Are you sure? Sure, I'm sure!
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Topic: Knowing and Being Right


by Darrel Cline

Over the last several months I have urged those of you who have read my opinions to always ask yourself this question when reading someone's opinion: where did he get that? Recently Jack King obliged us all by telling us his source for his claim that there is no certainty in the real world. He said he got that from Ilya Prigogine, author of The End of Certainty. I find that rather amazing since that book has only been out since August 1, 1997. If that really is Jack's source, he is rather dogmatic about a view to which he has only recently come. This is a natural human foible, but we all know that new views need some time for their demonstration of durability. There is another possibility: Jack just recently stumbled across the book and discovered to his delight that it affirmed a view that he has held for a long time. Jack will have to clarify which really happened -- he's a rather new convert to philosophical illogic, or he has always been in that camp and just found a "heavy" to drop on us.

That brings us, however, to a central issue of opinions: what kind of credentials gives a person credibility? Does the fact that a man (in this case, Ilya Prigogine) has honorary degrees from more than 40 universities, is a Nobel laureate, and has five science institutes named after him make him a qualified spokesman for what we are going to believe? It's pretty obvious that such a man must have a highly developed skill in his area of expertise to acquire such renown. But, be aware that renown is a fickle thing: All renown really means is that a person has managed to impress a large number of folks in his generation.

Let's take Jesus Christ as an example. He is the direct cause of the founding of hundreds of degree-granting colleges and universities world wide where His teachings continue to wear well after the test of two millennia. He has been honored by loyalty even to martyrdom by thousands and thousands of ardent admirers at all levels of intellectual prowess. He has an uncounted number of institutions named after Him and his words are etched in stone on multitudes of public and private buildings worldwide. Ilya Prigogine's credentials kinda pale into the mist in comparison. Yet, Prigogine, whose words are used to attempt to get us to forsake logic for irrationality, is put forth as a competitor at the credential level! This is rather amazing.

What does this really mean? It means that Jack is not really into believing because of credentials. If he was, he would be on Jesus' side all the way because few, if any, other persons in history have ever amassed the level of credentials that He has. That suggests something: that Jack thought his use of Prigogine's credentials would impress us. But, let's be consistent here: if credentials, on the basis of human accolades and consequent accomplishments, are a valid basis for faith in an opinion, no one on the planet has any valid basis for rejecting the doctrines of Jesus Christ.

But more reject Him than don't, and that means that credentials are either not a really valid foundation for faith, or illogic reigns. So, reader of mine, ask yourself: What is the bottom line when it comes to opinions that ought to be believed? Is it human brain power and the achievement of wide human recognition for a small blip of time? Or is it something a bit more stable?

Faith in human brain power is a joke. Every man who has come along in history has been subject to a limited life span. Every man who has lived his limited life span has done so with a brain about the size of an extra large grapefruit. What we are talking about here is finitude. Not enough years to gather the necessary data; not enough retention space for the data that is available. Any rational person knows he cannot learn it all. So most of us deliberately choose to ignore the vast amount of data that is outside of our area of interest. One might think that the recognition that this choice was made in the face of the huge deposit of data would bring some humility, but it doesn't. On the face of it, here is the proof of the foolishness of intellectual pride: How can a man who has not checked out all the data tell anyone that it is impossible to be certain anymore? Besides being a logically self-destructive thesis (one cannot posit the end of certainty with any certainty unless he doesn't really mean one cannot be certain), this is also nothing more than a foray by a specialist into a field that is not his. This is, unhappily, the automatic consequence of intellectual arrogance: thinking that "my" specialty automatically makes me qualified to speak across the board and make final pronouncements about all of reality. My point: man's brain power is an unstable basis for faith.

However, someone will say: "Whoa! We have cumulative knowledge. We take what men have learned over the ages and put it all together. That way we overcome the limitations of time and brain-space." This also is a delusion. No man passes on what he has "learned" without prejudice and everyone who simply takes his conclusions is also subject to his prejudices. So, to be intellectually honest, not to mention being a true empiricist, one must go back over all the data to see which is true data and which is blind prejudice. There goes the time and the brain space! Thus, the death of exclusivistic empiricism.

The claim "I am an empiricist who knows there is no certainty" is a smoke screen. There is far more acceptance of testimony in all men than there is diligence in empirical pursuits. Technically, a true empiricist is one who tests every claim by subjecting it to empirical validation, but this no man can do with time and brain-space limitations. So, the so-called empiricist is actually a doctrinaire philosopher who selectively chooses which empirical data suits his doctrinaire philosophy and ignores all the data that contradicts it. Thus, the claim to being "scientific" is nothing more than an illusion in order to keep us blind to the doctrinaire philosophy that is being pumped into the data system by every sleight of hand possible.

God says that since we all accept the testimony of men as a valid source of true information, we are now liable to examine the testimony of God with at least the same level of diligence that we apply to the claims of men (1 John 5:9). Jesus founded His claims about the realms where man has no investigative abilities upon the testability of His claims about the realms where men do have the investigative ability to see if He told the truth (John 3:12). Therefore, He will not hold us guiltless if we go around proclaiming our openness to truth if we automatically and, as a matter of course, shut out His claims before we have investigated them.

Reader of mine, do your homework before you buy. If you don't, you will likely end up with a piece of metal and plastic trash instead of the thing you really wanted.

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This is article #322.
If you wish, you may contact Darrel as darrelcline at this site.