Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Real or Not Real?

The following quote purports to come from a 2020 Facebook post written by a woman who holds herself out to be the Handbell Choir Director at First Congregational Church of Houston, Artistic Director at Houston Chamber Ringers and a former music teacher.

Honestly, my first instinct is that it’s got to be the product of internet trolling.

Engaging with Ideas

Stevie Berryman (and her online husband “Ryan”) may or may not be entirely made up. Many of the top sites you reach by searching her name look autogenerated to me. Her bio looks screamingly fake. (Tacos? Really?) Another thing: why refer to “the last 3 years” if the Facebook entry is really from December 2020? Seems like somebody slipped up somewhere while creating a sock puppet.

But Stevie’s existence in the real world (or lack thereof) is not the point. “Her” post has been picked up and circulated by multiple blog writers on both the left and right side of the political spectrum: from the Left, to reinforce the “Trust the experts” meme, and from the Right, to reinforce the “Don’t trust the so-called experts” reaction to it. Nobody reposting Stevie’s quote seems terribly concerned whether it’s real or unreal, totally sincere or 100% tongue-in-cheek.

I feel the same way about it. Given its ubiquity online, I’m much more interested in what it says and how people are reacting to it than I am as to whether it’s legit. Ideas with broad circulation are important wherever they originate, and this one epitomizes a tidal wave of articles, posts and tweets trying to persuade us to “trust the experts”.

Hmm. Why is it suddenly so important that the general population give up thinking for themselves and trust consensus expertise?

Stevie Berryman

One of the most dangerous ideas that has come about in the last 3 years is that all points of view are equally valid, and that Average Citizen (YOU) are just as equipped to judge which have merit as anyone else.

‘Hear all sides, and judge for yourself!’ No. I do not condone the death of Expertise, and neither should YOU.

I am an expert in very, very few things. But in those areas, my expertise is hard earned through study, work, experience, and aptitude. None of it comes from attending Google University. But unless you are an expert in exactly the same areas, your opinion is not just as valid as mine. It’s not.

And my opinion is not as valid as experts’ in other fields. That is why THEY ARE THE EXPERTS. So if our leading epidemiologists largely agree that ‘A’ is correct, and a couple of discredited doctors make a video that says ‘B’ is correct, our response should not be ‘I’ll listen to both and decide which makes sense to me.’ Confirmation bias exists, and only fools think they are free of it. To paraphrase Asimov, your ignorance is not the same as their experience. Genuinely smart people look for answers from people who are smarter than themselves. Only ignorant people believe their guess is as good as anyone else’s.”

Bear in mind that if Stevie is actually a real person, her so-called “expertise” is in the area of ringing handbells and teaching music, none of it with any formal accreditation she is willing to produce. So “expert” is probably not the best description for Stevie, though she admits she acquired hers with a combination of “study, work, experience, and aptitude”, as most people do. As she says, “None of it comes from attending Google University.” If she exists at all, we should probably think of her as a nice church lady venting, rather than as someone equipped to assess the value of accreditation in the age of the internet.

Attending ‘Google University’

Mind you, there is certainly good reason to be cautious about “Google University”, by which we may assume she means arriving at your opinions about the world by online research. We are now discovering that both social media websites and search engines are a total sham. They are stage managed by the Deep State and the media to shape your thought life. Since taking over Twitter, Elon Musk has tweeted repeatedly about how, under its former owner Jack Dorsey, the website influenced the 2020 US election at the request of the FBI by suppressing the Hunter Biden laptop story, which turned out to be legitimate. “Content moderation” was an excuse for burying inconvenient truth.

Then a few days ago it came out that a barrage of tweets from Twitter “doctors” during the pandemic turned out to be complete fakes posted from anonymous accounts using stock photographs. Interestingly, this entire network of accounts was dedicated to telling us how many people were dying of COVID, drumming up sympathy for their relatives, and pushing the vaccine. All fake, and the people or organizations behind these accounts have yet to be identified. Facebook and Google don’t have Elon Musk to expose their content moderation practices over the last few years, but it’s apparent both have been suppressing and promoting content in order to further the political agendas of the individuals and corporations who finance them or, in Google’s case, to promote their own products over those of competitors.

