Doubt and Conspiracy

Doubt and Conspiracy September 1, 2014

A couple of posts struck me as insightful and quotable, and related to the same theme, so I will share links to and quotes from them together. First, Carson T. Clark wrote about doubt as a Christian virtue:

Many Christians see doubt as the opposite of faith. This I find rather bizarre because I see doubt as the opposite of certainty. With that understanding, I would suggest that doubt is a reality of life. Experience tells me that all people have doubt. It’s only a matter of whether you’re intellectually honest and emotionally secure enough to acknowledge it. The question, then, is not whether you have doubt, but what you do with it. That is, how do you channel your doubt? Do you push it down deep, doing everything in your power to pretend it’s not there? Do you militarize it, advocating that anyone who believes anything is an idiot? Do you simply ignore it, embracing a lifestyle of cognitive dissonance in which doubt is a constant irritant? Do you wallow in it, passively accepting a kind of default skepticism? Or do you acknowledge its presence and assertively address it, utilizing doubt’s life-altering and life-giving potential? To my mind it’s a natural, cyclical progression. Curiosity leads to doubt. Doubt leads to questioning. Questioning leads to truth. Truth leads to maturation. Maturation leads to healing. Healing leads to worship. And worship leads back to curiosity. Unless you’re willing to turn off that basic human trait of curiosity, doubt is an inevitability. Too often we presume doubt is a vice, failing to understand its potential as a virtue when it’s synthesized with honesty, security, humility, and grace.

Then Fred Clark had a lot to say about conspiracy theory thinking, and why belief in Biblical inerrancy is an example of it. Here is a short but insightful sample:

Conspiracy theories don’t arise from facts. They arise, rather, from an epistemologicalchoice that prescribes which facts will be accepted and how those facts will be interpreted.

Next, Jim Spinti shared a quote from Zoltan Schwab’s book, Toward an Interpretation of the Book of Proverbs:

The opposite of trust in God in Proverbs is not so much ‘doubt’ in God (which is seldom mentioned if at all, at least not explicitly) but trust in oneself (cf. 3:5 vs 3:7; 28:25-26.) No wonder the reader of Proverbs is so often reminded about the dangers of pride.

So often, those who insist that doubt is a sin have precisely the sort of self-confidence in their own understanding and interpretation that Proverbs and the rest of the Bible warns about. Rarely do they see the irony.

Carlos Bovell writes about inerrancy in a guest post on Pete Enns’ blog:

Post-inerrantists are not trying to sever the relationship between God and scripture but rather to establish it by critically investigating scripture and conceptually clarifying it. It is not “perverse” or “unproductive” when a believer suspends judgment on inerrancy, takes a searchingly fresh look at the Bible, and concludes that inerrancy simply does not do justice to what the Bible is and how the Bible behaves.

See also Brandon Withrow on finding GOD in an eggplant, and believing and seeing. And let me recommend a book that seems never to have gotten the attention it deserves, Robert Davidson’s The Courage to Doubt: Exploring an Old Testament Theme.

The opposite of faith is not doubt

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  • Brazilian

    Nice post, Dr. McGrath. Let me add Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) wise words on the subject of doubt:

    “No one can lay God and his Kingdom on the table before another man;
    even the believer cannot do it for himself. But however strongly
    unbelief may feel justified thereby, it cannot forget the eerie feeling
    induced by the words “Yet perhaps it is true.” That perhaps” is the
    unavoidable temptation it cannot elude, the temptation in which it, too,
    in the very act of rejection, has to experience the unrejectability of
    belief. In other words, both the believer and the unbeliever share,
    each in his own way, doubt and belief, if they do not hide from
    themselves and from the truth of their being. Neither can quite escape
    either doubt or belief; for the one, faith is present against doubt; for the other, through doubt and in the form
    of doubt. It is the basic pattern of man’s destiny only to be allowed
    to find the finality of his existence in this unceasing rivalry between
    doubt and belief, temptation and certainty. Perhaps in precisely this
    way doubt, which saves both sides from being shut up in their own
    worlds, could become the avenue of communication. It prevents both from
    enjoying complete self-satisfaction; it opens up the believer to the
    doubter and the doubter to the believer; for one, it is his share in the
    fate of the unbeliever; for the other, the form in which belief remains
    nevertheless a challenge to him.” Benedict XVI, Introduction to Christianity, 46-47.

  • One of the facts I choose to notice is that Dutch controlled demolition expert Danny Jowenko was certain that the collapse of WTC 7 was the result of a controlled demolition. What is interesting is that choosing to ignore Jowenko is one of the things that people do who choose not to be conspiracy theorists. Of course, in the case of 9/11, everyone is a conspiracy theorist. We just choose which conspiracy we believe it was.

    • Maybe if I point out that there are now peer reviewed papers challenging the official accounts of the WTC building collapses, you might take it more seriously. (But somehow I doubt it.)

      • More seriously than what? Mythicism, which is not without its proponents who’ve published in peer reviewed venues?

        • Yes, certainly more seriously than Mythicism.

          • Whereas with Mythicism there doesn’t seem to be a clear motive for starting such a religion, the U.S. had ample motive for 9/11 to happen. The Project for a New American Century, including many people in the core of Bush’s administration, had noted that it would take a “new Pearl Harbor” to expedite their goals of rebuilding our military:


            When someone has strong motive, the means to carry out the deed, and the opportunity to do so, it is rational to consider them a suspect. Refusing to consider them a suspect strikes me as irrational.

          • Neko

            So PNAC orchestrated the destruction of two symbols of American might and the deaths of thousands of Americans in the interest of, say, Rumsfeld’s vision of a leaner, meaner military. Got it.

            Imperialist ideologues don’t tend to be willing to destroy their own villages in order to save them. They concentrate on villages in other countries.

          • Lots of people like Bilbo had spent decades sifting through factoids related to the JFK assassination, and failed to notice the development of terrorist networks in the Middle East. Anyone who felt that the US government controls every facet of human endeavor should have been disabused of that notion very emphatically on 9/11. However, it’s a testament to the human capacity for denial that truthers have convinced themselves that the US government, military, and intel agencies all conspired to only make it look like they were negligent and ineffectual before and on the day of the 9/11 attacks.

            What could be more plausible?

          • Neko

            You made me laugh! Well said.

    • Another of the facts surrounding Jowenko’s “certainty” about the collapse of Building 7 is that he only heard about it years after 9/11, when this truther camera crew showed him a video of the collapse. Jowenko made a pat judgment about WTC7 from watching a video, not extensive research into the damage to the building and its demise.

      Since we’re talking about video evidence here, why not take a look at the following archived video from the ABC live news coverage on 9/11? Just after the 31 minute mark, the camera pans across the destruction at Ground Zero, and you can clearly see Building 7 with extensive damage to its south-facing side. The building is literally gushing smoke. The camera focuses on WTC7 again at the 37 minute mark, and the cloud of smoke coming out of it is even thicker.

      This was still a couple of hours before the building fell. Contrary to what truthers would have you believe, you can tell with your own eyes that falling debris must have severely hammered WTC7’s south side. Can you watch that footage and say you believe there’s no reason to think the building was in bad shape? That the fires raging inside were no big deal?