Doubt and Certainty

Doubt and Certainty

Dr. Craig examines an article in the New York Times on God and doubt.

Transcript Doubt and Certainty

KEVIN HARRIS: “Doubt as a Sign of Faith.” Dr. Craig, that is an article in the New York Times you'll remember a couple of years ago.[1] By the way, this is written by Julia Baird, who is an author, journalist, television presenter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She is working on a biography of Queen Victoria. She has written this for The New York Times. A while back you remember,

When the Most Rev. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, said recently that at times he questioned if God was really there, much of the reaction was predictably juvenile: Even God’s earthly emissary isn’t sure if the whole thing is made up!

You remember when the Archbishop said this. All the social media on it. Atheists said, “Finally!” There was controversy that was sparked and all this. Immediately this brings up the issue of doubt and faith. Here it is in The New York Times. It is an opportunity for us to look at the two, especially from the standpoint of your work. What do you think about the title? Doubt as a sign of faith?

DR. CRAIG: I supposed that you can't doubt something unless you believe it. In that sense it would say that you have a lack of certainty, but it wouldn't be incompatible with believing it. I think she is quite right in saying that doubt and belief can co-exist together.

KEVIN HARRIS: This has been called “the doubt of the century” by the International Business Times. But it is actually pretty tame, she points out. She say his remarks were just that:

”The other day I was praying over something as I was running, and I ended up saying to God, ‘Look, this is all very well, but isn’t it about time you did something, if you’re there?’”

He was kind of wrestling with God a little bit in his own private prayer life, and everyone took this as some kind of big crisis of faith. It doesn't look like it really was.

DR. CRAIG: No. I think she is quite right in saying that, as she puts it, certainty is often overrated. She gives the example of the disciples, even Jesus' cry from the cross (“Why have you foresaken me?”) where he feels abandoned by God, though at the same time exhibiting faith because he is praying the words of Psalm 22 there which is expressing his faith in God. She says (and I like this),

Just as courage is persisting in the face of fear, so faith is persisting in the presence of doubt. Faith becomes then a commitment, a practice and a pact that is usually sustained by belief.

Faith, I think she properly sees, is a form of trust or commitment in something that you believe to be true. That isn't incompatible with a lack of 100% certainty.

KEVIN HARRIS: This is in the Bible. It is in the Psalms, where the psalmist says, God, how long will you hide from me? How long will you hide your face from me, Lord? How long will you be angry? And so on and so forth. It is a very human wrestling with God; a very human dimension that we see there. We've discussed this on this podcast – there is nothing wrong with that wrestling. What would be the proper way to do it, do you think? Without becoming blasphemous, for example?

DR. CRAIG: I think it is important to go to God with your doubts and to be honest with him. As you say, the psalmist expressed these openly rather than trying to stuff it and hide it. I think also it is very important for people to be able to find others that they can talk to about these. Many people who leave the church say that the reason that they left was because they didn't feel that they could be honest and open about the doubts that they had and the struggles that they had.[2] So they were just stuffing them down inside until they became self-destructive. A person needs to get into some sort of a group or circle where these things can be discussed honestly.

I think Gary Habermas' work on doubt, too, is also very helpful where he emphasizes that doubt is primarily emotional rather than intellectual. That is why, as he says, doubt is usually worse at night, which is very odd. It is not just this sort of intellectual matter. It is really primarily emotional.

KEVIN HARRIS: You need to go to bed! It could be a sign you need to get some sleep.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, right. That is right. One needs to deal with it on that sort of emotional level. That will mean things like being involved in meaningful corporate worship where your emotions will be engaged in worshiping and praising God, in other spiritual disciplines like prayer, fellowship, sharing one's faith. These are all ways in which one can deal with these emotional problems that occasion doubt.

Of course, if there are intellectual questions then those need to be faced honestly.

KEVIN HARRIS: I am certainly not saying sleep it off, ignore them, and go to bed. I'm just saying sometimes it is a result of hunger, loneliness, being tired. The remedy is perhaps at that point maybe to get some rest. That is all I'm saying.

