Thursday 11 February 2016

Why are we afraid to admit we know things?

There seems to be something of strange issue in the sceptic community. Something that raises its head on twitter from time to time. I think it's a by-product of scepticism but I'm not sure it's a good one. 

It's this thing that we can't admit that we know something. 

Tell people, including atheists, you know gods are pretend, and many of them will lose their minds. 

"You can't prove there are no gods any more than a believer can prove there is one" or "How can you possibly know that, it's impossible" "You can't prove a negative"

Fewer people would have an issue if you said you knew Leprechauns were pretend, but I don't see the difference. 

Leprechauns - characters from mythology, never shown to be real, obviously pretend creatures you never hear of besides un-provable stories about the supernatural. 

Gods aren't different, you know. Maybe you might take issue at 'obviously pretend', but if you're an atheist, I don't know why. If you're a theist...well I don't know why either. 

The only difference I can see is that there's are still a lot of people who think gods are real, but that's not reason to think they are.

Gods have everything in common with being made up, and nothing in common with being real. When you ask a theist what characteristic their god has that meet a criteria of existence, they can't answer you. 

It makes me wonder, what are we holding out for? What is keeping us from saying we know gods and goddesses can't, and don't exist? People might say well, you can't know everything. True, but I don't need to know everything to know there's no pink dragon living in my garage. 

I know my name is Donovan. How? Well, because my parents told me and they're the point of truth. Maybe they named me something, but called me something else? Okay, but I've seen my birth certificate. Maybe it's a fake? Yeah, I guess it could be. But at what point do we say it's ridiculous to keep doubting? 

I think we should avoid hyper-scepticism and at some point we have to be okay with 'knowing' something. I'm happy to say, I know my name is Donovan, because the alternative - that it's been a decades long cover up by someone who knew better, is so preposterous that I don't need to give it any credibility at all. 

I've been questioned for saying I know the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. It makes me wonder what's going on in the head of someone who thinks you can't know this. What possible event do they think might happen to make it so the sun doesn't rise in the east tomorrow? A catastrophic explosion? The earth suddenly flipping poles? What are we afraid of? It can't be that we're afraid of being wrong, because you're not going to be wrong. We know we're not going to be wrong. And we know we know we're not going to be wrong! Do you know the sun will rise in the east tomorrow? Yes, you do. Own it.

Keep in mind, knowledge doesn't require absolute certainty. Maybe you can't ever be 'absolutely certain' of something...but I bet you're not going to ever leave a building by a 12th story window just because you can't be 'absolutely certain' you will plummet to the ground. You *know* you'll plummet to the ground. Don't be afraid to say you know it'll happen.

I'm a gnostic atheist to the same extent that I'm a gnostic ALeprechaunist and I'm a gnostic apinkdragonist. Gods and goddesses are creatures of mythology. We know this for a fact. Zeus, Thor, Nike, Jupiter, Ra, Venus, just to name a few, we know these gods aren't real. I've no issue adding Yahweh to the list. Created by superstitious people, when we didn't know about the universe, didn't know how to investigate the universe, let alone that we even could. Gods are only ever invented by primitive people who don't know better. We know better now. I can't understand why any sceptic would give the existence of Yaweh even the slightest credibility. 

What if we remove the names? Not Yaweh, not Thor, not Athena, just 'god'? Does that make the idea any more credible? I don't think so. Gods are made up. They are obvious human constructs, so it comes back to the question - why are we afraid to say we know they're not real? 

The answer is, for some at least, because you suddenly get barked at about how you know! People say you've now made a claim and shove burden of proof at you. It creates a hassle that people don't want to deal with. Can I prove 100% that no gods exist? No. Can I make a case that shows, beyond reasonable doubt, that no gods or goddesses exist, yes, I can. For myself at least. 

Is this enough for me to say I know they don't exist? I think it is. 


