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What is belief?

(45 Posts)
DioneTheDiabolist Sat 18-Jan-14 01:57:23

Just that. What is belief? What does belief mean to you?

niminypiminy Sat 18-Jan-14 09:04:53

Belief is trust: like Indiana Jones stepping out over the chasm in The Temple of Doom, and finding that a bridge forms under his feet.

Belief is living in the light of that trust, and being free because you are held up by the bridge.

I also like CS Lewis's statement that 'I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen; not just because I see it, but because I see everything else by it.'

technodad Sat 18-Jan-14 09:49:10

Belief is the act of thinking something is true, despite the existence of overwhelming evidence that supports that something else is extremely likely to be the case.

niminypiminy Sat 18-Jan-14 09:59:55

(I suppose that goes for your own most cherished beliefs, eh, TD?)

technodad Sat 18-Jan-14 10:18:42

I don't have any beliefs.

I change my understanding of the world as the current best evidence changes.

I honesty don't understand how, after all of out conversations, you think I have a belief system confused

MostlyLovingLurchers Sat 18-Jan-14 11:08:08

I think belief is to perceive something to be true that has no verifiable evidence, not necessarily to maintain a belief in something in the face of evidence to the contrary.

For me (short answer), my beliefs are not fixed beyond one core idea (and even that i am open to changing in the light of new evidence), and are free to change and evolve as i grow and learn.

technodad Sat 18-Jan-14 12:23:49

I don't believe the words is 4.3 billion years old. My position is that the current best evidence indicates that the world is 4.3 billion years old and I will hold that as the best theory, until such time that a better theory with better supporting evidence is presented.

DioneTheDiabolist Sat 18-Jan-14 12:39:54

Techno I think you are confusing belief with knowledge. The two are not not the same, nor are they mutually exclusive.

BackOnlyBriefly Sat 18-Jan-14 12:49:37

I love Indiana Jones and now you've made me want to watch it again, but unless he had evidence it was there (I forget the details now) that was wishful thinking wasn't it. If he did have evidence then it wasn't really belief.

So sometimes belief is hoping something is true when you have no real reason to think so.

Like TD, I've always said I have no beliefs. I just have probabilities based on knowledge.

headinhands Sat 18-Jan-14 15:34:13

I seem to remember that IJ threw some pepples where he thought it was but that might have been after the first step. As for someone earlier likening that to the Christian faith, I don't see the analogy. I assume you eat an drink and play bills. It's not as if there's any obvious supernatural stuff going on 'look, that Christian is walking on thin air' etc.

headinhands Sat 18-Jan-14 15:41:19

When I say peoples I mean pebbles!

crescentmoon Sat 18-Jan-14 15:45:20

i understood that cs lewis quote as meaning 'seeing through the prism of belief (in christianity)? or that the belief helps make things clear that you couldnt see before? the sun enlighten's/belief enlightens?

(totally off topic but i watched the lion witch and wardrobe and the chronicles of narnia recently niminy. im always hearing about the christian connections of the story. is Aslan supposed to be Jesus?)

DioneTheDiabolist Sat 18-Jan-14 16:49:09

I think some posters here are equating belief with religion. I would just like to point out that while some belief is religious, not all beliefs are religious.

technodad Sat 18-Jan-14 17:03:14

Of course

I believe I am funny, but I can't prove it. I have evidence that substantiates by belief, but I don't for KNOW for definite that I am actually funny.

Regarding your comment that I am confusing belief with knowledge, I am not sure I am. We can never KNOW anything for sure. I am pretty sure I am alive, but I might be part of a computer program like in the film the Matrix. I can't prove that I am not. However, all the evidence I have points towards it being likely that I am alive and real.

specialsubject Sat 18-Jan-14 17:08:53

belief is for things where there is no evidence. Also, I suppose, for things where there is evidence - I believe that if I drop this laptop, it won't hit the ceiling...

madhairday Sat 18-Jan-14 17:17:01

crescent - CS Lewis was a Christian and yes Aslan has many parallels with Jesus, the whole Narnia series from start to finish was written in such a way as to be comparable to the Christian faith and the bible, although I think Lewis himself said that is was meant to be great fiction with some truth behind it.

It's an interesting question, Dione . Is belief the same as faith? I like the definition of faith as given in the book of Hebrews - faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen - but is belief somehow more objective than that? Faith is more the 'leap into the unknown', but belief is possibly more something known - something you decide upon because you believe the evidence for it is enough to form the belief, or your experience bears it out.

