The Value of Doubt

I wrote a poem recently about doubt. I took it to my poetry group and let them critically review it. Most of the comments were very positive although one fellow poet pointed out that it was quite a negative view of doubt, and it can in fact, also have a positive effect.

I have to admit that I agree, and it got me thinking about the value of doubt. Many scientific discoveries came about by people doubting previously accepted theories.

As Ambrose Bierce says,

Doubt is the father of invention.

I think it was doubt that first made me ask questions about God. Frank Morrison began to write a book setting out the arguments against the resurrection. His book, ‘Who moved the stone?’ first published in 1930 has been the means of bringing many people into faith, including himself. If he hadn’t pursued his doubt, he may never have found his faith.

As Renée Miller says on her website,,

Rather than hiding or scurrying away when doubt creeps across our soul, we might see doubt as the very means for growing our faith.

I find that talking with people who disagree with my opinion sharpens my beliefs, and makes me think about possibilities that I might never have considered on my own. When I talk only with people who think in the same way as I do, there’s a kind of complacent patting myself on the back for being right – which I’m quite probably not.

According to Paul Tillich

Doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is one element of it.

Another of Ambrose Bierce’s thoughts on doubt is,

Doubt, indulged and cherished, is in danger of becoming denial; but if honest, and bent on thorough investigation, it may soon lead to full establishment of the truth.

I think my poem really describes the first half of that quote. Dwelling on the doubt itself can never be healthy, but a determination to find out the truth about a particular belief, theory or philosophy will encourage us to push through until we get answers.

There is, of course, a negative side to doubt. Concentrating on doubts has broken up many a marriage. Some people become so obsessed with doubts about a partner that they entertain jealous thoughts which can rage out of control.

As a general rule, if we doubt, we can learn to embrace it and search out the truth