Doubt: Why it can be a good thing

I have been reading Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, and he has raised an interesting point in the introduction regarding doubt. He recommended that each side, Christians and Skeptics, look at doubt in a radically new way.

Everyone has doubt and it should be acknowledged and addressed. In order to explore what I mean, we will look at Christian doubt first before addressing the Skeptics doubt.

Christian Doubt

He likens the Christian without doubt to “a human body without any antibodies in it” (xvii). A body without antibodies is defenseless when attacks come. Likewise, a faith without doubt will be defenseless when attacks from skeptics, or a time of trial enters into life because of personal tragedies. Those who enter these situation without having thought about the hard questions, the objections to the faith, will not be able to “provide grounds for [their] beliefs to skeptics” or even themselves when they are faced with trying circumstances (xvii). Not facing our doubts will result in a faith that could collapse over night when challenged.

On the other hand, facing our doubts will lead us “to a position of strong faith” and a respect and understanding of those who do doubt (xvii). As Christians, we must examine our doubt, being able to provide a defense for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15). It is no longer acceptable to hold a position just because our family does; we must ask ourselves the hard questions. If we do not, we will find ourselves in a position where we are not able to offer a defense for the Gospel, our faith will be shaken, and we may be left wondering why we ever believed Christianity in the first place.

Skeptic Doubt

Those who doubt the veracity of Christianity can be labeled Skeptics. Most Skeptics of Christianity will say outright it is false while trumpeting their position as truth. This is where the problem begins. Most Skeptics are quick to disregard Christianity, but are not equally as quick to challenge their own beliefs. Some may not even admit that they have an alternative belief. But denying Belief A (Christianity) means you hold to Belief B, even if you are not willing to admit that you hold to another belief.

In addition, not only do Skeptics hold to another belief when they deny Christianity, but the belief they hold to is by faith. For instance, when Skeptics say there cannot be “any exclusive claims to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality”, they are making a religious claim (12). They are assuming God is unknowable, or that God is an impersonal force, rather than someone “who speaks in Scripture” (12). All of these are unprovable faith claims. Furthermore, when someone says there are no moral absolutes in the world, they are making an unprovable faith claim because there is no empirical evidence to prove otherwise. In fact, any belief that has no empirical evidence to prove it is a leap of faith. This means all religious systems, even those that are secular in nature, claiming there is no God, is based on a leap of faith because they cannot prove God does not exist.

Once one realizes they hold an alternative faith-based position to Christianity, they need to subject their position to the same scrutiny Christians should subject their position to. Skeptics, like Christians, should examine their belief system by asking themselves: How do I know my belief is true? Can I justify these beliefs to someone else who does not share them?

The Result

Once one has examined their beliefs by wrestling with an unexamined “blind faith”, and their personal and culture’s objection to their faith, they will be in a position to provide a coherent defense for their belief system, that is, barring they find their position to be true.

Tim Keller says,

At the end of each process, even if you remain the skeptic or believer you have been, you will hold your own position with both greater clarity and greater humility. Then there will be an understanding, sympathy, and respect for the other side that did not exist before (xix).

He goes on to say,

Believers and non believers will rise to the level of disagreement rather than simply denouncing one another. This happens when each side has learned to represent the other’s argument in its strongest and most positive form. Only then is it safe and fair to disagree with it. That achieves civility in a pluralistic society, which is no small thing (xix).

Conclusion

Both Christians and Skeptics must examine the doubt associated with their belief systems. Christians needs to answer questions on their own, not holding to a system because their family does. On the other hand, Skeptics need to first admit that they hold to a “faith-based” system, and then examine their system with the same rigor they ask of Christians. The result for both groups will be a greater level of clarity and understanding of their own position, helping them to think deeper about the system they hold.

In addition, as each group examines their own beliefs, they should also become more humble and understanding to those outside their religious system which could achieve a level of civility in our pluralistic society that does not currently exist.

However, apart from a deeper understanding and a greater level of civility, my ultimate hope is that those who are not Christian would realize the Gospel is the only hope for salvation, and that their initial doubts of Christianity were not as strong as they first believed.

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4 thoughts on “Doubt: Why it can be a good thing

  1. Pingback: DeanRoberts.Net | Post: The difficulty of Faith

  2. Pingback: There is Nothing to Fear in Doubt « Confessions Of A YEC

  3. Neal Stanifer

    As an American Literature scholar, I have read a great many religious writings, whether I (as an atheist) looked forward to them or not. And to tell the truth, most of these writings are quite beautiful. I point especially to Jonathan Edwards’s narrative of his own doubts. Doubt is, as you say, a form of inoculation.

    Where I differ with your position is precisely where you say that “denying Belief A (Christianity) means you hold to Belief B, even if you are not willing to admit that you hold to another belief.” This is simply not true, and I hope you realize why. To say that I lack a full-bodied faith in a particular set of beliefs is not necessarily to say that I hold a positive faith in an opposite set of beliefs.

    I am an atheist, which means that I do not have a faith in the Christian (or any) supernatural explanation for the world. But neither do I have “faith” in the body of knowledge currently considered scientific knowledge. I may have more confidence in rocket engines than I do in prayers, but that does not constitute “faith,” as most Christians define the word.

    What I have is a method for sorting through data and evidence, to come to conclusions which make the most sense in a given situation. So far, in my life, religious explanations (Christian or otherwise) have not come up to my standards.

    Having said this, I encourage you to continue your own interrogation and exploration of your beliefs, and I respect your right (and indeed, your duty) to do so. Carry on, and best wishes.

  4. Neal,
    Thank you for interacting with my post and for your thoughtful reply. I wanted to provide you with a quick reply to your statement. Hopefully, it will bring clarity to what I first wrote.

    I believe when we define faith as: complete belief and trust in something or someone for which their is no proof, we can say those who believe and trust in God have faith because they put complete trust in what He says to be true about this world and the world to come, but are not able to see or talk with Him about His plans. (I would argue here God has provided us with a detailed plan for our lives and the world in the Bible, which I believe to be His inspired and inerrant Word to mankind, but this is not apart of our discussion, so we will leave it at that.)

    In addition, we can say those who do not believe and trust in God have faith because they are betting their lives that no God exists, who would hold them accountable for their beliefs and behaviors, but they do so with the understanding that they can neither talk with or see God.

    With these two cases in mind, we can say both people, the Christian and atheist, hold a faith claim because they have complete belief and trust in something or someone, whom they cannot with all certainty say exists or does not exist.

    So then, when I say, those who do not believe in Christianity (Belief A) hold to an alternative faith claim (Belief B), whether they admit it or not, I believe I am making a true claim.

    If you do not believe in Belief A, and you cannot prove 100% Belief A does not exist, then you are denying Belief A based on an alternative faith claim. The alternative faith claim (Belief B) is that God does not exist. Since Belief B cannot be proven, it is a faith based claim, and when you deny Belief A, you automatically are taking up Belief B – God does not exist.

    I understand you may not agree with my statement, but I believe it is true, and one those denying the existence of God have to wrestle with.

    Thanks again for reading my post and providing a thoughtful reply in a respectful manner.

    Casey Lewis

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