"When you read through the Constitution of The United States, there is one subtext that goes through the whole thing. That is, the men who wrote our Constitution had one guiding principle - Americans are not to be trusted. That's what they believed. Americans are not to be trusted. It wasn't that Americans are so noble and lovely and wonderful, let's just heap all the power into one big pile so Americans can go out and save the world; that's not what they believed. They thought Americans were skunks, and sneaks, and cowards, just like the rest of the human race. They knew that we weren't exceptional. That's exceptional."
- Douglas Wilson, Sermon on Samuel IX
Sunday, May 6, 2012
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with James Bond. Well, it was a conversation with someone who thinks he's James Bond. He's a military intelligence officer and the conversation revolved around the curriculum of an intelligence course he was attending. Being the only intelligence officer at this course, the younger sergeants were always looking to him for guidance and approval. They knew he was the authority on the subject, and so made sure their own propositions in the class were in line with what he had made known to them.
I told him that he just described the central problem in the history of philosophy - authority. Specifically, epistemological authority. How do we know the things we know? Can we know anything at all? Where does knowledge come from? Where do moral imperatives come from? Who decides what is good? What is bad? There must be an authoritative axiom established to begin answering these questions. And if we can answer these questions at all, it is only because we recognize authority in one of two beings - God or man.
The starting place for all subsequent reasoning must come from one of these. If man is the authority then we all become like little gods reigning in a kingdom of entropy. If God is the authority then we become like students learning from the same Teacher. From which we get a kingdom of order. Anytime the authority is shifted, which only takes place in the mind, not in reality, the result is rebellion against reality and disorder occurs. For example, the first shift in epistemological authority from God to man was in the mind of Eve (I don't think any shift took place in Adam's mind, his sin was entirely different, not an elevation of his own thinking over God's). The result was The Fall. René Descartes, similarly displaced authority from God to man when he famously stated "cogito ergo sum" or "I think, therefore, I am". A more precise statement would have read "I think because of the I Am". I Am that I Am has more authority than I think, therefore I am. This is like the junior sergeants asserting they know more than the trained officer about intelligence because they have the ability to think.
William Lane Craig on authority in philosophy: "Moral obligations or prohibitions arise in response to imperatives from a competent authority. For example, if a policeman tells you to pull over, then because of his authority, who he is, you are legally obligated to pull over, but if some random stranger tells you to pull over you are not legally obligated to do so. Now, in the absence of God, what authority is there to issue moral commands or prohibitions? There is none on atheism. And therefore there are no moral imperatives for us to obey. In the absence of God there just isn't any sort of moral obligation or prohibition that characterizes our lives."