04
Aug
09

Knowing vs. Believing; Proof vs. Evidence

Having written quite a few articles, some of which actually seem to make sense, there is one thing I must admit: I do not know anything. Or at least anything really worth knowing. Well at least I know my Name. Wait, I don’t actually have the complete recording of the unedited 24-hour surveillance footage from the moment I was born to the time when my long-term memory was fully developed, which was at about age seven. That video would have been proof. So I really couldn’t know if…I could have been switched…Nah, I don’t think so. That would be extremely unlikely. Besides, I look very much like both my parents and even seem to have their mental capacity. Now that’s some evidence. And because of that, among other things, I very much believe that I am whose name appears on “my” birth certificate.

Knowing vs. believing. Proof vs. evidence. While the first pair seems to be quite self-explanatory, the second is a bit trickier. (By the way, this will be a lot about semantics, and sometimes the literal meaning of certain words could be misleading while the “official” or legal definitions might contradict with context. So to those in the legal study and profession, I would really appreciate if you help us define terms.)

Okay, here we go. Let’s start with the easy one. Knowing vs. believing. I know you already know where this is going, so let me jump straight to it. What do people mean when they say they believe in God? What is the difference between an atheist and an agnostic? Before, I thought that an agnostic is simply someone who is neutral on the existence of God, while an atheist actually believes there is no God. (And theist is someone who believes in God.) Just recently, however, I came upon Richard Dawkin’s “spectrum of belief”:

  1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung, ‘I do not believe, I know.’
  2. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. ‘I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.’
  3. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. ‘I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.’
  4. Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. ‘God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.’
  5. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. ‘I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.’
  6. Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.’
  7. Strong atheist. ‘I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung “knows” there is one.’

Hmmm…so atheism has actually two levels while agnosticism has three. In any case, numbers 2-6 appear to belong to the “believing” group regardless of what they believe in, while numbers 1 and 7 actually think they “know”.

Okay, let’s move on to proof vs. evidence. Again, I would ask the lawyers and law students out there to help us with the definition terms. For the purpose of this article, let us take the following simple differentiation:

Evidence is something that contributes to knowledge of what happened.
Proof is evidence that is sufficient to demonstrate the certainty of something.

Okay, let us first identify the key phrases here. Hmmm…how about “contributes to knowledge” and “sufficient to demonstrate the certainty”. Contributes and certainty. Surely, the distinction is clear.

By the way, this article is actually a spin-off of my discussion with a blogger who calls himself “Discreet Infidel”. In my article Problem of Evil, the topic started moving towards the origin of the universe when I asked Discreet Infidel about his beliefs, but he suggested that we continue it on another blog post. He also said that he is too busy to start it, so out of Christian charity I started this article to lay down some foundation for the discussion.

So, Discreet Infidel, we humbly request you to share your thoughts on the following questions:

  1. What would you say about the origin of the universe?
  2. Could you please identify and briefly explain where you stand in Richard Dawkin’s “spectrum of belief”?

You are free to quote of course, but please don’t make your answers appear like they were copy-pasted from Wikipedia, or worse, send us a link, or worst, tell us to google it.  🙂 innerminds inner minds

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30 Responses to “Knowing vs. Believing; Proof vs. Evidence”


  1. August 4, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    Not being Dicreet Infidel, I will answer these two points anyway.

    1. The simple fact is that we do not know. That’s it. But before you say, “Aha! It must have been a deity!”, this gap in knowledge lends no credence to a theist position. If you posit such a thing, you must also answer how said deity did it in order to claim this as an explanation, something all supernatural ‘explanations’ lack.

    2. The same as Dawkins- a six.

  2. August 5, 2009 at 1:19 am

    @Shamelessly Atheist:

    You wouldn’t be having a problem with that, would you?

  3. 6 daspork
    August 5, 2009 at 4:22 am

    Well I disagree with Shamelessly Atheist. To say we do not know, and filling in that gap with spiritual mumbo-jumbo is not the case at all. We DO know the approximate age of the universe. Using scientific evidence like Doppler shift, measuring background radiation, and carbon dating we have a very good idea of how old the universe is. This information all on it’s own contradicts the basic creation story of this shamelessly dense cult. Does it explain everything? No. Is it more than enough to cast a slight doubt on a 6,000 year old earth and a seven day creation. I think so. The “gap in knowledge” is not as severe as is presented.

    • August 5, 2009 at 8:33 pm

      Who said anything about a 6,000-year-old earth and a seven-day creation story here?

    • August 5, 2009 at 11:10 pm

      “Carbon dating”? I don’t think so. That’s only good for about 50,000 years. Potassium-argon dating is far more useful. But knowing the age of the universe is not the same as understanding its origins, though I favor a multiverse scenario myself. My point is that gaps in knowledge can not simply then be filled with any fairy tale that strikes one’s fancy. So I’m not sure why you disagree with me.