All to say that Stevie’s correct in this respect: “attending Google University” isn’t guaranteed to help you find the truth about anything.

The Perils of Trusting the ‘Experts’

But what can we say about Stevie’s insistence we “trust the experts”? Well, she might have a point, provided: (1) the “experts” possess the expertise they claim to; (2) the platforms on which they pitch their opinions are not guilty of suppressing dissenting opinions from equally qualified experts and promoting the opinions they favor; (3) sufficient time has passed for their opinions to be tested and evaluated in the real world; (4) the “experts” have been subjected to genuine peer review rather than the fake sort; and (5) political forces are not involved in determining which narratives are promoted and which censored.

The reality is that we can be sure of none of these things. We are simply taking the word of unknown individuals on faith, some of whom are not even real people. The so-called “consensus” cannot be anything of the sort when all dissenting opinions from equally qualified experts are suppressed or ridiculed, while their peers who hew to the preferred narrative have their opinions promoted without objective examination.

These days, “trusting the experts” can be a perilous exercise. So let’s examine the scriptural relationship between truth and expertise.

Truth and Expertise

In the Bible, truth remains truth no matter the qualifications of those who express it (or the lack of them). Our lives may depend on whether we accept or ignore truth when we come into contact with it.

Kings and Chronicles both have paragraphs dealing with the death of Josiah, one of Israel’s greatest kings. If you read the chapters devoted to the man in these two books, you’d come away thinking the only mistake he ever made is the one that killed him. Experience tells us that can’t possibly be true, but based on the number of good things he did, Josiah was an exceptionally godly leader.

In the Kings account, Josiah’s death warrants a mere three sentences:

“In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him. And his servants carried him dead in a chariot from Megiddo and brought him to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb.”

That’s not much of an explanation, and it comes off almost as if Josiah was killed in a very unfortunate accident.

The Other Side of the Story

Thankfully, we have another account in Chronicles to flesh out the details, and the Holy Spirit of God has graciously furnished a little commentary. Apparently, prior to the fatal battle, Pharaoh Neco sent envoys to Josiah saying, “What have we to do with each other, king of Judah? I am not coming against you this day, but against the house with which I am at war. And God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you.”

The editor of Chronicles adds:

“Nevertheless, Josiah did not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to fight in the plain of Megiddo.”

That’s a fairly important addition, and I’m glad we have two accounts to consider.

So we have the considered opinion of one of the godliest men of his day (and one of the godliest kings in history) set against the word of a foreign king. What expertise has Pharoah Neco in the counsels of YHWH? None, we would say. What would lead anyone, let alone Josiah, to believe a word he had to say?

But who possessed the truth in this case? Pharaoh Neco did.

Time Out for Serious Prayer

Now, I’m not saying Josiah should simply have taken Neco’s word and acted accordingly. Political leaders usually have reasons for saying what they say, and not all of them are good ones. But rather than rushing in to do what he had already determined, the fact that Neco claimed to be speaking for God (“God has commanded me to hurry”) might have been a strong hint it was time for Josiah to return to Jerusalem and consult Urim and Thummim, or maybe a known prophet of God, before making his move. He didn’t, and the result was a period of great mourning for his nation.

When we hear conflicting claims about what is going on in the world around us, and especially when those claims push us to do something and do it right now, that really means it’s time for a whole lot of prayer.

Not “trusting authority”. Not defaulting to our natural biases. Not consulting the opinions of our peers. Not giving into fear and not going into denial. Getting down on our knees and appealing to the Lord with all our hearts to point us in the right direction, then following the dictates of our Spirit-directed consciences regardless of the numbers and the alleged authorities on the other side of the argument.

The only thing we can really trust is the word of God. That was always the case, but it’s never been more true than today.

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