On Dealing with Doubt

If you ever spent much time reading Christian apologetics, you’ve probably encountered writings which counsel Christians on “dealing with doubt.” (If you haven’t, do an Internet search on “dealing with doubt” and click on some of the links in the search results to see what I’m talking about.) The assumption seems to be that doubt is either intrinsically bad or, at the very least, potentially dangerous (insofar as it might lead to nonbelief).

I have to confess I find myself slightly amused by the very expression, “dealing with doubt.” As opposed to what? Dealing with evidence? Imagine reading a web page devoted to dealing with evidence that goes like this.

Most freethinkers struggle with evidence at one time or another. Evidence by itself is not unethical but it can be dangerous. It can also be a spur to enormous intellectual growth. It’s what you do with your evidence that matters. Here are seven simple suggestions about how to handle your evidence….

If that strikes you as odd, well, that’s exactly how I feel when I read the words, “dealing with doubt.” It seems to me that any viewpoint which struggles with how to “deal with doubt” is already admitting a defeat of sorts; it comes across as emphasizing the importance of belief over truth.

For example, pick any branch of science which is relatively disconnected from theological issues, such as basic chemistry. It’s my understanding that there is no real doubt among chemists about the periodic table of elements, but let’s assume there were such doubt. If the periodic table of elements were controversial among chemists, it’s difficult to even imagine someone seriously trying to counsel chemists about how to handle their doubts about the periodic table of elements. Rather, chemists would embrace those doubts and try to design experiments to gather further evidence one way or the other.

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • http://twitter.com/UncredibleHallq Chris Hallquist

    Well that’s what you get from an “intellectual” endeavor that’s all about arguing for a preordained conclusion.

    When I look at some of the myths that circulate among Christian apologists, sometimes I start to think that Christian consumers of apologetics are basically signing up to be lied to. It’s like deliberately getting all your knowledge of a court case from one side’s lawyers, or all your knowledge about a corporation from the corporations marketing or PR department.

    The fact that many Christians imagine there’s something “scholarly” about apologetics, in spite of the fields out-in-the-open PR aspect, is really odd. Even Fox News at least pretends to be “fair and balanced.”

    • steve hays

      As if Chris is an impartial observer. Thanks for illustrating your confirmation bias.

  • ah58

    The article you linked to has seven ways to deal with doubt. If they were used in any other endeavor they would obviously be seen as self delusion and brainwashing.

    1. Admit your doubts and ask for help.
    He says to admit to the lord that you have doubts. Isn’t the reason you have doubts is because you’re not sure this “lord” exists? He also recommends that you find others with strong faith and talk to them. You’ve got to reinforce the brainwashing. Notice he doesn’t say to seek out those who have found their doubts valid.

    2. “Borrow” faith by hanging around those whose faith is strong.
    Yes, hang out with the other brainwashed people so you’re ashamed to admit that you have doubts. All of your friends believe the BS, why can’t you? You know they’ll hate you if you don’t believe.

    3. Act on Your Faith, Not Your Doubts.
    Listen to the voices in your head and do whatever you imagine the “lord” tells you to do. That’s what the people in the book that you’re starting to doubt did. Ignore the fact that it doesn’t make sense and that listening to the voices in your head can have very bad consequences.

    4. Doubt your doubts, not your faith.
    Put your fingers in your ears and repeat after me, “La, la, la, can’t hear you!”

    5. Sing!
    Drown out your doubts by flooding your thoughts with religious music. Don’t you dare listen to music from doubters though.

    6. Let go of what you cannot know with certainty.
    Ignore the voice of reason in your head. You can’t find answers with your faith to the “big questions” anymore? Just wait until you die and you’ll find the all the answers you need.

    7. Keep going back to what you know to be true.
    Um…aren’t you having doubts? Doesn’t that mean you’re not certain anymore? From reading what he wants you to do here, it seems he wants you to fall back to the most brainwashed part of your brain and build a wall around it.

