One of the reasons I absolutely love science and dislike religion is this: scientists the world over see reality in much the same way, while religious believers agree only on the need to believe without evidence, not on what they believe is true about their God fantasies.
So I wasn't surprised when, several days after writing "Science has a radical distrust of certainty. Me too," which was based on a book by physicist Carlo Rovelli, an Italian, I came across very similar sentiments about certainty in a book by a British physicist, Jim Al-Khalili, The Joy of Science.
Here's passages from the "Don't be afraid to change your mind" chapter.
If a theory survives, it is because it has been through this process of rigorous interrogation and we can be confident that the new scientific knowledge it gives us about the world can be trusted.
And it is here where we find one of the most important features of the scientific method: all of these careful steps are built on acknowledging and quantifying uncertainty, because a good scientist will always retain some degree of doubt and rational skepticism.
This does not necessarily mean that the scientist is sceptical of others' views, but rather that we as scientists should acknowledge that we may ourselves be wrong.
...While doubt and uncertainty are important in science, so too is certainty; otherwise we would likewise never make progress, and of course we do. The scientific method has many imperfections, and it is true that the process of scientific discovery is often messy and unpredictable, and full of blemishes, blunders and biases.
But after the dust has settled on some aspect of our understanding of the world, we usually find that progress has been made not through doubt, but through well-founded conclusions based on carefully justified steps that gradually reduce our levels of uncertainty.
...And yet uncertainty forms part of every theory, every observation, every measurement. A mathematical model will have built-in assumptions and approximations with a well-defined level of accuracy.
...Measuring uncertainty and accepting it as an integral part of scientific investigation is ingrained into every science student.
The problem is that many people not trained in science see uncertainty as a weakness rather than a strength of the scientific method. They will say things like, "If scientists are not sure of their results and admit that there is a chance that they might be wrong, then why should we trust them at all?"
Quite the opposite, in fact: uncertainty in science does not mean we don't know, but that we do know. We know just how likely our results are to be right or wrong because we can quantify our degree of confidence in them.
To a scientist, 'uncertainty' means a 'lack of certainty'. It does not mean ignorance. Uncertainty leaves room for doubt, and this is liberating because it means we can critically and objectively assess what we believe.
Uncertainty in our theories and models means that we know they are not absolute truths. Uncertainty in our data means our knowledge of the world is not complete. The alternative is far worse, for it is the blind conviction of the zealot.