A ‘Willingness to Believe’ Is Wisdom—When?
IT HAS been asserted, “The most important and most unnoticed quality in the world is the will to believe. It plays its part every time we drop a letter in a postal box or board a plane or do the thousand-and-one routine things that make up our modern life. From the money we bank to the money we borrow . . . we live in a world built on faith,” on the willingness to believe.—The Will to Believe, by professor and popular author Marcus Bach.
This may be so to a large extent in the material world, but how true is it when it comes to spiritual matters? Agnostics and atheists in particular demonstrate an unwillingness to believe. As philosopher William James once pointed out, such skeptics take the position that it is more important to reject error than it is to accept the truth. With what result? They deny themselves the opportunity to learn the facts that prove there is a God and thereby to realize all the blessings that come with such knowledge.
The unwise course of these skeptics is similar to the attitude of many in the seventeenth century toward Harvey’s discovery that blood circulates in the human body. Harvey had no explanation as to how the blood got from the arteries to the veins, because the microscope had not then been invented; hence he was unable to see the capillaries. This invisibleness of the capillaries furnished one of the objections raised to his theory. So his discovery “gained no adherents from any of the established anatomists of Europe.” Instead, “solemn worthies wrote weighty objections,” we are told in the book The Human Body.
Three centuries later England’s medical profession was again unduly critical; this time of Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin. But in time two researchers were willing to examine with open minds the possibilities of the drug and they succeeded in perfecting penicillin so that it was free from harmful foreign elements. As a result the three researchers received Nobel prizes for their work on what has been termed “the single greatest lifesaver of modern medicine.”
One who has an open mind, who is willing to examine the evidence in regard to God, will not be an agnostic nor an atheist. Thus Santiago Ramón y Cajal, one of the foremost authorities on the eye, once confessed that the wisdom he found here displayed, particularly in the retina and the lens, “for the first time weakened my faith in Darwin’s hypothesis of natural selection.” This was because he did not close his mind to the facts. He was open to the evidence that there must be some superior power.
Also, Robert Millikan, considered the dean of American scientists in his day, once stated: “There’s a Divinity that shapes our ends . . . else we would not have a sense of our own responsibility. A PURELY MATERIALISTIC PHILOSOPHY IS TO ME THE HEIGHT OF UNINTELLIGENCE. Wise men in all the ages have always seen enough to at least make them reverent.” Yes, as the apostle Paul expressed it nineteen centuries earlier: “His [God’s] invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, . . . so that they are inexcusable” for refusing to believe in the existence of God.—Rom. 1:20.
The will to believe in a superior unseen power might be said to be a basic human instinct. Thus The World Book Encyclopedia tells us that “there has never been a people that did not have some form of religion.” And as Professor Nigg noted, “The longing for God is inextinguishably rooted in man, wherever he may be and to whatever age he may belong.” This is especially apparent when men face great danger or death, for which reason it has been said, “There are no atheists in the foxholes,” that is, on the battlefield.
Because a willingness to believe is at once a basic instinct and a need, powerful Communist Russia has had to come to terms with organized religion as practiced in Christendom (shameful as it is). Russia’s youths are finding a purely materialistic philosophy of life to be unsatisfying. The more serious-minded among them bewail the meaninglessness of their lives and cry for something in which they can believe. American youths betray the same need to believe.
The will to believe in something is wisdom, however, only when based on facts and reason, even as noted in the foregoing quotation from the scientist Millikan. Just the belief in the existence of a Higher Power personality is not enough. For the willingness to believe to be wisdom one must go farther and be willing to examine that which professes to answer such questions as: What does the Supreme Being require of us? Where did we come from? What is our destiny? Why do we suffer and die?
In this regard the Bible has more to recommend its being examined by us than any other book. It has the greatest antiquity and is most widely translated—wholly or in part in 1,471 languages—which is what we would expect of a divine revelation.
Further, it has inspired a loyalty such as no other book ever has. Men have devoted their lives and have even sacrificed their lives to translate it. It has brought hope and joy to dejected and mourning ones and has aided countless numbers to lead better lives.
An American president of more than a century ago is quoted as telling a skeptical friend: “Read this Book [the Bible] for what on reason you can accept and take the rest on faith, and you will live and die a better man.” To help you to get a better understanding and more benefit from that Book is the purpose of the publications distributed by the Christian witnesses of Jehovah. By reading this very publication you show your willingness to believe—upon sufficient reasons and evidence.