doubt, part 1

Lee Strobel continues to answer questions in typical Lee Strobel manner on Friendly Atheist.  This week, he answers a question with many questions.  Very pathetically.  The only question I find worth answering is this one:

Historian Mike Licona:  “Irrespective of one’s worldview, many experience periods of doubt.  Do you ever doubt your atheism and, if so, what is it about theism or Christianity that is most troubling to your atheism?”

Yes, I do sometimes doubt atheism.   For me, there are a number of different kinds of doubt.  There are two types that I have experienced as an atheist, and one type I have not.  (I experienced all three kinds as a Christian.)

First of all, there are  spontaneous moments of irrational doubt caused by acute anxiety, distress, or boredom.  Of this kind of doubt, I have plenty of experience, as I’m sure most people do.  Occasionally, on a dark and stormy night, I think that there may be a ghost lurking in a dark corner.  Occasionally, I think that maybe the Earth and humankind are an experiment created by aliens.  Occasionally, I think that there may be a God who is watching my every move and foiling my plans by making a volcano erupt near Anchorage so my flight to Chicago will be canceled by ashfall.  Maybe if I pray, Mount Redoubt will hold on to its magma for another month.

I don’t think it’s necessary to squash out those moments of irrational God-thoughts completely, anymore than I would want to eliminate momentary thoughts of “oh crap, what if alien spaceships really landed in that cornfield?”  Life would be immeasurably boring without momentary “what if?” lapses of reason.  As a Christian I also experienced these moments when the thought “what if God doesn’t exist?” suddenly plopped into my head for a moment or two.  They were quite common and perfectly harmless, because they weren’t based on anything other than a whim.

On the other end of the spectrum there’s serious intellectual doubt, which is grounded in scientific, historical, and logical evidence.  This kind of doubt comes quietly, gradually, and remains for days or weeks or years.  This was the kind of doubt that caused me to become an atheist.  For a rationalist, especially a scientist, this is the most compelling and legitimate kind of doubt.  On Leaving Eden I wrote about some of those seeds of doubt that led me here.  (For example, in these posts: the simple answer, the convoluted answer.)

As an atheist, I have not experienced this kind of doubt.  I have to admit, part of the reason is because I’m no longer actively looking for intellectual affirmation of atheism.  (This also explains why I’m not so excited when Christians ask me if I’ve considered such and such evidence or argument for God.  My atheism is a little past the point of negotiation.)  When I first became an atheist I did actively look for intellectual defenses and explanations of my atheism.  My first year of atheism, I seriously revisited my original reasons for becoming an atheist at least weekly, if not daily, just to make sure they were still sound.  Now that I’ve been an atheist for almost two years, I only revisit my intellectual reasoning once every month or two.  I am convinced enough of atheism that I am willing to make periodic commitments to it.  But if I were to come across a viable reason to rationally doubt atheism, I would explore it.  However, I would probably never take seriously anything that comes from the mouth or pen of Lee Strobel.

The third kind of doubt is the least rational and also the most compelling.  (To be continued…)


3 thoughts on “doubt, part 1

  1. Mikayla

    Nice breakdown of doubt. I’ve thought about it and came to similar conclusions.

    I also think there is a different type of faith that matches up with each type of doubt. Anything from the reasonable faith that resists the irrational-whim doubts to the irrational faith that resists reasoned doubt.

    I’m looking forward to the followup to this post.

  2. blackskeptic

    “Now that I’ve been an atheist for almost two years, I only revisit my intellectual reasoning once every month or two. I am convinced enough of atheism that I am willing to make periodic commitments to it.”

    Very well put. I think that it’s important to test the validity of every belief from time to time, but after multiple tests and if the claims still remain valid after much scrutiny, then there’s no point in revisiting them on a daily basis. I think that the more solid I feel as an atheist, the less of an issue it becomes to me (and also the more of an issue it becomes b/c I want atheists to be accepted in our society and for people to at least understand where we’re coming from and not demonize us b/c they are essentially threatened).

  3. Paul Wright

    Do you read Overcoming Bias, by any chance? I was reminded a bit of The Proper Use of Doubt and Crisis of Faith. The latter is especially interesting, as the author is talking to atheists about things they might have an unreasonable faith (hey, that’d be a good title for a blog) in.

    I ought to be able to doubt my atheism, or I’m the mirror image of an unreasonable theist. But I don’t want to commit the Christian apologetic fallacy of saying that both Christianity and atheism are “faith positions” (I’ve never seen the point of that argument, since it seems to be saying “Hey, everyone believes stuff without sufficient evidence, so why not try Christianity?”, but Christians seem to like it, so there you go). Rather, I want to follow the evidence. I’m interested in posts like Strobel’s in case he’s come up with something new, although, as Greta Christian says, it’s mostly the same old same old. I think Plantinga’s argument is interesting and I should look into that some more because he’s clearly a serious thinker, but the rest of Strobel’s stuff is just terrible.

    What I’m also interested, from the OB postings, is what else I should be doubting. I suspect that my cosmology is kind of OK, but perhaps I should put more thought into my politics, say.


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