We glibly pronounce the phrase, oblivious of the fact that our “certitude” is not only often not shared by others, but is entirely subjective and subject to contradiction later – even by ourselves. “I was certain about it but I found out that I was wrong” : the story of my personal itinerary “From Illusions to Illumination”. And today, as an atheist, can I claim honestly that I have no doubts about God’s non-existence ? Of course I can ! But my certitude is subjective and not necessarily contagious. You may find it hard to believe, but I have been known to fail, on occasion, in converting some Believers on the Brink . . .
It is not false modesty to say that none of us possesses absolute truth. Humility is honesty, and if we are honest we must admit that our search for truth will always involve an element of mystery, beyond our grasp. It is, as we suggested in an earlier post, quoting Victor Hugo, “asymtotical” (“The Unreachable Stars”, October 5, 2016).
Another great French intellectual, now aged 96, has just published another ground-breaking book, “Connaissance, Ignorance, Mystère” (“Knowledge, Ignorance, Mystery”). Edgar Morin, sociologist and philosopher, world-famous for his research and reflections on complexity, has become fascinated by the phenomenon of what he calls “ecstasy” and “trances of esthetic emotion”, when, for example, inspired people like Beethoven step, as it were, outside of themselves (the etymology of “ecstasy”) and produce the Ninth. The greatest works of art, including literature, says Morin, seem to be created in a sort of transrational (my word) trance (unlike – need I add ? – posts in this Blog …).
Morin spoke of certitude recently in an interview (“Le Monde des Religions”, No. 86) about his latest book. “Even science”, he says, “cannot produce certainty.” He reminds us that “scientific theory can be refuted, different from religious dogma which is irrefutable, at least for believers.” He went on to say : “Beware the impression of possessing the absolute certitude which religion gives . . . Once the human spirit has created gods, they take on an incredible existence, force and power. They become capable of saying to those who created them : ‘Kneel before me, pray, kill for me !’. This is the unheard-of power gods acquire, as do ideologies : Nazism and Communism (Morin was himself once a Communist, before being evicted from the Party) were quasi-religions. At present, with the Daech assassins, we clearly see the danger of the absolute. To possess an absolute is madness.” Readers may see in this, as I do, a justification of the title of our Blog : “Blind Faith, Blind Folly”.
All this is a word to the wise – atheists as well as non-atheists – reminding us all that like absolute power, absolute certitude absolutely corrupts. That, at least, can be said without a doubt.