Indubitable: adj – Beyond the possibility of a doubt; unquestionable

I don’t believe the Christian faith is indubitable, but I do believe that it is true.

I tell this story when talking about the bankruptcy of requiring indubitability before you believe something (Yes, I’ve told this before):

I play this game with my kids that drives them crazy. Sitting in the room, with no one but us, while they are not looking I will slap them on the rear-end and act like I did not do it. They turn and say, “Daddy! I know you did that.” I say, “I did not.” “Then who did it?” they respond (thinking they have settled the issue with this one question).  I say, “A guy ran in the front door and slapped you and then ran out.” They look at me like I am crazy and exclaim, “Daddy! We know you did it.” “Look!” I respond to their skepticism, “The front door is not locked. It is possible that someone could have come in since the door is not locked.” Upon further looks of skepticism, I force them go check the door to see if it is locked. Once they see it is unlocked, I have won the day. I have poked a hole and their certainty and even caused them to confirm it by checking the door. No longer possessing the indubitably that I have required for their epistemic verification, they now have lost poise in their former confidence. In other words, I tricked them into thinking that one has to be absolutely certain about something before it can be believed.

Ideas about the value of certainty are currently on the theological stage of debate. With the intellectual challenges of the so-called “new atheism,” some Christians are opting for a fidist approach to the faith (ignore the evidence, just believe). Others, however, are responding to their challenges with precise and cutting vigor. However, many are on wild goose chases checking doors to see if they are locked and becoming frustrated, even doubting, when they find that the door is not locked.

Objection: “You can’t be certain that Christianity is true. One scholar has proposed Christianity borrowed from other ancient religions to get its story.”

Response: Oh great. Yes, most people don’t believe this, but what if this one scholar is right? What does this mean for my faith?

Objection: “You can’t be certain Christ rose from the grave since his body might have been stolen.”

Response: I supposed this could be true. Though there does not seem to be any evidence for this, it might have been stolen. What does this mean for my faith?

Objection: “It would seem you have a problem since there are two angels in one resurrection account and only one in the other. Which one is it?”

Response: While they both agree that Christ rose from the grave, should I continue to believe when these two accounts cannot agree on this most basic detail?

Objection: “Stephen Hawking said that a black hole could have created our universe out of nothing.”

Response:  I have no idea what this means, but what if Hawking is right? He is a very smart man.

Often, a skeptical world will will provoke us with the reality that we cannot be indubitably certain about any of our beliefs because of the infinite amount of alternative possibilities.  No matter how unlikely these alternative possibilities are we find ourselves spending time defending against positions that are well beyond tipsy in their stability. When people poke “holes” in our beliefs with arguments that are no better than “look, the door is not locked” we find ourselves missing the big picture, backed into a corner seriously discussing the security of the door.

How do we get here? Glad you asked.

Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650), the father of the “Age of Reason,” was commissioned by a cardinal in the church to find a way of attaining a level of certainty that went beyond mere probability. With skepticism on the rise, mere probability was looked at as the ugly step-sister of the indubitability that accompanied absolute certainty. “We don’t want probability! People can poke holes in that. We want absolute certainty. We want to be indubitable!” Indubitability ultimately equates to infallible knowledge—knowledge that can’t be wrong. Prove without a shadow of a doubt that God exists by mere intuitive resources. That was Descartes commission.

Again (just in case you have not grabbed a hold of this word yet), indubitability describes the impossibility of being wrong due to an exhaustive and infallible method of inquiry; indubitable beliefs are beyond the possibility of question or doubt. This is what the church wanted Descartes to produce with regard to the Christian faith.

Descartes was up to the task. Locking himself in a large dutch oven, he reasoned with himself until he could reason no longer. “What can I be indubitably certain about so that I might get a foothold on faith? What truth is beyond question?” He decided to doubt everything (and I mean everything). He even doubted his own existence, believing that, no matter how unlikely, the demons might be tricking him into thinking he exists. But when push came to shove, there was one thing he could not doubt. There was one thing he was indubitably certain about. From this he would build all the rest. What was it? He could not doubt that he was doubting. For in order to doubt that he was doubting, he would have to doubt! And if he was doubting, he would have to be thinking. And if he was thinking, he was in existence. Cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”) was his conclusion. Upon this, he built his method for attaining indubitability. His “I think, therefore I am” looked as if it provided a bridge to attain the type of certainty to which humans have never been privy.  His methodology, which became known as “the Cartesian method,” was adopted in large part by those in the West. And thus began the Age of Reason, where certainty—indubitable certainty—reigned supreme. There was celebration at Descartes seeming defeat of the skepticism of his day.

