Saturday, July 4, 2009

Does Doubt Equal Disbelief? Part 2

This was originally going to be a single-part topic, but I realized after several comments on the original post, that I needed to clarify and address a few extra things for both the unbeliever and the believer.

First, I want to define a term. Second, I will discuss the scriptures brought up as challenges. Third, I will provide scriptures that allow for "doubt" being biblical.

1. Doubt- when I use this word in the original post, I am referring only to be skeptical of the truth of a claim. I'm not talking about distrusting someone, and I am not talking about not believing that something you pray for will come true. I am speaking strictly of being unsure of the truth of something someone is claiming to be true.

2. A few scriptures were posed to me as being Biblical evidence that doubting truth claims is unbiblical. The implied conclusion seemed to be that investigating Christian truth claims is discouraged in the Bible.

Here are the scriptures posed as challenges:
James 1:5-8
Matthew 21:21 (parallel passage Mark 11:23)
Romans 14:23

Let's look at each one individually:

James 1:5-8
"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."

Notice that the context of this passage is a man asking God for something (wisdom, in this case). If a man asks God for wisdom, but does not believe (doubts) that God will give it to him, he is "like a wave of the sea...". This passage's specific definition for the word "doubt" is "doubting someone" or "not believing that something you pray for will come true." Neither of which is the definition or context of my original post. Since the context of the two being compared (my post and the biblical passage) is not the same, the comparison is unwarranted, and may be discarded.

Matthew 21:21
"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."

This one has also a different context and definition. (I have always been a fan of Greg Koukl's booklet and online article "Never Read a Bible Verse". The short version is that one should never take only a single verse (out of context) to make a point.) If you read the whole story (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. The specific definition of "doubt" and overall context is not the same. So, that really has nothing to do with my post either.

Romans 14:23
"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."

Please read this one in context (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. Specifically, Paul is talking about doubting (not knowing) whether or not eating or drinking something will cause a brother to stumble. Once again, this is not the definition of "doubt" nor the context that I use. So, this one is not applicable either.

3. Here are a few scriptures that promote testing truth claims, being gracious to (rather than condemning) those who have questions (doubt), and providing a defense of the Gospel.

1 Peter 3:15
1 Thessalonians 5:21
Jude 1:22-23

1 Peter 3:15
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

In 1 Peter 3:8-22 Peter is commanding his brothers to be compassionate and humble in everything that they do. In verse 15, he specifically mentions situations in which someone is asking questions about their beliefs.

1 Thessalonians 5:21
Test everything. Hold on to the good.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 Paul is saying pretty much the same as Peter above.

Jude 1:22-23
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.

In context (Jude 1:17-23) Jude is speaking of people who doubt the truth-claims of Christianity.

I have published two other posts that may also help to shed more light on the subject (each has references for further investigation):

Why Apologetics?
Is "Blind Faith" Biblical?

If you think that I need to address anything else in regards to this topic, please let me know.

21 comments:

  1. "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him."

    Jesus IS making a truth claim. If you do X, then Y will be done.

    I'm guessing you interpret it figuratively right?

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  2. ...However, Jesus does not say anything about doubting what he is saying. Jesus is talking about prayer (see the Mark passage). Figurative or not has nothing to do with this context.

    Would you like me to take up this passage specifically in a future post? If so, email me your specific concerns about it, and I'll post them along with my response.

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  3. Um.... but if one was to doubt the truth claim of Jesus, isn't that the same as doubting what he is saying?

    In other words, you are telling me you don't doubt Jesus's claim in a literal sense that "as long as you believe and do not doubt, that whatever you say will happen will be done for you"?

    Therefore it is relevant because it is being skeptical of the truth of a claim:
    "1. Doubt- when I use this word in the original post, I am referring only to be skeptical of the truth of a claim. I'm not talking about distrusting someone, and I am not talking about not believing that something you pray for will come true. I am speaking strictly of being unsure of the truth of something someone is claiming to be true."

    In other words, I think it quite reasonable to be unsure of the truth that Jesus is claiming to be true. To be unsure of Jesus's claim is to not believe his claim. To not believe is to have disbelief. I mean really, by definition isn't doubt really the same thing as disbelief?

