A dear friend of mine sent me a wonderful book called Doubt: A History. The sub-title is The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson. The author is Jennifer Michael Hecht. Although I have only perused the peripheries of the thing, I have every intention of reading this book. I doubt that I shall be able to neglect it much longer!
Early on in the Introduction, there is such an interesting Quiz laid out that I thought I would reproduce it here for you to take yourself. The author offers it as a “taking of one’s own pulse” on a handful of questions related to doubt. These 13 questions can be answered Yes, No, or Not Sure.
Do it. Even before reading one word further, I encourage you to take a pen and paper and record your answers as you go through the Quiz. At the end there is an assessment done as to the results. It can be quite illuminating. I suggest that you write out the numbers 1 to 13 vertically, and then write your answer beside each number.
1. Do you believe that a particular religious tradition holds accurate knowledge of the ultimate nature of reality and the purpose of human life?
2. Do you believe that some thinking being consciously made the universe?
3. Is there an identifiable force coursing through the universe, holding it together, or uniting all life-forms?
4. Could prayer be in any way effective, that is, do you believe that such a being or force (as posited above) could ever be responsive to your thoughts or words?
5. Do you believe this being or force can think or speak?
6. Do you believe this being has a memory or can make plans?
7. Does this force sometimes take a human form?
8. Do you believe that the thinking part or animating force of a human being continues to exist after the body has died?
9. Do you believe that any part of a human being survives death, elsewhere or here on earth?
10. Do you believe that feelings about things should be admitted as evidence in establishing reality?
11. Do you believe that love and inner feelings of morality suggest that there is a world beyond that of biology, social patterns, and accident – i.e., a realm of higher meaning?
12. Do you believe that the world is not completely knowable by science?
13. If someone were to say, “The universe is nothing but an accidental pile of stuff, jostling around with no rhyme nor reason, and all life on earth is but a tiny, utterly inconsequential speck of nothing, in a corner of space, existing in the blink of an eye never to be judged, noticed, or remembered,” would you say, “Now that’s going a bit far, that’s a bit wrongheaded?”
And so, I hope you have answered these questions for yourself, otherwise, reading on will be fairly useless to you. The author explains:
“If you answered No to all these questions, you’re a hard-core atheist and of a certain variety: a rational materialist. If you said No to the first seven, but then had a few Yes answers, you’re still an atheist, but you may have what I call a pious relationship to the universe. If your answers to the first seven questions contained at least two Not Sure answers, you’re an agnostic. If you answered Yes to some of the questions, you still might be an atheist or agnostic, though not of the materialist variety. If you answered Yes to nine or more, you are a believer. But more than providing titles for various states of mind, the questions above may serve to demonstrate common clusters of opinion."
- Jennifer Michael Hecht, Doubt: A History. HarperSanFrancisco, 2003. –
I think that the last statement is important. The Quiz is not meant to label or definitively brand anyone. For one thing, there may be discrepancies in how the questions themselves are understood by various readers. However, generally speaking, it can serve to identify “common clusters of opinion.” Perhaps you would like to anonymously submit in the Comments section what you “are” according to Hecht’s criteria.
If you do, I will.
Although my thoughts on these issues have undergone change in the interim, I am a bit surprised to find that I still land up in the same category as I did when I first took the Quiz about a year ago. Wow! Is this how long I have had this book without reading the rest of it? I better get on it.