Knowing 2 (RJS)

In the last post in this series I suggested that one of the important issues in the current discussion of science and faith in our culture deals with knowing; how do we “know” and understand? None of us can know everything in every subject. How many of us really understand particle physics, quantum mechanics, genetics, geophysics, ANE culture and language, or how many of us read Greek and have real expertise in 1st century Roman and Jewish culture? We all trust authorities for much of our knowledge.  In this post I want to consider the importance of authority and expertise in the discussion of science and faith.

The key question today is this – What authorities do you trust and how do you decide? What is the ranking order of your authorities from top to bottom? Does that ranking order shift from subject to subject? How do you find authorities you can trust? How authoritative is your pastor for what you believe?

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Most Christians who reject the arguments for evolution, common descent, or the age of the earth have no real understanding of the issues involved or the depth of the evidence.  But this isn’t just a Christian problem of course. Studies also show that many (likely most) Americans who claim to believe in natural selection have no real understanding of evolution and are unable to describe how natural selection works.  Why do they believe what they believe?

In the absence of expertise, we evaluate the source of a claim or assertion.  If the source is deemed trustworthy the claim is believed.

This is a far-reaching practice and extends beyond scientific or technical knowledge.  I suspect that the average Christian evaluates many claims and assertions relating to theology and doctrine in the same manner – by evaluating the credibility of the source and trusting those deemed authoritative.

Of course, on one level this reliance on authorities and experts is necessary. None of us can possibly know everything about everything. None of us can master the body of human wisdom – the acquired knowledge of the human race.

But this practice leads to some real dissonance. The vast majority of Christians who truly understand the evidence for the age of the earth take an ancient earth as a given.

The vast majority of Christians who truly understand the paleontological or genetic evidence take the general schema of evolution as a given. This is not to say that we understand everything – there are legitimate questions that can be raised. But the general scheme holds.

Christian Scholars who really dig into Biblical Studies have a very hard time assenting to the positions of the conservative systematic theologians on many issues related to scripture.

Yet the irony of this whole situation is that even within the church we respect our own expertise – but feel free to doubt, question, or disregard the expert conclusions of our fellow Christians. We question the authority of experts and accept the authority of other sources, often without looking at the evidence. The geologists will insist on old earth but feel free to doubt evolution; the biologists will insist on evolution but feel free to doubt the archaeologists; the biblical scholars will insist that we look honestly at the development of the OT from the sources and the incorporation of ANE myth to tell a theological truth, but feel free to doubt the genetic evidence for common descent.

Which brings us back to the key question we must ponder and discuss:  As Christians how should we evaluate claims and assertions requiring technical knowledge? Which experts should we trust and why? And how do we decide between conflicting claims of expertise?

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  • “And how do we decide between conflicting claims of expertise?”
    When the subject is evolution, it’s not really necessary to trust anyone. Anyone can study the evidence on their own. If they don’t want to study the evidence for evolutionary biology, then they can trust either the biologists or their scientifically illiterate preachers.

  • It is hard for me in some areas to study firsthand the evidence, I mean from the primary sources. I appreciate and love to hear science expounded. But I don’t have a good mind for science myself, certainly not trained in it.
    This means I have to weigh all I hear, synthesize it all, and make evaluations from that. If I find a source suspect in one or two areas which are rather glaring to me, I’ll probably look on all their thoughts with some inherent suspicion. But if I find a source credible, even if I may not track with them on everything, I’ll be much more inclined to consider their viewpoints on controverted matters, such as evolution.
    This synthesis takes in everything. For example what I’ve read from Mark Noll and other things in the past, etc., etc.
    Then there’s the question of openness. How open are we, within our commitment to the Triune God, to embrace something different from what we’ve believed in the past? A lot of people are not. It is settled, but it’s settled because within their consideration of everything along with authorities they trust, there is no room to consider an alternative- such as theistic evolution in this case.

