Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Christian and Skepticism

Proverbs 14:6 “A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding.

I recently heard the philosopher, John Mark Reynolds, remark that a right understanding of skepticism might be closer to our current notion of wonder. As a true, even classical, skeptic, he argued, someone is on a genuine quest for knowledge, truth and wisdom and thus is dissatisfied with simplistic or obviously short-sighted explanations of things. They are “skeptical” because they are plumbing the depths of a thing, not because they are perpetual disbelievers and critics.

On the other hand, he so creatively noted, most modern skeptics are more like the 5-year old who asks “why is the sky blue?” and because they don’t understand the answer, they keep asking “why.” It is a perpetual cycle unthinking disbelief. These folks (my take now) are quick to grab onto bumper-sticker beliefs, claim some sort of privileged position of objectivity and declare themselves the smartest people in the room because they can respond with “why” to every assertion and argument. Always asking, always challenging, never really getting anywhere.

This section of Scripture in Proverbs 14 is evidence that the Christian view of skepticism is more like what Reynolds described – a wonder about the world and a genuine seeking after the truth of a matter. The Christian skeptic anticipates answers and solutions while the scoffer (a modern-day skeptic) despises and doesn’t always understand answers and solutions. The Christian skeptic is a seeker of wisdom, not just a critic of everything he or she hears.

I often find it ironic that one charge repeatedly leveled at the Christian faith is that it is a “blind faith” and is by its very nature opposed to knowledge. I can’t remember how often I have been told with that superior air of finality, “Christianity is faith, atheism is science.” The clear implication being, “Christians are children and we are adults.” And while we can produce plenty of individuals who might fit the bill of simplistic faith, the worldview of Christianity is exactly the opposite. In fact, later in Proverbs 14, the writer says, “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.” (vs. 15) If the Christian is to be true to their own worldview, then they are required to give thought to what they believe and how they live.

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