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The nature of conviction, and the certainty of belief

Conviction and certainty of belief impart a particular trait to the very thinking and expression of a person that goes counter to reason, and the willingness to listen.  Be it blunt or sharp, the absolutist conclusion of the convinced person does not have the opening to alter the conviction.  The belief is not only unchallenged, it is also unchallengeable to the mind of the person who has conviction.  This certainty leads to actions and expressions which cannot be made without that kind of power.  It is the power of conviction that some men desire, and that power remains as long as there is no contrary evidence to challenge the conviction.  For this reason, humans pursue truth and aspire to have knowledge of truth.  Truth is the ultimate giver of conviction.  It is the ultimate power, if we are inclined to look at the effect of truth only in terms of power.  Surely, the truth is much more than power alone.

Certainty is desirable
Certainty is desirable

Why is a man convinced?

Convictions arise for varying personal reasons for different people.  There is however, simply more “apparent power” in convictions based on physical evidence.  Physical evidence which, humans can study through their organs of perception provides the least challenge to the mind and heart.  Yet, all conviction does not originate from physical evidence.

In our time, the great debate about the superiority of the scientific method rests on its ability to provide verifiable, quantifiable, reproducible physical evidence.  On the other hand, examinations of the abstract and spiritual do not give the same physical evidence; their evidence could be emotive and intellectual.  Even though not all sciences are the same, in our physical existence in a physical world, the role of science and its investigative method must be respected as unique.  It is unique in terms of the results produced before mankind, not in being a particularly benevolent or kind process.  Science in its purest form has no passion, no preference, just a cold examination and reaching of objectives.  This final outcome gives science its convictions.

Spirituality and inquiries of a religious or moral nature seek to fulfill what science does not.  Human need for companionship, for love, for empathy, for kindness, mercy, and generosity are fulfilled in ways that are not open to scientific investigations and quantification by means of math and instruments.  The very examination of the abstract and spiritual by such methods, should it even be possible, is a cause for irritation.

The great reconciliation between the physical sciences and spiritual pursuits is probably not an agreement, but a peaceful acceptance of coexistence and not stepping into each-other’s paths.  Where their paths would cross, some conflict is bound to arise.  Convictions exist on either side – science and religion (neither necessarily as a solitary source of spirituality) – and there will not be an agreement.  The peace will be when, both stay out of each-other’s way.  Public policies could possibly not be made that would bring about cohesion between such mutually opposing pursuits, and sources of conviction.

It is desirable on a personal level to find in oneself the coexistence of scientific and spiritual convictions.  The coexistence of scientific and religious convictions is much harder though, because there are numerous cases among both of looking at the same evidence and coming to incompatible conclusions – what is the age of the earth, was there ever a global flood, has evolution produced entirely new kinds of creatures etc.

The willingness to not have convictions

Entire systems of belief and ways of thinking have stood on answers to significant, existential questions.  Where we stand today is summed up in a couple of basic conclusions:

  • The belief that science does not/can not lie, is wrong.
  • The belief that religion is above question/challenge, is wrong.

It is true, we have continued to further our existence and prosperity on the basis of convictions.  If human beings did not show the courage to have and follow convictions, all society would have stagnated millenniums ago.  And some convictions are not even a matter of choice.  They are not the product of some drawn out, reasoned investigation.  Those convictions stand in their place by virtue of a deep implantation in our basic makeup, or by influences that have left a lasting mark on the mind and heart of a person.  Where the holding of personal convictions clashes with social norms, it is again a cause of conflict.

Like assumptions about science or religion, there have existed assumptions about “social facts”.  We have reached assumptions about how society should or should not be because, there was a lack of interaction among the members of society.  Rigid ways of thinking – usually the nature of conviction – led to rigid societies.  Access to information and different ways of thinking will always challenge rigid societies.  Either society will have to transform in its very beliefs, or information will have to be stopped from entering into society from outside.  This either-or-conclusion limited to human thinking obviously does not take into account if, the Creator of mankind has a specific thinking on this matter and if there is evidence for such.

Convictions have typically been personal, and borne out of an individual.  For those convictions to become social, there has to be irrefutable evidence available to society.  Based on that evidence, entire communities can reach a certain conclusion for maintaining matters as they are, or changing views in another direction.  This is happening in science, in politics, in religion, in corporations.

