Thursday, October 21, 2004

Doubt

Doubt is the essence of rational thought according to the French philosopher René Descartes. I suppose the opposite of Cartesian Doubt is faith, that solid feeling you have about a belief or idea, that emotion of warm truth. The lives of men and women oscillate between these poles. Rarely, if ever, does anyone exist entirely shrouded by doubt or by faith. We hear of skeptical scientists constantly testing their theories, of skeptical economists constantly testing their models, of skeptical politicians constantly testing the ideas of their opponents against principles in which they have faith. We notice clergy professing faith and administering to the faithful, nevertheless experiencing self-doubt, self examination, self-denial. We watch engineers, whose faith in gravity is complete, build rockets and buildings and bridges only to see them fail for some reason, doubtless having to do with something they did not take into consideration, something they forgot, or installed backwards.

The granularity of doubt and faith is as large or small as you want it to be. There are large "Truths" and large "Questions." When you try to discern whether a person is exercising doubt or faith, you inevitably end up on a spiral path where an answer of "doubt" leads to an article of faith upon which it relies, and for every notion of "faith" immediately there is a notion of "doubt." How can this be, we wonder as students and professors? How can our brains and minds and souls be so mixed with these opposites?

The answer is clear enough, although not very satisfying. Doubt is one function of mental operations, usually referred to as "ratiocination" or "rationality" or just plain "thinking." Whereas, faith immediately contains a sense of "emotion" of emotional closure, of satisfaction, of completeness that is not there in the data or the evidence. We leap to faith and land in a warm pocket of surety. But, again, neither is separate from the other.

Two days ago we gave you a link to an article in the New York Times Magazine by Ron Suskind about the genesis of George Bush's remarkable vision of the world. This article has been picked up by many analysts and politicians and soon the ideas in that article will be commonplaces. Al Gore, in a recent speech quoted the very same paragraphs as did we. Those paragraphs have to do with action and reality and, of course, misunderstanding of both by the cast of characters in the White House these past three and a half years.

Now, today, we have read an article by Ayelish McGarvey in The American Prospect that questions Bush's faith. We think it raises substantial doubt.

The essence of McGarvey's analysis of the behavior of Bush is that the single most consistent element of it is that Bush is nothing more nor less than a cynical and habitual liar, an opportunist who would use any means at his disposal to achieve his goals. McGarvey even has a reference for this assertion, namely, that after the religious conversion affected by Billy Graham and after an introduction to politics, Bush declared that he could "use" this "Christianity" to win Texas! Notice your own emotion as your read this. For us it was the releasing of dammed up evidence and experience with George, a flood of warm truth, a conclusion formed in a twinkling that our President is acting out the most dishonest charade imaginable!

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