More Ambiguity On Belief

Dec 23, 2011 1 Comment by

A while ago, there was an article on this website called The Dangers Of The Word Belief. In the article, it was noted that the word “belief” is inconveniently ambiguous because in common speech it ascribes to a different meaning to in religious debate. But there is another obstacle which much be traversed to deal with this word. So often, if not all the time, the preposition that accompanies the word “belief”, is “in”, such as “to believe in god”. This phrase is one we know very well and completely comprehend its meaning when in conversation, but when extrapolated to other questions or statements, it makes very little sense.

The best example of this is in the video that has become very popular on YouTube called Atheist Bitch-slap, which is a segment from the UK show Big Questions in which Kate Smurthwaite, who hopes to be known as a comedian rather than an atheist, called anyone who believes something is true without evidence an idiot. Her statement didn’t go down well with the audience in the studio, but it seems that the audience there must have been largely religious, as those of the internet have taken to it like wildfire. Though the response during the show is possibly more interesting than the comment itself. At one point, one of the guest panellists asked Smurthwaite, spoken in heavily condescending tones, whether she “believes in money”. Needless to say, Kate Smurthwaite, as any rational person would, did not immediately comprehend the question. Does this questioner mean to ask “Do you believe money exists?”, in which case the answer is yes as much as anything else in the universe exists. Even when watching the video, I’m not sure anyone can quite tell what the man really means.

Another excellent example is from The Atheist Experience, where a caller asks if the presenters “believe in other people”. Again, does this mean to believe that other people exist, in which the answer is the same as before. In this particular video, what the caller is trying to ask is completely indiscernible.

If we now turn our attentions back to the original phrase that did make sense, “believe in god”, it would seem to be a combination of both of the two possible interpretations: “to believe that god exists” and “to trust god with something”. Hence this phrase “believe in” really can’t be extended to other questions and sentiments.

Articles, Philosophy, Religions and other Belief Systems, Statements and Analysis, Uncategorized

About the author

I am the founder of Atheism Network.

One Response to “More Ambiguity On Belief”

  1. Gary Berg-Cross (@garybcross) says:

    Beliefs are part of an intelligent beings cognitive life. They may be based firmly on evidence, loosely or just on faith. When people argue that we are heading towards serious problem in climate change some see it as based on evidence and some say it is just an unsubstantiated belief. But u’s not a matter of blind faith. Like evolutionary theory it is an increasingly supported hypothesis based on a commensurate body of evidence. “Plants earlier bloom times hurting some creatures” reads the title of a recent Washington Post article by Brigid Schulte. See The story goes on to describe field botanists’ surprise that some flowers like “Dutchman’s breeches” and cut-leaved toothwort are blooming 2 weeks early. The culprit is consistent with a global warming hypothesis:

    “Bloom hunters like Fleming, who for 40 years have been tramping through the woods, roaming along riverbanks and scrambling over rocky outcrops to document the first blooms of spring in the Washington area, worry that what they have been seeing is nothing less than the slow, inexorable shift of global warming.”

    Arguments about religious don’t display this type of evidence.