Articles, Rants and Explorations
Current Jennilog for 12 / 06 / 2003: A Call To Arms
Facts Versus Beliefs
Recently, discussions in the Unicorn Jelly forums reminded me of how often I come across the horrifying problem that many, many people cannot distinguish between a belief and a fact. There are too many people who think that the two things are the same thing, that believing is the same thing as knowing, and that there is no real difference in intrinsic value between a belief, and say, a matter of scientific observation. Indeed, there are those that go so far as to state that acceptance of a scientific fact is no different in any important way from the acceptance of a religious belief, and that science itself is a religion!
If this does not horrify you to the core of your being, then there are two possibilities. The kind possibility is simply that your education was lacking, it is not your fault, but rather the fault of our socieity, which increasinly devalues education in favor of greed, mysticism, and the obedience that comes from an ignorant society. The other possibility is that you really do know better, but that you are a coward, and you deliberately sell your mind cheaply in exchange for false security.
I will assume my unhorrified reader is the former, a victim of a shoddy educational system, as my stomach turns at the thought of the second possibility.
I will explain, carefully, what the difference between a fact, and a belief actually are, and why the two are not equal, and which is the better of the two. But first off, a short statement on science, and why science is never a religion, provided that science is actually used properly.
In a nutshell, all science really is, when we get away from the fancy latin words for things, and all the talk of laws of nature and complex, detailed crunchy bits of information that can so easily overwhelm and blind the average person, is mostly just common sense observation.
Science is common sense observation, combined with careful keeping of records, and, added in for interest, a little bit of speculation which is then tested to see if it leads to anything new. That's it. Science is a codified system of basically looking, seeing, noting what was seen, and writing it all down. Occasionally, based on what has been accumulated so far, one can deduce the likelyhood of something new, and then, like a detective, go out and try to find a way to see if that deduction has any proof at all.
Look, see, record, deduce, check and see. Rinse and repeat.
That is all, ALL, science is. There is no place for faith to enter. There is no room for religion in that process, no space for anything even faintly reeking of religion at all. Look, see, record, deduce, then check and make sure.
What we call the 'laws' of physics, or of nature, or whatever, are really just a way to describe the way things look to everyone who bothers to check them out, and since everybody consistantly agrees, and what is seen never, ever, has changed, and because anyone, anywhere, can go and check for themselves if they want to, we call such ways things work 'laws'. Scientific laws. It does not make them something to take on faith. You can, if you want, you can accept any amount you want, to save time, you can trust the work of other people, or, you can doubt the work of other people and try to see for yourself. If you can prove a scientific law wrong, and if you have proof that anyone can test at any time, then the whole of science will change around your discovery, just like that. (note, total change of science may take some time for people to verify and emotionally cope with the change.)
Science is simply looking, and seeing.
In a sense, everone is a scientist, we as a species are built to be that way, to look, to see, and to learn from what we have observed. Science just tries to make that process more accurate, more standardized.
Science is a discipline of doing that really, really well.
Science is based on facts, religion is based on beliefs.
Science is in no way a religion, ever, if it is done right.
But to understand that, you need to know how a fact differs from a belief, don't you?
I can answer that...
A belief can be arbitrary, a fact cannot be.
It is in this way the two can be seperated.
A fact is a statement of maximally possible probability.
A fact is what seems, under all and every test, made over much time, by any number of different people, to be consistantly so, despite every attempt to prove otherwise. A fact is demonstrable, and can be independantly verified. A fact is something that anyone can show, that anyone can prove. To anyone.
A belief can be based on a fact, yes, but a belief may also be based on absolutely anything, including wild speculation, insane rambling, ludicrous imaginings and total outright falsifications. A belief does not necessarily require proof, and proof is not a part of the defininition of the act of believing. Indeed, it is more than possible to believe something utterly without any reason, rationality, or source whatsoever.
A fact, however, must be based on proof, on evidence, on something which can be tested, examined, shown, demonstrated, indicated by circumstantial evidence which is itself subject to verification, or otherwise based on real observations of the real world.
To accept a fact as factual is not necessarily an act of belief: a person may have personally seen demonstrated, repeatedly, a fact, and thus accept a fact as a personal observation as well as on the basis of multiple verifications from independant sources.
A belief, however, is under no such constraint, and may easily be accepted without rhyme or reason, and often is nothing more than a blatant fabrication, patently devoid of any possibility of verification by anyone, anywhere, and certainly incapable of being personally experienced. Or a belief may be based on an observation, personal or othwerwise, which also is simply accepted in place of facts, for any arbitrary reason.
Thus, facts are based on reality, as best as can be determined, and this is what defines a fact, nothing less will do.
A belief can be based on anything, factual or fictional, real or arbitrary, and most often is in fact based on fictions, or on unverifiable anecdotes, myths, and rumors, and as such, a belief cannot be trusted, nor considered to have any real value in making real world decisions.
In no way is belief equal to fact, and in every way fact is superior to belief, and belief most often leads to folly and error, while facts lead most often to accurate and real things.
The fact that this is not clearly understood by many people is the reason that the world is under such threat, why we all live in fear to greater or lesser extents, why crimes against nature and man are commonplace, why wars and violence and cruelty are so very extreme in many cases, and why humans persist in totally irrational behavior that is leading, very possibly, to their own destruction, and the destruction of the living world.
Certainly, at the very least, most of the suffering inflicted upon humans by other humans is caused by belief, and if belief were eliminated, replaced solely by rationality and the persuit of facts, the lot of all mankind would be vastly improved to levels that even the most cynical would deem significantly better.
Yet, this last point would be argued by some, and that alone is evidence of the insanity of our species, for the act of belief, of accepting information as fact without evidence or the possibilty of evidence, is simply insane. It is devoid of reason, and to be devoid of reason is to be irrational, and the irrational is insane.
Thus I despise all belief, of any kind, and value only facts, knowing -and this is the important point so pay attention here- knowing that no fact is ever absolute, but that a fact is the closest appoximation of reality, of the real, that is currently possible. This inherent doubt is what also seperates a fact from a belief, and in that doubt is the openness of mind that permits facts to be refined, or even replaced, over time, as technology and techniques permit.
Because there are those who consistantly reject belief in favor of facts, the human species has advanced to the point that it has, not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of humanism, in terms of being nice to each other.
Because of those many, that ignore fact in persuit of belief, more misery has been commited upon mankind than from any other source, and wherever it is possible to see the backward slide of mankind, it is demonstrable that belief played the major role in that fall.
I loath The Truth, but adore truth, I abhor beliefs but exhalt facts, and while I enjoy and create fictions, I rely on realities.
I am Jennifer Diane Reitz, and I believe nothing.
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