Sunday, January 26, 2014

“Uncertainty Principle”

I was thinking a bit more about the comment that I made in my last post about being uncertain.  This idea is often misconstrued as a position of weakness.  I’m not writing to defend myself as much as to defend the position of uncertainty, so that others can find comfort there without a feeling of guilt.

If you take Christianity seriously, then you will have to live consistently with its basic tenets.  One of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian narrative is that God created the universe and all within as perfect.  Then, through the fall, sin entered and corrupted, but didn't destroy or render it glory-less.  If we are in this imperfect state then all of our facilities are also inferior, including our ability to know or use logic perfectly.

The Catholic Scholastics, from my understanding, diverged from other branches of Christianity at this point. Based on the teachings of Aristotle they considered the reason of the mind as still in its perfect, God-given state.  Therefore, they reasoned (pun intended) that it was not only possible to think your way to absolute knowledge of God and the Christian doctrines, but it was required.  Many of the arguments of the proof of God came out of this movement.

I remember an elder at my old church saying several times that once he became a Christian, he never doubted for one second--over the subsequent 50 years--that not only God was there, not only the Bible true but the doctrines of his particular denomination were correct.  I remember this man’s “faith” being held up as the ideal.  I too sought that kind of faith, but if I speak candidly, never realized it.  Sure, there were times that I claimed to have this unwavering faith . . . but at the very same time I would be awakening in the middle of the night and wonder if God was really there after all, especially after a bad day.

However, I came to realize that it is totally consistent with good Christian ideals if we never have total resolution of doubt.  Doubt is not the arrows of Satan as some would envision it.  But doubt is the Siamese twin to logic, God-given logic.  You can’t search for truth unless you have some doubt about the position you are standing in.  You can never find truth if you don’t search for it and the searching is prodded along by doubt.

So, the problem with the evangelical type of faith is that, like the forementioned elder, if they were born in Marrakesh, they would be 100% sure that the Islamic narrative was true, and if they had been born in Salt Lake City, they would be 100% sure the Mormon concept of history was the true one.

So, uncertainty isn't that wishy-washy place that many see as John Bunyon’s “Doubter’s Castle.”  When we have intellectual integrity we eventually arrive at this place of uncertainty and there is no place else to really stand with integrity.

But this uncertainty isn't a mutual place resting in the center of a circle with equal distance to theism, atheism, pantheism and animism, all which rest on the rim. You can have relative certainty, where one position dominates.  I am a Christian and I have great confidence in that.  Can my mind consider the remote possibility of a universe that sprang out of nothing and produced the reality that we know?  I find it absurd, but not unthinkable. The moment I consider it as impossible even to consider, then at that juncture I cease to become a man and I become a machine.

I will close this thought with one last comment and that is I consider the atheists as the worst at this.  They, dogmatically, cannot allow themselves to even consider the possibility of a personal origins to the universe. It becomes philosophical and sociological for them and it is not a function of higher intelligence or better logic. It is the same force that makes a middle school girl use the term “amazing” so much or a boy playing sports.  It has to do with social acceptance and in many “free thinking” intellectual circles it is (unwritten) forbidden to consider that God may be there, and if he is there, he must be a name for the mysteries in the universe like Carly Sagan alluded to.

So the problem with habitual doubters is that they are searching for a position of certainty, thinking that anything less than that is not just inferior but evil. When no human can honestly reach the point of certainty they resort to one of two options. They either throw up their hands in despair, in a Descartian way saying it is impossible to know anything . . . or they do what most evangelicals do.  Most evangelicals believe that faith (vs doubt) is a spiritual exercise (which really means emotional).  So they just close their eyes at this point, lift their hands into the air and just “believe.”  They say things like, “I know that God is in my heart and that settles it!”  They feel very proud about this exercise in mental laziness. What they are really doing is giving up the intellectual part of their being that God has given and meant to be our guide.  Any belief system on the earth is capable of doing the same, closing your eyes and closing your mind and just believing that particular belief system is true (even it is alien abductions) because you know it is true in your heart.

But God smiles on the doubter because the doubter is the thinker, the one who wrestles with God, rather than he who slumbers in the haystack.


Trevor Morgan said...

You can’t search for truth unless you have some doubt about the position you are standing in.

This is an excellent point. It may seem paradoxical, but it really helped me to realise that being a lover of truth *required* embracing doubt.

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