The idea with a strong footing in today’s world – particularly in cultures that accept peer-review as a means to establish truth – is that, mankind will be able to reach conclusions through discussions, arguments, and debates.  This is still better than reaching a conclusion by use of force, and through violent acts of war.  It seems right now, that the kind of honesty and transparency that peer-review could have is not evident in human interactions.  Particularly on social networks, there is no clarity on who is a peer, or why a review is presented.

The idea of peer-review in accepting, rejecting, or refining ideas (not only scientific ideas) can be improved if the idea becomes more important than the person.  When human beings become trained to focus on ideas rather than persons, a fundamental shift in human thinking and behavior would be noticed.  It will mean that, no one could trust the loyalty of a person for who knows what idea could separate people, but the emergence of solid reasons for convictions could be trusted.  One could then be truly loyal to those fundamental ideas.  Whether this is possible outside the realm of scientific thought is very the much the great issue before mankind.

Looking for the greater reasons and motivations

The rises and falls in human society despite all human efforts has been the story over the great spans of time in existence.  There is no society or idea or person that has simply risen, never to ever have fallen.

We might have to rethink our expectations, our ambitions, and ask questions about the future impact of holding on to convictions.  Surely, each conviction is able to produce results, but before accepting the conviction of another person, it would be wise to try and foresee what the effect of accepting and following that conviction would be.  There are limits to the foresight of any one person, and that is where a meaningful peer-review could be priceless!  As-long-as we are dealing with matters in the human realm of activity, we owe it to ourselves as a society to examine the ideas of conviction without bias.

On a personal level, with a sense of responsibility, it would be wise in consideration of our direction and prospects to reexamine our convictions.  Maybe our convictions are very dear to us, but loving consideration could at least allow us to see the possibility of the harm one man’s convictions could do the entire social structure.  Persons who are desirous of seeing social change as an expression of their inner sense of justice, seem to regress into self-centeredness.  How does this happen?

In our present time, there is a tendency to put one’s thought out there with the loudest voice and with the greatest force possible.  This is done due to the sheer numbers in competition.  Resistance to such expressions comes back with equal or far greater force.  The result is: one kind of extremism creates another, opposite kind of extremism.  The real worth of ideas is drowned by the show of power, and what comes out in the end is not the best or most beneficial ideas, but the most forceful idea.  People are attracted to this power of an individual, and following people rather than ideas turns into blind devotion.  This phenomenon is very dangerous, and it has always led to calamity.  At the very least, it has led to collision among peoples of different interests; in the collision no one even remembered why they are in conflict.  Mental blindness takes over!

There are convictions that bring light and refreshment to the human mind.  There are several factors why, certain convictions are of this nature.  What is noticeable is, people can generally identify such convictions.  Such convictions need to be identified and given a chance to grow.  At a personal level, we can find them.  Hope, peace, joy, love, kindness, goodness…May we find convictions that can lead to these results!

Convictions and beliefs can start wars, and effect peace

Once again, perhaps it is only now that some among us are beginning to become aware of the power of convictions and beliefs.  We have all personally seen the effects, either through experience or by means of a study of history.  We must now engage our abilities of foresight to discern what the effects of our personal convictions can be.  Before social revolutions take shape in the form of thoughtless mob actions, it is upto the person to understand implications of convictions.

The appeal to freedom of speech is very powerful.  People want to enjoy that freedom.  Far fewer advocate for a personal responsibility in speech.  Yet, what is more important?  Is it the freedom to speak, or is it the restraint of knowing what to speak and what not to?  The freedom is public, but the responsibility is personal.  Borne out of this understanding is the possibility of peace.  If the understanding is ignored, or it is not existent, then we are headed in the undesirable consequence of conflict and tragedy.  An appreciation for the power we have as individuals is greatly needed.  This is the education we should have!

Those in positions of leadership can stand as models of education.  Their own convictions stand to affect a greater number of people than others.  Awareness should arise in all, but until then, the role of leaders in fostering convictions for peace is crucial.  We can come to a time of greater understanding.  Indeed, we must!  Else, we will find ourselves in a downward spiral that is beyond human correction or containment.

The result is: one kind of extremism creates another, opposite kind of extremism.  The real worth of ideas is drowned by the show of power, and what comes out, in the end, is not the best or most beneficial ideas, but the most forceful idea.

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