Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tim Keller on Doubt

"A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection."

– Tim Keller
The Reason for God, (p. xvii) [HT: Hope's Reason]

14 comments :

Neal Korfhage said...

Tim Keller is a man of God who has my utmost respect and admiration. I taught his "The Reason for God" material to a Sunday school class not to long ago. I really like the video material where he is talking about the issues with a group of adult non-believers in a living room setting. He handles himself with grace and love as he addresses each one. He models what a true apologist should be.

Anonymous said...

The problem with this stance on doubt is that it legitimises its qualities and makes it part of being a Christian. Genuine doubts that have been inquired of will often lead to a crossroads: one path leads to putting aside the childish and often contradictory tenets of faith, whereas the other means embracing that doubt as a disability and a badge of honour. The second path is the final nail in the coffin, as it means any and every difficult passage or contradiction is seen as something to strengthen faith as opposed to shaking it. This is the trick of belief: building a protective shell that allows nothing in. And it's self-induced. Before this point, breaking away is possible. Thereafter, it is nearly impossible, and many intelligent people fall into the self-deception of religious life.

MaryLou said...

What I have noticed about people who doubt is this: They have a tendency to read material that will feed that doubt, not material that will lead them to greater faith. it's as if, deep down, they really do want to walk away from God and are looking for excuses that will justify that action -- in their own minds at least.

Neal Korfhage said...

@ Anonymous

I never considered the confirmation hypothesis a serious objection to truth in general or Christianity in particular because, if true would logically lead me to be skeptical of the confirmation hypothesis itself. Yes, we all have biases but they are not insurmountable.

Anonymous said...

@ Mary Lou

Haven't you considered that being drawn towards material that encourages doubt is, in fact, a normal part of possessing an enquiring mind? If that leads to more doubt, then the weakness is in the 'evidence,' not the enquirer.

Anonymous said...

@ Neal

I can only speak for myself, but when I suffered doubt I sought to dispel it by reading the bible more. Alas, the more doubt I had, the less the bible could assuage it.

For me, this was the crossroads. Nothing could fill the holes that were missing in scripture, no matter how much I WANTED those holes filled and the orthodox theology of the churches of god (or any other Trinitarian group) proven as watertight. Confirmation bias? Not at all. I made a logical decision based on what was clearly untenable, and the result was that I pulled away.

Neal Korfhage said...

@Anon

I can at least in principle then understand where you are coming from. If If a fellow Christian came to me and said, "I'm having doubts about the Bible" the last thing I would suggest is simply reading more of it.

Many of the skeptics I converse with come to me with this background. Inquiring minds go to the church for help but don't find much because they are simple told to have more "faith." That is unacceptable since Scripture itself does not teach the faith in faith hypothesis. Knowledge is actually the foundation of faith or trust. Trust is a better understanding of what the Bible means by having faith.

Since your post posits a general "doubt it" stance there not much more I can say. What I can say is I've come to the exact opposite conclusion after my own thoughtful reflections. It's a continual work in progress though.

janitorialmusings said...

Neal,

You said: "If If a fellow Christian came to me and said, "I'm having doubts about the Bible" the last thing I would suggest is simply reading more of it."

Actually the Bible says "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17). There is a sense in which God's word imparts faith. It's not just another book. Again, the Bible says, "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." So why would that be the *last thing* you would suggest?

You said: "That is unacceptable since Scripture itself does not teach the faith in faith hypothesis."

No, but Scripture does give us the example of the man who cried out “I believe; help my unbelief!” That looks like an act of faith seeking faith, right?

This is the thing I seem to keep harping on here, but that's because I see a big hole here: we need to let theology frame our apologetic. After all, that's what we're supposed to be defending: Christian theology. But if we let our apologetics or philosophy dictate our theology then we're not really defending the faith, we're defining the faith in ways that seem defensible to us.

janitorialmusings said...

Anonymous,

You said: "[Keller's advice] means embracing that doubt as a disability and a badge of honour.[...] it means any and every difficult passage or contradiction is seen as something to strengthen faith as opposed to shaking it. This is the trick of belief: building a protective shell that allows nothing in."

But what Keller actually said was that we should be asking hard questions about why we hold to our beliefs and that we should listen patiently to doubts we have.

And yet you take that and want to make twist it around to make it sound like Keller is trying to insulate belief from doubt. But ask yourself if such a mis-reading isn't indicative of another type of belief-insulation.

Keller's over all point is that dealing with doubts and hard questions when they arise teaches us how to deal with them appropriately. Dealing with doubts and hard questions can help us from making naive decisions later on.

