Wednesday, November 01, 2006

How Certain is Certainty?

Merry the Day After Halloween - it's like Boxing Day for candy and you can get pumpkins for nearly free. I dressed up as a kissing booth.......Anyhow, following is an article from a friend who has moved to the UK this year for school. He is also in the process of writing a book on the subject of truth; he would like some of your response to this thought. Enjoy!

It seems like one of Christianity’s favourite topics these days is truth. On a blog such as this, the topic needs little introduction. And so, I’ll skip the introduction.

Whatever you believe truth is, whether you believe in absolute truth or not, there is a deeper question, which is the inevitable product of all of these questions. Should we be certain?

–noun, plural -ties.
1.the state of being certain.
2.something certain; an assured fact.
3.for or of a certainty, certainly; without a doubt: I suspect it, but I don't know it for a certainty.

It has been my experience that most of our questions about truth are actually just a form of this question of certainty. Those who believe in absolute truth are just more certain of ideas. A wise man once said to me, “the only certain thing in the world is that only crazy people are certain.” Is that just a statement of relative truth? Or is it wisdom stemming from a realization of the limits of the human brain?

If in fact it is wrong to be certain of something because we are human, where does that place us in relation to God? Belief is a function of the human brain, and I believe that this function is no different no matter what its target is. Thus, if certainty is not a positive modifier of the function belief, certainty in God cannot be a good thing.

I also believe that faith and trust are synonymous, and that faith has nothing to do with belief unless you are trusting in someone who told you to believe something. I do not see faith as a reason to be certain of God’s existence.

The problem with certainty is that we are always capable of being incorrect. Certainty is what stops us from seeing when we are correct. I once knew a Christian who was so certain that God created the world in six days that she said “I wouldn’t believe in evolution even if you proved it right before my eyes.” She then proceeded to say that her certainty came from her faith in God. The equation, as I see it, is as follows:

Belief + Faith = Certainty

I’m almost certain that is incorrect. But what about this one?

Belief + Proof = Certainty

Or this one:

Belief + Proof = Absolute Truth

I must distinguish the difference between certainty and absolute truth. This is hard to do since in my last blog on absolute truth I discovered that people have three different definitions of the term. Certainty is when your belief is “without a doubt,” in an “assured fact”.

The biggest pro of being certain is that it allows you to develop ideas on a firm foundation. When you are sure something is true, you can then base other ideas on the fact you have already discovered. Also, certainty can be considered necessary in order to have assurance of salvation. The main drawback of certainty is that we are human and could be wrong. Also, certainty is offensive to those who believe differently.

I am currently writing a book on the topic “truth”. I have gotten to a point where I cannot continue to write until I know what side I am on in the argument over certainty. I would love to hear your ideas.

Is certainty a positive, negative, or neutral characteristic of one’s beliefs?
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Boomer said...

In the generally accepted philosophical sense, knowledge is defined as justified, true, belief (JTB). Knowledge = Certainty. Therefore, to have certainty one must have a belief, which is true, that is justifiable to others, i.e. you have proof.

With that said, this is a huge topic. I'm not sure I see the debate between certainty and truth; the two seem synonamous w/ eachother. I somehow feel that absolute truth is a redundant term. Is there truth that is not absolute?

Well, I will leave it at that a wait for a response, this is an interesting conversation. But I'll close w/ this, a belief is different then certainty. The two interact with eachother positivly or negativly. I believe that beliefs may have varying degree's of certainty. The more certainty, the more founded a belief is. This can be personally assuring, but will not necessarily convince others.

Steve said...

I have belief God exists.
Some would say I have no proof.
What of the miracles that I've seen and or experienced first hand, does that not speak to a foundation for my belief?

Certianty is, like stated before, a concrete, undeniable fact. It is TRUTH to the core.
They are, like Boomer stated synonymous and I also don't see a difference. Certainty is just a word that isn't necessarily going to send up red flags right away.

In order to give a definition of certainty, you must therefore have an understanding of certainty, and because you then used that definition and are basing your statements and arguments upon that point, I would suggest that it's kind of evident where you stand upon the subject of certainty.
That's just a thought.

Jordan/Yoda/Clambo said...

Steve, I understand the concept of certainty. I am wondering whether it is beneficial to be certain of something if there is a chance you are wrong? If so, how sure must you be before you declare certainty, and begin basing other ideas off of the ones you are certain of? Or is it all black and white? Are you either certain, and it is truth, or you are not certain?

Markimus said...

Do certainty and right and wrong have to be tied together? We certainly feel we need to be right about things but I am not certain that is really what this is about.

