What Am I: Atheist, Theist, or Something Else?
In my previous article, I originally defined atheism as “the rejection of the possibility that ‘God’ exists” because that is how I’ve understood the word from the time I spent studying theodicy (God and the problem of evil). But many “atheist” commenters disagreed with this definition because their self-designation was based on belief statements that didn’t align with my knowledge statement.
This article explains the differences between the viewpoints and the logic behind them.
Atheism is commonly called the belief that there aren’t any gods or the lack of belief in gods. But in a more accurate, philosophical sense, it is the knowledge that gods do not exist. This is easily seen by how an atheist answers the question: “Is there a God?” Belief is irrelevant to the question; knowledge is what’s important—with the only possible responses to be “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know.”
Calling oneself an “atheist” is chic in our society, and conveys an air of intellectual sophistication, but many “chic atheists” describe themselves incorrectly. They are actually “agnostics” not “atheists” if they claim they do not know for certain whether God exists or does not exist because of the lack of “convincing” evidence. Simply saying, “I do not believe in God” or “I do not believe God exists” are belief statements—which are always subsumed by knowledge statements.
What one knows is always more credible than what one believes.
How then do we differentiate the various viewpoints?
What Am I, Philosophically?
To “know” something requires rational awareness of a perception or intimate familiarity of a fact that can satisfactorily answer the question, “How do you know?” while to “believe” does not require any justification.
The knowledge can be a simple perception or familiarity of a fact. For example:
- “I know getting burned with fire hurts because I burnt my finger on a lit candle.” (first-hand perception, independently-verifiable)
- “I know God is real because he answered my sincere prayer when I felt the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit within me, confirming Jesus is truly God’s Son.” (first-hand perception, not independently-verifiable)
- “I know the Earth is around 149.6 million km away from the sun because that’s what the experts say.” (fact, independently-verifiable)
Compare these to belief, which can’t provide a satisfactory response to the question, “How do you know?”
- “I believe getting burned with fire hurts.” (non-first-hand opinion, independently-verifiable/refutable)
- “I believe God is real.” (non-first-hand opinion, not independently-verifiable/refutable)
- “I believe the Earth is around 120 million km away from the sun.” (opinion without credible evidence; can be independently-verified/refuted)