Uncertainty: The lack of certainty. A state of having limited knowledge where it is impossible to exactly describe the existing state, a future outcome, or more than one possible outcome.

If you think that certainty is a powerful tool then do I have a tasty treat for you my friends! Try on uncertainty. I’m not advocating for you to doubt everything of course, just what is logically justifiable.

In my last two blog posts I have set out to establish a fairly strong case involving two important contentions about knowledge of God’s existence as well as the Biblical definition of faith. 1) To establish factual knowledge of God’s existence human beings would need to have absolute or undisputed certainty in this regard. (For future reference I am now going to favor undisputed certainty over absolute certainty). This is only important if someone is truly interested in establishing the necessity of belief or faith in this God.

2) The Biblical definition of faith does not correlate to human knowledge. The Biblical definition of faith is a form of confidence, trust, conviction, or expectation. Therefore, one can have faith and not be justified in doing so. It is simply a state of mind rather than established fact. Can you think of any instances where faith or confidence begins to fail? It is simply an assumption that an unseen God is there to keep feeding one’s confidence.

Concerning my first contention a majority of Christians that I know actually admit that they are not completely certain that a God exists. I applaud their intellectual honesty in this regard and this now forms a platform where believers and skeptics can unite. None of us are completely certain. So it is that my next question for the believer is: If you are not completely certain that a God exists then are you not admittedly uncertain? Is there such a thing as being one-half or three-fourths certain about a matter? The answer is no. One is either certain or uncertain. If one is not completely certain then they must default to an honest admission of uncertainty.

If one agrees that they are in fact uncertain, then they need to consider the usefulness of the concept of faith when having discussions about actual knowledge. It would seem that faith has no practical use within this discussion. We can trust, be assured, and have all the confidence in the world, this still does not help us establish knowledge and fact.

Thus, the true value of uncertainty is this. It justifies and opens the door into intellectual agnosticism. Not many people I’m sure are jumping out of their seats about this. After all, at first glance admitting uncertainty can be rather disheartening! Especially in light of one’s previous faith or set of expectations, am I right? It was definitely disheartening and scary for me. The bottom line however is that this is honest. This is a true and honest assessment about knowledge and the kind of predicament all of humanity finds itself in.

10 thoughts on “The Value Of Uncertainty (Faith vs. Knowledge)

  1. Hello sir 🙂 Here I am, at your suggestion.

    What is a more reliable and consistent pursuit, faith or reason?

    There is no dichotomy between faith and reason. Faith, as distinguished from its less-reasonable cousin “blind faith”, is a result of reason. You put your trust in your automobile to get you from Point A to Point B, even though there are great risks and dangers involved, because you have good reasons to place such faith in your vehicle — such as past personal experiences, collision frequency data, studies on the efficacy of safety equipment, not to mention the great convenience gained to counter-balance the inherent risks.

    I think this is the major flaw in your reasoning, that faith, by definition, is unreasonable, or exists apart from reason. This is incorrect. The reasonable person comes to faith (religious or otherwise) as a result of reasoning based on evidence.

    Plus, even reasoning carries its fair share of uncertainty. Inductive reasoning (i.e. the attempt to infer general knowledge from specific data) always takes a leap of faith; the evidence may support a certain knowledge claim, but it does not do so with 100% certainty. Even deductive reasoning (which is airtight) relies on the assumption of certain premises which themselves carry a necessary level of uncertainty.

    How most reasonable people come to religious faith is no different than how people come to other kinds of knowledge. There may be differences in the types of evidences available, but the methodology is the same — at least, in my case. I think you are making an inappropriate distinction when it comes to religious faith — for, I think you’ll find if you employ the same rigor in your logic to other things we “know” to be true, you will find the same room for doubt and uncertainty. Thus, if you wish to discount one’s claim based upon certain evidences, it does not suffice merely to point to the uncertainty in the reasoning (which is where I imagine you were headed in our last discussion) — not only does that axe cut both ways, it’s lazy. I find it much more efficacious to tackle the evidences and examine the logic in their own right.

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    1. Seth, thanks again for your thoughts! You and I both it seems have a tendency to type a lot. We have a lot to say! Lol.

