Is ‘Not Knowing’ the same as ‘Not Believing’?

Yesterday I had a brief Twitter discussion with @facepalm333. The topic? Are you born an atheist? The statement arose ‘is not knowing the same as not believing?’ This stumped me for it is a very good question.

Having recently read The God Delusion and watching television series such as Root of all evil it is made clear that children should not be labelled a Christian child, a Muslim child and so on. We wouldn’t label children as liberal children, socialist children or conservative children, but why for religion? But are we born atheist, and specifically atheist?

We are all born with a lack of knowledge (except for the extreme basics like how to breath) but are we also born with or without any beliefs? We’re born not knowing (or believing) in the existence of a God but does that count as being born an atheist? It’s a blurry line I think. I would argue we are not born atheist because I feel that we need to be able to make a conscious decision about it, having looked at evidence. Yet defines an atheist as ‘a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supremebeing or beings’. Now to deny we need to make a conscious decision, but is that so for the disbelief statement. If we’re born with no beliefs do we disbelieve?

I think this is quite a difficult question to answer, and with my lack of expertise I cannot offer an answer. I open the floor to debate…

Oh and Happy New Year to you all by the way!

5 comments on “Is ‘Not Knowing’ the same as ‘Not Believing’?

  1. I think that’s a really good point. Unless you can make a conscious decision based on knowledge you have gained you simply know not. You are not born atheist, christian, buddhist, muslin, sikh, hindu, scientologist because you don’t KNOW about it.

    I stopped believing in god at 8 when my gran died, i asked for her back, he never did what i asked even though i was taught he loved me…..that was it, the end of god.

    I didn’t label myself then though. When i was a teenager i chose paganism as i needed “something” after realising my mortality! …..but after 2 years exploring the rituals i realised it was the same as any other set of beliefs despite “witchcraft” saying it had no dogmas, it did – i then realised i had no belief set, and at that point felt more free than at any other time of my life!

    in order to ‘choose’ the label atheist, i armed myself with knowledge. sought out information and absorbed myself in it, as a child you pretty much believe what your parents tell you (mine were christian) i didn’t consider myself a christian, but THEY probably did

    as i type this i’m realising what a blurry line that really is!!!

    great article ! :) and i’m sorry my response doesn’t add much to it! :)


    • Matt says:

      Hey, as long as we’re generating thought and debate it’s all good.
      I can agree with NotAScientist’s comment too in that we are born atheist but that doesn’t mean you are an atheist, if you get that?

      It is a very tetchy line and I can see both sides. Is one right, perhaps not? Very interesting though.

  2. First of all, I think if someone brings this point up, it’s more about trying to say that a child is not born with some innate knowledge of a god or the supernatural. At least that’s how it looks to me.

    Now, to the question. It depends on how you play around the definition.

    Technically, you could define a stone as an atheist. Because, being very literal, a stone does not believe in a god or gods. It does not believe anything, of course, nor does it possess the ability to believe or think or know, as far as we can tell. But being strict with the definition, both stones and babies are atheists.

    Of course, being an atheist does not mean one is an atheist for a good reason. And it also doesn’t mean you identify yourself as an atheist, or with a group that calls itself atheist.

    If any of that makes sense.

    • Matt says:

      It does make sense but perhaps atheist isn’t the right term. I guess it depends on how it’s defined and which dictionary you look at. I agree with what you say though ‘being an atheist does not mean you are an atheist’.

      I will ponder over the matter further and scratch my head some more!

      • “perhaps atheist isn’t the right term. ”

        I think it is. I just think many people use it incorrectly. Or they insert a lot of baggage onto it.

        “‘being an atheist does not mean you are an atheist’.”

        For example, many types of Buddhists are atheists. They don’t believe in any god or gods, so by definition they are atheists. But they would never call themselves that or identify with that term. But they’re still atheists.

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