DOUBT AND ATHEISM
by Evlogi Dankov
translated into Esperanto from Bulgarian by Olga Cankova
translated from Esperanto by Ralph Dumain
Doubt is a central notion for scientific atheism. Consequently, it demands multifaceted clarification. Rene Descartes had considered the method of doubt as the "architect" of a new human culture. In his view, it would finally enable people to master nature.
The two sides of doubtreligious and epistemologicalare important, because nowadays there is a prominent tendency to theologize science and scientize religion.
Because of its positive and negative functions, doubt plays an important role in the motivation of atheism as it does in religion. But negatively, doubt can lead to a skepticism which approximates philosophical agnosticism, dogmatism, et sim.
Is skepticism useful to the goals of human life?
Although philosophical skepticism is an historically outdated intellectual phenomenon, it remains topical because of the problem of atheism.
Of the two functionspositive and negativethe first presents a disillusioning factor which permits us to separate false belief from the truth. But that is possible on the condition that we come to believe something of a higher caliber which does not contradict the truth. For that reason positive doubt unchains human capabilities and favors a liberated life of the spirit.
On the contrary, negative doubt induces skepticism, philosophical agnosticism, and nihilism. Skepticism in turn often leads to superstition. Also to be mentioned is moral skepticism (J.R. Bambrouth): often, in cases of problematic everyday situations necessitating a choice of several alternatives, we doubt. In such cases one chooses according to one's own moral motives, without conforming to the official world-view and public opinion. But it is possible that such moral skepticism too could be transformed into a religion.
It is also necessary to discuss doubt as a kind of criticism or opposition to naive conviction or superstition. In this case doubt becomes criticism which aims to facilitate an approach to truth and instigate a solution to a problem. In this sense doubt serves human progress and contributes to a deepening of our knowledge.
It is self-evident that nihilistic critique whose point of departure is total negation, opposes arguments from all sides. Such "bare critique" was considered useless by Lenin. He accepted only negation as a moment of evolution which conserves everything positive.
The skeptic-nihilist tends to become a dogmatist, who is ready to doubt all in advance of any knowledge of any subject matter. That dogmatist can establish a religious position, even simulating a "god" who possesses and judges the truth. C.S. Peirce claimed that it would be fatal were such a skeptic to have absolute arbitrary dominion.
Manifestly, the anatomy of doubt and its illumination contributes to the essence of atheism.
NOTE: Evlogi Dankov (at the time of this writing) is a docent in the Philosophy department at The Sts. Cyril and Methodius University in Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria, and gave permission to translate this article specifically for the Esperanto journal Ateismo. This article appeared in Ateismo, vol. 2, #1 (4), January 1990, p. 12.
Esperanto version ©1990, English translation ©2000
(Translated and uploaded 2 August 2000)
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