      So yes, allow me to grant that many intelligent people such as yourself have approached religion thoughtfully and carefully. No need to demean or disregard anyone’s intelligence here. That being said let’s look at your first contention.

      1) There is no dichotomy between faith and reason. I have to contend that there appears to be a distinct difference. The difference arises when trying to pinpoint certainty from uncertainty. Earlier I asked you, is there such a thing as being one-half or three-fourths certain about a matter? When it comes to facts that are readily available, I must contend that there is no such thing as the phrase “reasonably or mostly sure.” You either know a thing or you don’t.

      If you do not know for certain then the more honest assessment is that you are simply uncertain. This is because when people say they are not altogether certain about something then there exists at least a small margin for doubt. This margin for doubt has been dictated by one’s own subjective judgement and if we factor in faith as a form of active trust, there is no denying that this trust is also deeply intertwined with desire. What one wants or feels that they need. What is the call to faith? “You need a Savior, here’s why.”

      Notice that I don’t advocate absolute certainty either, however the kind of certainty that I do advocate is whatever kind of information that is needed to fill the gap and go from uncertainty into knowledge. This is only important if you want to necessitate belief in God. If you are not as concerned about this then my argument won’t be as compelling.

      If you want to get into the kind of evidence that you believe validates your faith we can certainly get into this later but for now I think it is important enough to realize that the Bible itself does not define faith as a form of knowledge. It is defined as a form of trust, confidence, assurance, or conviction. One can therefore be highly confident and still not be factually correct about God’s existence.

      Here are some things that exist within the gap when assessing the knowledge that human beings either have or lack about Theism in general.

      1) If miracle claims establish divine authority, then which set of miracle claims are correct and binding? The human predicament gives much evidence for confusion and a lack of consensus in this regard. This is due to having no lines of certainty in the present. Since this is the case then such inconsistency would appear to justify doubt and a position of agnosticism.

      It is the mere fact that a myriad of divine claims and conceptions of a God or gods exist, that would appear to put a rather big question mark in this gap. These unjustified differences validate a position of doubt in the most open and inquisitive way! So herein is the difference between faith and reason, I am making an appeal to the world and it’s collective predicament while you are making an appeal to just one piece of the divine claim puzzle. The method for knowledge that you are advocating is regional or confined and mine is trans-regional or unconfined.

      Concerning your point about how uncertainty is employed within inductive and deductive reasoning I think you may be failing to notice that these methods are most notably or exclusively used to narrow in on what we presently know is an existing or valid possible outcome. My contention about the question of God is that there doesn’t appear to be any immaterial divine beings stepping up to the plate so as to be distinguished and known from all others in the world. These formulations of the divine realm exist as ideological abstractions but not as readily identified realities. The agnosticism that I am advocating is simply a lack of knowledge that would seem to justify a noncommittal stance. I get into my reasons for a lack of belief later on. Does this make sense, Seth?

      As to your opinion that most people come to religious faith out of a careful methodology. I can accept that to a point, but I think there is also a tendency to seek confirmation bias that stems from an acceptance of divine authority. Divine authority is allegedly established within numerous isolated incidents that have happened throughout history.

      It is then the responsibility of tradition to uphold this authority and pass on the torch. This becomes a form of exclusivity that does not provide objectivity for present humanity that is also limited in actual knowledge that is said to extend beyond the natural world. All of these things factor in to our present situation and why doubt is often the result of such conditions.

      So, my hope is that you will now see that I haven’t simply appealed to uncertainty for just for the sake of it. I appeal to uncertainty because it is justified by our present situation as a human race. We are situated and set up to lack relevant information that could actually easily overcome unbelief if it was in fact available and present. Please consider the case I am making, Seth! Take care!

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      1. that there appears to be a distinct difference.

        I didn’t say there wasn’t a difference — of course there’s a difference. I said there’s no dichotomy, meaning it isn’t an either-or thing. You asked the question: “What is a more reliable and consistent pursuit, faith or reason?” And my answer is, “Why not both, working together?” You don’t have to choose one or the other — in fact, in most belief decisions in our respective lives, we always have to employ a measure of faith, whether we wish to admit it or not. When it comes down to it, there’s no such thing as 100% certainty when it comes to anything, religion or otherwise.

