I Don’t Want to Believe

I think this sums up a lot of the problems I’ve had in discussions with theists …

I suspect that certainty is beyond human capabilities. Still, I not quite ready to simply declare that whatever tradition I happened to be raised in is the revealed truth.

I don’t want to simply believe. I know how unreliable my beliefs have been. I want something a little more stable than that. I want to know.

  • http://christmyredeemer.wordpress.com Christopher Copan Scott

    I attempt to offer some helpful clarification about the concept of belief on my post: http://christmyredeemer.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/atheism-belief-and-traditional-understandings-of-knowledge/

    This is because the statement by Sagan, independent of any context, is ambiguous.

    • Sunny Day


    • Makoto

      I would agree with your very first statement in that article – belief is not knowledge. Belief is assuming things. Let’s look to dictionary.com (as a general, but not catch-all example):
      1. something believed; an opinion or conviction: a belief that the earth is flat.

      This is compared with the definition of knowledge:
      1. acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition: knowledge of many things.

      Opinions and convictions are not the same as facts, truths, principles from study or investigation.

      And yes, I looked into several other word history books, not just websites, to verify these definitions, and they were very similar. If you have others which counter that, please post them. You didn’t in your linked post, so I can’t verify here or there.

      • http://christmyredeemer.wordpress.com Christopher Copan Scott

        No one is arguing that beliefs equate to knowledge. Rather, that beliefs are necessary for knowledge. Again, the whole history of philosophy is against any other understanding of knowledge wherein belief is absent.

        For future references, I’d suggest going to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The concept of “belief” is studied in epistemology. So when you consult regular dictionary definitions, you might be led astray.

        • Sunny Day

          Why do theists retreat to philosophy? Is it because they don’t have anything else?

          • Jabster

            Well basically yes – have you seen the arguments put forward when they try and debate based on evidence?
            Of course it also sounbs better even though all they’re doing is the same as Ray Comfort but using longer words.

            • http://christmyredeemer.wordpress.com Christopher Copan Scott

              Ray Comfort? Really?

              If you equate the work of people like Peter van Inwagen, Richard Swinburne, and Alvin Plantinga to that of “Ray Comfort but using longer words”, then you simply are not familiar with the relevant issues.

              In any event, I’m done here. If you want to further discuss, feel free to hop over to my blog.

              Best to you,


            • Jabster

              No, I’m equating you with Ray Comfort. You’ve started off by playing with semantics even though you believed (you admitted this on your blog) that was not what was meant. Basically your line of debate is dishonest and shallow – much like Ray Comfort.

          • Jabster

            Just to add that he admits full well that he knew what the quote meant over at his blog. So basically he decided to argue against something that he didn’t believe that the quote meant. Is it any wonder that so many theists have a reputation for dishonesty when entering debates?

            • http://nohmad.me The Nohmad

              Christopher makes a significant epistemological distinction when having meaningful discourse. Perhaps during frivolous online banter, web memes or conversation amongst your familiar, loaded terms are satisfactory means of making a point. But that statement outside of circumstances previously noted dies from ambiguity, before it can be universally meaningful. Consider the statement “Science is not a capital T Truth” (Ultimate truth is also referred to as capital “T” truth or universal truth.) The honest scientist is hereby acknowledging the various degrees of justification. Jabster, you’ll just have to understand that not everyone communicates with the same degree of semantic lax as you do.

            • Sunny Day

              LOL WUT?

            • http://nohmad.me The Nohmad

              Let me clarify, I apologize. My last couple of sentences I admit were a little vague. Scientific proof is often argued not to be absolute, but optimal; affirming an inference to the best explanation. “Best” being most plausible/justified based on philosophical/scientific indicators (Interpreted Evidence). My point was to emphasis that there are degrees of justification, it is not as polarized as the post might suggest. Christopher was simply stating that in these types of discussions, communicating with clarity can be helpful, and I agree.

            • Jabster

              @Sunny Day

              Yeh I sort of missed the part where The Nohmad (or chum of Chrissy boy as I like to call him) explained why it was ok for him to be dishonest in the way that he posted here – maybe it’s because I’m semantically lax?

              Of course the answer may be down to the large gap in posts on Chrissy’s boys blog – you don’t think someone is trying to drum up traffic do you? @Sunny Day

              Yeh I sort of missed

            • Nox

              Perhaps this will make Sagan’s meaning a little less ambiguous.

              As for why Vorjack posted it here, the words he wrote right under the picture seem to explain it quite clearly.

              “I suspect that certainty is beyond human capabilities. Still, I’m not quite ready to simply declare that whatever tradition I happened to be raised in is the revealed truth. I don’t want to simply believe. I know how unreliable my beliefs have been. I want something a little more stable than that. I want to know.”

              Is that ambiguous? Can that somehow be read as saying belief is mutually exclusive with knowledge? The point is not that you can’t know something you believe or believe something you know (which would be a nonsensical statement if that was what anyone had said). The point is that believing and knowing are not the same thing (and if you get those two things confused it might cause you to believe things that aren’t true).

  • Jabster

    It’s pretty bleeding obvious what the quote means but what we get is someone trying to drum up traffic for their blog by playing on the semantics.

    Meh indeed …

    • http://christmyredeemer.wordpress.com Christopher Copan Scott

      Semantics is the study of meaning. Meaning is essential when someone advances a claim. as true. Thus, I’m playing on that which is essential in dialogue and argumentation–namely, grasping the meaning of a claim.

      I take that as a compliment, kind sir.

      Good day.

      • Sunny Day

        Blah blah blah.

      • Jabster

        You know damn well what was meant by the quote so why are you pretending that you don’t – is it because you don’t have any other argument except semantics; also know as deflection.

        • http://christmyredeemer.wordpress.com Christopher Copan Scott

          My atheist friends who know epistemology are in agreement with this one. Their’s an unjustified repugnance toward the concept of “belief” when this should not be the case. Rather, it should be, if anything, directed toward unjustified beliefs. This is not a mere language game, it’s a semantically meaningful distinction between two types of beliefs–namely, justified and unjustified.

          • Troutbane

            All religions are unjustified belief systems without testable evidence to backup extreme claims.

          • Jabster

            You’ve just You’ve just made this up haven’t you … did you go and ask your atheist friends this question – no you didn’t so stop being dishonest yet again. As I’ve already said, you’re just like Ray Comfort.

            Now, slink back to your little blog and try and drum up some web traffic in another way.

          • Nox

            Where is there animosity toward the general concept of belief? There is, just as you request, animosity toward unfounded and unrealistic beliefs.

            The quote is clearly not saying belief is in opposition to knowledge. It is saying that belief and knowledge are not the same thing. Anyone can believe anything. For some of us, it is not enough to believe. We want the things we believe to be true.

            The real disagreement here (and why atheists tend to see theistic belief as unjustified) is over what makes a belief justified.

  • joeclark77

    Well, Carl Sagan knows now.

    • blotonthelandscape

      Stay classy.

    • Bill

      If only you could prove what you’re trying to imply here.

      • trj

        Who needs proof. It’s so much easier to be certain without it.

    • Sunny Day

      The Dead know nothing.

      • ZenDruid

        Nonsense. They know how to get a stadium full of people to dance.

        • Troutbane

          Is that a Dead Can Dance reference? Because, if so, AWESOMENESS. If not, I will be sad.

          • Troutbane

            Oh wait, Grateful Dead. I am sad…

  • kalim