Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Can We Be both Passionate and Humble about Our Beliefs?

Michael Polanyi
“So we see that both Kepler and Einstein approached nature with intellectual passions and with beliefs inherent in these passions, which led them to their triumphs and misguided them to their errors. These passions and beliefs were theirs, personally, even though they held them in conviction that they were valid, universally. I believe that they were competent to follow these impulses, even though they risked being misled by them. And again, what I accept of their work as true today, I accept personally, guided by my passions and beliefs similar to theirs, holding in my turn that my impulses are valid, universally, even though I must admit the possibility that I might be mistaken.” (Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, Kindle 3177.) 

Kepler and Einstein had hunches, beliefs, and passions that guided their scientific exploration. Some of these hunches turned out to be true and some didn’t, but what made them good scientists was their ability to come up with good hunches and pursue them even though they couldn’t prove them.

Are we able to do the same with theology? Are we able to have convictions about universal truth and yet maintain the possibility that we could be wrong? Does epistemological humility demand dispassion, or can we balance conviction with a post-critical worldview? 

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