        So, when you say this:

        When it comes to facts that are readily available, I must contend that there is no such thing as the phrase “reasonably or mostly sure.” You either know a thing or you don’t.

        … my answer, then, is that by your definition, no one knows anything. I don’t think you can name one fact for which I can’t demonstrate where the doubt lies. The only possible exception might be Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” assertion. Every other piece of knowledge we men possess is the result of imperfect, incomplete induction.

        So, since I disagree with this fundamental premise (i.e. the “black-and-white” nature of knowledge), I disagree wholly with your conclusions. I maintain that knowledge and certainty exist on a spectrum.

        Furthermore:

        … the kind of certainty that I do advocate is whatever kind of information that is needed to fill the gap and go from uncertainty into knowledge.

        This is a missing piece in your case, for I fail to see where you outline exactly how this is done, and how you know when you’ve “arrived” at knowledge.

        One more thing I cannot refrain from mentioning:

        Concerning your point about how uncertainty is employed within inductive and deductive reasoning I think you may be failing to notice that these methods are most notably or exclusively used to narrow in on what we presently know is an existing or valid possible outcome.

        How do you think we got to what we “presently know”? Inductive reasoning. You cannot escape it. There’s no magical point where inductive conclusions “flip” from uncertainty to certainty — everything built on that foundation contains uncertainty by definition. Thus, everything we “presently know” already has that seed of uncertainty in it. It may get smaller the more data we have, but it can never disappear completely, as you seem to advocate.

        This is a great discussion, bro 🙂

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      2. Sorry, my last comment got cut off. Please delete that one and use this instead:

        Hello again, my fellow windbag 😉 LOL

        There is no dichotomy between faith and reason. I have to contend that there appears to be a distinct difference.

        I didn’t say there wasn’t a difference — of course there’s a difference. I said there’s no dichotomy, meaning it isn’t an either-or thing. You asked the question: “What is a more reliable and consistent pursuit, faith or reason?” And my answer is, “Why not both, working together?” You don’t have to choose one or the other — in fact, in most belief decisions in our respective lives, we always have to employ a measure of faith, whether we wish to admit it or not. When it comes down to it, there’s no such thing as 100% certainty when it comes to anything, religion or otherwise.

        So, when you say this:

        When it comes to facts that are readily available, I must contend that there is no such thing as the phrase “reasonably or mostly sure.” You either know a thing or you don’t.

        … my answer, then, is that by your definition, no one knows anything. I don’t think you can name one fact for which I can’t demonstrate where the doubt lies. The only possible exception might be Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” assertion. Every other piece of knowledge we men possess is the result of imperfect, incomplete induction.

        So, since I disagree with this fundamental premise (i.e. the “black-and-white” nature of knowledge), I disagree wholly with your conclusions. I maintain that knowledge and certainty exist on a spectrum.

        Furthermore:

        … the kind of certainty that I do advocate is whatever kind of information that is needed to fill the gap and go from uncertainty into knowledge.

        This is a missing piece in your case, for I fail to see where you outline exactly how this is done, and how you know when you’ve “arrived” at knowledge.

        One more thing I cannot refrain from mentioning:

        Concerning your point about how uncertainty is employed within inductive and deductive reasoning I think you may be failing to notice that these methods are most notably or exclusively used to narrow in on what we presently know is an existing or valid possible outcome.

        How do you think we got to what we “presently know”? Inductive reasoning. You cannot escape it. There’s no magical point where inductive conclusions “flip” from uncertainty to certainty — everything built on that foundation contains uncertainty by definition. Thus, everything we “presently know” already has that seed of uncertainty in it. It may get smaller the more data we have, but it can never disappear completely, as you seem to advocate.

