Knowledge, faith and belief
A real challenge with any religion comes when people ask, 'Why do you believe?' The answer is not often very easy to give as an undeniable 'truth', but that's because there is a difference between religious belief and other beliefs.
People talk about truth in five different ways.
This is the sort of truth that we can find in pictures, novels or films. We are not saying that what we are looking at, reading or watching is actually true. However, we might say that it is 'true to life'. By this we mean that it is believable - it could happen - although it is not actually true itself.
This is quite straightforward. We can say that we 'know' that something happened in the past even though we were not there and did not see it for ourselves. We know that it happened because we have seen evidence, such as archaeological or films or documents, and from this evidence we can know that certain things happened.
When we talk about moral truth we mean that we 'know' that something is right or wrong. This is almost like an instinct. We know that it is wrong to steal or to kill people. We may also know that we will be punished in some way if we do this but we are saying that we know within ourselves that this is wrong anyway. This sort of truth is linked with the moral argument for the existence of God.
Scientists can only say that something is true if they can prove it by experiment; they have to be able to show that each time they conduct the experiment the same thing happens. When the same result is obtained from an experiment that is repeated over and over again, this is known as empirical evidence and is the basis of scientific truth.
This is the sort of truth which we find in religion. This sort of truth deals with faith and belief. People may say that they 'know' God but they cannot prove it in a scientific way and, unlike some of the other sorts of truth, it is very difficult to persuade other people if they are sceptical or do not believe themselves.
People who follow a particular religion may say that by doing so they are discovering the 'real truth' about life and about God. This definition of truth is linked with the argument from experience.
One of the problems is that often people from different religions claim that they have ‘the truth’ and that other people do not. This is a difficult situation because it may be almost impossible to convince other people that you are right.
People who do not believe in God at all are called 'atheists'. People who believe it is not possible to know whether something is true are often called 'agnostics'.
In an examination you may be asked:
A weak answer to this question will probably be something like:
Religious people say that they believe in God because it makes them feel better to think that there is a God looking after them. They also do it so that they can go to church and meet other people like themselves and this makes them feel happy.
An answer like this is not going to get very many marks in an examination.
A much better answer might say:
When people say they believe in God they are talking about spiritual truth. They have faith that God exists and looks after them according to the teaching of their religion. These people cannot know that God exists in the way that a scientist knows that if you heat water eventually it will boil. This belief might be based on one of the arguments for the existence of God. In particular it might depend on the experience of God which the individual believer feels that they have had.