Sunday, January 24, 2016

Faith and Doubt: Opposites or Companions?

This week on Facebook I posted something that I had been thinking for quite some time. It went thus : "Faith and doubt are not opposed; they are internally connected. One needs doubt in order to have faith." While many of my religious friends liked the remark and applauded it, some said that it was contradictory. This stems in part from the saying in the 6th chapter focusing on Christlike Attributes in the missionary manual Preach My Gospel "Doubt and fear are opposed to faith." Whoever wrote this sentence knows nothing of either doubt or faith, and if he does he is very confused.

First, what is Faith? According to the Book of Mormon prophet Alma "faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." As St. Paul puts it in his epistle to the Hebrews "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." In short then, Faith is belief that is held without absolute proof; if a person knew something for sure then there would be no need for faith. Faith then could be stated as "While I do not know for sure, I choose to believe such and such for reasons that are not proof, but make an idea plausible to me." Thus it takes great faith to believe in the Resurrection of the dead, but it takes no faith at all to know that death will come.

Second, what is doubt? If we can trust the definition given in the Oxford Dictionary, it is " A feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction." Thus to doubt something is to say "I am not sure" or "I do not know". This is not to say that doubt is passive or resigned antipathy; it can be used as a fuel to come to know something for certain. For instance, because of the doubt that Joseph Smith, Jr. had about which church was correct, he kept searching for evidence until he eventually had an answer.

Finally, are doubt and faith mutually exclusive as Preach My Gospel states, or are they compatible as free will and determinism are? Answer: Faith and doubt are compatible. In fact, in order to have faith, one must have doubt because faith is belief without absolute proof. Since there is not absolute proof for the assertion of what one has faith in, doubt will inevitably exist because one does not know for sure. As long as faith exists, so will doubt.

The real question is not can faith and doubt co-exist at the same time; that is clearly demonstrated if one understands the definitions given. The real question is whether we should aspire to be people of faith. The answer to that is also clear: No. We should seek to be people of knowledge rather than people of faith. While some may disagree with that at first glance, think upon a common testimony meeting. In those meetings, you do not often (if ever hear) " I have faith that there is a God and Jesus is the Christ". Rather, you hear " I know that God lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ." This is not an appeal to faith; this is a statement of knowledge. If someone had said the former statement, there would be questioning of the persons testimony.

As David Hume said in his essay Of Miracles "A wise man [woman] proportions his [her] belief to the evidence." The evidence of scripture and of reason seem to point in favor the belief that one can have great faith and great doubt, and that used together through experiment and searching can lead to knowledge, which is what ultimately will save humanity (Doctrine & Covenants 130 19-20. 


  1. "For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time." - Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, Lecture 6.

    For more on the subject:

    1. I am aware of the Prophet's statement having read the lectures on faith. However, he is talking about what can be acted upon rather than what can exist. Faith and doubt can exist at the same time, but they cannot both be acted upon at the same time.

  2. And yet, he used the magic word, "exist." Faith and doubt cannot exist in the same person at the same time. If you doubt, you do not have faith. If you have faith, you do not have doubt.

    But why is this true? If one has ever truly, deeply, madly loved, then one will recall that one utterly believed whatever the object of one's love said - until, perhaps, it was demonstrated that the object was lying. Even then, one would have sought to the uttermost to harmonize their words such that they would not have been lying.

    And it was only when love died that faith in the beloved died also, and was replaced with doubt.

    So it is towards God. If one loves God, one has no doubt towards him, but faith. If one loves not God, one has nothing but doubt towards him.

    Charity, which is love, be it remembered, "believeth all things," "hopeth all things," and so on.

    1. First, I do not know if he said it or not. He edited the lectures, but much of it is Sidney Rigdon.

      Second, I would be very skeptical of that analogy. You can love someone very much, and have doubts about will happen in your relationship with them. The two are compatible. If a parent has a drug addicted child, can they love the child have faith that they will change, but still have doubt? Of course they can. Bad analogy.

  3. Tarik, obtaining faith consists in a choice. The choice has two parts.

    1. You choose to believe God.
    2. You choose to act on that belief by doing what God has asked.

    Thus we gain faith as we do what we are asked and the promises are brought about in our lives.

    But who wants to pay the price?