“That’s Just Your Opinion” Should not be a Conversation Stopper.

Scene: Jesus Quintana is traipsing around the bowling alley, brimming with confidence. He tells Walter and The Dude — in not-so-nice terms — how he’s going to mop up the floor with them. The Dude replies with that now-famous mother of all comebacks “well, that’s just like, your opinion man”.

Disclaimer: I’m on the conscientious side these days, so my virgin ears wouldn’t sit through The Big Lebowski. Go ahead, make fun of me. Besides, O Brother Where Art Thou? is actually my favorite Coen Brothers movie (don’t @ me). OK, disclaimer and unpopular take aside, let’s talk about opinions.

Let’s say you’re in a debate with someone. You’re dropping science. You’re citing credible sources. You have logic, reason, and evidence on your side. And you get The Dude reply in hand-waving fashion.

Has this “that’s just your opinion” objection ever stop you in your tracks in the middle of a debate? What do you do when it comes up?

First, we can ask your conversation partner to clarify what they mean. Ask them this simple question:

“Are you saying there’s no such thing as truth — there are only opinions?”

Our postmodern culture is so steeped in relativism and the notion that “every viewpoint is equally valid”, so your interlocutor might agree that yeah, everything is just a matter of opinion.

Now they’re leading with their jaw. It’s time to (kindly) expose how utterly self-defeating that statement is. Ask them “is that a true statement, or is it just your opinion?”

Hopefully, they’ll see that they have sawn off the branch they were sitting on.

Saying that everything is a matter of opinion is a truth claim. And it’s a self-defeating one at that. It’s like saying “language can’t carry meaning”. OK, so what do mean? Or “only a Sith deals in absolutes.” OK Obi-Wan, is that absolutely true?

When someone dismisses your view as just a mere opinion — like maybe they would with my take that O Brother Where Art Thou? is better than The Big Lebowski — he or she thinks their opinion is closer to the truth while yours is further from it.

While it’s true that some things are subjective — tastes regarding food, music, movies, etc. — not everything can be reduced to a matter of opinion.

You can take things a step further. Ask your debate partner “shouldn’t some opinions be rejected for being clearly false?” For instance, the earth is round, not flat, no matter what certain a certain famous basketball player believes. That’s a scientific fact. You can’t just say “well that’s your opinion bro.”

You can also kindly point out that the very fact that they’re rejecting your opinion assumes that they are using logical laws to discriminate your view from theirs.Yet the truth of logical laws isn’t in question.

I’ve noticed that it’s usually ethical matters that the “just your opinion” card gets dropped. But hopefully, by now you can see that it’s smokescreen and intellectual laziness. Besides, people don’t really think that ethics can be reduced to opinions.

Ask them if they think it’s wrong for the cops to shoot someone because they’re black. Or ask them what they think about the Brock Turner situation, or if they think what Larry Nassar did was OK. No, people believe their moral views align with the truth. And rightfully so.

Granted there are some people that may say they believe that there are no moral truths with a straight face, but have you ever met someone who consistently lives that way? There just aren’t any real moral relativists, at least not in practice.

If you really wanna be fun at parties, you can apply this to religion too. Oh no, not religion! That’s all based on feelings and opinion, right?

Now we’re treading into uncomfortable territory, but contrary to Coexist bumper sticker mindset that is out there, all religions (and irreligion) make different truth claims.

For instance, the Q’uran claims that Jesus never died. Quoting Surah 4:157–158:

“And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.”

Yet the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15:14 that:

“And if Christ has not been resurrected (from the dead), our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

These are two different statements of historical truth that obviously contradict each other. Both can’t be right, and you can argue that both are false, but there can only be one historical fact about what happened to Jesus around 33 AD.

It’s kind of like this: Just because there’s a lot of theories and speculation about what really happened with JFK — some of them wackier than others — it doesn’t mean there isn’t any truth to know about the matter.

Treading more into dangerous territory: Some Buddhists say Jesus was a wise teacher and enlightened. Islam says Jesus was a prophet. Some Jews say he was a Jewish teacher but not the Messiah. Some Hindus say he is a sage and a god among the many. A rising number of atheists claim that Jesus never even existed. Christians say he is the Son of God. They can’t all be right.

So the next time you’re debating science, politics, ethics, religion or whatever, and someone drops the “well, that’s like, just your opinion man” ask them what they mean by that. Because the statement isn’t “it’s all a matter of opinion” isn’t just a matter of opinion. Nor should it be a conversation stopper.