Reasons to believe

by irrational 1 min read2nd Dec 201354 comments


I've been thinking recently that I believe in the Theory of Evolution on about the same level as in the Theory of Plate Tectonics. I have grown up being taught that both are true, and I am capable of doing research in either field, or at least reading the literature to examine them for myself. I have not done so in either case, to any reasonable extent.

I am not swayed by the fact that some people consider the former (and not so much the latter) to be controversial, primarily because those people aren't scientists. I tend to be self-congratulatory about this fact, but then I think that I am essentially not interested in examining the evidence, but I am essentially taking it on faith (which the creationists are quick to point out). I think I have good Bayesian reasons to take science on faith (rather than, say, mythology that is being offered in its stead), but do I therefore have good reasons to accept a particular well-established scientific theory on faith, or is it incumbent upon me to examine it, if I think its conclusions are important to my life?

In other words, is it epistemologically wrong to rely on an authority that has produced a number of correct statements (that I could and did verify) to be more or less correct in the future? If I think of this problem as a sort of belief network, with a parent node that has causal connections to hundreds of children, I think such a reliance is reasonable, once you establish that the authority is indeed accurate. On the other hand, appeal to authority is probably the most famous fallacy there is.

Any thoughts? If Eliezer or other people have written on this exact topic, a reference would be appreciated.