Science and Religion Index
By Richard Bruce BA, MA, and PhC in Economics
Former Instructor St. John's University, New York City

Faith and the Various Levels of Certainty, Scientific, Metaphysical, Moral

There are various levels of certainty. We know simple math with metaphysical certainty, well-established science with scientific certainty, and the truths of the Catholic faith with moral certainty. To explain the difference let me share a little combination of humor and explanation that was relatively popular on an Internet site, Reddit, more specifically the subreddit, Debate a Christian. Of course Christian arguments are generally unpopular on Reddit so relatively popular means they did not seem to hate it.

Academics tell us that the only empirical fact we can be certain of is Rene Descartes's, "I think therefore I am." The more skeptical academics think even this is too much. They limit themselves to, "I think therefore some activity is occurring." Therefore we are told that we can not be certain that either man or apes exist, or ever existed, but that we can be certain that man evolved from an ape that was the most recent common ancestor of man and chimp.

Similarly, we can not be sure that the earth or the sun exist, or ever existed, but we can be sure that the earth orbits the sun.

Cynically one could say that the academics are not sure that people who disagree with them exist, but are absolutely certain that the people who disagree with them are idiots.

We can be scientifically certain that people, apes, the earth, and the sun exist. Scientific certainty means we trust our senses and evidence. If we trust that we can be scientifically certain that people evolved from some species of ape that no longer exists, and that the earth orbits the sun.

But metaphysical certainty, the type of certainty we have in simple math, does not rely on our senses. Even in a dream, an illusion, or an artificial reality generated to entertain a brain in a vat one plus one is likely to be still equal to two. Furthermore even the dreamer can say I think therefore I am, or at very least I think therefore some activity is occurring.

So we are metaphysically certain about simple math, and scientifically certain about well established science, what about metaphysics.

Religion is frequently considered, and often dismissed as metaphysics. As the teaching of the Catholic Church is religion it is considered a prime example of metaphysics, particularly when the term is used derisively.

But the Catholic Church does not describe its teaching or doctrines as metaphysically certain, or even scientifically certain. The Catholic Church only says its own teaching or doctrine is morally certain. This is a level of certainty below scientific certainty, the certainty of well established science, like the earth orbits the sun.

So metaphysics is not metaphysically certain. Yes, I know it is confusing.

Recently someone on Reddit, more specifically on the Debate Religion subreddit, argued that "Science converges as more information is gained but religion does not. ...this shows us that religion is more likely to be a social construct..."

I replied that this was not in conflict with Catholic teaching. Math is more certain and clearly less likely to be a social construct than economics, but this does not make economics worthless. Economics and all the other sciences provide us with useful information that math does not. So math is not a substitute for the various fields of science. Similarly, religion addresses different questions than math and science and is useful even though the certainty of religion is less.


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