Ascribing a sphere of infallibility to a parent or expert has the same logic as the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine about the pope: It likewise considers him infallible only under certain narrowly-defined circumstances, called ex cathedra (metaphorically “from the throne”). So, consider this thought experiment: You seriously believe in papal infallibility. One day, an atheist friend gleefully tells you that the pope has said something which, after due consideration, you decide must be false: “There is no force of gravity.” Immediately, it becomes vital for you to know whether the pope declared this ex cathedra. For if he did, you would have to accept that you are mistaken about gravity, and act accordingly, even if you never managed to understand the mechanics of how that might be so. Because for you, ideas are about something—important precisely because they have consequences for how you think, feel, and act. And so you would have to drop some assumptions that you hitherto considered true incontrovertibly—or even infallibly.Not exactly. The Pope is infallible only as regards faith and morals. In other words, he is the final arbiter when it comes to the rules and traditions of the faith. He has no authority whatever by virtue his office to announce on matters of physics.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
… Why It’s Good To Be Wrong - Issue 2: Uncertainty - Nautilus. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)