Intellectually Honest Skepticism

Intellectually Honest SkepticismAs I speak on college and university campuses, a large number of people (both atheists and religious) find a statement I like to open with to be astounding. The statement is, “You can intelligently and logically and rationally believe in God.” There is an immediate air of doubt in the minds of many who cannot or do not want to believe it. I don’t know how many of them change their minds in the course or our lectures. Skepticism abounds today, but what we need is intellectually honest skepticism willing to seek the truth.

Certainly one major factor has been that various churches, groups, and individuals have dogmatically forced a creed of creationism upon all members. Those creeds frequently fly in the face of both science and common sense. The more capable and clearest thinking young people who refuse to be force-fed this dogma, simply leave the church. Many of the leading atheist speakers in the United States today came from a church background.

The growth of aggressive atheism is another factor leading many to think that intelligent, logical belief in God is impossible. Attractive websites and high budget, colorful printed materials promote naturalism, if not downright atheism. Saturated with scientific materialism and locked into a mindset that anything religious is automatically wrong, they claim to be the only voice of reason, logic, and competent science.

Instead of skepticism referring to a healthy, scientifically rigorous approach to issues and solving problems, the word has become synonymous with an anti-religion mindset. It is evident that, in a great many cases, the atheist community has completely taken over the concept of skepticism.

I want to suggest that intellectually honest skepticism is Christian in nature, and it is the approach Jesus used in His ministry and teachings. In fact, the Bible condemned religionism more strongly than atheism. The Bible makes only fleeting references to atheism. (See Romans 1:19-23.) The strong condemnation statements of Christ, and the Bible writers in general, come down on the religious leaders who force their traditions on the population. The teachings of Christ focused on attitudes and how we treat each other. The religious establishment constantly criticized Christ because He did not adhere to their traditions. His teaching was logical, practical, and pragmatic not built on the traditions of the past. He asked questions and awaited logical responses.

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (5th Edition) defines a skeptic as “one who carries a critical or incredulous attitude into his inquiries.” Skepticism is defined as “the doctrine that all knowledge is uncertain.” This does not mean that skeptical minds reject anything that is not physical. Limiting our belief system to only what we can see, smell, touch, feel, and hear precludes all kinds of things. A vast percentage of nuclear physics, quantum mechanics, relativistic physics, and even some mathematics depends upon knowledge that does not involve the senses.

Intellectually honest skepticism demands inquiry and also recognizes that knowledge is uncertain because humans are uncertain. This does not mean that there is no such thing as truth. It just means that skeptics should be aware of their own limitations and of the human capacity to misjudge. Intellectually honest skeptics know the danger of preconceived ideas and their approach should be humble, open, and careful. Being skeptical does not mean that a person has no beliefs, morals, or convictions. I can have strong convictions and beliefs and can communicate those to others and still have the ability to change my beliefs and understandings.

Unfortunately, skepticism in today’s American culture is at least as dogmatic as ultraconservative, fundamentalistic religion. Any skeptics who would question Darwin, would likely be castigated by their peers. There is a need for intellectually honest skepticism in the world. I am a skeptic in approach, but there are some basic things that my skeptical approach has led me to believe strongly. If we reason together in an open, skeptical way, we can learn. Blind, closed skepticism and blind, closed dogmatism are impossible to tell apart to those who are seeking the truth.
— John N. Clayton © 2019