What Happens When We Can’t Agree on Reality

Most people believe two foundational things. One, that there is such a thing as Reality. And Two, that we can know things about that Reality. In other words, there are such things as Facts and Knowledge.

There are lots of facts that we can know just by experiencing them. If I jump off my roof, I will fall. If I don’t put a diaper in the diaper pail, my wife will be annoyed at me.

But there’s also knowledge we necessarily rely on others to tell us. I know the world is round because others have told me so. I myself have not been to outer space or circumnavigated the world. But there’s enough evidence for me to confidently know that the world cannot be flat. I also know that George Washington was the first President. I know this, not through direct experience, but through that knowledge being passed on to me.

But what happens when a sizable group of people refuse to play along? What happens when they decide that the usual means of learning second-hand information is no longer trustworthy?

That’s when you start hearing things like, “Well, we can’t know for sure...” Or, “Well, that’s just your opinion. Why should your opinion be more valid than mine?” In other words, while we may still agree on Premise One (Reality exists), we are beginning to wobble a bit on Premise Two: can we actually confidentially know anything about Reality?

We can confidently know that Joe Biden won the 2020 Presidential election. We know that there was not widespread voting fraud in 2020. We know that masks and social distancing prevent the spread of COVID-19. We know that climate change is caused by humans. We know that the earth is older than 6,000 years old. And so on.

But there is sizable minority of people (usually a subset of evangelical Christians who are usually Trump supporters) who doubt one or all of the above pieces of information. Their means of gathering information and knowledge are fundamentally different, and therefore their conclusions are too. What most people acknowledge as Facts are said to be mere opinions and to be responded to with “alternative facts.”

This creates a real crisis of communication. When two people cannot agree on what Reality is and how we go about discovering Reality, how can they have a meaningful conversation? If one group has a list of “Knowns,” and the other groups says, “No, those are Unknowns!” how do you move forward?

I don’t have any great answers. I know that evangelicals have backed themselves into a “Well that’s just your opinion” corner on so many things—evolution, climate change, national origins, and recently COVID. I know that rampant secular materialism (i.e. the physical world is all that exists) has put Christians who believe in miracles, a spiritual realm, and the resurrection on the defensive.

But this group of folks, who now can no longer even acknowledge who won the election, have retreated so far from reasonable discussion that they are losing more credibility with their non-believing neighbors than ever.

From my situation as a pastor in a deeply secular and skeptical city, evangelical Christians are viewed as the least reasonable, least trustworthy, most irrational, most fraudulent, and most gullible group of people in the country. Whatever “good news” evangelical Christians might carry has been totally drowned out by their denial of science, inability to accept reality, and their getting in bed with a President of bad character.

I do not know how to fix the communication problem. But I do want my evangelical brothers and sisters to realize that they have utterly failed at the three New Testament commands to have a good reputation and win the respect of outsiders (Colossians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:12; 1 Timothy 3:7). And if they keep continuing to fall for conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory, evangelicals will ultimately fail at doing the thing they were named for—spreading the gospel.