  • Kyle

    I’m going to post two comments, because this first one deals with a request for clarification as to one point, but the latter will discuss my response to what you are saying at large.
    You say, “Christian Scholars who really dig into Biblical Studies have a very hard time assenting to the positions of the conservative systematic theologians on many issues related to scripture.” I don’t think I agree with this statement for two main reasons, but it may just be a need for more clarification of what you are saying:
    1. I’m not sure what you mean by “conservative,” but maybe this is because my bearings have shifted over the years. Orthodox and RCC believers use terms like infallible in their definition. I would consider them conservative, but have no problem affirming most of their doctrines of Scripture. By conservative do you instead mean within Protestantism and thus refer to “evangelicals” in particular? As a global evangelical, I have no problem affirming that the Bible is inspired, authoritative and particularly useful for the church. Or do you mean conservative within the evangelical subset, and thus those who hold to strict definitions of inerrancy? If the latter, since I’m not a strict inerrantist, I agree with your statement above, but think “conservative” is such a subjective word.
    2. If I assume by “conservative” that you mean those within evangelicalism holding to strict inerrancy, then I don’t think its fair to imply that those who “really dig” into the Biblical studies against them as though they are not as studied in the particular research, or are believing it despite evidence. Even though I align more with the moderate evangelical crowd with Kent Sparks, Pete Enns, etc. I know for a fact that there are plenty of more conservative scholars who take the ANE influence very seriously, know all of the pertinent material and still hold to a strong inerrantist position. One fine example would be John Walton at Wheaton who is a clear expert on the text of Genesis, knows all of the ANE symbolism (and has written some great articles and a book on it), yet holds to a strong inerrantist position. I can think of many others off the top of my head and would suspect you can as well. I don’t think that assenting to a strong view of inerrancy is necessarily a result of ignoring pertinent ANE or other outside literature, nor that they aren’t “really dig”ging into Biblical studies.

  • I think the matters at stake have to do with paradigms. When I read N.T. Wright’s, “The Challenge of Jesus,” some nine years ago, that revolutionized my theology with a paradigmatic shift. But it moved me in the direction of Anabaptism in which I was more than less raised and when I found Scot McKnight at this blog (whose two commentaries in the NIVAC series I had previously read, and greatly appreciated) was inclined in that way, that helped me remain on this track, which was needed, since I was not around anyone here who would help me stay on such a track.
    There is plenty of subjectivity in all of this. And much more to say about what I just said above- needed nuance. But nothing less than paradigms are at stake, and relationships figure into all of this.

  • Kyle

    As to authority, I like the questions you are asking here. To be honest, my field of study was/is biblical theology (as opposed to systematics) and historical interpretation. That’s what excites me, and I simply view the authorities in the field as those who present a strong case that makes sense of the text in an appropriate context. I will be honest in saying that a professors pedigree will often effect how I view their work beforehand, but ultimately the quality of research decides my opinion.
    As one who is interested in the intersections of science and theology, but not an expert in science by any means, I usually read those authors who are suggested by friends who are professionals in the field of science, or by the esteemable professional RJS!
    I view my pastor as an authority in his fields of study, which are world religions and missions. I’ve also asked him lots of questions about presentation, speaking, etc.
    When fields of study seem to contradict, I take time to think through the issue to see if there is really a conflict or simply a conflict between my presuppositions which may be incorrect. For instance, my underlying assumption in the science/theology discussion is that there is a Creator God, who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, and that scientists do a great job assessing the evidence. Therefore, when fields conflict I ask, “What is the conflict?” “Does it affect any core beliefs?” “Does it indirectly affect any other beliefs?” “Does this conflict have a history, and if so how have other interpreters dealt with it?” “Could I be interpreting the text incorrectly and thus causing the conflict myself?” As someone who believes that God speaks through both the book of Scripture and the book of nature, I usually find that there is an intelligently coherent melding of the two.

