finding truth matters

I DOUBT

By Andrew Corbett

I DOUBT. (Part 1) The Nature of Doubt

We all doubtThe fact that we all doubt to some extent suggests that each of us shares in the universal human craving to not be deceived and that we all intuitively want to know the truth. Even when it comes to Biblical spirituality, rather than seeing doubt as spiritually negative, it can actually be a positive.
After all, appropriate doubt can protect us from injury and even galvanise our worthy convictions.

Doubt is not a bad thingDoubt is not incompatible with Christianity. Scripture encourages us to doubt, especially dubious claims. We are not to be nîave ‘children’ in our thinking (1Cor. 14:20). Neither are to simply accept any claim blindly – rather we are test all things.

but test everything; hold fast what is good.
First Thessalonians 5:21

Doubt is not incompatible with Christianity

¶ My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.
First John 4:1

The main reason that doubt is compatible with Christianity is that it is grounded in reasons for believing. Thus, sceptics doubt because they won’t believe an unverified claim. In this sense, all Christians should be genuine sceptics! All too often Christians believe things too easily. The best reason to believe any claim is because it is true! Naturally, the opposite is equally true – any claim that is demonstrably false should not be believed. This then might lead to the question: How can we test whether a claim is true or not?

The tests of truth

Down through the ages, philosophers have studied the nature of truth (this branch of Philosophy is called Epistemology).  Certain tests were progressively developed to discern the difference between the truth from the false. For any claim to be reasonably considered as true, it needs to pass these tests-

  • Does it comport (agree) with reality?
    For example, the claim, “There was a time when lions and tigers were herbivores.” This claim does not comport with reality because the digestive system of lions and tigers can not sufficiently process a vegetation-only diet.

  • Is it testable?
    For example, the claim, “There was a time when lions and tigers were herbivores.” This claim can be tested by seeing whether the fossil remains of lions and tigers from this particular era provide any evidence for them being herbivores. 

  • Is there consistent evidence supporting it?
    For example, the claim, “Anyone could win a Gold Medal in the Olympic 100 metres Men’s sprint if they work hard enough.” The consistent evidence demonstrates that there is usually only one winner of the Olympic Gold in the Men’s 100 metres sprint (with often as many 7 other finalists and thousands who tried to qualify for it – despite their incredible hard work.

  • Could this claim be proven false? (“Falsifiability”)
    For example, the claim, “There is a pink porcelain tea-cup and saucer orbiting Mars which disappears every time someone looks at it.” This claim can not be tested and therefore cannot be proven false. With no supporting evidence for the claim, and no way to test it to prove it to be either true or false, a claim like this deserves our doubt.

There is a difference between a sceptic who exercises doubt until there is sufficient evidence to believe, and a cynic who refuses to believe despite reasonable evidence to adequately appease their doubts.

There is a difference between scepticism and cynicism

When it comes to beliefs, most people have not really taken the time to consider precisely what they believe or more importantly why they believe what they believe. The art of thinking is probably more scientific than most people realise. It’s a shame that Philosophy is not generally taught in Primary/Elementary Schools so that students are helped to gain basic thinking skills. Instead, we have the vast majority of the population holding a belief because –

  • It’s a popular view to hold (truth, however is not subject to a vote or democratic testing)

  • Some high-profile / intelligent person holds it (This is known as the “Professor’s Ploy”)

  • It is morally convenient for them (Moral truth is usually unpalatable to those who live immorally!)

  • They harbour some hurt which has shaped how they believe (Perhaps a priest sexually abused them and therefore they are now an atheist.)

  • They had a very subjective experience (such as a dream

None of these ‘reasons’ are particularly good reasons for believing a claim. Often what most people consider to be a ‘reason’ for their belief is little more than an opinion, or even, an assertion. Other beliefs fall into the category of a priori beliefs. These are beliefs which are assumed to be true before any evidence has been considered. Arguably, Darwinian Evolution falls into this category (Darwinian Evolution may be true, or it may be false, but it is fair to say that many people believe it to be true for some of the reasons given above and especially in an a priori fashion).

The Bible invites and welcomes doubters

The Bible welcomes the investigation of its claims. He is famously known as “Doubting” Thomas. He wasn’t present when the resurrected Christ appeared to several of His apostolic colleagues. And when told about the post-crucifixion/resurrection appearance of Christ, he refused to believe it unless his demands for appropriate evidence were satisfied. Eight days later, Christ appeared to His disciples again – including Thomas. Jesus invited Thomas to fulfil his demands for evidence. Thomas’s doubts were then allayed. Jesus never condemned Thomas for requiring evidence. Neither did the author penning the sacred inspired account.

Some well-meaning Christians claim that faith in God is not a matter of having sufficient evidence to do so. It seems that they have accepted the false notion that a belief is based on either faith or reason. Biblical faith is not unreasonable faith – on the contrary, it is faith which results from trustworthy evidence. Jesus’ rebuke of Thomas was not brought about because of his demand for evidence, but that he actually did have sufficient evidence (the eye-witness testimony of at least seven reliable, credible, and trustworthy men). The prominent atheist of the first half of the twentieth century, Bertrand Russell, once famously said in response to a question about dying and discovering that he was wrong about there being no God, and then what would say to God- “You didn’t give me enough evidence!” But, it will be shown over this series, no one can right state this. The Apostle John winds up his Gospel by saying the accounts that he recorded as an eye-witness, were written as evidence so that people would believe and thereby willingly receive the forgiveness and eternal life which God offers.

