(This post comprises fragments from a discussion I’ve recently had with some friends, so pardon any apparent disjointedness.)
Certainty is a subjective assessment of truthfulness ascribed to truth-statements, which varies from statement to statement, and differs from person to person. For example, if you have personally seen something happen, then told your friend about what has happened, you should have greater certainty about what has happened, than your friend who has heard it from you, because first-hand information is generally thought to be more reliable than second-hand information.
Of course, how you assess the certainty of a truth statement also depends on what kind of epistemological framework you are using.
It is easy to use emotions and happiness/grief derived from a truth-statement as a measure of the statement’s truthfulness, because the process happens subconsciously, and we only need to passively acknowledge what our emotions tell us. If pleasure is your ultimate goal, then that would be your “truth”. As long as you derive pleasure out of believing in those truth statements, nobody can argue against the “truth” of those statements, because you are personally deriving pleasure from believing them.
But experience/evidence tells us that the above-mentioned epistemological approach is unreliable, because lies are more than capable of granting people happiness. Often, the opposite is true, so that knowledge/truth gives more grief, which is why there’s the saying that “ignorance is bliss”. In fact, there is a very well-researched psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance, which explains how people have a tendency to lie to themselves to feel better, because it is far more comfortable for everything to “make perfect sense”, than to acknowledge our own ignorance and grapple with that reality.
In Mathematics, 100% certainty is possible, because everything is fully defined, and things that are undefined are completely avoided. This is a good example of the fundamentalist mindset that prefers to exist in their small, well-defined little world of 100% certainty, than to venture beyond the confines of their narrow world-view and address all the things that their limited framework is incapable of addressing.
Also, the “problem of regress” demonstrates that logically, everything becomes circular when you go down all the way to the fundamental assumptions. Take for example the belief in biblical inerrancy. “Why is the bible inerrant? Because the bible says so of itself.”
Since everyone has to have fundamental assumptions somewhere, what’s wrong with fundamentalism? The problem is that, fundamentalists worship their own assumptions more than they worship the true God who is far greater than their own narrow conceptions of what God should be like. Fundamentalists make a big deal out of their own intellectual arrogance of refusing to be open to the fact that their previous assumptions may be far from the ideal way to make sense of the world that God has created. Realise that assumptions serve only to limit the possible knowledge that we have, because when we assume a particular truth-statement — let’s call it ‘A’ — to be true, we are simultaneously assuming that all other truth-statements that are contradictory to ‘A’ are false.
Every additional assumption we adopt necessarily imposes further limitations on our world view, and robs us of the freedom to discover what God has to reveal to us. It prevents God from teaching us truths that are far greater than what we have previously imagined. With every additional assumption, we close our eyes and ears to the vast reality that we live in.
Fundamentalist ideology goes against the very spirit of humility that Christians are supposed to have. Fundamentalists pretend that their own narrow world view is somehow the God-ordained world view, and refuse to question their pre-existing assumptions. They would rather place their faith in the small, “easy-to-understand”, narrowly-defined “God” of their own imaginations, than open their eyes and ears to the one true God whose vastness and greatness should never be limited by the doctrines that proud men have made up and declared as sacred truth.
Instead of having unwarranted certainty in our existing assumptions, which is no different from intellectual arrogance, we should adopt an attitude of intellectual humility that is open to the possibility that assumptions different and contradictory to our existing ones could make better sense of the world we live in, and be better representations of the truth that God wants to reveal to us.