In We Trust: Science, Religion, and Authority

James D. Proctor

in Science, Religion, and the Human Experience

Published in print May 2005 | ISBN: 9780195175325
Published online February 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780199784707 | DOI:
 							In We Trust: Science, Religion, and Authority

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This essay considers science and religion as major institutions of epistemic and moral authority. Proctor argues that authority is at the heart of most discussions related to science and religion, given the ways these discussions generally compare their authoritative claims. Both the ideological means by which scientific and religious authority are constructed and defended, and the different patterns of trust in authority by ordinary people and communities of people, are relevant to understanding science and religion. In the former case, a common tendency is to elide the humanness of scientific and religious institutions, and ground their authority based on some notion of objectivity or transparency, such that science points directly to reality, and religion to God (or the sacred). This claim, however, ignores the ways both are fully enmeshed in the human experience. In the case of people’s differing trust of authority, Proctor refers to his recent survey and interviews of adult Americans on their trust in four major domains of authority: science, religion, nature, and the state. Results suggest two primary models of authority Americans decide whether or not to trust: theocracy, with God (religion) as the ultimate authority and the state as the mediating human authority; and ecology, with nature as the ultimate authority and science as the mediating human authority. Though problems exist in both of these models, Proctor notes that some measure of trust in authority is unavoidable — and as representing commitment to life — potentially beneficial as well. He ultimately argues that both commitment and critique must be present if trust in authority is to lead to meaningful epistemological and moral guidance in our lives.

Keywords: authority; ecology; religion; science; theocracy; trust

Chapter.  9405 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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