This is something that very many out there who debate religion get wrong.
It’s difficult to blame them, most don’t exactly study epistemology (study of/theory of knowledge) for fun as it’s a pretty difficult subject. The basic explanation is like this:
We’ll start by acknowledging that what one believes is what one believes and that what is true is true. These two things must be separate:
- If you accept realism, it is obvious that two people can believe opposites in which case only one can be true.
- If you accept some sort of solipsism, chances are that you will admit that you do not have complete control over the reality that is represented to you and as a direct consequence that which is true is separate from that which you believe.
In epistemology, the term “belief” is used to describe any sort of cognitive content that is held as true. Whether it is true is completely irrelevant, what defines a belief is simply that one holds that something is true within his/her consciousness.
When epistemologists use the term “truth” they mean simply that something is fact, that it is in accordance with reality.
Finally, we have knowledge. In epistemology, knowledge is justified true belief.
Here is a visual example:
You will notice that knowledge must be both true and believed. But there is more to it than that, one must be able to properly and logically conclude that this belief is true in order for it to be considered knowledge - otherwise it’s just happenstance true-belief (purple).
I lack a belief in a deity and do not claim to know whether one exists, so I classify myself as an agnostic atheist. There could very well be a God out there, but if it does exist that does not change the fact that I do not currently believe in it. Not only do I lack the believe but also the means to justify such a belief as truth, so I will stick to this position until the day when justified true belief concerning a god avails itself to me, as I do not see the point in holding a belief that doesn’t hold up to a standard of justification that I find competent.
Are you crazy like me and interested in knowing more about this knot of information called epistemology? If so, here are some good books on the subject that each provide an introduction worthy of merit: