I saw the movie Doubt last night. It was… eh… it wasn’t bad, it was better than I thought it would be, but it wasn’t that good either, in my opinion. You can definitely tell it’s based on a stage play, and if you’ve been to a few stage plays you might recognize it’s style: pacing is different, there are long conversations, little music, little action, lots of talking. Not necessarily boring conversations, sometimes quite engaging conversations, that’s an area playwrites can be brilliant at while most films move much quicker.
Anyway, one of the themes of the film was, not surprisingly, doubt. Which is a nice coincidence since I was just reading a book (and still haven’t finished it) called Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson. I mentioned the book a few posts earlier; it’s about the history of questioning religion, the history of people doubting. The philosophical question is: is doubt good?
From a scientific point of view, yes, of course, one should always be questioning. That’s what leads to more experiments, more discoveries, and a better knowledge of our world. And you do experiments to try to prove your guesses wrong; that’s often the easiest way to go about it. And when you can’t prove yourself wrong, you know your theory may be on to something.
But with religion, you can’t do experiments. You can’t even get God (or Zeus, or whatever) to talk to you man to man. So what’s the use of doubt? It becomes not an act of experimentation, not a question spoken out loud, but a thought, something to think your way through (of course you can talk about it with others, but your answers won’t be emperical).
I think a good faith embraces the questioning of itself. That might seem contradictory; how can faith really be faith if it’s being questioned? On the other hand, how can faith really be faith if it’s never questioned? Isn’t that blind faith, and thus, not faith at all? But faith being questioned isn’t true faith either, it’s uncertainty. But isn’t that the way to faith? Through uncertainty and questions and doubt? After all, if you had perfect faith in everything you believed in, you’d be perfect. You would do everything right and always be pleased with yourself. You’d always be happy, I would think. You would never face any moral dilemmas. And I bet a lot of people would envy you.
In college, I sometimes came across people who thought they had all the answers and went around campus advertising their religion… but they really didn’t have all the answers, they just didn’t have any questions. Ask them about some moral dilemma or about the nature of God and they only gave empty answers, like “Well, God is mysterious!” Well… yeah! A mystery is something you don’t know! That God is thought of as “mysterious” is an indication of an imperfect faith. And I would think faith must be imperfect for us, it’s ingrained in the very nature of our humanness.
So, in a way, to doubt, to question, is to have faith… faith in faith.
But what about atheists? (Some might even say that atheism is a faith, and the only way to really have no faith is to not be human, or to not have life at all.) Would it be equally beneficial for an atheist to doubt and question their own atheism? Is “blind” atheism really atheism? Are atheists that are certain with themselves just not asking any questions, or giving empty answers?
Obviously science doesn’t have all the answers, or at least we can’t find them all right now. But does that mean the answers aren’t there? Scientists still spend plenty of time looking and questioning… isn’t that faith? Faith that answers exist, that there does exist a knowable truth?
So… is doubt good? I don’t know… it implies an imperfect faith, and is therefore bad… but it’s required to arrive at a more perfect faith, and is therefore good…
Blah blah blah blah . . .