"Doubting Your Doubts: The Myth of Skepticism"

In the latter part of the eighteenth century, through the influence of such writers as Thomas Paine and others, the skepticism associated with the French Enlightenment impacted America. In fact, so invasive was the movement that at Princeton in 1782 only two students professed Christian beliefs, the College of William and Mary had become a breeding ground for French skepticism, and student attendance at the Yale College chapel in 1800 was reduced to five students. The skepticism of Voltaire had taken root in America.

Voltaire had adopted doubting Thomas as his patron saint, and all of Europe and America felt the impact. Were it not for an evangelical resurgence under the leadership of men such as President Timothy Dwight at Yale who challenged the students to a debate on the issues of the Christian faith, America might have lost its moral-spiritual moorings at the outset.

But is skepticism a valid philosophy? Could we consistently abide by its tenets even if we wanted to? Let us suppose we applied the skeptical approach to the totality of our lives. The farmers would never be able to make up their minds whether or not to sow their fields, so wavering would be their confidence in what Aristotle called the entelechy of the seed, or that the elements of nature would be coordinated in such a way as to act upon the seed to bring it to fruition. Agriculture would accordingly be stalemated, and people would perish from hunger. To prevent human reasoning from bringing him to such an agricultural disaster, the Creator has so designed man that his hunger pangs urge him to move forward in reliance upon God's laws despite any mental misgivings to the contrary. To put it simply, total skepticism is a biological, anatomical impossibility for the farmer.

If skepticism were to rule, nobody would ever be able to tie the matrimonial knot-no marriage contracts would ever be signed. The rule of the potential groom would be an incessant contradictory refrain "She loves me-she loves me not" to the point that all the daisy petals on the face of the earth would be plucked away. If one weak-willed specimen did manage to stumble into marriage, there would be vacillation in the bridal chamber. The newly-weds would never be able to make up their minds whether "this was the right night" or whether such a delightful activity was "O.K." for mere mortals. Of course, the very thought of such marital skepticism is absurd. It could never happen in normal human beings. It is nothing but a myth. Because God gifted the first couple with sexuality, skepticism could never prevail indefinitely for any bride and groom. Something would have to give. Indefinite abstinence from marriage, or sexual abstinence for every man and wife for every night of their marriage would be an unthinkable expression of skepticism! We can be sure that wavering on the subject of conjugal union would yield to the natural human propensity. In fact, it could be fairly argued that the biblical command to "be fruitful and multiply" is the only divine command that mankind has ever kept!

In the case of Albert Einstein, the orderly design of the creation overcame his natural skepticism wooing his mind to pursue his study of the laws of thermodynamics. Were it not for that divinely established order, the scientific genius might have retreated in despair. Given the inquiring nature of his mind, and a natural world that would yield to rational inquiry, Einstein's scientific genius simply could not be put off by human skepticism. That Einstein's skepticism would be overcome was as axiomatic as E=MC˛. Skepticism was simply an impossibility.

Skepticism as a life philosophy simply does not work. When a man enters his house in the evening, the first thing he does is to turn on the light switch. He may not have a clue concerning the laws of electricity--yet that does not stop him. Even his natural fear of the power of electricity does not make him vacillate-so great is his desire for illumination at that moment! He is not a skeptic concerning the laws governing electricity. The fact that these laws are constant and reliable enables the electrician to complete his work in a way that assures the homeowner of the safety of all who live there. Despite his ignorance of the specifics, the homeowner's confidence does not wane. He has come to trust in the laws that God has established. Were it otherwise, practically-speaking, his life could not proceed.

There are a thousand ways in which men overcome skepticism everyday in the natural world, and without that overcoming, life could not be lived. Skepticism simply is not a valid option, or men would never get anywhere. Even the greatest skeptics of all time, such as Voltaire, Thomas Paine, or David Hume could not have applied their skepticism consistently to their natural lives. The notion that everything must be questioned at all times simply does not work in real life. Otherwise, men like Voltaire, David Hume, and Thomas Paine would have spent as much time doubting their doubts as they did doubting the Bible. They would not have been able to maintain their skepticism had they doubted it!

When push comes to shove, skepticism is exposed for what it is-a myth that humans cannot live with. For the truth is that man is not simply a rational animal, as Aristotle insisted, or merely a political animal, as Hobbes postulated, and, it can be equally said that man is more than a sexual and social being, as well. Man has been made in the image of God. As the French scientist-philosopher, Blaise Pascal, once stated, "Within every man's heart is a God-shaped vacuum." On that basis Pascal insisted, "The heart has its reasons which reason does not know." "It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason.. This, then, is faith; God felt by the heart, not by the reason. Faith is the gift of God; do not believe that we said it was a gift of reasoning" (Pensées 277, 278).

"We must know where to doubt, where to feel certain, where to submit. He who does not do so, understands not the force of reason. There are some who offend against these three rules, either by affirming everything as demonstration, from want of knowing what demonstration is; or by doubting everything, from want of knowing where to submit; or by submitting in everything, from want of knowing where they must judge." (Pensées, 268).

The infinite pleasure that the heart takes in knowing God far outweighs the quibbles of the mind that resist Him, and any pleasures of the physical senses. This is not only the testimony of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments; it has been the first-hand witness of saints in every age. Fanny Crosby, the blind hymn writer, wrote,

O the pure delight of a single hour

That before thy throne I spend,

When I kneel in prayer and with thee, my God,

I commune as friend with friend.

 

Skepticism is no match for God's elective purposes in drawing men to Himself, particularly when we consider the means He has appointed to effect the purpose of His election, namely the cross.

O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,

Has a wondrous attraction for me;

For the dear Lamb of God left his glory above

To bear it to dark Calvary.

So I'll cherish the old rugged cross,

Till my trophies at last I lay down;

I will cling to the old rugged cross,

And exchange it some day for a crown.

(George Bennard, 1913 The Old Rugged Cross)

 

The proof of the pudding for Voltaire's patron saint, doubting Thomas, was Jesus's inviting words at his resurrection appearance to the disciples in the upper room: "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe" (John 20:27). Only then did Thomas submit and cry out, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus acknowledged the validity of the blessing accompanying the faith which follows the physical seeing, but his underscoring the blessing of the faith that is not dependent upon seeing was a gentle rebuke to Thomas.

Skepticism frequently becomes fashionable or trendy in pseudo-intellectual circles, and academic professionals like to set the trends. Skepticism makes an impressive facade for fornicators, and in that sense, a man's theology is dictated by his morality, or lack of it. In that sense, skepticism is disingenuous-it is a myth which not even the professing skeptic sincerely espouses. But it can work the other way, as well--one's theology can determine his morality. Either way, skepticism is a dangerous game to play, and the New Testament depicts it as evidence of a hard heart and describes it as evil.  The inner reflex of the true saint is to be free from the skepticism that paralyzes the soul ,as expressed in the words of hymn writer, Johnson Oatman, in  1898, in his hymn "Higher Ground."

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

The Hebrew prophets spoke of a day in the future when skepticism will be an utter impossibility--a day when the earth would be filled with the glory of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

This is a day when men should be doubting their doubts, laying aside their unbelief. For he whom the prophets announced and to whom the apostles testified--the one who has been acknowledged by philosophers and students of the world religions as the greatest teacher of all time (including men like Spinoza and Voltaire who have denied his claims)--this Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate and stated,

You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me (John 18:37).