Lately I have been showing the movie “Doubt” to my Seniors. Of course, it is hard to convince them that the movie is not really about whether the priest “did it” but rather about how we go about arriving at certainty as humans. Having begun the class with selections from Percy’s “Lost in the Cosmos” though, this line from the opening homily of the movie helped to clue them in: “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.”
The movie is really about doubt and certainty. What is certainty? At one point in the movie, Father Flynn tells Sister Alyosius that certainty is a feeling, that she has no right to make her entire judgment based on her own feeling of certainty. Sister Aloysius won’t budge, and when Sister James says that she believes the priest, she responds: “You just want things to be resolved so you can have simplicity back.”
Some of my thoughts on knowledge, certainty and faith:
Certainty is a feeling. When I am “certain” about something, what I am saying is that I “feel certain” about a position. It is a subjective claim. In a perfect world, this “feeling” is based upon a certain amount of data. For instance, I feel very certain that 2 + 2 = 4 because the data given to me is rather narrow and determined. My feeling in this case corresponds to the limited amount of data coming in to me and the limited amount of contradictory evidence. In this case, my feelings of certainty are confirmed.
Jean-Luc Marion speaks of mathematics though as being “poor in donation.” This does not mean that math is unimportant, but rather that what it “gives” to experience is poor in scope. It is basic, simple, and therefore certainty in regard to math is easy. The same is true of all the “hard” sciences. We call them hard, because certainty about them is easy. But something is lost when certainty comes easy. What is lost is a certain “richness” of donation.
This is why as you go up the hierarchy of being, certainty grows more and more flimsy. Why is psychology called a soft science? Because the certainty that we can have of human persons is nowhere near that of math. This is because what is “given” by the person is rich in donation. And on up to God, where we are confronted with mystery absolutely speaking.
Of course, the confusion that Romanticism propagates is that there is no knowledge at all of people and God, but only feelings. But this confusion is based on kinds of certainty and donation.
Small amount of donation = Great certainty
Large amount of donation = Little certainty
But both are based on knowledge. It is just that when I am knowing a person or knowing God, the amount of donation is so staggering, the amount of data and the depth of the data, that my ability of be adequate to it is limited.
The classic definition of truth is “adequatio ad rei,” the adequation of the mind to thing. But this adequatio becomes less and less possible as I know higher and higher levels of donation. Before a mystery, I “feel inadequate.” Notice the language. I feel not adequate, the adequation is not there because of the sheer amount of donation being given to my mind. This is still knowing, it is just a higher kind of knowing. But the price for higher knowing is less certainty.
Unless I accept faith. This is precisely why faith is a “way of knowing” and not just a feeling. Faith knows with certainty what the mind cannot “feel certain” about due to the staggering richness of donation of the content of faith knowledge. Faith is a gift, a raising of the mind to adequation with that which is given beyond the mind’s capacity. Thus, even insofar as all people share in the image and likeness of God, faith extends to persons, and indeed, insofar as God is in all things, faith extends to all things. To know things truly, we must have faith. Faith alone corresponds, provides an adequatio in the mind to the rich donation of Being. As Augustine repeated ad nauseum: “You must believe in order to understand.”