These days one often encounters the idea that being certain about a belief — i.e. having unshakeable conviction in its truth — is somehow worriesome, dangerous, or otherwise threatening.
This is how Richard Dawkins puts it: “religion causes wars by generating certainty.”(Cited in Avalos, Fighting Words, 177).
Second, in Does the Bible justify violence? John J. Collins asserts that “God-like certainty that stops all discussion” is “the most basic connection between the Bible and violence.” (32)
Finally, our very own Walter said this in my blog just this morning:
“From my point of view, the danger is when people become dogmatic in their beliefs and refuse to accept that they might actually be wrong. This problem extends far beyond just religion.
“I do not fear religion, I fear dogmatism.”
Now Walter’s comment is a little different. He refers not to “certainty” but rather to “dogmatism”. I take it that he is following common useage here where “dogmatic” entails both certainty and intransigence. I have no quibble with the intransigence part. But what about the issue of certainty? Is unshakeable conviction to be feared? Does it lead to violence? Does it start wars?
Clearly not. The problem is not certainty at all. There are many beliefs that we want people to have unshakeable convictions about. Consider the following two daycares:
Little Lambs Daycare: The “religious” staff at Little Lambs have an unshakeable conviction that peace, love and nurture should be extended to all creatures and that violence is never justified under any circumstance.
Shining Stars Daycare: The “secular” staff at Shining Stars tentatively believe that it is best not to harm infants and small children but they continue to reflect on the matter and are open to new evidence that might change their very tentative opinions.
Where would you rather leave your kids? With the dogmatic religious people or the tentative secularists?