Faith in God and Knowledge of Jelly Beans

One alert reader had sent me a lovely color coded chart which tries to explain that there are different kinds of atheists- those who claim that God does not exist and those who do not claim that God does not exist. This confused me, because it combines Agnostic and Atheist into a single idea, which, from what I could tell, means a person who doesn’t believe that God exists, but doesn’t claim that it is true that God doesn’t exist. Or maybe they know God doesn’t exist but they don’t claim to believe it.

How can you claim to KNOW something you don’t believe, and how can you believe something you don’t know? To me this is like claiming to be a polygamous bachelor. Putting those words together makes them both meaningless, like Square Circle, because they mean opposing things which cannot be made into one. To me, an agnostic atheist would be someone who’s position on the existence of God would be “I don’t have enough information to know if God exists, but He doesn’t.” Which, now that I think of it, is the position I have been presented with by quite a few people. These are the people who say things like, “I didn’t read your article, so I don’t know what your position is, but here’s why you’re wrong…” I’ve actually gotten than response in the past. I wonder about the person writing that and how they don’t stop and say, “Maybe I should lie and PRETEND I read it…”

The same alert reader who sent me the chart sent me to a video which, he felt, explained how my views of knowledge and belief were incorrect. I had sent him to my blog post- BRAIN FAT AND THE METAPHYSICAL NICKLE where in I define the terms thus:

To Believe is to have confidence/faith in the Truthfulness of information one can recall and understand.

To Know is to be able to recall and understand that which is believed to be true.

The video he sent me to argued that knowledge was a subset of belief, meaning that we believe a lot more things than we would say we know. The example given was that of a jar of jelly beans. The number of beans in the jar is either even or odd. The default position for anyone considering this must be what they called “neutral,” or what I would say as “Undetermined.” You’ve got a 50/50 chance of guessing right but no way of knowing for sure. Thus, the video man said, if you decide the number of jelly beans is even, you have chosen to believe something which you do not know.

You have to admit that it’s pretty clever. And makes you think about eating jelly beans, which is distracting but not unpleasant.

So all day I tried to find time to find the flaw in the reasoning, because having already written such a brilliant article with such a catchy name, I wasn’t ready to let it go. Also, I could hear a logical flaw like a string out of tune, but I couldn’t find it right away. Like I said, it’s clever.

So, what about the Jelly Beans? Picking ‘even’ as your chosen belief about the number of Jelly Beans is not what I am calling BELIEF because it is not having faith in something known. It is you choosing an option which you feel plausible. This is not an actual belief, because its not based on any knowledge, but rather is an arbitrary choice made by comparing statistical likelihoods. You wouldn’t say you BELIEVE the number is even, you would say you believe it MIGHT be. You’ve merely picked a side because you don’t know anything to sway the odds in one direction or the other. When the video man said we believe more than we know, I understand where he is coming from, though I would say “We believe more to be plausible  than we know to be true.” The difference might seem slight, but it is actually fairly important. Where as he is saying, “I can believe the number of Jelly Beans is even or odd arbitrarily, thus I can believe something I don’t know,” he should say say, “I don’t believe the number is even, but I KNOW the number is just as likely to be even as odd, thus I BELIEVE my choice is reasonable as it is just as likely to be true as the other, even though I don’t know the number.” I think you can see why people don’t talk like that though. It would take all day to get anything said.

So, the number of Jelly Beans is Even? Plausible. I don’t BELIEVE it, for I don’t Know enough to have faith that it is true, so on the actual number of Jelly Beans I am Agnostic. But I KNOW my odds of being right are as good as they can be, given my knowledge, thus my arbitrary choice, which I have no faith in, is plausible. But am I putting faith in what I DON’T KNOW? No. I am putting faith in what I DO know. Specifically, I am putting faith in the fact that there is only two possible options, and either one has a 50% chance of being right. I KNOW that much is TRUE, and thus I know that my choice is PLAUSIBLE. I believe it MIGHT be even, not that IT IS even.

