November 2, 2018

The Benefit of The Doubting

Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus in the Bible, refused to believe the other Apostles had seen the resurrected Jesus because he had not been there. And since that time, ‘Doubting Thomas’ has become a label we apply to someone who refuses to believe in the things of which they have no personal experience. Of course, in the Bible, Jesus shows up and makes Thomas feel rather foolish but the story is mainly invoked as a lesson in the power of ‘faith’.

“Surely the ‘Faith’ edit would have been a more positive view of the world?” you might think. Yet faith and doubt, while related, are not quite the same thing. The existence of doubt is what makes faith powerful, for if one never questions or retains independent thought of a thing, it is not ‘faith’ as much as it is compliance. If something is a ‘fact’, then it requires no faith in and of itself, and there can be no doubt.

Doubt, then, by its absence can be the most important factor in ‘knowing’ something, and (by its presence) ‘believing’ anything.

Indeed, for the scientific method of an experiment to be applied, there must be ‘the absence of spuriousness’. Spuriousness is the ten dollar word that describes that situation where you might appear to know something, but you should have doubts about how and why you know it.

Let me explain… if you clap three times, drink a glass of water while hopping, face east, confess your sins and pay $10 to the government before going to sleep of an evening, every evening before going to bed…the sun will wake and rise in the east. Of course, if you did none of those things, the sun would still rise because the earth is spinning on an axis as it makes an orbit around the sun.

There were actually many such rituals in ancient times (before we knew about the whole earth going around the sun thing). It wasn’t until some legendary anarchist in each of those societies built up enough doubt, and enough courage, to take control of the experiment we call life and set out to observe the sun coming up, without our intervention. Whoa!

It is the doubt, not the faith, that drives this sort of mind-blowing quest. Questing, or doubt-IN-action, is searching with purpose. The other side of that coin is doubt-INACTION, which is more to do with searching ‘for’ purpose. Too much of the former can lead to a shallow life, knowing things without understanding their significance. Too much of the latter can give doubt great power and can lead to hopelessness.

There is one final, important aspect to doubt that is so fundamental to our ‘goodness’ and that lies in the ‘benefit of the doubt’. Where you can not know a thing, such as the intention of a person, there is always doubt. The benefit of the doubt, then, is an opportunity to choose ‘good’. It is a deliberate choice to believe something good about someone, rather than something bad when you have the opportunity to do either.