  4. August 5, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    eh… jong atmosfera, why not one more time around the bend?

    wanting to know if god exists by asking what is the origin of the universe… is taking the bull by the horns. are you ready to wrestle the bull? are you ready to loose? … and then win?

    by making time linear… past, present, future… the past is cause to the present. the present is cause of the future. following causes and effects backward into time, you must get to a first cause… and you may name that first cause “god”.

    but…

    what if time is instantaneous? … only an eternal present… containing a continuum of births, existences, and deaths. all happening in a single folding/unfolding instant?
    (now reflect)… take hold of this moment… feel it pass… it remains… now…now…now.

    the first instant is now.
    creation is now.
    the first cause… look around you.

    http://www.ANaturalPhilosophy.com

    • August 5, 2009 at 9:03 pm

      @Albert Forcier:

      You wrote: “what if time is instantaneous? … only an eternal present… containing a continuum of births, existences, and deaths. all happening in a single folding/unfolding instant?”

      That’s definitely possible. But probable? I guess I still don’t know. But I will try to find out. Care to point me in the proper direction?

      But I did read something similar to what you said. It’s from Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. It goes something like this:

      Stephen Hawking and James Hartle came up with this “no-boundary proposal” on the origin of the universe. They postulated that the four-dimensional space-time is like the two-dimensional surface of the earth – finite in area but with no boundaries. If you have an amphibious vehicle with unlimited fuel, you can drive and sail all over the earth’s surface but you will never reach a boundary or end, as if the earth’s surface area was infinite. Using imaginary time, Stephen Hawking was able to prove that the four-dimensional space-time of the universe could be finite but with no boundaries, just like the surface of the earth. And if this is so, then the universe wouldn’t have a beginning or an end; it would just be. And there wouldn’t be any singularities, and hence no need for a Creator.

      However, Hawking himself also said that the no-boundary proposal only works when using imaginary time, and in real time in which we exist there will always be singularities, including the Big Bang.

  5. August 5, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    @the post:

    I believe in the Big Bang theory. What happened before the Big Bang? I do not know.

    I am a 6 at Richard Dawkins spectrum of belief.

    What number are you in Richard Dawkins’ spectrum of belief? And why are you in that number? 😀

    • August 5, 2009 at 8:22 pm

      Okay, I’ll have to accept your answer (note the lack of quotation marks on the word “answer” this time) to my first question (origin of the universe).

      As for your answer to the second question regarding where you stand in Dawkin’s spectrum of belief, I request that you give a brief explanation as to why you say you’re in #6 because well, it’s possible that you are only technically #6 but virtually/effectively #7. I just want to be sure, so please indulge me.

      After you give me a satisfactory explanation, I promise to tell you what number I am in the spectrum of belief, complete with explanation of course. 🙂

  6. August 6, 2009 at 1:29 am

    the big bang is a theory… stephen hawking says… the bible says…

    walk into the universe… not just in your mind. as an intellectual exercise… begin to feel. you are there. here. in nature. nature has a language. a sensory language. the human mind must connect not just with other minds… but with the soil under its feet.

    http://www.ANaturalPhilosophy.com

  7. August 6, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Grr.. Why is it all me here?? LOL

    I believe that God does not exist because all of the evidences (and proofs) that I found and studied for God’s existence are not enough to tell me that he really exists. So far, the answers tell me that God does not exist. But I could be wrong. I admit that there are things that I do not know (yet). There are things that I am not quite sure of. As i’ve told you before (I don’t remember where and when) I cannot say that I will always be a non believer. It would all depend on my journey in finding the truth. My (non)belief would depend on the evidences that I will find (of course based on knowledge and reason).

    Also, the important thing here is that i do not live my life on the assumption that God exists. 😀

    • August 6, 2009 at 9:52 pm

      @Discreet Infidel

      Okay, let’s work on the assumption that you really are a six and not a seven. You said, “I believe that God does not exist because all of the evidences (and proofs) that I found and studied for God’s existence are not enough to tell me that he really exists”. Wow, I didn’t know you were a scientist doing an active study on the existence of God.

      Now I owe it to those who commented on this post to identify where I belong in the spectrum of belief. But first, let me answer the question regarding the origin of universe. Surprisingly, I have exactly the same answer as Discreet Infidel:

      I believe in the Big Bang theory. What happened before the Big Bang? I do not know.

      Now for the spectrum of belief, I am a Two and a Six:

      To the question, Does the universe have a Creator? I am a TWO. And perhaps if I was a cosmologist dedicating my entire life the study of the universe as a whole – it’s structure, origin and development, sooner or later after years of scientific research I would probably be leaning towards #1 – or #7, depending on what I find.

