Why Doubt is Important In Science and Faith

Many of us grow up in church with the impression that doubt is detrimental to our faith. Doubt is a disease that needs to be avoided at all costs, a sin that starts one sliding down a slippery slope towards atheism. Faith means to believe, despite the evidence, and regardless of the incoherence of the various strands of ideas we have been taught. To question, is to lack faith, therefore is strongly discouraged. To claim to ‘know’ with a 100% certainty, is a trait to be celebrated, a hallmark of the strong in faith.

My own experience however, tells me otherwise. It is through doubt, that my faith has been strengthened. It is by questioning my own beliefs, that set me on a journey of discovery to find the answers that I needed. This is not to say that I have found all the answers. There are still many questions, and my own journey of faith (or doubt!) continues.

I find it exhilarating to be able to doubt and to question. It allows me the freedom to carry on seeking for the truth, and to be honest with myself and with what I believe. It feels good to be able to say ‘I don’t know’. And that’s the truth. I don’t know for certain if God exists. I’m not sure . Does that make me an agnostic? But I believe God exists, and that’s not the same as saying that I know for sure. I choose to believe, because it makes sense, and because it is coherent with what we think we know about the world around us (my own upbringing in the faith may have a lot to do with it as well). But I am open to the fact that I could be wrong.

One of the reasons science has enjoyed so much success is because those who practice it are trained to be critical of their own claims as well as the claims of others – a form of doubt. It is doubt and the acknowledgment of the unknown, that sets scientists on the road to exploration and discovery.

Mark Vernon summarizes it beautifully in his article Uncertainty’s Promise in the Guardian:

For, in truth, without doubt there is no exploration, no creativity, no deepening of our humanity – which is why the individual who claims to know something beyond all doubt is a person to shun, not emulate. Stick to what you know and you’ll find some security, but you’ll also find yourself stuck in a rut. Learn to welcome the unknown, to embrace its thrill, and new worlds might open up before you. ~ Mark Vernon, The Guardian

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