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Apr 14 2014

“Doubt is Part of Faith” — No, It’s Not

“A sincere faith is often full of legitimate doubts.”

So said someone on my Facebook page the other day. I’ve heard this idea many times before, and you probably have too. If you Google the phrase “doubt is part of faith” you get 15,400 results — 93,600,000 if you don’t use the quotation marks. William Lane Craig has written that “You should expect that by growing into a mature faith, even though you are a Christian, doubt will come into play at some point.” Rabbi Mark Greenspan, in a piece titled “No Faith Without Doubt,” has written, “We sometimes forget that doubt is as much a part of religion as faith. In fact the two are brothers.” Lesley Hazleton, author of a biography of Mohammed, has said that “doubt is essential to faith” and has argued for “a new appreciation of doubt and questioning as the foundation of faith.” Etc., etc., etc.

And you know what?

It’s crap.

It’s not “doubt” if you already know what answer you’re going to get. It’s not “doubt” if you’re unwilling to come to any conclusion other than the one you started with. You are not “doubting” your faith if you’re looking for ways to hang onto it despite your questions and concerns — rather than sincerely questioning whether your faith has any basis in reality.

“Doubt” means uncertainty about the answer. If you’re loading your mental dice to come up with the same answer you started with, that’s not doubt.

I am quite sure that many believers have dark nights of the soul (or the soul-less, since I don’t think souls exist). I am quite sure that many believers have bad, bad feelings about their religions. And they should. But I really wish they wouldn’t call this “doubt.” It’s a misuse of the word: watered-down at best, total self-deluded bullshit at worst.

Doubt is important. Being willing to doubt our settled opinions is how we open our minds and move forward with our ideas. This religious pseudo-doubt defangs the entire idea, and sullies its good name.

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  1. 1
    heddle

    But I really wish they wouldn’t call this “doubt.”

    I have dealt with and deal with doubt. At times, it’s been gut-wrenching, almost debilitating doubt. And I know many others who have done and are doing likewise, at least for a season.

    There is nothing substantive in your post–just an opinion, supported with no evidence, that our doubt is “pseudo-doubt.” Given this lack of substance in your post, I can only surmise that what you think is “pseudo doubt” is nothing more than a smug, self-serving way of saying “if it were true doubt, then they’d abandon their faith.”

  2. 2
    Beth

    “Doubt” means uncertainty about the answer.

    I think this is what those religious believers are talking about, not pseudo-doubt as you describe it. Many religious people entertain and even struggle with doubts and not all of them continue to believe in their religion. That some still continue to have faith does not imply that the doubts those people had were only ‘pseudo’ and the doubts of those who abandoned their faith were legitimate.

    Further, if you wish to convert more people to non-belief, I think it’s important to encourage acknowledgement of doubts rather than dismissing concerns about the validity of their faith as

    It’s not “doubt” if you’re unwilling to come to any conclusion other than the one you started with.

    Doubt can be the struggle between what a person wants to believe versus what they can accept as being true. While many religious leaders will tell their adherents to banish such thoughts, I think that it those leaders who embrace the existence of such doubts in themselves and their followers should be acclaimed as superior to the those who don’t.

  3. 3
    doublereed

    “It ain’t a true crisis of faith unless things could just as easily go either way.”
    —Thor Shenkel

  4. 4
    R Johnston

    Without “doubt” the religious can’t overcome their “doubt” to show how strong and faithful they truly are. Look at how eager the suckers always are to embrace rather dubious stories about atheists-turned-christian. Overcoming “doubt” confers higher status among most demoninations, leading to self-deceptive and outright fallacious claims of doubt.

    Anyway, good post. The kind of “doubt” routinely expressed by religious sufferers–even if taken at face value, which it shouldn’t be–isn’t doubt about whether to have faith but rather doubt about shat the specific components of that faith should be. They don’t doubt in faith and reject the concepts of absolute truth and revealed knowledge. Even taken at face value there is very rarely any logical or empirical component to their “doubt,” so it is not the doubt of reality or science; rather it is the doubt of the gut.

  5. 5
    Uncle Ebeneezer

    Greta, you missed a good marketing opportunity. If doubt is so important to strengthening faith, this person needs to buy and read your books for the sake of their faith! ;)

    Seriously though, this argument of theirs always drives me nuts. Because the person espousing it usually: A.) admits NO DOUBT about their own beliefs* and/or B.) will hypocritically seize an any admitted doubt by an atheist/agnostic as a gotcha moment. If there’s anything that centuries of religion has taught us it’s that avoidance of serious questioning is pretty much the Prime Directive for all religions (along with spreading the belief and collecting $.) Anyone who seriously values doubt and questioning should be a skeptic.

    *Don’t polls show that 60+% of Americans admit that they would reject, out of hand, any evidence that contradicted their beliefs.

  6. 6
    John Horstman

    @heddle #1: My understanding here is that Greta is simply asserting that doubt is not actually compatible with faith: if you doubt, then what you have cannot honestly be described as “faith”, and if you have faith, any uncertainties cannot honestly be described as “doubt”. “Faith” and “doubt” are antonyms: faith is trusting in the truth of something, while doubt is not trusting in the truth of something. Language is fluid, but equating antonyms is just plain lying. In order for there to be any kind of mutual intelligibility, words still have to mean things, and relatively stable things at that. If you want to redefine words, then you don’t get to equivocate later, so if you want “doubt” to mean something other than distrust or “faith” to mean something other than trust, you have to be consistent and also make it clear that you’re using nonstandard definitions in order to not be lying.

  7. 7
    heddle

    John Horstman,

    If you doubt, then what you have cannot honestly be described as “faith”, and if you have faith, any uncertainties cannot honestly be described as “doubt”.

    Where is that written in stone? Faith and doubt are not absolutes. I can have some measure of each. I would submit that you are manifestly wrong. If they are incompatible, then my choices are “utter faith, with no doubt, i.e., certainty” or “no faith at all” (in which case I can have doubt–but in what? what I actually have is another form of certainty.)

    Doubt, if it means anything, must coexist with faith–it is simply a measure of the confidence you have in faith.

    This is even true in the scientific world, we often express varying degrees of faith (or doubt) that a theory or model will survive an experimental test. You hear such language in seminars all the time.

  8. 8
    miller

    When I grew up (Catholic), I was surrounded by narratives of doubt. Invariably, the narratives were about someone who was dealing with doubt, but they eventually get over it and their faith becomes stronger for it.

    A prominent example was Mother Teresa’s “Dark Letters”, which showed her distress that she was unable to feel the presence of God for the last fifty years of her life. While many people have had many interpretations, the obvious Catholic interpretation was that she was doing exactly what the common narrative decreed she should. She had doubts, yet persisted in her work on the glorification of suffering–how noble of her! Doubt is treated like a chronic illness rather than an epistemological tool.

  9. 9
    Antje Schrupp

    “It’s not “doubt” if you’re unwilling to come to any conclusion other than the one you started with.”

    yes, but why do you assume, that is the case?

