The historical claim to possess infallible authority has often been associated with ideological dogmatism and/or attempts to buttress political power on behalf of a certain thought system. In modern times, the notion of infallibility has been regarded with suspicion, and viewed as antithetical to rational inquiry, which by its very nature acknowledges its limitations and relativity. This paper advances the following theses: (1) The degree of social and intellectual progress exhibited in human history would have been impossible without the existence of periodic external truth referents (i.e., points of infallible authority). (2) Far from being antithetical to reason, true infallibility is the main source of rationality in history, consistently preventing humanity from losing itself totally in superstition and fanaticism. (3) The positive contribution to history of infallible sources of authority (e.g., the Manifestations of God) does not depend on general recognition of their infallibility. (4) Infallibility (freedom from error) is often confounded with omniscience, thereby undermining our understanding of the different grades of conferred infallibility. (5) Religious dogmatism and fanaticism do not result from the Prophet’s claim to infallibility (“what my Prophet says is true”) but rather from the exclusivist ideological claim made by the Prophet’s followers (“nothing else but what my Prophet says is true”).
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Copyright © 2007 William S. Hatcher