Wednesday, October 03, 2012


Notes from a short presentation by Andy Hanson

“Fact” is a noun:
a word (other than a pronoun) used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things (common noun), or to name a particular one of these (proper noun).

In English, noun indicators are articles: a, an, and the; and adjectives: a word or phrase naming an attribute, added to or grammatically related to a noun to modify or describe it. (Sub categories of adjective include the possessive adjective: my, your, his, hers, theirs; and predicate adjectives and nouns which follow the conjugation of the verb “to be”, prepositional phrases, infinitive phrases, and dependent clauses.)

OK, now to presumably state a fact: “The river is not polluted”.

However, just because the noun, “river” is linguistically a “fact”, that doesn’t indicate it means anything helpful or even true.  The statement, “The river is not polluted”, may be only an opinion or even a lie.

Would you have more confidence in this statement if it were expanded to include adjective modifiers of “river”? Could they make you feel safe drinking from it?

If we want to drink the water in the river without getting sick, we are looking for scientific, verifiable evidence that the statement is accurate. In other words, we are relying on scientific inquiry to create a fact that is not simply a grammatical category of something.

However, factual claims can be convincing because of our linguistic presupposition to equate nouns with verifiable facts.

“My prayer was answered.”
“The future is in His hands.”
“The seventh day is the Sabbath.”
“All things work together for good for them that love God.”
“Trials are a test of faith.”
“God is love.”
“The truth will set you free.”
“Jesus is the Son of God.”
“God is no respecter of persons.”
“I love you.”

If we are told that these are factual statements, what should be our response?

Then there are wise sayings or proverbs. Even though they are sometimes quoted as facts, they are actually reminders of things to keep in mind as we live in the world.

“A stich in time, etc.”
“A foolish man, etc.”
“A fool and his money, etc.”
“Measure twice, saw once.” (My high school shop teacher’s favorite)

Religious periodicals and books are full of authoritative statements the writer assumes to be spiritual truths. “We are living in the last days of earth’s history,” is such a statement.

In these cases, the writer has made an implicit assumption that the reader and writer have agreed to view these statements as facts. Should a reader concerned with testing factual claims question this idea?

In this intensely political season where verifiable “facts” are mixed with claims of fact that are confidently delivered but not easily verifiable, “Trust me” is the implicit factual verification.

This time of year provides us the chance to think about the kind of facts that provide the foundation for what we believe about ourselves, others, science, and religion.

I suspect that foundation of our thought processes and behavior is a life’s recipe comprised of “facts” from all the sources I’ve mentioned, baked in experience, traditional upbringing, personality, education, and intuition. What I’m suggesting is that periodically, fact checking that recipe is a good idea.

1 comment:

  1. Is the "word of God" one of those unverified facts or nouns? If it is verified through an experience with the Holy Spirit, then we should study it as authoritative and compare its signs of the end to today's current events, and know if we are living just before Jesus returns, and prepare for that day.
    But, I don't recommend waiting for the scientific community to verify it for us. Let's take the bull by the horns and verify it for ourselves.