Belief vs Doubt vs Disbelief IV

Cover of "In Praise of Doubt: How to Have...
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I was doing some lookups on doubt on the Internet. Very little good information is available. I took a class called “Faith and Doubt” at Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary. Our two main texts were “Doubt: A History” by Jennifer M. Hecht and “In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic” by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld. Both were interesting books, although neither was really good at categorizing types of doubt (at least in a clear fashion). The Internet doesn’t do a good job either. Perhaps this is because of the general disinterest in the topic.

Religionists reject doubt commonly. But anti-religionists commonly do as well. At most, doubt may be seen as an unpleasant transition towards the more positive state of belief or disbelief. After all, disbelief is simply the belief in the antithesis of what someone else believes. Doubt tends to dissatisfy disbelievers and believers alike. True believers (or True disbelievers) are often likely to be more angry at doubters than those who truly oppose them.

There seems to be a need for better categorization of doubt. I think this is well beyond me, but I can list a few common categories and a few ideas. Maybe something will develop from there in future work.

1.  Methodological Doubt: Cartesian Doubt. Starting from a position of doubt in an reasoning argument. In philosophy, one seeks to separate between the dubious, the probable, and the certain. Such doubt may not say anything about the beliefs of the individual… it is simply a position to start from in a logical argument. This can be a useful tool in analysis. Sometimes it bothers people. I have an Apologetics Study Bible. In it, it argues for the authenticity or reliability of the Bible. Often it will argue from historical, textual, or logical positions. Some react to this. “The Bible says it! I believe it! That settles it!” But that is not good enough for some people, so the writers of the study Bible develop arguments from a starting position of doubt to make their arguments relevant to a broader audience.

2.  Existential Doubt: The values and meaning I have… are they what I SHOULD have? This is axiological. What OUGHT I believe, think, value, and do? Paul Tillich considered existential doubt as foundational to faith. Major changes in one’s values and motives (such as in a religious conversion experience) requires existential doubt. It is necessary most likely for 2nd order changes… ones that involve basic change of belief, not simply change of method or action.

3.  Skeptical Doubt: I never did find a great definition of this. Seems to be more of an attitude than an actual doubt. Doubt that pushes one to disbelief. Of course, disbelief simply means belief in something else.

For example, if one goes to the website for Sceptic Magazine:

The Skeptics Society is a scientific and educational organization of leading scientists, scholars, investigative journalists, historians, professors and teachers. Our mission is to investigate and provide a sound scientific viewpoint on claims of the paranormal, pseudoscience, fringe groups, cults and claims between: science, pseudoscience, junk science, voodoo science, pathological science, bad science, non science and plain old nonsense. “

It is clear here that the Sceptic Society has a large number of things that they have sceptical doubt (not just methodological doubt) about. But they also have some areas that they have very strong beliefs about. The name “The Skeptics Society” seems to be at least 50% misnamed.

4.  Pathological Doubt:  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is often called a “disease of doubt” because it involves an inability to distinguish between what is possible, probable, and unlikely to happen. Doubt can be healthy but at least some doubt needs to ultimately be resolved.

5.  Radical Doubt:  Term coined by Arne Unhjem and is defined as “the recognition– often implicit, rather than explicit– that there is no truth and no meaning that deserves man’s unqualified acceptance.” It seems to be true that man needs meaning in life. Radical doubt, whether justified or not, hardly seems to be healthy… not how we were made.

6.  Guilty Doubt:  I made up this term… but I am sure that the term exists, or a similar term exists for this. Like “skeptical doubt” this is an attitude or response. Doubt can generally be healthy, but some feel that it is wrong to have doubt. This can be exacerbated by systems (religious, cultural, academic, corporate) that seek conformity of view. Often guilt or shame is used within the social structure to deny doubt. Guilty Doubt can lead to conformity of members and the maintaining of the oppressive structure. Paradoxically, it can result in a complete rejection of the original belief. Two reasons: First, the person who finally acknowledges their doubt may feel that doubt is the same as disbelief. Second, the system does not set up a healthy environment for addressing doubt.

I am sure there are other categories worthy of listing, but if one looks at this list, the first two are certainly beneficial in faith (or at least can be). However, there are other ways to look at doubt. One way would be to look at it from a position of source.

A.  Cognitive Doubt would then be doubt of facts. This is an intellectual doubt.

B.  Emotive Doubt would then be a feeling of doubt. Perhaps the doubt can’t be put into an intellectual form.

C.  Volitional Doubt would then be a feeling of doubt about choices (kind of like existential doubt).

Perhaps one could add something like Self-doubt. We think of self-doubt as negative, but in this case, I mean the recognition of our own limitations as a human (limits in time, space, knowledge, wisdom). From this perspective, self-doubt is very useful… even necessary. Failure to recognize these limits is the realm of the fool and egoist.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts. Would love to hear more on doubt and categorization of doubt.

One thought on “Belief vs Doubt vs Disbelief IV

  1. Pingback: Teaching Doubt – MMM — Munson Mission Musings

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