“It is incertitude that charms us. Everything becomes marvelous in fog”, wrote Oscar Wilde in The Portrait of Dorian Gray. The paintings of Rouen’s Cathedral by Claude Monet would suggest that the French impressionist would have agreed with the Irish author. The “charm” of incertitude may be true of art and literature. But in just about every other domain, from politics to financial investments to science, philosophy and theology, most people would much prefer certitude to incertitude.
The problem, of course, is that we cannot be certain about lots of things. Death, taxes and a word from the sponsor used to be about the only things we could be sure of. Absolute, objective, fact-based certitude would seem to be limited to mathematical axioms. Subjective certitude (“I just know I’m right !”) has no limits at all. I used to be certain about religious dogmas. Now I “know” that such certitude was without foundation. Am I certain about God’s non-existence ? Yes, about as far as is humanly possible, which is to say that my strong conviction – not certitude – is based on the flimsiness of the myths and traditions which purport to establish His existence, as well as on the solid, scientific evidence of evolution and of nature’s self-organization. I am not an agnostic but an atheist, because I affirm God’s non-existence, rather than say I can’t be sure one way or the other. I will continue to search for further evidence, but I know that certitude, except for statements like 2+2 = 4, is an unreachable star. I prefer, in fact, my present incertitude and search, rather than the “certitudes” I once thought I had.