What is faith; what is the role of doubt?

What is Faith?

Because of the strange road my life took, I have thought for years about faith. Early in my life I decided to work on the Creation/evolution area–with a special interest in the Flood, since, as a working geophysicist, I knew floods leave evidence of themselves. My life was characterized by years of doubt, struggle, and pain, as I struggled with whether or not there was any reality to the Bible’s early stories. While I took a bad turn early and went into young-earth creationism, I came out of it with one question I got from Harold Slusher at breakfast in El Paso around 1980. “If God can’t be creator, how can He be savior?” That question haunted me after I left YEC and became an evolutionist. The doubts I went through for the next 15 or so years, of course, that raises the question of whether doubt equals lack of faith. We often hear that to be the case, ‘Don’t doubt, just believe’ they say. “Faith,’ Paul says, " is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” but what does that mean? Is faith in the existence of Leprechauns, whom one might hope for and which are not seen, an example of faith? I think obviously the question is no.

Add to that the claim in James that "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? James 2:14. What constitutes appropriate deeds? Lot is called righteous, but I find him one of the most repugnant people in Scripture. How can he have faith with deeds?

Let’s look at Noah, whom I believe was real and most here believe is mythical. Noah was apparently told by God to build an ark because, as I mimic God, ‘Y’all are going to need it badly’. And Noah went to work. It is likely he spent 120 years building a boat for a land without rain. One can see the neighbors making fun of him for that 120 years as he preached to that world that a flood was coming. Noah kept building with not one shred of evidence that he was right about a coming flood. Can one imagine the doubts he would have? ‘God why don’t you show everyone something more tangible here so they will quit laughing?’ , ‘God, why am I on my own on this project?’, ‘Am I correct?’… on and on. But Noah kept building. Only when the rain started tapping on the roof of the ark did Noah know his faith had been right.

There are a couple of things I see here. Noah had one thing to do–build an ark. It became his life long obsession. And God left him doubting for a long time.

Abraham and Sarah had a similar experience with their lives of faith. Abraham was 75 or so when he was told that Canaan would be given to his seed, and Abram didn’t have an offspring. Sarah was 65, way past menopause and God was telling him that he would have an heir.

At age 90, God said that Sarah would have a son and God would establish his covenant through him, and by the way, change your name to ‘father of a multitude’. And for 10 years he walked around with one son, Ishmael, claiming the name of father of many. How many people twittered behind his back about this name?

And it wasn’t only Abraham whose faith was important. Hebrews 11:11 says: Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. This took the faith of two faithful people. In the interims, God left them to have faith and the doubts that come with faith.

Then the ultimate test. Isaac was born when Abe was 100 and Sarah 90, and God asked Abe to sacrifice Isaac on an altar. Hebrews says of this:

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead ; Heb 11:17-19.

I believe that the day of the sacrifice, Abraham couldn’t have been doubting or he couldn’t have done the sacrifice. What we learn from Hebrews is that Abraham believed Isaac would be resurrected, and thus I believe that Abraham knew that there was a coming Messiah. That day, he had to be thinking that Isaac was the Messiah. There is support for this view in Genesis 22:5 when Abraham says:

And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you .

Abraham knew that if he killed Isaac, the normal circumstances would be that two people wouldn’t come again to the servants; only 1 would return. This statement in Genesis is evidence of what Abraham believed that day.

Faith is hard. It is knowing something is true when there is no evidence of it. But faith must be in the right thing; in the right God, the real God.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego illustrate the relationship between faith and doubt. Daniel 3:16-18 says:

" Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. "

The bolded sentence showed that they didn’t know what God would do. They had faith taht God was able to save them from the fire, but they were unsure if God would actually do it.

Simeon is one of my favorite guys of faith.

25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. 26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, 28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace." Lk 2:25–29

While we don’t know how long Simeon knew that he would see the Messiah, but it was probably not the day before. He had probably been at the Temple most days awaiting the child.

One thing all these stories have in common is that God communicated a future truth to the participants. Noah was told specifically of a flood. Abraham was told specifically that Sarah would have his heir. And Abraham had to have been told that the Messiah would die and rise again. The three firewalkers were told that and certain that God could rescue them from fire. Simeon was specifically told that he would see the Messiah before he died.

The reason these communications are important is that it undermines the accommodationalist claim that God wouldn’t communicate truth about creation to the ancient Hebrews. It is obvious that God was able and did communicate specific truth to ancient Hebrews.