    It's not the passage I am worried about, I am only using it of an example that many rational people would obviously doubt, or in other words, "disbelieve."

    Investigating the truth claims of Christians for verity may be biblical, but can one really claim it's Bibilical to question the truth claims of Jesus himself? After all, "His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, His ways higher than our ways."

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  4. So all this boils down to your last paragraph (using Matt 21:21 as an example)?

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  5. It boils down to my last three paragraphs.

    1. To doubt someones claim is the same as to not believe their claim - which in Biblical terms is the same as disbelief.

    2. Is it really Biblical to question the truth claims of Jesus himself?

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  6. Testing comes from being unsure of something. Testing happens all the time in the scientific enterprise. Would you say that because a scientist tests a hypothesis, he doubts it?

    You seem to think that testing Jesus' claims is unbiblical. Are there any other verses besides the "higher ways" verse (Isaiah 55:8) that you had in mind that would support your claim?

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  7. Science is a different ballgame from theology. Science is based on empiricism, and healthy skepticism is encouraged.

    The gospel on the other hand is about faith. But I mean really, go test Jesus claim that if you believe something hard enough when you pray for it you can move a mountain. I think you will be disappointed with the results.

    The gospel is all about faith. Rather than isolate verses think about the whole she-bang in its entire context. Peter walking on the water. Mary getting the message from the angel. Joseph getting the message from the angel. The whole story is faith-filled. I know paternity tests weren't available, but Joseph just kind of took it on faith that Jesus was legitimate.

    And unbiblical isn't the right word. Testing Jesus's claims is un-Christian. Because Christianity is about believing what Jesus said, not doubting (testing) it. "Do not test the Lord your God" something or other.

    I don't know if I'm claiming it's unbiblical to test Jesus because I'm not a Christian, it's not my domain what the Church does.... but it does seem kind of counter to a religion built around faith, and with a brutal history in the OT of what happens to those who question God, to say that it's kosher to test Jesus.... because after all, isn't he the Way, the Truth, and the Light? So if just one of his claims is wrong, it kind of wipes out that whole bit.

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  8. Let me make sure I understand you properly before I continue.

    Are you saying that science has nothing to say about theology and/or theology has nothing to say about science?

    When you use the word "faith" are you talking about "blind faith"?

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  9. "Are you saying that science has nothing to say about theology and/or theology has nothing to say about science? "

    I am merely saying that the epistemological standards between the two are vastly different and so it's a strawman to compare them.

    When I use the word faith, I don't refer to "blind" faith.... Faith can be based on reasons, but that doesn't make it the same as empirical knowledge.

    "To know" in the epistemological framework I am proposing requires existential experience of, or the ability to reproduce the experience of another. Faith does not have that quality.

    You will never see the resurrection of Jesus. You cannot replicate it. You merely have faith, based on good reasons, that what the apostles said was true. That is not the same as knowing that the resurrection is true.... you were not there, you did not see it, you did not experience it, therefore it's a matter of faith.

    In science it does not fly to say "well Joe is trustworthy, Joe was there, so it must have happened."

    But now we are on another bunny-trail.

    MY MAIN AND ONLY POINT WAS THAT IT IS UNCHRISTIAN OF YOU TO QUESTION THE CHRIST.

    (caps for emphasis , not shouting, as I don't know how to put italics or bold, but I have faith that someone out there knows how).

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  10. "you were not there, you did not see it, you did not experience it, therefore it's a matter of faith." I also meant to add, you cannot replicate it.

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  11. I don't think that taking the time to define terms and further explaining our meanings are "bunny trails". This helps us to understand each other better and have a more productive conversation.

    I do want to point out to you that science itself is based on mathematical truths and logical truths that themselves cannot be proven scientifically; therefore, are also a matter of faith- in your understanding of faith as put forth here. It is not a strawman to compare the two when you get down to their foundations.

    If a certain theology has something to say about the natural realm, do you believe that science can test such a claim and determine if the claim is correct or not?

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  12. "I do want to point out to you that science itself is based on mathematical truths and logical truths that themselves cannot be proven scientifically; therefore, are also a matter of faith- in your understanding of faith as put forth here."