Believing without evidence or experience may still be called a belief, of course. My DS believed in Santa Claus up until last year when he grew out of it <sob> - his belief, I suppose, was based upon what he was told, and he suspended his disbelief up to a certain point for a few years when he realized that it probably couldn't be true.

But for me belief is more substantial - more based in reality. You may say that is my reality, just as Santa is many children's reality. Where is the difference? For me it is that my belief has been rigorously tested, bended, challenged, stormed against, by others and by myself, and I still believe. Therefore, for me, faith is indeed the substance of things hoped for, and belief is the substance of things I know through experience and study.

DioneTheDiabolist Sat 18-Jan-14 18:09:38

Techno evidence is knowledge (eg. I know people laugh at my jokes). Unless you think that all is belief?confused

technodad Sat 18-Jan-14 18:13:33


You know people laugh at your jokes, but you don't know you are funny. They might be good at pretending, or maybe they are laughing at you, not with you.

DioneTheDiabolist Sat 18-Jan-14 18:44:30

That is what I'm getting at Techno. Upthread I said that you were confusing belief with knowledge. Evidence is knowledge. You know that people laugh at your jokes, this evidence contributes to your belief that you are funny. Of course, their laughter may mean something different.

This discussion is about belief. What is it and what does it mean to you?

MostlyLovingLurchers Sat 18-Jan-14 20:47:26

I think belief as simply an assertion that something is true. Faith requires belief but also a bit more - a confidence or trust in the thing believed in. What niminy described earlier for example i would say is a description of faith.

PedroYoniLikesCrisps Sat 18-Jan-14 21:44:18


1. an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof.

2. something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion.

PedroYoniLikesCrisps Sat 18-Jan-14 21:47:39

But clearly the OP is suggesting a discussion on religious belief. Which is faith without evidence. Faith without question.

DioneTheDiabolist Sat 18-Jan-14 22:04:25

Pedro, on the contrary, I am suggesting a discussion about belief, what it is and what it means to the individual. Not all beliefs are religious, some are political, some are very general such as optimism/pessimism. Some are woo. Some are simply personal.

Take Techno's belief that he is funny. The impact of such a belief may be that he is more confident in company when he has a joke to break the ice.

I find the prism analogy interesting.

niminypiminy Sat 18-Jan-14 22:50:11

I think I understood you wrongly, Dione, and perhaps that got the discussion going in the wrong direction.

I think there are several ways of approaching this question, because in fact the word believe is used in several different ways. Colloquially, it's quite often used as a synonym for 'I think' -- as in, 'He should be here in five minutes, I believe he was getting the 10.30 train.' And by the same token it is often used as a synonym for "I am of the opinion that", as in "it's my belief that if Gordon Brown had called an election in the autumn of 2009, he would have won it".

Neither of these very common usages have much relation to the definitions cited by Pedro and Technodad, in which 'believe' carries a lot of epistemological weight -- and their definitions are phrased to make any belief inherently fallacious because, by definition, a belief lacks evidence.

However, specialsubject's example is an interesting one: "I believe that if I drop this laptop, it won't hit the ceiling", because this, for specialsubject is an example of a belief where there is evidence. Except that there isn't -- as Hume showed as long ago as the eighteenth century, we cannot take past occurrences as evidence of future recurrences of the same phenomena. Just because the laptop hit the floor there is no certainty that it will not float up to the ceiling next time, because there may be larger patterns at work of which we are unaware. Nevertheless, we normally assume that past experiences do predict future phenomena, and this is, in Pedro and Technodad's sense, a "belief": an acceptance that something is true without verifiable evidence. In that sense we all have beliefs about the world around us -- even those people who think they do not have any beliefs.

Just to clarify two points from my post. The first is that the Indiana Jones invisible bridge was an analogy not of my own supernatural powers (which I don't have), but of the way that belief in God means I trust what I cannot see. I do walk over the bridge (just as I eat and drink and pay bills) in the sense that I depend upon God.

And the quote from Lewis, I understand not as meaning that Christianity is a prism, but that it is the medium through which Lewis sees everything. Another way of putting it is the wonderful line from Psalm 36: In you is the fountain of life; by your light we see light.' God is prior to and outside of the cosmos, and only by his light (or through his existence) can we know anything of the cosmos. But that's a bit of a tangent to this discussion.

DioneTheDiabolist Sat 18-Jan-14 23:12:43

Thanks for your response

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