The problem: The Christian faith does not require human indubitably. God does not call on us to infallible certainty before we are required to believe in him. Our trust in the Lord does not come only after we have considered every other possibility, no matter how unlikely. Why? Because indubitability is a black hole leading to perpetual skepticism. Contrary to Descartes methodology, there are always going to be alternative possibilities. There will be an infinite number of objections that can be brought up. No matter how unlikely, there will always be doors to check to see if they are locked. Once we suspend belief until all the doors are checked, we have suspended belief forever. No one actually can or does live by such a method in the acquisition of truth in any area of life. We never require ourselves to check all the locks on all the doors since there are an infinite number of locks and an infinite number of doors. Yet, often, we do it anyway. When the door is unlocked, those who are epistemically conditioned to find this substantial, like my children, enter into a state of suspended belief, doubt, or skepticism or opt for a “leap of faith” that demands no evidence, and then sneer at those who do demand evidence as if it is passé.

There is a point in our faith where our search for indubitability needs to yield to the sufficiency of probability. This does not mean we are taking a blind leap into the dark. On the contrary, we are responding to the sufficiency of the light that has been given. In fact, to fail to respond is the leap of blind faith. For in our indecisiveness, we have actually made our decision for the least likely of all the options. “I am not going to commit myself to believing my daddy slapped me since there are other possibilities that, while unlikely, are out there.” That is making the least rational decision of all. That is the biggest leap of faith there is available.

There are many people out there who are on the never ending quest for indubitability. You might be one of them. Forever on the verge of making a decision, but always getting tripped up by the least likely of alternatives. “The door is unlocked.” “A demon is making me think this.” And a million other things. There are many people out there who will make you think that your search is valid. My encouragement to you is to make a decision based on the light given. When you look at the Bible, yes, there are going to be an infinite amount of alternative explanations for many of the events described. But there comes a point where you must commit yourself to the Scriptures, opting for the most likely. If Christ rose from the grave, there are implications that the Bible is trustworthy. Infallible implications? No. Sufficient implications? Yes.

What my kids should say is this, “Daddy, I don’t care if the door is unlocked. It does not play a sufficient part in your proposition to warrant a disregard of the greater areas of viability with regard to our belief that you are the one who slapped us.” And if I respond, “But you don’t know with perfect, absolute, and infallible certainty,” they should say, “No daddy, probability is sufficient to warrant, yea, demand a belief such as ours and, as a consequence, to reject your alternative.” Well, if they said it like that, I would be quite scared, but you know what I am saying.

Probability is sufficient. We neither need to go into intellectual hibernation and accept our beliefs on blind faith nor do we need to suspend our belief until all the objections, no matter how improbable, are answered.

What I posed to my children was merely a possibility to explain the slap, but possibilities do not create probabilities. We are responsible in this life to act upon the revelation given to us, not to seek absolute indubitably.

We are neither postmodern skeptics nor modern rationalists. We find value in both skepticism, when truly warranted, and rationality, when the probability is conditioned by God to be such.

In other words, our belief in the Bible’s truthfulness should not be sidetracked simply because someone presents an alternative possibility. Yes, we engage these alternatives, but we don’t give them more credit than they deserve. The old illustration of the “leaky bucket” only finds relevance in an imaginary world where indubitability is required for every rational decision. All buckets are leaky, but this does not mean they don’t hold water. Those who say that the Christian story borrowed from other religions or that Christ’s body was stolen have simply presented other possibilities that are often no more sufficient to warrant credibility than my “look, the door is unlocked.” Possibility, yes. Probability, no.

Sermon principles (for those of you taking notes):

  • Don’t be shaken by unlikely theories (there are an infinite number of them).
  • Don’t hypocritically require indubitability (you don’t in any other area of life).
  • Don’t think that all possibilities are equal (they are not even close).
  • Don’t opt for a blind “leap of faith” type of faith (this is immoral).
  • Just because something is possible does not make it probable (my thesis that I wear on my sleeve).

Finally, and most importantly, I believe that the truths of Christianity are probable to such a degree that the only rational option is for all people to fall on their face and worship Christ.

No, I am not completely (indubitably) certain that Christianity is true. I am not indubitably certain of anything. However, I am sufficiently certain that it is true. So certain that any other choice would be irrational.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    11 replies to "Why I Am Not Completely Certain Christianity is True"

    • WIlliam

      Is the choice so lob-sided that its comparable with your “an invisible guy slapped you” scenario?

      After all, when science tells us that we evolved from amoebas over a billion years, and then you’ve got a book saying nah, a god created it all fully formed 6000 years ago, then is it really a case of, oh yeah its irrational not to believe this book?

      Sure you can wander off into saying the 6000 years is symbolic or whatever justification, but nobody really disputes that the book _seems_ to say God created all life forms, fully formed, about that long ago. And you can argue about the science or whatever, but you can’t really dispute that the facts _seem_ clear that the earth is a billion years old, and that life slowly became more complex over that time.

