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The role of doubt in science and religion

The role of doubt in science and religion

There’s a well known saying that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith, certainty is. (It’s generally attributed to Anne Lamott, but there are versions traced back to Voltaire.) Science is about finding certainty, or something close to it at any rate. Christian faith would seem to then to be a whole different sort of thing. Can the two talk to each other?


Victor Udoewa suggests that it would be helpful to think not so much about faith or certainty when trying to outline the bounds of Science and Religion, but rather Doubt.

“[I]sn’t it strange that of all the names God could have given Jacob, the name that would forever define and label the people of God would be Israel, meaning “wrestles with God”? I find that strange. I would have chosen “holiness” or “love.” But the name chosen for God’s people is one that tells a story of a God that desires a people who will simply wrestle and engage with him, not fully understand him. The primary problem God had with Job’s friends who consoled him with “right theology” is just that: they offered theology. Job, in the middle of the mystery of God, experiencing the presence of God’s absence, wrestled with God in doubt. God loves that.

From one perspective, the primary reason that God found David as a man after His own heart was that David always stayed connected to God, not that everything David said was accurate (contrast “Why has thou forsaken me?” with “I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken or His seed begging bread”). No, David stayed constantly connected with God in this. Even when David felt disconnected from God, he expressed his discontent directly to God and, in that expression of disconnectedness, remained connected. David connected with God even in struggling doubt.

Even in revelation, God remains concealed. We learn that to be fully human means to be comfortable with the discomfort of never fully knowing, the discomfort of doubt.

Such doubt leads us to have varying, sometimes contradictory beliefs even within the same faith. With “competing” theologies of different sects/denominations, I’m always reminded of Donald Miller’s words in “Blue Like Jazz”: “I doubt that any of us have all our theology correct.” The amazing realization is that with faith, it’s not necessary. This is because the truth or knowledge in our religion is different than the kind science seeks. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we are not dealing with truth as a set of propositions that describe reality; truth is not “known,” but experienced primarily in liberation (Exodus) and transformation (new Genesis). This might help clarify why such doubt functions well in the Judeo-Christian tradition unlike science. You can have doubt about something describing reality while you experience a transformative life.”

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