  • RJS

    Kyle (#3),
    In broad brush strokes – my general impression is that as a group most evangelical OT scholars have a more nuanced view of the OT than ones whose specialty is systematic theology, or perhaps even NT. Likewise, most evangelical NT scholars have a more nuanced view of the gospels than a philosopher or theologian. But there is certainly a range within each discipline.
    I am not claiming unity of position within a discipline – say OT studies as an example. Just a general tendency.
    I’ve not read John Walton, but perhaps should.

  • Travis Greene

    I think one way to evaluate an authority is to see what (if anything) they have to say about a subject you do know about. That way you can understand their thought process a little. And since people who write books or articles or speak tend to want to keep talking, odds are you can find some topic about which you can say, “She’s done her research” or “Not even close”.

  • When we get down to the just plain folks in the church (the conservative side anyway) the way to ascertain who to trust is often really a question of what camp does a writer/researcher, etc. come from? The decision to give greater trust to “those who think like us” is often a given, whether some one has done their homework or not. Come to think of it, this may apply to the left as well. 😉 They/we are not taught the skills needed to begin to challenge the grid through which we read, before making decisions about the source or the material.

  • Zathras

    Great post. Discerning between conflicting experts when one is no expert is a profound intellectual conundrum.
    That being said, if one has to decide an issue based upon a battle between the experts, then on a certain level that issue cannot be important. People have very different intellectual skills, and why should a person’s intellectual skills make a difference in regards to their state of grace.
    Along these lines, here is a quote from Donald Bloesh that I saw recently:
    “The Christian does not pretend to know all the answers to life’s questions, but he does claim to know some of the answers to the final questions, those that determine the direction of one’s eternal destiny. Yet he makes this claim not on the basis of his own ingenuity or intelligence but on the basis of God’s revelation in the Scriptures. Moreoever, he does not boast that he ‘possesses’ these answers, for they reside in the mind of Christ which is made available to him time and again by the Spirit.”
    Donald Bloesch, The Ground of Certainty, p. 76.

  • joanne

    I respect authorities who use their knowledge to bring greater justice in this world. Expertise in a particular realm is worthy and good but if that expertise brings about the discrimination and devaluation of people groups and vulnerable populations and women, i will not give it much creedence personally.
    I believe the bible means something and living biblical is not just living according to the letter but according the the Spirit of Jesus Christ and the heart of God expressed there. if a particular religious knower is overly concerned with the letter of the law, I will also tend to ignore their writings.

  • Christian Scholars who really dig into Biblical Studies have a very hard time assenting to the positions of the conservative systematic theologians on many issues related to scripture.
    Perhaps you meant to say “Christian Scholars who really dig into Biblical Studies have a very hard time assenting to the positions of [other Christian Scholars who really dig into Biblical Studies, (ie, the conservative systematic theologians)] on many issues related to scripture?” Or did you really mean to pit “scholars” vs conservatives?
    On to the question of the day:
    I have issues with authority. Not just that kind, but also the other kind because I’ve seen that well-educated, oft-published, widely-respected scientists can have very different opinions on the same subject. I’m still trying to work out how to judge whether an “authority” is worth listening to, but here are some of my thoughts.
    1) An authority in one field is not necessarily an authority in other fields. Dawkins on biology has some weight; Dawkins on philosophy has no more authority than I do. (Dawkins talks about philosophy a lot.)
    2) Non-technical reasons for holding an idea discredit your idea. Scientists who offer alternatives to the Big Bang because they cannot abide the idea of a beginning in time have no credibility on the subject. Similarly, some people obviously base their belief in evolution more on philosophical naturalism than on science; they have no authority in my book.
    3) I’m skeptical of anyone who appeals to the popularity of an idea. The popularity of an idea is not proof. Once upon a time everyone knew the universe was eternal. Once everyone knew the ether was ubiquitous.
    4) I discount the authority of anyone taking a stand on a topic that is politically expedient — whether national or academic politics. If holding a view is the fastest way to sink your career, then the mere fact you hold the opposite view doesn’t lend much to your credibility. (e.g., global warming, evolution)
    5) A degree doesn’t say much about you, nor does your publication history. In my field, at least, there is little correlation between academic credentials and actual knowledge.
    So what do I look for? I don’t rule out academic credentials; they just only count for so much. I also look for thoughtfulness, reasonableness, and clear thinking on more than just the topic at hand (if they’re a goofball on lots of things, how can I trust them to be useful in their specialty?). Beyond that I just have to go with my gut and hope for the best.