      To the question, Was the universe created 6,000 years ago in seven days? I am a SIX, but only because I haven’t really studied in depth the evolution theory. I’ve read some articles about it, though, and I even bought a copy of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Too bad I misplaced it when I moved. Anyway, I believe in evolution. I am a TWO when it comes to evolution, and if I could travel back in time to sail with Darwin to the Galapagos and listen to his thoughts as he wrote his book, and then travel back to the present, state-of-the-art technology at my fingertips as I play with DNA…in no time I would probably be leaning towards #1. About evolution, that is. And that would put me at #7 in reference to the creation story.

      The point is, while a lot of things are unknown, some things are unknowable. With the advancement of science, we now have answers to questions we haven’t even asked. And soon enough, what is unknowable becomes simply unknown. I only wish to live long enough to see the day when we have most of the answers to the really important questions.

      For now, the evidence is plentiful but all circumstantial. A lot depends on the individual’s interpretation, which in turn influences his or her beliefs.

      Now that may make me sound like a FOUR – complete impartial agnostic. But to those who want to know more about where I really stand, you’ll find some answers here:

      https://innerminds.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/what-return-can-i-make/

      • August 6, 2009 at 9:57 pm

        How about on the God question?

        Btw, I am currently making a blog post now and it is about Christianity. I want you to answer the questions i posted there if you consider yourself a christian. 😀

        Thank you and good night.

      • August 8, 2009 at 1:15 am

        Who says I am a “scientist” doing an active study on the existence of God? I am not really a science-cy guy 🙂

        Agree. We may not know some things today but it will be known in some future time.

        But there are people who rely on science and logic.

        This is like an argument from experience. Which is a very weak way in proving the existence of God. Other people also experience weird things. Also, the PoE would still be a problem on this.

      • August 8, 2009 at 1:28 am

        oops. let me post it again.

        —>Okay, let’s work on the assumption that you really are a six and not a seven. You said, “I believe that God does not exist because all of the evidences (and proofs) that I found and studied for God’s existence are not enough to tell me that he really exists”. Wow, I didn’t know you were a scientist doing an active study on the existence of God.The point is, while a lot of things are unknown, some things are unknowable. With the advancement of science, we now have answers to questions we haven’t even asked. And soon enough, what is unknowable becomes simply unknown. I only wish to live long enough to see the day when we have most of the answers to the really important questions.For now, the evidence is plentiful but all circumstantial. A lot depends on the individual’s interpretation, which in turn influences his or her beliefs.https://innerminds.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/what-return-can-i-make/<—
        This is like an argument from experience. Which is a very weak way in proving the existence of God. Other people also experience weird things. Also, the PoE would still be a big problem on this.

      • August 8, 2009 at 1:33 am

        AGAIN. Shit. This tag thing is complicated. I cant find a good way to quote.

        Okay, let’s work on the assumption that you really are a six and not a seven. You said, “I believe that God does not exist because all of the evidences (and proofs) that I found and studied for God’s existence are not enough to tell me that he really exists”. Wow, I didn’t know you were a scientist doing an active study on the existence of God.

        >>>>Who says I am a “scientist” doing an active study on the existence of God? I am not really a science-cy guy 🙂

        The point is, while a lot of things are unknown, some things are unknowable. With the advancement of science, we now have answers to questions we haven’t even asked. And soon enough, what is unknowable becomes simply unknown. I only wish to live long enough to see the day when we have most of the answers to the really important questions.

        >>>>Agree. We may not know some things today but it will be known in some future time.

        For now, the evidence is plentiful but all circumstantial. A lot depends on the individual’s interpretation, which in turn influences his or her beliefs.

        >>>>But there are people who rely on science and logic and not just on one’s interpretation.

        https://innerminds.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/what-return-can-i-make/

        >>>>This is like an argument from experience. Which is a very weak way in proving the existence of God. Other people also experience weird things. Also, the PoE would still be a problem on this.

      • 21 jong atmosfera
        August 8, 2009 at 9:22 am

        @Discreet Infidel:

        First YOU said, ‘I believe that God does not exist because all of the evidences (and proofs) that I found and studied for God’s existence are not enough to tell me that he really exists’.

        Then I said, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you were a scientist doing an active study on the existence of God’, to which you answered, ‘Who says I am a “scientist” doing an active study on the existence of God? I am not really a science-cy guy.’

        Well, that was sarcasm on my part to drive my point. Do you still want me to explain the point of my sarcastic comment? 🙂

        * * * * *

        YOU said, ‘This is like an argument from experience. Which is a very weak way in proving the existence of God.’

