Defining Terms of Belief Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Defining Terms of Belief

6 Conversations

Defining Terms of Belief
A Critique of Belief | Neurotheology - is God in our Heads?
The Evolutionary Advantages of Faith | The Biological Basis of Belief
Why do we have Beliefs? | Why are Beliefs held so Dearly? | The Stages of Belief
The Contradictions of Atheistic Assumption in the Social Sciences | Science as Religion
Joining and Leaving a Minority Religion
Why Someone Might Choose Neo-Paganism Over Mainstream Religion
On Medieval Heresy | The Perceived Dichotomy Between Sexuality and Spirituality
Religion as a Tool for Social Control

This series of entries looks at beliefs and asks a lot of awkward questions. The answers vary from the deeply personal, via the informal, to the academic. Although the authors' own beliefs don't quite manage to encompass the full gamut, from Atheist to Zoroastrian, there are entries here written from a wide range of perspectives. The different approaches and tones of voice mean that there are questions, and possibly answers, for everyone somewhere in this project.


We demand rigidly-defined areas of doubt and uncertainty! - Douglas Adams

A miscellany of definitions based on and around belief, doubt, faith, knowledge and certainty.


Belief means that one or more persons accept a statement as being true or correct. It doesn't make that fact true or correct, though. Thus 'I believe that God exists' is indisputable, whereas 'God exists' is open to question.


To doubt is to question something; doubt is uncertainty. Doubt is the natural state of a human being.


Faith is a concept more intimately associated with religion than belief. Faith is normally used to mean belief in something for which there is little or no factual evidence, one way or the other.


Knowledge is just a collection of facts. Individually, they are of little consequence. When you plant facts in a coherent framework, you sow the seeds of understanding....


Certainty describes a state - unattainable in reality - whereby something is known with complete precision, with no possibility of error. Some humans actually believe they have entered this state of intellectual nirvana. A dangerous illusion.


Truth is a quality of things which can be shown to be correct. We will go no further than this, as the philosophy of truth is a long and arduous path to follow. A simple approach is more use to us here.


Subjectivity is a quality given to facts by the person who has claimed they are true. 'This is a rubbish Guide Entry' is a subjective statement. 'This Guide Entry was submitted in GuideML format' is not subjective. Belief is subjective wherever it depends for its truth on those who believe (whatever it is).

Dissecting belief

Belief can be divided into what is believed, and the act of belief itself. Even in the latter, there is little mystery. To say 'I believe X', is to mean 'I choose to accept that X is true and correct.' There may or may not be good reasons for this choice, and these reasons may or may not be verifiably true or false.

Belief is necessary for humans, who are not blessed with objective perception or omniscience: there are so many things we don't know. In order to get on with our lives, we choose to accept some things, and reject others. This is a practical application of belief.

Belief is a very human act, often brought about by practical necessity. The more unusual aspects of belief are those things we choose to believe (or disbelieve). These - such as the existence of God - can lead to long, involved and inconclusive discussions that are not directly related to belief.

As first we ask 'What?', so then we ask 'Why?' - the next Entry gives one Researcher's answer to the question Why do we have Beliefs?

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:

Written by

Edited by

h2g2 Editors

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more