Certainty and Easy Answers

People are uncomfortable with uncertainty. I know I am. I much prefer definite answers to maybes and I don’t knows, but in some instances I have to accept those kinds of answer. We don’t know what happened before the big bang, we don’t know the exact chain of events that led to the first self replicating molecule or the first cell, we don’t know what the world is going to be like in 30 years time and so on. For some people the unease at not knowing the answers to these kinds of question leads them to accepting the easy answers that are contained within religious texts.

 

Having one book with all the answers, does a lot to keep the mind at rest, and it saves a lot of intellectual effort. But is it really reasonable to believe that an ancient text written at a time when our species understood very little about the world provides concrete answers to the pressing questions of today? Take the Bible, for example, it was clearly written by highly superstitious people who believed demonstrably false propositions about reality. Why should we accept with certainty any propositions in a book whose claims, where they can be tested, are often shown false?

 

The Bible tells us that bats are birds, that showing sticks with their bark stripped in a certain way to animals when they’re mating will have an effect on the fur pattern of their offspring. This is a book written by ignorant and superstitious people. What reason is there to view it as a book containing the answers to life’s big questions, when it gets even basic elementary facts wrong?

 

Yet people do accept the Bible as the answer to all their questions, the antidote to all their doubts, what is more disconcerting is that they do so with unwavering certainty. This extinguishes any desire to learn, and all signs of humility. Where I will comfortably profess that I do not know what, if anything came before the big bang, a theist will claim to know, without hint of doubt that God caused the big bang – with no evidence in favour of this. This leads to a rather frustrating arrogance on their part – which I would describe as the Dunning-Kruger effect. They often are completely ignorant of modern cosmology, yet they profess to know better than the greatest minds in the field, without any hint of humility. If one raises the prospect that perhaps God was not the cause of the big bang – this is dismissed instantly without question, for no good reason other than it disagrees with their preconceived conclusions.

 

I am perfectly willing to concede my ignorance on the matter, I am even willing to concede that perhaps something analogous to God caused the universe, but I am also open to other explanations. The theist on the other hand is resolutely unwilling to accept that perhaps their God did not cause the universe to exist. Their unwillingness to accept the possibility that they might be wrong, is a product of their desire to have easy answers to the big questions in life, this certainty they cling to is not a product of being right, its a product of clinging to easy answers in an attempt to avoid the unease of uncertainty.

 

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”

– Charles Darwin

 

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