        Who said anything here about PROVING the existence of God? Again, you should learn not to put words into other people’s mouth. In the first place, the title of this article is “Knowing vs. Believing; Proof vs. Evidence”. 🙂

  8. 22 zaurah patricia
    August 7, 2009 at 4:12 am

    if one could not prove the existence of GOd, can that person already claim His non-existence? i want to know whether discreet infidel is in the position of really knowing.. or only believing such claim since he does not want to make assumptions. if he knew it as a fact, what is his basis? it would always be easy to negate things without proving otherwise.

    i must agree that science always proves or disproves something.. no doubt about it except that human logic is scarce. people always rely on their own understanding. if they can comprehend something, then it must be a fact. i just wonder about other truths that must have been existing but are beyond human capacity for discernment. it must be unpleasant as well when persons could be careless in proving something to be a factual matter. just rEcently, scientists discovered that Pluto was a dwarf planet, and not a solar planet like what they claimed decades ago.

    human race is far from all the truths in the universe.. i could truly say that i know nothin’.. my knowledge is immaterial. as what our professor says, “stupidity is the widest shared commodity.” i just realized that he is right.

    • August 8, 2009 at 1:23 am

      No one can prove the existence of unicorns. Would that mean that I cannot claim its non existence?

      I do not believe in the existence of God because the evidences/proofs are not enough to prove that God exist. So why would I believe in God? No one can prove that there is heaven and hell and afterlife. So why would I believe in them?

      • 24 zaurah patricia
        August 8, 2009 at 3:46 am

        with regard to unicorn, i have already said my piece relating to that subject. if you can still remember, we had this discussion before in jong’s previous article.

        going back to the topic, it would have been easier and convenient for other people to negate or single out than prove the non-existence of something.. then conclude without proving otherwise on the affirmative. i wonder if that act produces a fact based on science as well.

      • 25 jong atmosfera
        August 8, 2009 at 9:11 am

        Unicorns are supposedly of a corporeal nature (can be seen, heard, touched, smelled, even tasted if one dares to lick them), so their existence can easily be proved or disproved. Same with Zeus and the other Homeric gods – they are said to have a corporeal nature. The God of most religions, however, is of an ethereal nature. So when a person says that he had some sort of spiritual experience, as much as we can easily downplay that as merely psychological and self-deluding, we really don’t know.

  9. 26 zaurah patricia
    August 8, 2009 at 3:55 am

    mr infidel, i want you to have this link so we can end up our discussion here. hehehe

    http://jongatmosfera.blog.friendster.com/2009/05/2-am/#comments

  10. August 8, 2009 at 9:01 am

    The burden of proof lies upon you, the theists. Since your proofs/evidences are not enough to prove that God,heaven,hell,afterlife exists, then I have no reason to believe in them. If you can show me that these things exist then maybe I would convert in your religion/faith. If not, then I say these things are just delusions.

    • 28 jong atmosfera
      August 8, 2009 at 9:14 am

      Who said anything here about heaven, hell, afterlife, and PROVING the existence of God and converting you to any religion/faith? I thought I made that clear from the title of this article, Knowing vs. Believing; Proof vs. Evidence. You really should learn not to put words into people’s mouths. 🙂

  11. August 9, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Inner Minds:Who said anything here about PROVING the existence of God? Again, you should learn not to put words into other people’s mouth. In the first place, the title of this article is “Knowing vs. Believing; Proof vs. Evidence”. 🙂

    Me: I was referring to the link of zaurah patricia. According to the link, you believe in God because you said you experience him some how. So my reply above.

    Me:The burden of proof lies upon you, the theists. Since your proofs/evidences are not enough to prove that God,heaven,hell,afterlife exists, then I have no reason to believe in them. If you can show me that these things exist then maybe I would convert in your religion/faith. If not, then I say these things are just delusions.

    Me:I was talking to zaurah patricia re: who should prove or disprove.

    Inner Minds: Unicorns are supposedly of a corporeal nature (can be seen, heard, touched, smelled, even tasted if one dares to lick them), so their existence can easily be proved or disproved. Same with Zeus and the other Homeric gods – they are said to have a corporeal nature. The God of most religions, however, is of an ethereal nature. So when a person says that he had some sort of spiritual experience, as much as we can easily downplay that as merely psychological and self-deluding, we really don’t know.

    Me: So how can one say that God exists yet one cant hear, smell, touch, taste, see it?

    • 30 jong atmosfera
      August 9, 2009 at 1:34 pm

      @Discreet Infidel, you said: “So how can one say that God exists yet one cant hear, smell, touch, taste, see it?”

      My answer: Did anyone here say that God exists without qualifying the statement with the word believe? Again, you really should learn not to put words into people’s mouths. 🙂


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