Judging by much of what we encounter in social media and political talk shows, most people don’t seem to have any doubts about what they believe. Or, rather what they know. Or, wait…how many of us even stop to think about a comparison of the two, the potentially critical difference between belief and knowledge?
If we stop to think about it, we can easily enough recognize, and acknowledge, that simply believing something doesn’t make it true. It’s likely easier to reach that conclusion when considering what someone else says. When it comes to our own positions on subjects, we may tend to suffer from tunnel vision.
Many, scientists and non-scientists alike, take the view that we can be sure of what we know thanks to science. As opposed to the unreliable field of faith. But, that is not as solid a platform as one might think. For one thing, science requires its own form of faith and for another, what we know from science isn’t always as reliable as we think.
Knowing Less and Believing More
Alister McGrath, notable scientist and prolific writer and speaker, offers his reflections on the dilemma that arises between what we believe and what we know.
“Like everyone else, I long to know and embrace what is true and trustworthy. Yet as I get older, I have reluctantly come to the view that I know less and believe more – not because I have lapsed into some form of credulity, but rather because much of what I once thought was knowledge now seems to be opinion or belief. It leaves us with the awkward question, which we need to confront honestly: how can we be sure that what we think we now know is not in fact simply a belief? And is the difference between them partly a matter of our location in the historical process?”So does this mean that we abandon any hope of finding a rational way of thinking...No. This does not give us any reason to believe what we like. It rather invites us to think more deeply about what it means to be rational. Click To Tweet
A chance discovery in the library at Oxford as a young chemistry student led to his reading about the history and philosophy of science. His absolute faith in the certainty of scientific knowledge was dealt a blow.
“However, by the time I had finished reading these volumes, I knew that I would have to do some very serious rethinking. I was experiencing an intellectual epiphany, and scales were falling from my eyes. Suddenly, the world looked very different to me.”
Knowledge as Disguised Belief
“Knowledge too often turns out to be a disguised belief. The scientific consensus of the first decade of the twentieth century – regularly presented at that time as secure scientific knowledge – was that the universe was more or less the same today as it always had been. Yet this once fashionable and seemingly reliable view has been eclipsed by the seemingly unstoppable rise of the theory of cosmic origins generally known as the ‘Big Bang’. What was once thought to be right – and hence to be ‘knowledge’ – was simply an outdated interpretation, an opinion now considered to be wrong.”
The way through this predicament is to learn how to frame what we seek, what we learn and how we think about it.
“So does this mean that we abandon any hope of finding a rational way of thinking, capable of engaging questions about how our universe functions, and deeper existential questions about meaning, value, and purpose? No. This does not give us any reason to believe what we like. It rather invites us to think more deeply about what it means to be rational.”
Read this in full at Between Knowing and Believing.