We’ve often been reminded that the medical, research and scholarly community are more or less agreed on the rightfulness and truthfulness of a certain course of action. Most recently in the pandemic, that’s been underscored and highlighted repeatedly in mass media outlets.
Should not this kind of scholarly consensus be enough to embrace something we are hearing as trustworthy and obviously “valid”?
That’s certainly what we keep being told. But consider, for a moment, the list of consensus conclusions popular among academics and scholars right now:
1. The world was created by a singularly potent “bang.”
2. Human beings were created by gradual, iterative, interspecies evolution – with the story of Adam and Eve revered by believers for ages being entirely metaphoric and fictional.
3. Noah and the world-wide flood is metaphoric – and didn’t actually happen.
4. The celebrated prophet Daniel in the Bible isn’t “actually a historical figure” – and more of a “cryptic allusion” to another ancient king.
5. Jesus Christ, if he lived, was certainly not divine – and did not rise from the dead.
6. Biological transition for transgender-identifying adults and youth is the most ethical and healthiest course of action to recommend.
7. At the same time, any kind of therapeutic encouragement to explore an expansion, adjustment or evolution in how people relate to sexual orientation is not only not healthy, but ought to be illegal and criminal.
8. The vast majority of scholars agree that it should be legal for a mother to abort any fetus growing inside her – at any stage of development.
9. They also largely agree there is nothing special about the union of man and woman – with any committed union between two human beings who love each other rightly considered equally valuable.
10. The proper response to mental illness is to medically manage it – including for children. Thus, anyone facing symptoms of serious depression ought to be encouraged to consider antidepressant medication as a first line treatment.
11. It is taken for granted among modern scholars that children with difficulty paying attention ought to be diagnosed and prescribed stimulant medication to ensure their mind is not moving too fast and that their academic future is not compromised.
12. And [up to five years ago], the scholarly community was in agreement that pain is another vital sign – and ought to be medically managed proactively with opioids and other kinds of medical management.
We could go on. But you get the point. Especially if you’re a Christian or believer in the Judeo-Christian tradition broadly, this list ought to give you pause. Clearly, the domains of knowledge represented above – ranging from biblical scholarship to sexuality to medical research – are not the same, with limitations inherent in the comparison. Whatever the differences, however, there is one obvious commonality across all these consensus conclusions: they represent the dominant agreements of many Smart People in the world around us – or what scriptures call the “wisdom of the world.”
None of this, of course, is to suggest scholars and scientists are always wrong. Clearly, there is so much light and knowledge that has emerged from good scholarship – and sometimes the “wisdom of the world” does line up with the wisdom of God (and the prophets of God).
But for me, this list poses at least the following questions: How are we to discern between scholarly consensus that lines up with absolute truth, versus scholarly consensus that reflects the mere popular bias of academics today? How is it that majorities of scholars are – and continue to be – so wrong about so many things? If they are wrong about all of this, why would we trust them to be right about so many other things that matters, yes, including with the pandemic? At the very least, shouldn’t we be thinking more critically about what “all the experts” say to be the case (about anything)?
Take all of this as honest questions. I’d love to hear what others think?
At the very least, it seems fair to say there are some systemic biases in how scholarship is oriented, designed and set up – biases that don’t always lead towards the full truth, and which receive little to no critical attention in our public discourse today. As a result, these scholarly conclusions (across domains) get presented as “reality” and “obvious truth” – in a way that shapes lives, impacts faith, and determined life and death decisions for all of us.
That’s a problem. And it might be among the biggest problems we’re facing right now. Because a public that takes all this for granted – thinking nothing more than “well, this is what the Biblical/psychological/medical experts say” is flying blind – and, at the risk of mixing too many metaphors, being led in so many cases “like a lamb to the slaughter.”
After the prophetic verse we love to talk about from Isaiah (“I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder”), Latter-day Saints would do well to remember in our arrogant world today the verse that immediately follows: “For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.”
What does that mean for all the Wise Men Pronouncements of our day? Sooner or later, I have a feeling we’re all going to find out.