In Praise of Uncertainty
"Fishermen, like the rest of humankind, will talk relentlessly and authoritatively about what they understand least." - Ted Leeson*
I remembered these words while reading about the photos sent back this month by the New Horizons space probe. In a blog post entitled "The Eye-Popping Astonishment of Pluto," veteran science journalist Corey Powell wrote, "In short, there is far more diversity, activity, and complexity in the solar system than anyone expected just a week ago. Nature continues to surprise us.... It may sound hyperbolic, but it is fair to say that our hard-won knowledge about how planets behave has been rendered instantly obsolete-or at least revealed as woefully incomplete."
In the face of so much mystery, why do we humans talk so "relentlessly and authoritatively" about things we don't understand? Physician and poet Brian Volck, in a thoughtful essay about the sometimes-tense relationship between faith and the sciences, decries fundamentalism as "a disease of malignant certainty, [which] blinds dismissive antitheists ... as much as young earth creationists."
In our civic life, as well as in our churches, such malignant certainty breeds only conflict and violence. Although the Apostle Paul was no stranger to making authoritative pronouncements, he could also step back and acknowledge the grand mystery that confronts us all this side of eternity: "Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles.... Now I can know only imperfectly" (I Cor 13:12 [JB].
Would that all the shouters - and shooters - would do the same. Volck concludes his essay by writing, "Rightly practiced, both faith and the sciences end not in certainty but in awe, wonder, gratitude, even love. I know no better place to end."
The Habit of Rivers: Reflections on Trout Streams and Fly Fishing
(Penguin, 1995), 16