Authority

old book's

old book’s (Photo credit: v.max1978)

“Don’t be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you’ve been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I haven’t seen it myself. I couldn’t prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so…A man who jibbed at authority…would have to be content to know nothing all his life.”

C.S. Lewis in The Case for Christianity

It may seem terribly obvious to many, but it only recently struck me that debates over worldview are really about the authorities to which each party bows. For example, when Richard Dawkins debates a religious person, the heart of the (usually inevitable) impasse is not whether either party is rational, intelligent, or willing to bow to overwhelming evidence, but the refusal of both parties to fully accept the other’s chosen authority as a legitimate premise for debate. I say ‘fully’ because most American Christians are quite willing to acknowledge the validity of science nearly one hundred percent, but many halt awkwardly on the points of sexuality and origins.

These Christians regard the prevailing scientific theory of origins (i.e. Darwinian evolution) as a violation of their core beliefs, a contradiction of their ultimate authority that pushes them to the brink of cognitive dissonance. A study which suggests the probability of male homosexuality increases with the number of boys a woman gives birth to, or that monogamy is not the ‘natural’ structure of human mating relationships has a similarly distressing effect. Meanwhile, those who view scientific discovery as an ever-growing tree of knowledge do not understand the compulsion to chop away at origins and sexuality, or believe these topics may be pruned without affecting adjoined branches.

Of course, most people do not have the authority or capacity (the authority of capacity?) to prune scientific discovery, but instead seek to apply their shears to a cultural understanding of science continually piped into the public consciousness through television programs, magazines, journals, and web media. In short, “The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority—because the scientists say so,”[1] thus, the ordinary dissenter—with only the word of authority at their disposal –may only claim, ‘I am not convinced.’

In college I met Janet and her sister Jodi. They exposed me to more of the scientific narrative than I had previously known, and this exposure led me to question my opinions about many apparent collision points of Christianity and science. Janet and Jodi suggested books and TED Talks by prominent scientists. Read this by Dawkins. Watch this by Tyson. My spiritual mentors, including Palisade and Pastor Kira, encouraged me to investigate my questions through the Bible. I listened to all of them. Hungry for knowledge and clarity, I watched videos, viewed documentaries, listened to lectures, and read.

I’m still reading, but I now realize all the books in the world may inform me, but they will not, cannot make me more knowledgeable. True knowledge—the firsthand knowledge demanded by Paine and Jefferson in the days of the Enlightenment—is only attainable through experience. Unfortunately, a firsthand understanding of evolution is personally unattainable, and theology has and will continue to baffle great minds for many lifetimes. I choose to spend my lifetime synthesizing information handed down by greater minds.

Synthesis, however, is no easy task. Information and experts abound, and my desire to form a rational opinion demands a critical attempt to discriminate scholar from crackpot. Ultimately, my decision to embrace a particular narrative of origins, sexuality, love, hate, or human imperfection is not as dependent upon the evidence presented, as my faith in the authority presenting it.


[1] C.S. Lewis in The Case for Christianity.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Authority

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s