  • Keith Parsons

    Though John Loftus’ “outsider test of faith” is controversial, it does persuasively indicate the extent to which Christian apologists only give lip service to the claim that they have subjected Christian claims to the scrutiny of reason and shown that they pass. Really, the claim is a rhetorical ploy. As an amused (and occasionally bemused) observer of the use and misuse of rhetoric, I have observed that the political right has adopted the rhetoric of the left. A notable example is that here in Texas, as in several other states, we have a law requiring that a woman seeking an abortion has to be shown an ultrasound image of the fetus and hear the fetal heartbeat. The purpose, of course, is to shame her into not having the abortion. The far-right proponents of the bill, however, presented it as “empowering women” by giving them vital information with which to make their own choices. Likewise, when you hear Christian apologists saying that they are testing faith in the crucible of reason, they are employing skeptical rhetoric to their own advantage.

    • steve hays

      Actually, the OTF is a patently one-sided test which persuasively indicates the extent to which atheists like Loftus only play lip service to the rationality of their own beliefs.

      • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

        Steve, when reasonable people get finished reading my book length treatment of the OTF they won’t see anything controversial about it. You already use it to critically examine the religions you reject. The only reason you think it’s one-sided is because when you critically examine your own faith with the same standard you realize your own faith is false. If there is a better test for faith then cough it up. I examined six other tests in my book and found them all faulty. So you cannot merely say the OTF is one sided unless you can actually find fault with it and also produce a better one.

        • steve hays

          By definition, your test is one-sided inasmuch as it’s an outsider test of faith rather than an outsider test of belief. It only tests religious beliefs, not beliefs generally. Moreover, I’ve repeatedly critiqued the OTF.

          • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

            So that’s what you think, eh? It’s a fair non-double standard for testing all all “beliefs” equally. ;-)

  • steve hays

    Jeff,

    Are you taking the position that people can’t suffer from misplaced doubts? Take people who suffer from self-doubts because they had a father who made them feel like failures at whatever they did.

    Or what about someone who, due to low self-esteem, doubts that his (or her) spouse truly loves him (or her).

  • steve hays

    “I have to confess I find myself slightly amused by the very expression, ‘dealing with doubt.’ As opposed to what? Dealing with evidence?…If that strikes you as odd, well, that’s exactly how I feel when I read the words, ‘dealing with doubt.’ It seems to me that any viewpoint which struggles with how to ‘deal with doubt’ is already admitting a defeat of sorts; it comes across as emphasizing the importance of belief over truth.”

    Sorry, Jeff, but that strikes me as socially naïve. Aren’t you aware of the fact that people can harbor doubts for emotional reasons as well as intellectual reasons?

    If the wife of a medical researcher leaves him for another man, he may become very depressed. He may doubt the value of his life’s work.

    He doesn’t entertain doubts because he discovered new evidence that undermines his theories. Rather, his doubt is due to his emotional state, which is due, in turn, to what’s going on in his life.

  • Prometheist

    Are there any resources for Darwinists who need to deal with doubt? William Dembski’s writings along with Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box must be devastating to anyone who thinks Darwinism is true. Irreducible complexity and specified complexity are devastating to the claims of evolutionary biology.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Carr/100001542808342 Steven Carr

      ‘Are there any resources for Darwinists who need to deal with doubt? ‘

      Yes, they are called labs, field trips and genetic research.

      • Prometheist

        Dr. Cameron from the University of Montreal went on a field trip recently that I don’t think would help a doubting Darwinist. I know it makes me doubt evolution when the fossil record doesn’t support it. Perhaps one day scientists will find the fossil evidence to prove these worms evolved from a single celled organism. We’ll just need to wait and see.

        http://newswise.com/articles/strange-phallus-shaped-creature-provides-crucial-missing-link

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Carr/100001542808342 Steven Carr

    How do people have both self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit and also doubts?

    Could it be that these ‘self-authenticating witnesses of the Holy Spirit’ are mere rhetoric, to cover up the fact that most Christians just don’t have these religious experiences that they are told they should be getting?

    And when they do have ‘religious experiences’ they are really very banal, consisting often of looking at a Bible passage and thinking ‘Yes, I really feel that speaks to me.’


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