Experts Killed Epistemology

Well, 2017 is almost over, and what a year it has been.  A retrospective could leave you happy or depressed, depending on your focus.

Donald J. Trump is president.  The left has decided that its fundamentalist enemies were right about Bill Clinton's impeachment. I held a conference attacking the LGBT agenda from every imaginable angle two weeks ago, without being thrown in a gulag.  Hope springs eternal.  None of this would have been conceivable only eighteen months ago.

But 2017 is also ending on a note of embarrassment.  Fortunately, I do not feel embarrassed and should not.  Nor do most pro-Trump people allied to me.  But the firestorm surrounding Roy Moore's candidacy for the Alabama Senate seat played out like a scene from an Aeschylus play.  Imagine a chorus, like the matrons in Seven against Thebes or Egyptian refugees in Suppliant Women, waiting for the next herald to bring more bad news.

"Yea, verily, I come to bring news of another traitor, who hath laid a hex upon Judge Moore, unleashing with the dark force of the winged harpies from the far-off wind caves, another warrior with well-crafted arrows, crying out the name of a fair maiden who tells of Moore the Tamer of Courthouses and his dark lusty deeds in the days of his unbearded youth.  Hark!  Here cometh another National Review column."

Life is short, so I suggest you follow this link to see my explanation for why the claims against Roy Moore are absolutely, 100% garbage.  Let us just consider the baseline.

A few weeks before an election, a newspaper owned by Jeff Bezos publishes a rambling set of memories about dates that Roy Moore went on roughly forty years ago.  Three stories involve Moore dating teenage girls of legal age when he was in his early thirties but courting them with nothing more than a kiss and respecting their families and honor.  A fourth involves a far-fetched tale about Moore luring a fourteen-year-old out of a courthouse, stripping down to his underwear, and trying to molest her.

A din rises from the lairs of angry LGBT advocates who have hated Roy Moore for years. They just happen to have come under fire with unprecedented attention to pederastic grooming in gay Hollywood. Joining these longstanding antagonists of Moore are the familiar voices from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the predictable squad of NeverTrumps – Ross Douthat, David French, Ben Shapiro, etc. – rushing to drop more of the headlines we have come to expect from them.

The straw men multiply and start marching into the bonfire on cue.  The scrupulous solons tell us that Christians should not defend evil just because they are Republican.  They remind us that we should be as willing to hold our allies accountable as our friends.  Their many missives all overlook the fact that we are giving Roy Moore a pass not because he is Republican, but because he is innocent, and the charges are obviously phony.

They are convinced that the Washington Post accusations are "credible" based on what the Washington Post reported about the process of gathering the women's testimonies.  After all, in 2017, if there is one thing you can trust, it is a newspaper.  "Credible" becomes like "edgy" and "full of heart" and other catchphrases used by people peddling screenplays in the San Fernando Valley.

Given the propensity of the Moore-haters to quote Bible verses, it is ironic that nothing in the Bible encourages us to rush into condemnation of people based on recent and suspicious claims.  Much in the Bible supports my view that we should rebuke foolish claims using our God-given sense of reason.

Proverbs 9:13 states, "The woman Folly is rowdy; she is gullible and knows nothing."

Proverbs 26:11 states, "Like a dog returning to his vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness."

Proverbs 26:24 states, "A hateful person disguises himself with his speech and harbors deceit within."

Proverbs 30:12 states, "Do not slander a servant to his master," just in case Christians think the Bible thinks it's great to send social media mobs to get people fired and blacklisted over allegations they read about online.

And of course, there is Psalm 9:9: "For there is nothing reliable in what they say, destruction is within them, their throat is an open grave."

Nothing in the Bible implies that women never lie, even about something serious like rape.  The Mosaic code has quite deliberate rules about how to deal with rape accusations and what due process must be followed.  This is not surprising, given the tales of Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39:7), Jezebel's charge of treason against Naboth (1 Kings 21:10), and the whore who lied to Solomon to steal another woman's baby (1 Kings 3:26).

Nowhere in the Bible does God glorify people who believe unsubstantiated gossip.  Evil forces use lies and manipulation in the way Satan tries to contrive a case against Job.  These themes complement the important lines from Jesus Christ, so often misquoted: "For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:2).