  • Rick

    This is a great question. It really is about expectations, discernment,respect, and the balance of issues that come into play.
    It really seems to start with our own basic presuppositions. For someone to be considered an “authority” or “expert” on a subject, a certain criteria was met in which that title was able to be bestowed on the person.
    That criteria is generally around the issue of respect. We respect the person’s ability to speak on the subject, even when we don’t agree with them all the time, which gives them some (although maybe limited) authority.
    But the respect is gained usually from outside elements: the person has gained sufficient respected experience; and/or others in the field that we “respect” speak well of the person; and/or an institution we “respect” has educated or hired the person. Again, we are back to why we respect certain things and grant some form of authority to them.
    In this topic, it centers more around intellegence and fairness. We respect those who have shown an intellect for the specific field, and have shown a fairness in evaluation. However, we put our own expectations on what constitutes sufficient “intellegence” (how smart? what about wisdom? etc…), and what is considered “fair” (too closed minded about certain things?).

  • dopderbeck

    RJS, this is an enormous question, not only in theology, but also in any other discipline you can name and in epistemology generally!! In legal scholarship, there are intense and never-ending debates about truth and authority in courtroom settings, particularly when expert testimony is presented to a jury.
    Here’s just one problem: who is an “authoritative” expert witness? A “biologist” with a Ph.D., for example, is likely to have truly exhaustive first-hand knowledge of only one or two very narrow questions he or she is researching at the moment — at best. So, even a natural scientist working within the community of science takes the vast majority of her beliefs based on the authority of others. But how are those sources of authority chosen? Sociologists offer widely divergent answers at this point, ranging from radically deconstructionist (even the natural sciences are just about power) to positivist (the natural sciences are most solid because authority derives from accuracy in empirical observation).
    With respect to theology, I find the Wesleyan Quadrilateral helpful here: we look to scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Scripture, even in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, is the “norming norm” — anything outside the heart of scripture is suspect. But tradition, reason, and experience are key parts of the feedback loop of how we understand scripture.
    I might modify the Wesleyan Quadrilateral a bit maybe and say “revelation” or “Word and Spirit” rather than just “scripture.” This seems attractive to me because epistemology is about knowing reality, the Triune God is the basis of reality, Christ is the incarnate Word who perfectly exemplifies God’s disclosure about reality to us, the written Word of scripture encodes that disclosure in human language, and the Holy Spirit enlightens us to receive the Word. (Ok, I’ve been reading Donald Bloesch again lately, for those who recognize “Word and Spirit.”)
    Anyway, back to the original point — as all believers in Christ have a Priestly function, I don’t think we want to say that we defer to the “authority” of experts in any discipline — science, theology or otherwise. I think what we want to say is that we should have the epistemic humility to recognize the expertise of others who have trained themselves in various intellectual disciplines. So, we will not attack any trained natural scientist, or theologian, or plumber, or whatever, as evil or ignorant for offering the fruits of her labor in that discipline. But, we will each exercise our Priestly function to integrate, as best we can, Word and Spirit, tradition, reason, and experience, to assess at least in a provisional way those truth claims for which we have no direct personal expertise. Very often this might involve humbly suspending a firm opinion because the ability to see how everything fits together is lacking.

  • Scot McKnight

    When I was in college I heard a professor of philosophy at Michigan State, named George Mavrodes, say that most people — including intellectuals like him — made most of their decisions on the basis of authorities and confidence in someone rather than on the basis of evidence and logic. I will never forget the lecture.

