After reading Daniel Taylor’s book The Myth of Certainty a few years back, I was really excited to read his latest book called The Skeptical Believer. While much of the book is an extension of thought from what I’d previously read, this book seems like he is trying to really hit every angle of the discussion. As a result, it felt much longer than it needed to be. The other unique thing to this book is that Taylor includes commentary from his “inner atheist” to contradict some of the points he makes. While this is certainly creative, I found it to be a distraction at times.
Nonetheless, there is plenty to chew on in this one. In particular, Taylor does a great job challenging our current culture’s obsession with acquiring certainty in our faith.
Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.
Desiring truth is not selfish; requiring certainty is. It is insisting that God and life provide you with a level of proof about ultimate things that will make your own commitments risk-free.
Demanding certainty is metaphysical gluttony. You are insisting on a state of knowledge inconsistent with the human condition.
Here are a few of my favorite overall thoughts:
Skepticism keeps us from believing lies. Belief keeps us from failing to embrace truths. If I have no skepticism at all, I will be a sucker for anything. If I have no belief at all, I will be an even bigger sucker for skipping the possibility for meaning, because meaning, in the most significant cases, requires believing things beyond what can be proven.
If all it took were intelligence and reason to arrive at the meaning of life and a knowledge of how to live, then all intelligent and reasonable people would arrive at the same position and no great commitment would be necessary.
One thing this suggests, among many, is that truths of all kinds are not independent little pebbles of facts lying on the beach, waiting to be picked up by passersby, transferrable to anyoneâ€™s home to sit in a rock collection, looking the same in one collection as in another. Truths are more like notes of music on the score, waiting to be playedâ€”well or badlyâ€”by this instrument or that, in this composition or that, finding their placesâ€” perhaps for the first timeâ€”beside other notes, played together in varied tempos and with greatly different effect.
I believe I am offered, and have accepted, a place in a better story. My story has both dark nights of the soul and mountaintop experiences. It has a God who died to be known and yet can never be fully known.
It is helpful when discouraged by the number of bad Christians in the world to spend equal or more time thinking about the good ones. If you are a sports fan, do you go to an important game thinking of all the lousy amateur athletes there are? If you want to be a doctor, does the number of lousy doctors keep you from wanting to be one yourself? Do you abandon your political convictions because someone who shares them does foolish things? So why fill your head with examples of lousy Christians, except as a caution against being one?
Is faith like being pregnantâ€”you are or you arenâ€™tâ€”or is it like being a sports fanâ€”ranging from fanatical to indifferent, with at some point, known only to God, not being a fan at all? Some fans are fair-weather fans and jump back on the bandwagon when the team makes it to the championship game. With faith itâ€™s often the reverse. We are foul-weather fans, becoming interested in God only when life turns stormy and God seems useful.
Also, a benefit of a book like this one is that it feels as if you’ve read a dozen or more books in the process due to Taylor’s extensive quoting. Here are some of my favorite quotes that he included from others:
People are generally better persuaded by the reasons that they have themselves discovered than by those that have come into the minds of others. BLAISE PASCAL
The existence of twilight is not an argument against the distinction between night and day. SAMUEL JOHNSON
I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesnâ€™t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness. UNATTRIBUTED
Those who can never be fooled will never be delighted. ALAN JACOBS
Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving. FREDERICK BUECHNER
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesnâ€™t go away. PHILIP K. DICK
In this, my seventh decade, faith seems to me not certainty but commitment, a renewable vow. DORIS BETTS