John 20:30

Josh McDowellThere are many examples of modern “Thomas’s”. Like him, they doubted. Like him, they required adequate evidence before they would believe in God, the Bible, and Christianity.  People like, Josh McDowell who was an aggressive atheist. He was then challenged to rebut the central claim of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He initially believed that this would be an easy conquest. But as he investigated the evidence for the resurrection of Christ he eventually conceded that it was indeed true. He became a Christian and wrote several books giving hundreds of reasons to believe in the God of the Bible.

If you are struggling with doubt – put your doubts to the test! Even a simple prayer, “God, if you are real, please reveal Yourself to me. Amen.”

Next: “I DOUBT.” (Part 2), I Doubt God.

© January 5th 2014, Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania, Australia

Faith Statement

Statement Of Faith The Bible is inspired by God and is without error. We base our beliefs upon no other book (2Tim. 3:16; 2Pet. 1:19-21). There is One God, who has always existed in...

Earthquakes and Natural Evil

Recent large earthquakes in both New Zealand, Japan, Chile, and Borneo have led many Christians to speculate about what God might be possibly saying through these catastrophes. Other Christians are struggling with interpreting these same events from the perspective of trying to understand how a God of love and power could allow such massive destruction and loss of human life?

The Morality Of Hell

Heaven and Hell are commonly presented as either the benefit or the consequence of how a person responds to God. It’s as if people think that the whole point of religion is to get people into Heaven and to keep them out of Hell. From this “religious” perspective, Heaven is Ultimate Bliss, Paradise, Perfect Beauty – while Hell is Fire, Eternal Punishment, Anguish, Torment, and The Devil’s Domain.

Pentecostal Apologetics – Defending The Gospel With Power

Why do some people believe? Every Christian has a story of conversion. For some Christians their story is a journey from atheism to belief in the God of the Bible because of the evidence. For others, like Abdu Murray, their conversion story from Islam to Christianity was based on the credibility of the Bible. Then for those like Sy Rogers, former homosexual and formerly a Gay Rights activist, his conversion to Christianity was based on the love and acceptance he experienced in a Christian community. Many people become Christians for reasons like these, but, by far, the most common reason, at least statisticaly, is some kind of Pentecostal encounter.

Mankind’s 3 Greatest Unanswered Questions, Part 2

People of all ages have lingering questions that have occupied and troubled the greatest minds of each generation. Most of the challenging philosophical conundrums are usually the exclusive domain of philosophers – but not these three questions. Both the philosophically adept and the philosophically untrained have a right to feel a vested interest in how these questions might be answered. Indeed, how we answer them has an immediate and potentially fatal bearing on how we view ourselves and those around us. And it is here we begin to question.

Mankind’s 3 Greatest Unanswered Questions

People of all ages have lingering questions that have occupied and troubled the greatest minds of each generation. Most of the challenging philosophical conundrums are usually the exclusive domain of philosophers – but not these three questions. Both the philosophically adept and the philosophically untrained have a right to feel a vested interest in how these questions might be answered. Indeed, how we answer them has an immediate and potentially fatal bearing on how we view ourselves and those around us. And it is here we begin to question.

A Theology of Sexuality

Gender and Sexuality are uncontroversially linked. The contribution that a man and a woman made to sexuality had always been straight-forward. Yet, of late, a very odd controversy has arisen around the novel idea that people are born with a sexuality beyond the designation of either male or female. It is asserted that there are now at least seven gender options with corresponding varieties of sexuality.

Initially, those defending what the Bible teaches about sexuality were ridiculed as “out of date”, “out of touch”, “prudish”, or even “fundamentalist”. But lately, the criticisms toward those who still promote an understanding of Biblical sexuality are coming from those who identify themselves as ‘Christians’. I’m not the first one to point out that the discussion regarding sexuality from the Biblical perspective has thus often been an exchange of vitriolic name-calling. The adage, “Ridicule is not an argument” seems to be pertinent. There are people on both sides of this debate who seem more interested in shouting than listening – let alone giving reasoned cases. This article in no way seeks to vilify anyone and does not endorse any acts of hatred.

The 5 Pillars Of Christianity

Many Church denominations are generally waning in this “post-modern” era. Along with the rise of non-denominationally aligned churches has been a growing doctrinal vacuum as preachers become life-coaches and the emphasis is on making the Bible a “How to…” book. A casual reading of some of these churches doctrinal statements reveals some glaring departures with historic Christianity, which should cause us to wonder how or why they differ so much with the 5 Pillars of Biblical Christianity…

Is Tithing For Today?

The vast majority of Evangelical churches encourage the practise of “tithing” and claim to do so because the New Testament teaches it. But does it? What are the believer’s obligations when it comes to endorsing or challenging tithing? What are the local church’s obligations when it comes to teaching, receiving, or addressing tithing for today? How we answer these questions has a huge impact on how believers and churches function as stewards of both finance and God’s Word!

There seems to be a growing challenge to the teaching of “the New Testament tithe”. There are entire internet sites dedicated to the issue. There are chatrooms where believers can discuss it. There are new books being written about it. In our local regional newspaper someone obviously feels so strongly about it that they have taken out provocative advertisements in the Church Notices section condemning any church that endorses tithing as being “a part of the Harlot church of Babylon”. This has become a heated issue…

I Doubt, Part 2

We are divinely designed to doubt! Doubt should be a normal healthy human response to an unsubstantiated claim. Doubt says, I won’t believe this unless I have good reasons to. When it comes to belief in God, more and more people have moved from doubt to cynicism largely because they believe there are no reasons or evidences for the existence of the God of the Bible. All too often those who do believe in God promote the incorrect idea that belief in God is a solely a matter of faith – without any need for rational evidence. Little wonder then many doubters in God have become convinced there is no God. There are some good reasons to doubt God’s existence, but some even better reasons to doubt these doubts!

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