CERTAINTY: without a doubt


There is little in life about which one can be absolutely certain.  Except, maybe, that one day each of us will die.   In spite of cryogenics (the freezing of the body in expectation that it will be restored to life) I don’t know of any sane person who believes that (she) will avoid death.

But as for the other things about which some people are certain beyond doubt…I have to admit to being a skeptic.  Even in religious circles, when we state our “firm” believe that something is true  it requires some degree of clarification as to what we mean by “true.” That is not to waffle; it is simply a well-known understanding that even the firmest of beliefs is tempered by language, culture and tradition.  That doesn’t mean that something isn’t “true.”  It simply says that truth is dependent upon a common understanding, and that is often difficult to determine.

Scientists will tell you that maxims which are commonly accepted as certain are only so until proven less than certain by new evidence.   Poor Pluto thought she was a planet until recent scholarship indicated that she wasn’t.   It doesn’t diminish the significance of the existence of Pluto; it just changes her category.  And then…only if you accept the recent scholarship.

Certainty in social issues is troubling.   So much which was once understood to be “certain” has come under scrutiny in recent years and shown to be flawed.   Much of what we understand to be issues of race and gender have undergone huge transitions.   Economic “truths”  and the way they affect society have become increasingly different from times before global economics became a reality. Text books of a decade ago are questionable.

When a deeply religious person speaks with certainty about spiritual law and known “truths” about God and God’s world I shudder a little.  There are so many varying positions from which to speak about faith and the faith community.   What was once taught to be flawless (as in The Bible) is now understood to be more of a guide than a rule book.   (At least by those who are not literalists.)  It’s “truth” is not missing.  Rather, the meaning of “truth” and its application to life is a topic of consideration by thinking people of faith.

Certainty calls for the drawing of a line in the sand, over which one cannot step without being judged as “abandoning” truth.  There is something to be said for “confidence” and “trust.”  They are factors which provide strength and some degree of security.

But certainty based upon an unwillingness to acknowledge doubt and inquiry is fragile.

If you would be a real seeker after truth it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.
-Rene Descartes


Illustration Credit:  cryhavoc.org

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