Jordan/Yoda/Clambo said...

I think they are naturally tied together. When you are certain, it means that you are sure something is right. The problem with certainty is that you could be wrong. The way I see it, if we separate certainty from right and wrong, then our quest is no longer for what is right, but just for certainty itself.

Jabin Postal said...

we need to figure out what things are certain and concrete in the things that matter. Often times i think that we tend to focus on things that don't really hold alot of value and try find certainty in them instead of things that actually matter most.

Mike Hunt said...

you might be certain that my underwear are red, but the truth of the matter is I am not wearing any.

Being certain is relative, truth isn't. You can be certain and still wrong.

Markimus said...

Uncertainty is the norm... I think jabin is on to something... if we broke things down to what matters thats what important... but trying to find certainty is simply idealistic. We do not have certainty... learning to live with that is the trick.

Boomer said...

Yoda, certainty can be tied to right or wrong. However, perhaps on an individual basis, certainty isn't about right and wrong. Others might say that certainty is just an arbitrary set of words representing an idea.

Jabin and Markimus I think certainty and truth are valuble, but practically speaking, certainty is not the most important thing, and not always an option. Life moves to fast, if we only rely on certainty for decisions, we look more like statues than people.

Steve said...

Something I'm slowly learning over the past few days is that as a Christian, I cannot be absolute, or certain, about everything. I would be more a subjective-certainty-ist(?).
Here's why... I can't prove God's existance (only he makes himself known to people.. I may be a tool, but that's all I am.. a tool). But I'm certain, and believe that he exists.
I'm steadfast in my certainty that God exists. However, how absolute is it to say you won't lie? Is it always wrong to lie? If you were in world war 2 and the nazi's came looking for the jews who you were hiding, would you lie? God commands us not to lie... so is the lying then made ok because you are trying to protect someone? Is it your job to proctect? How certain are you that you would tell the truth, or lie?
We talked a bit about that in my philosophy class tonight... so I hope that made sense... it does to me.

Anonymous said...

Certainty and truth are completley unrelated, belief and certainty obviously are. Certainty is absolutely essential to belief.

Anonymous said...

Certainty is when we believe that our belief is truth. Certainty does not affect what truth is, but affects our perception of truth. Therefor, it is related to truth, but it is only truth that effects certainty, not certainty that effects truth.

Derwyn said...

I don't think we can even have this conversation about certainty without heilsgeschicte...? Oh crap...there goes it again...
voitre voiture language me certain I knew anglais...what mean I is speak cannot common you with unless E-N-G-L-I-S-H we speak all...certain I am that j'habite a I am that speak English well you suive? bitteschoen...truth eNGLISH is? yes/si/nyet!

I guess I can't be certain about the language I am now communicating in.

I guess I can't be certain that my use of English is right or wrong.

I guess none of us can be certain about the way this conversation is going because none of us can be certain about English.

I don't believe in English, I just use it because everyone else does... You can't prove English to me, all you can do is show that a zillion people believe it works as a language, even though a zillion others don't know it at all... It's interesting that English is considered the lingua Francais of today...

Who decided that? Was it a committee decision or a popularity contest? Who was certain that it was the right language to choose? Did someone believe it was the right way to go? What's the truth of the matter? Who was the perceptive one to think that English was the way to go?

Only respond if you are certain that posting in English works...or is the right thing...or that you believe that the language does what it claims...

tommy : s said...

weird .. i read this post, then a few hours later, check out a british radio show "Humphreys in search of God". listen to the first 2 mins to check the archbish of canterbury's answer to much of your questioning. "certainty or anchorage", I like that.

Oh and i like both his language and his accent .. he may sound English, but he's actually Welsh.

I like to live a life based on some core, personal certainties of an "external" truth, but I prefer to communicate that truth with infinite humility. My certainty informs my lifestyle and decisions, but is not the first thing you'll hear me teach.

My experience tells me that anyone who "believes in absolute truth", loves to start there and teach on. blah blah blah, i'm sorry you lost me in your first bigoted sentence.

tommy : s said...

maybe a better link to the interview mentioned above

Rowan has some great wisdom I think.

Rob Petkau said...

Great reading.
Dude - whoever you are writing this book... I want a copy.

I believe truth is a person. I have faith (trust) that Truth exists. I allow my faith to give me a feeling of certainty, that I accept. Can I claim to be able to discern truth? My faith tells me that I can discern maybe the amount of an ice cube chipped off an iceberg.
I rest in the "certainty" that there is Truth, and relish a life of getting to know Him.

JoeCool said...