The whole reason I am interested in the question of faith is that at a young age I wanted to know if the Bible’s early stories were true or not, and most of my spare time was spent reading science books. I read them at my kids school plays; read them at baseball, soccer and tennis matches; read them at home in the evening and at lunch at work. I read on my in-laws couch when we visited. I like Simeon because, while I didn’t know (and God didn’t speak to me) whether a way existed to make those stories compatible with science, I keep reading and finally at the end of my life, the last pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Whether it is of God or not, I can’t say. I know this though, it matches observational data at any level of detail one could want and it made my faith greater, even if it doesn’t do anything for anyone else. I had 15 years of serious doubt about Christianity, but I kept reading. I suspect Noah and Simeon both had doubts at time whether what they believed would ever come true, but Noah kept building that arck and Simeon kept going to the Temple…

If someone wants to see a good sermon on doubt go here

What is Faith?

To be sure, in accordance with the usual passages, faith means taking a leap of some kind, accepting that reason will not give you all of the answers. In fact, logic will only take you from premises to equivalent conclusions and as result you cannot even use logic without first taking something on faith.

I certainly do not buy into any of these things which people take many of the usual passages to mean.

  1. Faith means believing whatever you are told.
  2. Faith is a power that God gives you to save yourself.
  3. Faith is the acceptance of a set of doctrines.
  4. Faith means ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

Can you find passages in the Bible to support claims such as this? Yes. But this doesn’t agree with the rest of the Bible.

Thus I get the most crucial part of my definition of faith from Romans 10 which explains the difference between faith and legalism.

5 Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by it. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

This along with the rest of Paul’s explanation in Romans tells us that faith is doing what is right for its own sake rather than looking for rewards as if anything you do could possibly earn you salvation. Faith is thus the other side of the coin to a gospel of salvation by the grace of God, for we always want to ask, “what then are we to do?” Salvation does not come by anything we do but by the grace of God, so what we are to do is to have faith.

Rather than shutting down our brains and blindly following like little robots whatever someone says comes from God, faith is a life-embracing attitude that goes forward with the assurance that it is all worthwhile. Faith accepts it is worthwhile to make the effort to learn what is good and do what is good without demanding guarantees of compensation with some kind of mental ledger.

So do we have to accept someone’s interpretations of the Biblical text in order to have faith? Nope! Not mine or gbob’s or anybody else’s. Does this understanding of faith undermine anything? Yes. It undermines legalism and the use of religion as a tool of power.

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I was a ‘know-it-all’ kid 11 yrs. of age when my Dad passed away, and at that time I judged the legacy he left me purely in material terms (house, car, bank account, etc.). It wasn’t until much later in my life that I realized that what I should appreciate most was the example he provided of using one’s God-given intellect to form one’s personal conscience, and to use this personal conscience to be the final arbiter when faced with conflicting paths dictated by different Faiths, dogmas, or societal choices. He recognized the value the Roman Catholic Faith had for his wife (my Mom), and he approved of the solid education and discipline we four kids received in parochial school, trusting us to think for ourselves as we matured. As the youngest of the four, I was the only one of his kids to reject the Vatican’s attempts to use religion as a tool of power: i.e., allowing some ministers to interpret John 14 as only by proclaiming Christ as one’s Savior can anyone reach Heaven. (i.e. be Saved) Although the Vatican can claim that this was never declared as Inerrant Doctrine, the Roman church cannot seem to admit that this, as a worldview has caused considerable harm. IMHO, the same harm befalls those Evangelical Christians who interpret John 14 this way.
Al Leo

Again Mitch, I don’t think you read well. The word doctrine doesn’t appear in my post anywhere. Nor did I say people have to accept my views to have faith. Sheesh, Mitch go see an optometrist. Time for new glasses and maybe take some time to ask yourself if you have read it correctly.

Again gbob, I don’t think you read well. The word gbob doesn’t appear in my post except in a list which includes myself and everyone else. Nor did I say anything about you saying anything. Sheesh, gbob go see an optometrist. Time for new glasses and maybe take some time to ask yourself why everything has to be about you?

At least that is the sort of thing you would say…

My sort of response is to say you should stick to the topic and leave the personal comments out of it. Such things are boring and a waste of everyone’s time. If you want to respond to my post, respond to what I say about faith (the topic of the thread) or just keep it to yourself.

So how do you explain Hebrews 11?

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

The remainder of the chapter clarifies the statement.

To be fair “Faith” as a word changes in meaning according to context (like many words) So perhaps we cannot tie it down to one meaning, Instead we need to focus on the meaning in hand.