        This is a great discussion, bro 🙂

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  2. “And my answer is, “Why not both, working together?” You don’t have to choose one or the other”

    Here is one fundamental difference that I am noticing here, Seth. In the present you do not see a need to differentiate between faith that is directed toward a God and uncertainty that is otherwise acknowledged within basic reasoning. Here is the fundamental difference in my mind. Faith that is put in God is done without any need for verification in the present. It is open ended, and it contradicts any persons admission that there is in fact a margin for doubt and error in this regard. However small the possibility may be in your mind, I think I’ve gathered enough from your previous responses to conclude that you do in fact allow at least a small margin for doubt.

    Also, you are naming the thing for which there is not enough relevant information to make a sure fire case for. Why else would science choose to remain neutral in regards to the question of origins? It is because we have not yet verified the source! To remain neutral in this regard is also, demonstrably so, a very healthy way to narrow in on the truth about the world and our universe. Once again, I can’t stress enough how intellectually open this pursuit is!

    What I am getting at here is that there is a distinct reason for this admission among you and the majority of Christians that I know. This is an admission that however wide or small you perceive this knowledge gap to be, there definitely is one! This a knowledge gap that is within reason as well. Meaning, it is justified by present conditions within our lives and within this world. I acknowledge it as well, but I fundamentally part ways with you here my friend.

    I do this because in the absence of objectivity the margin for error substantially increases within many forms of reasoning. Look, I am not advocating radical skepticism here, I am advocating careful and thoughtful analysis and assessment of all the facts.

    I have pointed out some very specific things that exist within this open margin for doubt. Things that may potentially widen your own gap if you are open to considering them.

    1.Are there any presently objective reasons within the world to garner favoritism or bias when it comes to divine claims that exist within the same kind of category as those within other religions? As a Christian, you are called to accept divine authority based on past isolated miracles that were said to have occurred. The same thing is asked of Muslims toward Allah. Jews toward the Old Testament exclusively and not toward the New Testament.

    2.How do we make sense of this religious competition, does it stem from reliable forms of knowledge or many unsubstantiated faith positions?

    3.What kind of evidences are stronger and more able to bridge the gap between uncertainty and knowledge? No need to get overly concerned here about my reasoning between certainty and uncertainty. I am actually being quite generous and open here. The reason I haven’t specifically told you what is needed to bridge that gap into certainty about God is because I speak from a position in which I honestly admit that I lack this type of knowledge. I honestly admit that I do not possess enough facts to weigh in on the question of God. How about you? If there exists a margin for doubt in which you are unable to demonstrate a knowledge claim in some way, then shouldn’t you admit that you are reasonably uncertain?

    This is for me the difference between faith and actual knowledge. Faith takes an early leap into the arms of invisible, immaterial beings. If we are having a conversation about knowledge I think it is more honest to leave the question of God open-ended. Why commit to what is not yet established within the world? Why not admit that there is a fundamental difference between faith and actual knowledge?

    “… my answer, then, is that by your definition, no one knows anything. I don’t think you can name one fact for which I can’t demonstrate where the doubt lies. The only possible exception might be Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” assertion. Every other piece of knowledge we men possess is the result of imperfect, incomplete induction.”

    Perhaps I didn’t make my assessment of knowledge clear to you, Seth. I do not advocate absolute certainty either. Such a position is untenable. However, I do advocate a kind of certainty that reflects well from all surrounding facts about a matter. I’m not here to get super philosophical and doubt all forms of knowledge. I am actually attempting to unite our positions based from your previous admissions. Are you possibly reading a little further into my position than the one I am simply trying to lay out in a straightforward sense?

    As far as having a black and white picture of knowledge, I try to look at it like this. If I have knowledge about a thing, anything, then what are the surrounding facts or even lack of facts that bring me to my final conclusion? Not once have I recoiled and rejected God from this discussion simply because it is a scary notion to me. It is not! If there is a God, I will acknowledge such a being.

    My position stems from a lack of relevant knowledge, knowledge that could in fact overcome my objections based on my analysis about the world in which I live. If there is anything to grasp and hold onto I will consider it, but I will not do this without first differentiating between what is knowledge and what is not. This is where you and I fundamentally disagree. You believe that the Biblical definition of faith is appropriate to use in discussions about knowledge. I think I’ve made a fairly strong case that this kind of faith does not stem from knowledge.

