The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

The Value of Being Dogmatic in Our Faith

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For some, I’d be the last guy you’d expect to be extolling the value of dogmatism. On this blog, I typically urge the value of doubt and questioning our faith. I do always try to be careful to say that doubt is not good in itself. It has value, but the value comes when we lean into doubts and are led to truth, knowledge and a more confident faith. And faith certainly is a virtue. So I don’t want anyone to stay in a place of serious doubt. And through the doubt, I want to suggest it’s important to stay somewhat dogmatic about the (important and fundamental) beliefs we have.

Okay, so what do I mean by dogmatism? For our purposes, let’s understand dogmatism as sticking with our convictions in the face of countervailing evidence.

Inappropriate Dogmatism

Now there is no question there are forms of dogmatism that are clearly inappropriate. We should of course follow the evidence where it leads. At some point, the evidence will likely lead all of us to reject some belief we have long held. This can be very, very difficult, especially when we have organized our lives, to some degree, around this belief. This can be a belief in the integrity of some person, organization or institution, or a belief in some political theory, or a theory of science, or even something having to do with sports or a hobby, etc. It can also of course have to do with one’s Christian beliefs. When we remain absolutely stubborn in our beliefs despite unassailable evidence, this is not an intellectual virtue and it’s not what I’m suggesting here.

There is, as usual, another extreme. We can also be unstable in our deeply held beliefs where we fold, so to speak, in the face of any challenge at all. So, as usual, the virtue is somewhere in the middle. The big question is where is that line? To what degree should we be dogmatic?

Virtuous Dogmatism

Well the answer seems to clearly turn on the evidence. We should give up our beliefs when we lack any substantial reasons for believing them to be true. Also we should give up our belief if there is a fatal objection and it cannot be adequately addressed after sustained inquiry. However, this is often not where we are at when we doubt our Christian beliefs. When I was in my strongest periods of doubt, I still had plenty of reasons for maintaining my beliefs. There were just a few things with which I was deeply struggling. But, even in this, there were numerous other lines of evidence for the truth of Christianity that more than justified my Christian faith. So it seems we should be dogmatic about a belief in the face of countervailing evidence when we still have, all things considered, good reason for that belief.

To illustrate, suppose a mom finds out her son is being charged with murder. Things don’t look good for him. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and substantial evidence points to his guilt. His mom, though, has unique perspective. She knows him well and believes for good reason that murder would be completely out of step with his character and life. She sees the countervailing evidence and feels the pull of it. At a certain (probably early) point, the mom should stay dogmatic about her son’s innocence even in the face of this evidence. Why? Because she has good reason to believe he didn’t do it. As the evidence gets sorted out, it may be that the mom’s evidence will be defeated and she should change her belief. But it could be that her unique perspective was completely right. Likewise, when it comes to our Christian faith, we should be dogmatic to a certain extent. This is a good thing while we sort out the evidence that’s before us.

Hang on!

I often encourage folks who are doubting to hang on. The reason is it can be difficult when one is in the throes of doubt to keep in view the other evidence one has for one’s Christian beliefs. Our doubts have a way of being in our face and clamoring for our attention. Again, this can be valuable because it is very likely that we should lean in and investigate those areas in which we are doubting. I’m not saying hang on and blindly trust that Christianity is true in the end. But hang on as you address the moment of doubt. After investigation, you may change your belief. But you may find as you lean in that the doubt can be adequately addressed. Either way, you will be more rational and on a surer intellectual foundation.

 

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5 Replies

  1. Philmonomer

    When I was in my strongest periods of doubt, I still had plenty of reasons for maintaining my beliefs. There were just a few things with which I was deeply struggling. But, even in this, there were numerous other lines of evidence for the truth of Christianity that more than justified my Christian faith.

    I’m curious. What were these lines of evidence that you found “that more than justified my Christian faith?”

    1. Travis Dickinson

      Sorry for a slow reply. For me it was the broad sweep of apologetics material as referenced here on this site as well as numerous other sources. More specifically, it would be the many and varied arguments for God’s existence, the evidence for the reliability of the Bible, the historical evidence for Jesus’s resurrection, the Christian responses to hard hitting objections (such as the POE), how Christianity makes sense of the world and our place in it, and, frankly, the beauty of the Christian story…, etc.

      1. Philmonomer

        Ok. Thanks. No worries about a slow reply. Often, taking your time with a reply can be wise–keeps things from overly heating up.

        I take your response to be that there wasn’t any one thing.

        1. Travis Dickinson

          No worries there about heating up. It’s hard for me to get offended in these sorts of discussions. I’m just busy :).

          Well, you’re right, it wasn’t any one thing. It was the cumulative force of ALL of those things. There are problems, for sure, here and there, but it is the force of the overall worldview that I find very compelling.

          1. Philmonomer

            As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s a (mostly) great worldview. I think it can be incredibly moving and powerful, and has a lot of appeal.