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A word about skepticism

Hello all, I recently got back from Myrtle Beach and I will definitely resume posting the usual amount shortly. In the meantime, I decided to do a quick, easy post (i.e., no research or scriptures required) about skepticism.

The reason I decided to write about this was because it was addressed in a blog post critiquing the recent book, The End of Christianity. Here is the post I’m referring to: http://blogs.christianpost.com/tentativeapologist/2011/08/the-end-of-christianity-a-skeptical-review-part-1-07/.

I found this section particularly interesting:

Loftus’s defense of his OTF is a storehouse of outdated and indefensible claims. In closing I’ll note two here. Here’s the first:

Skepticism is an adult attitude for arriving at the truth.” (13)

Epistemologically speaking, this is a dimestore comment, the kind that you expect to hear from undergraduates who are taking their first Intro to Philosophy course and have become enamored with Descartes’ “Meditations”. But try that statement out in a graduate seminar in epistemology. To equate the pursuit of truth with skepticism alone is like rowing on only one side of the boat. A grown up approach to the pursuit of truth involves a richly nuanced balancing act between skepticism and belief, doubt and commitment.

I found myself agreeing with the blogger’s critique, then I started thinking of real-world application. In my view, the attitude of seeking truth follows a familiar pattern.

Stage 1—Child (naive): Believe anything you are told, especially if told by an adult.

Stage 2—Teenager/young adult (skeptical): Question everything, especially if told by an adult.

Stage 3—Adult (“richly nuanced balancing act between skepticism and belief”): Weigh options, risk, and reason, and come to a sensible conclusion.

This isn’t to say that everyone neatly follows these patterns, or that age even necessitates moving from one stage to another. Some adults are still naive, for example. But in general, I think this is the general direction we observe.

(I believe faith/Christianity follows a similar path: blind/naive faith -> learned faith –> hard questions and wrestling with truth –> reinforced and mature faith.)

What is an example of this “richly nuanced balancing act between skepticism and belief”? Well, we can take almost any example from everyday life.

For instance, let’s say a friend of yours tells you that the national debt is $15 trillion. The “stage 1” reaction would be: “Oh really? I believe you because you told me so.” The “stage 2” reaction would be: “I don’t believe you. Show me the evidence first, then I might believe.” The “stage 3” reaction would be: “You are a well-informed person and I believe you are trustworthy, based on previous experience and your proclivity toward accuracy and non-exaggeration. So I’ll believe you that the national debt is $15 trillion.” See the difference?

As Randal Rauser says in his post, skepticism alone is not an “adult” attitude toward truth, but rather it is like “rowing on only one side of the boat.” You might think you’re getting somewhere, but in the end, all you’re really doing is going in a big circle. Until the seeker learns to take a leap of faith—reasonable belief and commitment—he will get nowhere.

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