    I, as a christian feminist, have already doubted a lot of things with different conclusions:

    * the virgin birth – conlcusion: Crap
    * Jesus’ existence – conclusion: Probably true
    * jesus died to save us – conclusion: crap (he was executed, no sense in that)
    * Living as Jesus proposed will lead to a good life for all: conclusion: Might be true

    I could go on. So if I doubt something in my religion, I obviously don’t know to what conclusion that might lead. Your post suggests, that everyone who really doubts must come to the conclucion that religion is crap. Sorry this is not the case. Some do (many of my feminist friens did leave their religions after doubting), some build new religions (feminist spirituality), some – like I chose – stay nontheless. But all our doubting is real at the time, because when we religious people doubt, as everyone else, we don’t know the outcome.

    (Excuse my bad English, I hope it is understandable…)

  10. 10
    Antje Schrupp

    Okay, maybe not all of us … the Pseudo-Doubting you refer to also exists, and you are right in pointing it out. But their are real doubts also, that’s the experience I wanted to add.

  11. 11
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    @heddle & Beth

    What we’re talking about here is the answer to the question “Is there anything you can easily conceive of that would change your mind?” People with religion usually answer “No” because to answer otherwise would be unfaithful. They feel obligated to believe, to “have faith” no matter what. (e.g. Ken Ham when asked at the Nye debate; the presuppositionalists who say they can only know anything because they know God exists and tells them the truth; Matt Dilahunty’s recent debate opponent, sorry don’t have his name but he was mentioned in the most recent episode of TAE, who also said nothing could change his mind)

    When you go in with that mindset, you’re not experiencing real doubt, the kind that would answer “God might not exist” or “God may not be the god of the Bible–maybe the Greeks or Egyptians, the Hindus or Zoroastrians or Taoists are right” or “Maybe the ‘relationship’ or ‘presence’ I feel is made up by my own brain” and “let me honestly and forthrightly explore that possibility”. Allowing yourself to feel troubled or angsty for a while only for the purpose of bolstering your commitment to the beliefs you already hold is not honest or real doubt.

  12. 12
    brianpansky

    @1
    heddle

    At times, it’s been gut-wrenching, almost debilitating doubt.

    My sympathies. This abuse that these kinds of beliefs exact upon you (and many others) is worrisome.

  13. 13
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    @ Antje

    I speculate that most of the “doubt” believers talk about is pseudo-doubt and not real doubt. I think you and those like you–willing to doubt even the core tenets of the religion you subscribe to–are the exception.

  14. 14
    heddle

    Ibis3,

    I speculate that most of the “doubt” believers talk about is pseudo-doubt and not real doubt. I think you and those like you–willing to doubt even the core tenets of the religion you subscribe to–are the exception.

    I don’t get this. On FTB I find many who claim they were believers but something caused them to doubt and ultimately lose their faith. I assume that you accept their precipitating doubt as “real”. But those who doubt and yet ultimately retain their faith–you speculate most of these are “pseudo-doubt”. Again I submit that to first order what is being offered here is that “real doubt” means you abandon religion. Proof, for the most part, by definition.

  15. 15
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    @12 brianpansky

    @1
    heddle

    At times, it’s been gut-wrenching, almost debilitating doubt.

    My sympathies. This abuse that these kinds of beliefs exact upon you (and many others) is worrisome.

    Yes. This is part of the setup, and part of what I was referring to when I said believers felt obligated to believe, to have faith no matter what. It feels not just like a betrayal which is bad enough with all that guilt, but on top of that a fear of punishment for not remaining true and loyal. How many have the courage or fortitude to fly in the face of that and really examine their beliefs? And that’s aside from confronting insecurity and vulnerability that comes when any core understanding of things is brought under the microscope. Just thinking about the horror and the damage makes me very grateful for my parents & largely secular upbringing.

  16. 16
    brianpansky

    Ya, I kind of don’t think Greta had people who think that “jesus died to save us – conclusion: crap” when she was writing her article…

    But I think I may disagree with Greta. I think many of the believers she speaks of do have doubt, as far as I understand the definition and usage of that word. The difference is that they have something extra, too, that prevents the doubt from being processed properly (and, as evident, this extra thing does damage to the host).

  17. 17
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    @14 heddle

    It’s not about seeing those who leave their faith as the only real doubters. It’s about seeing most (at least vocal) religious people say there’s nothing that could convince them that they are wrong. If you can’t even entertain that possibility, you can’t actually doubt that you’re right. If the same person says “Nothing will ever convince me that the bible is just a book written by men without any divine input/guidance/inspiration/whatever” and “Woe is me, I suffered all these doubts, but Jesus has made my faith even stronger than it was before” what conclusion can one draw but that statement number 2 is a sham? A person with real doubt would say “I may be wrong about the bible. I can see why people might not accept it as divinely inspired. Maybe if I were raised a Hindu I would think it was garbage too, but nevertheless I believe in it. If someone were to bring me more information, I’m open to changing my mind.” See the difference?

  18. 18
    Parse

    The doubt that I had, when I had faith, was like looking at a bunch of jigsaw pieces, thinking they look like parts of a doughnut, then looking at the box’s picture of cars, and wondering what other pieces I’m missing that make these make sense in context.
    The doubt that I had, which led to my losing faith, was like looking at a bunch of jigsaw pieces, thinking they look like parts of a doughnut, then looking at the box’s picture of cars, and wondering if the box’s picture is correct.

    I’d say that doubt, or at least productive doubt, is being willing to question both the premises and the conclusion.

  19. 19
    heddle

    Ibis3,

    It’s about seeing most (at least vocal) religious people say there’s nothing that could convince them that they are wrong.

    Are you sure? I have answered that many times with examples*. On the other hand I don’t think it is as meaningful a question/test/thought-experiment as it sounds. I don’t think (I might be wrong) people lose their faith because of some epiphany or game-changing experience. I think it is a lot of small things that accumulate.

    ————–
    * Usually I get a response like this: No it wouldn’t. That wouldn’t really change your mind.

  20. 20
    miller

    I would not agree with Greta’s characterization of the doubt as “pseudo-doubt”, because I think the doubt is real. The problem isn’t with the doubt itself, but how you treat it. William Lane Craig called doubt a struggle, and offered solutions to overcome the doubt. @Heddle #1 said their experience with doubt was “gut-wrenching, almost debilitating”. These negative feelings surrounding doubt were created by religious culture. Doubt should be treated neutrally when possible, for best epistemological results.

    And actually I get why doubt can be seen negatively within a culture. I’ve known many questioning queer people who are pressured to doubt by a society who believes they do not exist. This experience produces narratives where people “overcome” doubt as if it were a disease. It makes sense in a way, but the problem isn’t really in the doubt itself, it’s in the aggressive ignorance of the people surrounding them. People who eventually decide they’re not queer are not “giving in” to doubts.

