Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Relationship Between Evidence and Belief

I thought I'd write a post about the way I see my beliefs, and how evidence (whether for or against) interacts with my beliefs. This post is just about my personal views, and I'm not speaking for anyone else here.

I'll start with the big question of god(s). I don't believe in any deities, you probably already knew this though. What many people don't seem to understand, is that disbelief is not a claim of having all knowledge. When it comes to the issue of belief in god, there are two separate axis, lets say the X axis is belief, and the Y axis is knowledge. On the far left of the X axis is Theism, on the far right is Atheism. Agnosticism is not a statement of belief, but a statement of knowledge. Agnostic is literally 'a'-'gnostic', where 'a' is the negative prefix and gnostic means possessing knowledge. So our Y axis is knowledge, with Gnosticism being on the top of the axis and Agnosticism being on the bottom. This is important to realise because Agnosticism is not some sort of 'middle ground' between Atheism and Theism, it's on an entirely separate axis.

I would place myself on the far bottom-right corner. Meaning that I do not believe in god(s) and I have no knowledge pertaining to god(s). This is where evidence comes in to play. There is no positive or negative evidence concerning deities. We have nothing that confirms or denies the existence of gods. The default position (or rational position) on a subject where there is neither positive or negative evidence is non-belief and I'll explain why.
If someone made an outlandish claim, that little green men are dragging the earth around the sun with a rocket-powered go-kart would you believe them? Most certainly not, as there is no supporting evidence. However we do have evidence concerning the actual causes of the phenomena that the outlandish claim was purporting to explain. We DO know why the earth orbits the sun.
This situation is very much like the situation with belief in gods, and in religion. For example, the Bible says that God created the earth in 6 days, and then has a genealogy from the first man all the way until Jesus (though the genealogies are contradictory and incomplete) which is where people get the idea that the earth is 6000 years old from. Whether or not you believe this story to be literal or not is besides the point because for years and years, it has been the status-quo among believers. Although we may not have evidence concerning the existence of god itself, we do have evidence concerning the biblical creation account. We DO know how old the earth is, we DO know where humans came from and we DO know what causes the phenomena attributed to god in the creation account.

So while we may not be able to prove or disprove the existence of gods, we can certainly determine the truthfulness of claims about the nature of god, the universe and everything. This is the main method of reasoning that caused me to become an atheist. I refuse to believe extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence.

EDIT: Here is the graph I mentioned at the beginning


  1. i found this all very persuasive.

    I'm really tempted to make some comment about faith in science. but i won't xD.

    I hope you're enjoying your weekend. it's a really nice day today :D

  2. Very nice post.

    Only thing is with your explanation of atheism/theism and agnosticism/gnosticism. By explaining it as being on an axis it makes it sound like there are other "in-between" views when really it is a dichotomy, if you're not a theist then you're an atheist.

    You probably didn't mean it to be like that, but that's just what I noticed :]

  3. Yeah it's kinda hard to get an analagy for it, but you're right it really is either-or.

  4. I'm not sure that I'd agree on that. When most people say "agnostic", they don't mean it in the sense you've described it, but rather, in the sense of that they're unsure, or, inbetween. Somewhere in the middle of that axis.

    Still, this is a very good point. Although I don't quite get why you didn't use an already well-known crazy theory, such as Russel's Teapot, to explain your point.

  5. Genuine question (not trying to be a doosh): How can there even be Gnostic Theists and Gnostic Atheists? As 'gnostic' means 'knowledge' and there is no evidence either way? Or are these the stubborn fundamentalist categories?

    If someone could shed some light please.. :)

  6. Well, you get the people who say "I know there is a god". Whether or not their claims are supported by evidence is not relevant. They are claiming to know.
    You also get atheists who say "I know there is no god" they are pretty rare though, and usually they are people who aren't atheists for rational reasons, but rather for emotional reasons.
    These people do exist, and it's rather difficult to have a discussion with them on the topic, because they are closed minded, and almost nothing you say will ever be able to convince them to believe otherwise, because they have erected barriers in their brain, possibly subconsciously. I know I used to do this when I was a christian apologist with regard to the evidence for evolution. I would say to myself, "but it can't be true, because I know god is real".

  7. People that say they are unsure are most likely agnostic atheists as they do not believe in any deities(atheist) and do not possess knowledge of the existence of any deities(agnostic).

    You can be gnostic towards the general idea of god or a certain god in particular. I am gnostic in regards to the christian, islamic, hindu, egyption, norse and most other gods that man has thought up but I am agnostic in regards to the general idea of a god.

  8. Sweet, I get it now. I guess I'd probably classify myself as bottom left then, with a specific tendency to speculate Jesus may have been acknowledged possible deity :D