Now, the most obvious example of this these days is the issue that so dramatically dominates the foreign policy of the entire western sphere - Islamic fundamentalism. This is clearly about certainty, in a religious sense. These fundamentalists are certain, completely convinced, that their view of the world is absolutely correct. Opposing viewpoints are wrong, but more than that, they are dangerous. They are dangerous to these fundamentalists, and, in their twisted worldview, they are dangerous to all people, as they could lead them away from the true path to salvation and happiness.
But this issue is only one side of the coin. Let's flip it over for a second. Who do we have on the other side? Well, if we're of a kind frame of mind, we have a group of leaders who passionately believe in democracy, liberty, and all the other good things we get Hollywood movies about. If you're feeling more cynical, and the astute amongst you may have worked out I am feeling that way tonight, we have the forces of capitalism on the other side. They too believe in self-determination and liberty - how else can people decide to buy their goods? Now, these people (democrats or capitalists, take your pick) are certain, completely convinced, that their view of the world is absolutely correct. Opposing viewpoints are wrong, but more than that, they are dangerous. They are dangerous to these fundamentalists, and, in their twisted worldview, they are dangerous to all people, as they could lead them away from the true path to salvation and happiness.
Let's take a shot at science too. The shrill denunciations of religion from Dawkins are matched only by the inane platitudes from Rowan Williams. Dawkins is a true scientific evangelical, in the most derogatory sense of the word. His obsession with certainty has lead him to believe that anything that the edifice of science does not understand is worthless - though presumably things that science in the future comes to understand are different. (Incidentally, this is true of science in general - anyone studying something outside of its current base of knowledge is often vilified - until through the scientific processes of experimentation and hypothesising which they are mocked for carrying out they come to understand it. Bah.) Anyway. Yes, this man decides that because he believes, absolutely believes in the scientific method, those who believe there is something outside of it are fools, and worse, dangerous fools if they allow their faith in other things to influence their actions. They are to be mocked and vilified until they see the bright shining light of science.
OK, that's enough of the big issues. Let's go down into the nitty gritty of daily life - or at least what we are led to believe is daily life. I've just watched a report that the British Home Office is considering bringing in that wonderfully accurate piece of scientific equipment into its parole considerations for sex offenders - the polygraph machine. Yes, that's right. Not for us the psychological assessments, observation, and such like. No, bung a couple of electrodes on someone, and just ask him if he's going to fiddle with any more kids. Hurrah!
Again, this comes from this ridiculous fallacy that science, or indeed anything, can give us a certain answer. That we can predict the future, and say that person X will definitely not re-offend, while person Y will. We want so desperately to believe that we can have certainty on this, that aberrant behaviour can somehow be predicted and stopped. It is part of the culture that now makes parents refuse to allow children to play outside unsupervised - so they can have certainty their little one will never be abused. (Despite the fact, of course, that the vast majority of child abuse is committed by members of the child's family.)
To be slightly less sensationalist, what about politics? Cam wrote an interesting diary about the descent of political discourse in the US into a series of mudflinging events. Myself, I see this as another symptom of this desire for only certainty - if we are right, obviously the otherside are wrong, and dolts, fascists, liberals, evil, whatever. So long as we can label them as 'Them', outside of the circle of right thinking people which is curiously astonishingly similar to people they agree with.
But what is the cause of all this? It's the same cause of so many of humanity's problems. It's us, it's humans. We feel a natural desire for for certainty, to know exactly who we are, what we should be doing, where our next meal comes from, what opinions we should have.
Now, I'm not saying that these views I have raged at above are wrong. For example, I have some sympathy with Dawkins' position. I have some sympathy with the democrat's position. But, and here's the thing, I don't believe that anyone who disagrees with me is wrong. For one very simple reason.
I am not infallible.
You are not infallible. We are not infallible. Not even the Pope.
So, when someone tells me my scientific views cannot take into account the wonder of religion, do I mock them? Do I vilify them? Do I feel so unsure of my own views that I must shout down my own doubts by shouting down my opponent? No. Rather, I embrace my doubt. Doubt, my friend, is a good thing. Doubt is what keeps us human.
Do I think I am right? Yes. Do I know I am right? No, absolutely not. Knowing you are right about something is all a matter of faith - and that's fine, I have no problem with faith. But trying to force your faith onto someone else is a lesson in futility, and a good way to start a fight, on both a personal and international scale.
Embrace your doubt, hold it close. Admire it for the wonder it is. How can I be tolerant of people who disagree with me? Because I doubt they are right. But I also doubt I am right. I am not arrogant enough to deny someone else the right to believe whatever the hell they want.
Doubt is the way to tolerance. Doubt yourself, and learn some humility in your views. You don't need to be swayed by anyone else's views, but you also don't need to force them to be swayed by yours. Debate, yes. Evangelise, no.
So, if we all learn to do this, the world will become a better place? We'll all get on more? We'll learn that certainty is an illusion we can never achieve? Well, I think it's worth a try. But, to be frank, I doubt it.
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