Faith, as opposed to doubt is focussing on specific meanings. It either involves the future and what our faith might tell us about it and the possibility that we might be wrong or have misunderstood the signs. Doubt is healthy in this respect. Or, if we are talking about faith in terms of belief in God, then doubt becomes a stumbling block. Faith in God is weakened by doubt. Faith in understanding what God wants is strengthened by doubt, because it gives us caution and humility to the possibility of being wrong. Something many Christians should have.


Well, that was why I took it personally. My name was used. I am going to try one more time. At the risk of more personal stuff, which you warn me about, I am going to add more, because it is the personal stuff which drove me.

Mitch, normally Christians say meet someone where they are, don’t make them meet us where we are. I have never said and never would say that everyone needs what I did. But I needed it and since it has been months since I said anything on the topic,I guess it is time to say it again, so maybe you will understand why I needed a way for scripture to be true.

I didn’t grow up in a loving 2 family home. Mom was an extremely abusive person who spouted all the right things about how to be saved. From my earliest memories mom’s sole punishment for me and my brother was to pull our pants down, grab one of Dad’s belts and then proceed to whack us with the buckle end of the belt. I know it was going on as early as age 3 for me. When i was 5 my mom kept my cousin for 8 months and when uncle Bob picked up Maudie, she was seriously malnourished. It wasn’t like mom hadn’t gotten my brother and I through infanthood. She intentionally starved Maudie which caused my dad to want a divorce, which caused her parents to threaten dad that they would take us kids and disappear into the Tennessee woods and he would never see us again. Dad capitulated but was never home.

Mom’s constant unloving Bible-verse spouting drove my dad to atheism. Her church thought of mom as a poor saint with an evil husband. Mom knew the Bible and studied it constantly. So, growing up in a home where my father was ok with my brother and I staying home from church and my mother starting to pay us a dime a week to go to church, is it any wonder why I wondered which view was true? Maybe you won’t understand Mitch, but my guess is that there are people out there that had a similar home to what I grew up in.

As I grew up,I watched as Mom would run everyone who came into her life away. She wrote mean letters to her daughters in law, Dad’s parents, all the cousins. All the while, Dad was simply gone because he couldn’t stand to be around Mom. I don’t blame him, but he wasn’t there for us either. So, in my mid 30s when my doubts about Christianity returned, I did have to know what was true. There is only one way to know what is true and it isn’t by proclaiming some philosophical view to be true. It is by use of observational data. As I said to Bill, if you, Mitch, don’t like my view or don’t find it useful, fine, I don’t care. But know this, I needed it.


There is a huge difference between sharing personal stuff and making personal comments about other people when you cannot possibly know what you are talking about.

In one sense I didn’t either. My parents separated when I was 4 and they bad mouthed each other quite a bit. My mother had nervous breakdowns and spent time in a mental hospital. My father was a Marxist-Maoist-communist who believed in free love rather than marriage and thus felt free to play around as much as he was able. I moved around a lot and was on my own quite a bit. But then I didn’t need much, and my parents were pretty good people in spite of their problems. My mother worked in special education and my father worked in community action – both putting in effort to make the world a better place. Furthermore, along with a grandmother (mother’s side) both of my parents invested plenty of time and effort in raising me and my sister. Obviously I would take my childhood over yours without a second thought – who wouldn’t?

On the other hand, my sister didn’t do quite as well as I did in this with a few suicide attempts and many health problems. But she married well and didn’t do too badly in the end.

In any case, starting from a scientific worldview with all the psychology thinking from two parents who majored in psychology and considerable interest in philosophy, I nevertheless found some value in the Bible and Christianity. I think it is remarkable that my thinking is as orthodox as it is… since I came to that pretty much on my own, for my own reasons, and by my own way of thinking.

I may not need Christianity in the same way as you do. It is all very intellectual in my case (with a few emotional miracles here and there). But I think all Christians certainly think we all need this one way or another, right?

I can see that you have something to offer and maybe you can see that I do also. But yeah, you can also say that we are rather distant parts on this body of Christ, eh?

Yes and I agree. It is belief in Jesus and his payment for our sins that matters. The theology we put around it is less important. Have a good day my friend

Faith is certainly that. As I said, it is a leap we make when reason cannot provide. And what I didn’t say above, but certainly have elsewhere, it is indeed what we hope for that helps us with making that leap. As I have said many times elsewhere, it is absurd to try reducing life to the objective observation of science. Life requires subjective participation where what we want matters. In some sense I carry this dual aspect of our existence to an extreme by seeing them substantially embodied in the physical and spiritual duality of our existence – the physical being all about mathematical rules which care nothing about our beliefs and desires, and the spiritual actually being shaped by our beliefs and desires rather than objectively independent of them.

