We live in an age where all opinions are thought to have equal value. You have a right to your opinion, and I have a right to my opinion. End of discussion (and end of thinking!). If all opinions have equal value, why do we have conflicts between differing opinions? How can all opinions be equally true if there are differences of opinion?
An opinion is a judgment made with no fact or knowledge to substantiate it. There is no certainty or proof for the judgment. Facts differ from opinion in that facts can be verified, i.e. can be verified or agreed upon by a consensus of experts. To say: “The United States has troops in Afghanistan” is a statement of fact versus “The United States should not be involved in Afghanistan.”
An opinion may be supported by facts and principles and can be called a studied opinion or an argument. These will be facts and principles that have not garnered verification by experts. Most formal debates are based upon studied opinions and can be valuable in clarifying the issues.
In the Afghanistan example, there are facts and principles that support the argument that United States involvement in Afghanistan is a good thing while there are also facts and principles that argue the reverse. Both arguments have a degree of validity but not sufficient to reach an expert consensus.
However, we must also be assured that the experts are qualified to be experts. I have a doctorate in music. Let’s suppose I am interviewed by a national poll about global warming and a friend with a doctorate in theology is also interviewed. Later, the poll reports that 100% of the doctors interviewed believe global warming is a fact and that certain steps need to be taken to offset a potential world-wide calamity.
The poll should be questioned: who were the doctors? Are they qualified to be experts? My friend and I may have strong views about global warming but neither of us is qualified to be an expert; therefore, the poll findings are flawed and invalidated.
We see the same type of claims being made in advertisements. Here is an old one about a margarine: “4 out of 5 doctors recommend (blank) margarine.” How many doctors were surveyed? What kind of doctors were they? The answer could be that only five doctors were interviewed, one was a physician, one a historian, two were dentists, and one a theologian. Four of them could have based their recommendation for the product upon uninformed opinions. How valid is the products claim? It is easy to make claims for our opinions that are more valid than the data will support.
Before we claim too much for our opinions, we would do well to heed the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.12: “What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete—as complete as God’s knowledge of me.”