Beliefs vs. Fact

This has long been a debate of various sorts and forms in the non-believing community but I think I’ve finally figured out how I want to phrase my argument in relation to it.

We have these things called beliefs, that quite often are not based on evidence, yet are still robust, rational and logical. For example “I believe that peanut butter and jam make a good sandwich filling” is a rational belief as I’m basing it upon my own experience and the experience of others. The problem with beliefs though is that they can quite often be wrong and can also disagree with both established consensus and even reality itself. For example “I believe that I can see Angels who guide me through life and watch over me.” On the one hand, a lot of people don’t share this belief, and on the other there’s no actual evidence for it outside of one person’s subjective experience.

We also have things called facts. These puppies are a hell of a lot more useful. For example “so long as the Earth maintains it orbit around the sun, the sun will always rise the next day” this is an established fact. We can link the rising of the sun to the structure of our solar system and based upon that establish logically and rationally that the above example is indeed a fact. The important thing to note here is the details may differ or change with new scientific understandings or discoveries, for example it could potentially happen that the times we now attribute to sunrise and sunset across the globe could migrate slowly forcing us to alter our current timezone system (it’s not likely, but certainly not impossible) but still the rising of the sun would remain a fact. So too can we say that while the individual mechanics underlying the Theory of Evolution* may change, or more rather our understanding of those underlying mechanics, the theory as a whole is an undeniable fact.

That word “undeniable” is a key one though. With beliefs one simply believes or disbelieves. With facts, however one can accept it or deny it. While accepting it requires no active belief (we don’t believe in gravity, we accept it as a fact of nature) denying facts requires some active belief. To deny a fact such as gravity, one needs to actively believe either that people are wrong and it is not a fact or believe that universe does not in fact function the way the so-called fact would imply.

This important distinction between disbelief and denial is rather profound and it’s effect can be seen in modern parlance. People who doubt that Hitler and his Nazi government put millions of Jews to death during WWII are not called Holocaust-disbelievers. The Holocaust is not a belief to be debated upon such as Deism or Theism etc… it is an established fact of history. To doubt the Holocaust happened is to deny a fact of the world. As I mentioned above, some details may change over time, we may yet uncover secret documents that detail that someone other than we thought was actually signing the orders in Auschwitz for the murders (unlikely) but the overall fact will remain a fact.

With all this in mind I think it’s time we stop asking/responding to questions in the form of “Do you believe in [insert established scientific fact here]” and start demanding that the question become “Do you accept [insert established scientific fact here]”

I do not believe in a God or gods. I do not “deny” God or gods as they are not Fact. I do not “believe” in Evolution, I accept Evolution. These are important phrases and important kinds of phraseology that I think would serve not only the non-believing community well, but mankind in general also.

* – It’s NOT just a theory. It’s a Theory.

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2 thoughts on “Beliefs vs. Fact

  1. Very well written. This is an argument that comes up a lot for me when people say they don’t “believe” in abortion. But…we’re not arguing its existence? You might not ‘believe’ in the morality of the act but the act itself still exists. Some people view this as mere semantics but I think it’s rather important.

  2. Thanks for that! It’s another side of the “belief” thing that I didn’t quite capture in that piece but the underlying principle of differentiation between Belief and Fact and also the existence of something still applies. I think I’ll tackle that and abortion in an upcoming post!

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