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[personal profile] avevale_intelligencer
"Everyone's entitled to their own opinions. Nobody is entitled to their own facts." (Internet truism)

I've said before that essentially, nearly all "facts" as we understand them are in fact opinions, based on or supported by what we believe to be evidence, as filtered through our sensoria and interpreted by our brains. In practice, for the most part, this is a difference that makes no difference, and anyone who makes anything serious of that argument is being studenty and pretentious. There is one reality, and for the most part, in most cases and most of the time, we can agree on what it is. What it *means*...well, that's another kettle of fish entirely.

The abovementioned truism has been getting quite a lot of use in the last couple of years, and with Tronald, the current President of the USA, and his team busily coming out with "alternative facts," that seems likely to go on. What interests me about it, though, is the large hole it blows in the idea that non-religious people (who, I believe, comprise the majority of users of said truism) are actually capable of religious tolerance in any real sense.

When you call them on this, they stoutly maintain that they think everyone should be entitled to believe whatever they wish, as long as they don't try and force it on anyone else. Which is as good as saying that everyone is entitled to "their own facts," since it must surely be obvious to anyone who thinks about it that, to a religious person, a religious belief must of absolute necessity have the status of a fact, or what exactly does the word "belief" mean? Christians are not "of the opinion" that God sent His son to redeem mankind. Buddhists do not "incline to the view" that the material world is an illusion that must be transcended if the soul is to attain Nirvana. Jews are not "prepared to entertain the notion" that Passover night is different from all other nights. If any of them say they are, then in my estimation (and I admit I'm an outsider, see below) they're just being nice and trying to avoid causing conflict or offence, which is laudable but not conducive to greater understanding. An atheist friend, not so circumspect, told me quite flatly the other day, "it's a fact. There are no gods." It may be her fact, but it's not everyone's.

How all these contradictory beliefs may be reconciled is not an insoluble problem--I can think of half a dozen reasons why a deity might have communicated, or been understood as communicating, different truths about itself to different peoples, without using the words "sadistic," "psychopath" or "deceiver" once--but happily, it's not my problem. I have no facts in that area. None. Nor any opinions. I have nothing to defend except truth and logic.

But when you say "nobody is entitled to their own facts," and then claim to be okay with different people believing that different deities created the world, you are contradicting yourself. Because a belief is not the same as an opinion.

Date: 2017-03-03 02:15 pm (UTC)
bedlamhouse: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bedlamhouse
I think beliefs are closer to opinions than they are to facts. Beliefs are seldom supported by purely objective evidence, only by one's interpretation of the evidence. Religious beliefs in particular would fall under this category, but I would also include any scientific proposal that has not yet been formed into a testable statement and so tested. Beliefs can be strongly propped up by evidence, but they take a leap to go from the observable to the idea.

Date: 2017-03-03 04:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jelas.livejournal.com
There is no purely objective evidence that anyone knows of. As soon as someone knows it it is not objective anymore.

Technically I have no real evidence that you exist. Or that the world exists. I connect to the world never ever directly but only ever through my senses, through my brain. No exception.

But that aside... Let me use a simple example.

Let us pretend for a moment that I believed in a god of some kind and believe that I can in some way communicate with said god. Oh, and let us pretend I knew a guy called Bob. And let us pretend that the first part does not scan with your view of the world.

If I say "I talked to Bob yesterday", you would most likely not ask me to cite witnesses and bring proof to accept this as fact instead of opinion. Which means there is no scientific proposal, no t sting whatsoever for this fact.
If I say "I talked to God yesterday", you would most likely either ask me to cite witnesses and bring proof to be even willing to discuss the probability or just mark me down as batshit crazy.

In both cases I would only have my senses (vision, hearing, maybe smell and touch) and my memory (meaning whatever my brain makes of all that) to rely on. For me, thus, both experiences are pretty much the same. And I give you the same information about both. You would rate them differently - based solely on your experience, just as I do.

We both are not objective in this example, but biased by our experience and by our interpretation of the input our senses give our brains.

How is one fact and one opinion?

Date: 2017-03-04 02:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] weebleflip.livejournal.com
I disagree.

A fact is something that has been proved to be true. Opinion and belief are fairly interchangeable (possibly with implied difference in degree of conviction) - and either might be proved to be true (i.e. be shown to be a fact), or might not.

For speaking with Bob, proof could be provided by getting CCTV evidence, asking Bob, asking witnesses, etc... Once your having spoken with Bob was proven by means of such evidence, the doubting person would accept it as a fact. You would have always known it to be a fact.

If, on the other hand, it emerged that you had actually spoken to Bob's identical brother, Bill, your belief would be proven wrong. You would realise that your belief that you had spoken to Bob was incorrect; it was not a fact that you had done so. You had believed that it was a fact that you spoke to Bob; now you know that belief was wrong.

By contrast, for speaking with God, we do not (yet!) have any reliable way of proving whether or not it happened. Witnesses could attest that they saw you speaking, and that you claimed to be speaking to God, CCTV could show you speaking, but nothing would prove the "speaking to God" to be a fact.