  21. 21
    Greta Christina

    Doubt is treated like a chronic illness rather than an epistemological tool.

    miller @ #8: Yes. That. And I would argue that this isn’t really doubt. Real doubt, by definition, is the epistemological tool we use to examine whether the things we think are really true. It’s not an unpleasant condition we endure until it passes.

    So if I doubt something in my religion, I obviously don’t know to what conclusion that might lead.

    Antje Schrupp @ #9: I’m not talking about doubting “something in your religion.” I’m talking about doubting the entire religion, and indeed the entire idea of religion.

    Your post suggests, that everyone who really doubts must come to the conclucion that religion is crap. Sorry this is not the case.

    It is the case that I think atheism is the correct conclusion, and that someone who is doing a good job of questioning their religion will eventually leave it. But that’s not my point here. My point is that the condition of faith, by definition, is believing without evidence, and holding onto that belief despite any lack of evidence, and even despite evidence to the contrary. That’s the exact opposite of doubt. I will concede that some people with faith sincerely doubt it and then return to their faith. But I would argue that while they are doubting, if it is sincere doubt, they do not have faith. And while they have faith, they are not doubting. In fact, I would argue that, if you’ve come to the conclusion that there is a god, but it is a provisional conclusion about what you sincerely think is true about the world and is subject to change if you see better evidence, then that’s not faith. It’s a (mistaken) conclusion that God exists.

    On FTB I find many who claim they were believers but something caused them to doubt and ultimately lose their faith. I assume that you accept their precipitating doubt as “real”. But those who doubt and yet ultimately retain their faith–you speculate most of these are “pseudo-doubt”.

    heddle @ #14: Again, my point is not that people never doubt their faith. And my point isn’t even that people can’t doubt their faith and then return to it. My point is the one I stated above: While they are doubting, if it is sincere doubt, they do not have faith. And while they have faith, they are not doubting.

    Here’s another way of putting it. If you doubt and then return to your faith, and your response to your doubts was not “I have concluded that a preponderance of evidence suggests that there is a God,” but instead was “I had questions but I held firm to my faith despite those questions and despite the places those questions took me,” then that is not sincere doubt. It’s not sincere doubt if you start with a conclusion that you’re not willing to let go of.

    The doubt that I had, when I had faith, was like looking at a bunch of jigsaw pieces, thinking they look like parts of a doughnut, then looking at the box’s picture of cars, and wondering what other pieces I’m missing that make these make sense in context.
    The doubt that I had, which led to my losing faith, was like looking at a bunch of jigsaw pieces, thinking they look like parts of a doughnut, then looking at the box’s picture of cars, and wondering if the box’s picture is correct.

    Parse @ #18: Yes. This. QFT.

  22. 22
    Greta Christina

    I would not agree with Greta’s characterization of the doubt as “pseudo-doubt”, because I think the doubt is real. The problem isn’t with the doubt itself, but how you treat it.

    miller @ #20: I’m not questioning whether the feelings are real feelings. I’m arguing that the “how you treat it” is essential to it being real doubt. I’m arguing that if you treat your “doubts” as an uncomfortable condition to be endured until you return to the conclusion you started with, then that’s not sincere doubt. If you seriously question the conclusions you started with and are sincerely willing to let them go, then by definition, that’s not faith.

  23. 23
    heddle

    While they are doubting, if it is sincere doubt, they do not have faith. And while they have faith, they are not doubting.

    This is just restating your thus far unproven assertion. If it is just your opinion, that’s fine. But if you are trying to actually argue that this has merit, you are not making a case.

    I’m arguing that if you treat your “doubts” as an uncomfortable condition to be endured until you return to the conclusion you started with, then that’s not sincere doubt.

    I am not sure how you do not see that you are making a “heads I win, tails you lose” argument.

    How do you know we are treating our doubts as “an uncomfortable condition to be endured until [we] return to the conclusion [we] started with” unless, in fact, you demand that if we return to the starting point then our doubts were, by definition, of this insincere variety?

  24. 24
    Kevin Kehres

    I think the issue is in treating doubt-faith as a binary.

    I’m quite sure it isn’t. If you have faith then you have no doubt? And if you have doubt, no faith?

    People beliefs are plastic and a million shades of gray.

    In effect, you’re accusing Richard Dawkins (a mere 6.9999… out of 7) of having faith because he entertains the possibility of doubt about the existence of god(s).

  25. 25
    Derick Shamblin

    Yes, absolutely. Exultation of “doubt’ is merely a tool to squash religious questions from ACTUALLY being explored, analyzed and adequately answered. Greta, I see a relationship between your last post, about willful ignorance and insincere question asking, and this one. It’s just a coping mechanism to prevent oneself from the ongoing process of doubt and exploration. I think in place of “doubt,” what they really mean is “cognitive dissonance,” which could potentially LEAD to the process of doubting, but is not doubt in and of itself. I could imagine it going something like this, even if it’s a little simplistic:

    “I believe in an all-loving and merciful God…… and yet why did He allow five high school students to perish in a fiery bus crash?” ***COGNITIVE DISSONANCE***

    “God works in mysterious ways. I can’t begin to understand His ultimate plan. Don’t worry, it’s natural to feel such doubts. It will just make me a stronger Christian!” ***FAITH REAFFIRMED***

    I’ve seen this kind of thinking in people ALL the time, not just about religion, but about many delusions they have in every day life. It takes more mental energy to stop the cognitive dissonance from persisting, and the person fools themselves into believing they’ve truly doubted, and thus strengthened (hardened?) their faith.

  26. 26
    heddle

    #25,

    It takes more mental energy to stop the cognitive dissonance from persisting, and the person fools themselves into believing they’ve truly doubted, and thus strengthened (hardened?) their faith.

    It always amazes me that some people so cavalierly diagnose cognitive dissonance in others. It is as if they don’t know what it means–as if they think it means when someone holds positions that I (the person making the diagnosis) find in tension–rather than what it really means: when someone holds positions that they find in tension–regardless of what I think.

  27. 27
    Greta Christina

    This is just restating your thus far unproven assertion. If it is just your opinion, that’s fine. But if you are trying to actually argue that this has merit, you are not making a case.

    heddle @ #23: It’s not an unproven assertion. It’s recognition of a logical contradiction. I’m saying that religious faith, as it’s defined by the overwhelming majority of believers and religious organizations, means presuppositionalism. It means starting with a conclusion that you’re unwilling to let go of, or at best that you are strongly attached to and are resistant to letting go of. It means believing without evidence, and holding onto that belief despite any lack of evidence, and even despite evidence to the contrary. And by that definition. it is logically contradictory to what doubt means — namely, being uncertain about your beliefs and conclusions, and being in a state of genuinely questioning them, without a presupposition about which conclusion you’ll end up with, or which one you want to end up with.

    How do you know we are treating our doubts as “an uncomfortable condition to be endured until [we] return to the conclusion [we] started with” unless, in fact, you demand that if we return to the starting point then our doubts were, by definition, of this insincere variety?

