on Facts: Complexity Masquerading as Simplicity
Synonyms of “fact”: “Matters of Fact” (Hume),
“universal manifold” (Kant), appearance, appearance of reality,
phenomena, aboutness, testimony, instrument recording, empiric
conclusions, induction, correspondence theory of truth, state of
affairs, “what is” empirically, correspondence; Thomas Reid’s
“self-evident”, Descartes “clear and distinct,” first principles
(faith), “what is thought to be the case” vs. “what is the
case,” common sense, common sense philosophy, induction,
deduction (from other facts),
perceived reality, “what which is the case,” etc
All that follows here is not precise, that
is, it may fall short of being “factual.”
My purpose is to show (1) the complexity of deriving and
derived facts, (2) the wide range of “authorities” who establish
or claim facts, (3) the wide range of certainty and uncertainty
in facts of any nature, (4) the tenuous nature of all facts
(except those of the Bible), (5) the necessity of facts to
everyday life, and more.
There is some (much?) repetition, but facts need to be
look at from various angles their various facets that may
sparkle like those of a diamond or have their cracks exposed by
the jewelers loop.
The reader will find some redundancy.
Is that not the nature of overlapping facts?
Facts assume a necessarily formal logic (but are not
(a) The law of noncontradiction states that a proposition
cannot mean the opposite of what it says.
(b) There must be coherence or consistency with all other
known relevant facts.
(c) One’s mind must be functioning properly at least to
the extent of applying these parameters.
Language and communication have been shown to be highly
complex in the 20th century.
Facts have a greater complexity because they claim or
deny something about reality.
Facts must be presented consistently with the rules of
communication—a highly complex process.
This proposition includes commonality of definitions,
grammar, syntax, context, and preferably, but not necessarily, a
Facts assume evidence which is based upon an agreed-upon
authority (trustworthy person, written document, witness,
testimony—there are a wide variety of kinds of testimony).
Of course this “authority” ranges from virtually and
totally untrustworthy to one who has a lifetime of established
is the shyster who goes from house to house selling his
“authoritative stance” on some fly-by-night product vs. the
investment house that has been established for decades or
Facts must have an interest for the person who learns
or knows the fact.
One cannot know all the facts, only those that have some
interest for him (for example, studying for exams).
See facts in everyday life following here for the
hundreds of facts that we assume each day.
Facts may or may not be accepted because of the
For example, if one accepts the facts of the
Resurrection, then he is moving towards a faith commitment that
would be greatly life-changing.
Or, to deny the facts of evolution would require a faith
commitment of some organizing creator.
Thus, a fact may be rejected because it is inconsistent
with one’s beliefs or would require such a radical change in
thinking and behavior that one does not want it to be a fact.
Facts are not truth because they may change upon finding
new and better evidence. Thus, there are degrees of
certainty. But some
facts seem extremely likely to be countered by new evidence.
At least such thinking occurred with natural science with
Newton until Einstein to quantum theory to chaos theory to
whatever is currently in vogue.
Scientific “laws” are inductive inferences from evidence that
are artificial and not true.
For example, pure, distilled water boils at 212
degrees Fahrenheit at sea level, but when does this situation
ever occur except in a laboratory.
The formula for the speed of a falling body in a vacuum
is S=1/2gt2, but when has any object ever fallen
naturally in a
vacuum? Saying that
such laws are not true does not mean that they are not quite
useful approximations (operationalism).
great changes that can occur in science may be noted in the
radical departure from Newtonian science to Einstein’s
relativity to quantum theory to chaos theory to whatever is
facts and scientific laws have great utility, even though they
are not true.
We plan our waking and sleeping hours by our facts of past
great majority of the time, our plans work out: we get up on
time, drive safely to work, use technology, and play sports.
Degrees of certainty.
Although stated in this section, degrees of certainty
should be noted separately.
There is a great range of certainty with various facts.
The fact that the sun will rise tomorrow is far more
certain than the fact that I will not have a traffic accident
tomorrow. Even less
certain is the fact of the weather for tomorrow.
One should be careful of
"transferring" factuality. That I am certain of
tomorrow's sunrise does not translate to certainty about other
events: the rise or fall of the stock market, my own physical
health, the safety of my neighborhood, etc. Each "fact"
must be evaluated for its certainty. It is one of the
great lies of modernity that such facts as "the sun will rise
tomorrow" can be translated into the "facts" of psychology,
sociology, medicine, and politics.
of facts: historical, economic, everyday occurrences,
political, hard scientific facts (physics, chemistry,
mathematics), dubitable scientific facts (medical, sociology,
psychology, politics), artistic, demographic, etc.
Their degree of certainty varies with both the category
and the methods by which the facts are derived.
process of arriving at a fact is virtually identical with that
or arriving at a scientific hypothesis, that is, by the
See all the comments in this section.
Empiricism is essentially the same as the scientific method, and
therefore may establish facts, but not truth.
Empiricism is the process of making observations and then
drawing inferences (conclusions) from those observations.
Empiricism, however, is no more valid that the premises
(presuppositions) upon which it is based.
