Some consider that in today's word a layperson should rest their opinion on problems of field X what the majority of experts of field X say. (RationalWiki link) Quoting this article:
- When the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain.
- When they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert.
- When they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.
These propositions may seem mild, yet, if accepted, they would absolutely revolutionize human life (…) The opinions for which people are willing to fight and persecute all belong to one of the three classes which this skepticism condemns.
—Bertrand Russell, "On the Value of Skepticism"
Experts provide us with a reason for believing a claim in their special areas because:
- They have access to more information on the subject than we do; and
- They are better at judging that information than we are.
Note, however, that expertise in an area is not only a matter of knowing more facts pertaining to that area. It is a matter of having a detailed overview of the area – knowing how various facts are connected and thus whether and the extent to which an observation is evidence for a claim.
If one believes a claim P because experts say it is true, one's belief is justified (by proxy) by the evidence the expert has access to. In other words, it is, strictly speaking, not that one has good reasons to believe P because experts say so, but because there is plenty of evidence for P – the experts have access to that evidence, and when one tailors one's belief to expert opinion one's belief will also be supported by that evidence (even if one may not be aware of what that evidence is).
By the same token, if one, as a non-expert, disagrees with the experts, one’s belief is automatically not justified. Of course, when one is not an expert in a field, a particular claim pertaining to that field can sound plausible. However, a non-expert will not be in a position to evaluate it in any reasonable manner, since a non-expert lacks access to and ability to assess that evidence. The experts may be wrong – but if one, as a non-expert, disagree with expert opinion, one is almost certainly wrong.
I was thinking if this thinking can be applied to questions about judging religious claims. But if it could, then who are the relevant experts?
The first idea that comes to mind - theologians - should likely be rejected. Being a theologian seems to make one an authority regarding what a given religion claims but not if these claims are true. Also, if theologians were the authority, then should we accept that Jesus is God because Christian theologians say so AND at the same time that Mohammad was the last prophet because Muslim theologians say so? Doesn't seem to make much sense.
Then maybe scientists? But even the aforementioned RationalWiki says:
For example, saying "There is no God, because Stephen Hawking said so and is a knowledgeable physicist." is a fallacious appeal to authority as Hawking's qualifications in physics do not automatically make him an authority on whether God exists.
In addition, saying that scientists have the authority here could perhaps be equivalent to saying that science has the authority over all knowledge, which, AFAIK, is a philosophical claim.
Many religious problems seem to be surprisingly connected to science and/or philosophy. From this we can draw a hypothesis about possible authorities... Namely:
People who fall into at least one of the below three categories:
- People who are both philosophers of science AND philosophers of religion or theologians;
- People who are both epistemologists AND philosophers of religion or theologians;
- People who are both practicing scientists AND philosophers of religion or theologians
are authorities regarding the veracity of religious claims.
To get preliminary results I checked the What Do Philosophers Believe 2009 survey, but sadly, I could get the results either from everyone OR from philosophers of religion OR from philosophers of science OR from epistemologists but not from those who are both philosophers of religion AND epistemologists or philosophers of religion AND philosophers of science.
I also checked Wikipedia, namely people who fall into the intersection of categories Philosophers of Religion AND Philosophers of Science as well as people who fall into the intersection of categories Philosophers of Religion AND Epistemologists. I also checked category Writers about religion and science. In all cases I arbitrarily restricted entries to contemporary people, namely those who are either living or died after 1950. (I also noted that Wikipedia failed to list in these categories some people who seemingly should be there, like Michał Heller
Does such a choice of 'authorities' make sense? Can it be claimed that people with the aforementioned qualifications are well-suited to judge the truthfulness of claims of religions?