Certainty needs to be defined with great care in our culture today. Indeed, in many ways the church is being torn apart over this issue. How certain are we supposed to be about our beliefs? What if we have doubt? Does that mean that we really don’t believe? Is absolute certainty about anything even possible. A straight forward definition of the term would be “the state of being certain or assured of a fact.” Those who are intellectually honest, however, will concede that there are various levels of certainty, making the word very difficult to interpret.
I believe that certainty must be related very closely with assurance and conviction. However, we must distinguish them as well. When many people are asked a question, after the answer someone may say, “Are you certain?” Still not satisfied with the response, they may continue, “Are you absolutely certain?” To be absolutely certain carries a lot of weight; more weight than being certain alone. The term absolute is defined as that which is “free from imperfection.” The point is that this line of questioning evidences a common understanding that there are different degrees of certainty.
Not only are there different degrees, but there are different types of convictions that produce these different levels of certainty. These different type of convictions primarily come from three different sources and are the main cause of our assurance and faith. Let me list the different types:
Emotional Conviction: assurance based upon subjective emotional conviction of the truth of something, thereby producing commitment to that truth.
Experiential Conviction: assurance based upon personal events in our lives which confirm to us the reality of the truth, thereby producing commitment to the adhered to truth.
Intellectual Conviction: assurance based upon the examination of something from a more objective method.
When someone says that they are certain of something, it could be purely emotional. In this case, while there will be a high level of commitment, passion, resolve, and assurance, in reality, they could be wrong. Therefore, their certainty is not really all that certain.
The same can be said of experiential certainty. As the old saying goes, it is hard to argue with experience. When someone experiences something that produces belief, their experience is the foundation for that belief. Many times, there is no amount of intellectual mobilization that can change the persons mind. Their “absolute” certainty in this case is usually not really absolute for it lack the credentials to hold such a banner.
Intellectual certainty is the most objective type. It is certainty based upon objective learning and critique. It usually looks at the evidence and makes an appropriate decision based upon the study. When information is lacking, the person will choose according to the weight of the evidence. As valuable as intellectual certainty is, as you can see from the definition, it does not inherently cause one to commit to the truth.
What we must realize as Christians is that God is involved in all and they are all valid. In a very real sense, He created them all as means of acquiring truth. We sometimes mistake that God is only involved in the emotional aspect, thereby creating a “leap of faith” mentality within Christianity. In this, we find ourselves follow Kant, believing that emotional certainty must be the foundation of our religious belief since God is not accessible in the “real” (nominal) world (i.e. He is outside of intellectual examination).
Kant was wrong. The foundation must be intellectual first, experience second, and emotion third. While this scale of one to three speaks to the validity of the three types, it does not speak accurately to the power of the three. In fact, from a standpoint of being able to passively create passionate conviction (which we all seek and need), emotion is the most powerful, with experience coming second, and intellect in third.
more later. . .