The instantiation of any fact denies naturalism
(evolution) and asserts God.
There can be no facts in a chance universe because there
would never be enough stability for the incredible complexity
stated above. Some
call this proposition The Transcendental Argument for God, i.e.,
there must be transcendent concepts at work for thought to
occur. Total chance
is total irrationality.
There is something
rather than nothing.
great mind that is common to every person, as the image of
God, makes the establishment and use of facts seem simple, but
modern linguistics demonstrates the considerable this
considerable complexity that is common to every man.
Any fact that attempts to state that it is good or bad
(moral or immoral, implies an ought) has moved beyond any
attempt at objectivity.
Similar concepts include descriptive vs. evaluative
statements or elimination of any reference to the spiritual
realm, God, the supernatural, or revelation.
All facts have some inherent value of greater or lesser
extent or they would never have come to exist.
Facts come to exist for some purpose of an individual or
example, the fact of the War for American Independence may be of
interest to Americans, to scholars who study war, or the
development of nations in a “wilderness.”
But, what interest does the bushman of Africa have in
this war? (Perhaps
a few Americans will become interested in the facts of the
bushman. They are
amazingly adept to live in their harsh environment.)
of interest are a very small fraction of the whole of facts.
Facts have to be selected from the almost infinite
manifold of cosmic material and human history.
have a considerable subjectivity.
From their defined characteristics, their influence
on other facts, and moral or ought associations, personal
choices are necessarily intimate to facts.
are no “brute” or “raw” facts.
Objective facts do not exist because of this
Totally objective facts would be identical with “truth.”
facts transcend worldviews, reflecting the common ground of all
there are no objective facts, there are many that function
example, pagans and Christians alike make considerable use of
natural scientific laws.
The sun will rise tomorrow.
The internal combustion engine carries billions of people
where they want to go.
Space travel is possible because of the use of many
are no facts about which everyone agrees.
Heliocentricity (the sun as the center of the solar
system) is often presented as absolutely certain.
But interestingly, there is considerable evidence to
support to support geocentrism (the earth is the center of the
Death seems certain, but there are Bible-believing Christians
and radical sects that believe that they will not face death by
one means or another.
In the Bible, neither Enoch nor Elijah died—they were
translated directly to heaven.
No fact is isolated from any other; all facts are related
to all others in the universe.
(a) The “fact” of the Civil War had many facts that
contributed to the conflict, were secondary effects, or had long
All those “facts” are related to an almost infinite number of
other facts from time began to the future when time will end.
Chaos theory has demonstrated how small changes in one
location can cause great changes elsewhere.
How do we not know that a sneeze on planet earth may not
cause a nebula in a far off galaxy to explode?
The only truly objective facts are those of Scripture.
The Bible exists outside the person, God-written and
God-preserved over time.
Thus, only the
facts of the Bible constitute truth.
The same “fact” may be interpreted differently by belief
in a different or different hermeneutic or worldview.
Perhaps the most common example is that of the
“facts” of evolution.
Secular humanists interpret the fossil record differently
than young earth creationists.
The latter interpret “days” of Genesis, Chapter 1,
differently than those of old earth creationists or theistic
Different worldviews and hermeneutics even determine which facts
are allowed to be facts.
Those of an old earth persuasion accept the “fact” of
radioactive dating; those of a young earth persuasion believe
that the assumptions of radioactive dating are false.
The historical facts of Jesus’ resurrection are subjected
to falsifying standards that are not used on other facts of the
same time period.
Apparent fact vs. studied fact.
Physical objects appear to be solid, but physics
describes them as being almost entirely space: electrons
revolving around a tiny nucleus.
We drive our cars everywhere with apparent safety that is
abruptly revealed in an accident.
All swans are white seems apparent until we learn of a
type of black swan.
Houses were an apparently “safe” investment until the recent
housing crash. And
on and on.
The black swan is always lurking in the background.
The black swan is the exception to the fact.
A recent book was written with that exact title. (It
would be worthwhile reading for more on the subject for
exceptions to “facts.”) The black swan is a classic example of
only seeing white swans and drawing the conclusion that “All
swans are white.”
But there are black swans, particularly in Australia.
Seek out and challenge the assumptions of a fact.
Do not just accept a fact, especially if it has great
recent study found that the majority of serious airplane crashes
had some warning from its instruments but were discounted as
other words, the instruments were doing their job, but humans
Be very careful of personal bias in the acceptance of
are certain things that we want to be true.
We want our investments to be successful, so we “believe”
in them until they are effectively worth nothing.
We believe the best about our children, even when the
school has documented several instances of Johnny’s misbehavior.
We dislike a certain person, so we accept (and pass on to
others) any bad gossip that we hear about him or her.
Belief in a fact is an act of faith; all facts are based
The language of our modern (or post-modern, if you
prefer) world has segregated peoples of “faith” from other kinds
However, all ideas, concepts, and facts are based upon implicit
and tacit, if not overt, presuppositions—positions of faith.
As I have discussed above, worldviews and biases enter
into all facts.
Therefore, no fact is better than the faith upon which it stands
or the logical process upon which it was conceived.