Contextual Relevance of Faith and Doubt

Contextual Relevance of Faith and Doubt

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The value in distinguishing different types of faith and doubt lies not only in clarifying these important mental states, but also in recognizing their indispensability and relevance in different contexts. Thus, for example, singing a devotional hymn in church is a great thing to do, but doing this in a physics colloquium may not be appropriate. Telling a joke at a party may be appreciated, but not during a funeral service. In like manner, no matter how fulfilling it may be to an individual, religious faith will not be very helpful in the formulation or elaboration of a technical theory in science or mathematics, just as doubting the sanctity of a scripture becomes inappropriate, even offensive, during the performance of a sacrament or religious ritual.

Generally speaking, quotidian faith and quotidian doubt come into play in personal attitudes, decisions, and actions, and are irrelevant in the public domain. They come to the fore in our responses and behavior towards other people, when we are buying things, watching TV news, reading the newspaper, etc. Sometimes, quotidian faith also arises in the minds of scientists when they are working hard to perfect a theory they are developing. For example, Einstein and others spent many years trying to formulate a unified theory of gravitation and electromagnetism, goaded by the conviction that the two must be different manifestations of one and the same deeper reality. This conviction is essentially an example of quotidian faith. No element of investigative faith is violated if there are two fundamental forces, rather than one, governing the universe. Contrary to the normal undertaking in science which is to try to account for an observed phenomenon, attempts to formulate a theory that had no observational basis was an intellectual struggle to establish something that was only in the scientist’s prec0nception of how the world ought to be: governed by a single simple all-embracing force-field. This quotidian faith-based effort did no bear any fruit. On the other hand, the hypothesis of wave-particle duality, proposed by Louis de Broglie on the basis of his quotidian faith in symmetry in nature, turned out to be successful.

Similarly, an observational pursuit to detect an aspect of nature that is predicted by a scientific theory is often inspired from quotidian faith in the theory. This may or may not lead to success. Thus, the search for the neutrino and the omega-minus particle—both of which followed from pure theory—bore fruit, but that for the tachyon—which is also the consequence of another theory—did (has) not.

Likewise, all through history quotidian doubt has played an important role in the rejection by the public at large of many self-proclaimed prophets who report to have had a direct encounter with God or His agent. However, other factors, such as spiritual charisma and eloquent spokespeople for the persuasive individuals, have usually erased such doubts in the minds of vast numbers of people, thus leading to the propagations of the great religions of humanity. With the spread of education and the refinement of the doubting faculties of the average person, it has become more and more difficult to convince large numbers of people in our own times of the truthfulness of claims that one has actually had a direct encounter with God or one of His deputies.

Thus doubt and faith are subtle capacities of the human mind, and they are present in one more or another in every aspect of daily living where decisions are made and evaluation of truth content becomes necessary. A mind that claims to function without doubt or faith does not function at all.