    “Thus, everything we “presently know” already has that seed of uncertainty in it. It may get smaller the more data we have, but it can never disappear completely, as you seem to advocate.”

    Again, I am not advocating a complete disappearance of uncertainty but I am advocating the kind of certainty that would actually allow you to admit that there is no more possible margin for doubt and error in regards to your faith position! This is in fact realistic even aside from an untenable position of absolute certainty. It is realistic based on the Bible from which you claim to derive your faith from. If God overcame the uncertainty and margin for doubt that existed for hundreds of other people throughout history, then why not provide this kind of certainty today so as to directly reduce confusion all throughout the world!

    Do you see my point here, Seth? In the case of a God that is said to be all-powerful and all-knowing, it would be relatively easy to just show up among multiple cultures and establish certainty and undisputed knowledge that is within reason. Since this does not appear to be the case then it adds to the overall assessment that lack of relevant facts, lack of consistency, and lack of concern for present human beings does in fact lead to reasonable doubt. It is justified by the very conditions that we find ourselves in.

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  3. Thanks again, Seth! I’m trying to be rigorous and open all at once within these discussions and I always learn more from each one I have. I use such things for self critique and further growth! I think you do too, so just know that I very much respect and admire your engagement in these discussions. 🙂

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  4. Howdy Hero, isn’t this fun? 🙂 FYI, if you don’t reply directly to someone’s comment when it’s on your own blog, the other person isn’t notified. I happened to see your response by checking back on my own.

    I read through your response carefully, and the following is my determination (and I implore correction if it is warranted): Though it seems like you would like this discussion to be about methodology, it is actually about evidence. The method by which you and I come to our respective belief conclusions does not seem very dissimilar, my friend — when the rubber hits the road, your contention is that I don’t have the evidence to support my belief, whereas mine is that I do. Thus, all the stuff about knowledge vs. belief vs. faith, while interesting, is actually a red herring, and obfuscates the true heart of our disagreement — it’s irrelevant, because we both largely agree on points of methodology, it seems. You only think such points apply to our situation because you have made some assumptions about the kind of evidence I possess (or lack thereof) that could have led me to adopt my faith in Christ: Since you cannot imagine that I would possess evidence that would be compelling to a reasonable person, you naturally assume that I must be choosing my beliefs according to some other, less-compelling methodology.

    So, that’s my assessment of where we are. If you disagree, please let me know — if you agree, then we can move out of the realm of philosophy and into the realm of evidence and data, and I think we can really cover some ground.

    As a brief aside — further indications that there may be some red-herring-ness going on are statements like this:

    You believe that the Biblical definition of faith is appropriate to use in discussions about knowledge.

    I’m not sure how you came to this conclusion — because, in fact, I wasn’t the one to bring faith into it in the first place, and was completely content to let the data speak for themselves. Because, what sparked this conversation over at my place was a particular piece of evidence that I feel strongly supports my Christian worldview. Now, after this detour into philosophy, hopefully we can get back to evidences such as the one I presented, and you can explain to me why you feel like I shouldn’t consider such evidences as support for my worldview. I think our discussion along those lines was going swimmingly, before we took this detour 🙂

    Thanks bud, always a pleasure discussing with you!

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    1. Seth, thanks for notifying me about proper commenting, I’m still learning how to do things more efficiently over WP!

      Thank you for this acute observation, Seth, I still think our disagreement does stem in part from methodology. Since you contend that faith and reason go together and I contend that these are inherently different things. Especially faith in the Biblical sense. We may have to agree to disagree in that department for now. Yes, evidence plays a role in this game as well.

      I think I can agree that you may not have brought up faith in this discussion. I saw it as a definite implication based on the kind of scenario that you were presenting as evidence in your post, Supernaturals: Missionary Tongues. In other words I wanted to examine your methodology and then help you to see how you can in fact recategorize this type of phenomena even if it does appear to be a factual occurrence of some kind. I don’t claim to know enough about the matter to form an opinion either way.

      Also, since you appear to take this kind of phenomena rather seriously then I shall also examine it openly, respond by assessing surrounding facts, as well as how this fits in with what we know throughout the contexts of many different religions.

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