by Greg Krehbiel on 18 February 2012
In the debate between Christopher Hitchens and William Lane Craig on the existence of God, Hitchens said doubt is the fuel behind all inquiry.
Is that really true?
St. Anselm of Canterbury would disagree. He said …
For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this I believe [--] that unless I believe, I should not understand.
I think there is some truth to both ideas. There’s a perspective you can’t get unless you doubt. Deb’s comment in a thread below about vestigial organs reminded me of this.
But there’s also a perspective you can’t get unless you believe. For example, when I listen to atheists talk about religion, there’s almost inevitably a point where I realize the atheist just doesn’t get it, and is probably never going to get it. He simply can’t see the issue the way the believer sees the issue.
The same is true in reverse. It can be incredibly frustrating talking to a true believer. They apply a completely different set of standards to things, and they don’t communicate very well with people who doubt.
Is there a way to cultivate both sides? Is it possible to see things the way a believer sees them, and to also see things the way the doubter sees them? Can you really say that you understand an issue until you see both sides?
(I’m reminded of the structure of the Summa, where Aquinas presents opposing views in their best possible light.)
Some people think they have achieved this by changing their minds. E.g., “I used to be a X, now I’m a non-X, so I can see it from both sides.”
This is usually a delusion. Somehow the transfer from X to non-X tends to erase a lot of the stuff you knew as an X.
I call it convert disease. You wouldn’t believe how many former whatevers I’ve met who say completely ridiculous things about their former allegiance.
For example, a Catholic becomes a Protestant, then tells people about Catholicism. He’s so wrong that all the Catholics think “you were never really a Catholic.”
The same thing happens with Protestants who become Catholic. I’m sure it also happens with ex-Mormons, ex-creationists, and so on. It certainly happens with people who change political views.
One possible explanation is that it’s only the people who don’t really understand X who would ever leave it. But I find that a very unlikely explanation — especially since the problem applies in all directions.
There’s something about the change in allegiance itself that affects the way you think about the issue. It even affects the way you remember how you used to think about the issue.
I think it would be interesting to take groups of people — doubters and believers — expose them to the very same material, and get their reactions.
It wouldn’t be enough to show that they would come away with different ideas. That goes without saying. The point would be to find the substantive difference in the way they process the information.
-- 2012-02-18 » Greg Krehbiel