Authority: does it deserve worship?

Authority: does it deserve worship? May 16, 2020

The sacking of The Reverend Anthony Freeman by the Bishop of Chichester in 1994



In a videoed interview, Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong once said, 

“The church doesn’t like the people to grow up, because you can’t control grown-ups. That’s why we talk about being ‘born-again’. When you’re born again, you’re still a child…”

Spong wasn’t wrong.

It’s very noticeable to persons like myself, who have a science background, how important authority is to the religious. Scientists, on the contrary, have a healthy disregard for status and a huge respect for evidence. I’ll just give you a couple of examples.

  • In 1989, chemists Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann made headlines with claims that they had produced fusion at room temperature — “coldfusion compared to the almost 15,000,000° Centigrade that fusion is thought to require when it happens in a star. Thinking their discovery was a game changer, instead of going down the proper route of submitting for publication to a respected science journal which would have involved peer review, they went straight to the news media. Many laboratories around the world subsequently attempted to replicate their experiment. None could. Their reputation collapsed and, with it, their authority. 
  • In his 1974 Christmas lectures for the Royal Institution, Professor Eric Laithwaite suggested that Newton’s laws of motion could not account for the behaviour of gyroscopes and suggested that they could be used as a means of reactionless propulsion. The members of the RI rejected his ideas and his lectures were not published at the time, a first for the Institution. Soon after, he retired and was not offered a research post for several years. 

How high you have risen up the greasy pole of science academia counts for very little. Richard Feynman put this well when he said,

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.” 

Meanwhile, in the theists’ world, worship of authority is de rigueur. Religions have a hierarchical structure, like military organisations, with disrespect of rank being a punishable offence. Bishops can ruin the lives of subordinates for disagreeing with them, as Sebastian’s cartoon shows.

This is most noticeable in debates, such as I have with believers. I produce evidence and they produce quotes from scriptures and the opinions of their ‘authorities’, often including, if they are Christians, fairy tale author CS Lewis.

Of course, their Commander in Chief is invisible and, for all we know, absent so, as in the case of a fallen general, his self-proclaimed Earthly representatives can promote themselves to fill the vacancy! Spong went on to say, “People don’t need to be ‘born again’, they need to grow-up, they need to accept responsibility for themselves and the world.”

Once again, Spong wasn’t wrong…


You can see this clip of the interview here

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