Food for Thought: Healthy Skepticism
by Ardith Hoff
The cartoon character Popeye is famous for eating spinach. Whenever he breaks open a can of spinach and eats it, he gains enormous strength. Popeye cartoons were used by the US Government during World War II to promote the idea of eating spinach. Meat was scarce during the war, but spinach appeared to be a great substitute. In the 1890’s German scientists had shown that spinach contains the same amount of iron as meat. And iron is one of the essential vitamins in building strength.
But the “facts” were wrong! The German researchers did prove that spinach contains iron, but when they wrote down their results, they put the decimal point in the wrong place. They overestimated the amount of iron in spinach by a factor of 10! Unfortunately, the error wasn’t discovered until after WW II.
It would have been prudent for the US government to repeat the experiments on spinach before promoting it, but since it seemed reasonable and expedient, it was accepted as truth. This illustrates how easy it is to latch onto myths and misinterpretations when they seem to solve a problem or satisfy a need.
While we need to guard against false teachings, we also need to guard against adopting a doubting attitude. As Yann Martel put it in his book Life of Pi, “To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.” Every Christian has to wrestle with doubt. As it has often been said, “A faith unquestioned and untested is no faith at all.” ––based on Socrates’ “The unexamined life is not worth living”
So how then are we to sort out truth from falsehood? How do we know what to believe? The truth is that we can’t find the truth on our own, it is only when we turn our doubts over to God that we find the answers we need. “If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself.” John 7:17
The Bible defines faith as, “the substance of things hoped for” and “the evidence of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1 We need to trust God to make His meanings clear.