    I know this because it’s what believers themselves typically say about their doubts. They almost never say that they had questions, they sincerely examined the evidence and logic with an open mind that was completely willing to entertain all possible conclusions, and have provisionally concluded that God exists, but are willing to reconsider if they see better evidence. They say that it is a struggle to maintain faith in the face of the evidence and logic contradicting it.

    And I’m not saying that if believers conclude that God exists therefore their doubts were insincere. (Although I do think that this is commonly the case.) You’re conflating “faith” with “the conclusion that God exists.” I’m not. I’m saying that the state of doubt and the state of religious faith are logically contradictory.

  28. 28
    Greta Christina

    In effect, you’re accusing Richard Dawkins (a mere 6.9999… out of 7) of having faith because he entertains the possibility of doubt about the existence of god(s).

    Kevin Kehres @ #24: What? No. I’m saying the exact opposite of that. I’m saying that, because Richard Dawkins entertains a .00001 percent doubt about the existence of any gods, he does NOT have faith in his atheism. His atheism is a provisional conclusion based on the best currently available evidence.

    It always amazes me that some people so cavalierly diagnose cognitive dissonance in others. It is as if they don’t know what it means–as if they think it means when someone holds positions that I (the person making the diagnosis) find in tension–rather than what it really means: when someone holds positions that they find in tension–regardless of what I think.

    heddle @ #26: No, I think Derick Shamblin @ #25 understands it perfectly. The position that God is all-loving and merciful, and the position that God allowed five high school students to perish in a fiery bus crash (or that he directly caused tsunamis and birth defects), are internally contradictory — regardless of what anyone else thinks about them.

  29. 29
    triple3a

    How do you know we are treating our doubts as “an uncomfortable condition to be endured until [we] return to the conclusion [we] started with” unless, in fact, you demand that if we return to the starting point then our doubts were, by definition, of this insincere variety?

    Simple: Falsifiable claims and evidence about how nature, the world, and the universe work .

    To date, throughout the whole of history and the explorations of science, their hasn’t been one iota of proof about how existence works that confirms the presence of deities.  Science has tons and tons of evidence that corroborate theories about nature, the world, and the universe that can be tested.  Religious explanations have gotten it wrong every … single … time.

    If you hold onto your faith in the face of that, it’s because you want to. No scientific evidence will sway you.  Maybe religions give you an ethical belief system about how to treat other people and the world that you’re comfortable with despite the fact that there’s no evidence that the overarching claim (deities or souls exist) is true.

    Fine, you’re willing to hold onto your faith despite the contradictions (that’s cognitive dissonance, or unease, or distress that you’re willing to live with as part of accepting the God hypothesis).  If you doubt the existence of God, deities, or the existence of the soul, you’re willing to let go of them.  You’re not.

  30. 30
    Leo Buzalsky

    @David Heddle

    Thank you for providing a link to your blog so that we could go search for the evidence you demand. Here is some evidence from your blog: “They actually believe, strange as it may seem, that they can harm Christianity.”

    This very quote (and, yes, I evaluated it for context) would seem to demonstrate quite well the point Greta is making. In your first comment here, you said, “At times, it’s been gut-wrenching, almost debilitating doubt.” And, yet, you also insist that nothing can harm Christianity. (Also while making a laughable defense of Proverbs 13:24.)

  31. 31
    triple3a

    Sorry.  The above is for heddle @23.

  32. 32
    Beth

    If you seriously question the conclusions you started with and are sincerely willing to let them go, then by definition, that’s not faith.

    I don’t think that most people define faith, religious or otherwise, as being without doubt. You can define them to be mutually exclusive and claim that religious believers have no doubts or they aren’t really believers, but that seems a ‘no true scotsman’ type argument to me.

    Personally, I tend to favor the ‘without doubt, there is no faith’ interpretation of those words. If someone is 100% certain of something, they don’t have faith because they have no doubt. I don’t have faith that 2 + 2 = 4. I know it to be true. I have faith my marriage is monogamous while I can only know that *I* have been monogamous. While many believers do claim 100% certainty in their religious beliefs, they are the minority of believers in the same way that atheists who claim 100% certain of no gods existing are a minority of athiests. Most, like Dawkins, accept some level of uncertainly about their beliefs.

    The position that God is all-loving and merciful, and the position that God allowed five high school students to perish in a fiery bus crash (or that he directly caused tsunamis and birth defects), are internally contradictory — regardless of what anyone else thinks about them.

    Actually, these aren’t internally contradictory position. You have to include the omniscient and omnipotent characteristics along with all-loving and merciful. This is implied with the word ‘allowed’, but I think you need to state those characteristics explicitly in order to make your point. There is indeed an inherent contradiction in believing in certain common characteristics being simultaneously attributed to god. However, because we can’t know what any individual believes about god’s attributes, it’s unreasonable and uncharitable to assume they must suffer from cognitive dissonance as a result of having faith in god.

  33. 33
    Antje Schrupp

    @Greta Christina – okay, now I understand better what you mean.

    Those discussions about Gods existence are really futile. I’m pretty sure that God does NOT exist, because if she existed, she would not be God (since “God” is a word we use for something “not of this world”). But I am aware of course, that many of my fellow religious people defend God’s existence. I have never realy understood why, because it is illogical in itself.

    Word/ideas/consepts can matter even if they don’t “exist” – justice for instance, or love. They matter, because people believe in them, and the same is true for God. God is not a “thing” that might “exist”, it is merely a word, a concept we religious people use to express something we feel a need for.

  34. 34
    Beth

    I’m saying that, because Richard Dawkins entertains a .00001 percent doubt about the existence of any gods, he does NOT have faith in his atheism. His atheism is a provisional conclusion based on the best currently available evidence.

    If a Christian (or Jew or Muslim or …) said they had a .00001 percent doubt in their god, would you say that they do NOT have faith, but rather their belief in god is a provisional conclusion based on the best currently available evidence?

  35. 35
    heddle

    Leo Buzalsky,

    you also insist that nothing can harm Christianity

    I have no idea what point you are trying to make–but try as you might you still misquoted me. I said (without looking) that atheists cannot harm Christianity. That’s true. Christians, on the other hand, can harm Christianity. So you are as wrong as you possibly can be when you quote me as saying “nothing can harm Christianity”.

    Again, it is a point apropos nothing on the OP–but at least quote me correctly.

    triple3a,

    To date, throughout the whole of history and the explorations of science, their hasn’t been one iota of proof about how existence works that confirms the presence of deities. Science has tons and tons of evidence that corroborate theories about nature, the world, and the universe that can be tested. Religious explanations have gotten it wrong every … single … time.

    I could argue that point in the details but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t, by any stretch, prove that “doubts are insincere.” You might be making an argument (though it is a poor one) against religion–but you are saying nothing about the nature of the doubts a believer might experience. Trivially, for example, if I know nothing about science, then the sincerity of my doubts cannot be called into question on the basis of the success of science.

  36. 36
    heddle

    triple3a,

    If you doubt the existence of God, deities, or the existence of the soul, you’re willing to let go of them. You’re not.