  • Zathras

    Scot, Nietzsche had something to say about that: philosophy allows us to rationalize what we’ve already accepted. To generalize, being more intelligent doesn’t make you more rational; it just makes you more adept at hiding your irrationality.
    The cardinal sin of Enlightenment thought is to miss this extremely important point.

  • Rick

    Yikes! please forgive my typo/spelling of intelligence in #12.

  • foxnala

    Thanks dopderbeck (#13). You wrote: “With respect to theology, I find the Wesleyan Quadrilateral helpful here: we look to scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Scripture, even in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, is the “norming norm” — anything outside the heart of scripture is suspect. But tradition, reason, and experience are key parts of the feedback loop of how we understand scripture.”
    OK, but if we’re truly going to have an honest conversation about how we know things, how we determine which authorities to trust, etc…..then a good question to ask is how/why we fall back on scripture as final authority (or even, as you believe, scripture should be the “norming norm” or authority above all other authorities). For instance, many conservative Christians fall back on THEIR understanding of Genesis 1 & 2 as the authority for why they discredit the authority of natural scientists who have concluded that evolution is a correct understanding of biological development.
    Merely to play devils’ advocate though, I would then ask why is scripture (i.e., the Christian canon) authoritative in this sense? As Christians we often give circular arguments here. But if I were an “outsider” looking in at Christianity, such a circular argument would be meaningless (e.g., Christians don’t buy the same circular reasoning from, say a Muslim, when they appeal to the authority of their scriptures, the Koran).
    So again, just playing devil’s advocate here, but from an “outsiders” perspective, why should the Christian canon be the “norming norm” above and beyond all others means of knowing? I ask this question because I think a lot of discussions within the church (e.g., evolution) get no where because at least one or both of the debating groups will ultimately appeal to THEIR particular understanding of the scriptures as the final authority, which then results in debate stopper.

  • RJS

    ChrisB (#11),
    I am not pitting scholars against conservatives.
    I am pitting evangelical Biblical Scholars against evangelical Theologians. No I do not think most theologians are Biblical Scholars, any more than I think myself a mathematician, and this despite the fact that I use relatively high level mathematics extensively in my work.

  • foxnala (#17) — I don’t think the argument is entirely circular, but it does involve some presuppositions that aren’t subject at the end of the day to “proof.” I presuppose a God who created us, who is loving, and who desires to reveal himself to us. I think those presuppositions are are reasonable, but they obviously aren’t (IMHO) subject to logical proof. But at the end of the day — showing how eclectic and I guess messed up my theology can be — I’m basically Reformed in my view of knowledge and certainty concerning these presuppositional matters: it ultimately comes from the Holy Spirit, not from human reason (and this ties in nicely to RJS’ previous post on “intuition”).
    As to disagreements, I don’t think this leaves us without any basis for adjudication. After all, tradition, experience, and reason also are important points on the quadrilateral. If a particular interpretation of Gen. 1 and 2 is flatly contrary to reason and experience, I don’t think it’s entitled to much epistemic weight. But even so, you’re right — there simply is no way to fully and finally adjudicate many of the questions life brings our way. This calls for patience with each other, trust that God is somehow working within this diversity, and a significant dose of humility.

  • To me, a very important point in this discussion revolves around the distinction between “head knowledge” and “wisdom”. I take someone’s point much more seriously if I feel that said thinking has actually produced fruit that is admirable – in that person’s life.
    As a quick example: Dallas Willard.
    I like what he has to say. But just as, in fact – MORE – importantly, he lives a life that provides real gravity to those abstractions.
    I think one of the gravest errors in “western” theology is the separation of wisdom and knowledge.

  • Rick

    “…have no real understanding of the issues involved or the depth of the evidence.”
    This is a red herring which implies that those who don’t agree with evolution, common descent, or the age of the earth ignore the evidence. It has nothing to do with evidence (which all agree on), but the interpretation of those facts.