      When you’ve got a story some guys wrote down, in conflict with the very earth itself, is your position so beyond rationality to dispute?

      • C Michael Patton

        The Christian position is not based on how one interprets creation (as there are a variety of opinions). It is based on the resurrection of Christ. You don’t even have to read Genesis yet, much less come to a conclusion about it’s literalness. If Christ rose, then Christianity is true and the details (such as squaring modern science with Genesis) s will work themselves out.

    • WIlliam

      Michael, there are many claims in the bible. If Christianity stands and falls by its infallibility… well let’s not even talk infallibility, let’s just say its major claims being true, then doesn’t it all stand or fall together?

      Yes, if Christ rose, then Christianity is true. That particular claim isn’t verifiable. Isn’t it more rational to look at what claims are verifiable and base our opinion on the unverifiable claims based on what we discover about the verifiable ones? That would be a rational approach, no?

    • C Michael Patton

      No, they don’t stand or fall together. There are cardinal issues and non-cardinal issues. This is true even (especially) in apologetics. We need neither inerrancy or inspiration to claim the warrant for our faith. We just need Christ’s resurrection in history.

      Christ’s resurrection is a verifiable as any event in ancient history. It’s miraculous nature does nothing (or should do nothing) to detract from providing historical warrant. I believe that both Licona and Wright have done well in showing that the evidence for the resurrection is not only warranted, but compelling. I will provide links to those books if you are interested and don’t already know about them.

    • William

      I would have thought whether God created the world as described would be a cardinal issue if ever there was one. After all, if Christ rose from the dead, because he was a space alien with special technology, then it’s not really as interesting is it? Christ rising from the dead is only interesting if he was the God of Genesis who created the universe.

      In what sense is Christ’s resurrection verifiable? What 1st hand witnesses do we have? Not Luke or Mark, they weren’t there. Matthew was there so Christians claim (although the book actually is anonymous), but why did he feel the need to seemingly take most of his story from Mark? Couldn’t he write his own story? Why would he copy the narrative of someone who was emphatically NOT there? So that is not a 1st hand witness, it is 2nd hand. That leaves John, which is also technically anonymous. It’s not really written like a history, it’s more of a theological discourse, apparently written at least 60-70 years after the events. Even if we believe a 100 year old John wrote it, it’s not exactly a contemporary account of the events. It’s a religious figure overlaying his viewpoint after 70 years of this new religion.

      Does this trump what science says about the bible?

    • josef

      I was wondering if a 747 jet liner flew over a junk yard.
      Could it duplicate its contents of a fully functional jet not included the pilot but with fuel
      That rules of creations including male/female reproductive freedom of changing to improve the aircrafts of the future of flight without human passengers
      To allow amobeas into the thoughtful
      deductible view of bible writing is a hopefull Faith Not evolution that’s a huge leap
      Created powerful life in such amounts compared to a million years for fish swimming north to produce a fur coat
      I lean to resurrection of life to immortal state in my life time. Where I have doubt’s of horse flying
      Steven Hawkins wrote. But experiment maybe
      Science is requiring facts provable over and over
      The black hole is a one time event What will you do? If it don’t work,? Play it back keep it simple.

    • Dear Michael,
      As always I find your posts thought provoking and I always learn something. One subject that very easily poke holes in our beliefs is the many differences between the KJV and the NIV. making us run to check the door – even fighting one another about what metal the door latch is made of! And yet, in my study of more than 100 differences I found only one that touched on any aspect of our Christian Faith. And that was Revelation 22:14 where the KJV states “doing his commands” to gain access to the New Jerusalem and the tree of life instead of “having our robes washed” in the blood of the Lamb. (http://bibledifferences.net/2012/08/10/56-robes-wash-or-commandments-do-rev-2214/)
      We sometimes want to have everything so clear that it is impossible to doubt, but Jesus said: “…blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

    • CarrieJH

      Actually it is important to show evidence as to why creation by Gd is more likely than the theory of evolution. All you have to do is look at the development of a giraffe or a platapus to see how evolution could not have created these species. It just won’t work. There is a lot of evidence presented by scientists that challenge the theory of evolution. Before I was able to consider the NT, I first had to gain an understanding and belief of the OT (Tanakh). I studied archeological evidence and the Hebrew language in order to believe in its writings. I have no doubts of the OT . I still struggle with things in the NT and I am still seeking answers. It hasn’t been easy. One thing I do know is that there are only two possible truths with regard to religion. Orthodox Judaism or Christianity. Theologically there are problems with both but the only one that makes the most sense and can answer the problems with Judaism is Christianity. I still have issues with the resurrection, how Yeshua is both Messiah and Elohim, and the virgin birth. I have reason to both believe and dismiss them all but when I look at the big picture it makes sense to believe them. It like putting a puzzle together. Just looking at one piece of the puzzle can cause us to come up with all kinds of ideas of what the picture might be. It’s only when all the pieces are in place that we can see how each piece contributed to the completed picture. This is what Messiah came to do. He took all the pieces in the OT (Tanakh) and put them together to show us what they meant. That is what is meant by when messiah comes he will explain everything. So instead of holding one puzzle piece up at a time and analyzing every color scheme on it to predict where it belongs, start putting some pieces together and see how each one fits with one another. Then you will have eyes to see the bigger picture.