    I am and have stated publicly what would make me renounce everything. How exactly do you know I am not–you don’t even know me. Does it not bother you that you are making crude assumptions that you cannot substantiate about people you don’t know?

  37. 37
    Lea

    My first response to this post is that it must have been written by a person who was never religious or had faith. Am I right? I’m rather new to your blog and looked but couldn’t find a post or bio to tell me if you’ve always been an atheist.

    First, you treat the issue as being a single-factor binary state of either faith or doubt, but a Christian may experience faith in or doubts about different aspects of their religion simultaneously.

    Though I am an atheist, I had a strong feeling of resentment arise when I read this. Why? Because you are pretending to know what is going on in someone else’s head and telling them that their own feelings are not real–their doubts must just be “pseudo-doubts”, because they didn’t meet your standards of how you think they should behave in response to those feelings.

    Do you seriously expect someone who has been indoctrinated into religion from birth to be willing and able, at the first appearance of doubt, to just dispassionately analyze it all? More likely, the stronger the level of indoctrination, the more fear would arise when attempting to think about the doubts. You would likely also be afraid to mention your doubts to others in your faith community, and if you did, they would immediately work tirelessly to persuade you and get you back in line.

    I’m not an expert on the subject, but I expect that getting to the point of being ready to deconvert can be a long bumpy process. Even I, a person who was raised as a not-really-practising Christian (other than weddings, funerals, and Easter), took a long time and went through several stages of doubting and letting go of various pieces of Christianity before finally dropping the whole thing.

    I think the reason I reacted strongly to this post is that as a woman, I have so often had my feelings trivialized or dismissed as not valid, even had my descriptions of physical symptoms dismissed by doctors as not “real”, even been told “you’re not depressed–what do you have to be depressed about? you’re just not trying.” So, on behalf of theists feeling doubts, I say if they think they are having doubts, then they damn well are having doubts!

  38. 38
    kr86

    I know this has nothing to do with your current post. I am a college student doing research for a paper on the effects of pornography on American culture. I was hoping to get a short interview as I have read some of your previous posts and would like to be able to present a non-biased paper that includes not only pro porn views, but also include the a view from someone in the LGBT community. Please let me know if you are interested. by posting a followup comment. I can prepare a few questions and send them to you. Thanks

  39. 39
    Derick Shamblin

    heddle @ #26: I am a big fan of linguistics. I was for a long time a linguistics major and I’m especially interested in etymology and semantics. I’m pretty well versed in the issues of prescriptive vs descriptive language and I understand that the usage of words can be fluid; however, we also need to be able to come to common understandings of what our words mean. We can work ourselves out of nearly any mental conundrum simply by redefining the usage of basic words.

    It’s a lot like how the Westboro Baptist Church treats people with complete and utter hatred, but what we call “hatred,” they would call “love,” because in their own words, warning people that their sins are sending them to hell, even in the vile ways they do, is TRULY what “love” means. It just so happens we rational people reject the usage of the word.

    I think it takes a LOT of mental energy to define divine “love” in the ways many religious people do. And I think over time the mental energy it takes to keep that delusion in place can be very taxing. And that to me is what cognitive dissonance is.

  40. 40
    Beth

    Derick

    I think it takes a LOT of mental energy to define divine “love” in the ways many religious people do. And I think over time the mental energy it takes to keep that delusion in place can be very taxing. And that to me is what cognitive dissonance is.

    An interesting definition of cognitive dissonance. The only issue I have with that is the middle sentence. I think that it depends on what strategies are used. One aspect of cults is they limit contact with outsiders. As long as everyone you are in contact with is using the same definitions, they can mutually reinforce each other such that it takes far less energy to maintain those definitions than it would be to question them. Those who feel differently are outsiders whose opinions don’t matter. Only the other members of the group matter.

  41. 41
    Greta Christina

    My first response to this post is that it must have been written by a person who was never religious or had faith. Am I right?

    Lea @ #37: No. You are mistaken. I have had religious beliefs, which I let go of.

    As for the rest of your comment: I understand that this may be a difficult thing to hear for many people. But I nevertheless think it is a valid thing to say. I’m not denying that believers have sincerely bad, difficult feelings about their beliefs. I recognize that, and am not trying to invalidate it. But I think it is worth pointing out that, as genuinely difficult and upsetting as those feelings might be, if the person having them is attached to a particular conclusion that they aren’t willing to question, then that’s not real doubt. And certainly, when people (especially religious leaders) say things like “doubt is part of faith,” what they typically mean is “you should hang onto your opinion even when it seems impossible, weather the storm and it’ll be fine as long as you come out on the other side with your faith intact” — not “this is a reasonable provisional conclusion based on the best available evidence, but of course you should question it like you would question any conclusion.”

    In fact, I would argue that this is one of the very reasons the feelings are so difficult and upsetting. People are trying to hold onto a presupposed belief that (a) they aren’t willing to let go of but that (b) isn’t tenable. That’s difficult and upsetting — more so, in many ways, than genuinely questioning your beliefs.

    I’m reminded a bit of Daniel Dennet’s quote: “I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion that I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.” Well, there is no polite way to say to someone, “Have you considered the possibility that the so-called ‘doubts’ you’re having are bullshit, and do not constitute a legitimate questioning of your beliefs?’ But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.

  42. 42
    Greta Christina

    Those discussions about Gods existence are really futile. I’m pretty sure that God does NOT exist, because if she existed, she would not be God (since “God” is a word we use for something “not of this world”).

    Antje Schrupp @ #33: Oh, sweet Jebus. Karen Armstrong. Spare me. Discussions about God’s existence are not futile for the overwhelming majority of believers, who do in fact think that God really exists and have not turned him into a paradoxical abstraction that they have essentially defined out of existence. I’m reminded of what Richard Dawkins said to Armstrong: “The mainstream belief of the world’s peoples is very clear. They believe in God, and that means they believe he exists in objective reality, just as surely as the Rock of Gibraltar exists. If sophisticated theologians or postmodern relativists think they are rescuing God from the redundancy scrap-heap by downplaying the importance of existence, they should think again. Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that existence is too vulgar an attribute to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They’ll be right.”

    Word/ideas/consepts can matter even if they don’t “exist” – justice for instance, or love.

    Are you seriously trying to say that justice and love don’t really exist? Of course they exist. They are concepts and experiences produced by our brains. They have demonstrable effects in the world.

  43. 43
    brucegorton

    @Antje Schrupp

    * the virgin birth – conlcusion: Crap
    * Jesus’ existence – conclusion: Probably true
    * jesus died to save us – conclusion: crap (he was executed, no sense in that)
    * Living as Jesus proposed will lead to a good life for all: conclusion: Might be true

    I would argue that the last is in fact no longer in contention for “might be true” – and is actually disproven. For example we do a damn site better as a species when we sow, reap and store away wheat (Matthew 6.26.)

    The central theme, expressed so unequivocally in Colossians 3:22, of obedience to authority that runs through Jesus’ teachings has never particularly worked out well for the obedient.