This is therefore unprovable - you believe it to be a fact that you spoke to God, the doubter does not, but neither can prove the case either way. You and the doubter each have your own belief/opinion about what actually happened, you each believe your opinion to be fact. We can't prove who is right.

How likely we are to question someone's belief/opinion is certainly subjective, based on our own beliefs and opinions.

In Jelas' example, both statements are opinions/beliefs unless or until proved.

The speaker believes both to be facts, but may or may not be correct. The doubter believes the first to be a fact and the second to be a false belief, but may or may not be correct.

Date: 2017-03-04 03:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] weebleflip.livejournal.com
...so turning back to your point about "alternative facts", the issue (as compared to freedom of religion) is that the "alternative facts" are *provably false* (so definitely not facts, whether or not the person saying them believes them), whereas religions are not provably true or false.

As such, I don't think there is any contradiction in being very much against alternative facts whilst being all for freedom of religion.

Demonstrably false (i.e. not fact) is quite different from not proven to be true or false (i.e. belief/opinion, may or may not be fact).

Date: 2017-03-05 08:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zanda-myrande.livejournal.com
"A fact is something that has been proved to be true." Um...proved how? All experience is subjective. Witnesses (if any) misremember, CCTV evidence (if any) misleads, and Bob may have a very good reason for insisting he was somewhere else that night, but it's perfectly possible to convince someone under hypnosis that they've seen all that. Or none of it. All the evidence ends up coming through the same twisty, furred-up channels, to be assessed by the same spongy pinky-grey instrument, and all facts derived from that evidence are in fact opinions.

But leaving that aside (see "studenty and pretentious"), I think [livejournal.com profile] jelas's and my point is somewhat different. You wouldn't, in the ordinary way, ask for proof that we talked to Bob. You wouldn't question the assertion. You'd trust us, as a matter of course, to know what we were talking about and report it honestly. You'd believe in Bob on our say-so. There's nothing wrong with that; it's normal human interaction. Even if Bob were living in a shack in the Nullarbor Plain, hundreds of miles from human habitation, his only companions a crocodile, a case of Fosters and a mobile phone, even if no human being had clapped eyes on him since he last walked into Norralorrawonga in 2002 to buy diesel for his genny, you'd take his existence on trust. Bob would be, to you, a fact.

When it comes to God? All about the proof. My experience of God (if I had ever had one) might be even more intimate and vibrant and real to me that any experience I ever had of Bob, but to a sceptical enquirer, who would believe in Bob in a moment purely on my say-so, God would only ever be an opinion, an alternative fact that I must be putting about for some ulterior motive. Something I have chosen to pretend to believe in, rather than a fact that shapes my entire identity and my view of the universe I live in. My own fact, to which, as per the truism, I am not entitled.

I don't know your own personal stance on religion, [livejournal.com profile] weebleflip, but in my experience with hardline sceptics all that "may or may not be" stuff only comes out for best. It's very, very clear that they would never believe in God even if i were to give them his phone number, and they traced it to that shack in the Nullarbor Plain, and flew out to confront him and his crocodile. He could turn the Fosters into wine and they would always know it had just been some trick. They could canvass all three of the inhabitants of Norralorrawonga and they could say "oh yeah, that's God, raised old Jeb from the dead last year," and the sceptics would know they were ignorant, or deluded, or lying. Bob they would accept without question; God they never, ever would. And that wouldn't be their opinion; to them it would be a fact, and they would never think of it as "their own fact."

Bottom line is, it's one of those irregular verbs. I have the facts; you have beliefs; she has opinions, and unless I agree with them they're wrong. The "may or may not be" is just politeness, and while there's nothing wrong with being polite either, we should be candid about admitting that's all it is.

Date: 2017-03-05 10:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] weebleflip.livejournal.com
Yeah, I decided not to go into the proof side given your comment in the original post!

I think our disagreement may actually be semantics rather than substantive.

My stance is that people should be entitled to freedom of religion (genuine belief - subjective), but not to spread claims that things which *demonstrably did not happen* happened (as objective as humans can be).

I therefore do not think that there is any conflict between being for freedom of religion, but against the current trend of "alternative facts". I think that people are entitled to hold their beliefs to be true (i.e. hold them to be facts, e.g. following any religion), because that's simply how our brains work, but should not be allowed to act on beliefs/opinions which are *provably false* insofar as doing so would be harmful.

Whether or not you hold that to correspond to "Everyone's entitled to their own opinions. Nobody is entitled to their own facts." is up to you.

For example, a parent may honestly believe it to be a fact that vaccinating a child would give the child autism. However, that parent should not be able to stop the child being vaccinated based on that belief, as doing so woud endanger children too young or too ill to be vaccinated.

As a parallel to that, a person may honestly believe that there was a Bowling Green Massacre, but should not be allowed to widely publicise that belief as "news" as it stirs up tensions and hatred.

By contrast, a religion is not provably false. I may or may not believe it to be true personally (in my case, I veer between Christian and agnostic), but I cannot prove it either way. This makes it a much murkier area when it comes to whether or not people should be allowed to act on beliefs which are not provably false but *are* harmful (e.g. "you will go to hell if you are homosexual so we must cure you" - personally, I don't believe it and want all such "cures" to be illegal, but I can't actually prove the belief wrong) .... but I think that's a debate for another day!

