Knowledge and Belief
What is difference between what you know and what you believe? If your answer is “Nothing!” I congratulate you on your faith. You can stop reading now. However, if you sense that there may be a qualitative difference between the two, please read on for one possible explanation...
Knowledge and belief are similar in that they are both forms of information we use to relate to the world. Often the difference is that knowledge exists in the Seen World and belief in the Unseen World. There are many types of knowledge and belief, but we will look at scientific knowledge and religious belief as examples of these two types of information.
Scientific knowledge is often held up as the finest kind of knowledge we have because of its usefulness, reproducibility and predicative ability. We use it to manipulate materials and processes in the Seen World. We use this knowledge to make bombs or build cathedrals, to manipulate DNA or program a computer.
Within the sciences, chemistry, biology, physics and so on, most professionals have a body of information that they largely agree upon. For example: the elements have periodic properties, AGCT are the main bases of DNA, and E=mc2. Basic scientific knowledge is applied by engineers who also have agreed upon core bodies of knowledge. Two circuit boards may vary in design and function but both use the same principles and similar components.
However, the accepted core of scientific knowledge does not represent truth. It merely represents the best explanations we currently have. Knowledge is constantly evolving as people work to expand and refine it. They test bold new theories and hypotheses and refine old ones. Because it is only an approximation of truth, all scientific knowledge does share one property. That is one way to recognize scientific knowledge: it must be able to be proven false. That is how new information replaces the old – by proving it is a more fitting explanation. Knowledge can also be reinforced as valid when new tests are unable to prove it false.
Most beliefs, on the other hand, can never be definitively proven false. Belief in a particular God, or beliefs in the innate goodness, or evil, of man are concepts that can be tested time and again and always there is room for truth and falsity alike. Different people can hold contradictory beliefs and neither one can prove the other is wrong. This is because in the Unseen World all possibilities exist.
Religious and spiritual beliefs in particular have many highly developed systems, often rivaling science in complexity. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, ridden by the Lwa or possessed by Satan. Spirits of the dead exist in various Heavens, Hells and Summerland too. We are ruled by angry Gods, kind Gods, or indifferent Gods - or we rule them. The range of human belief is overwhelming in its vastness.
What is the purpose of all of this? We especially tend to use belief in the face of uncertainty when our knowledge is inadequate. We see death and want to know what lies beyond. Or perhaps chance steps into our life and delivers a painful blow. We see or feel the suffering and want to know why it exists and how to relieve it. We feel there must be a purpose to our existence, but what could it be? Beliefs can answer all of these questions and more. Not only that, each of these questions can be answered in thousands of ways. Not one of them is false and all can be respected.
So, one way to discern the difference between knowledge and belief is to ask these questions – how can this be tested and proven false? How can it be improved? It is very important to be able to tell the difference because many people will label their beliefs as knowledge, and that is not only untrue, it can be dangerous. Making ridiculous claims and passing them off as ancient/secret/hidden knowledge is especially prevalent in the occult world. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but if the “Yaqui way of knowledge” was actually real knowledge we would all be brujos by now. Some people, however, may certainly use the Yaqui system of belief to their own satisfaction and that is to be respected. If the ancient knowledge of the adept must be practiced only a certain way and can’t be tested and improved upon it’s likely belief rather than knowledge.
This is not a suggestion to abandon all belief; because belief helps us understand the Unseen World and help us function there. Rather, this is a message of hope and freedom. Belief can be accepted or rejected without fear or penalty, without karmic retribution or fiery damnation. You are free to choose your own beliefs and to change them as it serves your needs.
All of this, of course, begs the further question: what is true and how shall we know the truth? It may be that there is a continuum that stretches from wild belief to mathematical certainty and most of the information we have is somewhere in between. Information can move along that continuum in either direction as our experience deepens. Beliefs can become knowledge only to later be modified or abandoned. It is natural and fitting that we change our beliefs and our knowledge as we grow. Truth may be absolute, but our knowledge of it seems to be relative.
This week’s message in a nutshell is: learn to tell the difference between knowledge and belief. Do not be afraid to believe, or to test your beliefs or even to abandon your beliefs. But then find new beliefs, because belief will help you navigate the Unseen World and deal with uncertainty. To reject knowledge is unwise, but to accept belief that does not serve your purpose is just as bad. And to mistake belief for knowledge is even worse. Reverend Jim
Good Luck Always,