    I would go so far as to say the main problem with Christianity is not in fact the idea that Jesus existed, was born of a virgin and died for humanity’s sins.

    It is the idea that an illiterate Roman era rabbi could reasonably be expected to lay out the way people should live forever after.

  44. 44
    Raging Bee

    I have dealt with and deal with doubt. At times, it’s been gut-wrenching, almost debilitating doubt. And I know many others who have done and are doing likewise, at least for a season.

    Notice how heddle talks a lot about “dealing” with doubt, but doesn’t say a word about any sort of solution to all this “gut-wrenching, almost debilitating doubt?” There’s a reason for that: his religion has nothing to offer — no answers, no real solutions, no willingness to adapt to reality, just the never-ending demand that you just keep on “struggling” with it. Sort of like how they tell their gay and lesbian members that they just have to keep on “struggling” with their sinful desires, because there will never be any acceptance, understanding, or change in the official doctrine.

    (Oh, and shouldn’t we also notice how heddle trivializes all that “gut-wrenching, almost debilitating doubt” by adding “at least for a season?”)

  45. 45
    heddle

    Raging Bee,

    This was a reasonable discussion, and you show up, troll-like, with bile. No surprise.

    Oh, and shouldn’t we also notice how heddle trivializes

    And, as usual, you go with “we”. You can’t help yourself. This is your immutable style, like when you disagree with Ed Brayton and tell him that if he believes what he says, then we’ve all grossly overestimated your [Ed's] intelligence.”

    Someday you will go through puberty and learn to think and speak for yourself.

  46. 46
    Beth

    Greta:

    “doubt is part of faith,” what they typically mean is “you should hang onto your opinion even when it seems impossible, weather the storm and it’ll be fine as long as you come out on the other side with your faith intact” — not “this is a reasonable provisional conclusion based on the best available evidence, but of course you should question it like you would question any conclusion.”

    In fact, I would argue that this is one of the very reasons the feelings are so difficult and upsetting. People are trying to hold onto a presupposed belief that (a) they aren’t willing to let go of but that (b) isn’t tenable. That’s difficult and upsetting — more so, in many ways, than genuinely questioning your beliefs.

    That individuals may be trying to hold onto a presupposed belief does not mean that they are not genuinely questioning their beliefs. In fact, I would argue that the fact that it is difficult and upsetting is a sign that they are genuine in their doubts.

    Why does it bother you that many people, including religious leaders, feel that faith includes doubts? Why do you want faith to mean belief without doubt rather than accept that for most believers, religious faith means belief without certainty?

  47. 47
    triple3a

    @36 heddle:

    I am and have stated publicly what would make me renounce everything.

    State it simply and publicly here.  I’ll listen to what you have to say.  Why make me go on a scavenger hunt to understand you?

    And I’m not really interested in getting into a philosophical debate with you.  All me and fellow atheists want to know is not what you think about us, not what you think about our morality, not whether you think we’re stupid or smart or whether we’re incapable of understanding you.

    Theists and the religious are making an outrageous claim sans evidence: that gods, deities, spirits, and souls exist.  All we want to know, the simplicity of our argument is … Where is the evidence that proves your claim?

    I’ll be waiting … but not with much confidence that you’ll even answer the question, much less actually produce the tangible evidence.

  48. 48
    heddle

    triple3a,

    I’ll be waiting … but not with much confidence that you’ll even answer the question, much less actually produce the tangible evidence.

    What evidence? I will tell things that would make me renounce my faith–so exactly what evidence are you expecting? Evidence that I have not encountered these things?

    That aside:

    1) Extraterrestrial life, even microbial * would be fairly devastating to my faith, perhaps fatally so.
    2) Extraterrestrial intelligent life would cause me to renounce my faith.
    3) Detection of a parallel universe with different physics (constants) would cause me to renounce my faith.
    4) Discovery of older manuscripts that definitively demonstrate that inauthenticity of the gospels would cause me to renounce my faith.
    5) Discovery of older manuscripts that definitively demonstrate that Jesus did not exist ** would cause me to renounce my faith.
    6) Discovery of manuscripts that document a conspiracy/collusion among the gospel writers to fabricate myths about Jesus would cause me to renounce my faith.
    7) A definitive example in the bible of a conflict with science would cause me to renounce my faith.
    8) A critical mass (which isn’t very big) of irreconcilable inconsistencies in the bible would cause me to renounce my faith.

    —————
    * And proven to to have originated from earth– i.e., there could be microbial life/fossils on Mars that came from earth.

    ** I don’t mean Ricard Carrier’s ridiculous use of freshman probability (Bayes’ Theorem) to prove that Jesus did not exist. There are also Bayes’ Theorem arguments to “prove” that Jesus existed. There should be a law that philosophers are not allowed to invoke quantum mechanics and only scientists/mathematicians are allowed to use Bayes’ Theorem.

    *** This is nuanced. I don’t include miracles in this category because they are a feature not a bug. If I allow that a god created the universe ex nihilo then I’ll allow him the relatively minor miracle of walking on water or a virgin birth. What I mean here is something stated as scientific fact that is shown to be wrong. For example, if the bible said, as statement of scientific fact that the sun rotated about the earth then that would be irreconcilable.

    **** Keep in mind that I don’t have to satisfy you that one of, say, Bart Ehrman’s so-called inconsistencies are resolvable–I don’t are if you are convinced, (you never will be.) I have to convince myself that a reconciliation is plausible. In doing so I will allow for figures of speech, differences in genre, differences in ancient eastern and modern western writing, anachronisms, and documentable alternative translations of the hebrew and greek that may result (plausibly) in a better English translation. So please don’t tell me things like “Haha, the bible teaches pi = 3 and that unicorns exist.”

  49. 49
    triple3a

    Me:

    I’ll be waiting … but not with much confidence that you’ll even answer the question [“Do gods, deities, souls, and spirits exist?”], much less actually produce the tangible evidence.

    You:

    What evidence?

    Your answer is exactly my point.

    And way to try and turn the question around on me, like I’m responsible for producing evidence that has an extremely low likelihood of ever being discovered in order to talk you out of your faith.  I guess observable and testable reality isn’t enough for you.

    Hold onto your faith, dude.  You certainly seem to need it.

    I’m bored now.  I’m gonna go make a sandwich.

  50. 50
    heddle

    triple3a,

    No, you don’t get away that easy. You asked me for evidence. So again,

    What did you mean by that? I think it is a stupid question. Prove me wrong by explaining what evidence to you want from me, in the context that you asked me for a list of what would cause me to renounce my faith. In that context you asked for evidence. Of what? It’s a fair question?

    Is it evidence of God? If so, that’s dumb. That is why I am coming back to this. Such a request would only make sense if I told you that you should believe in god. I haven’t done that. Did you notice? Nothing in this discussion was about me persuading you to believe in god. If I did, you’d be sensible to ask me for evidence. So it is really stupid of you to ask me for evidence for something I have not asked you to accept.

    I said that I could list things would cause me to renounce my faith. So, based on what I claimed, not things you have assumed about me, what evidence do you seek?