I'm not sure how literally you intended your last comment to be taken(?). I have beliefs (Scotland is further north than Sheffield, my friend X likes me), and opinions (brownies are tasty). I believe some of those to be facts (i.e. "some of those are facts"), am unsure about others, and know that some are subjective.

I would expect anyone who doesn't like chocolate to disagree with my opinion on brownies - that does not make either of us wrong, it's simply subjective.

I would be surprised and want to see quite impressive proof if someone disagreed with me about the relative locations of Scotland and Sheffield, as I believe that to be an objective fact.

I would be upset and want to know why if someone disagreed with me about X liking me, as I would want to check things and put things right if needed.

There are shades of gray - "may or may not be" is not just politeness.

Date: 2017-03-06 08:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zanda-myrande.livejournal.com
I checked, and yes, the map I looked at showed quite a bit of Yorkshire and probably other counties between Sheffield and Scotland. So, accepting the authority of the map and taking its accuracy on faith, I'd be inclined to call that a fact. The map is of course a human-generated document, and I've never been there myself to check, so I don't actually know. But my feeling that it is a fact...I would call it a belief rather than an opinion. :)

Last night I dipped into a FB thread in which various liberal Americans were still fighting last year's election, still calling Hillary "Killary" and saying Bernie shoulda been a contenduh. All this while Trump and his crew are busily dismantling America around them and carting it away in plain white vans...no, sorry, in huge gold-plated semis with "TRUMP" stencilled on the side and encrusted with rhinestones. "Progressives will never work with moderates," and vice versa. But at least probably none of them are religious, so that's all right. :) I don't know what made me think of that.

When I said that "may or may not be" is just politeness, I should have specified that this was strictly in matters of religion as discussed by hardline secularists. In other areas, I'm sure it's genuinely meant...but with religion, they know the other person is wrong, whether they say so or not. How they know, when as you say the most you can say about any theory of deity is that it's "not provably false," is a mystery to me, but then so are lots of things.

I certainly agree with you that acting on beliefs that are provably (for certain values of that word) harmful should not be allowed, and that some beliefs peripheral to religion fall into this category, like the "curing homosexuality" one and those religions that forbid the practice of medicine altogether (i forget which). To me that's obvious. To someone in one of those religions, it's going to take either a personal experience, a road-to-Damascus moment, or else a change from within the power structure of the religion itself to alter those beliefs. Attacking the religion itself from outside, as has been amply demonstrated, has no effect except to intensify the strength of belief, on the old "if they're shooting at you then you must be doing something right" principle.

Spreading claims that things happened that "demonstrably did not happen," or as it's less formally known, lying...I don't think we're going to get rid of that any time soon. It's built into language. As soon as you can say "sky blue," you can say "sky green." And people will believe lies, for a whole host of reasons including but not limited to personal faith in the speaker, confirmation bias, plausible but misleading evidence, emotional investment, sheer exhaustion or possibly just bloody-mindedness; see those American progressives and moderates above. The late D West, a fan whom I admired while disagreeing with on almost everything, once said "fandom is full of people who get their rocks off being bloody-minded." I think that's true of the human race in general.

But I also think that there are ways in which truth can prevail. I think that trying to understand is the golden key that can unlock all the doors, if we are willing to turn it...that understanding that everyone has their own facts, whether you think they're entitled to or not, is the first step...and that the goal we all share is to try to gather together a set of facts that match--as far as possible--not only everyone else's but the evidence we all believe we perceive in the world around us. Once we all understand that, I think being human might become a whole lot easier.

Date: 2017-03-06 09:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] weebleflip.livejournal.com
Yes, your last paragraph confirmed to me that it is just semantics we're disagreeing on.

To my reading of the words, I would still say that no-one is "entitled to their own facts" in the sense meant in that phrase. Entitled to their own conviction that something is a fact, yes (which I think is what you mean by being entitled to their own facts), and others should be aware of that and understand that. But holding something to be true does not make it a fact (to my interpretation of the word "fact").

Person A holding it to be a fact that gravity is not real does not stop gravity working, so A does not have a fact in that respect, A has a mistaken belief. A is entitled to that belief (albeit not to act on it e.g. by pushing someone off a cliff, see logic above), but their belief will not change the reality.

To my reading, person A would only be "entitled to their own fact" if they lived in a universe where belief shaped reality, such that holding it to be a fact that gravity is not real would stop gravity working.

I expect that a large proportion of people using that line mean it this way - "climate change won't stop happening just because you don't believe it", not, "you're not allowed to believe that climate change is a fake".

That interpretation also avoids conflict with freedom of religion.

Date: 2017-03-06 08:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zanda-myrande.livejournal.com
Oh, and by the way, I do like you. In case you were wondering. *hugs*

Date: 2017-03-06 09:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] weebleflip.livejournal.com
Yeyy! *hugs* :)

Also, thank you for providing a distraction from revision :p


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