Belief Is Not Knowledge

There has been a bit of a fuss made in certain quarters of the media in the last week regarding the debate between Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury & head of the Church of England) in which Richard Dawkins stated that he could ‘not be sure’ of the non-existence of god. This has, as you may have been expecting, been leapt upon by sections of the socially conservative press such as the ‘Daily Mail’ as proof that atheists do not believe what they say they believe.

I really should find it surprising that people would jump to this sort of conclusion but it does show the sort of thought processes religious people have. ‘Believe’ and ‘Know’ are words with differing meanings and should never be confused. A religious person may confuse them because their beliefs are so dear to them that they think they know them to be fact but a skeptical scientific mind should see no confusion here. I believe that there are no £10 notes in my wallet at this moment, I haven’t checked yet, so I cannot know for certain. I believe the Earth orbits the Sun once a year, I do not have a telescope or the knowledge to do the measurements and calculations to prove it so I cannot truly know. I believe there is no divine or supernatural presence anywhere in (or indeed out of) the universe but as yet no experiment has even been conceived (other than death) that would prove or disprove this hypothesis to the satisfaction of both sides of the argument, so I cannot know.

This does not make me an Agnostic, I am an Atheist because I know what I believe, not because I know what I don’t know, this would make everyone on Earth an Agnostic which makes the label utterly redundant. However a religious person would ascertain that what they believe, they also know, which just exemplifies the closed-minded attitudes prevalent among religious people worldwide. Unless a theory has passed experimental tests, it cannot be considered a fact and must always be questioned if new experiments bring the original theory into question. Having blind faith in anything after contradiction by experience seems a recipe for disaster.

Sorry for the rather crude method of posting the link but I haven’t yet worked out how to properly embed.

Just a short one this time, thanks for reading.



2 Responses to Belief Is Not Knowledge

  1. wanderingatheist says:

    Penn Jillette, from the duo of Penn and Teller laid out a very similar example in his essay entry for NPR’s “This I Believe”. I have copied the excerpt, and a link to the essay i nits entirety below.

    Excerpt: “I believe that there is no God. I’m beyond atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy — you can’t prove a negative, so there’s no work to do. You can’t prove that there isn’t an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word “elephant” includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire?”

    Essay Link:

  2. Tony Single says:

    You make a good point about how certain folks fail to distinguish between “believe” and “know”. Eloquently put!

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