Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

The Benefits of Doubt

I don’t know if it’s better to be a vegan or an omnivore. I don’t know if it’s better to believe in God or not. I don’t know if small government is better than large government or if one ought to vote for a Democrat or a Republican or a third-party candidate for any particular office.

It seems to me that one can derive benefits from any of those positions. I have my own inklings, of course, my own opinions evolved from study of those topics, but I don’t know with certitude which position on which issue is the correct one – if there even is such a thing.

What I do know is that there are a lot of people who are absolutely convinced that they know the truth about politics or religion or diet or exercise or any other subject one cares to discuss.

For example, some religious folks have said to me: Have you read the Bible? Perhaps you should pray about your doubt. If you just open yourself to God, you will see the truth. Satan is testing you.

All of these comments presuppose that there is a greater truth, that the speakers know that greater truth, and that I will come to understand that greater truth in time if only I accept what they have to say. What they do not admit is the possibility that they might be wrong in their belief. They refuse to accept that I might like doubt. Perhaps I like not knowing if there is a God.

If I don’t know, then I don’t have to live my life according to the dictates of any particular religion. I don’t have to make the determination that Religion A is better than Religion B and that Religion C is so bizarre in its beliefs that it can’t possibly be the correct one.

I can instead live a life that accepts the possibility of all or none or some combination within those two extremes, that tries not to judge one or the other as the only proper truth. I can follow the rules of civilized society without resorting to the commands of a deity that might not even exist.

The same holds true for any number of topics that are incapable of producing certitude. Politics, economics, diet, exercise: there are truths within these subjects but there are also areas of doubt. We know some exercise is good (even necessary) but how much is ideal? Should we work our bodies to exhaustion or save some energy to preserve our joints? And if there is an ideal amount/intensity for one person, is that the ideal for the next individual?

Those who say they know the truth are either liars or fools.

And the reality is that there will never be consensus on any issue. For every position I assert as truth, people who for the most part are rational will choose the opposing side.

Take slavery, for example. The vast majority of us would assert that it is not only wrong, but evil. Yet there are still many who claim it’s the way God intended the world. Parts of Asia, Africa and yes, even America, have people bound in servitude by folks who think they’re complying with God’s dictates.

This ought to be a no-brainer and yet it’s not. It will take years of education to get to where everyone believes this is bad. We may never get there. Why? Because we are a stubborn species. We find something we like, something that works for us, and immediately assume it to be Truth.

So metaphysical certitude causes problems.

And yet doubt is not always good. Those who doubt climate change, for example, or doubt that it is caused by human activity, act as a counter to our movement to slow the warming of the planet.

They like the world the way it is. They despair of change and sacrifice so they latch onto slanted studies and “Sky is Falling” warnings that haven’t yet come to pass in order to maintain their position that it’s all a big conspiracy intended to push a radical agenda.

What does this mean for humanity?

Perhaps we are doomed to travel the path of the dinosaurs. Perhaps the time of humans has reached its zenith and we are now heading down the slope toward extinction. Or perhaps I’m wrong and we’re still climbing, still capable of solving all the problems that confront us. I don’t know the truth. But I fear those who claim they do.

book 1 in the Susquehanna Virus series

book 1 in the Susquehanna Virus series

Comments are closed.