As for the rest of the chapter, I can only repeat what I said in my first post that I do not think this means any of those 4 meanings which I have denounced. It was not believing what he was told that made Abel’s sacrifice more acceptable. And the faith of Abraham was not some power God gave him to save himself. Noah’s faith was not the acceptance of a set of doctrines. And Moses’ faith was not about ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

Do we sometimes just have to shut up and do what we are told? Yes. Life doesn’t always give us time to have a debate. On other hand, the story about Abraham and the city of Sodom shows it simply isn’t true that God cannot tolerate any arguments with Him. I do think it is wrong to think we can manipulate God because in the end, God is the one with the full knowledge of reality when we are often off in la la land with a lot of wishful thinking.

To me faith is this.

It’s seeing enough evidence to see a bridge on a mountain. You can see the first half of the bridge fine. Then 1/4 of it is completely covered in mist and you can’t tell. But the remaining 1/4 is mostly clear. So you see enough evidence to lead you to reasonably believe it’s a complete bridge but you also realize maybe that 1/4 hidden in mist is missing or broken. So you set out carefully to cross. It’s not blind. But it’s not able to be completely seen without a doubt.

The role doubt plays is the careful crossing. Because it’s misty, it causes you to move a bit more slowly and constantly keep analyzing the path.

In a more literal explanation doubt forces me to deconstruct my views and test counter arguments against it. It keeps me digging for the truth.

Hello Gbob,

I hope these few lines would help.

What is faith?

As you showed with the scriptures, faith is simply trust. You would not buy from a merchant that you don’t have faith (trust) in. Faith is so often emphasized in the Bible because God with His word is more trustworthy than thousands of the most trustworthy merchants.

It appears to me that the cause of conflict was the apparent conflict between Biblical and scientific truth even though theres no such thing. True science does not challenge the Bible because it and the Bible goes hand in hand. The faith vs doubt issue thus appears as whether one should take the path of “science” (the evolutionary view) or “faith” (trust in the literal Biblical creation account as written). Thus, the issue is not whether one has faith or not, but where he places his faith. Trust in one opposing view amounts to doubt toward the other. True science only confirms Biblical faith. But scientists that hold on to the Biblical account as written tend to be grouped by some as the bad guys.

Thankfully, you held on to Biblical faith unlike Charles Templeton whose great evangelical work alongside Billy Grahams was short-circuited by doubt because he was sidestepped by belief in the “Did-God-really-say” kind of “science” that only appears as science. God’s word will not return to Him void. Neither does it need any addition to it that would void it in the heart.

As a geologist, why didn’t the large amount of evidences of the past flood bolster your faith?


Gbob has posted extensively on this very topic, in great detail in many threads. Please read what he has already written.

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This comes closest to what I’d say about faith. I’d say anytime you come to a point where you can’t be certain about something but decide to put your confidence in it anyway, you’re acting on faith. So the first thing faith does for one is allow them to proceed where waiting for certainty isn’t an option. Life rarely lets anyone make it all the way through without a need for faith at some point.

I think a second benefit of faith is that it can instill some humility in our own rational powers. That can steer us to recognize the value of keeping open to discovering a way where by reason we don’t see it. Insight is a gift rarely given to the proud.


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Hi Earl, I am sorry to be so very late to respond but that week I was showing all the symptoms of covid except for antibodies and so didn’t see your note. I hope you see this. To the above. Doubt arises just as you suggest–a conflict between what is seen and what is written in scripture. Let’s say you are on a camp out with secular people and you are a Bahai. Someone starts criticizing your scripture, the Kiti i’iqan for saying copper left in the ground for 70 years turns to gold. Everyone on the campfire line laughs and makes fun of this. You believe Bahai, but you know that the story about copper is untrue. What do you do? you begin to have seeds of doubt about the veracity of the Kiti i’iqan. Could it be wrong? Should I still believe it? etc. One expects (well many devout expect) their god to be truthful with them and are very disappointed if they think their God let them down. You want to believe two incongruous things–that the Kiti-i’iqan is the truthful word of your God, You also KNOW that copper won’t change and the criticism of your friends of this part of your scripture is absolutely true. You find yourself in the position of being unable to defend either your God or your religion.

Now let’s turn this problem and point it at us Christians. Since I was a physicist, I didn’t get 24-48 weeks of geology field camp. I went to field camps after I had been a young earth creationist for about 18 years, had published about 30 young earth article defending the biblical view. My company sent me to look at carbonate rocks in South Texas. One day we got onto Clionid sponges.

