Gods of This World: Skepticism
And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and took hold of him, and saith unto him, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)
While it is true that the period of the Enlightenment (the eighteenth century) saw the enshrining of “reason” and “rationality” as its ultimate ideals, “skepticism” was not far behind. That which was according to “reason” and what was “rational” was examined with some skepticism, but not nearly as critically as anything deemed “irrational,” “contrary to reason,” and especially that which was “traditional.” This trend toward skepticism is a critical component for understanding why so many do not believe in God or Christ today.
Skepticism, in short, is to maintain a questioning attitude toward any claim about truth or reality, doubting the validity of the premise until sufficient evidence is found to support it. There is actually great value in remaining skeptical at times: as John says, we must all “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), and we are not to believe just anything we are told (cf. Ephesians 4:14). When someone makes a claim about God, Jesus, the truth, or the like, we should not just accept what is said without some kind of supporting evidence. A dose of skepticism, therefore, is not a bad thing; in fact, it is quite healthy and necessary!
Skepticism run amok, however, is very dangerous and destructive. It is possible to make a god out of skepticism: to always doubt, to never accept any range of truth claims for whatever reason, and to put too much stock in one’s own criteria. Paul warned about those who are “always learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7), and such are many who are unbalanced in their skepticism.
In modern discourse, skepticism seems to reign supreme in discussions of the supernatural. Ever since Hume and the Enlightenment thinkers, skepticism regarding any claim of a supernatural power is taken as self-evident. In many circles, any premise that involves the supernatural is dismissed out of hand, since such a claim cannot be substantiated with physical evidence. Meanwhile, many “scientific” claims that are ultimately based more in interpretation and speculation than hard evidence (e.g. regarding how life came from non-life, the origin of the Big Bang, etc.) are given a pass because they “at least” attempt to make sense of such questions on the basis of “natural” or “materialistic” assumptions.
This shows the danger of making skepticism into a god and a worldview: the ones who stand in judgment are fallible humans with their own presuppositions and governing assumptions. Ironically, the problem with many “skeptics” is that they are not skeptical enough! They are willing to doubt and cast aspersions on the supernatural, but they do not seem willing to either “doubt their doubts”: to expose their doubts and their criticisms to the same rigorous standard to which they subject the object of their doubt, or to be as willing to doubt what they have accepted as what they deem the more viable viewpoint. If such persons did these things, they would be less likely to cast as many aspersions on all matters supernatural and be more willing to understand the complexity of the difficulties of many of the questions that we face today.
These complexities are real and are not an attempt to evade the question. What, after all, is “proof”? Except in mathematics, one cannot absolutely prove much of anything. The best that can be done is to provide enough evidence to overcome most reasonable doubts: such evidence may be testable, but also might rely on historical witness. Truth claims cannot be rejected out of hand merely because they rely on historical witness or claims that cannot be scrutinized according to the scientific method; if that were the case, then no claim could ever be made about anything that happened before the present time!
Human understanding is limited and finite and the tools that he uses to understand his world are not exactly precise. There is much that is beyond him and will likely remain that way (Isaiah 55:8-9). On account of our limitations it is good to be skeptical about claims regarding what is true. Yet we must be uniformly skeptical, being as willing to test our own comfortable views as critically as those of others. We must recognize that there is no such thing as an “air-tight” case. It is interesting to note how everyone, no matter how skeptical, still must have some idea of what is right and true, and that is a decision we must make on the basis of all the best evidence. The truth of God, particularly in the person of Jesus, has been scrutinized for generations, and it remains reasonable to believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God. We encourage you to examine His claims and believe in Him!
Ethan R. Longhenry