Saturday, June 13, 2009

Does Doubt Equal Disbelief? Part 1

This is a big issue. I see it all the time in Christian circles and in naturalist circles. If a Christian expresses doubt about God (for instance), he is shunned and accused of not believing in God. As soon as a scientist raises doubts about evolution (for instance), the same happens to him.

I have a few things to say about this. First, for both situations, the people doing the shunning are afraid to be challenged. They are scared that if their precious ideas are questioned, then they might be found to be lacking or even false. These people tend to be committed to an idea rather than the truth. This is not good for anyone. Read my post "Why Should I Challenge My Own Views?" for more information.

I would like to say that just because someone doubts something does not mean that they disbelieve it. What this comes down to is confidence and certainty. Certainty requires that you be 100% sure of whatever belief you hold. As long as challenges are around, 100% certainty is not possible. So, we have to fall back on confidence. Based on evidence, we can hold that we are, say, 90% sure and 10% unsure. If we are 90/10, then we can confidently believe something. However, if we are 40/60 (40% sure and 60% unsure) then we cannot confidently believe it. Most Christians and scientists fall into the 90/10 category for their beliefs. If they doubt a certain piece of evidence, question a detail, or challenge the existing form of the idea, they are only changing their percentages to, say, 80/20 or 70/30, they are not likely taking it to 50/50 (agnostic- don't know) or 40/60 (disbelief).

Now, I must say that the more a view goes challenged or questioned without those challenges and questions being answered, the percentages will continue to shift until they hit that "magic" 49/51. Then the person is disbelieving, but not because they challenged or questioned, but because they were not adequately responded to.

When someone asks a tough question its because they are struggling with it, not because they are ready to "jump ship". In both the Church and the scientific community, we need to stop accusing those who are challenging us of being "traitors", and help them along. If an idea is true, then all challenges and questions to and about it have an adequate response. By ignoring those people, we only show that we don't believe that last statement ourselves.

Michael Patton from Reclaiming the Mind Ministries wrote a blog post about this same issue: Can Christians Doubt. Please read the comments (19-103, specifically). A reader challenges Michael on the biblical merits of his claim (same as mine). Michael defends his position, and with the help of another reader, the offended reader realizes they are saying the same thing, just with different nuances that took focus.

Michael recently published another article "The Sufficiency of Probability in the Christian Belief". This is another great article worth reading.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason is asked if one can still be a Christian, yet have some doubts. Here is his answer:




Koukl is also asked "How could struggling with doubt be good".
Here are some great Christian podcasts I have found that address the deep questions and tough challenges to its worldview (pretty much every podcast on the right side of my blog):

Straight Thinking
Stand to Reason
Theology Unplugged
I Didn't Know That
Just Thinking
Apologetics.com
Without A Doubt

11 comments:

  1. "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."
    James 1:5-8

    Sorry, had to.

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  2. "Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done."
    Matthew 21:21 (also: Mark 11:23

    "But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin."
    Romans 14:23

    Jude is the only one advocating mercy, but then again he is the patron saint of lost causes.

    "Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh."
    Jude 1:22-23

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  3. Samuel,
    Do you have a dictionary available? Is it possible that I may be using a definition of "doubt" that is different from the definition used in your quotes?

    Was I not clear that I was making a distinction? Should I include a second part to the post that deals with the quotes you provided?

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  4. "But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."

    Seems pretty unequivocal.

    And doubt means "to be uncertain about something" and not much else in the English language.

    I'm just sayin'....

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  5. By "and not much else", do you mean "nothing else" or "nothing else that I am willing to consider in this situation"?

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  6. It seems as though you have taken the first two quotes out of context.

    If you read Matthew 21:18-21, you will notice that Jesus is not talking about doubting the truth of something that is being told to you. He's talking about being able to wilt a fig tree or move a mountain. So, that really has nothing to do with our discussion.

    Let's also look at Romans 14 (the entire chapter). Notice that Paul is talking about trivial issues that may cause someone to stumble (food and drink in this case). He makes it clear in the verse 23 (the one you quoted) that he is still talking about food and drink, not the truth of what someone claims. So, that is not applicable either.

    Jude is the only one that is applicable in our case, because he is specifically talking about people who doubt the truth of what Christians are claiming. I am basically echoing Jude.

    I'm not sure why you feel the need to trivialize what Jude says by your remark "he is the patron saint of lost causes." Would you please explain this?

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  7. I can see that there exists much confusion on what the Bible says about doubt and possibly where I get that asking questions (a result of doubt) is okay, and not condemned. I will prepare a second part to this post to clarify.

    In the mean time, if you have any other references that you think might need to be addressed, please let me know.

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  8. It's not trivializing Jude at all. He IS the patron saint of lost causes.... check New Advent for further info, I think that's the name of the online Catholic encyclopedia.

    and really?
    "Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."
    That has NOTHING to do with discussing faith vs. doubt? Nothing? Because I think the whole point is to say that if you have faith and don't doubt, then you can accomplish anything and "you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." I must not be getting something.

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  9. "The Apostle Saint Jude Thaddeus is "The Miraculous Saint," the Catholic Patron Saint of "lost causes" and "cases despaired of."When all other avenues are closed, he is the one to call upon, and his help often comes at the last moment. "
    http://www.luckymojo.com/saintjude.html

    http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/Saint.asp?id=1872

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  10. I never claimed that it has nothing to do with doubt in the context that Jesus is speaking. But his context is not the same as our context. We are discussing doubt in relation to the claims of Christianity, not in relation to whether or not what you ask will come to pass (Jesus' context).

    Two completely different contexts.

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  11. Thanks for the clarification about Jude. I don't know where my head was on that one. :)

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