Many Christians have had to explain to gay people that this does not mean we cannot describe homosexuality truthfully as a sin.  But perhaps in the wake of the Roy Moore scandal, some Christians need clarification on what these lines mean.  Would any of you want to be called a "child-molester" because random people scored an interview with the Washington Post and said you raped little girls 40 years ago?  If that is how all of us must be judged, then we should dig mass graves, because we will all soon be executed and laid to rest.

As I discussed in Wackos Thugs & Perverts, 40% of American adults now get a bachelor's degree.  The vast majority of these people are forced to take distribution requirements that ostensibly foster "critical thinking" and "critical reading" skills.  But the Moore controversy is final proof that higher education is an expensive cancer on society.  The people defending Moore as they should are largely unknown commentators standing up to the Big Lie through Facebook and Twitter posts.  Like much of Trump's base, they did not go through college under the regime of "Composition & Rhetoric" feminists showing Jon Stewart monologues in class to explain rhetorical strategy.  In fact, the single best predictor of someone's ability to see through a ridiculous political fraud is the absence of a liberal arts degree on his résumé.

Never has a more stunning indictment of the humanities presented itself.  Think of the following narratives, in no particular order: Music Man, Chicago, Elmer Gantry, 1984, Brave New World, Little Orphan Annie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Scarlet Letter, House of the Seven Gables, "The Tell-Tale Heart," Coquette, Sport of the Gods, "Narrative of the Life of William Wells Brown," Invisible Man, Wag the Dog, True Colors, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Blithedale Romance, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the list goes on.  American arts and letters are full – absolutely overflowing! – with stories about the classic tradition of the political fraud.  If our forsaken English departments would stop teaching seminars on Harry Potter and The Vagina Monologues, maybe they could prepare people for citizenship.

But how will critical thinking ever return to the American mind?  Only people with Ph.D.s are allowed to teach these great texts.  The people with fancy degrees are mostly believing the preposterous story that Moore stripped down to his underwear and tried to molest a little girl in 1979, whom he picked up at his job in a district attorney's office of a small Alabama town without having been caught or called out on it for 38 years.  These are not people who would have noticed that the photos of Elmer Gantry with Lulu Baines were an obvious forgery.

I must put in a plug for the great books program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I teach.  Proudly I force my undergraduates to get through the great literature of civilization in eight semesters.  This semester, by luck, I was teaching the Medieval Literature seminar.  We were studying William Ockham as the sex hysteria broke out!

As Ockham scholar Stephen F. Brown explains Ockham's most famous contention about truth: "We are not allowed to affirm a statement to be true or to maintain that a certain thing exists, unless we are forced to do so either by its self-evidence or by revelation or by experience or by a logical deduction from either a revealed truth or a proposition verified by observation" (xx).

I can state this in simpler terms: most things we hear are not true.  We should give the title of "true" to things only if (1) they are immediately obvious; (2) they are divinely revealed to us, as in Scripture; (3) we saw them with our own eyes; or (4) we can test the reasonableness of them by seeing them as upheld by divine revelation, or we observe something that proves them.

If you can't prove it, don't believe it.  This is the beauty of the medieval science of epistemology, the quest to determine how we can know that something is true.  Thinkers like Ockham drew liberally from Aristotle, whose Categories and Nicomachean Ethics established clear terms to help us sort through confusing details.  Aristotle gave us the terms "kind" and "degree" so we would not be duped by people trying to group together a serious charge like child rape with a harmless claim like "he went out on dates with eighteen-year-olds when he was thirty and even tried to kiss one or two, forty years ago, when he was single."

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle laboriously schematizes various levels of "responsibility" and "cause" to help philosophers examine the ethics of individuals.  He talks about intention, volition, wish, opinion, desire, and deliberation – all nuances that matter and demand thorough consideration before we publish an essay casually referring to Roy Moore as a man "credibly accused of molesting teenagers."

Even among people who are experts in these very texts, a dam seems to store up analytical knowledge and keep wisdom from leaking out into the world in which we live.  We are truly living in a scary age.  I blame the thinkers whose job it was to prepare Americans for a civic realm that was bound to include the eternal dangers of demagogues, liars, tricksters, creeps, and con artists.  The thinkers may have been doing some thinking, but something went wrong.  Like the residents of River City incensed about a pool table, they lost their ability to reason and became the very thing they never wanted to be: a loud, stupid mob.


Stephen F. Brown. Introduction. Ockham: Philosophical Writings. Trans. Philotheus Boehner, O.F.M. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1990.

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