    • William

      CarrieJH, I don’t know what is special about giraffes or platypus against evolution. Giraffe has a long neck, so what? Platypus I would think is a good argument as being an evolutionary link between egg laying reptiles and live birth mammals, being half way between.

      Whatever challenges have been put against evolution, apparently they haven’t been strong enough to convince the vast majority of scientists, so seemingly aren’t actually appearing to be more likely. If they were, most people would be convinced.

      The simplest argument for evolution is this: where do your genes come from? From your parents. So if you share a lot of genes with someone, what does it mean? You have common ancestors. If you share common genes with a bird, what does that mean? Apparently that you have common ancestors. You can say no, no, it’s because God did it that way, but from a basic logical point of view, when you share genes with something else, it’s because you had a common ancestor. When the fossil record says that in the beginning life was simple, tiny sea creatures etc, and over time became more complex. Well, this confirms it.

    • CarrieJH

      William
      It doesn’t sound like you have done very much research. Remember evolution is just a theory, not fact. You could say creation is also a theory. It is up to each one of us to look at the evidence presented for each one and make a decision for ourselves. If you choose to go with evolution instead of creation I would encourage you to do better research if you care enough to do that. Most seekers of truth will do vast amounts of research on the set of beliefs that they have in order to verify for themselves that they have made the best choice available. Here is a good video on evolution http://youtu.be/2UXclhjZods . Its a bit dry but it provides some good information. If that one is to boring for you than try this one http://youtu.be/7fhNP3FSnKI. This video shows how evolution is not scientific. It looks pretty interesting. Here is some good evidence about Noahs flood having taken place http://youtu.be/KGeULHljDn8 . I remember my professor at college in my Soils/Geology course taking us to a site and saying “this is from the great flood” . Other professors said the same thing. Here is a short 3 min video explaining how evolution doesn’t work for the giraffe http://youtu.be/pcWYdxNks3s . Johnathon Gray is another good author to read http://youtu.be/njLxEPLD-7A . George Norrie from Coast To Coast interviews archeologist and author Jonathan Gray on out of place artifacts. Jonathan goes on to explain how Robert Gentry’s peer reviewed discovery of polonium halos in granite has never been refuted in peer review and that it is absolute proof of a creator and how it proves that the earth did not slowly cool down over millions of years as we are being taught in school.

      I hope you will choose to do your research on this belief that you are attaching yourself to. At least give yourself a reason for defending this theory. Blessings

    • William

      CarrieJH, if you measure the number of sea creatures in sediment, it would bury the earth 1.5 feet deep in creatures. How can that have been put down in one flood? And why are they stratified with simple creatures at the bottom, more complex creatures the higher you go?

      As regards the giraffe, and the claim it doesn’t work without all the pieces of the puzzle that’s not how it works. In the beginning wasn’t a giraffe which died when it stood up or when a lion came along. In the beginning was an animal with a slightly longer neck, which didn’t fall over when it stood, but was a bit light headed, and didn’t die when it bent over, but suffered a little in some way when it did so. When one of these semi giraffes evolved a coping mechanism for those problems those traits gained those genes an evolutionary advantage because the less light headed semi giraffe could run faster, and those genes spread throughout the population. Now that the population had these new mechanisms, they could continue evolving the longer neck without any issues, so that the giraffe with the moderate length neck could evolve to the super long neck.

      But all Christians believe in evolution. Even the videos you pointed to alluded to the evolution of dogs, and Creation magazine suggests that to fit all the animals on the ark there has been evolution. So supposedly there was a proto kangaroo on the ark, which evolved into red kangaroos, grey kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, etc etc. And we all know that diseases and viruses evolve immunity, and we know that plants evolve immunity to pesticides in only a few years.

      These things being so, the argument can’t be whether evolution is scientific. The question is merely how much it achieves. If a Christian can acknowledge a proto dog evolving into a grey hound and a Labrador, and a proto kangaroo into a wallaby and wallaroo, why not a zebra into a giraffe? If a plant can evolve a new trait of immunity to the latest herbicide inn a human timescale why not a zebra evolving into a giraffe? However you answer that you have to admit it’s a subtle question of degree, not of fundamentals.

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