The problem with certainty

I recall being certain that God existed, that he loved me, and that he was embodied in a set of books we call the Bible. I was so certain of this that I would have said, without any question whatsoever, that I even knew these things. Certainty, according to many Christian presuppositional apologists, is the cornerstone of the Christian worldview because it and only it provides any way in which to ascertain truth.

I remember the first time I became uncertain about my faith like it was yesterday. It started with the first in a series of questions about some doctrine that I’d now say is insignificant. It was the first time since I had given all of my life to my god that I considered the notion that perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps I had been worshiping him incorrectly, perhaps something I believed about him was out of line with the Truth, perhaps the elders in my life were not as wise as I thought, perhaps even god’s very character was in question.

I know of no fear more all encompassing than that which came with my first experience with uncertainty.

If you don’t know it; this fear seeps from the marrow of your bones, it crawls in your skin day and night, and it greets your dreams with terrible visions of the consequences that all these “what if’s” might bring to bear.

The problem of certainty is that it fails to provide a framework for change.

Unchanging people stagnate, fester in ignorance, and never consider the possibility of their own wrongness.

Certainty is comfortable, yes – it risks nothing and it gains nothing but what good is that life? Steeped in arrogance and assurance but never gaining knowledge through experience, never leaning over the edge of the canyon of doubt. Eyes closed. Leaning further forward. Free-fall.

I’ll take doubt – at the risk of eternity.

I’ll take questions – at the loss of simple answers.

I’ll take skepticism – at the risk of suspicion.

I’ll take uncertainty – at the loss of comfort.

Now, tasting doubt and all the comes with it – I don’t think I can ever be happy with certainty again.

I’ll close this with a quote from the internet’s favorite scientist of the day – and I think he put’s it well for those that misunderstand what science is – it’s everything but certainty. Science is constant doubt. It’s constant question. It’s constant skepticism. It’s constant uncertainty. Anything less isn’t science at all.

“But you can’t be a scientist if you’re uncomfortable with ignorance, because scientists live at the boundary between what is known and unknown in the cosmos. This is very different from the way journalists portray us. So many articles begin, “Scientists now have to go back to the drawing board.” It’s as though we’re sitting in our offices, feet up on our desks—masters of the universe—and suddenly say, “Oops, somebody discovered something!”

No. We’re always at the drawing board. If you’re not at the drawing board, you’re not making discoveries. You’re not a scientist; you’re something else. The public, on the other hand, seems to demand conclusive explanations as they leap without hesitation from statements of abject ignorance to statements of absolute certainty.”

― Neil deGrasse Tyson, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

Question. Everything.

  • Matt,
    Once again you have touched my heart with your honesty and openness. Your ability to share the depth of a common fear, uncertainty, is critical to you being able to identify with anyone that is struggling with any issue. Fear keeps many people bound in situations that are destructive. Being able to say “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer. That statement doesn’t mean you’re not thinking, it means that you are attempting to be open. For me it means so many things and applies to everything in my life. I don’t know all the answers but I am not closed off to others. You asked your questions, sought your answers and yet you remain open and searching. The ability to be, open-minded and not afraid to say “I don’t know, but I care and I search” is the key that unlocks our hearts, minds, and lives. It also builds friendships where others only see differences. Proud to call you my friend.

  • searchingnana

    I too remember when all my certainties came undone. I was attending a conference and had just left the fellowship(cult) that I had belonged to for the previous two years, only the week before the conference.

    I was sharing a room with another woman from my previous fellowship (and we were also sharing leadership in Aglow…a women's organization). I had been to the opening meeting of the conference and cried all the way through the worship, through the speaker and managed to get myself together just enough to get me back to the hotel. That night everything that I had believed was in question, I sobbed out my doubts to this other woman of faith and her response was that everyone has doubts and she listened as I poured out my heart for a couple of hours. I got through the weekend somehow but when I got home I realized the end of certainties had arrived. I began to dismantle all that I had believed until I wasn't even sure of the existence of God. I haven't moved on from that position very much and that was a few years ago now. Thanks for making the point that certainties and the fear of letting them go is ok. First visit to you blog, Matt, and I'll check in again.

  • test

  • “Atheists” favorite scientist, not the internet. That inference is impossible to make simply by the fact that I am part of the internet, and he is not Hawking. 😉

    Other then that, this is the same salespitch, just wrapped differently. We know your an “ex-christian’ (right, as if that was possible! Google the word “sovereignty”, and then you might have a better chance at realizing that the you cannot be plucked from “His” hand.) that has turned “atheist”, (so you joined a “cult”, most christian denominations if not all are anyways, so where is the change?) why not discuss someting besides a “Sales Pitch”?

    You know what I would like to see? Try comparing your day to day life as believer vs. non-believer… What are he differences at work? At home? At the local mexican eatery? What is different at the local grocery store? Who are people to you now? What were they before? What do you see through YOUR eyes, and NOT God’s?

    As much as you drag this “I am thinking for myself now” dribble through the dirt, why not share your new thoughts, instead of telling us you are thinking?

    Your an “atheist”, we got it, why not start acting like one, and stop making “God”, such a big part of your life?

    Hugs & Kisses

    • J

      I’ll tell you what the difference at the grocery store is – I do my shopping Sunday at about 10am when the rest of the bible belt is either getting ready for church or already there. The aisles are free and clear, and there’s always an open checkout with no waiting 🙂