    As for your comment on the list itself, it is the usual dishonest response from atheists:

    1) I dare you to provide a list!
    2) I don’t expect that you will provide a list!
    3) Oh that list? That list doesn’t count!

    In other words, you are right out of central casting.

    I guess observable and testable reality isn’t enough for you.

    Well, it got me a lifelong career as a physicist so in that vocational sense it is enough. However, it is definitely not enough for life. I like music and art and get full enjoyment from them without putting them to a “test.”

  51. 51
    Greta Christina

    If so, that’s dumb… it is the usual dishonest response from atheists… you are right out of central casting…. Someday you will go through puberty and learn to think and speak for yourself.”

    heddle: Dial back on the hostility and the insulting language, or you will be banned.

    7) A definitive example in the bible of a conflict with science would cause me to renounce my faith.
    8) A critical mass (which isn’t very big) of irreconcilable inconsistencies in the bible would cause me to renounce my faith.

    The Earth being created before the stars, which science says did not happen. The Flood, which science says never happened. The Exodus story, which archaeology says never happened. The entire creation story, which science says did not happen. Etc. etc. etc. Here are entire lists of scientific and historical inaccuracies in the Bible, and internal inconsistencies in the Bible.

    But of course, you then say:

    I have to convince myself that a reconciliation is plausible. In doing so I will allow for figures of speech, differences in genre, differences in ancient eastern and modern western writing, anachronisms, and documentable alternative translations of the hebrew and greek that may result (plausibly) in a better English translation.

    In other words: You’re giving yourself permission to infinitely move the goalposts, and declare any given inaccuracy or inconsistency to be an anachronism or alternate translation. And it would surprise me greatly to find that this was the first time somebody had pointed you to these. Which makes me think you’re not being sincere.

    Others here: Has heddle been banned from other blogs? if so, that would lead me to the conclusion that this behavior is not new, but is a consistent pattern that they’ve been warned about before.

  52. 52
    heddle

    You criticize:

    Dial back on the hostility and the insulting language, or you will be banned.

    I can see you are selective. No comment about RB’s hostility. And a hypocrite. You who magically look into the heads of others and characterize their doubt as “pseudo-doubt” and “total self-deluded bullshit”. You suddenly want to “dial back hostility”. Pot. Kettle. Black.

    You criticize:

    In other words: You’re giving yourself permission to infinitely move the goalposts, and declare any given inaccuracy or inconsistency to be an anachronism or alternate translation.

    No, that is just a typical mindless response to the fact that I investigate such matters in a scholarly manner. That means someone like you would have to do some homework (rather than parroting canards from other sites, as you did) if you want to engage with me. It sounds profound (to you, I suppose) what you just wrote–but I can play the argument-stopping intellectual-lightweight “in other words” game too:

    In other words: I have to have to interpret everything as you say it must be interpreted, and use the translation that is most to your advantage, and take any passage literally (as opposed to a figure of speech) when you say I have to take it literally…

    Others here: Has heddle been banned from other blogs? if so, that would lead me to the conclusion that this behavior is not new, but is a consistent pattern that they’ve been warned about before.

    I can answer that for you: I have been banned from two blogs:

    1) Uncommon Descent
    2) A YEC forum whose name I don’t recall

    But apologies– I thought maybe you promoted discussion here–but I can see you are just another phony “free-thinker”. So regardless of whether you ban me–I’ll flounce now.

  53. 53
    Greta Christina

    And a hypocrite… a typical mindless response… intellectual-lightweight… another phony “free-thinker”.

    And heddle is banned. Nothing like someone who doubles down on personal insults when they’re asked to dial it back.

  54. 54
    Lea

    Greta @ #41: I almost posted a long response with various points, but I realized they would just be a tangent; what this really boils down to is what I said in my comment #37:

    you are pretending to know what is going on in someone else’s head and telling them that their own feelings are not real–their doubts must just be “pseudo-doubts”, because they didn’t meet your standards of how you think they should behave in response to those feelings.

    Doubt is just a feeling of uncertainity. That’s it. It could be as brief as a thought “could I be wrong about X?” or as long as a recurring questioning of X over time until either a conclusion or acceptance of uncertainty is reached. But there is no time duration requirement for the doubt and no obligation to do anything about it. What happens afterwards is irrelevant.

    You are requiring a certain type of response to the doubt, otherwise you reject it as real. From the post:

    It’s not “doubt” if you’re unwilling to come to any conclusion other than the one you started with. You are not “doubting” your faith if you’re looking for ways to hang onto it despite your questions and concerns — rather than sincerely questioning whether your faith has any basis in reality.

    Why not? your questions and concerns are doubt. You haven’t justified why we should add your requirements to the definition of doubt.

    Responding to your reply to me in #41 you said:

    I’m reminded a bit of Daniel Dennet’s quote: “I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion that I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.”

    I agree with that.

    Well, there is no polite way to say to someone, “Have you considered the possibility that the so-called ‘doubts’ you’re having are bullshit, and do not constitute a legitimate questioning of your beliefs?’ But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.

    I disagree with that, because:
    A person may not know that a view they hold is delusional, but they do know whether and how strongly they believe or doubt them.
    I’ve read of Christians telling atheists things like “You know in your heart God exists; you just say you don’t believe in God because [you hate him|you had a negative experience with religion|some other reason].

    Another one: “You claim to have been a devout Christian before, but if you are an atheist now, then you never really truly believed!”

    These claims are ridiculous, and IMO your claim of “your doubt is not real unless you do X, Y, and Z with it” is in a similar vein as these.

  55. 55
    Beth

    Lea @ 54

    Thank you. I have struggled to articulate why Greta’s claim bothered me. You hit nearly all of the major concerns I had.

    The only think I would add is the tendency to redefine the word ‘faith’ so it doesn’t include doubt which, IMO, pretty much eviscerates the meaning of ‘faith’. If you don’t have doubts, I feel you don’t have faith. But when I think about, that’s just me imposing my opinion of how other people should feel. So I’ll accept that some people have faith without doubts. Generally, I want to respect people’s self-labeling in that regard.

    I can understand Greta’s attempt to redirect people to the meaning she thinks the word ‘faith’ should hold, but I think with her definition, Mother Teresa didn’t have faith. My test of a reasonable definition of the word ‘faith’ is that is should encompass the majority of people who have devoted their lives to their religion. When it rules out Mother Teresa, I don’t find it reasonable. In fact, I think the majority of the faithful have doubts. When the majority of people who self-define as having faith are not included by your definition, it’s going to be a hard sell outside your sphere of influence.

  56. 56
    Greta Christina

    The only think I would add is the tendency to redefine the word ‘faith’…

    Beth @ #55: I’m really not trying to redefine it. I’m trying to define it as religious believers and institutions themselves define it. I’ve written before about what exactly religious faith means to believers and to religious institutions (for my piece What Would Convince You That You Were Wrong? The Difference Between Secular and Religious Faith, on the difference between secular and religious uses of the word “faith”), and that’s what they themselves consistently said — that what faith means is having certainty without evidence, accepting a conclusion regardless of the evidence, letting go of questions and returning to the conclusion you began with not because the evidence answers the questions but simply because that’s what faith means.