    What mathematical truths are you talking about?
    People don't make up math out of thin air.

    People DO make up mythology out of thin air, then it becomes institutionalized and theology grows out of it.

    I don't understand what you are talking about.

    "If a certain theology has something to say about the natural realm, do you believe that science can test such a claim and determine if the claim is correct or not?"

    I think a more simple way of saying this would be to say.... "if we have X claim about a natural phenomena, can science test it?" The answer is yes.

    And so far to date, no one has been observed moving a mountain into the sea.

    So....
    Is it, or is it not Christian to doubt and question the Christ?

    And if you believe someone, can you doubt them? If you doubt them, then you don't actually believe them, or at least don't believe them with "all your heart, mind, soul, and strength" or to use an idiomatic expression evangelicals are fond of, "believe in your heart" which I understand the idiom to mean "to believe deeply inside of you."

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  13. "What mathematical truths are you talking about?"

    Let's start with the foundational mathematical truth that all other mathematics are based upon:
    1+1=2.

    "People don't make up math out of thin air."

    That is exactly my point. If people don't make up math out of thin air, where do they come up with it?

    "I think a more simple way of saying this would be to say.... "if we have X claim about a natural phenomena, can science test it?" The answer is yes."

    Allow me to get some clarification from you on this one. You answered that if a claim about the natural realm is made, science can test it. Would the source of the claim change your mind?

    "And if you believe someone, can you doubt them?"

    I'm not quite sure what you are asking here. Because I know people that make claims that can quickly be discovered to be false, while they also make claims that can quickly be discovered to be true. You seem to be advocating that if a person utter one false thing, everything they say is to be discarded.

    "If you doubt them, then you don't actually believe them, or at least don't believe them with "all your heart, mind, soul, and strength"..."

    It sounds like your next move would be to say that a Christian who does not believe in the literal "moving of a mountain with enough faith" is not justified in believing anything that Jesus said. Am I correct?

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  14. "I do want to point out to you that science itself is based on mathematical truths and logical truths that themselves cannot be proven scientifically" except 1+1=2 can be proven quite easily.... I have one apple and another apple, I add them, not I have two apples. So again, what kind of math are you referring to?

    "It sounds like your next move would be to say that a Christian who does not believe in the literal "moving of a mountain with enough faith" is not justified in believing anything that Jesus said. Am I correct?"

    That's why I asked you if you interpret it literally or metaphorically. I'm not making moves or playing a chess game.... I just don't think a lot of what you are saying makes any sense.

    Doubt and disbelief are basically synonymous.

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  15. If you don't have objects to place side-by-side to "prove" it, would 1+1 still equal 2?

    "And if you believe someone, can you doubt them?"

    Please clarify this. My specific concern is in my previous comment.

    Why does it matter if I affirm a quote by Jesus to be true literally or metaphorically?

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  16. If you don't have objects to conceptualize about.... then we couldn't be having this discussion in the first place because there would be nothing to create language around. If there were no objects, we wouldn't be able to conceive of mathematical language because mathematical language is based in real, existing things. Your question is kind of like, "if animals (including people) didn't exist, could we still study zoology?"

    If there wasn't air, would words still exist?
    I guess if one proposes a Platonic world of forms then yes, but I have my doubts about such a place.

    ***

    If I tell you that your house is on fire, and you believe me then you would probably call the fire department. If I tell you your house is on fire, but you doubt me, you probably would not call the fire department.

    My point is that belief and doubt are opposites. The two opposites can co-exist in the same idea, expressed linguistically like, "I believed she was telling the truth about where she had been, but I still had my doubts." However, when we say "I believed" in that instance, it does not refer to complete trust and faith - the kind of complete trust and faith the gospel calls for Christians to have in God. Complete trust and faith in God cannot co-exist with doubt in God. You could have a measure of trust and faith in God co-existing with doubt in God, but you could not have complete trust and faith in God co-existing with doubt in God.

    ***

    "Why does it matter if I affirm a quote by Jesus to be true literally or metaphorically?"

    Because you said this, "It sounds like your next move would be to say that a Christian who does not believe in the literal "moving of a mountain with enough faith" is not justified in believing anything that Jesus said. Am I correct?"

