“We are actually hacking the software of life” Tel Zeks, Moderna chief medical officer.
Are Christians called to “just trust the experts?” This phrase, which seems to be popular at the moment, is one that calls people to place a type of unquestioning trust in the “experts.”
Trust is tied to faith, thus we might rephrase the above just slightly, are Christians called to have unquestioning faith in the experts?
“The sheep follow Him because they know His voice,” says our Lord Jesus (Jn. 10:4). He goes on to say, “But a stranger in no wise will they follow … because they do not know the voice of strangers” (Jn. 10:5).
A Christian is not called to be what in some circles is called “sheeple.” Rather, as the saints say, the Christian is a rational sheep, that is one that is proficient in discernment. Such a one does not simply follow whoever or whatever, for he is one trained to discern and hear the voice of the Lord. For there are many voices calling in a multitude of directions.
Again our Lord says, “Be wise as serpents and guileless as doves” (Matt. 10:16), and in this same vein He even instructs, “But continue being on guard against men” (vs. 17).
When it comes to things of this world, it is evident that we as Christians are called to be “on guard.” That is, we are called not to just trust the men of the world.
Thus, the Christian sheep is anything but a passive and gullible victim. He is to be truly rational, discerning all things and dividing them according to the revelation of Truth.
In the book of Revelation, the Lord Jesus is announced as the “Lion of Judah” and then manifests as a Lamb (cf. Rev. 5:5-7). This reveals, among other things, that as our Lord, the Christian is both a lion and a lamb. A lamb in his faithful following of God and a lion in his resistance to the false things of this fallen world.
This is further taught by St. Paul who indicates that the Christian life is related to being a “good solider” or “athlete” (cf. 2 Tim 2:3ff). He also makes clear that to hold to the faith is a “fight” and instructs Christians to “fight the good fight” (cf. 1 Tim 1:12). A true and proficient fighter is versed in discerning the strategy and tactics of his opponent. The best fighters are also brilliant tacticians.
Thus, as sheep of the Lord we are called to only trust in the voice of the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we are called to “discern the spirits,” that is to be cautious and very critical of the many voices of this world even when they present themselves as “good.” We are taught by the holy apostle John, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine whether they are from God” (1 Jn. 4:1). The “spirits” indicate the underlying reality and motive of a thing or group. No where does St. John say “just trust the spirits.”
Suffice for the above to indicate that no where is the Christian called to “just trust” anyone or anything outside of the Revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is, in the ultimate sense, the only trustworthy thing.
Behind the statement “just trust the experts” seems to stand the idea that since said experts are “educated” in some specific field, then those who are not may not question the said expert. One must simply trust, or have faith in them. After all, they are the ones with the specialty education. Yet, as wonderful and beneficial as earthly learning and education can be, is it a sufficient enough status, according to a Christian understanding, by which to request and even demand unquestioning trust?
This topic is covered in the writings of the saints. I will focus on the work of St. Gregory Palamas, and his answer, in brief, is no – earthly knowledge and even expertise is not sufficient enough to merit trust. My focus is from his work known as the “Triads.”
St. Gregory makes the important distinction between human wisdom and Godly wisdom, which he bases firmly on the Scripture. “It is true that Paul sometimes speaks of this as ‘human wisdom,’ as when he says, ‘My proclamation does not rest on the persuasive words of human wisdom’, and again, ‘We do not speak in words which teach human wisdom.’ But at the same time, he thinks it right to call those who have acquired it, ‘wise according to the flesh’, or ‘wise men become feebleminded’, ‘the disputants of this age’, and their wisdom is qualified by him in similar terms: It is ‘wisdom become folly’, the ‘wisdom which has been done away’, ‘vain trumpery’, the ‘wisdom of this age’, and belongs to the ‘princes’ of this age – who are coming to an end.”
Thus, the saint, founded on Scripture makes a distinction between “wisdom” of this world and ultimate Wisdom, which is in God alone.
He poses this important question, “What then should be the work and the goal of those who seek the wisdom of God in creatures? Is it not the acquisition of the truth, and the glorification of the Creator? This is clear to all. But the knowledge of the pagan philosophers has fallen away from both these aims.”
Thus, for a Christian, it is vital to weigh the aims of the “wise” in earthly knowledge. If they lack the above stated indicators, that is the glorification of the Creator, then are they worthy of trust?
