By Andrew Corbett
I DOUBT. (Part 1) The Nature of Doubt
The 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 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
¶ 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?
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.
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 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.
There 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.”
© January 5th 2014, Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania, Australia