Whenever I teach an apologetics class, I always clarify the relationship between faith, doubts, and questions. It is important to remember that asking questions about what you believe is not necessarily the same thing as doubt. For example, when I was a new Christian, I had all kinds of questions. And I still have questions to this day. Asking questions is a part of spiritual growth.
Let’s look at a more technical definition of doubt. Baker’s Evangelical Online Dictionary says the following about doubt. Daniel L. Aiken says the following:
“It is possible to have questions (or doubts) about persons, propositions, or objects. Doubt has been deemed a valuable element in honest, rational inquiry. It prevents us from reaching hasty conclusions or making commitments to unreliable and untrustworthy sources. A suspension of judgment until sufficient inquiry is made and adequate evidence is presented is judged to be admirable. In this light, doubt is not an enemy of faith. This seems to be the attitude of the Bereans in Acts 17:11. Questioning or doubting motivates us to search further and deeper in an understanding of faith. However, doubt in Scripture can be seen to be characteristic of both believers and unbelievers. In believers it is usually a weakness of faith, a wavering in the face of God’s promises. In the unbeliever doubt is virtually synonymous with unbelief. Scripture, as would be expected, does not look at doubt philosophically or epistemologically. Doubt is viewed practically and spiritually as it relates to our trust in the Lord. For this reason, doubt is not deemed as valuable or commendable.”
So having said this, here are some few tips when dealing with doubt.
First, identify the type of doubt. Second, be honest with God about your doubt. Many of God’s servants have dealt with the same issues for centuries. As far as types of doubt, perhaps we can ask some questions:
- It is emotional doubt? Does God’s presence seem to be quite distant at times?
- Does God seem painfully absent?
- Is it an unanswered prayer issue?
- It is factual doubt?
Remember that when it comes to factual doubt, there is no need for exhaustive knowledge. As Paul Copan says in his article, How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong? A Response to Skepticism, “Being less than 100% certain doesn’t mean we can’t truly know. We can have highly plausible or probable knowledge, even if it’s not 100% certain.”
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
(2) It can’t 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.
Remember, 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.
How many of our claims past the test of certitude? Not many! Does this mean we are left to blind faith? No! There are two kinds of defeaters: rationality defeaters (that provide grounds that undermine the rationality of a basing a belief on certain grounds) and knowledge defeaters (that provide grounds that undermine the legitimacy of a claim to knowledge on behalf of a belief based on certain grounds). The two kinds are not mutually exclusive: some defeaters function at both levels, including those that challenge the objective alethic reliability of one’s actual grounds (see Robert C. Koons and George Bealer, Epistemological Objections to Materialism in The Waning of Materialism).
Why do I bring this up? Remember, if we had a 100% doubt free belief system, there wouldn’t be any room for faith/trust in God. Any Christian that thinks they have a perfect, doubt free faith are setting themselves up for disappointment. Also, anyone who assumes apologetics is supposed to answer every single question exhaustively has misunderstood the limitations of apologetics. By the way, I also remember when Paul Davies (a non Christian physicist) noted in the article called Taking Science on Faith that there is a relationship between faith and science. Naturally, this led to the scorn of many atheists. So sad!
If you haven’t purchased the book Doubting Toward Faith
“Here’s a thought to digest: In the absence of certainty, there’s always room for doubt. And this applies not only to the Christian but to everyone. No one, in any belief system, can prove his or her faith with 100 percent certainty. But 100 percent certainty is also not required in order to believe in something or to have reasonable assurance that what you believe is true and trustworthy. • I believe my wife when she says she’ll be faithful to only me. • I believe my friends when they say, “I’m telling you the truth.” • I believe the red light will turn green in a reasonable amount of time. • I believe my government won’t collapse tomorrow.
But Bobby, I feel 100 percent certain that Christianity is true,” you may contest. And I would add, we cannot confuse feeling certain and being certain. There’s a difference. Mormons also feel certain their beliefs are true, as do Muslims, atheists, and many others. Feeling certain and being certain aren’t necessarily equivalent. As we all know, feelings are fickle. One day your moods may sing the praises of your faith and the next day your moods will betray you, drowning you in the despair of doubt. Many people who walk around saying “I know with 100 percent certainty that my faith is true” haven’t thought much about their faith. They’re often blissfully naïve, which insulates them from an onslaught of doubts.The reality is, even those who feel 100 percent certain can’t prove Christianity with 100 percent certainty. And we do the church a great disservice when we act like we can. Not to mention, we also set new believers up for a future doubt crisis when they realize things in our faith aren’t as tidy as they once thought. In any event, we must avoid two extremes, this time as it relates to certainty. On one extreme we have philosophers like René Descartes who seek certainty through doubting everything, and on the other extreme are those who doubt nothing in order to feel good about their supposed certainty. Neither solution is helpful.”
You can read all kinds of arguments on both sides. Both sides will present defeaters. It never ends. So at some point, you will have to get over the need for certitude or exhaustive knowledge.
For an in depth treatment of the subject of doubt, see these two free online resources:
Gary Habermas: Dealing with Doubt
Gary Habermas: The Thomas Factor: Using Your Doubts to Draw Closer to God