Saturday, January 24, 2009

Doubt: More Than One Way To Get There

{This is the fourth in a series of posts centering on doubt for the month of January, 2009}

Having taken a cursory look at doubt, its origins and implications over the last few posts, I hope I have addressed its reality and shown some empathy for those who experience it. To ignore or disregard the reality of doubt is to do a disservice to almost everyone you know. No one is immune to this thing we call doubt. As one who spent time as both a full-blown atheist and one of the world’s most influential Christian apologists, C. S. Lewis speaks with authority on this subject:
“Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. [Whichever worldview we embrace] mere feelings will continue to assault our conviction ... as I remember, the atheist too has his moments of shuddering misgiving, of an all but irresistible suspicion that old tales may after all be true.”
The intersection of emotion and experience -- especially painful experience -- is a powerful instigator of doubt -- a common place for doubt to rear its imposing head. But it is not the only place. It can also come through reason.

Philosopher Antony Flew (from a book review, “Holy Probable,” in Touchstone, May, 2008) has, since 1950, been one of -- if not the -- leading proponents and apologists for philosophical atheism. In his 1966 book, God and Philosophy, Flew made what he called a “systematic argument for atheism” by arguing that we have no ability to identify God in any positive way and “that was impossible validly to infer from a particular religious experience that it had as its object a transcendent divine being.”

Flew’s atheism was not, it seems, an emotional response. Likewise, in fairness to him, I have no reason to suspect that it was a volitional decision (though that is the case with many atheists who simply refuse to submit to the authority of someone outside themselves). Flew had reasoned his way to atheism.

You may notice that each my references to Antony Flew is in the past tense. In 2000, Antony Flew rejected his former atheism and declared himself a deist. He did so by again reasoning that the Intelligent Design arguments were impossible to disregard -- that there is simply too much evidence that the design we see in life cannot have come about without the intervention of a powerful mind. Flew doubted his doubt and reasoned his way back to God.

My point is that we never know the reasons for someone’s doubt. Because that is true, our apologetics cannot be one-dimensional. A final thought on that next time.

{C.S. Lewis quote from Gary Habermas’ essay, “C. S. Lewis and Emotional Doubt” in the book he edited with David Baggett and Jerry Walls, C. S. Lewis as Philosopher.}

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