Friday 23 August 2013

How to be *certain*? It is a matter of love, a matter of the heart


How can we be certain about anything?

On the one hand, there must be and always is de facto certainty - not least because it is impossible to doubt everything, and in practice we doubt one thing in terms of other certainties.

But this still leaves open the question - how can we be certain about anything?

In particular, how can someone be certain about religion or a 'philosophy of life'; in particular, how can someone be certain enough that they will be strong and solid about Christianity in the way that people clearly were in the past.


The certainty of past Christians tends to be set aside as naive, fanatical or due to insufficient knowledge; but that is to beg the question - which is to assume precisely that which needs to be proved.


The problem with answering this question is that we use the wrong model of certainty.

The typical model of certainty which is wheeled-out is that of science; usually some solid bit of science like the periodic table or Newton/ Einstein's laws.

But this is a false example, because scientists are not certain about science in the overwhelming and personal way which is being sought in relation to religion.

Scientists regard the current truth as a working hypothesis; but any scientist worth his salt would be prepared to re-conceptualize their present understanding if or when something better came along - as Newtonian Physics was re-conceptualized by Relativity and Quantum Theory.


Another false model of certainty is philosophy: specifically the idea that really good and 'rigorous' philosophy would lead to certainty (and serve as a foundation for other forms of knowledge).

But this is wrong, too, since the history of philosophy is the history of disagreements about what is certain.

Philosophy resembles a battleground more than it resembles a set of solid foundations!


So what should be the model of certainty?

The answer is love - and a good specific instance is a child's certainty that he loves his Mother and his Mother loves him.


Now, if we acknowledge that a child knowing for certain that his Mother loves him is a valid example of certainty, and that therefore the proper answer to the question of how to be certain is related to love more than to science or philosophy, then it can be seen that certainty is a matter of the heart rather than 'the head', or the intellect.

So, for a Christian to be certain of the truth of Christianity, or something more specific like the divine inspiration of the Bible, or the validity of the ten commandments - is a matter of love: specifically certainly of the love of Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father, and certainty of love for Them.


Thus it is that the simplest Christians are typically the most certain; because simple Christians are generally those (such as children) whose faith is based on a conviction of God's love and in love of God.

And intellectual Christians are typically, chronically, intrinsically plagued by doubts.

Because their belief is based upon intellectual assent, and intellectual assent is not the kind of thing susceptible to certainty.


This has implications for 'evidence' in relation to belief.

A child who knows his Mother's love is not open to empirical persuasion on the matter; it is not something which can either be proven or disproven.

Of course, a child's confidence can be broken. He may become ill, damaged, brainwashed, demoralized, alienated...

And indeed modern Man has been by thus broken by secularism, as the way of destroying certainty in the love of God.

However, it can be seen that although successful, the consequence is not simply to destroy one specific certainty, in the love of God, but to destroy the capacity for all certainty, and to damage the capacity for parental and filial love.


And a life view, a philosophy, a religion is properly built from certainty: such that one certainty leads to another; and then certainties become mutually reinforcing - and we become situated, based and rooted in reality in the way that (lacking it) we crave.


What are the legitimate grounds for the reality of this internal certainty. We need to be certain, and we want to know that of which we are certain - how to go about it?

If it is a matter of the heart, then it is to the heart we should look: we need to examine our hearts to discover that of which we are certain - and to recognize and acknowledge that as being validated in the only way that certainty can be validated - and to start with that.

Assuming that Christianity is real and true - than all certainties of the heart - of whatever kind and on whatever subject - will, eventually, lead to Christ.



Nicholas Fulford said...

I am certain that words are flowing into being onto the screen. I may be in error, but I have a very high certainty that it is true.

I am certain that I am cold, and will reach for a blanket, and I am certain that I am thirsty, and will get a glass of water. There are somethings of which I am certain.

A theology is not one of those things of which I am certain, not a single one of them. I am much more certain of gravity, and will afford it certainty, to avoid the inevitable and disastrous outcome of not doing so.

Love as a state is something I am very certain of. I have seen it in the gaze of lovers, of mother to child, and in the music of Gustav Mahler and Beethoven. The object of love I may have great uncertainty about, but not love itself.

Tucker said...

I see a parallel here to "certainty" about morality. There are acts - I won't name them here - that tempt me, strongly at times, but in the final instance I just won't do them because in my heart of hearts I "know" they're wrong.

I wonder how much atheism could be overcome simply by asking, "Just sit still and listen - in your heart of hearts, do you not really know that there is Someone who loves you?"

Wm Jas said...

