Quotus problemis maximus
March 8, 2011 10:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm going nuts looking for this quote that I remember being attributed to John Shelby Spong. It was something about absolute certainty and society and it is driving me bananas. Details inside.

I'm paraphrasing here, but it goes something like this:

Certainty is false and absolute certainty is absolutely false. Uncertainty, although frightening, is always right. A society that depends on certainty will need drugs in order to maintain this illusion.

My googlings ave failed me hard & I'm just about insane with this one, especially since I had the quote printed out and hanging on my wall for several years. I remember the actual quote being longer and of course a ton better.
posted by Dmenet to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is this it? "Integrity and honesty, not objectivity and certainty, are the highest virtues to which the theological enterprise can aspire. From this perspective, all human claims to possess objectivity, certainty, or infallibility are revealed as nothing but the weak and pitiable pleas of frantically insecure people who seek to live in a illusion because reality has proved to be too difficult. Papal infallibility and biblical inerrancy are the two ecclesiastical versions of this human idolatry. Both papal infallibility and biblical inerrancy require widespread and unchallenged ignorance to sustain their claims to power. Both are doomed as viable alternatives for the long-range future of anyone. "

If so, I found it here.
posted by Telpethoron at 10:42 PM on March 8, 2011

There a long, but similar, quote attributed to John Stuart Mill here.
posted by amyms at 11:24 PM on March 8, 2011

I still don't know the answer to your question, but it sent me down a freaky rabbit-hole of Wittgenstein and Popper and Pascal and black swans and crowd wisdom and it's all going to give me nightmares about solipsism and p-values and cats in boxes.
posted by gingerest at 11:51 PM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: John Stuart Mill is a promising lead, but so far no dice.
posted by Dmenet at 7:12 AM on March 9, 2011

Best answer: Could it be this? "Security is so seductive, and insecurity is so frightening. But security is always false, and insecurity is always real. No religion can make anyone secure, though it, like the drugs on which our society is so dependent, can give the illusion of security. True religion enables one to grasp life with the radical insecurity and to live it with courage. It does not aid us in the pretense that our insecurities have been taken away." It's from A New Christianity for a New World.
posted by bryon at 7:23 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh hell yes. HELL YES.
posted by Dmenet at 9:17 AM on March 9, 2011

I'm glad you solved it! I came in to suggest one from Carl Sagan: "Humans may crave absolute certainty; they may aspire to it; they may pretend, as partisans of certain religions do, to have attained it. But the history of science—by far the most successful claim to knowledge accessible to humans—teaches that the most we can hope for is successive improvement in our understanding, learning from our mistakes, an asymptotic approach to the Universe, but with the proviso that absolute certainty will always elude us."
posted by carmicha at 9:43 AM on March 9, 2011

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