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Why scepticism can be good for your faith



When Martin Gardner came out as a believer in God, fans and colleagues were shocked.

Author of more than a hundred books on maths and science, Gardner’s monthly column in Scientific American established him as one of the most influential science writers of the century. Numerous leading scientists and mathematicians credit Gardner as the one who first sparked their interest and professional vocation.

He was also a flag-bearer for modern scepticism. A founder of the American Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, an organisation dedicated to advancing science and critical thought, he attacked anything that smacked of pseudo-science or woolly thinking. UFOs, astrology, scientology, theosophy, parapsychology, dowsing, ESP: Gardner relentlessly debunked them all.

A rationalist to the core, Martin Gardner did not fit the public stereotype of a man who believed in God, let alone (as he admitted) prayer and life after death.

In his book The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, he explained his beliefs. In keeping with his sceptical method, he didn’t offer much by way of a positive reason to believe in God. Instead, his approach was to show why all the alternatives were worse.

In chapter after chapter, with vast knowledge of western intellectual history, Gardner explained carefully and logically why he was not persuaded by relativism, pragmatism, determinism, Marxism, atheism, or any of the other ‘isms’ of the age. It was not so much an argument in favour of God as an argument against everything else.

GK Chesterton once said that when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing: they believe in anything. If it’s not Christianity, it’ll be something else. Get rid of God, and by choice or by default, our world view will be shaped by some other set of values, based on dodgy foundations and untested presuppositions. There is no neutral ground.

Whether it’s libertarianism, nationalism, fundamentalism, relativism, scientific reductionism, socio-biology, materialism, or the naked will-to-power, there is no shortage of contemporary ideologies vying to fill the intellectual gap at the heart of western secularism.

Believe in these alternatives to Christianity if you want to. I’ve been attracted to some of them myself over the years. But ultimately, I’m not persuaded.  Today’s secular ideologies contain too many questionable assumptions, inconsistencies, and undigested dogmas for me. I just don’t have the faith.

In the modern marketplace of ideas, belief in God is the only rational option for the sceptical mind.