Knowledge, truth, and morality.

Today we have a question from Ryan who asks…

Name: Ryan
Message: There are many problems i have with atheism but one question I have is if your going too claim their is no God that is the same as claiming there is no such being that is all knowing. Dont you have too be all knowing too claim that their is no such being that is all knowing? I mean out of all the knowledge in the world lets say you know 50% of that knowledge or even lets go higher too 99%. Is it possible that God exists in that 1%? Also if their is no such thing as truth, how do you know thats the truth? Atheism fails on many levels, i see you guys give lip service on morality but deep down in side you and I both know that it is objectivily wrong too rape a child instead of love it, no matter what anybody wants too say. I often never find arguments on WHY atheism is true because by your own philosophy their is no truth.

Hi Ryan, thank you for stopping by. The first part of your question is a common one. So common in fact that if you look at the top of every page on ATA you’ll notice a link that says “What is an atheist?”. There you will find a video that explains in basic terminology what an atheist is, and what an atheist isn’t. So because of this, I’m going to focus more on the last part of your email and ask that if you have any questions about what an atheist is, that you use the comment section below to ask and I’ll try my best to fill in the gaps for you. In short the video explains the following…

  1. What an atheist is.
  2. What a theist is.
  3. What an agnostic is.
  4. The types of different atheists.
  5. What atheists have in common.

So click on that link above and watch the video, then come back to this post, and continue reading.

Did you watch it? Good, we can continue then.

As you saw in the video, an atheist doesn’t always say that he knows that there is no god. Some atheists do, but it’s usually because they think the definition of god is either poorly defined or because they just think the whole idea is nonsense. It’s kind of like asking how you know 100% that Zeus, or Cthulhu, or any of the other gods that you don’t believe in don’t exist.  As explained in the video, we call these atheists “strong atheists” or “gnostic atheists”. Most atheists however are “agnostic atheists” meaning that they leave room for the possibility that a god may exist but still have no active belief in one. The main point is to differentiate between “belief” and “knowledge”. The question of theism isn’t “Do you know that god exists” but instead “Do you believe that a god exists”. So no, you don’t have to say that you know 100% that there is no god to be considered an atheist. You just have to lack a belief in a god or gods.

As for the next part of your question regarding truth, who told you that atheists don’t believe in truth? Of course we do! For myself, truth is that which most correlates with reality. I have what I like to call a love affair with the truth, To me, the hardest thing for anyone to do, is to see things as they are, and not just how we wished they would be. Most atheists seek a deeper understanding of the truth then most theists. Take for example how the world was made. A theist just simply says “god did it” and may stop right there. However an atheist who doesn’t believe in a god wouldn’t be satisfied with that and would seek out the truth through rational, objective, and naturalistic means. So out of the two, who do you think really wants to find the truth? The person who stops with “god did it” or the person who wants to learn more?

Now for morality. Again, you have the wrong impression of atheists. Of course atheists believe in morality. We just don’t believe morals come from a god. To get a better understanding, watch this video that explains where morality comes from and it will help you understand better. SmartLX gives a brief explanation in this post here when he explains…

Before our ancestors had the capacity to decide on “social norms”, a certain amount of what we call morality had evolved naturally. There are regular articles about apes and monkeys showing a sense of fairness, gratitude, discipline and so forth, in controlled experiments and on their own time. This stuff tends to emerge because it’s beneficial to a group for everyone to be “good” to each other. To put it simply, morality as applied by modern humans has at least a partial evolutionary basis. (Of course, explaining that to very religious people may only antagonise them further.) So that – and simple empathy – is effectively my answer to the question of where morality “came from”. The specifics might be different without our society’s religious history, but the same core principles would still be there.

I hope that answers all of your questions for you. As always, if you have questions about my answer to you, feel free to ask them in the comment section below and I along with a few others, will do our best to answer them for you. Thanks again for the great questions!

4 thoughts on “Knowledge, truth, and morality.”

