The Truth Is Out There—Living with Unanswered Questions, Part 3

In my last post I noted that my questions often leave me perplexed, and even confused. But I’m not in despair.

Like Mulder of the X-Files, I believe “The truth is out there.”

That doesn’t mean that I will find it; but I’m sure going to try. I’m on a quest, and this quest has led me to try to puzzle out this world, and in the process to study theology, philosophy, and the Bible—as well as to take human experience seriously.

The Need for Faith

I’ve found that the quest for truth requires two things.

First, it requires a certain faith. You have to believe that it is a worthwhile quest and that you won’t come to the edge of the world and fall off; you won’t fall into the unknown, never to return. This means that the fearless quest for truth—motivated by doubt, by what you don’t know—is nevertheless undergirded by trust or faith. (Is this faith in God? It is at least faith in the trustworthiness of reality.) The quest for truth (to use Augustine’s idea, made famous by Anselm) is “faith seeking understanding.”

However, there is no guarantee that throughout this quest for understanding your faith will remain unchangeably the same. Hopefully it will deepen and become more mature.

The Need for Humility

The other thing the quest for truth requires is the humility to realize we don’t have all the answers, and might never find all the answers. There are no guarantees for success in the quest.

Plus, we could always be wrong—in anything we currently believe. This is not a matter of psychological doubt (of actually doubting any particular belief), but simply the logical possibility of being wrong. There is no belief that I currently hold that is strictly “indubitable,” that I can’t doubt, that isn’t subject to the possibility of change.

Of course, I would need to be shown (in a manner that convinces me) that I need to change my belief on a particular matter. But I have to be open to that, in principle.

The Problem with Fundamentalism

The alternative to acknowledging the possibility of being wrong is fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism isn’t a matter of any particular beliefs, but rather a way of holding to beliefs. A person who doesn’t actually think they could possibly be wrong (not that they are wrong, that they could ever be wrong)—that person won’t give another person’s viewpoint the time of day. They might even believe the other person has no right to their beliefs, since they contradict what is obviously true.

Fundamentalists of a philosophical type (typically called foundationalists) tend to label people they disagree with as irrational. I’ve met such people and been so labeled (when I was in grad school).

Fundamentalists of a political or religious type tend to regard people they disagree with as evil. In its mild form, such people are thought to have ulterior motives; in its extreme form, they are “of the devil.” I’ve encountered religious fundamentalists and had the latter phrase applied to me (by a prominent church leader, in public).

Given the problems of fundamentalism, I’m fine with the possibility of being wrong; I’m even fine with doubt.

I’ll talk about the positive role of doubt in my next post.