The Facts about Facts

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

A fact is not something to believe in. It is something that is known to be certain. People live in a world filled with both facts and beliefs, but often it seems that they cannot distinguish the difference. How much of our understanding is based on facts, and how much is based on beliefs? This is worth considering.

For instance one could ask, what do we know about God that is factual, meaning it absolutely certain? Since a fact is ascertainable, factual knowledge about God would be easily ascertainable. It’s quickly evident that we have no certain knowledge or facts pertaining to God. We do have abundant facts about the world. Whatever we surmise about God, or perhaps re-framed conceptually as the cause of all causes, it’s apparent that we really cannot explain God factually. Yet there are facts that we can talk about.

As to religion, there is often disagreement between different religions on almost everything except the idea of a creator deity. All of them see the necessity to have the cause of causes be an identifiable entity, or existence, or intelligence. The exception of course is Buddhism, but even in that system, where the idea of cause is deeply analyzed, to the degree that it is agreed that nothing can be found to exist without a cause, there is some notion of a universal or idealized state of emptiness out of which is actualized a consciousness. In effect, a God-like state of being that manifests out of the void. Here we find sophisticated thought, but this is still in the domain of belief and not fact.

Since beliefs by definition do not deal with facts, how can any particular belief be more valid or relevant than any other competing or alternative belief? From this point of view, all beliefs are equally valid, in the absence of reason or factual evidence. Against a standard of truth as being verifiable facts regardless of if they are known or unknown, why would a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim’s or a Hindu or a Zoroastrian’s beliefs be considered anything more than a simple set of assertions? Statements of truth, which may or may not have any basis in reality, outside of the consensus of believers. In fact, therefore, to believe in any such religious system is to accept a consensus assertion in the place of real knowledge. As the matter at hand is entirely conjecture, and not based on facts that can be known with any certainty, how is this different than a superstition? Now I am not saying that God is a superstition, but I am saying is that people may have superstitions about God.

Does this reasoning lead us to suggest that atheism is factual? Here we are no more satisfied as we have no ascertainable facts as to the non-existence of God nor of any creator deity, or higher intelligence. And so atheism is simply another set of beliefs, and objectively equal to any of the other religions. The best we can come to is to argue as some the scientists do, the probability of the universe occurring at random or passively. This might lead us to recognize a broader set of dimensions in which reality can manifest, but does not necessarily lead us to a certainty of any cause. The further our reason goes into this sort of cosmology the more certain we are that our story’s about God are actually human cultural creations, but the less certain we are about the seeming randomness of it all.

What we are faced with is the simple set of facts so obvious to any living person. Firstly, that the world exists. Secondly, that we exist. And thirdly, we seem to be able to know these facts, and in effect, we are a sort of conscious phenomenon with respect to it. How it works is beyond us though. Here then we have a further dilemma, as we do not know what we do not know. In the face of this, we are left with the problem of explaining things, which we cannot do, and so once again we rely on either the limited factual knowledge we possess or on belief to do so. Perhaps this why we prefer our stories to the actual absence of facts.

How can we be more objective in our understanding of life and the universe we see? How do we relate to the seemingly well-reasoned beliefs we are offered as explanations when the facts are not easily ascertained? What can we do to be living from actual truth and factual knowledge, when we live in a social space that defines reality in terms of beliefs and facts that are blended together and not really distinguished?

These questions are not easy. In fact, we mostly would rather not think about, unless we are driven by something odd in us to wonder how it actually is and to doubt everything we have been told to just accept on faith alone. If there is to be new mankind to occur in the future of this world, I wonder if it will have the kind of mind to live without provable facts or the illusions that occur as a consequence of using belief as a way of understanding. Or perhaps, better stories than we inherited.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

© Copyright 2007 Robert Fertman, All Rights Reserved

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