    And nothing you, or anyone else has said here, has convinced me otherwise. I’m really not trying to trivialize or dismiss the intense troubling emotions many believers feel when they have problems with their beliefs. I get that. I’ve had them too, when I had spiritual beliefs. That isn’t my point. My point is that, no matter how strong those troubling emotions are, if those emotions amount to “I am trying to hold onto a preconceived notion which I am unwilling to let go of” and not “I am sincerely questioning whether my preconceived notion is correct, and am willing to consider the possibility that it’s not,” then they’re not, by any useful epistemological use of the word, doubt.

    But I’m repeating myself, and I’ve spent too much time on this already. I have a book coming out tomorrow, and I need to focus on that. I will say that I am looking at this question and taking the points people have made about it to heart, and while I still haven’t been convinced, I’m seriously thinking about it.

  57. 57
    Holms

    Others here: Has heddle been banned from other blogs? if so, that would lead me to the conclusion that this behavior is not new, but is a consistent pattern that they’ve been warned about before.

    I have no reason to dispute Heddle’s own statements on where he has and has not been banned from, but I can assure you he has a prescence on multiple other FTB sites and his behaviour here is very characteristic of his behaviour abroad. That last exchange was particularly exemplary of his M.O.. After an age of cutting through his equivocating, when finally called on the specifics of his claims, he will provide no explanation for any discrepancy but will simply label every sound point made against him as a ‘canard’ (or similar non-engagement), every attempt to shut down his verbal squirming as ‘shutting down free debate’ (or other misunderstanding of how conversation actually works)… and bail.

    Nearly forgot: sneering. Lots and lots of sneering.

  58. 58
    Raging Bee

    Holms: Heddle has been acting as FTB’s resident Calvinist-apologist for several years; but he seems to have sunk to new lows recently (this is the first instance of his being banned that I’ve heard of). The burden of defending, excusing, and exculpating his religion must be getting heavier on his shoulders as religious thinking gets worse and less excusable; and his veneer of mature Christian sensibility seems to have worn thinner than before. (Perhaps that’s what he originally meant by “gut-wrenching, almost debilitating doubt.”)

    Getting back to the OP, I’d just like to say that the doubt Greta speaks of is not pseudo; I’m sure the doubts suffered by believers is very real, otherwise they’d never admit it at all. What’s really pseudo is the believers’ pretense that they’ve somehow resolved their doubts. I rarely hear any of them describing any actual resolution — most of them just say it’s something they’ll have to “struggle” with (they love that word, so fraught yet so vague) all their lives.

  59. 59
    Beth

    Greta @56 Thank you for taking the time to respond.

    that’s what they themselves consistently said — that what faith means is having certainty without evidence,

    No. In your OP you wrote:

    William Lane Craig has written that “You should expect that by growing into a mature faith, even though you are a Christian, doubt will come into play at some point.” Rabbi Mark Greenspan, in a piece titled “No Faith Without Doubt,” has written, “We sometimes forget that doubt is as much a part of religion as faith. In fact the two are brothers.” Lesley Hazleton, author of a biography of Mohammed, has said that “doubt is essential to faith” and has argued for “a new appreciation of doubt and questioning as the foundation of faith.”

    Clearly, these religious leaders do not agree that faith means certainty. You post was essentially complaining about them and saying they are wrong in how they define faith.

    I read your 2008 post that you linked. In it you write:

    It [faith]doesn’t necessarily mean an unquestioning belief in God — again, many believers do ask questions, and hard questions at that — but it means a belief in God that survives those questions, and any questions. It means having belief in God, not as a hypothesis that so far has stood up to the evidence but might not always do so, but as an axiom. A presupposition.

    I think this is a very reasonable definition. Accepting something as a axiom does not imply 100% certainty it is true. It means that, despite knowing it may not be correct, you choose your actions based on the assumption (or presupposition) that it is correct. I’m glad you are giving this some additional thought. Good luck with your new book.

  60. 60
    Raging Bee

    Accepting something as a axiom does not imply 100% certainty it is true. It means that, despite knowing it may not be correct, you choose your actions based on the assumption (or presupposition) that it is correct.

    That’s a distinction without bloody much of a difference. The difference between sincerely believing something is true, and acting like it’s true despite not fully believing it, is only relevant inside the head of the believer. The believer’s actions, and their consequences in the real world, are the same either way.

  61. 61
    Beth

    @Raging Bee

    I find it an important distinction. It is the difference between accepting such concepts as ‘all men are created equal’ or ‘non-parallel lines will eventually cross’ as unquestionable dogma versus accepting them as premises to build upon while recognizing that they can be questioned and even discarded in some situations.

    It also seems as relevant a difference for this discussion as that between ‘doubt’ and ‘pseudo-doubt’.

  62. 62
    Lea

    Bee @#58:

    Getting back to the OP, I’d just like to say that the doubt Greta speaks of is not pseudo; I’m sure the doubts suffered by believers is very real, otherwise they’d never admit it at all. What’s really pseudo is the believers’ pretense that they’ve somehow resolved their doubts. I rarely hear any of them describing any actual resolution — most of them just say it’s something they’ll have to “struggle” with (they love that word, so fraught yet so vague) all their lives.

    Yes!

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    Parse

    Bee @ 58:

    Getting back to the OP, I’d just like to say that the doubt Greta speaks of is not pseudo; I’m sure the doubts suffered by believers is very real, otherwise they’d never admit it at all.

    Like a bunch of other posters, I’m not a fan of labeling the doubt believers feel when they question their faith as ‘pseudo’ or not even doubt at all. It feels similar to religious people saying that I didn’t actually have faith, because now I no longer believe – effectively telling me (or them) that I don’t know my own thoughts and emotions.
    I agree that doubt isn’t a part of faith – if anything, doubt is the complete opposite of faith. Faith is what believers use to cover up their doubts, to fill in the holes that doubt creates in their religious beliefs.
    Maybe “unproductive doubt” would be a better way describe this? It acknowledges their feelings, while also acknowledging that their doubt about their faith often doesn’t actually change the way they see or interact with the world – or their religion.
    (And sometimes, believers have productive doubt. If necessary, I can find some examples of people who changed from conservative to more liberal branches of religion, after suffering from doubt. I’m sure we agree, though, that this doesn’t match the type of doubt Greta’s describing in the O.P.)

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    Raging Bee

    No, Beth, the distinction you speak of is not at all important. And when it comes to RELIGIOUS doctrines, questioning or discarding is not an option — once you’ve accepted a rule as “god-given,” you can’t publicly question it, you can only toe the line and keep your heretical doubts to yourself.

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    Link Round-Up 4/30/2014 » On the Margin of Error

    […] Greta Christina shows how religious people use the concept of doubt in a hypocritical fashion. […]

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