Thursday, August 27, 2009

Philosophers doubt or doubters philosophize?

Which came first, the philosophy or the doubt?

A number of Christian folks in my circle (in my case, many are evangelicals, but the following way of thinking may not be limited to that stripe of Christian) are given to think that if you study the humanities or social sciences, you will sooner or later end up asking questions that will ultimately shake your faith. There's undoubtedly some truth there.

However I'm wondering whether it's also (as in simultaneously) the other way around: people who study philosophy, literature, art, anthropology, etc. are the kind of people who are given to wonder and ask big questions the first place. If that's the case, then doubt is not necessarily a result of the area of your study but rather the area of your study may be the result of your inquiring mind.

I know of lots of folks who apparently never asked big questions (thought I'm somewhat suspicious of that claim) until they took a philosophy class in college and only then started doubting. But I also know lots of people who were asking big questions and doubting their own beliefs long before they were exposed to the "corrosive" effects of philosophy or anthropology (myself included). It was those very questions that led some of us to study what we did--philosophy, theology, literature, etc. in my own case, and other disciplines in the cases of others.

But ultimately, I'm given to think this is a false choice. It's not EITHER (1) you started doubting first OR (2) your studies led you to doubt. Rather I think it's a BOTH/AND situation. I'd guess that in 99% of the cases, one comes first (doubt or study) and then feeds into the other (study or doubt), the one feeding into the other and the other feeding into the one.

So let's not be so heavyhanded in our condemnation of certain disciplines. In the end, you're really condemning yourself.