Fact: A Critical Concept

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FACT:a thing that is indisputably the case.[1]

If a person is unable to accurately identify what a fact is in the context of an investigation (any investigation), he will have no objective basis for evaluating the reliability/explanatory power of any truth claims or theories. Inferences, interpretations, claims, theories, and testimonies are fallible and easily incorporate error. If a person uses any of these as the “ground floor” for evaluating truth claims, he will be attempting to discern what is true on the basis of information that may very well be false, an exercise in futility.

Only when facts are used as the ground floor for evaluating truth claims and theories can the core set of objective criteria be properly applied (logical consistency, coherency, and external correspondence).

Some examples of facts: celestial bodies move. Humans congregate. Living organisms reproduce and eventually die. Humans experience pain and pleasure. Etc.

Three counter-arguments:

Argument # 1: Science has proven certain theories; these theories are factual.

Answer: All conclusions that are reached inductively—such as those reached via the scientific method—are falsifiable. In inductive reasoning, the conclusions move beyond the information that is contained within the premises, rendering the conclusions inherently uncertain. Inductive reasoning is helpful for generating ideas and hypotheses, but is not capable of proving ideas/hypotheses. Proof is not a currency of science. Proofs are only possible within closed systems such as math and logic.

Argument # 2: Absolute certainty is never possible. Even observation and experience might be hallucinatory or illusory. The scientific method brings us as close to knowing the truth as possible. Therefore, a scientific theory should hold as much weight as “fact.”

Answer: This argument is self-refuting. The claimant begins by arguing that sensory observation is unreliable. In his final statement, however, the claimant argues that theories—which are ultimately based on observation—are reliable.

Argument #3: Observation and experience can be doubted as hallucinatory or illusory, so there are no facts (i.e. we can’t know anything with certainty).

Answer: If knowledge were dependent upon human perception, this would be true. However, a transcendent deity would have the upper hand in revelatory exchange. If it were his intention to confer knowledge, he would be able to do so in a way that is adequate for human comprehension. The Bible reveals that this exchange has happened—that God has shown his eternal power and divine nature to mankind, so that “they are without excuse.” Romans 1:18-23


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© 2020 by S.P. Clifton