Friday, 11 July 2008

Unabsolutely Certain

I had a conversation on the C-train the other day, and the person I was talking to said that he considered it stupid to believe absolutely in something that cannot be absolutely proven and defended from every angle with empirical evidence. I hemmed and hawed a bit on the train, but wrote him out a better response the day after, and that is what I am posting today (with a few minor changes, of course, to protect privacy ;-)

Is it stupid to absolutely believe something that can't be completely defended from every angle? I think not. I don't believe you can be absolutely sure even that the physical world exists (oh, Descartes...), and yet I absolutely believe it does, and most people wouldn't consider that stupid.

But I guess the key word here is being "absolutely" sure. I could be wrong in what I believe, I acknowledge that. But it's a mental footnote, and not much more. I can acknowledge in my head the hypothetical possibility that God doesn't exist without giving the idea any role to play in my active life. I have absolute belief because I'm convinced, not because everything has been proven. I suppose some dramatic new proof could possibly convince me I'm wrong, causing my conviction to change, but it would have to be exceedingly dramatic.

That's what faith is – believing in what we do not see. And people use faith tons in everyday life. For all we absolutely know, Shania Twain could be an illegal immigrant making evil plots to eradicate all of Canada's gophers in the most painful possible way – but we're all absolutely convinced that she isn't. And it would be silly to sit on the fence about it. Belief in God is kinda like that. You become firmly convinced one way, while still recognizing you could be wrong. Am I making any sense?

Naturally, there's more debate over God's existence than there is over Shania's evil plots, but the implications of either God existing or God not existing are much more serious and carry far-reaching consequences. As such, it seems much worse to sit on the fence with this issue. If we decide to remain unsure about Shania Twain, then we might not like her show, but that's about it. If we decide to remain unsure about God, then we can't legitimately make claims about almost anything, or act on those claims, because if God exists, everything is very different – extremely different – than if God doesn't exist.

Eso es todo, for now.

“There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking.” Alfred Korzybski


CavDawg said...

I really like your response there. Mankind's love affair with what they erroneously call "science" has a tendency to get a little bit out of hand. In the end, everyone is expressing faith in something.

There are lots of fun examples for this, but a simple (if not overly simple) one would be whether there is such a place as Armenia. You've seen Armenia on the map, sure, and maybe you've met someone who says they've been to Armenia, or someone who claims to be Armenian. Heck, maybe you got on a plane that flew around for awhile and landed in a place that they told you was Armenia.

But even with all this evidence, do you KNOW absolutely that there is such a place as Armenia? The maps could be wrong (they have been before, heaven knows), the people you talk to could be lying, the plane's crew could have been deceived.

All we can do to formulate what we call knowledge in this life is accrue evidence more and more until we finally place our faith in some idea that we deem victorious.

I've read the scriptures, which claim to be a collection of men telling me to believe in Jesus Christ. I've spoken with countless people who have shared their experiences and reasons for believing in Him. I have had personal experiences that lead me to deem Christianity the victorious idea and place my faith in it.

And I believe in a place called Armenia.

art said...

I wonder if the earth is hollow. I wonder if people live inside the earth? Do aliens live on the other side of the moon? Has the governments of the earth been infiltrated by aliens? Was 9/11 orchestrated by the Bush government? Have any of these things been absolutely proven or disproven yet?