In a telephone debate, available on Youtube, with an American Protestant pastor, a talk-show host for twenty-four years (HIS credentials), Lawrence Krauss (who has – but does not need to list – top scientific academic credentials) said : “Scientists don’t argue on credentials.” I had patiently followed their dialogue of the deaf, until the preacher started spouting testimony from “academics” denying the Big Bang. When Krauss heard his opponent admit that he was a “Young Earther” (God created the world just 6000 years ago), I turned off my computer. Krauss did not choose to end the nonsense by hanging up. From then on he couldn’t lose anyhow – not that, from the get-go, there was much danger of that.
The incident is worth a moment’s reflection. Diplomas presumably denote competence in a given domain. Some, from academic institutions of dubious repute (where doctorates go for fifty bucks a piece), are not worth the parchment they are written on. But even degrees from prestigious universities do not automatically guarantee everything the diploma implies. Even experts make mistakes. Yuval Harari, a world-famous graduate of Oxford, professor in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, author of “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus”, states in the latter work’s latest edition that he erred several times in citing “facts” that proved to be unfounded, and invites readers to send him evidence of any other mistakes he may have missed. His credentials are impeccable, but now his honesty and humility have reinforced his credibility even further.
Academic credentials serve to establish a minimum of credibility. But one does not need them to be right in presenting facts unknown to, or even denied by, specialists with impressive degrees. Facts, not diplomas, are what count.
Readers may recall endless debates earlier in this Blog between “Jim-Lumen”, “Thom” and myself. All three of us have university degrees in our different fields. I am the only one of the three to have post-graduate degrees in Theology. Both Jim and Thom are engineers who happen to have considerable knowledge of things theological. But Jim, an unconditional, gung-ho, traditionalist Catholic dismisses most of what I say and write, however well-founded, because it contradicts his own convictions. He asserts that I am not worthy to be considered a theologian – in spite of my Diploma in Pastoral Catechetics and Master’s in Theology (S.T.L. magna cum laude) – because I never completed my doctoral thesis. He knows why : I stopped writing it the day I left the Franciscan Order and the Catholic priesthood to get married. The fact that I spent the next ten years in the U.S. employed by the Church as a lay-theologian and parish then diocesan Director of Religious Education as well as Professor of Theology in a Catholic university, was not enough for Jim. He still does not realize how this absurd prejudice has impacted his own credibility with readers of this Blog. He has zero degrees in Theology but apparently mine are not good enough. The criterion for credibility, however, will never be in academic credentials alone. Only facts, preferably convincingly presented, make us credible. Only the truth will make us free.
P.S. Jim-Lumen no longer posts comments on this Blog, though I suspect he has become one of those he once called “silent readers” (cynically suggesting that my claimed readership was non-existent). He may or may not appreciate my choice of today to return to this subject, as it is the feast-day of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Jim’s favourite good-luck charm which he firmly believes Mary gave a French nun, having designed its inscription herself. He believes that some years ago he escaped death in a car accident in Nowra, N.S.W., because he was wearing the medal we both wore as kids in Kogarah. Whatever about credentials, that’s credulity.