The fourth theme I noticed in my “careful conversations” over the years is the willingness to change my mind.
The reality is that, at any time, we could be wrong about something we believe, even if there are really good reasons to think we’re not.
Some are not comfortable admitting this.
I understand the apprehension, but in no way should admitting this lessen our convictions or give reason to think that our convictions are doubtful.
Degrees of Certainty
The word “certain” is a very tricky word, one that laypersons use in a different sense than philosophers use it.
Further still, there are varying degrees of certainty. For example, there is psychological certainty and epistemic certainty.
Although see little to no difference between the two, I think whatever difference there may be (even if subtle) is crucial to rational and gracious discussion.
So when asked if I’m “certain” of something, I often strive to make this distinction in the question: Am I being asked of 100% certainty beyond all doubt, or certainty beyond a reasonable doubt?
I submit, along with probably most professional philosophers, that the latter alone is necessary to have rationality and warrant for holding a belief. Absolute certainty need not be demonstrated.
The reason that there are “degrees” of certainty/knowledge is simply that there are some things we know with greater confidence than other things. Myself, I’m “more certain” that Jesus died, rose from the dead, and saved my soul than of my current view on eschatology.
Thus, I would claim a higher degree of psychological certainty for the former belief than the later, but I would personally feel uncomfortable claiming epistemic (the highest level) certainty on either belief.
Differences of Opinion
To be sure, my comments about certainty thus far are not without contest.
John Frame, for example, that there is little difference between psychological and epistemic certainty, and that Scripture should be taken as “absolutely certain” by Christians.
I have to admit that I’m sympathetic to this view. It seems to me that radical skepticism is the only option if we don’t take something as absolute, and it seems to be that special revelation from God would be the only reasonable contender.
So I’m open to my mind being changed (see what I did there?), but I also think that Scripture does provide for us an unwavering foundation on which the Christian can stand.
I’m convinced the best proof of the existence of God is that without him, nothing at all could be proved. And since his Word is his own revelation to us, I’m willing to bite the bullet and take his revealed truth as absolutely certain.
Of course, this still allows me to have false beliefs. I could still be wrong about a lot of things—most things, in fact. But I think it’s significant that God provides a way of escape from radical skepticism of thought, and I, along with Frame, think it wise to submit to the certainty of Scripture for this reason.1
- Here, I’m not saying that everything I believe about what Scripture teaches is certain. Rather, I believe with certainty that Scripture, when properly understood, is the inerrant, infallible, specially-revealed communication from God to mankind.