    It only matters because I'm trying to understand how you perceive the meaning of Jesus in the scriptures. An apologist is someone who explains a belief system.... so I'm just asking for some explanation.

    And if it IS literally true, then we could replicate it in the real world and simply prove it to be true. There would be no need for faith, because we could replicate it like any other scientific truth, and we would simply know that it was true. Knowing it is true (what Jesus said in this instance about moving a mountain), we would not be confined to mere belief that it was true, but would have experiencial knowledge that it was true.

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  17. Are you saying that something (mathematics, in this case) cannot exist without other objects or language to represent it?

    ***

    I do not claim that the Bible requires absolute certainty (by the definition I am using in this post- remember, context) to be saved.

    I am claiming that belief and doubt are not opposites. Belief and disbelief are opposites. Doubt is a precursor to disbelief, but is also a precursor to a deeper understanding which is a precursor to a more fulfilling and solid belief.

    When I'm talking about doubt, I am talking about a way of thinking that can lead to one of two actual opposites (belief or disbelief).

    If you want to find a fault with my thinking, you need to define things the way I do and in the context that I am. You cannot interject your own definitions and context into my words to create a contradiction where one does not exist. You are insisting on a strawman of my position.

    ***

    My interpretation of Jesus' words depends on the context that we is speaking. I haven't studied this particular passage a whole lot, so I hesitate to commit to something right now.

    I like how you are saying that it might be able to be tested in the real world (if it is to be taken literally), but since Jesus does not tell us how much faith is "enough" to move the mountain, when the mountain doesn't move in our test, the tester could claim that enough faith wasn't used everytime that it failed. Also, how would the tester measure "faith" anyway?

    I mentioned somewhere else (I don't remember where- might be in this thread) that the Bible makes claims about the natural realm that can be tested and other that can't be tested. If this passage is to be taken literally, it would be an example of one that can't be tested because not enough info is given to test it. If it is to be taken metaphorically, the only test that needs to be applied is to make sure that it is consistent with the rest of Scripture.

    I think that this particular passage could be taken either way without compromising anything.

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  18. Are you saying that something (mathematics, in this case) cannot exist without other objects or language to represent it?

    No, I'm simply saying that it would be irrelevant to discuss. If you want to go down that route, we can talk about Platonism but I just don't really see how that contributes to the central question, "does doubt equal disbelief" or the tertiary question, "are mathematical truths scientifically provable?" The first question is the crux of the debate, and the second has so far been maintained that "yes, they are." "Whether they would exist if people existed or not" is an entirely seperate problem from, "since people do exist, can they be empirically proved?"
    ***

    How many definitions of doubt are there? If the problem was "does questioning equal disbelief" we might not be having this discussion. But regardless of what you mean doubt to mean, anytime you question or doubt what someone says you are having a measure of disbelief in them. It may not be total disbelief, but it is still a measure of disbelief.

    ***
    "I think that this particular passage could be taken either way without compromising anything."

    Then what are you waiting for? Go move mountains.... or more practically, since "whatever ye ask in my name shall be done" go heal everyone at your local hospital.

    Just because "faith" is not a quantitative input does not mean the claim could not be tested. You would just have to use qualitative methods in that regard.

    I predict and am willing to put large sums of money down that Jesus's claim is NOT true, and that even those who believe without doubt will NOT be able to move mountains.

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  19. "Irrelevant to discuss" and "exists" are two completely different things. You acknowledge that your "proof" is not really a proof, its an example. My point is that 1+1=2 whether or not something exists to represent that truth. My further point is that science has foundational assumptions that must be trusted before further investigation into the natural world can continue. As with ANY belief system, foundational assumptions must be accepted. Science makes assumptions just as Christianity does too. That's why I compared the two by asking if you think that scientists test theories because they doubt their validity.

    ***

    I think we are saying the same thing, just using different language. You have now added another term ("total disbelief") that makes me see that when you say "disbelief" you are not talking about 100% "no trust that it is true". That is essentially what I am saying when I use the word "doubt". If you wish to qualify your term "disbelief" by adding the word "total" to the beginning of it, then you are flirting with percentages of belief much the same way that I described in my first post on this topic.

