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To Know

What does it mean to claim that we “know” something? Religious people often throw this term around in relation to their deity of choice. They know that their god is real. But what does that really mean?

For starters, we have to understand what it means to know. I could say that I know that the front door is locked and that our solar system has eight planets. But if my wife asked me if I am sure that the door is locked, I might have to think about it for a moment. Do I remember locking it? No, but I usually do. So while I claim to know that it is locked, I am not entirely certain of that claim. But I am reasonably certain that it is since I usually do lock it. As for the solar system, maybe Neil DeGrasse Tyson will change his mind and make Pluto a planet again (just kidding Neil). In any case, should that happen, do to the new circumstances my knowledge of the solar system would be incorrect. Here my knowledge is provisional. My knowledge can change.

The main issue here with knowledge has to do with the level of certainty we have in our knowledge. When I say I know something, I mean it as knowing it with reasonable certainty. That knowledge might be wrong, but I have reasons (presumably good ones) to suggest that I am correct in that knowledge.

But when most Christians claim that they know that God exists, they aren’t talking about reasonable knowledge, they are almost always claiming absolute knowledge. This knowledge they don’t think is provisional based on evidence, but rather it is impossible for them to be wrong or for new information to change their knowledge.

This takes us to how we know what we know. Using our observations and our ability to think about what we see, we get a clearer picture of the world around us. But sometimes our senses can play tricks on us. Sometimes our thinking is faulty and we miss something. This is why we came up with the Scientific Method.

The scientific method helps us to observe the world accurately. It opens our observations up to objective scrutiny so that we know exactly what degree of certainty we actually have concerning our knowledge. In this way, the chances for self-delusion are minimized and we are able to say more accurately exactly what we know and to what degree we really know it.

Without the scientific method, anyone can claim to know anything and everything and there are no ways to validate those claims. I can state that the moon is made of green cheese. Whether that accurately matches up with reality or not, I can call that knowledge without the need to justify that claim with evidence or reasoning.

When religious people claim to know God and offer up no evidence or sound reasoning for their claim it isn’t actual knowledge they are referring to. It often seems like believers only know what it means to believe something is true without any evidence or valid reasoning and claim this is what it means to know.

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