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Column 95
An atheist's credo

Knowledge and belief

By © Martin Foreman
Word Count: 792 words
Publication date: February 4, 2007

What do I know? What do I believe? What do I believe in?

I know that I am. I know that I think. I know that I am a human being living in a world surrounded by millions of others like myself.

I know that I can learn more, but that knowledge requires dedication. To understand the world around me, I have to think. I also know that most of us are mentally lazy and unskilled in reasoning.

I know the principles of basic science. If something is true it is true on every occasion. Water always boils at one hundred degrees celsius at sea level. Gravity will always prevent me from flying unaided.

I know that true science begins with ignorance and the willingness to spend lifetimes and generations analyzing and interpreting a phenomen until it is clearly understood.

I know that science allows no shortcuts. If a phenomenon remains unexplained, the honest response is “we do not understand this”. Only the dishonest or ignorant invoke superstition or magic.

I know that knowledge requires humility. True knowledge comes from admitting ignorance when we know nothing and from welcoming correction when something we once thought true proves false.

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Knowledge requires proof. Belief is close to knowledge but lacks conclusive evidence. We know a little. We believe a lot more.

I believe things that, theoretically at least, can be proven or disproved.

I believe there is life on some other planets. I believe that Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan. I believe that George W Bush is the least intelligent president to occupy the White House.

And I believe things that reflect my personal tastes and judgements.

I believe that Wagner is overrated and Debussy is sublime. I believe that Graham Greene was the greatest twentieth-century writer and Robert Altman its greatest film director.

The boundary between belief and knowledge is sometimes unclear, particularly when considering non-existence.

I cannot prove that there is not a whale drinking tea on the surface of Pluto. Yet all the evidence available – whales evolved on earth, they do not drink tea and they require quantities of water and oxygen that Pluto lacks – tells me that such a phenomenon is impossible.

Some say they believe there is no such whale. I say that I know there is no such whale.

I cannot prove there is no life after death. Yet, despite the claims of many, there is no firm evidence to prove that consciousness persists after the body dies. 

Those who honor superstition rather than science say there is life after death. Others say they believe there is no life after death. I say that I know there is no life after death.

I cannot prove that no supernatural being exists beyond the boundaries of our universe. However, all the evidence suggests that if there is such a being it does not – perhaps cannot – affect this universe in any way. 

I doubt we will ever penetrate the boundaries of our universe. I believe that no supernatural being affects this universe in any way. And I know that no God, as defined by religion, exists in any form.

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Belief in a thing is different from belief that a phenomenon is true. It is similar to, and sometimes the same as, trust.

I believe in myself and my ability to keep myself physically and mentally healthy.

I believe in freedom from ignorance, hunger, violence and prejudice.

I believe in freedom to explore the full potential of my life in any way that I choose.

Because my well-being depends on the well-being of others, I believe in extending to all others the same freedoms that I require for myself.

I believe in pride in oneself and humility towards others – the ability to know one’s own strengths and to learn from others, no matter how different from ourselves they may appear to be.

I believe in truths which are proven and in the honest expression of doubt.

I believe in respect, in considered responses rather than instant reactions, in acceptance of the inevitable and in determination to change the regrettable.

I believe in forgiveness and the ability of all human beings to learn, no matter how slowly or how late in their lives, from their mistakes.

I believe in the potential of young human beings to develop into caring, responsible members of society free of the mental crippling of superstition, ignorance and prejudice.

I believe in full, open and honest democracy.

I believe in political leaders who listen to people not money, who offer visions not dogmas, who prefer to collaborate than to impose.

I believe in science and its ability to unlock mysteries and to show us wonders far greater than we could ever imagine.

Above all, I believe in reason.

With thanks to Mike Falick – and his son – of Colorado Springs, who inspired this column.


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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.



What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?


"I know there is no God"
or
"I believe there is no God"
???


Check the answer


wear the Scarlet letter





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