THE DANGERS OF CREDULITY
By David J. Frost
On January 6th, we witnessed the extraordinary danger credulity poses to democracy. One wonders whether or not we possess the critical thinking skills required by our era.
I propose a test. Let’s see if our critical thinking skills are up to the challenge of interrogating the Golden Rule. Wait, you say, what? What could possibly be wrong with the Golden Rule? What critical thinking could we need to do there?
Because many people do bad things for reasons they falsely believed were good, the application of critical thinking is vital not just for ideas that strike us as bad. It is just as necessary for ideas that prima facie strike us as good. The same line of logical reasoning that shows under what circumstances critical thinking is required applies equally to ostensibly bad ideas as well as ostensibly good ideas.
After all, are the propositions we were taught moral because we were taught them or were we taught them because they’re moral? For my money, it has got to be the latter. When a Greek citizen of ancient Athens named Euthyphro defined “piety” under Socrates’ persistent questioning as “Piety is what the gods love,” Socrates applied the line of reasoning I’m talking about, which has come down to us as “the Euthyphro dilemma.” Socrates replied that even on the assumption that the gods love pious actions, an as-yet-unanswered question remains: Are the pious actions pious because the gods love them or do the gods love them because they are pious? If something is moral just because God says so, then murder could have been moral if God had chosen to sprinkle it with piety dust. We must resist that way of thinking, which goes under the label “Voluntarism” for the role of will in determining what is good. Rationalism, on the other hand, says that any true and good moral proposition in the Bible—for instance—is in the Bible because it’s true and good, not the other way around; it’s not true and good merely because it’s in the Bible.
But, then, what makes something good? At least Voluntarism tells us that bit clearly; what makes it good is God’s say-so. When we deny Voluntarism, we assert that whatever the standard of truth and goodness turns out to be, it will be independent of the Bible, tradition, and of authority in general.
If the Bible said jump off a bridge, wouldn’t we pause and think on our own if jumping off the bridge was a good idea? And wouldn’t this thinking we do be best characterized as “non-Bible dependent thinking,” since the Bible just told us to jump off a bridge and we are now thinking about whether or not to do that? If we decided to not jump off the bridge—my recommendation, by the way—then we would necessarily have come to that choice by a decision-making process independent of the Bible itself. Continue reading “David J. Frost: “The Dangers of Credulity””