The video man was confused as to what was the object of faith. He felt it was the random choice of even over odd, but it was not. It was in my knowledge of math- being that the ONLY TWO OPTIONS are “even” or “Odd” and thus either choice was as good a choice as could be made with my limited information. In this situation I could not be Atheistic toward either choice. Otherwise I would KNOW the correct choice as well, since there are only two. With no knowledge about the number of beans, I can merely be agnostic. If you say the number is odd, I cannot say BUSTED! unless I KNOW the number is in fact even. I can only say, “It’s plausible.”

If a person in your position were to make the statement that they KNOW the number of beans is even, they would be misusing the word KNOW. They would mean that they have chosen to profess that as a fact, but they are stubbornly pretending it is knowledge when it is not. This differs very much from the knowledge they have of other facts, such as the fact that they are seeing a jar with jelly beans in it, or that the number MUST be even or odd. Those facts that can truly say they KNOW, however, with no information about the actual number, they cannot truly say they KNOW the number to be even or odd. Similarly, if I were to ask you if you BELIEVE the jar was full of jelly beans, you would probably look at the jar, trust your sense of sight and the reality of the external world, and say Yes, you believe there is a jar full of beans. Why? Because you know it’s there. You can see it. If I asked you if you BELIEVE that the beans ALL taste like dog food, you would probably say “No. Do you think they do?” And maybe I would say, “No, of course not. They are probably regular fruit flavored jelly beans. NOW do you believe they all taste like dog food?” and again you would say no. With no reason or evidence, you would not believe something like that to be true.

Of course, your bratty little brother (who you mother forced you to bring to the candy store) thinks he’s funny, so he says, “I believe they all taste like dog food.” Against your better judgement you ask him why and he replies, “Because I know that all the jelly beans made this year have been dog food flavored.”And because his lips are moving you know he is lying.

So, here the video man is taking people’s word for it when they say they KNOW things they do not know or believe things which they cannot believe. People say all kinds of crazy things. Especially your little brother. That kid is OUT THERE.

Thus I conclude that my definitions hold, and one cannot KNOW without Believing and one cannot BELIEVE without knowing. One may SAY they believe something they don’t know, but it is not what they actually mean. If you ask them, they will usually admit that. To extend the metaphor, suppose I know the person who owns the jar. They tell me, “I dumped one pound of Jelly Beans into that Jar, and a pound is exactly two hundred beans.” Now I will have more confidence in the choice of Even. If I know this person to be honest, meticulous and possessing a keen eye for details, I will believe him. Thus, if you ask me if I know whether the number of beans in the jar is even, I will say CONFIRMED! Because I know that the Candy man can be trusted, and his word is good.

The take away is simple. This type of internet atheist tries to find loop holes for himself, so that he can claim to be an atheist and make a regular video series explaining why Christians are irrational, and then claim that he himself is rational even though his atheism has no evidence or arguments in its favor. He can BELIEVE there is no God without having any known facts to back it up.  This same guy who made the jar of jelly beans video was once asked by a caller what evidence or arguments he had to support his atheism, and the video man simply laughed and said he didn’t NEED any. He and his co-host them talked about this for several minutes. And it all comes down to trying to given themselves loop holes to avoid rational thought and the burden of proof. In short, they will claim to be Agnostic Atheists because their position is, “I don’t have enough information to know if God exists, but He doesn’t, and you’re irrational if you think He does.” But of course, while they SAY that, and act like it’s true, they don’t REALLY believe it, because they know better. Even your weird little brother knows God is there, no matter what he might say.

About rentafriend2000
Rocking my 40's with a heart full of love and muffins, science and technology. Jesus loves me and wants me to totally rock! And I am here to help.

One Response to Faith in God and Knowledge of Jelly Beans

  1. Pingback: Atheism and the Return of the Metaphysical Nickel | A Bit of Orange

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