Tom Gilson

Try Doubting Something Else

Today's skepticism a la Michael Shermer is nothing new. Neither is its selectivity.

[C. S.] Lewis called for agnosticism of a sort: “I do not wish to reduce the sceptical element in your minds. I am only suggesting that it need not be reserved exclusively for the New Testament and the creeds. Try doubting something else.”

That sentence encapsulates a significant strand in Lewis's apologetic. “Try doubting something else.” Become less sure of bogus certitudes that block access to the most important realities.

David Feddes, Missional Apologetics: Cultural Diagnosis and Gospel Plausibility in C.S. Lewis and Lesslie Newbigin, p. 154.


Commenting Restored

The comment function here has been out of service, possibly causing frustration, for which I apologize. You can comment again now, and it will save and post as it should do. First-time commenters' comments will not appear, however, until approved in moderation.

15 thoughts on “Try Doubting Something Else

  1. Watching Shermer attempt anything philosophical is painful.

    I think skepticism is important, but only do a degree. If we cannot be sure we know anything, than we cannot be sure we know the thesis itself.

    I think that the obvious response to this is that, if we cannot be sure we know anything than we cannot be sure we know the thesis itself. If therefore we cannot be sure that we know the thesis itself, we only think that we know the thesis. Yet, given these points, how can we be sure that we know that we think we know the skeptical thesis?

    In other words, statements are about a subject matter, and given the fact that the skeptical thesis is a statement about the nature of knowledge and must therefore itself be an item of knowledge, the skeptical thesis must invalidate itself. That is to say, that the skeptical thesis that no one can be sure they know anything is ‘self-refuting’.

  2. Um, what? You do know Shermer runs Skeptic magazine, right? The magazine deals in all sorts of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims and religion is actually quite a disproportionately small piece of the pie they deal with.

  3. What does it mean then, to be skeptical of one’s skepticism? (If that is what you are suggesting.)

    To demand a higher standard of evidence for their demand of a higher standard of evidence? I will likely grant you that Shermer is philosophically naive but I don’t see how pointing this out should be an indictment upon a particular approach to the existence of God or to proposed theistic explanations.

  4. “What does it mean then, to be skeptical of one’s skepticism?”

    One of the things it means is that skeptics and skepticism aren’t without ulterior motives. It means you should doubt the motives for your doubts. For example Thomas Nagel is famous for this statement:

    “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

    With that as a starting point, it doesn’t take much to guess where any analysis of theism Nagel attempts will come out. At least he is honest about it.

    Guys like Shermer hold up skepticism as a virtue. However, anyone who is really honest with themselves will admit that, like Nagel, there are deeper reasons why they believe or don’t believe the things they do. We all need to take a moment to doubt the genuineness of our doubts.

  5. Justin,

    What does it mean then, to be skeptical of one’s skepticism? (If that is what you are suggesting.)

    No, what’s being suggested is that the same level of skepticism should be applied to the skeptics other beliefs. Often a skeptics rejection of God is underpinned by beliefs that themselves need to be questioned. They reject God but never question whether their concept of God was adequate in the first place. They claim there is no evidence for God but don’t question their beliefs about what counts as evidence.

  6. BillT,

    And, what does Nagal have to do with Shermer?

    Surely you would need to show that Shermer is motivated by the same reasons before saying something like “At least Nagal is honest about it”. This veiled ad hom towards people like Shermer is no more instructive or informative as those my more flippant atheist friends make.

  7. Melissa,

    I agree, anybody who says “There is no evidence for God” probably doesn’t understand what evidence actually is. They probably mean ‘There is no proof of God’.

    IFF Shermer thinks that, then the criticism is valid.

  8. One gets a sense of the fallacy of hard skepticism from the following quote by David Hume, perhapst the greatest skeptic, who said: “If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”

    So what question would you now ask David Hume?

  9. Justin,

    You asked “What does it mean then, to be skeptical of one’s skepticism?” I tried to provide an answer. That’s all.

    I didn’t say anything about Shermer particularly execpt in regard to his touting skepticism as a great virtue. You’re projecting the “ad hom”. I didn’t intend or any such thing and further you ignored everything else I said. The Nagel quote was an “example” as I said it was.

  10. It seems where the Bible is concerned, critics treat the text with a standard they don’t apply to any other ancient writings. This is true even though the Bible has by far the best manuscript evidence. If they doubted other historians the way they doubt the Bible, we would have to re-write all the history books.

  11. In having to deal with resilivatt leaning humanities types, I’ve really had to explore the boundaries of my own scepticism. Most popular sceptics seem to have a practical commitment to reality, and most hold that our ideas and theories may correspond to reality. I’ve just listened to DJ Grothe’s last Point of Inquiry podcast again in which Paul Kurtz talks about one of his influences; the American Pragmatist, John Dewey. However, postmodernists see one of Dewey’s successors; Richard Rorty, as supporting their position.It’s easy for us to agree on the popular end of scepticism lack of evidence for goulies, ghosties, gods and goddesses etc, but we also need to challenge our boundaries at the philosophical end. In a way, one thing that many e2€˜popular scepticse2€™ agree upon is that postmodernists are too philosophically sceptical. We support the view that at some level, science is not only good at making predictions, but also provides true theoretical explanations. Rorty claims that we can never know if our theories are a e2€˜mirror of naturee2€™. I done2€™t agree, but Ie2€™m not sure where to draw the line. The philosophical boundaries of scepticism seem far from clear to me.In previous years I would have jumped at the chance to go to TAM London. Now I feel as if popular sceptics may just have their sights set on easy targets. It is important to keep fighting the good fight of course, but maybe these events also need to explore the harder philosophical questions too?

  12. Lewis’s point was not just to be skeptical about skepticism itself, but to be skeptical about dogmatic naturalistic assumptions that even many biblical scholars simply take for granted.

Comments are closed.


Subscribe here to receive updates and a free Too Good To Be False preview chapter!

"Engaging… exhilarating.… This might be the most surprising and refreshing book you’ll read this year!" — Lee Strobel

"Too Good To Be False is almost too good to be true!" — Josh McDowell

Purchase Here!

More on the book...

Discussion Policy

By commenting here you agree to abide by this site's discussion policy. Comments support Markdown language for your convenience. Each new commenter's first comment goes into moderation temporarily before appearing on the site. Comments close automatically after 120 days.

Copyright, Permissions, Marketing

Some books reviewed on this blog are attached to my account with Amazon’s affiliate marketing program, and I receive a small percentage of revenue from those sales.

All content copyright © Thomas Gilson as of date of posting except as attributed to other sources. Permissions information here.

Privacy Policy