Do we need to learn to doubt?

Schools are returning after lockdown and the summer break, soon students will be heading off to University too.  So what should they be learning? What should professors and tutors be teaching their students?

Here is one suggested list.

It seems a good list doesn’t it? I agree that we should be teaching students how to think and communicate better. We should encourage enjoyment in learning and yes, how to learn from your mistakes is a vital lesson.

However, I would argue that we don’t need to learn to doubt or how to make mistakes.  We have been naturally proficient at both of these things even since Adam and Eve had a little conversation with a serpent about a fruit tree. 

Furthermore, not only do we not need to teach people to doubt, I would go further and suggest that we should not teach them to doubt. Given that it was the serpent, the Father of lies who taught humanity to doubt, I would suggest that doubt is not a good thing to aim for. Indeed, the problem here is that the professor seems to be encouraging us to think of doubt as a neutral tool in learning.  It is anything but. We may first of all associate it with Descartes’ chosen philosophical method to seek truth by first doubting everything. Whether his method worked is open to question. Secondly, we associate with a hermeneutic of suspicion. We start be choosing to be sceptical and not to believe others.

Now, some people can be very naïve and just trust anyone but most of us actually need to learn to trust. Indeed, the corrective to that naivety is not doubt, which itself may be equally naïve. Rather, the correct response and indeed the thing that needs to be taught is something different completely. Within the context of taking a charitable view of the motives of others (trust, rather than doubt), we can recognise that humans are finite.  This means that others may misreport or misunderstand. It also does mean that I too can read the data wrong. This does mean that I need to be careful and cautious in my conclusions.

However, rather than teaching people to doubt, we should be teaching them to use rigorous methods in order to seek out, gather, observe, analyse and test evidence to ensure that our hypothesis is sound. This is not about doubting but it is about learning to properly observe and evaluate.

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