On Faith, Science, and Doubt – Part 1

Via Religion Dispatches, I came across a series of posts on HuffPo from Victor Udoewa. These posts explore the intersection of faith, science, and doubt. In reading them, I found myself lost in Udoewa’s convoluted and seemingly contradictory arguments. What will follow, in three parts, is my response to his posts. My responses will recap his blog posts and provide commentary. As such, I suggest you read his posts before reading mine.  It may even be worth having both open in separate tabs so that you can return to his posts if you need clarity. Part 1 will address his first post: The Roles of Doubt in Science and Faith. The keen eye will note that Udoewa’s posts are nearly a year old. Yup, I’m a bit late to the party. Sorry.

PART 2
PART 3

Realms of Truth

Mr. Udoewa begins his exploration by explaining that there are realms of truth: Humanism, Naturalism, and Mysticism. Humanism accounts for truth from reason and logic; Naturalism accounts for truth from experience from the five senses; Mysticism accounts for truth from God and the Holy Spirit. According to Udoewa, the Enlightment ushered in the belief that we, humans, have access to the truths of all three realms.  This is the birth of modern science. Although Enlightenment science views itself as being able to know everything, Udoewa clearly questions whether or not we actually do have access to all three realms. Specifically, he does not think we have access to Mysticism. As a means of getting at this, Udoewa introduces doubt.

Doubts and Definitions 

What is doubt? That is not made expressly clear. We do know that doubt has a relationship with science. It is not, however, a friendly relationship. Science uses doubt as the impetus to explore and find answers. Science, as such, is said to be uncomfortable with doubt and seeks to reduce it through knowledge.

What is comfortable with doubt? Faith. As Udoewa explains:

If you take a further step up in comfort with doubt, then it takes faith. Today, there are people who disbelieve something because they doubt it. They are children of the Enlightenment. The funny thing about the Judeo-Christian tradition (and other religions): doubt isn’t being eliminated; it sticks around.

Again, we are left without any real definition of terms; however, we can begin to parse out some meanings. There is truth. Knowledge is, at the very least, a movement toward knowing this truth. Science is the pursuit of knowledge. Doubt is contrasted with knowledge. It seems to have an inverse relationship with knowledge. So, as knowledge is gained, doubt is eliminated. Faith is that which is required to have comfort in doubt. Disbelief has been introduced as well. When one does not believe something because they have doubt, they are said to be “children of the Enlightenment” (which I take to mean science-oriented). I suppose, therefore, we are expected to conclude that believing something when there is doubt is faith; however, this is not stated, expressly.

Faith by Analogy – Couple Edition

As if he sensed my confusion, Udoewa attempts to clarify faith and doubt by discussing two couples. Couple 1 is said to have certainty that their relationship will last for their lifetimes. Faith is not needed, for Couple 1, because there is not the presence of doubt. Couple 2, on the other hand, are experiencing a lot of resistance from their families. The families do not approve of the relationship. This state of affairs introduces uncertainty about the relationship for the couple. They have doubts that the relationship will last. Couple 2 is said to need faith, as faith is that which is required to have comfort in doubt. Faith allows Couple 2 to believe the relationship will last despite the presence of doubt. Couple 1 has no need for faith, as they have the knowledge that the relationship will last.

Mr. Udoewa is quick to point out that Faith is not, necessarily, good in all situations.  It is not the case that one should have Faith in everything. Udoewa is “only pointing out that faith is only required where there is doubt.”

Again, let me try and recap: There is truth. Knowledge is grasping truth. Where we lack knowledge, there is doubt. To leave doubt and pursue knowledge is Science. To stay in doubt and believe is Faith. Interestingly, we have not been told why we should choose faith or science over the other. So, as someone who values knowledge, I wonder, why should one ever stay in doubt?

Faith for Science

Going back to the couples, Couple 2 has doubt that their relationship will last because there are external factors that produce uncertainty. Couple 2 can have faith that the relationship will last. However, if faith is not a reduction of doubt, but finding comfort in doubt, then anything Couple 2 does to reduce doubt by solidifying their relationship also eliminates the need for faith. By solidifying the strength of their relationship, Couple 2 becomes more like Couple 1. It seems we would want our relationships to be more like Couple 1 and less like Couple 2. I can understand how faith can help Couple 2 stay together as they actively work toward building certainty in their relationship. For relationships, faith may be a good starting point, but we want the certitude of science. Faith, in this scenario, seems to operate in service to science. It is that which allows us the time to come to know while not giving up entirely by ceasing to believe.

