The Certainty of Uncertainty is for two groups of people: the Certain and the Uncertain. Yes, I know, that’s everybody. But it’s not everybody for the same reason.
There are among us people who are very certain, never admitting of any doubt or brooking any possibility that they might be in error about their beliefs. This is particularly the case in matters of religious faith, where the Certain are frequently absolutely so and view doubt as a moral failing.
For them, The Certainty of Uncertainty is a thorough examination of the impossibility of that position. Cataloguing the inevitable uncertainties in religion (untestable subject matter, abundance of metaphor and symbol), in language (pitfalls in communication, abundance of metaphor), in our senses, and in our science (the probabilities in experimentation, the vagaries of relativity and quantum mechanics), The Certainty of Uncertainty makes the case that whatever the nature of ultimate reality might be, our ability to know that reality perfectly with absolute certainty is limited. To claim otherwise is folly.
There is an element of fear in the protestations of absolute certainty of the Certain. There is something they’re afraid to even admit exists, for fear that the whole house of cards will collapse if they do. The Certainty of Uncertainty offers them a new way of looking at their own belief system: not as a perfect account of the world in every last detail, but as the record of generations struggling with the same mysteries of life and existence that we all struggle with, who persisted in faith in spite of their uncertainty and found deep meaning in their lives.
The Uncertain face a different challenge. They don’t deny that they have doubts and uncertainties—they are not in the business of suppressing those doubts—but they still may buy into the idea that the great enterprises of meaning are primarily for those who lack such doubt. As a pastor, I hear this from folks all the time, “I don’t know that I can be a good [insert religious identity here] because I believe in evolution and have a lot of doubts about the literal truth of certain scriptural accounts.” They admire what religious communities have to offer, but feel that they are somehow second-class members of even those communities they belong to because they harbor doubts.
For the Uncertain, The Certainty of Uncertainty makes the case that far from being the enemy of faith, doubt is an essential part of faith. The same cataloguing of uncertainty that can help the Certain to let go of their folly, can be a comfort to the Uncertain—an assurance that the uncertainty they have is understandable and natural. They’re not doing religion wrong by doubting; they’re doing it right. It’s the fundamentalists, the literalists, and the extremists who are doing it wrong.
In addition, we come to understand that the findings of science can only undermine a faith built on certainty. If you’re certain that the scriptures are absolutely correct in their portrayal of a six-day creation, then yes, science could challenge your faith. But if you understand the scriptures not as an absolutely inerrant record of cosmic origins, but rather as a poetry- and metaphor-filled reflection on the nature of the universe and the meaning behind it, then it comes to matter less what the actual mechanism of universal origins was. Embracing uncertainty and doubt allows us to embrace the truths of religion and science at the same time, without requiring the diminution of either.
In the end, both the Certain and the Uncertain will see that the world is a place where uncertainty and doubt are unavoidable. But in that unavoidable uncertainty, in the embrace of mystery and wonder, we find a more meaningful experience of faith and a more meaningful experience of the world.
So, whether you are Certain or Uncertain, this book is for you.