Skepticism is part of belief and belief is part of skepticism, so says Daniel Taylor in his The Skeptical Believer. But what then is faith? He says it is to “assent to a claim” or “acceptance of a claim.” But belief entails more than acceptance or assent. Taylor’s point is well worth pondering. Faith is a “life-shaping acceptance of a claim.” That is, “Our creeds calls us to be-live something, not simply to believe something” (15).
The turn of phrase and subtle dropping of a single ‘e’ tells a truth about faith and belief that drive us to the center of our faith. Creedal affirmation is transcended, or deepened if you prefer, by “be-live.”
What advantages do you see in “be-live” vs. “believe”? How do you deal with your “inner atheist”?
This subtle and helpful clarification though does not chase away the problem Taylor faces squarely in this book: the reality of doubt on the part of the believer and be-liver. So examines two kinds of atheists:
The External Atheist and the Internal Atheist. He focuses in this book on the latter, but he offers shrewd comments about the former.
External atheists “are a dime a dozen.” More: “These people claim not to believe in God, but in truth they are obsessed with God… Strangely, they organize their lives around something they don’t believe exists. It’s like spending your life guarding the world against a Martian invasion and believing you are being successful. If there’s no God, then relax, folks, and find something to make yourself useful” (20).
The big problem is the External atheist is redundant. We don’t need them, Taylor says, because we have an Internal atheist at work in our heads all the time. “This Inner Atheist knows me well because he is me” (20).
Taylor has come to terms with his past as a “proof monger” and come to accept the subjectivity of all explanations. There are facts and there is an objective world, but our explanations partake to some degree in our subjectivity. Not “just” or “merely” subjective but nonetheless subjective. So he confesses “I made peace with subjectivity” (22). My own work with historiography led me to the same conclusion: history isn’t description of what really happened but a narrative of what happened and the narrative cuts a line into reality but only a line.
He’s made peace with his Inner Atheist by not feeding him so much. He hears him out; he listens; this deflates him.
“I’ve also noticed that he gets quiet during stories” (22).
“I let my Inner Atheist have his say…. Then I go on believing. I go on trying to live my part in the story” (23).