    I don't think that we'll agree on the terms used, but I really think we're saying the same thing. I posted a "Post Update" that has comments that goes into this whole thing.

    ***

    As I said before, I could easily get around you by saying that I simply don't have enough faith. Without having a way to measure faith and a given amount that is required, the test cannot reliably be performed.

    Ask any scientist. If the claim is that a certain amount of substance A can move object B, then a way to measure substance A and the required measurement MUST be known before the claim can be tested.

    I would hold the same position that you do, though. I don't think that man can move a mountain. Regardless of the physical boundaries that prevent it, but that was Jesus' point- NO man has that much faith.

    As I said before, it doesn't matter if you take this passage literally or metaphorically. If you take it literally, there is no way to actually test it, and the Christian would give Jesus the benefit of the doubt that He is correct. If it is taken metaphorically then there is no need to attempt to test it, it is just an analogy.

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  20. "You acknowledge that your "proof" is not really a proof, its an example."

    No, I didn't. I don't follow?

    I really don't think we are saying the same things or that what I am saying is even getting to you. It doesn't matter whether I said total belief or not. The point is here:
    "But regardless of what you mean doubt to mean, anytime you question or doubt what someone says you are having a measure of disbelief in them. It may not be total disbelief, but it is still a measure of disbelief."

    Ergo, doubt = a measure of disbelief, which is just another way of saying disbelief.

    I'm saying that if I doubt what you say, I don't fully believe what you say. I am saying that within the framework of Christianity, one ought not doubt Jesus or his claims. The biblical literature is adament that faith, without doubt or hesitation, is a VIRTUE. If you have doubt, then you do not have the Biblical faith of the Patriarch Abraham, who is lauded as an example of how one's faith ought to be. Abraham is lauded as the greatest patriarch and on faith he was going to kill his own son. That's illegal in most countries nowadays.

    ***
    As for the science bit, that's why you would have to use a qualitative measure for that portion. That's how one must work in a lot of the social sciences, I'm not a stranger to the methodology.

    And I think you're putting a whole new spin on Jesus's point considering that no one has interpreted it that way: "but that was Jesus' point- NO man has that much faith. "

    He talks of faith like a mustard seed doing great things. Those are tiny. If you still want to hold that the point of the verse is that "no man has that much faith" I will gladly debate that.

    There is a way to test it, you would just have to use some qualitative methods for a portion. And if it is just an analogy, then what would be the point of saying "no one has that much faith?" Then again, I don't think the verse even means anything remotely like that.

    And it is important whether it is taken literally or not. If it is literally true, then I can have faith without doubt and move a mountain. I think one would start to have doubts when they see it not coming true. Or if we want to get away from metaphorical language....
    *
    And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.
    You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

    Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

    If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."
    ***
    Are those really true? I think not.

    ***
    Anyway, to get back On-topic of the post.

    I think you're mincing words. Doubt and disbelief are synonymous. They mean the same thing. Even if you re-define them. Neither have a basis in the Christian tradition. In fact, the Christian tradition is full of support with those who cling to faith. Abraham is one prime example although the literature is full of them. Faith takes precedence over reason and in the case of Abraham, normal ethics. When Paul wrote his epistles concerning testing, he's dealing with churches who need to test other itinerant preachers who may be preaching a false gospel. He's not talking about questioning/testing Jesus and Yahweh.

    I'm saying your ideas about doubt are inconsistent with your own literature (the Bible). It's about believing things not seen. If you are going to reply to any part of my post telling me I am wrong, please tell me I'm wrong that Christianity is not about believing things not seen.

    Because then I ask you, do you believe in the virgin birth, resurrection, etc? Those are things you believe in but will never see.

    Christians ought not doubt. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are religions of the book built around a book and having faith in it. Period. It's about faith. And to have any measure of doubt or disbelief of any kind, is a lack of faith.... where one should probably say, "Lord I believe, but help my unbelief."

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  21. I am going to combine this discussion with our other active one ("Right Living or Right Thinking") since they are starting to intertwine.

    To other readers, if you want to continue to follow this conversation, please read the comments on the post above. I will place a comment on it corresponding to this one to indicate the combination.

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