Could you be wrong about everything you know?

  • Cards on the table, I am a Christian. I recently asked an atheist this question and his response was curious. So I thought I would ask some other atheists to see if responses vary. So yeah, could you be wrong about everything you know?

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  • It's not so much about being wrong about what I know. As an atheist, it is more about being right about what I don't know. At the end of the day, it is virtually impossible to "know" whether or not there is a "God". The best that we can do is to look at the extant documentation on the matter and make a somewhat informed judgement regarding its veracity.

    Take away the trappings of religion, the pageantry, the mandate to believe - no matter what - I am left with a handful of air. Stale air, at that, When I look at the written history provided in the Bible (and other writings of the Babylonian era) I am struck by the pervasive metaphysical perspective of that day. Therefore, I read-in a superstitious context which causes me to doubt the credibility of the source material. Ever played the game of "telephone"? The story is passed through many well-meaning players who pass on the information accurately to the best of their ability. But, it never fails that, when the story gets around to the other end of the circle, it is markedly different from when it began its journey. That is so with religion. Plain and simple, the cryptic, superstitious tales of religion do not bare out the veracity of its claims.

  • Could I be wrong about everything I know? Yes. Of course. This is what epistemology is all about - trying to answer the question, "How do we know what we know?" The bad news for anyone claiming absolute certainty is that there is no way to prove something absolutely. "It's turtles all the way down, son," as the saying goes.

    Every claim must be supported by a prior claim that is proven to be true. But, working your way down, you find that all the claims ultimately rest on the point of a single, unfounded assertion that is treated as an axiom, like an inverted pyramid. So then you realize that you need another way of judging a belief structure, and most philosophies rely on the coherence and integrity of the belief structure. The more that each claim is networked to other claims, reinforcing each other, then the more likely the belief structure is to be "true."

    The main reason most people don't bother to examine their beliefs is because of what some have called the "previous investment trap." A person has lived their entire life up to that point with a set of beliefs. If they find something that challenges their beliefs, they are likely to reject it, because changing means that they have been wrong all this time, so they feel their life had been a waste. How willing a person is to change their mind is related to how much they value the past. If someone believes that their past gives their life meaning now and in the future, they are unlikely to accept changes to their belief structure that render their past choices and beliefs as wrong. However, if people adopt the ideas that the past does not equal the future and that, no matter how hard you try, you cannot change the past, then they are more likely to accept new ideas.

    Also, if someone can see that the new belief structure can be as safe and supportive as the one they have now, they are also more willing to change.