The thing is, I gather that Udoewa wants us to value faith in some manner independent of science. He is justifying this by pointing out that faith is what we turn to when there is doubt. However, the example he has provided us suggests that faith is only valuable in so far as it buys us time to come to know. In other words, it buys us time to eliminate doubt and faith in favor of knowledge and science.

Doubt and Religion

Of course, Udoewa also stated that “the Judeo-Christian tradition (and other religions)” stick around in doubt. So, presumably, doubt is positive or valuable for religion. Udoewa explains that the religious, though doubtful, are not seeking the kind of knowledge that science seeks. Instead, through faith, they are seeking experience. Specifically, they are seeking to experience God via faith in the presence of doubt. As Udoewa concludes, “perhaps a mysterious God is experienced in those alleys of doubt.”

As is often the case, a lot is left to be clarified. But, to recap, knowledge moves us away from doubt and eliminates the need for faith. This is important for couples. However, God, being mysterious, is experienced in doubt. If knowledge reduces doubt, then experience of God (as found in doubt through faith) must not produce knowledge. Otherwise, the more you experienced God, the more knowledge of God you would gain. The more knowledge of God you gain, the less doubt there would be. The less doubt there would be, the less experiencing of God there would be.

Knowledge and Experiencing God

So experiencing God does not afford upon the Christian any knowledge or certainty of God. It cannot, as this would lead to the elimination of the experience of God. Whereas one can continue to experience a relationship in the face of absolute certainty that the relationship is existent and lasting, one cannot continue to experience God in the face of absolute certainty of his existence. Knowledge of God’s existence eliminates the avenue (or, alley, I suppose) by which one experiences God. Knowledge of God denies experience of God. And experience of God confers no knowledge of God.

Are you confused, yet? Yeah, me too. The thing is, I actually believe Mr. Udoewa’s general thesis is not this convoluted. I think he means to say something like this:

The truth of God is not like the truths which comes from logic and scientific exploration. Instead, we are meant to be in doubt about God, as we may be in doubt about some unknown force in the universe. However, unlike the scientist, we should not seek an answer. This doubt should not be viewed as a negative. For, when we are in doubt, we can still believe. We call this faith. When we have faith, though we cannot prove it, we still have experiences of God. In fact, it is only through faith that we can experience God. In this situation, science would seek knowledge of God. Religion is different. Religion wants to stay in doubt because seeking knowledge of God is futile. God is not experienced through knowledge. God is experienced through faith. This is the kind of truth (the truth of God) that is sought by the religious.

Final Thoughts and Summaries

Am I right? I don’t know. But that, I hope, is far more clear than the convoluted mess that was Mr. Udoewa’s original post. In all fairness, I am not religious, generally, and not a Christian, specifically. It is quite possible that his post is more understandable to a Christian.

Also, because it is reasonable to ask: If I can offer a coherent summary, why am I not aiming my response to that summary? Two reasons: (1) because it is my guess at his point, not his clearly explained point and (2) because Udoewa will make my point for me in Part 2. Excited? I hope so.

Before I end, let me leave you with this: Relationships are strengthened with knowledge. Experiencing God is eliminated with knowledge. What does this mean for one’s relationship with God?

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3 comments

  1. arceneau · July 20, 2012

    I very much appreciated your summary of relationship with God and particularly the relationship between doubt and faith.

    I think your last thought is a very intriguing one. I think that by experiencing God and thus gaining knowledge about Him strengthens the relationship. While faith in God may necessitate a measure of doubt, I believe that as this relationship is experienced, a person can begin to reduce doubt and increase one’s faith.

    I personally see doubt as something that increases insecurity while faith affords a person more security. I think that a person can believe (despite what may actually be the case) in something as being true and label it as knowledge. Thus we can begin to “know” God. In my own experience, I have felt this knowledge enhance my own relationship with Him, allowing me to recognize His presence in aspects of my life I hadn’t in the past.

    Of course, the experiences we have are unique to ourselves in many instances, and our relationships to the divine different. I think my thoughts on doubt may be different from yours because the definition is, as you said, ambiguous.

    Incidentally, if it wasn’t obvious from my long winded comment,I really enjoyed your post 🙂

  2. Pingback: On Testing Christianity | The Caveat Lector

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