Dallas Willard on “What Is Skepticism For?”

Skepticism is for:

1. To undermine illegitimate forms of authority.

2. To stimulate inquiry.

  • Knowledge leaders to authority (knowledge is power). It tends to confer a right to action. (13:00) You need to have knowledge and not just true belief.
  • Claims to knowledge are not the same as knowledge.
  • Because knowledge is so influential in human life people tend to claim knowledge they don’t have.
  • Claims to knowledge then become instruments of oppression.
  • It is good to be skeptical to claims of knowledge and exercise authority on the basis of those claims to knowledge skepticism is very helpful. (14:00)
  • Authority institutionalized tends to drift away from knowledge to power
  • Knowledge is still in the area of freedom, but power tends to want to use the power and often opposes truth because it undercuts their power.
  • There’s something about human life that is important to live in your own thoughts and choices. We’re meant to live by our own thoughts and convictions. If you take that away you crush human life. Authority can blot this out.
  • Enter Skepticism (16:45). 
  • A great battle between authority that is or isn’t warranted by knowledge and individuals who need to live by their own convictions, insights and understandings. Integrity.
  • The first aim of skepticism is liberation.
  • What is Skepticism? An attitude that calls claims to knowledge into doubt and gives a working space for people who wish to keep the integrity of their beliefs and wish to inquire further into the issue coming up. Skepticism can be broader or narrower in scope. Skepticism is not doubt, though it may be involved in doubt. It is the question “is this really true? Is this really knowledge?”
  • Extreme or Dogmatic Skepticism denies that there is any knowledge at all. It tends to be dogmatic, a kind of intellectual shrug. What makes it attractive is that it does liberate you, but into what? I cannot be sustained in ordinary life. Knowledge is not esoteric, it is common. Our ordinary life is guided by knowledge.
  • Targeted Skepticism: Aimed at a specific area of knowledge or a specific issue. It always depends on some body or range of knowledge. Morality and religion are rejected as areas of knowledge.
  • Responsible Skeptic: Seeks to discover and to know. Their not trying to evade responsibility but to be responsible. To bring knowledge into an area. (minute 25).
  • Extreme skepticism shuts off serious inquiry into things that really matter because there is no way forward.
  • We want our beliefs based on knowledge.
  • Institutions could help people come to a place where their beliefs are based on knowledge but institutions tend not to do that because they find inquiry threatening.
  • (Minute 29) One of the worst things to happen to young persons who are raised in a certain political or religious context is to think that to require is a certain kind of treason whereas the only hopeful thing for a young person is to inquire to the degree that their beliefs are based upon knowledge.
  • What we should be skeptical about (targeted skepticism)?
  • Skepticism has a way of creating its own social conformity.
  • Targeted Skepticism should be used to address things that really matter and to things assumed to be obvious.
  • “It tends to be assumed that you are your brain.” That would be something to be skeptical about.
  • “Marriage should be based on romantic and sexual feelings.” Is that actually a good basis for marriage? What else would be? What is marriage for?
  • “Morality is just feelings so no one has a right to tell each other what to do.” Is that really true?
  • Ultimate issues. Universities at one time were concerned about ultimate issues more than anything else.
  • John 3:16 guy at football games. Familiarity breeds neglect. Universities were built around communities of people who believed John 3:16 was knowledge and that’s a fact. What happened? How did that change come about?
  • Generally speaking we don’t know how this happened. Was it because people found out that John 3:16 was false and not knowledge?
  • We need to be skeptical about John 3:16 but we also should be skeptical about secularism. If we did this it would be a great renewal of intellectual life on the campuses.
  • What is the consequence of eliminating religious truth from the domain of truth? What does that leave you to live by? So you’re secular, congratulations, what’s next?
  • Our skepticism should drive us to inquiry.
  • Skepticism is vital in education and we need to have a revival in targeted skepticism for the knowledge to live by. End of the lecture @41 minutes

Portion to challenge his lecture

  • People believe in research and it will determine whether or not you make your career. It won’t be judged according to “truth” but rather standards of method. If you try to judge a faculty person by means of truth the institution wouldn’t know what to do.
  • Willard notes that formerly the criteria for awarding a PhD was the candidates contribution to knowledge. Today it is determined whether he has followed proper process. (Starts at minute 46)

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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2 Responses to Dallas Willard on “What Is Skepticism For?”

  1. Pingback: Doubt, Suffering and Comfort | Leadingchurch.com

  2. Pingback: Presuming Our Moral Compass is Accurate In A Skeptical Age | Leadingchurch.com

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