The Deception of “Fact and Opinion”

Last Sunday, I began a new series on the foundational importance of faith in God the Creator. During the past couple of centuries, at least, faith in the Creator has been undermined by a perceived conflict between faith and science. This perceived conflict really arises because of an exaggerated esteem for the value of science.

In a nutshell, what we could call the ‘modern mentality’ supposes that the scientific method is the only path to knowledge. Then, since the scientific method itself only treats of material measurable reality, it would follow that we cannot have any knowledge about any sort of non-material, spiritual reality. Finally, a further step to outright atheism is taken in the affirmation that what is unknowable does not exist.

Yet, as I pointed out last week, the supposition that the scientific method is the only path to knowledge is not proven by science; it is an unproven and highly questionable supposition.

Nevertheless, that supposition is very pervasive in our culture and has a very powerful influence in the education of children. Children are taught from a very young age to distinguish between “fact” and “opinion”.

That sounds like a no-brainer, right? Actually, it is an insidious byproduct of the exaltation of science over any other form of knowledge. You see “fact” is defined by what is “proven”, while anything else is relegated to the realm of mere opinion.

So, what is proven? Only the “facts” established by means of the scientific method. That means that every statement about God and spiritual reality can only be an “opinion”. Further, every statement about right and wrong is also relegated to the realm of opinion. This is the source of moral relativism.

There is a further consequence of this division of all knowing between fact and opinion. Fact is judged to be so independent of what we might think about it, independently of whether we know it or not, independent of whether we agree or not. Fact is “objective”. Opinion, however, depends on the person who holds the opinion and so is perceived as completely unconnected to the realm of objective fact. Opinion is seen as purely “subjective”.

There is no criterion provided even to judge one opinion as better than another or one opinion as closer to fact than another. In the end, all opinion is equally worthless as far as reality is concerned; or all opinion is equally valid as far as the worth of the person is concerned.

Since all statements of meaning or value are mere opinions, all facts are devoid of meaning and value. Thus we end up living in a world of meaningless facts, in which all meaning derives from subjective opinion. Even more, since this is the way we instruct our children in school, we raise are children to perceive the world in this way and to live in such a world. That means that any ‘values’ parents wish to impart to their children are no more than the ‘opinion’ of the parents.

The former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy enshrined in Constitutional law an affirmation that is the consequence of this division of fact and opinion: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” (Planned Parenthood v. Casey; Lawrence v. Texas)

What has happened is that science has been unable to furnish man with any meaning in life, but man cannot live without meaning. So man must furnish his own meaning, regardless of “facts”. For meaning, facts do not matter. Since meaning can only come from myself, the worst sort of tyranny would be to have someone else impose his meaning on me. I can only be free if I get to define my “own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

In the end, the scientific culture provides no direction for human life, but only furnishes the tools, the power, that enables human beings to fashion the world anew according to their own chosen meanings.

At least, that is the message that we are given. In truth, it is no more than a contemporary version of the most ancient of lies: You will be like gods, knowing good and evil. (Gen 3:5)

Really, though, where has this led us?

Consider the point we have reached now in our country. Consider the shrillness of the arguments about things that people hold as important. To call them ‘arguments’ is to give these contemporary shouting matches a dignity they do not deserve. Instead of arguments we have slogans, one liners, memes, and ‘icons’. Facts are not used for understanding, but as stones or clubs, chosen according to their usefulness for attacking an opponent. If the facts available are not suitable, they can be readily twisted or distorted, or altogether made up.

Real argument is not possible because there is no basis in a common understanding of reality. It should be evident by now that the different sides in the great conflicts of our age live in radically different mental and moral universes. Our culture provides no real means of communication. “Dialog” becomes just an instrument of manipulation. Meanwhile the stakes are too high for anyone to let another network of made-up meaning prevail over his own. There can be no peace among the different man-made ideologies and idols.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.