Re: Skepticism - its uses and abuses

From: Mervin Bitikofer <>
Date: Tue Dec 13 2005 - 22:25:35 EST

Don Winterstein wrote:
Jesus certainly seemed to encourage unquestioning faith. This aspect of
his teaching continues to nag at me: If you have childlike faith in
Jesus, aren't you likely also to have childlike faith in Joseph Smith,
etc.? The Apostles, of course, quickly became aware and taught that you
don't believe just anybody (e.g., I John 4:1). So everybody is
encouraged to ask questions. A big question that's not always easy to
answer is how you are supposed to get answers. Most Christians seem
to look to local authorities and their own traditions--and the answers
they get seem to be adequate more often than not. But I could never
have trusted such answers.

This is my wrestling match too. What does it mean to "Trust in Yahweh
with all your heart, And don't lean on your own understanding."?
Proverbs 3:5

Maybe one key -- and we should all be familiar it -- is the phenomenon
of specialized expertise. We may have a western European heritage that
prizes "rugged independence" and seeking out your own answers on your
own and without just taking somebody's word. But in practice we have
increasingly moved away from that kind of thinking. And here would be a
prime example: I am a science teacher (even if only at the high school
level and in the physical rather than life sciences). And I have read
to a limited extent into literature from various sides on the origins
debate, so John Q Public should reasonably expect that I would have
informed opinions and well-grounded thoughts in this area which is,
after all, so close to my profession. But the reality of it is this:
most of my intellectual engagement with these issues has not been a
direct engagement with the evidences themselves, but with the
second-hand evaluations by experts in the field (or even more removed
yet -- by a journalist telling me third hand what experts in the field
are allegedly thinking). As I read through some of posts that get into
the finer points of paleontology (and my perspective is definitely
closer to a lay spectator than an expert participant) I am happy to lurk
as a reader who takes more interest in the expert's evaluation and
conclusions at the end of their work than in the intricacies and
technicalities in the body of their work. You may criticize me for
this "science-teacher-shortcoming", but the reality of it is, I only
have 24 hours in a day and my wife has this crazy notion that some of it
ought to be spent with family.

If I, as a professional who does have some intelligence and motivation
to look into this, still find myself challenged to keep up with findings
and first-hand evaluations of relevant evidences, then how much more
John Q Public? Like it or not, much of the specialized debate about
anything isn't going to be decided in the public mind directly on
evidences, but on which 'expert' evaluation the public decides to
trust. Even those of us in science professions will probably defer to
specialists whom we trust to be better equipped than ourselves to
evaluate and judge evidence. Perhaps that is as it should be. Our
society certainly assumes that we can't all be re-inventing the wheel
and still expect to climb to great heights. We want to stand on the
shoulders of giants, but then we face the task of choosing which giants
have the worthy shoulders - and are they facing the right directions?

I'm not comfortable with this 'specialization' phenomenon that is so
widespread in our society, and I think (despite all its efficiency) it
will lead us to trouble. I am philosophically inclined to Wendell
Berry's exhortations that we need to be back on the land and not to
trust the assembly line industrial mentality which he thinks will betray
us. (Some of the oil-peak fears voiced on this sight certainly add
fuel to his fire.)

If we can find it so easy (against any latent individualist tendencies)
to trust experts in virtually every area of our lives, then why should
we have such qualms about leaning on scripture (and yes -- we have
experts to choose among here as well) and our Spirit-led understanding
of that? We can quibble over interpretations - sure. But I like Mark
Twain's witticism - to this effect: "It's not the parts of the Bible I
don't understand that bother me so much as the parts that I understand
perfectly well."

In some ways the Bible probably expects more sober judgment from us
(even in an individual sense) than our culture at large. We are, after
all to "taste and see that the Lord is good." Then at other times, we
are to follow God very much despite what our "tastes" would lead us to

I can see the foreground where obviously I need to probe and question,
and I know that in the far background where my sight cannot penetrate I
must have faith. But the murky regions in the middle -- where
questioning faith mingle - there's the rub! To attempt to conclude
all these ramblings I would just say this: we are no strangers to trust
and faith in many things and people -- so we will probably have no
excuse of ignorance when we stand before the judgment seat.

Philip Yancey is a good author to read for those who wrestle with these

Received on Tue Dec 13 22:33:14 2005

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