American Clinical Neurologist Dr. Steven Novella is probably referring to his field of Medicine, but Philosophy and Theology are also sciences — not “hard sciences” like Medicine, but sciences all the same — hinged upon Logic and Reason. Despite popular misconception, religious belief systems and ethical systems are also determined and evaluated similarly. Whether one’s systems are old or new, orthodox or heterodox, Divinely-inspired or man-made, they aren’t somehow exempt from questioning and scrutiny.
It’s not enough to assert and believe that something “just works.” That’s an incomplete picture that doesn’t tell us much of anything. It is just as vital to understand how and why something works, whether it’s the human liver, ma’at, the engine of an F-18, the Laws of Physics, parṣū . . . or anything, really.
Somehow, asking people to cite their sources and use rational and logical rather than emotional reasoning to explain or defend their views is an “unreasonable” demand of “academic elitism.” Logic and Reason are built-in conventions of all rational thought and speech. We use them in everyday life. Or rather, we all possess the cognition and ability, and we should employ them in everyday life, but we don’t always apply ourselves as we should. These faculties and disciplines are not on some Hermetically-sealed, “inaccessible” level that people who didn’t go to Yale or Oxford can’t possibly access, understand, or get involved in.
Yes, a lot of the jargon is confusing and takes time to understand. A good deal of it is unavoidable. Hence why I try to leave the bulk of it out when I can, and take pains to explain any and all jargon when I can’t. Every discipline has its own unique language, because every discipline has its own ideas unique to it. Everyday religion and ethics are no exception (I mean, look at concepts like Egyptian ma’at and Akkadian parṣū, which have no one-word translations that aren’t gross oversimplifications). Much of it makes my eyes glaze over sometimes, too, and I have a smidgen of background. Even less than a smidgen, compared to many of the people I’ve gone to school with and have been taught by. When any of them used reasoning which rendered my own obsolete and irrelevant, or used words I didn’t quite understand, did that make any of them “elitist?” No. It meant, and means, that I have more learning to do. The responsibility is mine and mine alone to do that learning, and be tried by my peers when I submit material. No one emerged from the womb knowing these things, and no one knows everything. Knowledge must be actively sought and tested; it is given freely to no one. It’s not learning that I nor anyone else necessarily needs a University for (though it sometimes helps). There are such things as public libraries, online databases, and asking others for help*. I have a brain and literacy skills: I have no excuse not to use them and learn. If I don’t use my brain and literacy skills, I have only myself to blame for the shortcomings which result from my lack of effort.
Not everyone is interested in pursuing Philosophy and Theology — or any other discipline, really — as the conventions of reasoned thought and speech require. Some simply want to say and do as they please without having to be accountable, intellectually or otherwise, in any given situation over any given issue. But there is a profound difference between “not interested” and “not capable.” Regardless of whether or not someone is “interested” in these conventions, these rules, they still apply to everyone involved.
I am not moved to guilt or sympathy by whines of “academic elitism.” All that complaint really says is, “I can’t stand it that these things don’t come to me instantly and without effort. I don’t want the rules to apply to me. I don’t want to be challenged. I want to be accepted as being right all the time, even and especially when I’m not.” Not only is such a dismissive attitude seething with self-entitlement and anti-intellectualism; that’s just not how the world works.
Someone very wise told me: “If you are not willing to dive into the sea for oysters, you will have no pearls. Oysters do not make pearls overnight or perfectly. Sometimes you will come up empty-handed. But if you want those pearls, you must keep diving.”