In St. Gregory’s estimation true wisdom comes from a life in communion with God. As Proverbs states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (9:10).
The saint tells us, “In the case of secular wisdom, you must first kill the serpent, in other words, overcome pride that arises from this philosophy. How difficult that is!”
He elucidates further, “Nonetheless, if you put to good use that part of the profane wisdom which has been well excised, no harm can result, for it will naturally have become an instrument for good.” The saints teaches that only through the true wisdom of God may profane – of this fallen order – wisdom be used properly. That is, it must be used in a discerning manner. Earthly knowledge is a profitable and blessed thing when guided by love for God. Otherwise, it may become in the hands of fallen men a destructive weapon.
He continues, “But even so, it (earthly wisdom, my note) cannot in the strict sense be called a gift of God and a spiritual thing, for it pertains to the order of nature and is not sent from on high. This is why Paul, who is so wise in divine matters, calls it ‘carnal’; for, he says, ‘Consider that among us who have been chosen, there are not many wise according to the flesh’.”
The blessing of earthly knowledge is of profit when used in the proper manner, which the saint ties to the inner disposition and quality of a man, “The practice of the grace of different languages, the power of rhetoric, historical knowledge, the discovery of the mysteries of nature, and the various methods of logic … all these things are at the same time good and evil, not only because they are manifested according to the idea of those who use them and easily take the form which is given them by the point of view of those who possess them, but also because the study of them is a good thing only to the degree that it develops in the eye of the soul a penetrating view. But it is bad for one who gives himself over to this study in order to remain in it until old age.”
Science and medicine have great potential for good, but this potential is contingent upon the quality of persons who utilize them. Each may be used for great evil in the hands of evil men. Thus, Orthodox Christianity has always questioned the motives, the governing factors, behind even the “secular” sciences. Only something that confesses and believes in absolute Truth and Divine Revelation, as Orthodoxy does, is capable of such questioning.
An “expert” is trustworthy only insofar as he is a person of quality, virtue, and a seeker of God in Truth. According to the saint, the Christian should carefully ponder the person or persons behind any earthly wisdom. What are their goals? Their aims? What is the purpose of their works and study? No where does one hear St. Gregory call his readers to “just trust the experts” of his times, rather he calls them to discriminate and discern the principle goals of said experts. If the goals are off then the expert is not worthy of trust in the least. Earthly knowledge becomes false or bad when it denies or even begins to war against the heavenly revelation of true Wisdom.
In St. Gregory’s thought there seems to be none of the modern compartmentalization of life. For the modern it suffices to be an educated “expert” to demand trust, the quality of person is seldom examined. Yet for St. Gregory, the person is holistic. The quality of his entire person will inevitably influence and effect his supposed “expertise.” In this Christian understanding, it is only persons of virtue, in the Godly sense, who are worthy of trust.
In the long run, as profitable as earthly science and knowledge are in their own right, they are powerless to save humanity. St. Gregory clearly states that only the heavenly Wisdom is capable of this fundamental goal of knowledge. He even indicates that earthly knowledge improperly used may become damaging and destructive and act as an instrument for the loss of the soul.
Fr. Seraphim (Rose) addresses this same issue, generally speaking, in his work critiquing the scientistic philosophy of macro evolution, “But why should we accept the writings of modern scientists and philosophers ‘simply,’ merely taking their word when they tell us something is true” – just trust the experts! – “even if this acceptance forces us to change our theological views? On the contrary, we must be very critical when modern wise men tell us … we must be critical not only with regard to their philosophy, but also with regard to the ‘scientific evidence’ which they think supports this philosophy.”
So, “experts” in and of themselves are not worthy of de facto trust. Rather, they must be weighed critically against the standard of heavenly Wisdom.
I encourage you, the reader, to not trust the experts but rather to be a wise and rational sheep of God, like a lion divide and test what is said and done according to the Truth of Christ. Moreover, look to what quality of men the “experts” are. What are their goals and aims? Of what spirit are they?
As one example of many, are those who desire to “hack the software of life” worthy of trust? Are those who seek to boost humanity into a transhuman evolutionary advance worthy of Christian trust? A list of valid questions could be quite lengthy but I think the point is clear.
So we might say, slightly paraphrasing the psalms, “Trust not in experts, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation” (cf Ps. 145/146:3).