Blog 5: Why Believing isn’t Knowing

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If you’re a believer and not a knower, your lack of knowing ought to be acknowledged publicly, whenever you place your beliefs on public display.

Do you know which you are?  Knower or believer?  It varies of course, with the proposition encountered.  Is your favored proposition, one with a basis in verifiable knowledge?  Or instead, do you assert it as reality although it can be defended by little more than belief?

It’s crucial.  For all of us.  Confusion between when we know and when we don’t, stokes debilitating fires of culture warfare.  It’s warfare based too often upon false realities, conspiracy theories, disinformation campaigns and so much more.  Too often its warfare that rushes into combat on cable TV or the Internet, certitude-confidant about how the world works, but with a basis in little more than belief.

Bleak?  How bleak is America amid the culture wars?  If you enjoy Dave Berry’s political humor, check out his culture war-laced 2019 Year in Review.

Utah is a place of long-standing culture warfare, amped by rampant misconceptions surrounding believing versus knowing.  In sum, if you advocate for a proposition that can’t be invalidated by objective inquiry, then your assertion is not knowledge-based, but belief-based instead.

In Utah’s ubiquitous Mormon testimony meetings, adherents attest among other things, the Book of Mormon to be “true” in its claims; to be the written word of God.  Such claims are belief-based and not knowledge-based however.  Philosopher of science Karl Popper explains:

Propositions claiming the status of public knowledge must be evidence-based and therefore refutable.  They must be innately capable of being overridden by impartial inquiry.  If adherence to a particular belief system is required as a precondition for the proposition’s embrace, then it’s one of belief and belief alone.

There’s a tolerance aspect to Popper’s rule.  When belief claims collide, their sponsors should reflect on this.  As believers rather than knowers, wisdom ought to pull us in the direction of tolerance for competing belief claims and their advocates, whether beliefs are aired on the Internet, on cable news or in civic-oriented debates at City Hall.

In Utah and elsewhere, there’s a corollary for Mormon missionaries; for anyone engaged in proselytizing.  When one confidently approaches someone’s door, one’s message ought to be delivered heartfully and mindfully this way.  Ready?

The belief system of the person on the other side of the door isn’t any less “true” than one’s own.

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