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Paul Copan on Christian Doubt

I have asked a few respected Evangelical scholars and authors to contribute one paragraph each on the issue of Christians and doubt. I am grateful to each one of these men for not only contributing here, but being the type of scholar who deals with such issues with openness. I am posting them one at a time over the next couple of weeks.

Most of you know Paul, but let me give you some information anyway. Paul is a Christian philosopher, apologist, and author. Copan holds the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University. More about Paul below.

Paul, if you were talking to someone who is having significant problems with their faith, doubting whether or not Christianity is true for whatever reason, what would you say to them if you only had one minute?

 

Paul, if you were talking to someone who is having significant problems with their faith, doubting whether or not Christianity is true for whatever reason, what would you say to them if you only had one minute?

Sometimes doubts stem from a personal or relational insecurity that manifests itself in the wrong-headed insistence of having only 100% certainty in order to believe.

Knowledge can be defined as warranted true belief, but one can have knowledge without having 100% certainty.  For those who question that “knowledge” does not always equal “100% certainty,” we ask: “How can one know with 100% certainty that knowledge requires 100% certainty?”  Indeed, we can know various true things that rise to the level of “very plausible” or “highly probable” in our minds.  (Isn’t it logically possible that my typing right now is just an illusion?  It doesn’t follow from being logically possible, however, that this illusion is therefore likely true—far from it.)

One doubter with whom I’ve recently engaged acknowledged that his “100% certainty requirement” was really a defense mechanism that enabled him to feel comfortable in a state of neutrality—to justify his insecurity and lack of persisting in the hard work of committed belief.  He confessed to his own insecurity about relationships and his own inability to commit to anything.  He pointed to something from my book How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong? that helped him:  “Skepticism—like relativism—tends to eliminate personal or moral responsibility since truth (which is crucial to knowledge) is systematically being ignored or evaded….We should consider the personal, motivational questions which, while not being an argument against skepticism, raise important issues that may be driving the skeptical enterprise.  Blanket skepticism is an affliction of the mind that needs curing” (pp. 28-29).  I rejoice that God has been very evidently at work in this young man’s life.

Paul Copan

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Paul has a Ph.D.from Marquette University (Philosophy), a M.Div. from Trinity International University (Divinity), a M.A. from Trinity International University (Philosophy of Religion), and a B.A. from Columbia International University (Biblical Studies).

You can find out much more about Paul by visiting his website: http://www.paulcopan.com/

4 Responses to “Paul Copan on Christian Doubt”

  1. I wonder if there are any other beliefs that one could hold that have so much riding on them as beliefs about God. Take any kind of belief, whether political belief (e.g. belief that a democratic government is better than an autocratic one), ideological belief (e.g. belief in natural rights), or scientific belief (e.g. belief that the theory of evolution best explains the development of life on Earth). One can commit oneself strongly to any of these beliefs without being 100% certain and frankly not risk very much. You might risk embarrassment if you decide to change your beliefs on any of these things, but religious belief is in an entirely different category because your eternal fate could be riding on it. In none of these other circumstances is there possibly an all powerful deity ready to cast you into hell if you choose wrong.

    So, the question is this: Should we be more skeptical, knowing that if we choose wrong (let’s say I choose Christianity, and Islam turns out to be true, or vice versa), that it could mean our damnation. Or should we be more ready to commit, knowing that the costs of incorrect unbelief are higher than incorrect belief (ala Pascal’s wager). Would God be more willing to forgive the reluctant skeptic or the committed heretic?

    This may seem very hypothetical, but it seems to me that this kind of belief falls into a different category than many other kinds of belief because of the stakes involved. I wonder how you think this might affect the way we approach it.

  2. I guess I would tell that person (maybe myself, at times) that God has a hold of them. That He made promises to them in their baptism which He will never go back on . And that those promises are good and valid when ourt faith is strong…or weak..or barely hanging on by a thread.

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