Thursday, August 13, 2015

Thor's Day: On whose authority?

Whom do you trust?

By Morris Dean

The column on "Reflections on Galileo's middle finger" didn't mention that science too can and does become an authority for people. I myself am not a scientist and haven't done the investigations and experiments that evolutionary biologists, for example, have done. Am I no better off than a Christian, say, who puts his faith in the Bible as the "word of God"?
    Christians weren't there at the Creation, the parting of the Red Sea, or the resurrection of their savior, any more than anyone else today (Christians and scientists included) were on Galapagos with Charles Darwin. Christians have to do the same thing relative to the allegations of the Bible as anyone else has to do with regard to Darwin's Origin of Species – read the book.
    Scientists investigating biological evolution have an advantage over Christians investigating the claims of the Bible, however. Evolutionary scientists are investigating orderly natural phenomena, so can frame hypotheses and test them by experiment. The claims of the Bible are historical – accounts of events that may or may not have happened as described. Christians can avail themselves of the findings of archaeologists and anthropologists, and they rely heavily on the comparative analysis of ancient texts.
    Christians who are themselves not archaeologists or anthropologists or Biblical scholars rely on publications about those things, the same as non-scientists rely on publications by physicists, chemists, biologists, cosmologists, or practitioners of whatever scientific specialty pertains. Both place a degree of trust in the authority of the people who published their findings. Not that they can't or shouldn't read on their guard, with some level of skepticism.

Copyright © 2015 by Morris Dean


  1. Definitely some helpful things to keep in mind when asking some of the more "heady" questions of skepticism that seem to permeate our modern epistemology.

    The one caveat I would add though is that my trust is placed in the authority of a Person Whom I consider to be the Author of my experiences of reality, and with whom I have daily personal experiences. My trust doesn't rest in what academics tell me about a book, but rather in the real, daily experience of the Person about Whom that book is written. If my relationship with God were based merely on what others have told me about Him, then it really wouldn't be a relationship of trust at all. I can have plenty of faith in the "idea" of God, but unless I invest myself personally in knowing Him as a person, a mere idea He shall remain.

    That is, I think, the greatest difference between the trust I place in mechanistic explanations of how the sciences work and the personal explanation (God Himself) of why they work.

    The trouble is that my trust in the mechanics don't save me; trusting the Mechanic does.

    1. Kyle, thank you for expanding the terrain to include the sense of KNOWING that some people of faith manifest. I would love to be able to tap into your subjective experience to try to get a sense of what that "knowing" is or is like. Of course, I would do so with a bit of apprehension that I might become uncomfortably privy to the inner workings of some sort of delusional self-hypnosis, which a lifetime of longing and reflection, and a degree of personal investment, have come to render me leery of.
          Or skeptical at least...I find myself captivated by your opening phrasing, "questions of skepticism that seem to permeate our modern epistemology." Is there a topic there for a future column on our blog?

  2. If only I had the time... Right now I'm up to my neck in papers to grade and course materials to read.