The older that I get, the more I realize that nothing can be known for certain. Surely, this is true with relatively unobservable phenomena, such as the existence of God, but it’s also true for other matters that seem “proven” as well, such as the benefits of exercise on physical health. When one looks closely at the evidence behind any claim, it is easy to see that everything is a matter of probability or logic. Some things may be more probable, but they are never completely proven. The law of gravity, even, can only be shown to have worked in the past (not the future). Einstein showed that time doesn’t really exist as we all naturally think. And, even my apparent consciousness right now could be a dream.
For some, this realization can be scary. It is difficult to “rest” when one realizes that one’s resting point is, to some extent, uncertain. Still, individuals must make conclusions and have occasional “stopping points” from which to base thought and action. It seems to me that these points best are based on science and reason (with a full appreciation of the limitations of these ways of knowing).
One of my favorite lines of thought concerning this comes from the Christian psychologist David Myers who once wrote the following:
“As a Christian monotheist, I start with two unproven axioms:
1. There is a God.
2. It’s not me (and it’s also not you).
Together, these axioms imply my surest conviction: That some of my beliefs (and yours) contain error. We are, from dust to dust, finite and fallible. We have dignity but not Deity.
And that is why I further believe that we should:
a) Hold all our unproven beliefs with a certain tentativeness,
b) Assess others’ ideas with open-minded skepticism, and
c) Freely pursue truth aided by observation and experiment.”
On the other hand, Carl Jung said:
“Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart throughout the world.”
In either case, knowledge surely is very fallible. This aligns nicely with something I read tonight from Velvet Elvis, by Rob Bell. I’ll write more on this later, but a couple of quotes caught my attention, particularly given what I noted above.
Rather than being afraid of uncertainty, Bell suggests that uncertainty propels some of the best experiences in life. For example, he writes:
“Questions, no matter how blasphemous or arrogant or ignorant or raw, are rooted in humility. A humility that understands that I am not God. And there is more to know.”
He goes on to suggest that experiences of wonder, awe, and curiosity are some of the best that life has to offer and that we should embrace uncertainty and doubt so as to explore mystery. Or, as Sean Penn said,
“When everything gets answered, it’s fake. The mystery is the truth.”
This touches on a dilemma I’ve long experienced. I place a major priority on being sincere and honest, particularly with myself. However, I experience a great deal of uncertainty and doubt, even about matters that are at the core of my life. Sometimes, I feel hypocritical or “soft” when it comes to discussing such matters. At the same time, though, it doesn’t seem “real” to me to say that I can “know” something with complete confidence when it is so blatantly obvious to me that this is not possible. Bell really is reframing this issue, suggesting that it is better to be genuine in where one is at, particularly in one’s questions, than to try to “fake” the party line. Maybe a sincere life is better.