  1. Hi Ryan, thanks for the inquiry.

    I’m a random American atheist who chimes in on this site probably more than I should. What Erick said was pretty much right on the money. Learning the differences between agnostic/gnostic and theist/atheist took me through a bit of internal conflict as well, so I don’t blame anybody who struggles with understanding those terms. I’m just going to reiterate that most atheists (that I’ve seen) do not claim to know there is no god. They just do not hold a belief that there is one. That stance is known as agnostic atheism, and it is very common. Because you are 100% right that you CANNOT DISPROVE a god unless you yourself have the powers/knowledge of a god. But don’t think that argument brings any merit to the existence of a god, because the same can be said about fairies, miniature winged fire breathing dragons, and not to mention EVERY god ever conceived by man.

    As a disclaimer, my personal stance is gnostic atheism, in that I know there is no Christian god, just like I know there is no Zeus, and I know gravity exists, and I know there are no fairies, and I know the sun will rise tomorrow. This stance has more to do with my own opinion of how futile/silly it is to leave a possibility open to something that is so outside of the bounds of logic, experience, testability, and human knowledge. In other words, to me, admitting that a god is possible would be similar to admitting that there might be a dog that can speak fluent chinese living on mars.

    As for truth, while I do believe that there is an objective factual truth on most matters, I also believe that with the way humans work, truth may as well be counted as subjective when speaking to individuals. For instance, for you the truth is god exists, right? That is your world, and from your personal view of existence, there is a god. For you, god is “the truth”. So even if objectively there is no god, how to break into your own “truth” to make you consider that your truth is actually mistaken is beyond me. This is why atheists and theists rarely make much progress when talking to each other, unless one party is honestly questioning their own truths already, IMO.

    Conversely, I understand that the same can be said about atheists like me, who have the truth of “there is no god” in my head. A theist could struggle to get their views across to me, and get really frustrated because they cannot break me away from my “truth”. Although I argue that the main difference is that I’m not emotionally attached to my truth, and my truth is evidenced by everything I know about the world (not a single thing I have ever learned contradicts the idea “there is no god”). I don’t especially care if I get disproven some day, I’m only interested in knowing what is correct. In other words, I want to align my own personal truths with what the objective truths are as much as possible.

    Well I jumped in because I know (or think) my perspective is odd, and it’s always good to get a diverse sampling when learning about something.

    Have a good one, Ryan.

  2. 1) “Dont you have too be all knowing too claim that their is no such being that is all knowing?”

    Lets turn this around. Wouldn’t you have to be all knowing to claim that there’s a being that’s all knowing? Unless you were all knowing, how would you distinguish an all knowing being from a merely very knowing being? And even if a being thought it was all knowing, what if it just didn’t know that there was something it didn’t know? How could it ever tell?

    Anyway, the real problem with your argument is that it acts as if Christianity is true by default: that if no one can prove it false, that it’s therefore true. However, that’s not how we go about obtaining knowledge. We wouldn’t say that we live in the matrix unless someone can prove that we don’t, or that aliens are spying on us unless someone can prove that they aren’t. Therefore, it’s inconsistent to say that Christianity is true unless someone can prove that it isn’t. What we really base our knowledge on is evidence. We all agree that the natural world exists because we have evidence that it does, so that’s the default position. To believe that something else exists in addition to that requires additional evidence.

    2) “Also if their is no such thing as truth, how do you know thats the truth?”

    No atheist says there’s no such thing as truth.

    3) “i see you guys give lip service on morality but deep down in side you and I both know that it is objectivily wrong too rape a child”

    Why would a God need to exist for something to be objectively wrong?

    1. Sasha, I really liked this logic:

      “We wouldn’t say that we live in the matrix unless someone can prove that we don’t, or that aliens are spying on us unless someone can prove that they aren’t. Therefore, it’s inconsistent to say that Christianity is true unless someone can prove that it isn’t.”

      Even though it’s just a more clever variant of the (you can’t disprove) fairies/unicorns/greek gods argument, how you said it is probabaly more relevant to Christians. I will probably use that again at some point :).

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