I wish to expand a bit on the concept of “doubting your doubts.” I first came across this phrase in The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. Here is a quote from the introduction (I hope you will purchase the book and read it for yourself):
A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.
Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts — not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors’. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide the grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive. And, just as important for our current situation, such a process will lead you, even after you come to a position of strong faith, to respect and understand those who doubt.
But even as believers should learn to look for reasons behind their faith, skeptics must learn to look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning. All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs. You cannot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B. For example, if you doubt Christianity because “There can’t be just one true religion,” you must recognize that this statement is itself an act of faith. No one can prove it empirically, and it is not a universal truth that everyone accepts. If you went to the Middle East and said, “There can’t be just one true religion,” nearly everyone would say, “Why not?” The reason you doubt Christianity’s Belief A is because you hold unprovable Belief B. Every doubt, therefore, is based on a leap of faith.
Some people say, “I don’t believe in Christianity because I can’t accept the existence of moral absolutes. Everyone should determine moral truth for him- or herself.” Is that a statement they can prove to someone who doesn’t share it? No, it is a leap of faith, a deep belief that individual rights operate not only in the political sphere but also in the moral. There is not empirical proof for such a position. So the doubt (of moral absolutes) is a leap.
The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternate belief under each of your doubts and then ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it. How do you know your belief is true? It would be inconsistent to require more justification for Christian belief than you do for your own, but that is frequently what happens. In fairness, you must doubt your doubts. My thesis is that if you come to recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs — you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appeared.
I commend two processes to my readers. I urge skeptics to wrestle with the unexamined “blind faith” on which skepticism is based, and to see how hard it is to justify those beliefs to those who do not share them. I also urge believers to wrestle with their personal and culture’s objections to the faith. 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.
(hard cover pp. xvi-xviii, soft cover pp. xvii-xix)
Do I ever have doubts about Christianity? There are certainly things I do not understand, whether in the Bible, theology, ethics, or history. There is so much more that makes sense to me by being a Christian, however, as opposed to being a skeptic or adherent of some other religion, that none of these “doubts” has caused serious trouble for me for quite a long time. Part of this is because I have struggled through some real doubts of my own in the past, and come through at the end with my faith strengthened.
If you are a Christian, what are your doubts? How are you dealing with them?
If you are a skeptic, are you questioning your doubts about Christianity? Do you have doubts about your own doubts?
Grace and Peace
5 thoughts on “Doubting your doubts”
Hi Geochristian! I am a former Catholic that has doubted, redoubted, and then doubted some more. Every time I have a question and I rethink or doubt my current position on God (I am currently an agnostic atheist that has no issues with believers as long as they do not try to make me change behaviors based on their beliefs) I do some research and listen to the most reasonable voices on each side and so far the atheists either have or have made better arguments. Take for example the “blind faith” example of above. Typically blind faith is referred to as believing in something without evidence and skepticism involves not believing something until there is sufficient evidence. Keller is making the common mistake of misunderstanding or abusing the burden of proof in order to make a false equivalency with alternative beliefs to try and find a weakness in skepticism by attempting to elevate doubts into an “alternative belief”. This is nonsense. I hate to default to cliches, but it works here. If someone says they believe Unicorns exist, the doubt that Unicorns exist is not an alternative belief because the burden of proof is on the person claiming they exist. It’s not a one to one relationship because proving the negative “Unicorns do not exist” is impossible. Maybe he has a much more elegant and thought out explanation in the rest of the book (I realize we are only looking at the intro), but color me unimpressed from readying what has been copied above.
Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts.
I agree that if someone were to advocate that unicorns really exist, the burden of proof would be on them. I also agree that it is awfully close to impossible to “prove” that unicorns do not exist. There could always one more place we haven’t looked.
However, most of the arguments that have been put forward for the existence of God are of a completely different nature than arguments that have been put forth for the existence of unicorns. For example, there is no cosmological argument for the existence of unicorns. Unicorns are part of the cosmos; the God advocated by Christianity is not part of the cosmos. The cosmological argument (in some versions) states that there must have been an uncaused cause, which we call God. Unicorns do not fit into the category of “uncaused cause.”
As a side note, the same could be said about Zeus, Krishna, or many other gods of non-theistic religions. They too are part of the cosmos, and are not the equivalents of the eternal, unchanging, all-powerful being that is necessary if the cosmological argument is correct.
In regards to “blind faith,” I would say that at some point we all have to put our faith in a system that explains why there is something rather than nothing. There are variations, but the basic answers point to either a self-existing God or a self-existing universe. Based on what we know about the universe, one cannot say that a self-existing universe is more “scientific” than a self-existing God.
One could even argue that the idea of a self-existing universe is not consistent with what we actually know about the universe, because everything we observe in the universe is tied somehow to cause and effect. This is true even for random quantum fluctuations at the scale of subatomic particles, as one could say that the cause is the laws of quantum physics, and the effect is the appearance of a particle. If we follow this line of reasoning, it is more reasonable to posit that there is a God who caused the universe, than to believe that the universe itself is uncaused or self-caused, which is what one would have to believe if atheism is true.
I hope this makes sense. I don’t have much time right now, but I do encourage you to be a skeptic about your skepticism, and do additional reading, whether reading a book such as The Reason for God, which is written for a general audience, or some more academic Christian book on the topic, such as Reasonable Faith by Craig.
Grace and Peace,
Note in regards to gods such as Zeus and Krishna: I recognize that non-Christian religions, such as Hinduism, have a concept of an ultimate being at the top. I’m no expert on how something like the cosmological argument applies within a religious system like Hinduism.
Geochristian, thanks for replying even though you are busy. Appealing to Craig’s cosmological argument with me is a dead end as far as convincing me there is a God. I have watched hours of his debates on this topic and read pages of support and criticisms of it. It is an interesting philosophical discussion that has brought up good questions in religion and science, but it has too many unanswered questions regarding the truth of the premises to be accepted as a valid (and convincing) argument. Even ceding those objections to the the truth of the premises for arguments sake and assuming KCA is true, one is still leaps and bounds away from it pointing to a personal god and even further away to God (Judeo-Christian). Craig is an expert debater and Philosopher, but when he attempts to incorporate high level Physics and Mathematics into his debates he falls flat in convincing people that have far more training and education into those matters than he does and ends up sounding ridiculous at times and that is when his attempts fail to convince these audiences. Craig is a very smart guy, but he is completely out of his league when he starts to talk about quantum mechanics and probability theory for example.
For me the best last good argument for a God is the lack of finding (intelligent) life elsewhere in the Universe aside from God coming down to Earth and just saying hi to everyone. Again, thanks for responding. Peace!
What page number is this insert from? I would like to find this in my book so I can put it in a essay so I need the page number. Thank you!
Danielle — Hard cover edition pp. xvi-xviii, soft cover edition pp. xvii-xix