The Apostate disagrees with my recent post on Doubt, faith, certainty and conviction. The Apostate is a sharp cookie (that's why I married her), so let me clarify my position.
Of course, I cannot read minds, nor am I equipped to undertake sophisticated experiments in cognitive science, so what follows is speculation about the mental processes of skeptics and believers.
As a skeptic, I think I'm on pretty firm ground when I describe the thought processes of skeptics, at least skeptics who think like I do.
First of all, everyone is certain about the content of his or her experiences as experiences. I may be uncertain or unconvinced about the veracity of my experiences, but I cannot be uncertain about their existence. The pencil may or may not really be bent, but when I put it in a bowl of water, I'm certain that I see it as bent. If I drop a lot of acid, there might not really be a pink elephant walking down the street, but I'm certain I'm seeing one. Certainty about experience as experience is not unique to the skeptic, it's a fact of human experience, perhaps a fact of all minds.
The skeptic's doubt starts when her conviction regarding the interpretation of some experience contradicts her convictions about the world. This internal contradiction causes distress, but the skeptic instantly quells her distress by becoming unconvinced about her interpretation of the experience or her beliefs about the world. Her uncertainty about these beliefs is evidenced by her loss of conviction: The definition of uncertainty is that you can become unconvinced.
The skeptic then resolves her lack of conviction by altering her interpretation of the experience or altering her beliefs about the world until she becomes convinced of both without internal contradiction. But the doubt doesn't stop there: She still must determine that her resolution is the simplest by considering alternatives. To do so, she must at least provisionally suspend each of her convictions in turn, singly and in groups. Of course, one cannot in practice suspend all of one's convictions, so there are heuristics both for determining whether an explanation is at least simple enough as to require no further examination as well as for determining which beliefs are most productively questioned.
The believer's doubt starts in exactly the same way: A contradiction between conviction regarding the interpretation of an experience and one's beliefs about the world. It is in the resolution of the contradiction that the believer departs from the skeptic.
(Religious belief generally revolves around ethics, and the typical contradiction the moderate believer faces is between some ethical "truth" revealed by her religion and her own natural ethical intuition.)
The fanatic believer is certain about his beliefs about the world—there is no possibility of changing them—so he instantly resolves his doubt by changing his interpretation of the experience. The submissive believer is certain about the initial interpretation of experience, so he instantly resolves his doubt by changing his beliefs about the world. Believers tend to be submissive regarding experiences that relate to their chosen authority—if the priest or guru says so, it must be true—and fanatic regarding experiences that don't relate to their authority.
The "moderate" believer, though, is in a hell of a bind. She is certain about her beliefs about the world and certain about her interpretation of experience, and so the distress at the contradiction just sits there, instead of being instantly resolved by the loss of conviction. The moderate believer may say she is uncertain, that she is willing in principle to alter one of her beliefs, but she does not actually do so, at least not at first.
It is the distress at the contradiction of certainty that the moderate believer mistakes as "doubt".
Furthermore, the moderate believer (if she is to stay a moderate believer) resolves the contradiction by exchanging one certainty for another. There is never a state where the believer is just unconvinced. If we take the willingness to be just unconvinced as the sine qua non of intellectual honesty, then the moderate believer is in a sense less intellectually honest than either the fanatic or the submissive: At least the latter are willing to be unconvinced about something, even if their thought processes are lopsided and generally authoritarian. And that's if the moderate even bothers to resolve the contradiction at all and doesn't just wave her "God works in mysterious ways" hands and refuse to think about the issue.
We see a perfect example of this sort of cognitive dissonance passing as "doubt" in Mother Theresa's diaries. She was certain about her beliefs about the world (Catholic dogma about God) as well as her interpretation of her experience as God being absent. But she didn't abandon any of her convictions (hence the conclusion of certainty).