  • EHG

    For me, there are some things I “know” without reference to authority – i.e., that my wife and kids love me, and I love them. I feel the same way about certain aspects of God – i.e., I believe some things about him to be true, at the core of my being, much the way I know about my relationships with my family.
    Most aspects of my faith and science, however, do not fall into this category, and as a non-expert I need to evaluate them based on reference to some sort of authority or another – i.e., interpretations of the Bible throughout history, scientists who have conducted expiriments, etc. I suppose the question is how to resolve conflicts between things we recognize as authoritative.
    I think that the basic starting (and ending) point is humility. We should recognize that our own interpretation of the Bible may not be correct. In addition, science has not answered all questions (and can never answer certain questions about God).
    Maybe this point about humility sounds too basic, but I have never witnessed it put in practice in a faith community. Recently, for example, I gave a devotional at my church regarding how science has led me to greater worship of God and awe. I was reprimended for getting too close to advocating evolution. This sort of lack of humility shuts down the conversation, leads to self censorship, and prevent authentic community. When I was younger, it led to depression and anger, and was one of the reasons I left my faith for years.
    Once viewed with a humble attitude, I don’t find analyzing contradictions that difficult. Could my interpretation of the Bible be based on my own biases and methods, and could they be wrong? Is there another interpretation that could make sense? Has the scientific principle in question been demonstrated experimentally using different methods? Do most scientists agree, or is the jury still out? And once I draw my own conclusions, I still need to leave room for differences of opinion.
    Of course, all this raises questions regarding which authorities we recognize, and what sort of authority they have. I would use the same approach for those questions. (Of course, most people posting on this board likely view the Bible as authoritative in some respects – although they may disagree on the sort of authority it has – and most probably view science as revealing some truth too).

  • Mike

    RJS and others,
    This is “the” question, and I’m surprised more people haven’t chimed in on this one.
    I would commend reading Lesslie Newbigin, “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society”, as warm-up interpretation of Michael Polanyi, “Personal Knowledge.” Polanyi, and followed by many others in his wake, grasped that knowing is a communal act, one in which we give assent to others and trust the reliability and authority of skilled members in a particular community. For Polanyi, all knowledge is socially-conditioned: of what I’ve read so far in the comments, everyone agrees with that statement. Newbigin spotted in Polanyi a way out of the Enlightenment versions of knowing that asserted “certainty.” Instead, knowing is an act in which we trust others, learn from them, and become practioners of the knowledge we gain: yet, if the knowledge could be true, it must become public, and therefore, published. It must be tested in the arenas of the public. There cannot be a form of knowledge (or truth) that is true for me and not for you, and such knowing cannot be risk-free.
    As you might expect, for Newbigin, this means not only living by the Gospel, but risking being proved wrong by announcing the Gospel. Great stuff, so far!
    But, what of the questions of RJS: How do we evaluate claims? What experts should we trust? And the all-important question of conflicting claims?
    First question: We all come from communities with traditions: that is how we evaluate claims of technical knowledge. But, I’d move the question forward: often we have so little awareness of our communities- “tacit knowledge” according to Polanyi- that we don’t think to ask if competing claims or any claims have some validity. There’s just a lack of curiosity out there.
    2nd question: Here’s where it really gets hard, no? I’ve met and heard some experts that are utterly repellent people: sorry. But, once I get my distance, and read their stuff, I’m likely to give some better questions about their claims than I would have in person. I might still consider them an expert. I’ve noticed that when I hear someone present an understanding of another’s argument that dignified that person even though the presenter disagreed with the argument: I’ve tended to ascribe “expert” status to that person even before I’ve heard the counter-argument. (Of course, I’ve reversed my grounds on that also!)
    Last question: I’ve had to ask myself of late, “What kind of issue would I fall on my sword for?” I think the Trinity. I think the Christ. I think the Atonement. Having made my confession, I wonder if some of the suggested conflicts offered by RJS could be allowed to “exist.” In other words, if we’re seeking unanimity or conformity, then some kind of context or circumstance will be encountered that will either fragment or bend the resolution: consider the issues proposed here regarding the Creation. If we aim, however, toward living in the tension, learning to love while in disagreement, I wonder what might be gained. Sorry to run on!

