Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reflection on Certainty: #6

Why must you be sure?

Having lavished paragraph on paragraph to do the theme of certainty some degree of justice, I want to take a step back and ask the question: why?

Why must our knowledge be certain?  Why do we guard our storehouses of knowledge to only let in those statements to which no possible objection or counterargument may be raised?  Why does true knowledge only extend to those things which cannot possibly be doubted?

This assumption is common to both modernism and postmodernism; it is the framework in which this debate has been conducted.  But it is an assumption, and over the course of these notes I've begun to realize it is utterly unwarranted.

By definition, only God can be omniscient, and therefore only God can be certain.  We cannot see a painting that is hidden from our eyes; we cannot draw blueprints of a jail when we only see our cell.  On the contrary, we are human.  Our intellects operate on reason, on our capacity for critical judgment.  Only rarely do we grasp truth intuitively, as though we were perceiving an object or sensing a smell.  We analyze, we infer, we evaluate, and we deal with a variety of logical possibilities.  To such minds as ours, uncertainty is natural and inevitable.

Our desire for certainty is fundamentally a desire to transcend our own humanity: to become like God, knowing good and evil.  It's more than a little ironic that the most recent fallacy of the modern mind are precisely the same as the first fallacy, the first sin to which man succumbed.

Why seek what cannot be found?  I don't think even in heaven will we "know" with certainty.  Omniscience is not in our nature.  But the quest for certainty is even beyond futility.  It is an unhealthy obsession, not merely for flattering our sense of pride, but also for distracting us from our sense of self.

We are not pure minds. We are tripartite beings: body, soul, and spirit.  The mind (soul) is meant to guide us, but we are ultimately defined by our choices -- that is, our will (spirit).  Our obsessive focus on certainty distracts us from this fact. It permits us to identify ourselves with our mind and thereby justify our atrophied will.  We want certainty because we are cowards -- we want to be forced into Truth without having to judge for ourselves or face the consequences of our decisions.

God preserve us from such sin.  Let us be content with what resources we have been given, and let us be courageous enough to act on them.

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