on knowing and believing

How do you know that something is true?

I’ve been thinking a lot about knowledge and belief lately. I think that belief and knowledge are two distinct acts. To believe is one thing; but to know is another thing entirely. For example, a person might believe that a divine being exists, but to know that a divine being exists is a completely different thing.

So how do you know if something is true? What do you base your knowledge on?

For me, I know something to be true when I have experienced it or when reason confirms it. For example, I know that when a person touches fire, they will get burnt; I know that all bachelors are single because they are single by definition.

Also, to know something to be true is to exclude all possibilities that it is false. For example, it is not always necessarily true to say that if a person who does not know how to swim jumps into deep water, they will certainly drown. It’s not necessarily true because someone who does know how to swim could jump in and save them from drowning.

Now, I have to pause for a moment and warn you that if you would like to preserve your picture of me as a conservative, religious, good-girl, who has a whole tonne of faith in God, then I would advise you to stop reading here. If you want to know me, however, the real me, and what the real me is thinking, then please keep reading.

For most of my life I believed that the God of the bible existed. I believed it. The reasons why I believed it are irrelevant. The point is, how can we know that the God of the bible exists?

Some might argue, “because you have experienced his love and divine power working in your life”. But then I might argue, how do I know that that was God and not just wishful thinking? If I cannot exclude the possibilities that those experiences weren’t really God working then how can I know that it was God? A person might believe that God is working in their life but to know it is another thing.

Others might argue, “we can know that God exists because he has revealed himself to us through the man Jesus and through the bible”. But how do we really know that Jesus was truly God? How do we know that he truly rose from the dead? How can we know that the bible is truly God speaking to us? The problem is, we can’t know it. We can choose to believe it; but we cannot know it for a fact.

Some people might think that to believe something with all your heart is as good as knowing something to be true. I’m not one of those people. Maybe I just don’t have enough “faith”. Or maybe I just think reason and experience to be more important than faith. Faith, after all, is what we turn to to explain what reason and experience cannot.

Maybe the way I view knowledge and belief is wrong. Maybe you disagree. But that simply adds to the argument that we cannot know if the God of the bible exists. You believe one thing to be true, I believe another. But neither of us knows the truth. Furthermore, neither of us can prove that what we know is true.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not denying the existence of God. Maybe God does exists. In fact, when I look out at the natural world, I am inclined to believe that there is a higher being responsible for it all. But the problem is, I cannot know it for certain.

I’m not saying that those who believe in God are stupid or that they should give up on their faith. It is your prerogative to believe what you will. I am only saying, and here is the clincher so pay close attention, that to believe that God exists is not enough for me if I cannot know it to be true.

If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, I found this entry to be very stimulating.

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    • Mattho
    • May 19th, 2010

    So you’re looking for proof, and chances are you won’t get it. And what if he really did exist? You’re not any closer to knowing whether he does or
    does not exist. Yet you still make the choice to go against what you believe. (I think you implied hat you believed in God in your post…)

    Hey Janice, it’s Matt=P I know we’re not that close but I can’t help but try to have a say heheh..

  1. Hey Matt,

    That’s cool man, all says are welcome =)

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that you can’t know for sure whether God exists or not; it comes down to whether you choose to believe it or not.

    I believe that it’s possible that God exists. It’s possible, even if I believe that he doesn’t, because my knowledge is limited; I can’t know whether God truly exists or not. Just because I believe it’s possible that God exists, that doesn’t necessarily mean I believe he does. Once again, the point is that I can’t know for certain.

    So I wouldn’t say I’m going against what I believe by saying that you can’t know for sure that God exists, even though I believe it’s possible that he does. I guess that’s the whole point: knowing and believing are two distinct acts.

    Hope that clarification helps.

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