What does testimony have to do with certainty?
“…A large part of our knowledge rests upon the testimony of others and can, therefore, only be obtained by the way of faith. Faith can be conceived of in an even broader sense so that it includes our trust in the testimony of our own consciousness. …Anyone who refuses to proceed on this basis blocks his own way to the truth and falls victim to doubt.”
Even in the narrower definition of faith, “faith as trust in another’s testimony assumes an important role in science. Every man, even the most learned, is limited in his gifts and energies, in time and place. What he can investigate freely and independently for himself makes up only a tiny part of the boundless domain of science. He owes by far the largest part of his knowledge to the investigation of others, and he accepts their testimony on trust as being true.” Bavinck goes on to say that our understanding of history itself is built “on testimonies regarding the past.” “Anyone who demands mathematical or experimental proof in history is forced to challenge its scientific nature and will never achieve any degree of certainty.”
In sum, “There is no science without personal trust and faith in the testimony of others.” Bavinck even notes that we can not necessarily trust our own investigations and our own testimony because we are under the same human limits and prone to the same mistakes and sins of other people. In fact, sometimes another person’s testimony is more reliable than our own, because they are more knowledgeable and dependable in certain fields than we are.
Bavinck ends this section by noting that “there is no science more certain of its subject matter than theology. Its basis and strength consists in the Deus dixit (speaking God, or God-who-speaks), so says the Lord. …On whose word can man rely more fully with mind and heart, in suffering and death, for time and eternity, than the testimony of him who is himself the truth?”
Next time: Bavinck on certainty in Rome, certainty in the Reformation, and certainty in Pietism.