What is intellectual doubt?
by Travis Dickinson
More than one way to doubt
There are a variety of ways to doubt. The two most talk about forms of doubt are emotional doubt and intellectual doubt.
We can sometimes have every intellectual reason in the world to believe something is true, and yet we doubt. This form of doubt, and we’ve all faced it to greater or lesser degree, is emotional doubt (or sometimes called psychological doubt). An extreme example of this form of doubting is one who has a phobia of flying. The person may know everything there is to know about flight safety, and know (intellectually) that flying on an airplane is, by almost every metric, safer than, say, driving in a car, and yet the person will dramatically doubt the reasonableness of getting on the plane.
When it comes to Christian faith, we can sometimes be in a very good position intellectually in believing the truths of Christianity, and yet there is a kind of emotional inability to take the plunge.
This is a real battle. It’s a battle that, as a philosopher, I’m frankly not well equipped to engage (I wouldn’t suggest me for marriage counseling either!). I would however recommend that you read Gary Habermas on this issue. He has two books on emotional doubt and he’s graciously published these on his website here and here.
Making this distinction is not to say that there are no intellectual considerations when it comes to emotional doubt. It is also not to say that there are no emotions involved when we doubt intellectually. Like most things, it gets messy. But I’m primarily focused on (and much better equipped to think about) intellectual doubt.
It is also very common to wrestle with some objection to one of our beliefs. When the objection has to do with whether a new season of Dancing with the Stars begins tonight, this is not too big of a deal (Okay, for some it might be a pretty big deal!). However, when we wrestle intellectually with objections at the worldview level (informing issues religious commitment, politics, morality, etc.), this can be quite difficult. At times, it forces us to call into question our most cherished beliefs…
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