C. S. Lewis on Epistemology

Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority—because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.

—C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 62.

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

1 Comment

  1. Nick Harsh on July 15, 2020 at 7:06 am

    Whoa! I remember reading this for the first time and how impactful it was in my life. For some reason, I didn’t think that the gospels “counted” as a legit argument for the resurrection when talking with skeptics. I’m still don’t know why I had that thought — weird. Anyway, I read this quote and realized that I believed a ton of things on others’ authority and that there is more to verify the integrity of the New Testament manuscripts than many other authorities we take at face value. Let’s just say it was a game-changer in my mind.

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