Why is love specially certain? Isn't it possible to have incorrect beliefs about who loves you and who doesn't?

Bruce Charlton said...

WmJas - Now you are talking science. I am talking about what is certain, not what science might suppose to be certain (among this group of scientists, today...)

Nicholas Fulford said...

What science holds as certain is the scientific method, nothing else; though some scientists suffer from the problem of attachment/vestment as much as non-scientists, (and that is just part and parcel of what it is to be human.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF There is not really anything specific called the scientific method - beyond the honest attempts of a group to discover truth -

Wm Jas said...

I'm not sure what science, or any particular group of scientists, has to do with it. All science and theory aside, isn't it simply a truth of common sense and human experience that it is possible to be mistaken about love, just as about anything else?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I think you are missing the point here.

What you are talking about is being able publicly and objectively to prove the reality of love. That's science, or law, or something...

Filius paupertatis et necessitatis said...

I think I see Wm Jas’s point, though. One of my thoughts on reading the post was of this exchange in The Pilgrim’s Progress between Christian and Ignorance:

CHRISTIAN. ...leaving all is a hard matter: yea, a harder matter than many are aware of. But why, or by what, art thou persuaded that thou hast left all for God and heaven.
IGNORANCE. My heart tells me so.
CHR. The wise man says, "He that trusts his own heart is a fool." [Prov. 28:26]
IGNOR. This is spoken of an evil heart, but mine is a good one.
CHR. But how dost thou prove that?
IGNOR. It comforts me in hopes of heaven.
CHR. That may be through its deceitfulness; for a man's heart may minister comfort to him in the hopes of that thing for which he yet has no ground to hope.
IGNOR. But my heart and life agree together, and therefore my hope is well grounded.
CHR. Who told thee that thy heart and life agree together?
IGNOR. My heart tells me so.
CHR. Ask my fellow if I be a thief! Thy heart tells thee so! Except the Word of God beareth witness in this matter, other testimony is of no value.
IGNOR. But is it not a good heart that hath good thoughts? and is not that a good life that is according to God's commandments?
CHR. Yes, that is a good heart that hath good thoughts, and that is a good life that is according to God's commandments; but it is one thing, indeed, to have these, and another thing only to think so. ...

This seems to be an example of a certainty of the heart that does not lead to Christ, as Ignorance learns in the end. The heart has its certainties, but if “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” I’m not sure we ought to consider the heart completely trustworthy.

Of course falling in love with intellectual sophistication can be damning, but so can falling in love with feeling and losing the good of the intellect. So I’m not sure why the heart should be trusted instead of the head.

Wm Jas said...

I'm sure I can't think where you got the idea that I'm talking about public, objective proof!

All I'm saying is that it is perfectly possible (and far from rare) to be deceived about love -- to believe (privately, subjectively) that you love a particular person, or that a particular person loves you, and then later to come to think (privately, subjectively), "No, I was mistaken; it was never really love at all." Either the former belief or the latter must be in error.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Fpen, WmJas - the way the argument works is that the most certain thing most of us experience is the love between a child and parent, in one direction or another or fully reciprocal - THAT should be the model for certainty.

This is not erotic love, you will note.

Can we be 'wrong' about this? Can it change?

In a sense, no - for a Christian there is some kind of permanence about love - love is NOT the kind of things which comes and goes.

Love behaves more more like a substance/ form - a thing which exists in reality and also shapes other things.

By this view, once there is love - it remains, and what changes is openness to that love - so people can cut themselves off from love in the sense of reacting against it.

I find myself thinking of a rebellious teen - who is loved by his Mother despite all, and can do nothing about this except to react against the love - which is just another way of acknowledging love.

And of course it is often the teen who rejects the reality of family love in order to seek something *more* certain (or, at least, that is what he tells himself), and he becomes a skeptic, a radical, a rebel, a rejecter...

Or a person may - by circumstance, distraction, illness - be unable to feel the reality of love. This is a horrible state to be in. But the tragedy is not the disappearance of love, but being (again) cut off from its reality - involuntarily cut off (we know it is there, perhaps, but cannot perceive it or feel it).

Now all this later stuff is metaphysics, an abstract framework designed to answer questions - but the main point is that something like this is a proper basis for certainty; whereas science and philosophy are - I would have thought very obviously - NOT EVER going to be a proper basis for certainty; and the quest for certainty via science/ philosophy is itself absolutely certain to fail.

All this stuff means that we have within us the basic model of understanding necessary to engage with the world (and not to be alienated) - but that we choose to allow culture to persuade us that there is something better and more certain than love - and to take that step into alienation and nihilism.