The Realm of Doubt: Why Both Skeptics and Theists Have To Exercise Faith

Recently I was reading  Mortimer J. Adler’s Six Great Ideas where he has a chapter called The Realm of Doubt. In this chapter, Adler discusses some of the issues of epistemology which is the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge, belief, truth, and types of certainty. Can atheists and theists say “I know” with complete assurance that their position is true? I know atheists say they lack a belief and are not really taking a position. I won’t go into the great detail about the problems with this definition of atheism. Instead, let expand on what Adler discusses in this wonderful book:

Certitude and Doubt

The problem we encounter is when we attempt to decide which of our judgments belong in the realm of certitude and which in the realm of doubt. In order for a judgment to belong in the realm of certitude, it must meet the following criteria: (1) it cannot be challenged by the consideration of new evidence that results from improved observation, nor can it be criticized by improved reasoning or the detection of inadequacies or errors in the reasoning we have done. Beyond such challenge or criticism, such judgments are indubitable, or beyond doubt.

A judgment is subject to doubt if there is any possibility at all (1) of its being challenged in the light of additional or more acute observations or (2) of its being criticized on the basis of more cogent or more comprehensive reasoning.

A courtroom analogy is helpful here: a jury is asked to bring in the verdict that they have no reason to doubt- no rational basis for doubting- in light of all the evidence offered and the arguments presented by the opposing counsel. Of course, it is always possible that new evidence may be forthcoming and, if that occurs, the case may be reopened and a new trial may result in a different verdict. The original verdict may have been beyond a reasonable doubt at the time it was made, but it is not indubitable-not beyond all doubt or beyond a shadow of a doubt–precisely because it can be challenged by new evidence or set aside by an appeal that called attention to procedural errors that may have invalidated the jury’s deliberations- the reasoning they did weighing and interpreting the evidence presented.

Our Daily Judgments

It is obvious that many of the judgments we make in the daily affairs of life are like jury verdicts, beyond a reasonable doubt or are favored by a preponderance of evidence. And for all practical purposes, we generally act on judgments that can only reach a high level of probability. We do not even hesitate to act on them even though new evidence may show up in the future. So even when we act on a highly probable judgment as if it were certainty in all practical purposes, it will remain a judgment that is subject to criticism or correction.

The Realm of Doubt and The Existence of God

The reality is that when people begin to pursue this topic, they may engage in a variety of disciplines such as the sciences, history, theology, etc. And any reasonable person will admit that there is always progress in all of these disciplines., There will always be new discoveries, more comprehensive or less comprehensive theories, improved observations, etc. For example, I am presently reading Blackwell’s Companion to Natural Theology which features some very rigorous essays about the evidence for Christian theism. I may walk away thinking the essays are very persuasive. But I doubt I would ever say each argument in this book is never open to criticism or correction. And once again, there may be new discoveries, more comprehensive or less comprehensive theories, improved observations, etc.

Do Skeptics Utilize Faith?

At this moment, we know from all our present experience that natural laws describe regularities in nature. However, as Stephen Meyer points out, these laws don’t generate complex sequences, whether specified or otherwise. The laws describe highly regular, repetitive and periodic patterns. This is something that is empirically detectable- it is part of our inference to the best explanation. This is discussed in further detail in Meyer’s Signature In The Cell. However, skeptics are sure that one day science will show how a natural law can generate complex sequences, whether specified or otherwise.

We also know that the universe, laws of nature, life, mind and thought consist of properties that transcend the material world. Since science is only able to investigate the material world and not what transcends the material world, science cannot, in principle, ever explain these things. However, skeptics are sure that one day science will be able to explain this. Good luck! Also, to say skeptics/atheists don’t doubt their own position is silly. If they did not doubt their own position, why do they have camps and conferences that train them in the area of how to argue for their position? Is this what we call apologetics for skeptics/atheists?

Let me give another example here. This example is given in John Lennox’s God’s Undertaker. In relation to the design of the universe, Stephen Hawking says the following in his book The Grand Design:

“Our universe and its laws appear to have a design that is both tailor made to support us and, if we are to exist, leaves little room for alteration. That is not easily explained and raises the natural question of why it is that way…. The Discover relativity recently if the extreme fine-tuning of so many of the law sof nature could lead at least some of us back to the old idea that grand design is the work of some grand designer….That is not the answer of modern science…our universe seems to be one of many, each with different laws.” –The Grand Design, pg 164.

So we have a perfect example of what happens in theist/atheist discussions. Hawkings admits the universe is fine-tuned (so do other non-theists lie Martin Rees), but yet Hawking now says the multiverse is a better explanation. Case closed! Theist, you have blind faith and you have no evidence! We on the other hand, can show there are many universes and that this is a better explanation.

Let’s look at a syllogism:

1.If the Multiverse theory is true, God does not exist/theists have blind faith- they have no evidential basis for Christian theism. 2.The Multiverse theory is true 3.Therefore, God does not exist/theists have blind faith- they have no evidential basis for Christian theism.

Besides the fact that adding more universes would not get rid of God’s existence, let’s look at what Professor John Polkinghorne, an eminent theoretical physicist says about the multiverse theory:

“Let us recognize these speculations for what they are. They are not physics, but in the strictest sense, metaphysics. There is no purely scientific reason to believe in an ensemble of universes. By construction, these other worlds are unknowable to us. A possible explanation of equal intellectual responsibility – and to my mind greater economy and elegance-would be that this one world is the way it is, because it is the creation of the will of a Creator who purposes that it should be so”-(One World, Page 80).

So now let’s look at another one of Hawking’s points which is M-theory: a theory of supersysmmetric gravity that involves very sophisticated concepts such as vibrating strings in eleven dimensions. So now:

1.If M-Theory is true, God does not exist/theists have blind faith- they have no evidential basis for Christian theism. 2.The Multiverse theory is true 3.Therefore, God does not exist/theists have blind faith- they have no evidential basis for Christian theism.

So here we have another theory. Jon Butterworth, who works at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland states that “M-theory is highly speculative and certainly not in the zone of science that we have got any evidence for.” He goes on to say that even if M –Theory could be tested, it did not require faith in the religious sense, but was more of a scientific hunch. “ –Hannah Devlin, “Hawking: God Did Not Create The Universe,” 12 September 2010.

I could go on with more examples. But what is clear that is the latest atheist rhetoric is leading more and more people down the path of a terrible epistemology. What would a more mature approach look like? The skeptic/atheist should drop the line that all theists have blind faith. Blind faith by its very definition is faith without evidence. I doubt a person who reads through Blackwell’s Companion to Natural Theology would say theism is nothing more than a blind faith.  Furthermore, in many cases the current rhetoric by atheists about biblical faith being blind is based on scientific reductionism which says all truth claims have to be verified scientifically. Of course this is a not a scientific statement itself but instead a philosophical assertion.

In the end, both theists and non-theists have the ability to look at the same evidence. However, they take a different set of presuppositions into the evaluation process. So that must be admitted up front.

The point is that in order to believe in God demands an act of faith—as does the decision not to believe in him. Neither is based upon absolute certainty, nor can they be. So for atheists/skeptics to say that they don’t exercise faith is pure nonsense. For further reading on the problem with the definition of faith in our culture, see here: To read more about the relationship between faith and reason, click here: