Thursday, September 2, 2010

Paul Tobin Contrasts Real Biblical Scholarship with Conservative Biblical Scholarship

Paul Tobin continues his reply to "The Infidel Delusion" here. An excerpt below (see original for citations). Also in a similar vein there's an interesting compilation of facts concerning expert opinion on the Bible here.

On Biblical Scholarship and Evangelical Apologetics

Perhaps this would be a good time to explain why the word ‘scholarship’ cannot be used when referring to evangelical literature[9] and why people like Hays are mistaken in placing their trust in such works.

The mark of scholarship is its dependence of evidence and reason regardless of where it leads.

Yet we find that many evangelical institutes have very strict rules about what their “scholars” are supposed to accept. Many evangelical theological seminaries, such as the Dallas Theological Seminary,[10] Denver Seminary[11] and Fuller Theological Seminary[12] require its faculty to sign a strict statement of adherence to biblical inerrancy before they are allowed to teach there. Some institutions even require the faculty member to recommit to this statement annually, just in case they have changed their mind on inerrancy after signing the statement.

Not adhering to these statements could mean loss of one’s tenure and may even result in sacking or forced resignation. The recent case of Bruce Waltke, an evangelical professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, is one such example. He had to resign his post from the Reformed Theological Seminary in circumstances still unclear – but it clearly had to do with his advocating the compatibility of evolution and biblical creation, something clearly anathema to many, if not most, evangelicals.

How can honest scholarship be done when one is already adhering to a position of inerrancy? Imagine physicists being required to sign a statement affirming the “inerrancy” of quantum mechanics before they can get a teaching position in any university! One would not believe any “research” on the fundamentals of physics that comes out from such an institution.

It is the same with evangelicals. When they are already committed to an unalterable belief, then that very position cannot but produce “scholarship” which agrees with such a belief. Thus, it should come as no surprise that any book by Craig Blomberg on the reliability of the gospels will conclude that the gospels are “reliable.”[13] And if Ben Witherington III were to write a book about the Acts of the Apostles, you can bet your bottom dollar he is going to “find” the book historically reliable and that Luke is its author.[14]

Studies where the end results are known beforehand are not works of scholarship but of pure apologetics. As Robert M. Price noted in his recent book, “The Case Against the Case for Christ,” such “scholarship” has only one main goal – to “turn back the clock” to a time when the Bible made is safe from historical criticism.[15]

We do not find this in mainstream biblical scholarship, where debates and differing positions are taken based on how each scholar marshals the evidence. When a consensus is reached by such a boisterous group of scholars–it tends to mean that the evidence for such a consensus is strong. Thus when we say that 80% to 90% of such scholars agree that the pastorals were not written by Paul, we can be certain that the reason for such a consensus must be compelling.

A “Consensus” among evangelicals however, comes not from the result of arguments and evidence but from their “statements of faith.” In other words, such “consensuses” among evangelicals come from the unquestioned presuppositional biases.

So when Hays cites his “authorities” on the reliability of the Bible, all he is saying to the skeptic is, ‘Hey, see how all these apologists with PhD’s are using ingenious methods to defend beliefs which cannot be held without a presuppositionary belief in Biblical inerrancy!”


Darf Ferrara said...

Imagine a world where physicists aren't given tenure because they don't tow the string theory line, or economics departments where non-Keynesian's weren't hired simply because the evidence has lead them to a different conclusion. It's a good thing that global warming alarmists don't use tactics to silence those that come to different conclusions.

Oh, wait, all of that happens. It isn't as explicit as making professors sign a belief statement, but just because someone signs such a statement doesn't mean that they aren't doing scholarship.

Jon said...

When you say "they aren't doing scholarship" I am taking you to be saying they aren't doing good work or research. So in other words you are characterizing Tobin's statement as "If a professor has to sign a belief statement it's impossible for him to do good work." Well, that's not what he's saying.

He's not saying that genuine scholars don't slip into dogmatism on occasion. He's also not saying that scholarship never involves bullying or cliquishness. I don't see that he said that a group of scholars would never ostracize a person that came to unorthodox conclusions while still using appropriate methodologies and logic.

Do you have any criticisms of the actual statements Tobin made or will you only be criticizing these extrapolations that are not implied?

Darf Ferrara said...

"Imagine physicists being required to sign a statement affirming the “inerrancy” of quantum mechanics before they can get a teaching position in any university!"

Since this does happen (less explicitly than in evangelical seminaries, but still present) and yet we do believe the research that comes out of these Universities, something must be wrong with his argument. I'll leave discovering the error as an exercise for the student.

Jon said...

You say "something must be wrong with this argument." What argument are you taking him to be making?

You say we do believe the research that comes out of universities where confessional statements regarding quantum mechanics are required. OK. Did Tobin say that nothing that comes out of an evangelical university should be believed?

Here's an important statement from Tobin:

"The mark of scholarship is its dependence of evidence and reason regardless of where it leads."

Dogmatism is antithetical to scholarship. So on his view telling someone that they must affirm quantum mechanics to be hired would be antithetical to scholarship. Doesn't mean everything they say will be wrong. That's just a non-sequitur. Do you disagree with Tobin? Or do you think blocking those that deny quantum mechanics is a good idea and is the mark of scholarship?

Suppose a physicist affirms geocentrism. They shouldn't be hired by a university that wants to be perceived as scholarly because the fact that they affirm geocentrism suggests they aren't good at following the evidence where it leads. If quantam mechanics is like that, then it makes sense to reject an applicant that doesn't affirm it.

It seems to me you are attempting to find excuses to argue, but in fact you have to concoct arguments that weren't made and critique them to create an argument. If we stick to what is actually stated there's no disagreement. Seems like a waste of time.

Darf Ferrara said...

This statement

"One would not believe any “research” on the fundamentals of physics that comes out from such an institution."

is false. Do you agree?

Jon said...

For Tobin's illustration he's assuming it's not settled science. So not like geocentrism. He's contrasting it with inerrancy to draw an analogy. If it's not settled science and you're dealing with a university that makes people sign confessional statements, then you wouldn't believe what they publish on the subject because they have a prior non-evidenced based commitment to it. That's not the same as saying they'd never publish anything truthful. I was taking you to be saying this was Tobin's argument, but as I re-read I see that I misunderstood.

Do you agree that making people sign confessional statements affirming quantum mechanics is not a mark of scholarship, assuming quantum mechanics is not settled science? That's Tobin's claim and I agree.

Darf Ferrara said...

I would prefer for every researcher to have a statement of faith. That gives more evidence to readers on how to interpret the research. A University-wide statement may not capture the nuance that a particular researcher has with respect to their understanding of the statements, but it is helpful in understanding the viewpoint. And if some institutions require people to sign such statements then those that aren't willing to sign will have to seek work elsewhere. That sort of thing happens in many other fields (again, not explicitly) including Physics, Economics, Literature, and probably many others, and it doesn't take away from the research done.

Jon said...

What is your evidence of these inexplicit statements of faith required of literature professors? Or others.

Darf Ferrara said...

Paul Krugman recently wrote an article discussing the difference in thinking between freshwater economists (meaning Chicago) and saltwater economists (MIT, Harvard). He was recognizing that economists of certain trains of thought tend to cluster at certain universities. You might conjecture that this is because randomly chosen economists of a right wing persuation happened to like da bears and left wing persuation like the Pats. Or you might come to the conclusion that economists at chicago promote and hire people that are like minded, as do MIT and Harvard. You don't have to sign a pledge, but if the hiring commitees don't think that you will play ball, you won't be hired. Looking at the homogeneity in thought of some departments is some indication that maybe they promote groupthink.

Regardless of whether or not this happens at a University level, individuals have their own biases. Do you prefer that people pretend that they are objective or would you prefer know the point of view that is being presented beforehand?

Jon said...

People tend to spend time with like minded people. That's your proof of inexplicit statements of faith? As GOB would say "Come On!"

Tobin is talking about people that pretend to research a controversial topic but who's salary is explicitly dependent on them coming to the right conclusions. I see a problem with that. If you don't, I guess that's where we differ.

This is not a denial that it's a good thing for researchers to state their opinions and biases. Tobin isn't saying otherwise.

Darf Ferrara said...

You may want to look up the definition of implicit (it's what I meant by non-explicit). Harvard Economics departments will not hire those that don't believe Keynesian orthodoxy. There are no forms that have to be signed however. Dallas Theological Seminary will not hire those that don't believe in the doctrine of the trinity. They require a written statement showing this.

The bottom line is that you prefer prejudices to be hidden while I prefer them to be explicit.

Jon said...

I just said I think it's good to state your opinions and biases.

So you like what you see from these places that say if in the course of your research you honestly form new conclusions you're fired. It's better to have a policy like that because it makes biases explicit. And the research that they offer affirming these pre-ordained and required conclusions bears the mark of scholarship.

So given that, when someone from Southern Evangelical Seminary writes books that draw conclusions about the inerrancy of Scripture, that's just as scholarly as what would be offered by a tenured professor at Princeton. SES has these explicit statements of faith regarding inerrancy and Princeton doesn't, so their biases are out in the open and you don't know where this guy from Princeton is coming from. SES is more scholarly than Princeton, at least as far as statements of faith are concerned.

Darf Ferrara said...

Incorrect. I would prefer that researchers state their premises. And the point being debated here is whether research done at schools that do require a signing statement is scholarship. The answer: Yes, it is. If a researcher takes certain points as axiomatic, and follows where that leads, then that is scholarship. You are free to point out circularities in arguments where they exist, and you are free to point out that the researcher has a financial incentive to reach the conclusion. But the claim made was "One would not believe any research ... that comes out from such an institution".

Just to be honest, you wouldn't believe researchers that believe in inerrancy regardless of whether they signed a statement or not. This has little to do with signing statements, and lots to do with trusting schools with names ending in "Theological Seminary".

Jon said...

When you say "state your premises" I assume you mean state your assumptions and prior opinions. We both agree that people should do that.

So we're debating whether research done at schools that require signing statements is scholarship. You say the answer is "Yes it is." I say "No it isn't."

Would you consider Shell Oil's research that global warming is not a problem scholarship? I would not. They do have an implicit statement of faith required. They might say some true things, but appealing to their expert opinion in an argument would carry no weight. I wouldn't doubt global warming because someone said they had 10 oil institutions that said it was fine and I have only climate scientists. Their conclusions are pre-ordained. That's the conclusion we expect them to come to regardless.

I wouldn't believe the SES inerrantist research, but when you argue you are sort of appealing to a theoretical neutral observer. An evangelical apologist will do that by appealing to the evangelical scholars that affirm inerrancy. They should know it won't persuade us, but they're thinking it should sound persuasive to this theoretical neutral observer. We're saying it shouldn't be persuasive to that person since these conclusions are pre-ordained. I take you to be saying this appeal makes sense and should sound persuasive to the neutral observer.

Darf Ferrara said...

Once again, the claim is "One would not believe any research ... that comes out from such an institution". The statement made wasn't "A neutral observer should be swayed by the claim that a professor at an evangelical seminary claims that the Bible is inerrant.

In the case of oil research into global warming is more complicated, since I'm sure they are branching into taking money to combat global warming. But would you prefer oil companies to explicitly tell you that research that gave indications of global warming will not be published, or would you prefer to have to infer it on your own?

Jon said...

When he says "One would not believe any research" I take him to be saying that when an inerrantist lists certain so called scholars that affirm inerrancy and these people must affirm that via signing statements, that's not believable or moving. If he means any research they put forward MUST BE faulty and shouldn't be considered, that I would not agree with.

I would prefer the oil industry tell us that they will not publish things which tend to put their profits at risk. It's great to inform people beforehand that the conclusions are pre-ordained. But it's not scholarship.