Comments 3

  1. Several semi-random thoughts. First, we should distinguish between certainty that [a state of affairs is the case] and faith (trust) in [a person to do what he’s said he’s going to do]. Second, we should distinguish between psychological certainty and logical certainty. They are not the same and we often mistake the former for the latter. Third, and to your point, we should admit of varying degrees of certainty. I’m absolutely certain of some things, pretty sure of others, and more-likely-than-not with respect to many more. Giving myself and other the benefit of the doubt when it comes to degrees of certainty opens doors to discussion. Finally, however, openness to uncertainty is not–or at least should not be–understood as a denial of the possibility of certainty. The emphasis of the contemporary, secular academy (and culture at large) on inculcating undergraduates into a mindset of unguided “critical thinking” is pernicious. Lack of absolute certainty with respect to x, y, and z does not entail that we are incapable of knowing–with a high degree of certainty–that a, b, and c are true.

  2. This is good advice that would reduce the tensions people feel, especially young people and students, when a familiar political or religious doctrine is questioned, or an unfamiliar or rejected orthodoxy is posed. I hope you think about the people in the minority too — those who do not see an issue as something that can be resolved through a certifiably “correct” reading of scripture, or who read scripture differently. They are the ones in the toughest position and most susceptible to being hurt, because they’re the ones most likely to feel like they’re lost in an unpredictable and inhospitable environment. The stress of being challenged is a good and essential thing for students in either position if it’s not too much, not too little, and not alienating. This is where all good teachers and healthy learning communities apply their wisdom and care for their students.

    I must disagree however with the previous commenter that the “contemporary, secular academy” or the “culture at large” is full of “unguided ‘critical thinking.’” This would be the opposite of critical thinking, but it is simply impossible to do. When students are guided to “think critically” they are typically guided to examine the values and perspectives relevant to the object of study, themselves, and possibly a prior interpretive history. You might find a pure positivist in the sciences who believes in some sort of value-free analysis, but probably not the humanities. I agree that it’s important to emphasize what facts are relevant to an issue and when they are widely viewed as clear and verifiable with a high degree of logical or mathematical certainty. If this were more widely the case, we would have a much less divided culture.

    1. Oswald Chambers expressed it in a way that really hit home to me: “If our certainty is only in our beliefs, we develop a sense of self-righteousness, become overly critical, and are limited by the view that our beliefs are complete and settled.” For years I equated faith with certainty and was ready to do battle to defend my ironclad beliefs. Now I recognize that there are a few irrevocable truths, much that can be debated, and most importantly, everything must be framed in the context of the love of Christ.

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