On Facts, Beliefs, Knowledge and Certainty
Nail Mark Ministries
What is a fact? Is something only a fact if you can prove it or is it merely something that is the way it is whether you can prove it or not? I was talking with an individual recently who told me that in order for something to be a “fact” it has to be absolutely uncontested. The problem with that definition of the term “fact” is that I contest it! There is a real difference between the nature of a fact (facts are that which correspond to the way something really is or was) versus determining what the facts are.
Let me ask you a very simple question. Who is your mother? (By all means take a moment to think.) Now that you have responded let me follow that up with another simple question. How do you know she is your mother? Likely you answered “I know my mom is my mom because she told me so, my dad confirmed it, my grandparents confirmed it, everything I know about the woman and my past life experiences seem to confirm it.” So then, is it a fact that (your mother’s name here) is your mom? Well, that depends on reality. If indeed the woman you call mom carried you in her womb for 9 month and gave birth to you then yes it is a fact. If she did not do that, then it is not a fact. (*See Note at end of post)
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It could be that your mother breaks the news to you tomorrow that you were adopted and that your birth mother is someone else. But even though that is possible, is it unreasonable for you to have a real amount of certainty that your mother is really your mom? Of course not. You have taken it on reasonable authority and it has been corroborated by many lines of evidence and your belief that you mom is in fact your mom is completely rational.
Now notice that I just did something funny in that last sentence. I dared to use the word “belief” and “fact” within the same sentence together.
But aren’t beliefs and facts opposites? This is what many in the world would like to tell you today in an attempt to completely invalidate the truth claims of “religious believers.” Yet I would submit to you that this idea that “belief” (faith, confidence, trust) is the opposite of “fact” is a foolhardy use of the term belief. In fact epistemologists (philosophers who study in the area of knowledge) suggest that knowledge should be understood as a “Justified, true, belief.”
In other words, if I am to be able to say “I know that Lori is my mother” then that statement must be justified by the evidence that I can come up with to support my knowing…