The Meanings of Certainty

Letter from Lewis Stretch (reply to Jonathan Clatworthy, reply by Brenda Watson)

from Signs of the Times, No. 24 - Jan 2007

Your October editorial shows that liberal fundamentalism can be as misleading as other forms. For while you rightly blame Descartes for the arrogance of some philosophies, stemming from his self-centredness in his primitive anechoic chamber, you ignore the fact that this was not the only scientific tradition that arose from the Renaissance/Reformation. Bacon's empiricism was the dominant approach that inspired the achievements of our applied scientists (engineers/industrialists) and the religious beliefs of them and many pure scientists who adopted, openly or tacitly, unorthodox versions of Christianity such as unitarianism. By its very nature this method could not claim absolute certainty; but its trials and sifting of growing experience supplied sufficient certainty to justify action even with the risk of fatal consequences, a title changed to confidence in statistical usage.

Such a degree of certainty/confidence is essential for developing societies and systems; without it they would be paralysed and starve like Buridan's ass. Hooker was not the only guide who held that bringing together belief, reason and experience is essential for reaching the best solutions to any problem. You slip too casually between absolute certainty and the level of confidence that is needed to allow action.

This trait is illustrated by your grouping the quite disparate issues of the ordination of women and homosexuals to positions in the Church that demand leadership by life and doctrine. For anyone claiming to be a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth as God incarnate, must start from the most reliable accounts of his teaching, the Gospels. So far from rejecting the ministry of women, he welcomed them, even if he very wisely did not send them out on patrols on the dangerous roads of Palestine. On the other hand his insistence that the only legitimate form of sexual activity was that between a man and a woman in a committed relationship is recorded frequently.

Yours sincerely

Lewis Stretch