic accident can give five conflicting testimonies as to who was in the wrong. However, the court stops at the request that the person testify to the facts, the whole facts, and nothing but the facts, because this could result in wholesale perjury charges.

I agree that facts are always true, but truth is not always confined to facts--though it should be. The goal of philosophy/theology/science is to align truth with facts, and this alignment is not destructive; rather it is reaffirming. As a Christian, I do not believe that the "Big Bang," man-made global warming, evolution, or the etiology of homosexuality are hostile or destructive to my faith beliefs. If they were, then my faith would not be very strong. The "Big" Bang," in my faith reasoning is about as likely a description of God's creation of the universe as any I can think of. In that same light, evolution is the most incredibly perfect example of "creative design" that my mind can imagine. There aren't enough facts yet on the cause of homosexuality, and man-made global warming is, I believe, irrelevant to faith.

My faith and my personal experiences tell me that God exists, but there is no empirical evidence to support that faith/belief. If there was, what, then, is the role/value of faith?

Anthony Anise said...

Thank you for your great summation of this topic. I was looking for an article explaining truth and fact. I agree with you on some of the basics, but I am of a different conclusion.

I believe that the truth is objective. There can only be one truth. I do not believe that facts truth (though they should be). Facts are in essence beliefs. They are subjective. Whether they need proof or not is irrelevant because of the subjectivity of the burden of proof, as you mentioned earlier.

I do believe, however, that this separation is not "mumbo-jumbo" It is essential.

As a Christian, I can accept what Science believes to be a fact, because facts are subjective, and often do not live up to objective standard of Truth. Scientific facts can-and often do-change with the changes in research, observations, and even burden of proof.

The objective Truth, however, cannot change. It is so by definition; and from a biblical standpoint: God is the Truth (John 14:6), and He does not change (Hebrews 13:8).

Truth is often illusive. What may seem to be mutually exclusive facts, may very well fit elegantly.

For example: The verse:"The Lord, He is God; He made us and not we ourselves" (Psalms 100:3) appears to be at odds with conception. However, these two concepts without the backdrop of the rest of understanding are not complete. If, however, we view God as an Author of Life (Acts 3:15), and human beings as characters (with the exception of having free will) We will find the two concepts fit quite well.

Damon said...

Thanks to the orginal author and all the commentors! This is obviously an issue that has yet to be thoroughly vetted. It also seems to me to be more an issue of language. We need to properly define our terms on both sides of the argument, and reach an agreement about those definitions so we don't keep going back and forth.

In my mind, I see facts as observations about reality, and I see truth as reality as it really is (not just as we perceive or observe). This is why facts can be said to be true, and something that is true can be said to be a fact. They are indeed related, but truth higher in that it is what IS. Facts are observations about, or ways to describe, what is. I hope that helps to clarify the issue, and not continue to cloud it up. :)

Anonymous said...

(also a different annonymous :-) but my name is JAB) Everything that people do or believe is subjective. People arn't capable of objectivity. However this dosent mean that facts are truth. Facts are bits of information that change over time with different tools and perspectives but Truth is a concept. Universal and Intangible, It doesn't change. Truth and fact don't have to be pitted against each other and person can still mantain their faith in Truth, Universal Intangible Ideals while considering facts as well. Colleges are not dangerous places for believers. I'm sure that God would agree that a Faith not worth questioning is not worth having.

grace ( said...

I love you , kudos! In my life, I was never confused with what truth is; this, of course, I give much credit to my mother who raised me to be a critcal thinker, and that just because a person is a teacher, or has studied it professionally, it doesn't make them automatticaly right. I tell ppl all the time that truth does not rely on belief. Unfortunately, I often get scoffed at and they accuse me of being narrow or closed minded. I tell them "what is the point of being open minded if one is not looking for the truth?" I once heard that there are two ways to get through this world without thinking: by believing in nothing you hear, or by believing in everything you hear. It seems that many ppl use being 'open' minded as a way of appearing intelligent and insightful (the problem is that they're mind is so 'open' that logic, reasoning and substance always floats away from they're brains). True open mindness is when one keeps an open ear for other possibillities because they know that they could be wrong about something (the point of open mindness is to seek the truth). One verse of a song I like is very insightful: "Music of the night" from Phantom of the opera. The lyrics of this passage are as followed: "Close you're eyes for you're eyes will only tell the truth, and the truth isn't what you want to see. In the dark it is easy to pretend, but the truth is what it ought to be." Some scientists and educators have used this 'truth is not the same as fact' routine on me to discredit me and make me look stupid. I've had this problem many times in school with professors as well as fellow students. The students will often get mad at me and I have been accused of being judgemental for this. I have had teachers however who thanked me for starting such heated debates in classrooms; I totally respect them, and they've made it a little easier for me. I also feel better when I hear someone such as yourself (and others on this page) who give a well thought out and good argument concerning this, so kudos again!