Clionid , any member of the sponge family Clionidae (class Demospongiae, phylum Porifera), noted for its ability to dissolve and bore into calcium-containing substances, such as limestone, coral, and mollusk shells. Clionid sponges occur in all oceans. The microscopic clionid larva attaches itself onto a calcium-containing substratum and metamorphoses into an adult as it bores galleries."https://www.britannica.com/animal/clionid

The teacher let us look under the microscope at living clionid sponges, and he pointed out the six micrometer sized bites this animal took out of the limestone to bore his gallery. He pointed us to the debris below the burrow where moon shaped pieces of limestone fell below the gallery, each six micrometers in diameter–the size of the shrimp’s mouth.

These clionid sponges are the garbage men of the sea. They eat all the limestone debris they can so the earth is not covered in shells.

Then he takes samples of the rocks we collected that day from the outcrops and looked at them under the microscopes. These were Cretaceous aged rocks (doesn’t matter if they were dated from the Roman era for all that this will matter.)

The teacher noted that they needed clear water to breathe, muddy water would kill them by suffocation. Then he showed us clionid bites in the Cretaceous rocks we picked up that day, some from earlier and later aged rocks, all with six micron bites and debris piles of limestone rubble

I was sitting there watching my faith go down the drain in that room. The flood would have been a very muddy affair and killed these little critters. They could not have lived in such a muddy environment eating away. Doubt cropped up like a cobra striking again and again.

What I saw with my own eyes I now proclaim to you, something was wrong with the way we viewed the global flood, or the Bible was not telling the truth about the flood or… fill it in.

I came back that week feeling like my religious belief had failed me seriously.

What you say above is true–true science will back up biblical faith, but is belief in a global flood with clear water for a year, defendable? Is it true? How is it true when every flood has muddy waters? Or is it our science which is wrong? Maybe we need to change how we approach what we see in science?

I had just seen data that seriously challenged my view of what happened in the flood and came back to work on Monday very depressed with my belief system in tatters. That is DOUBT!

It was then that some guy mocked the Christian flood view by saying out loud, "Can you believe that some religious folks believe the clionids could live through their global flood? and then he laughed. How was I to counter his argument? His argument was scientifically sound! I was in no position to defend either my God or my religion. I was hurting and alone in that room of doubters.

  1. the burrows required TIME to be dug. In a global flood, the mud would fill in those burrows quickly
  2. these animals sometimes line their burrows with their feces, so you know they are eating and taking more time to uh, decorate?, their tiny galleries? Eating and digesting take time.
  3. other animals burrow through clionid burrows and clionids burrows go through theirs as well. All of this takes much time.

And when I calculated the amount of dirt each hour to deposit the local geologic column, I would get 3-4 feet per hour of sediment required to make a pile of sediment the height of that which see on the seismic data out there!. I could’t breathe long with 3-6 feet of dirt falling on my head every hour. I have more mobility than a clionid, they just have to stay put and breath dirt.

Because what you say is not correct. You won’t like hearing this my brother in Christ, but there isn’t large amounts of geologic evidence that bolsters a global flood, which is what you mean by flood. Thus this ‘supposed evidence’ couldn’t do diddly for me because it wasn’t there. I know what I saw in the microscope, in the outcrop, and because I knew what I saw was true, it made the flood I theorized about very shakey.

Now, I have found a flood, a very large monstrous regional flood which matches the description of Noah’s flood in the Bible. Its waters can be as muddy as one wants, while the rest of the world’s clionids live normal clean water lives. That will be in my book, or you can look on my blog http://themigrantmind.blogspot.com

In any event, this data must be dealt with honesty, not by denying its existence. God bless and good luck with your doubt.

PS, I added a chapter to my book today on precisely this game of ridicule the christian that is played out in every geologic field camp across the world. It is no wonder so few geologists are engaged in apologetics. Those that are, well, ignore stuff like this.

Edited to add: This is a picture of a clionid bored rock I brought back from that field trip. I picked it up along Walnut Creek SW of Austin, TX. You can see all the bore holes and there was also some drying out of this rock at sometime as the line running across it is a crack filled with a mineral called selenite, which is an evaporitic mineral.

I kept that rock on my desk at work for months trying to figure something to do with it–trying to turn it into that 'massive evidence of the flood" of which you speak. I failed. I am now giving my grandkids my fossils (as well as my cat yesterday), so I don’t know if I still have this piece of rock or whether one of my grandsons whonked someone on the head with it somewhere. lol

I am so very glad now that I have a view of the flood and Eden that allow such things not to raise doubts about my faith anymore–it only took 50 years of reading on every subject I could think of, so as to learn everything I could, so as to bring everything to bear on this horrible problem of early Genesis.


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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