People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe.
~ Andy Rooney
While at a wedding reception this past weekend I found myself on one end of a conversation that quickly turned into a debate that turned even more quickly into an argument.
It wasn’t my intention to enter into this argument... in fact... all I was doing was retelling a story of another argument I had in the recent past... to which my conversation partner chose to pick up where the former argument had left off.
What appeared to set off the reaction was my insistence that all of the arguments, by both parties, being made around this particular topic were simply opinions and beliefs not necessarily facts.
Yet my conversation partner insisted she was reciting facts so any questioning of these facts was just false and misleading.
She displayed a great deal of passion but in actuality she provided very little in the way of true and actual facts.
The topic at hand was that of the role that genetics play in terms of chemical dependency and/or compulsive behavior. There are excellent well thought out opinions on both side of this debate.
People, I have found, are also very passionate when discussing this topic... especially if they happen to be someone who is or was afflicted with these tendencies.
Some people believe that dependency issues are a disease caused by genetics while others believe that they are learned responses based on their character and environment.
I am certainly not about to start the debate again regarding this topic...
The point I am trying to make today is that there are significant differences between facts, opinions, and beliefs... yet people are constantly confusing the three when a debate is occurring.
Facts are indisputable evidence. Facts never change.
Facts are typically used to report history (events that have already occurred). For example, yesterday at 5pm, the temperature measured at JFK airport using a certain measuring device was 68 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a fact. There is no room for debate or opinion.
Under the heading of facts are theories. Unlike facts, theories can change based on new evidence.
Theories are based facts that can be tested and proven over and over... but they can still be found to be wrong over time. It only takes one false test to disprove a theory.
Before 1697, all known swan were white. It was an indisputable theory. However in 1697, Willen de Vlamingh, a Dutch explorer, discovered a species of black swans in Western Australia and the white swan theory was disproven.
Throughout history, longstanding theories have been found to be untrue.
The ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy created the geocentric model of the universe where the sun and all of the planets revolved around the earth. It took nearly 1500 years before the work of Copernicus and Keppler disproved this theory.
In the 1600’s, Isaac Newton created the indisputable laws of motion, it wasn’t until 300 years later that those "laws" were found to be wrong (or should I say incomplete) by new theories put forth by Albert Einstein.
Facts provide us critical support for the assertion of an argument yet they also need to be placed in the proper context.
When facts are taken out of context to create an opinion, this is called a logical fallacy.
Fallacies use facts to create illogical conclusions:
A dog is a mammal... a human being is a mammal... therefore a dog is human.
There are hundreds of types of fallacies... click HERE to read more about the different types of fallacies.
An opinion is a person’s attempt to create a logical conclusion from a group of facts.
Opinions can and do change with new evidence.
Sports junkies can recite statistics that can reasonably support conclusions as to why a team or player is better or worse than another.
Statistics are typically facts derived from past performance so they are undeniable... however there is no exact correlation between past performance and future results.
The science of probability is a fact... the use of statistics to predict the future is just an opinion.
People have a general tendency to confuse opinions with facts.
I often hear things like, "It’s a fact that the United Kingdom would be better off if they were to leave the EU".
This is not a fact... it is strictly an opinion.
Included in this category are blanket statements such as, "my doctor said I am cancer-free". While this is good news indeed... there is no way that a doctor can check every single cell in a human body for the evidence of cancer and proclaim that his patient is "cancer-free". It is his opinion that there is no evidence of cancer after his examination.
Some opinions are just plain wrong in that they rely on faulty data disguised as facts or tested theories. However, there is no actual evidence to support these claims.
Prejudice, stereotypes and conspiracy theories are perpetuated in this manner.
There are people who still believe that certain ethnicity or gender are incapable of a certain level of intelligence or can’t effectively operate a motor vehicle... or that all members of a certain religion are terrorists... or that the entire world’s economy is actually controlled by the Rothschild family.
There is nothing wrong about having an informed opinion. The more information, facts, and data one has, the higher the probability of creating better opinions.
Opinions make people interesting to talk with.
Most people have a set of beliefs that are not necessarily based on empirical facts but rather on anecdotal evidence.
Beliefs differ from opinion as they tend to be cultural or spiritual rather than scientific (however there are many scientific beliefs as well).
Beliefs are typically grounded in faith, morality, or values rather than facts.
Religion falls into this category.
There is no positive scientific method to prove or disprove the existence of God (in any form)... heaven... or hell... or reincarnation... or nirvana...
Scientists have theories as to the formation of the universe... but these theories can’t be proven.
Life begins at conception or birth... there are valid arguments for both schools of thought based on an individual’s beliefs... although there are people who will argue until the end of time that their point of view on this subject is actually factual not spiritual.
A person’s beliefs are typically strong convictions that rarely change... because their underlying values, faith and morality rarely change... beliefs are ingrained deeply within us and are typically our compass points to leading our lives.
Such was the case last weekend...
A heated argument ensued when I tried to express an opinion that disagreed with someone else’s beliefs.
At the end of the reception, I concluded our "conversation" by stating that "I believe... that you believe... that you are correct"... and I got up and went home.
...although... that last statement to her wasn’t necessarily a fact... is was a good theory...
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Jim Kalb President
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