I find that a surprisingly large number of people confuse beliefs with facts.
Most of this confusion is rooted in that there may be “truth” in both fact and faith, and that sometimes “perception is reality,” and a generalized belief that disavowing undeniable fact is somehow OK.
For me, beliefs can be based in fact, but in no way require proof. However, I believe that facts are empirically verifiable proof and should trump beliefs in most all situations.
You see, I believe in facts. I trust that scientists have used empirical data to determine climate change, evolution, and how cancer might spread throughout my body. And that brushing my teeth prevents cavities.
I also love to believe. It is important to me in defining who I am, and how I see the world. There are certain things that I trust to be true with little to know evidence—that I’ll wake up tomorrow feeling well-rested, that those who love me today may do so tomorrow, and that I will learn something new if I only listen carefully.
I believe the key to understanding the presence and importance of faith is in knowing that having faith in something means no proof is required. It is easy, and comforting.
This is often the case when it comes to religious views. In fact, the nature of religion is based on the fact that no proof is required. This is because religion covers ideas and topics that are beyond the ability of human perceptions or understanding.
Religion is a faith in the presence of God, and its ethical and moral teachings. It is based not in fact, but in an unquestioning belief by the flock—a trust, or confidence, that does not require proof or evidence. The belief is true, but is not necessarily backed up with facts.
Many religious stories were created to explain the unexplainable—creationism explains why we exist as humans, “miracles” can explain just about any unexplainable occurence. And if its “God’s will” than all facts to the contrary must be overlooked.
And though many people may say, "I take my religion as fact," that is not quite factually accurate.
Though archaeological facts may prove certain aspects of a religion, the larger questions about human existence after death, intended miracles, and intelligent design of the universe are beyond the sorts of investigative studies we normally associate with "proving" something. Religious concepts beyond the physical can only be taken on faith. And faith is only a weakness to someone who sees the physical world as more important (or more "real").
When a committed Christian says he believes in the Second Coming of Christ, he believes it the way he believes that Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player of all time. Statistics may prove the Michael Jordan claim wrong—but the man’s belief still stands. When an avowed atheist says there is no such thing as God, she knows it the way that she knows that Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul.
Both involve some concept of the truth, but belief does not really hint at whether something has been proven or not (or whether it even is provable). In other words we can believe something to be true, even if there is little provable fact in its truth.
Many believe that O.J. Simpson is guilty of murdering his wife. The jury could not find enough empirically verifiable facts to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty even though they might have believed it to be true. In fact, there are those who believe that Simpson has convinced himself that he did not do it. Even he believes he is innocent, despite potential factual conflicts to the truth.
You see, a belief is what our mind believes. Sometimes it is based in reality (in factual truth) and sometimes it is based in perception (faith-based truth). You can either accept the facts or you can deny them and hide behind unassailable belief.
The biggest conflicts happen when someone’s belief is in direct misalignment with fact. For example, “do you believe in evolution?” is a flawed question. Evolution is science; it is not something you believe in because science isn’t about belief. It’s about demonstrable facts. You can believe in creationism, but you can’t believe in evolution.
It has struck me more and more lately how discussions about politics have somehow become debates between belief and fact. The conflict in these discussions happen when there becomes confusion between the two. I believe that every Tea Partier, Birther and member of Occupy Wall Street is entitled to their opinions and beliefs, but they cross the line when they mix fact and belief.
Take Birtherism for example. Those who believe in the theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States claim that there is proof that he was born in Hawaii. They believe their theory despite the evidence of the birth announcement, and the birth certificate, etc. Still, Birthers chose to disbelieve the evidence. The “Birther” belief makes their belief that Barack Obama should not have become president more credibility in their own minds, and supports their opinions if they believe the falsehoods to be true.
The same inability to believe demonstrable facts can be applied to those who do not believe in climate change, astronauts landing on the moon, and the Holocaust. Not to mention the “homosexual agenda,” the “vast right wing conspiracy,” voter fraud and the “creeping” of Sharia law.
There would be no debate around these issues if it were not fueled by the desire to believe rather than accept the facts. There is evidence of climate change but this is ignored. There is no evidence of either “creeping” Sharia law or a homosexual agenda, yet the evidence is seen as irrelevant because it would otherwise puncture their beliefs.
Politically, progressives (liberals) pride themselves on their Enlightenment rationalism, but the many conservatives have become more and more aligned with a sense of Protestant fundamentalism, which is seen as divorcing itself from reality and the facts to bolster their own invented reality. This past election season saw conservatives claiming the polls were inaccurate, only to see their candidates lose in the reality of vote counting. Romney pollster Neil Newhouse was quoted as saying “we will be not be dictated by fact checkers” and U.S. Senator Al Franken told the Republicans that they’re not entitled to their own facts, but this is exactly what Republicans feel they are entitled to.
And then there is the term “Liberal Media.” It is a code word by conservatives to their flock not believe what they see and read in the media that goes against the conservative belief structure. As journalistic ethics slide in the face of citizen journalism and the lowering of standards to increase ratings and readership, there is more and more “beliefs” on the evening news, and a lessening of “facts.” More and more Americans are having a harder and harder time distinquishing facts from commentary and opinion in the face of Fox News and MSNBC who deliver far more of the latter than the former.
Yes, I believe in faith, and fact. But I do believe that faith can and should be trumped by fact. And that you either accept the facts or you can deny them and hide behind unassailable belief. But most of all, it is important to understand the distinction between beliefs and facts