Between Fact and Fiction (4 of 6)

When two people disagree it is unlikely ever over what the facts might be, but rather, over what the facts might mean . . . as facts are not actually self-explaining. The whole of existence is a smorgasbord of factual data awaiting our assessment. If I were to tell you that 99.9% of the people in car accidents had eaten carrots at some point in their life, you likely wouldn’t debate whether my statement was factual, as much as you’d question the relevance of such a curious statistic – correctly observing that correlation doesn’t demonstrate causation . . . making this statistic an irrelevant fact. 

Because facts are inescapably given weight and context by human evaluation, David Hume, a mid-eighteenth century philosopher, concluded – “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.” He reasoned that if facts can only have the significance assigned by the way we contextualize them, then they are inextricably subject to our emotional bias. With the spark of this premise, Hume ignites a philosophical blaze, influencing generations of philosophical thought.

Among those influenced by Hume, is Hegel, who declared that “The rational alone is real.” – his nominalist dictum. Within this paradigm, reality is logically sorted out in a notional dialectic – thesis in conflict with antithesis renders synthesis. So for Hegel the relevant facts are discovered in synthesis. At first the logical sophistry of this premise seems like an effective rebuttal of Hume’s argument — until you remember that Hegel’s entire thesis relies on the human mind to evaluate the significance of facts . . . which is Hume’s point.

My point isn’t to mire you in philosophical academic trivia, but rather to lay the ground work for recognizing how what we identify as facts don’t actually exist in a vacuum, but are contextualized by the narrative we give to them. In this regard, the difference between fact and fiction becomes almost indistinguishable . . . our experience of each shaped by the narrative we’re already inclined to validate. Which likely explains why debates on social media often devolve into ridiculously overstated displays of pseudo-intellectual posturing, each insisting that their facts are indisputable.

Facts are inconsequential, if ultimately there is no point to existence — which is to say, without a transcendent ontology, facts are pointless. On the other hand, if we exist for a reason, then every fact resonates, on some level, with this purposefulness. So if I am left to choose a narrative I trust to interpret the facts, it will always be one in harmony with a transcendent ontology – otherwise, what’s the point? This is what it means to allow your Christian faith to contextualize your understanding of the world. It is the humble confession of my faith that the most important things in life aren’t best explained in terms of incontrovertible facts — but instead, is a narrative that best reconciles us to our own existence. Which is why I tend to think Paul may have said it best – “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2: 2).

. . . but the beauty of the Christian narrative isn’t without
some factual considerations