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.