Are beliefs separate from knowledge?
by Lenny Esposito
Are beliefs separate from knowledge? In my time as an apologist, I’ve heard many people try to dismiss beliefs as silly or meaningless while claiming to only rest in knowledge. Usually, it’s voiced something like “Well, you may rely on your beliefs, but I rely on facts like those that science gives.” But this kind of separation make a crucial mistake. You see, beliefs are necessary for knowledge to exist.
First, we must understand that beliefs in and of themselves don’t normally exist without any precursor. We don’t make things up out of thin air and then say we believe them. For example, imagine we’re sitting in a house of a friend. I cannot ask you to believe that there is a Rodent of Unusual Size in the next room just because it would be fun to believe in such a thing. You wouldn’t really believe the claim. Even if I offered you a $1 million prize for believing in the ROUS and you tell me you believe, I don’t think you really hold that the claim is true—you just assent to the claim to get the money.
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However, if I provide some background for my claim (e.g. our friend’s father is a bio-chemist working on the effects of growth hormone on rats and he uses the next room as a laboratory) your beliefs may change. You have some additional information that supplements your belief and it gives further justification for you to actually believe the claim. Therefore, your beliefs become established on prior evidence or they have some other justification attached to them.
Most beliefs work this way. It is very rare that someone believes in something with no prior background or reasoning at all…
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