Compatiblility of Skepticism and Faith

In 13 History on 2011/05/07 at 8:31 AM

A historian is trained to be a skeptic in the sense that he does not presume that what other historians have written is necessarily true. He needs to ferret out biases and mere opinion.   The historian searches for what really happened.  What works for one discipline does not necessarily work for another.

In JESUS OF NAZARETH, Part II, Pope Benedict XVI comments: “…historical research can at most establish high probability but never final and absolute certainty over every detail.”  Elsewhere he maintains that “…if the historicity of the key words and events could be scientifically disproved, then faith would have lost its foundation.”  Adding, “Conversely, we may not expect to find absolutely certain proof of every detail, given the nature of historical knowledge.  The important thing for us, then, is to ascertain whether the basic convictions of the faith are historically plausible and credible when today’s exegetical knowledge is taken in all seriousness.”

So, therefore, if the certainty of faith were dependent upon scientific-historical verification alone, it would always remain open to revision.  Carl Becker said that every generation re-writes history.  Unfortunately, in doing so many distort it, guided by pre-conceived ideas rather than researching the facts objectively.

But religious faith does not depend on historical research.  We believe, not because we know, but because we trust the word of the One who is revealing.

As a professional research historian and a practicing Catholic who believes the teachings of the Catholic Church, I have no difficulty in searching as a skeptic for the historical fact, nor assenting as a believer to the truths of Faith on the word of God revealing who has revealed them.

Note: The cited passages (Pope Benedict XVI, JESUS OF NAZARETH, Part II. Ignatius Press)  give particular significance to the blog entry entitled: Proper Historical Perspective for Understanding Spanish Conquest of New World.)


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