Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fact and Opinion

I read a piece about moral relativism being inculcated into our children, “Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts,” by Justin McBrayer, a professor working in ethics and philosophy of religion. It got me thinking some of the big philosophical questions: What is truth? What is real? What is knowable?
I may not have suddenly come up with all the answers, but we probably can look at a few helpful definitions.
McBrayer’s piece dealt with what he found a troubling definition placed on the wall of his son’s school:
Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.
Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.
These definitions, he found, were ubiquitous online, and were provided by Common Core as a standard. [His piece provides links.] He was troubled because there’s an implication that facts are all provable, and anything unprovable must not be true. And anything believed is merely opinion, and therefore can be dismissed as not factual.
Is truth equivalent to proof? No. Truth is true whether we are aware of it or have yet proven it.
Is truth relative (i.e., changeable depending on perspective or perception)? No. Truth exists, and it is up to us to do our best to perceive it accurately. It is true that gravity is a force that works on my body whether I believe in gravity or not.
Gravity is a provable law. We use the laws of physics to perceive and measure it. I am persuaded that, while I can’t “see” gravity, it’s still there. It exists. I believe gravity pulls me earthward. So, since that is a statement of belief, is it fact or opinion? I am persuaded that gravity exists; that is my opinion. But it’s a considered, educated opinion, well supported. Regardless of my awareness or opinion, gravity is still working on me. If I jump off the roof, gravity will bring me to earth—fast and hard. I’d say that’s pretty real.
The definitions above imply an either/or arrangement. Something is either fact (provably true) or opinion (something not provably true). So can an opinion be true? And can a “fact” be untrue? Yes, for both. A “fact” might be stated as true, and then learned to be false. It was once thought to be a fact that the earth was the center of the universe, until Copernicus and Galileo more accurately described our solar system. In the 1980s, it was a supposed “fact” that the world was cooling, and then in the 2000s it was warming at an alarming rate—stated as “fact,” and given measurements, but opposed to conflicting measurements. Just because something is stated as fact, doesn’t mean it’s true.
This blog is made up of my opinions. But it is my intention, always, to clarify truth. I search for true principles, and then apply them. The Spherical Model is a way of looking at the interrelationships of politics, economics, and social behaviors, in an effort to find ways to attain freedom, prosperity, and civilization. That is a statement of fact. I invented the concept, so the definition of the Spherical Model is what I say it is. I control that fact.
The principles that lead to freedom, prosperity, and civilization exist, whether they are widely perceived or not, whether they are understood by anyone but me (or even by me). There are ways that lead to those good outcomes, because those good outcomes have been seen and identified at points in history, and people got there somehow. God knows the path. Knowing that path is knowing something true—a fact.
It is my opinion that I have discovered the right path, the right principles. There is a lot of evidence supporting my opinion. I am persuaded that the principles if applied among any people, nation, city, family, tribe, or organization will lead eventually to freedom, prosperity, and civilization—all ultimate Goods.
Are the Spherical Model principles wrong because they are my opinion? No. They may not yet be proven, but they are either true or untrue based on what God knows. I have attempted to know what God knows; I do that imperfectly, but chances are if I follow principles God has laid out for a happy life, I’m probably closely aligned with truth.
McBrayer’s concern was that, when weeding out fact from opinion, moral values always got sifted into the opinion category, with the implication that they can be disregarded as unknowable and probably not true. He listed some examples of opinion, and therefore not fact (not true):
     Copying homework assignments is wrong.
     Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior.
     All men are created equal.
     It is worth sacrificing some personal liberties to protect our country from terrorism.
     It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.
     Vegetarians are healthier than people who eat meat.
     Drug dealers belong in prison.
Some of these just might be true. They might even be provably true or false (vegetarian health, for example). But because they are “value judgments,” students are taught to discount them. Which makes it seem reasonable to cheat on homework (if you want to), curse in school (if you want to), subjugate other people (if you want to), give in to tyranny (if you want to), drink alcohol while underage (if you want to), or deal drugs without going to prisons (if you want to).
It is a value judgment that life is sacred. It is my opinion that beheading another human because he doesn’t belong to my religion is morally wrong. God knows whether that is true or not. But every civilized people in history—and all of the people on earth today except a radical few—believe killing innocent people is wrong. We punish for it. It’s a capital offense. Does our morality-free generation know whether murder is right or wrong?
It’s a problem when you raise a generation that believes there are no moral absolutes. You can’t get civilization without a critical mass willingly living moral lives. How can that happen if they don’t know what is moral, and don’t even know that morality is real?
What about honesty. We require truth telling in court; perjury is punishable. Should it be? People in a civilized society believe so. But if someone is raised to believe truth, or reality, is just something in your head, it can be whatever you think it is. “It depends on what the meaning of is is.” “I didn’t have sex with that woman.” “If you like your insurance plan, you can keep your plan.” “I didn’t set up an illegal private email server starting the day I took office as Secretary of State in order to hide correspondence from public record; I was just trying to make things convenient.” “Four Americans were killed in Benghazi because of outrage caused by an obscure internet video.”  
As Horace Mann said, “What the church has been for medieval man, the public school must become for democratic and rational man. God will be replaced by the concept of the public good…. The common schools… shall create a more far-seeing intelligence and a pure morality than has ever existed among communities of men” ( Klicka, The Right Choice—Home Schooling, p. 32).
So if the morality-castrating definition of fact and opinion is provided through the public schools, that is an attempt to form a new “morality”—one that is whatever government says it is, among a populous unable to think through the reasons government might be wrong. It’s not about building a better society; it’s about building power over a weaker people. (Yet another reason to homeschool.)
I keep an old dictionary[1] around, definitely pre-Common Core. So I looked up fact and opinion there, to know what it meant while I was growing up:
Fact: a thing that has actually happened or that is really true; reality; actuality; truth
Opinion: a belief not based on absolute certainty or positive knowledge but on what seems true, valid, or probable to one’s own mind
So, a fact is true, whether we know it or not; measurement or perception is not required. An opinion is true as far as we can ascertain. Both are attempts at understanding what is real, what is true. If you can see fallacies in a person’s support of their opinion, then discount it if you like. But throwing out an opinion just because it isn’t viewable or measurable jettisons an astounding amount of truth.
Truth exists separate from us. Seeking truth is a work for a lifetime. It takes a good mind, and a good heart, and spiritual strength to know truth. Seeking God is more likely to lead to truth than leaving out the Omniscient One and going at it on our own.
“The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words,
light and truth. Light and truth forsake that evil one.”[2]

[1] Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, Simon and Schuster, © 1982.
[2] Doctrine and Covenants 93:36-37.

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