ESSAY

Week 1

The Gift of Uncertainty

By Scott Dyleski

 

Certainty is a thorny issue in religion. We humans have sought it in signs, moving words, transcendent states, and authorities. We want something solid to ground us, to orient us in a world where much happens that we do not understand. Some have preferred blind faith – a trust without justification. Still, most of them also desire the certainty of ritual, scripture, and church. All of us live at the murky boundary between knowing and doubt.

During a conversation about science, a Russian Orthodox friend of mine asked, “How can we be sure any of it is true? Don’t we have to have faith in the scientists, instruments and formulas?” “it all comes back to the evidence and observations; “I responded, “that is how we get to knowledge, justified belief, rather than faith.”

“But we can’t be absolutely certain,” he countered. “if we don’t have that, isn’t it just faith?”

He is right that we cannot know something with complete certainty using science, but it is wrong to think being very sure of something is the same as having no evidence. I do not need an angel to appear in order to convince me that yes, the sky is blue. Yet, such an appearance would help me toward a belief in angels. By the way, I have never met an angel, thus I am still skeptical about them. The color of the sky, however, is something I have pretty well figured out. There are degrees of certainty.

Personally, I have come to think that full certainty is overrated. Doubt brings us closer to truth. Our beliefs evolve and improve as our knowledge improved. In exchange for the anchor of certainty, we get something far more fulfilling: wonder. Wonder is the gift of uncertainty, for it allows us to discover the richness of life beyond our limited perspectives.

Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” The wondrous, the mysterious, is the province of the scientist and the mystic. It opens to us if we become like Nietzsche’s Cosmic Dancer – willing to leave the safety of our known world and thoughts in order to explore the unknown, the one who lives with one foot in the certain realm and the other in the uncertain. It is a dance of wonder.

There is one certainty I hold to: there is truth. What truth is I am unsure. It is beyond the full grasp of human reason. There would be no purpose in asking questions if there was no truth to discover. We need inquiry, justifications for belief, and knowledge exactly because truth is so elusive and precious. We are part of that truth, that realty not limited by our conceptions of it. When we no longer demand that the world fits our dogmas and certainties, wonder can pour into our hearts.