Truth Vs. Opinions

Is it actually wrong to steal someone’s car for fun? How about cheating on a test in school, or treating someone poorly because of the their skin color?

For many of us in the United States—particularly kids in school—answering “yes” those questions might be more complicated than we might think.

In a recent piece for the New York Times, philosophy professor Justin McBrayer (who received his Ph.D. at Mizzou and attended The Crossing) writes of discovering two signs on the bulletin board of his son’s second grade class. They read:

Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.

Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.

Note that these definitions apparently suggest that claims must either be a fact or an opinion. What’s the problem with that? McBrayer explains:

How does the dichotomy between fact and opinion relate to morality? I learned the answer to this question only after I investigated my son’s homework (and other examples of assignments online). Kids are asked to sort facts from opinions and, without fail, every value claim is labeled as an opinion.

After offering examples taken from fact vs. opinion worksheets available online, he adds:

The explanation on offer is that each of these claims is a value claim and value claims are not facts. This is repeated ad nauseum: any claim with good, right, wrong, etc. is not a fact.

In summary, our public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punchline: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths.

The only tweak I might offer to this quote is to suggest that not all public schools—and certainly not all teachers within them—would likely agree that there are no moral truths. Even so, this direction in which this curriculum points is alarming to say the least.

If we fail to acknowledge the existence of real (i.e., binding) moral truth, we deprive ourselves of the only sound foundation we have for many things that are crucial for a safe and thriving society. For example, why should we treat one another with respect or be honest in our personal and business dealings? If these values are merely opinions, who ultimately cares? And how could we justly convict and punish anyone for committing a crime, from speeding to sexual abuse? For that matter, how can anything be a genuine crime in the first place? No, without real moral truth we will inevitably find ourselves in a world where might is the only thing that makes right. The ascendency of this might may manifest itself through various means: brute force, societal trends, the ballot box, etc. But come it will.

Two more related thoughts:

1. One obvious consequence of schools and other institutions shying away from affirming moral truths that previous generations have taken for granted is that Christian parents will face a decreasing amount of “cultural overlap” with those institutions when raising their children. Again, this will vary according to the particular situation, as many schools and teachers are doing great work in encouraging the right kind of values and expectations for kids. But on the whole, parents and their church communities will likely need to be even more intentional about communicating what is right and wrong from God’s perspective. (I would add that, without a healthy view of God’s moral law, it’s hard to see the gospel—Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—as the desperately needed good news it is.)

2. For those wishing to think more about how Christians might commend the idea of real moral truths to our culture, reading the first section of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity remains a very good first step. See also Hunter Baker’s The End of Secularism.

7 Comments

  1. axell danica r. ortillano said:

    need the children learn some values . .not only the children also all people

  2. jhonson suan said:

    truth is truth..
    but a opinion is the idea of a person that she/he learn or know

  3. DEBBIE JOY MANGGANA said:

    Sometimes there is the same truth and opinion. Opinions on which different people would be healing. The truth is what is real truth

  4. SHAYNIE APOLINARIO said:

    A FAcT IS A STATEMENT THAT CAN BE PROVEN TRUE . AN OPINION EXPRESSES ,SOMEONE BELIEF . VIEW.IDEA,OR JUDGEMENT.ABOUT SOMETHING OR SOMEONE

  5. angelica said:

    like other says truth is truth which is true but when the opinion talks about it , maybe he/she must learn a lot of things

  6. marygracegingosa@gmail.com said:

    truth is truth, only you can do is to accept it, either you like or not, because the truth will always prevail and the opinion was only a kind of expressing once belief to give you an idea or something to judge you

  7. laila said:

    a opinion is the idea of a person that we learn

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