Coffee and Conversation BLOG (February 5th)
By: Emily Schroder
“We have to get used to saying ‘I don’t know’ more often.”
Isn’t that intriguing? In a culture where “not knowing” renders one inadequate or uneducated, this phrase is rarely spoken- especially when it comes to the more controversial topics like religion.
For me, “not knowing” is a huge part of my faith. Mystery and questions are integral to my experience of the world and of higher power. I embrace being human, and being human means being fallible. I don’t know everything, and thank goodness for that. I love inquiry and exploration, and the two cannot exist without uncertainty. Without saying “I don’t know.”
At Wednesday’s Coffee and Conversation, Dr. Paul Carelli of the UNF philosophy and religious studies department discusses the subject of religion and human nature. He made an enlightening distinction between that which we can “know” through means of observed and testable evidence, and that which we cannot “know” due to lack of observable and testable evidence. Statements made surrounding these two types of subjects are “empirical” statements and “metaphysical” statements respectively.
One huge problem, Dr. Carelli noted, is that people try to debate metaphysical statements. They get angry when other people cannot see the “truth” in these statements. However, because metaphysical statements cannot be proven or disproven, debate surrounding them is virtually pointless. But here is another important distinction: the difference between argumentation and debate. Dr. Carelli proposed that debate is a phenomenon during which two parties are devoted to convincing one another of their own respective points- a goal that does not include or allow for the possibility of being convinced of anything outside of your predisposed position. Debating, especially as an institutionalized practice, is divorced from learning. Political debates, for example, never convince opposite parties of anything. Minds are not changed, and new ideas are not meditated upon. The point is to verbally break down and attack the other person’s viewpoint or beliefs; the point is to win. Argumentation, on the other hand, is a phenomenon during which two parties are speaking and disputing one another’s points, but with the possibility of changing and shifting. In an argument, both parties are able and allowed to say “huh, I never thought about it that way” or “wow, you may be right! I may be wrong!” An argument can end in something productive and transformative.
On the subject of human nature, Dr. Carelli discussed how difficult it is to make empirical statements; to agree and arrive at an established “truth” of humanity. Often times, religions serve to answer metaphysical questions- to offer ideas about things such as non-corporeal souls, God, and human nature. Yet, we still often try to debate about religion. Many of us try to convince other people of the “truth” of our beliefs and get upset when they don’t accept it, but in doing this we lose sight of the metaphysical nature of our own statements. However, metaphysical statements are not unique to religious and spiritual spheres. Secularists can make metaphysical statements too. The statement “God is real” is equally as metaphysical as the statement “there is no God.” The conflict arises when people present metaphysical statements as universal truths rather than statements of personal truths or beliefs. I cannot tell you “how it is” but I can tell you how I believe it is.
This brings us back to the idea of saying “I don’t know.” If I truly don’t have an answer for a metaphysical or an empirical question, I need to be okay with saying “I don’t know.” Making a truth statement about something metaphysical or pretending to know the answer to something empirical won’t get be anywhere except confrontational or embarrassed. Not knowing is beautiful, and it leaves more room to explore not only the empirical but the metaphysical as well.