  • RJS

    No Rick,
    It is not just interpretation of the facts. It is fundamental understanding of the evidence before even beginning to consider interpretation. This is evident from the kinds of statements that are made.

  • RJS

    Let me expand a bit. I don’t think that higher education in the sciences would be so devastating to faith if the evidence was agreed upon and the issue was interpretation of the facts.
    Most students however, come into the study of science with the view that the evidence for the current consensus opinion is weak and easily refuted or reinterpreted. And it is the depth of the evidence to for evolution, common descent, and the age of the universe which is devastating to faith. The devastation is not so much because faith and science are irreconcilable, but because trusted authorities are severely compromised. The ground shakes and slips away …

  • ChrisB@11,
    Your point 1 is a good one. Freud may know what he’s talking about when he talks about the mind, but that doesn’t mean he’s any more qualified than I am to talk about the history of religion, for instance.
    Your other points are also good, but I’d point out that just because someone holds an opinion for ideological reasons, doesn’t mean they’re wrong. The fact that an idea is popular also doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just means we should keep those factors in mind when we weigh the idea.

  • RJS

    in #25 I mean most students from conservative Christian backgrounds – not most students over all …

  • ChrisB

    I don’t discount people completely, but it weighs against their trustworthiness.

  • BeckyR

    My decisions are with an open hand – that is, open to understand more or something different in the future. At the same time I have to act on what I believe at this moment.
    In terms of how I believe what others say – it has to make sense to me. There are other subjects I know very very little about and just put any opinions on hold about it. Perhaps at some future time it will mean enough to me to delve into it further and become educated on peranmeters of the subject. Like old earth or evolution or young earth etc, it hasn’t interested me enough to learn enough to have opinions about it. I’m usually open to consider something new, to examine it.

  • The trick with authority is that you have to have a certain grasp of a topic before you can even begin to really assess who is trustworthy – or not. Once you get there (to a general grasp of a topic) you can then make an assessment based on the strength of an argument.
    However, if you’ve been taught that questioning itself is a bad thing – in some sort of fundamentalist content – then its almost impossible to ever gain enough of a foothold to then draw conclusions based on the various authorities and their viewpoints.
    Also, because we live in a postmodern world, where we recognize that there is no objective starting point for any of us, its essential to know where someone is standing – even before they try and make a case for what the data tells us. Because, of course, that presuppositionary point of view is itself part of the data.

  • Dana Ames

    I think there is a difference between knowing information and knowing persons (including God), but they are connected. Scot’s comment 14, Darren King’s 20 and Mike’s 23 have to do with the connection between knowing persons/knowing in community and knowing information. I think we have to have an awareness that knowing information is not isolated from knowing persons, even by reputation, and their trustworthiness.

  • Mike

    Darren is right about something here: some of the students I know, when asked, “What are your questions?”, whether it be about their faith or reading Scripture, can be positively mortified by such a request. They’ve been “conditioned” not to ask questions, and hearing such opportunity to inquire about their faith: it’s a scary social location! That in itself can be the starting point for discovering that their communities are included in the data of knowing…

  • Jason

    This is a red herring which implies that those who don’t agree with evolution, common descent, or the age of the earth ignore the evidence. It has nothing to do with evidence (which all agree on), but the interpretation of those facts.
    I totally disagree. In my discussions with those who deny evolution few if any have even heard of the term nested hierarchy, realize that sexually reproducing species fall into one, and most frustratingly why this would be evidence of common descent (especially since our genetics including viral insertions and mutations in pseudogenes fall into the same nested hierarchy). When presented with this evidence, the seldom understand the nested hierarchy is not just an arbitrary classification, and the few that get to that point usually then deny that life is in such a hierarchy, either out of ignorance, or by finding some quote online discussing some bacteria that doesn’t fit (totally neglected that bacteria do not reproduce sexually and won’t fit because of lateral gene transfer). The only ones who seem to acknowledge this point, such as Dr. Behe, also seem to accept common descent and I can’t see how they would not.
    I think this simple observation is totally unknown, much less agreed on. But once recognized, I am very interested in someone else’s interpretation if they wished to deny common descent.