DR. CRAIG: You are right about that. If Gary is right (and I think he is) that the doubts we experience are primarily emotional then they need to be dealt with on that level. But insofar as we do have unanswered questions of an intellectual nature, I think one of the most exhilarating experiences in the Christian life can be to take one of these questions and to pursue it into the ground until we come to intellectual peace with that issue.

Just to give an illustration. I struggled for years to understand the relationship between God and time. On the one hand, I believed that God was timeless and had created time and space. But on the other hand, as a Christian, I believed that Jesus was God incarnate – that he lived in history and therefore was in time. This seemed like a contradiction. How can the timeless enter into time? Well, as a result of my work on time and eternity and God's relationship to time, I came to an intellectually satisfactory model of the relationship between God and time that gave me complete intellectual peace about this issue.

That is tremendously satisfying. It enables your restless mind to come to peace with this issue, to have confidence in God, and to put to bed one of those questions that has been troubling you. So I would encourage our listeners insofar as they have an area where there is a doubt, don't just allow that to fester. Go after it and begin to read the work of good Christian philosophers, theologians, and biblical exegetes on this.

By the way, I suppose here a piece of practical advice. I am shocked at the folly of many Christians who are struggling with doubt, and so what they do is they go to the Internet and they begin to watch videos by people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and the Internet Infidels. Then they wonder why they are struggling with their faith. That is not the resource you turn to in order to get good answers to your questions. You need to go to the work of the finest Christian philosophers, theologians, biblical critics, on these questions and see what they have to say and whether this stands up to the critiques and the doubts that are occasioned by the critics of Christianity.

KEVIN HARRIS: Would someone accuse you then of being kind of selective in what you are going to see?

DR. CRAIG: They would, yes. But I'll stick by what I've said. I read the work of those other people. The immature Christian who isn't intellectually sophisticated ought not to be reading that sort of stuff until he has thoroughly grounded himself in the work of good Christian thinkers.

KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah, why not see what your fellow Christians say first? There is nothing wrong with that.

DR. CRAIG: No. If it turns out that they are wrong, well then you can deal with that.[3] But first you need to get grounded before you jump into the deep end. We've talked about this before. You need to learn to swim first before you are thrown into the deep end. That only makes good sense.

KEVIN HARRIS: This article continues. It presents this famous Mother Teresa quote where she,

startled the world when her posthumous diaries revealed that she was tormented by a continual gloom and aching to see, or sense, God. In 1953 she wrote, “Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself — for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work.”’

She sounds depressed.

DR. CRAIG: That could be. Somebody living in the conditions that she did in India in ministering to the refuse of Indian society – the untouchables and the poor and the maimed and disabled – you can imagine the horrible stresses and gloom that would result from that sort of . . .

KEVIN HARRIS: She didn't have a beach ministry in Hawaii!

DR. CRAIG: No! Gosh.

KEVIN HARRIS: I think this is such a balanced quote from her. She didn't want to spoil his work.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah. Her desire was for prayer so that God's work would not be spoiled.

KEVIN HARRIS: And let me grow in him. Let me see him more and more. It is profound. Julia's (the author) local pastor, Tim Giovanelli says this,

“For Welby, myself and many others, it is not that we have certainty but have seen the plausibility of faith and positive impact it can make. In a broken world, that can be enough.”

DR. CRAIG: I think that is a great quotation. Notice that the balance that he has. He says we may not have certainty (that's not the important thing) but we have seen the plausibility of faith. He is saying that this makes good sense. The Christian worldview makes sense of the facts of experience. It is a reasonable faith! That is what he is saying! We've seen the plausibility of faith. Secondly, the positive impact it can make. It changes lives. This would, I think, speak to the affective results of Christian faith – it produces wholeness and happiness and joy and meaning and purpose for living. All of those deep existential things that we long for. It meets the needs of our heart as well as the needs of our head. I think Pastor Giovanelli is spot on there. It is not certainty that is the important thing, but you see that you have a reasonable faith that positively changes lives.[4]

[1] (accessed July 8, 2016).

[2] 5:04

[3] 10:04

[4] Total Running Time: 14:18 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)