Now more than ever we must ask hard questions:
We live in a fallen world. As such, there is nothing that is perfect, infallible and 100 per cent trustworthy. Politicians, doctors, scientists, professors, clergy and other elites are all capable of error. And worse yet, they are all capable of being corrupted, of being bribed, of pushing agendas, and of having very real biases and prejudices.
Thus they all need to be treated with caution. Blind obedience and unquestioning submission to any human or any human institution is just not an option – especially not for biblical Christians. We must question things, test things, carefully assess things, be discerning, and be wise.
Perhaps nowhere is this more clearly seen than with the Rona. With so many claims and counterclaims being made about the Wuhan virus, its origins, its seriousness, its treatment, and massive claims being made about the new vaccines (often over against other known treatments), we certainly do need to be asking hard questions here, and not just going along with what various “experts,” politicians, the media are telling us.
Science and truth
As but one example of this, consider the issue of science. If in the past the priest or pastor was seen as a reliable and trustworthy guide to truth and what is right and wrong, today in the West it is often the guy in the white lab coat who is seen as infallible and as the one who is always to be trusted.
But scientists like everyone else still put their pants on one leg at a time. They are human, in other words, and can make mistakes and get things wrong just like anyone else can. And they can just as easily push agendas and politicise things as anyone else – especially if grant money and the like is up for grabs.
They can easily run with what their paymasters want them to run with. How often do we see this with things like the global warming crowd and other trendy causes? Scientists can easily say what folks want them to say. We must never forget how easily they can be bought and corrupted. See this earlier piece of mine for more on this: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2004/08/22/a-review-of-science-money-and-politics-political-triumph-and-ethical-erosion-by-daniel-greenberg/
And one can also discuss the issue of scientific “consensus”. That is a popular and much-misused term. Simply because most scientists may agree on something does not mean they have the whole truth, or are even pretending to. An important piece on this from several years ago by Jay Richards is worth quoting from. He writes:
“Consensus,” according to Merriam-Webster, means both “general agreement” and “group solidarity in sentiment and belief.” That sums up the problem. Is this consensus based on solid evidence and sound logic, or social pressure and groupthink?
Anyone who has studied the history of science knows that scientists are prone to herd instincts. Many false ideas once enjoyed consensus. Indeed, the “power of the paradigm” often blinds scientists to alternatives to their view. Question the paradigm, and some respond with anger.
We shouldn’t, of course, forget the other side of the coin. There are cranks and conspiracy theorists. No matter how well founded a scientific consensus, there’s someone who thinks it’s all hokum. Sometimes these folks turn out to be right. But often, they’re just cranks whose counsel is best ignored.
So how do we distinguish, as Andrew Coyne puts it, “between genuine authority and mere received wisdom? And how do we tell crankish imperviousness to evidence from legitimate skepticism?” Do we have to trust whatever we’re told is based on a scientific consensus unless we can study the science ourselves? When can you doubt a consensus? When should you doubt it?
Your best bet is to look at the process that produced, defends and transmits the supposed consensus.
He then lists a dozen “signs of suspicion”. See his full list here: https://stream.org/doubt-scientific-consensus/
How do we know what to believe?
We live in an age of information overload, and with things like the internet, we have zillions of people saying zillions of things all the time. Some of it is true, some of it is suspect, and some of it is just plain false. But how can we determine this?
None of us are experts in everything. We don’t have time to do fact-checks on everything. But we do not want to turn into complete sceptics either, believing in nothing and committing to nothing. So how might we proceed here? How can we have access to somewhat reliable information, and be able to discern what is not? First, we must realise how easy it is to push agendas.
As an example, in one class of young Christians that I was teaching some years ago, a person started going on about how abortion could be an important tool, especially in overseas countries. When I pressed her a bit, it became clear that her information was coming from sources such as the UN. I tried to let her know that such groups are not always trustworthy and impartial when it comes to things like abortion.
Take one more example. A while back I picked up a volume on the Reformation by English historian Diarmaid MacCulloch. He is a recognised authority on this subject. I have read countless books on the Reformation, but when I was reading through his volume, I was surprised at how often the topic of homosexuality came up.
I have never seen that topic appear in any of my many dozens of Reformation histories and theologies. So I did a quick bit of online sniffing around and sure enough, he is a loud and proud homosexual. That does not mean he does not have much of value in his discussions of the Reformation, but it does mean how easily one can put a spin on things based on one’s lifestyle.
The proper place of doubt and questioning
So we must all ask questions and test things. Of course to talk of not having blind faith and trust in men and institutions does not mean we are to be totally sceptical, suspicious and doubtful of everything. First of all, no one can live that way. Complete scepticism would make life impossible. Doubting every moment that the chair you are sitting on can support you is hardly sustainable.
And we all need to depend on experts to some degree. We recently had a dishwasher repairman in our home. That is because we know nothing about them, and when they stop working, we need help. So we trusted this guy and assumed that he knew what he was doing – for a price of course. And he did indeed end up fixing things.
But also, God expects us to do the best we can knowing that all institutions are impacted by sin, including the church. The point is not to make an idol of any earthly thing, while doing the best we can to affirm others, assist the church to be all it can be, and to do the work of the Kingdom.
And that involves using the mind God gave us, doing some critical thinking, and asking some hard questions. Here are some of the many biblical passages that speak to the importance of gaining knowledge, being discerning, and testing things:
Psalm 119:66 Teach me good discernment and knowledge. For I believe in Your commandments.
Proverbs 14:15 A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.
Proverbs 14:33 Wisdom reposes in the heart of the discerning.
Proverbs 15:14 The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.
Ephesians 5:10-11 and find out [discern] what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
Ephesians 5:15-17 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
2 Thessalonians 2:3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way.
1 John 4:1-2 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
While most of these passages are dealing with spiritual and theological matters, we can apply them to the rest of life. We really do need to be wise and discerning, and to test all things. Since none of us is infallible, we must rely on others, including various experts and authorities. But that does not mean we should suspend our critical faculties. We must always ask questions and have some sensible suspicions.
The bottom line is this: knowledge is exploding exponentially in our information age; none of us can know everything; plenty of folks claim to be experts on various things; sometimes we must run with those more knowledgeable than we are; but we must always have a healthy dose of scepticism and we must never stop asking questions. Blind obedience simply does not cut it.
And when dealing with biblical knowledge and spiritual matters especially, we all need to stay humble and on our knees. None of us have all the right beliefs and understandings. Sure, with basic Gospel truths we do need to stand strong and not compromise, but in so many other areas there can be some room to move. Humility coupled with careful study and prayerful discernment can help us greatly here.