  1. Speaking from the atheist position, I don't think you can accuse a believer of not actually 'knowing' without admitting that things are impossible to be 'known'. You can express the point as a matter of probability however, saying that the probability of a god existing is infinitely small and the possibility of life existing after death is even less so.
    This is a matter of epistemology. When arguing with a believe, you can repeatedly question how they 'know' a particular fact and eventually they must concede that they don't know at all, but I think the atheist must also concede that 'life after death' is an unknowable concept though highly unlikely.

    1. Hi Anita. Thanks for the comment.

      I'm not sure I agree, especially with life after death. We know what it's like not being alive. The atoms that make us up are dispersed. We've no mind, not consciousness, no brain. There's nothing that was 'us' that is in any way, shape, or form capable of anything that could be considered 'life' either 'after' or otherwise. We were all not alive for billions of years. We know that the atoms that make us up will become, more or less, what they were before us. We also know there is no such thing as a soul. I think, from that, we can, with full confidence, say that there is no possibility of life after death.

    2. Hi again. I think we need to show caution in things we 'know'. Who would have guessed at the mechanisms of quantum physics, for example? This concept would have been considered beyond all bounds of possibility and yet here it is; fluctuating, quantum particles at the beginning of the universe!

      The probability of any God/goddess claiming responsibility I tiny, as I said. I'm NOT an apologist believe me! I'm simply taking a stand against absolutism. I don't like it when Christian absolutists say they KNOW it's true and I prefer to counter this assertion at the initial premise than play the game by their rules.

    3. Hi again. As I say in the article, knowledge doesn't require absolute certainty. So to say I know something isn't absolutism. I bet you can safely and confidently say you know Minataurs aren't real. If I apply that exact same level of reasoning and that type of thinking to gods and goddesses and can equally confidently say I know gods and goddesses aren't real.

    4. Hi again. As I say in the article, knowledge doesn't require absolute certainty. So to say I know something isn't absolutism. I bet you can safely and confidently say you know Minataurs aren't real. If I apply that exact same level of reasoning and that type of thinking to gods and goddesses and can equally confidently say I know gods and goddesses aren't real.

  2. It's almost tragic when another atheist, perhaps unknowingly, adds leverage to theists' claims of gods existence. I feel that when an atheist says to another atheist: "You can't KNOW a god DOESN'T exist",it comes off as: "theists COULD be right". It's frustrating, that's for sure.

    But honestly, fuck labels like "agnostic atheist" or "gnostic atheist", if you don't believe in god, for many a good reason, there's no need to KNOW one doesn't exist.

    Excellent post!

    1. Hi Christopher. I don't think I've added leverage to their claims one little bit! I'm just arguing from another standpoint. We're ON THE SAME SIDE! I just find the argument more easily made on the grounds of probability than on absolute belief. When we say we KNOW we reduce the argument to a false equivalence, much like climate change deniers. It's not 50/50 in either case.

      I think Mr Oz is 99.9999% right in his description of the decaying body and release of atoms; no evidence of a soul etc,etc! But it think we need to leave a tiny margin for error 'just in case'. I think this technique makes our argument stronger as it points to the flaws in those of believers.

    2. "Just in case" of what... that theists COULD be right? Because that's what "just in case" comes off to me as. If an adult told you they believed that there are monsters under their bed that can only be held at bay by purple coloured night lights, would you be willing to tell them that you don't believe in monsters but you also don't know that they don't exist and that you're 99.9999% sure that they don't, but because of a 0.00001% margin of error, it's reasonable to just let the adult have their purple coloured night light that they also believe you should use at night because you just can't "know"something doesn't exist?

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    1. Hi Alex. I'm more than twice as old as your estimate. Yes, I do know there's no god.

  4. Surprising. . . And even more surprising.

    1. Why is it surprising? Because I've got a different perspective to you? It's a diverse world. I'm sure you wouldn't be afraid to say you know Minotaurs aren't real. Gods and goddesses shouldn't raise any more surprise than that.