Essays and Stories
by Seyed P. Razavi

Truth, Faith and Uncertainty

It is said that faith cannot exist without doubt and therefore certainty is the opposite of faith for in certainty one believes that all the answers are known, whereas faith requires serious doubts and uncertainties to allow the adoption of ideas despite the sincerest and most profound doubts. Faith without doubt is bigotry.

Yet in the practice of religion, doubt is often given way to truth. If religion is an expression of faith, organised and made formulaic over generations, is it right to say that faith when enshrined in dogma becomes certainty? So is truth and certainty incompatible with faith?

From an outsiders point of view, religious beliefs can often seem so wrapped in a blanket of certainty about the core principals or gospels of the faith that they become synonymous with truth. To an untrained mind, truth and certainty are the same and it is in this certainty that faith is questioned, and for those that lack it, rebuffed.

Yet in the practice of my religion uncertainty is the principal force that propels both the faithful and curious. Those with a predilection for religious beliefs seem not to be the closed minded stereotypes that are often portrayed by intellectual atheists, at least in the majority of cases. Some are truly feebleminded, that in their pursuit of certainties, salvation and hope they swallow any pill that can reach them quickly. Yet most are developed intellects seeking truth via routes that to me appear alien and misguided.

In an examination of faith I find the most important characteristic to be one of need and an implicit recognition of our own limitations. When faced with the hurdle of understanding concepts that are too taxing or lacking evidence for explanations that seem fundamental to our existence (who am I? why am I here?), we utilise a trait of humanity that has served our species very well: The ability to make do with what knowledge we have. In science and in life we have found that the best available guess is the one that serves our current needs.

Details are not necessarily important nor are certainties. Does it truly matter that I do not know what will become of me when I die? No, for it is not the knowledge of death that requires faith but the fear of it. Faith is an emotional response to an emotional issue. Faith acts as a crutch and allows me to concentrate on the more pressing issues related to my survival. Humans like all animals are most concerned with their genetic survival. Complex issues that do not require complex solutions to enhance our chances of survival are redundant. Yet our ability to think and our self-awareness makes us face these issues relentlessly. Faith allows us to put make-shift solutions in place.

So how can truth and faith co-exist in the same mind? How can certainty be achieved through faith when faith requires doubt?

It is in this that I believe we expose our true dilemma about truth and the nature of the human mind. My thoughts, like others I assume, can often be driven in a number of directions and if the reigns of concentration are loose, they can roam freely, unencumbered by purpose. It is fair to say that I can hold conflicting thoughts and ideas at once, nowhere more so in the battle between Id, Ego and Super-Ego as the psychoanalysts would call them or the struggle between the Beast of Man and the Divine Truth. In expressions of animal instinct and moral code this self-conflict is most self-evident and best expresses the power of a trained mind and the weaknesses of a deranged one.

The essence of truth may be that unlike logic it does not allow a binary choice between right and wrong. This is where the field of fuzzy logic comes and passes somewhat unsatisfactory through the haze by the introduction of probability which is merely another notation for certainty. It is interesting to note even in our attempts to express a plurality of truth we are reduced to finite possibilities which can be expressed in the solid truths of numbers. Of course, mathematics is just a notation, a short-hand for reality.

It is perhaps this simple fact, our inability to express truth in all its fluid, contradictory ways, that indicates the limitations of human cognition and the possibility of higher cognition. Whether that higher cognitive ability is to be found in life or metaphysics I cannot speculate but the boundaries of science have been well expressed by the limitations of mathematics. There is a point at which we cannot cross, not by means of our existing brains and the way they function. It can be argued we are incapable of producing something that could directly work its way to such truth. If perhaps through chaos and evolution we were to indirectly produce such a consciousness it would not surprise me nor would it surprise me that we couldn't and whether there was an initial design for such plans or not is immaterial.

The important point I think is the recognition that truth is a misnomer for what the human mind holds true and in even in the most determined, self-assured person there is an acknowledgement that uncertainty and hence faith have a role to play. It is known that those with pathological personalities are fundamentally unable to see this gap of credibility between what one knows and what is the truth. In that gap there is the need for faith.

Yet, in acknowledging that faith has a role to play in all but the most broken of human minds, how can one rationally find faith that brings one closer not further away from truth? And what value has truth in the struggle for survival?

Perhaps, I should speak solely for myself on this matter rather than delve into unproven generalities. It is clear that for my physical needs I have no need for faith to meet the struggle - in these times I do not face gruelling labour that requires hope nor terrible obstacles that demand salvation. However, it is in these comfortable times that the true missing part of being human surfaces: purpose. Without purpose I am left alone in the cold, listless and aimless in the face of a world that I cannot influence.

Biology and society throw purpose at me in due course, of this I am fairly certain. Children, obligations, social contracts and ultimately the materialism that comes with our need to wrap ourselves in assets of prosperity (both to defend against future misfortune and preserve our social standing thus protecting us from our human predators). It is these things that will push me from the pontificating of youth into the demands of adulthood (for at 25 I still do not feel obligated to be a grown up).

Yet, in the time I have to waste on such matters I find it discomforting to think of life as but a play in which I have a minor role where my obligations are not to myself or some higher purpose but to the species. I am just a probability factor within its overall survival, so insignificant in its success that my existence would be deemed within the margins of errors of an experiment. Yet, this as discussed is a limitation of the human mind - our ability to see truth as probabilities and not as layers of reality all possible, all probable and all non-measurable without an outside perspective.

So it is faith that makes me speculate that I am not merely a part of a vast organic machine because doubt makes me wonder if I am. It is faith that will find in any analysis hope and comfort in my existence because I am programmed to want to survive. In this way, my search for truth ends at the borders of my own comfort and will to survive. It takes true genius and artistry to breach those barriers.