How to Approach Uncertainty: Faith or Reason?

For many, the question of how to approach uncertainty is defined by either faith or reason. Not both. It's one or the other. Do you go by faith, hoping that things will turn out due to whatever good fortune may come along? Or, do you use reason to discover your way out of the problem?

This question extends to far more than just individual decisions. The approach of faith or reason weaves its way into our worldview, determining how we not only make decisions but also how we create our opinion of why things happen and how we teach our children.

Our viewpoints, however, get a bit muddied when communities come into play.

Certain Faith and Uncertain Reason

In Brené Brown's Gifts of Imperfection, she recommends faith as a way of "wholehearted living" and acknowledges that she struggled with adapting to a viewpoint of faith at first. As a researcher — someone who banks on reason in her profession daily — she sees that folks on both sides of the issues struggle with faith.

I also learned that it’s not always the scientists who struggle with faith and the religious who fully embrace uncertainty. Many forms of fundamentalism and extremism are about choosing certainty over faith.

I love this from theologian Richard Rohr: “My scientist friends have come up with things like ‘principles of uncertainty’ and dark holes. They’re willing to live inside imagined hypotheses and theories. But many religious folks insist on answers that are always true. We love closure, resolution and clarity, while thinking that we are people of ‘faith’! How strange that the very word ‘faith’ has come to mean its exact opposite.”

Scientists, it seems, have learned to live with uncertainty to a far greater extent that some religious circles.

Rob Bell, former pastor of a large church, writes about the closed system that religion can be in his controversial book Love Wins,

Some communities don't permit open, honest inquiry about the things that matter most. Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt, or raised a question only to be told by their family, church, friends, or tribe: "We don't discuss those things here."

Faith is not meant to be a closed system of answers.

Faith is about growth. It's about exploration. Brown says that faith is meant to give us the "strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty."


Bell talks further about faith in his book What We Talk about When We Talk about God:

Which takes us back to faith, because when someone says that we don't understand something fully right now but we will given enough time, that is, of course, a belief. That's faith. We aren't at that point talking about people of faith versus people of science; we're talking about all people of faith, just faith in different things.

You approach uncertainty with faith, one way or another. I'll be the first to admit that not enough of us approach uncertainty with reason, but the point is that we have more in common with one another than we may realize.

I grew up in the Christian church, and I still find great value in my faith. But, I've been in environments where certainty was demanded, and I (and we all) have seen the seemingly impossible divide between faith and reason, a divide fostered by both sides of the debate.

Whether or not there's a perfect way to bridge the two systems, it is possible to focus on the similarities between people of faith (church, science, or whatever else) to start the conversation with one another.

We have so much to learn from one another.

LifeMichael Roberts