Accepting Uncertainty

“I don’t know.”

This single phrase is the of the most powerful in the human language. It is also one that many people have a hard time both accepting it from others and using as an answer themselves. Too often humans accept bad answers over having no answer at all. Too often humans give a lie instead of an uncertain truth.

One great hurdle for abandoning religion is learning to accept this ambiguity. Going from having all the answers to having only questions is hard. One has to shift from a mindset of knowing to one of seeking. But it can be freeing as well. Once you accept the idea that “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer, you gain the ability to truly answer any question, regardless of the source. This is powerful.

Atheism and skepticism is built on this uncertainty. I do not know that god goes not exist. I conclude that he does not exist based on a lack of evidence, but I am not upset about a lack of 100% certainty. Like all things, I take the most probably answer, based on the evidence. If something is unclear, I say so. I do this with all questions on all subjects. In a similar vein, Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist talked about how there is no question that atheists can’t answer:

It’s not that atheists know everything; it’s just that we’re perfectly comfortable saying “We don’t know” to questions that no one has the answer to. Why do we exist at all? I don’t know. What caused the Big Bang? I don’t know.  Why do we have consciousness?  I don’t know. I don’t know those things and you don’t either.

Even among my skeptic friends, it is very easy to want to fill in gaps with unsupported explanations. We talked about the paranormal earlier this week. I know several skeptics who want to put an amorphous god-like being just behind the Big Bang to give it a cause. There are skeptics who refuse the premise of a god while believing deeply that John Edward’s performances are displays of actual psychic powers.

It is better for us as individuals and as a species to reject this baseless claims. We must try to not invent answers without proper support. We must be willing to say “I don’t know” when it is appropriate. Only then can we really move forward in looking for answers.

-That is all.

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