Belief versus Doubt versus Disbelief I


People always like to contrast Faith and Doubt. I think that this is in error. I believe (and I am not alone in this assessment) that faith is empowered by doubt. Doubt is simply honesty… and honesty is not bad. We are limited in knowledge (we don’t know everything). We areĀ  limited in time and space (we have not experienced and cannot experience everything). We are limited in wisdom (we lack the software to unerringly process what knowledge and experience we do have). We should doubt. Not to doubt is simply self-delusion, self-denial, or hubris.

If doubt is not bad in itself… perhaps even unavoidable… what is the result? In truth, the result is our choice… to some extent.

Doubt can empower belief. Is it even accurate to say that one has belief if one does not doubt (or if one is blind to the doubt)? Belief is volitional, doubt is cognitive. Personal experience, analytic statements, and syllogistic /deductive logic can only take one so far. As Lewis Carroll noted via Achilles and his friend, the Tortoise, no logic can ever be truly compelling. Such an attempt would result into an infinite number of logical steps. At some point in time one has to step back and say that they find the evidence they have to be compelling. This is faith. Obviously, pretty much everything in life requires faith of one sort or another. Belief requires faith that is empowered by doubt.

However, doubt can also empower disbelief. The process is not essentially different. One may be faced with the same evidence, the same concerns, the same experiences, the same logic. However, in the end, one finds the counter-argument to be compelling. This is still faith, but faith that leads to disbelief.

In missions, one should not seek to squelch doubt. Rather one should work with people to come to terms with their doubt. In my case, my father helped me process my doubt. My father was the head deacon of our church. Even though we came from a very conservative church, my father did not mind questions that evidenced doubt, or challenged set thoughts. My dad would let me come to my own conclusions (I would anyway) but would do his best to give his own opinion, thoughtfully, and fairly. My dad was also a very smart man. Years ago, when people talk about something being easy, they might say “It’s not rocket science.” My dad actually was a rocket scientist, along with mechanical test engineer, and ‘human computer’ (back before electronic computers were available). This was helpful. Because when I went to High School and some of the teachers challenged my beliefs, I remembered my dad. He was the president of the school board, so why should I be bothered by teachers. When I was in college and in the Navy, I was also challenged by others, encouraging me to have my doubts be channeled towards unbelief. Again, my father helped me direct my doubts towards belief.

Not everyone is so fortunate.

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2 thoughts on “Belief versus Doubt versus Disbelief I

  1. Pingback: Belief vs Doubt vs Disbelief « MMM — Munson Mission Musings

  2. Pingback: Belief vs Doubt vs Disbelief IV « MMM — Munson Mission Musings

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