On Certainty
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

On Certainty 

We have all run across people who are absolutely certain of religious tenets. We often regard those tenets, we donít share as unreasonable or even absurd. How do people come to have certainty about beliefs for which there is little or no compelling evidence? If we have a sense of certainty about something, how can we know that this sense of certainty correlates to truth?
Certainty is a psychological state, and human psychology is so complex and multi-factorial that any explanation for human certainty is likely to be far from complete. When it comes to certainty about religious tenets, I think a look at comparative religion is instructive. Throughout human history and throughout the world, people have gravitated toward religious belief, indicating that religions address core human needs. For example, religions generally offer people answers to fundamental existential questions Ė Where did I come from? What am I supposed to do with my life? What happens to me when I die? It seems to me that most people have an intense desire to have answers to these questions, and in particular they seek answers that give them a sense of peace, well-being, and confidence about the future.

Consequently, people are attracted to religions that offer such answers. Paradoxically, it seems that people hold with greatest conviction those beliefs for which there is the least empirical evidence. Evidently, strength of belief helps to compensate for lack of knowledge.

I think the thing about which we can be most certain (but not absolutely certain) is that we canít have certainty. Next week, I will offer empirical evidence and logic to support this conclusion. 

Go on to: Can we have certainty?
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