10 ……I have come that they may have life and may have it in all its fulness.
John 10:10 – Revised English Bible
5Put all your trust in the LORD and do not rely on your own understanding. 6At every step you take keep him in mind, and he will direct your path. 7Do not be wise in your own estimation; fear the LORD and turn from evil.
Proverbs 3: 5-7 – Revised English Bible
I was recently reading about early exploration of the Arctic and I found myself mulling over a most interesting fact:
- Scurvy was a massive killer of sailors and others serving overseas in the eighteenth century. It’s believed that between 1756 and 1773, the Royal Navy enlisted 184,899 men (they were all men in those days) and over the same period, 133,708 men died in service, ‘mostly’ of scurvy.
This fact caused me to try to discover when scurvy was finally understood as being a deficiency of Vitamin C. There were enlightened leaders who felt they knew how to avoid scurvy from personal experiment: Captain Cook, for example, lost not one man on his voyage between 1768 and 1771, as a result of feeding sauerkraut to his men (they hated it). But to my surprise, men were still dying of scurvy in service as late as 1918, and the connection with Vitamin C was not proved definitely until 1932, less than 20 years before my birth.
I then decided to turn to the subject of viruses. The first human virus that was identified was Yellow Fever in 1881, but that discovery related to how it was contracted (via the mosquito). Max Theiler was the first person to isolate the Yellow Fever virus per se, but that didn’t happen until 1932. The ‘Father’ of modern virology is considered to be Dmitri Ivanovsky, who referred to viruses in his research in 1892, although apparently what he thought he’d seen was a toxin produced by bacteria.
Why does this matter? What relevance can it possibly have to us? Well, I realised with a jolt, that although 1892 is ancient history so far as young people are concerned, my grandfather had been born 20 years before the first virus was described.
My first post on this blogsite was in April 2019, and the subject was whether doubt in faith was a good or bad thing. I wrote about this partly because, as I’ve got older and have become more knowledgeable about a whole range of subjects, so I’ve been struck with the fact that the more I’ve learned, the more there seems to be to understand. Faith, I believe, is nothing if it doesn’t entail a great deal of questioning and self-searching. The more I’ve challenged my own faith, the more secure I think it’s become. Sure, I’ve had to accept that there are some questions that simply can’t be explained factually. But although this might sound counter-intuitive to you, I’ve become comfortable with my doubts; my doubts seem to have strengthened my faith. Why? Because I think the world that I’ve lived in over my lifetime is simply not easily explainable. And if you try to disguise that fact, doubts will likely continue to niggle and will eventually shake the foundation of your belief.
My generation was led to believe that faith was ‘bad’ and science was ‘good’. We were, to an extent, led to believe that faith was based on a lack of scientific rigour; you couldn’t possibly believe in God if you ‘believed’ in Science, because Science was factual and faith was a ‘leap in the dark’.
The last eighteen months has proved how naïve these thoughts actually were, and are. We’ve had paraded before us on a daily basis, the fact the ‘The Science’ does not agree with itself; there are as many views as there are scientists, despite what the mainstream media would like us to believe. And most of us learned many decades ago that other ‘absolutes’ in our lives, such as economics, accountancy, psychology and many others are nothing more than a way of presenting opinions, which are inevitably (and not necessarily consciously) biased by those doing the presenting.
If we failed to understand scurvy over thousands of years and have only fully understood it in the last 90 years; if we only isolated the first virus also 90 years ago, can we possibly now claim that we understand everything that we need to know about viruses, their behaviours and how to control their spread? If we were to think that way, would we not be exhibiting extreme arrogance, in fact almost omniscience?
The pursuit of truth is of course admirable, but the claim that we own timeless truth is, I believe, not just arrogant, but disastrous.
Our world seems increasingly to be turning in the direction of ‘owning’ the truth; our age is the ‘Age of Certainty’ in a way that has never before happened in history. We have those who have tried to use mathematics, another subject we have been taught to treat as ‘absolute’, in order to forecast how COVID will affect our societies over future months and years, via opinion-based algorithms. Mostly these algorithms have been wrong to many hundreds of percent, when compared to real-world results. This doesn’t seem to have deterred those doing the forecasting; they simply plough on, with yet more wildly inaccurate forecasts.
The idea that we can have ‘Zero COVID’ is surely not sensible, as some scientists concur, but others, through their behaviours, maybe influenced by their paymasters, seem to embrace? And what about ‘Zero Carbon’ (actually an absurd term, as the bodies of human beings are 12% composed of carbon atoms)? I would have to express concern about our ability, not only to forecast temperatures in 79 years to a quarter of a degree C of accuracy (as is claimed), but also to be precise and certain about average global temperatures before a large chunk of the globe had even been discovered, let alone the first accurate thermometer developed.
What seems to be missing in many of these debates is humility – a founding principle of Christianity, but a quality that seems to be despised in our world. In our rush to abandon faith, it seems that we’ve also abandoned questioning, doubt, humility and by implication, science and medicine.
Certainty and perfection, rather than questioning, doubting and probing, seem to be where we’re headed; it’s the refuge of the totalitarian scoundrel. We have a deep human need to challenge, analyse data, present theories and, above all, debate with each other. Our world seems more to be aligning itself with censoring those who have any different view that challenges their own perfect, certain version of the universal and timeless ‘truth’.
I sincerely believe that as people of faith, we can guide the secular world to accept that certainty is heretical, immoral, bad for our mental health and, even more importantly, represents a destination that can only achieve base ignorance.
This blog is increasingly being read by those who are gently probing to develop a new faith, and who have very little background or understanding of Christianity and the Bible. Because of the enquiries that I’ve received, I will in future posts be exploring some ideas about reading the Bible which is also often plagued with claims about ‘certainty’.
Ultimately, the Bible can help us to learn that doubt and questioning, rather than certainty, is the way that we can allow God to speak to us individually, whatever the state of our lives and whatever challenges we may face. That has been one of the great revelations of the last few years of my life; I wish I’d learned the lesson earlier.
And, as always, if there are any subjects that you would like me to cover in future blogs, please use the ‘Contact’ button on the blogsite!
Heavenly Father, we beg you to encourage us to doubt and question everything. Help us to grow in our understanding, but above all, Lord, help us to understand how puny we are and how much we still have to learn from each other and from you. Amen.
3 thoughts on “Certainty: the curse of our age”
Another great post. I remember Anthony Thiselton has a really helpful book on doubt where he outlines how the Bible has (if I remember correctly), 13 different ways to understand it. Thanks again.
Hi there! This post couldn’t be written much better! Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He always kept talking about this. I’ll send this article to him. Pretty sure he’ll have a great read. Thank you for sharing!
Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It will always be exciting to read through articles from other writers and use a little something from their websites.