Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a former US politican and sociologist, was quoted as saying: "You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts." That said, and that being true, why are there so many differing opinions about things in our world?
In a recent article for her blog, writer Sheila Liaugminas, a very thoughful and reasoned writer pulled together some research and thinking that gave me pause.
She commenced her piece as follows: "Opinions are individual and subjective. But facts are facts. Trouble is, they’re usually communicated or interpreted by someone. That’s where opinion comes back in…."
She quotes from the Boston Globe how facts actually backfire:
Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
It turns out that the uninformed are able to be swayed by facts presented cogently, and maybe even not presented cogently, whereas those perceiving themselves as informed are not only not swayed by facts, but tend to become intransigent in their false beliefs, based on what they have determined previously to be facts. And so, they filter what is not consistent with their beliefs in large part because the emotional cost of being in error is too great.
For the last several months, I have had contact through Father Tim Moyle's blog "Where the Rubber Hits the Road" with a well meaning though ill informed former Catholic, who encountered Jesus along the way, and felt the need to find the real faith, and in his mind at least, the truth about Christianity. He has made voluminous, fatuous claims about the Catholic Church, based on his readings of deniers of the Catholic Christian faith like Loraine Boettner, and on his own interpretation of the Holy Bible, or at least that large portion of it proclaimed by the Reformers to actually be inspired divinely.
When presented with the actual Catholic teaching, which discredits his set of "facts", he comes back with some other new, but not new, squirm at it, or moves along to some other heresy perpetrated by the Catholic Church. Many of his worst monologues go unanswered, as those of us who read the screed have better things to do with our time, most of the time, than to respond to silliness.
I fully expected that when presented with the actual teaching of the Catholic Church, rather than the altered one that he has put forward, that he would in fact have no real choice but to return to the Church of his own personal roots. What I did not realise was that he is so committed to his version of the truth, that finding the actual truth is less important than being right.
This rings a bell with me personally. Many years ago, when My Dear Wife and I were not getting along all that well, I came to a realisation, with great difficulty I might add, that I had to re-evaluate everything that I thought, believed and held dear to me. I made a conscious effort to look at things differently, and over a lengthy number of years have come to realise that if I look at things through the eyes of my wife and best friend, as well as my own, that I will get two very distinct views of things, and by being open to this second view that I might learn a thing or three that will deepen my faith, and enrich my life.
I am aware that I often read things that support my beliefs or criticise those things that I hold as fallacious, so I know that I am not a total truth seeker. But, it is important, as one of the writers referenced by Ms. Liaugminas, R. R. Reno presented: "we have to want to know ‘the truth’ and “risk error as we leap forward to grasp” it."
She concludes with a G. K. Chesterton quote worthy of thought: "it’s not what you look at, but what you see."
However, I am also struck by a quote on Father Dwight Longenecker's blog Standing on My Head, attributed to a minister of the 1800's who was an acquaintance of G.K. Chesterton, and the subject of a poem of his. Maurice is quoted as saying: "A man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies."