What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Faith: The Ingredient to Certainty About Anything (Not Just the God Thing)

Let's say that you're looking to hire someone to work for your organization, "Me, Incorporated." There's lots of things that you would do: look at someone's resume, do an interview, do some background checks, maybe interview some friends or family members or former colleagues if you're really ambitious.

But bottom line, all this objective fact-finding can only get you to a place of probability. The only way that you can genuinely *know* if the person is a good fit is by hiring someone. That is, the only path to true knowing is through personal commitment.

And so, argues chemist, economist, and philosopher Michael Polanyi, the argument that the only way to arrive at logically sound conclusions is through a purely objective, "scientific" search is an illusion. All true knowledge only comes about through a personal commitment, an engagement with the subject matter at hand that goes beyond the careful, removed examination of the thing being studied at a distance.

This call for a purely "objective" study is no where more pronounced than in the field of religion--it comes up all the time in my discussions with people who are asking questions about the validity of faith. How can you be sure that what you're talking about is true? Isn't faith just a blind, mindless leap? I couldn't believe anything that I couldn't first see, handle, touch and prove to be true.

But these objections are missing the point: all our most certain knowledge comes from taking steps of personal faith commitments. I can't prove my wife's love to anyone. I can only express to you that I've experienced it over the past nearly-twelve years of marriage together.

There's some tangible signs of this love (sacrifices made, for example) but again all this gets us to is probability, not certainty. There's always the possibility of deception. But the only real way for me to "prove" my wife's love is to live into it, to trust it to some degree, to risk the possibility of being wrong--this is a very real and concrete "faith commitment." In this case, it's a daily one.

This is the only way we achieve certainty about anything--God included. All knowledge requires some faith-commitment to get there. Those faith commitments range from a marriage, to faith in the scientific method to yield predictably accurate results, to faith in a blog to be personally, spiritually and intellectually enriching, to faith in a job being a good fit. In all cases, you don't actually know for certain until/unless you participate in the marriage, scientific method, blog, or job in question.

I just got Polanyi's book "The Tacit Dimension" where (I'm told) he spells out his ideas in something of an accessible way for us non-philosophy-major types--I'll let you know if it's actually read-able or not. The Wiki link above lists his other works.

Could make for some scintillating beach reading for those of you who (like me) just can't resist tapping into the inner-nerd over vacation.

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