  • Korey

    I’ll share some of my religion/science sources. In terms of the fairest appraisal of the broad spectrum of positions on evolution and creation where the authors themselves are theistic evolutionists, I recommend “Evolution from Creation to New Creation: Conflict, Conversation, and Convergence” by Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett. I highly recommend the following organizations in order of my trust: 1) The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (particularly the Theology and Science journal), 2) Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science, 3) Metanexus Institute, and 4) Search Magazine Lastly I have been quite influenced by John Haught’s “Deeper Than Darwin”, “Is Nature Enough?”, and “God and the New Atheism”. Also, Ted Peters’ “God-the World’s Future” and “Anticipating Omega”

  • Rick

    Jason: Interesting that you bringing up the concept of nested hierarchy. Nested hierarchy is a legitimate biological classification system, but it is just that, a man made classification system based an interpretation or presupposition regarding facts. Nested hierarchy is not a “fact” itself and does not support a common descent unless one agrees with the presuppositions.

  • RJS

    The genomic evidence for common descent is a collection of facts.
    One can always construct a much more complicated explanation for the facts. Common descent is by far the most consistent and coherent explanation.
    You know though – the biggest problem I have with the presupposition argument you are making is that the only people in the world who know the evidence and still disagree with the general concept of common descent are those who are operating under the presupposition that common descent is wrong, usually on the basis of interpretation of scripture.

  • Rebeccat

    One of my big tests of whether I can count someone as authoritative is to check and see if they are able to present the position of those they disagree with fairly and accurately. If they distort the view of those who disagree with them when it comes to the particulars of the matter, then I generally do not trust them. Of course, sometimes people are nasty, unkind and unfair to the people they disagree with. But it is their handling of the facts presented by the other side which I look at.
    The other thing I make a regular point of doing is actually seeking out contrary perspectives. If I read something and think it makes sense, I make a point of finding someone who argues against that idea or information to see if others have picked out problems I may have missed. Sometimes I find that information which originally seemed correct is actually riddled with errors, excluded information and the like. Other times, I find that the arguments against the point are inaccurate, illogical or lacking in substance.
    I guess at the bottom, I try to make a point of finding the best argument from each side of an issue that I can and evaluate from there. And never, ever, ever rely on one side to accurately portray their opponent’s position.

  • Jason

    I said,
    When presented with this evidence, the seldom understand the nested hierarchy is not just an arbitrary classification
    and then you said Nested hierarchy is a legitimate biological classification system, but it is just that, a man made classification system
    You see, I anticipated your very response and I got it anyway:) Well, suffice to say, I categorically deny you assertion. I do NOT believe a nested hierarchy is an arbitrary classification. If I were to find a bird with mamery glands I could not fit it into a nested hierarchy with other species and common descent would be falsified. Likewise, if I shared an ERV with a dog, in the exact same chromosomal location, but not with any animal “in between”, like a chimpanzee or gorilla, then common descent would be falsified. I have had this back and forth so many times I don’t want to waste any more of the seconds I have on this earth to type it out. For a good overview, see
    Either way, I feel this supports my initial position. We don’t agree on the evidence. We don’t even agree what a nested hierarchy is (that is, if you think it is arbitrary). Once we agree on what it is we can start worrying about interpretation.

  • “check and see if they are able to present the position of those they disagree with fairly and accurately”
    Rebeccat for the win.