Look at history and you see countless examples of facts changing with human understanding. If this was not true, we still would believe the Earth was flat and in the center of the Universe. We have evidence now that those things are not true. The facts have changed. Or have they?
There are still people who promote the idea that the Earth is flat. There are people who promote the idea that the holocaust and the moon landing never occurred. To what end is not important. What is important is that they have created enough “facts” to fit their narrative that they are able to convince other people to believe them. They are now able to broadcast their ideas to a larger audience than ever before at a nominal cost.
Our society is one where it is more common to manufacture facts to align with beliefs, rather than aligning beliefs to fit a set of facts. Through everyday life and our history the examples of this are everywhere. If you believe in God, you see God in everything around you. If you believe in climate change you see evidence of it everywhere.
So what are facts? Oxford Dictionary defines a fact as “A thing that is known, or proven to be true.” The trouble is that through history, there were many things that were “proven to be true” that in fact were not true at all. The Earth being Flat and at the center of the universe are two examples. But do we know that the Earth is not at the center of the universe? We don’t know the full expanse of the universe. Although is appears highly unlikely, the Earth could be at the exact center of the Universe and our understanding has just not evolved to the point where we can perceive it.
Evolution vs creation is another competing set of facts. The truth is there is evidence of both and your personal faith or beliefs will determine which one that you see as true. No matter how long or how hard we argue, or how much proof both sides amass, we cannot travel back in time to document and witness the process that created the Earth. Even if we could, the documentation of the process would be influenced by the beliefs of the observers that we sent to record the events. If we sent creationists, we would get back evidence of creation, if we sent evolutionists, we would receive evidence of evolution.
It is daunting to think of all of the things that we think of as facts that are actually beliefs. Even more daunting when you consider how many different beliefs there are in the World. Religion alone produces tens of thousands of belief systems, each one interpreted slightly different by the people who believe them. There are literally billions of different beliefs with regards to God, or the lack thereof.
If you have spent even a few moments trying to convince someone that their beliefs are wrong, about any topic, you have an understanding for the impossible task of getting everyone to believe the same things.
How are we going to move forward if everyone is making their own facts to support their beliefs? The answer lies in finding areas of consensus. First, we must look at the beliefs we hold as just that, beliefs, not facts, and then align them with the beliefs of those around us. If we strip away the emotion that rises over the areas where we disagree, then we will be able to see the areas where we do agree and build our similarities towards a consensus that will serve us moving forward.
It is important that we view these agreements as a consensus and not as facts. That leaves the door open for the consensus to change as new evidence is presented. As a society, even as a planet, we will be able to adjust and adapt our consensus and make effective decisions that evolve with new information.
Once we accept that much of what we see as facts are actually beliefs, we can embrace those differences and place a high value on building consensus. It will not always be easy, but it will be more productive that constantly trying to change the beliefs of those around us.