TO say “I don’t know” is often to express a profound truth.
Doubt is an integral component of scientific, social and even theological discovery.
Intelligent, educated and sincere people often doubt the supernatural. It’s not surprising to find religious sceptics among our best thinkers, scientists, writers and social reformers.
But sometimes what feels like doubt and atheism is the beginning of real belief.
The perceptive 19th century writer Charles Caleb Colton said doubt was the vestibule through which all must pass before they can enter into the temple of wisdom. That sounds right.
Writer C. S. Lewis was, for many years, an apologist for atheism. In his 30s, he found himself doubting his doubts and became profoundly Christian.
“I had maintained that God did not exist,” he said. “I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.”
He described his conversion, in a book he titled Surprised By Joy, as “waking from a long sleep”.
The disciple Thomas, the one who would not believe in Jesus’ resurrection until he saw the crucifixion wounds, is forever known by the epithet Doubting Thomas.
It seems like an all-defining attribute, yet Thomas’ doubt, although worldly and real, was momentary. He apparently ended his life as a martyr for Christianity in India.
The doubt that Thomas honestly expressed is famous, at least partly, because it is the sort of doubt we all share.
If we believed without doubt in the Christmas story and the Easter story, our way of living and dying would be dramatically different.
We hope for miracles, we want to believe in them, but there is a mental reservation that often keeps us from believing completely.
Thomas was a true sceptic. He doubted so that his belief might be based on something more than wishful thinking. He doubted as a step towards establishing belief.
Doubt, at its best, is not denial, but an essential questioning pathway to the truth. At its worst, it can turn corrosive and lead to a permanent state of “unless I see it, I will not believe it”.
Everybody has faith in something. Those who doubt the miracles of Jesus, but promote scientific, political or social theories also base their lives on faith.
And when it comes to the question of believing or not believing in God, there is hardly indifference. It is a faith either way.
Often the problem in seeing God in our lives is a fear of commitment to something we are not quite sure about.
That’s why people prefer the non-committal position.
They have been sold the myth that in order to commit to an idea they have to be absolutely certain it is right — and absolutely certain that everything else is wrong.
In fact, certainty is not something we choose. It is possible to go to Heaven with doubts; and surely possible to enter Hell with what seems to be certainty.