I would think that even you would agree with that, Anon. Consider all the freshmen in Philosophy 101 who can go through spells of extreme skepticism. They may flirt with solipsism. Why? Because they've never had to deal with these types of challenges before. Really, Keller's advice is just common sense. Once the freshmen philosophy student becomes more accustom to dealing with the sort of challenges that are common in philosophy he won't be thrown about by every new idea.

That's not building a protective shell around him. It's maturity.

MaryLou said...

Anonymous wrote: "Haven't you considered that being drawn towards material that encourages doubt is, in fact, a normal part of possessing an enquiring mind? If that leads to more doubt, then the weakness is in the 'evidence,' not the enquirer."

If you read nothing but material that feeds your doubt, then of course it leads to more doubt. How could it do otherwise?

But the doubter also needs to read the information that addresses that doubt in a positive way, not merely information that confirms their doubt. In other words, if a person doubts the reliability of the Bible, he/she shouldn't just read Bart Ehrman's stuff. He/she should read Dan Wallace, Darrell Bock, F. F. Bruce, Craig Blomberg, Walter Kaiser, Jr, etc. who address the issue from the opposite side.

I honestly don't have a problem with anybody -- non-Christian or Christian -- who has doubts about Jesus, the Bible, etc. But I want people to be fair in the way they handle their doubts, that is, I want them to look for reasons to believe as much as they are looking for reasons not to believe.

Anonymous said...

@ MaryLou

The reason most people would want to allow belief is consistency. This is the crux of what I'm trying to say: the bible is NOT a consistent document (or set of documents indeed). If doubt sets in as a result of reading the bible and its confused/contradictory narrative, the whole house of cards falls down. If your advice on dealing with doubt is to read apologists, the Christian claim that the bible is inspired and god -breathed is completely undermined. It should be apparent from the book itself just what God's message is. But it isn't. Without mental gymnastics anyway.

And regarding looking for reasons to believe, why the bible? How about the Koran? Bhagavad Gita? Like nearly all unreasonable traits and beliefs, religion is an accident of birth: where you're born informs your religious leaning s, if any.

Ex N1hilo said...

Anonymous wrote:

This is the crux of what I'm trying to say: the bible is NOT a consistent document (or set of documents indeed).

Surely you jive!

When I read the Bible, I am struck by how harmonious it is; especially considering how many authors wrote its books over such a long period of time.

The Bible has a consistent, progressively unfolding singular message throughout. It's amazing. (And I've read and listened to a good bit of material critical of it.)

Neal Korfhage said...

@ Anon

I’ve been thinking about your posts.

You said,

“The reason most people would want to allow belief is consistency. This is the crux of what I'm trying to say: the bible is NOT a consistent document (or set of documents indeed).”

How convenient for you then that philosophy of atheism isn’t codified in a book that all atheists agree on. Which leads me to the question: “Do all atheists agree on what are the best arguments are in favor of atheism?” Isn’t atheism itself a series of highly plausible alternatives in a cumulative case kind of way? i.e Atheism seems more plausibly true than theism?

Yet atheism does speak from a position of infallibility. Atheism itself isn’t falsifiable based on the brain vacuum hypothesis and the marshaling forth of “more plausible” alternatives. Atheism makes the claim to be absolutely certain in it’s assertion that God doesn’t exist.

This to me seems to be an inconsistency. Atheism can only justify its claim to be plausibly true, it cannot be absolutely certain. Yet it asserts to be absolutely true, namely that, God doesn’t exist, not merely that his existence is highly implausible. Atheism conclusion is certain, but it’s methods aren’t infallible.

James said...

Anonymous wrote:

Like nearly all unreasonable traits and beliefs, religion is an accident of birth: where you're born informs your religious leaning s, if any.

So, where is the reasonable data supporting such bare assertions ?

Informing one's religious leanings is absolutely not the same as determining them, so there actually is a choice there. Moreover, how one comes to acquire beliefs speaks nothing to whether they are true or not. Such a statement is the epitome of the genetic fallacy. What if a particular country was populated mostly by atheists or agnostics who passed on their materialist philosophy to their children with every generation ? Would you then be so quick to use that line of reasoning ?

Trying to lump the Bible into the same category as the Qur'an or Bhagavad Gita shows that one has made no attempt to figure out what makes the Bible unique. Notice that I just said "unique", not "true", since it at least seems that you're trying to say there is no substantial difference amongst them.

Demands on how the Bible ought to be are, no offense meant, just that: demands. Even if one determines that it isn't inerrant in its original manuscripts, that doesn't make it a house of cards. At that point, one would be grasping at straws when attempting to say, "Well, if they were wrong on this statement, then maybe they were wrong on all these other things". Possibilities and "maybe"s come cheap. One ought to focus on what obviously is consistent, which is quite a bit. That especially applies to the core reports of the earliest Christian scripture.

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