Is it irrational to believe something because somebody said so?
Several years ago, I decided it was time for me to educate myself on the whole issue of evolution and creationism. The first book I read was Vital Dust by Christian de Duve. After reading that book, I came to the realization that before I could ever be qualified to have a strong opinion about evolution, I was going to have to know a lot more than I knew about biology. I gave up on it.
Since then, I have had this sneaking suspicion that there are a lot of people on both sides of the issue who have very strong opinions about it, but who really aren’t qualified to say, because they lack the necessary education to be able to assess the evidence.
I want to observe what seems to me to be an inconsistency among some non-believers. Some of them think Christians are irrational if they take things on authority. In other words, if Christians believe some things because some authority says so rather than because they examined the evidence for themselves, then some non-believers think the Christians are being irrational.
Among those non-believers, there are some who have very strong opinions about evolution, but they have no education in biology or archaeology. All they know is that the vast majority of the scientific community in the relevant field believes in evolution. It seems, then, that they take evolution on the authority of scientists. They don’t believe it because they themselves have examined the evidence and found it compelling; they believe it because many scientists say so.
That’s inconsistent. If they think it’s irrational to take things on authority, and yet they take evolution on authority, then by their own standards, they’re being irrational.
I think where they’ve gone wrong is in assuming it’s irrational to take things on authority. It’s not. If it were, then all of us would be irrational or else we wouldn’t know much at all. Most of what we know, we know because we learned it from somebody who was qualified to tell us. Think about it. Most of the education system is based on authority. That’s why colleges have math professors who are heavily educated in math, and history teachers who are heavily educated in history. When you take notes in a history class or read a history book, you’re learning things by taking them on the authority of the professor or the author. It would be next to impossible for us to research everything we were taught for ourselves, so we must take some things on authority or else remain largely in ignorance.
It is perfectly appropriate to take things on authority if the authority is qualified. It’s not irrational to get legal advice from lawyers, and it’s not irrational to get medical advice from doctors.
Now, of course, sometimes the authorities disagree with each other, and in those cases, you have to be more cautious about just believing anything they say.
Since most of us Christians don’t get direct revelations from God, we have to take many things on authority. The Bible, the prophets, Jesus, the apostles, etc., are all authorities we base our beliefs on. The question is whether these sources are qualified, but that will be saved for future blogs.