Sunday, September 30, 2007

Got Philosophy?

Both Christians and “Scientists”* need some.

Christians’ key philosophical mistake is in the area of epistemology (‘what can be known and how do we know it?’).

--The Mistake: basing their epistemology on the inerrancy of Scripture.

--The Problem: makes Christians too easy to dismiss.

--The Correction: realizing the case for Christ is stronger without the doctrine of inerrancy.

“Scientists’ ” key philosophical mistake is also in the area of epistemology.

--The Mistake: accepting an epistemology of “naturalism.” Naturalism is the idea that the only thing that’s real is what can be empirically observed.

--The Retort: “Like that could even possibly be known!”

--The Problem: it makes people irrationally dismiss God.

--The Correction: admitting that looking for God with a microscope is like looking for a rainbow with a stethescope.

* by "scientists," I mean people who co-opt science and misapply it to politics, religion, and ethics. Unfortunately this is a common practice, and some scientists are also "scientists." But, Jesus, I think, has no problemo with real science.


Erin said...

Napoleon Dynamite!!

Ben said...

You, my friend, are a deep thinker.

Some nice rebuttals to some common philosophical mistakes. I recognize the "scientist" from certain debates I've engaged in.

I'm curious how the case for Christ is stronger without the doctrine of inerrancy. Is this something you've addressed earlier?

Also, I'm trying to remember...what do you mean by "inerrancy"?

Kenny said...

The case for faith is stronger without the doctrine of inerrancy because thinking people, unless they've been steeped in Evangelicalism, find it to be an absurd idea. And as long as it's treated as central to the faith, any person who wants to deny the faith can just say 'oh, well, look: there's an error in the Bible. See, I told you Christianity was wrong.' It causes Christians to expend great resources defending an extremely difficult position. However, if you get rid of inerrancy--you still have to deal with claims of the Bible, in the same way that I don't need to believe Adam Smith was inerrant in order to consider the nature of the claims he made about economics.

There are two version of inerrancy, but both need to be addressed. The first is the common misconception of inerrancy, which is that there are literally no mistakes of any kind in the original biblical books and letters. No one really believes this because they'll allow for grammatical errors and other small things. The second version is usually held by people who "know their stuff" and that is summed up by saying that "the Bible is truthful in all that it asserts." So, one common example here is that Jesus said that the mustard seed was the smallest seed. Well, it's not. But, this second type of inerrantist says, 'hey, Jesus point wasn't to discourse on horticulture, so don't sweat the small stuff.' They allow for differences in genre, and they'll even say things like "if the writer would not have been expected to be precise about a particular matter, then it is not error when such a writer states something without precision."

However, my problem with this latter view is that these same people who allow for genre and the particularities of a writer's time and place and purpose, also insist on wading out into the culture wars. For example, they insist that Genesis 1-10 is literal, and insist that Evolution denies God, etc:

jason said...

Now, K, I think your dismissal of the second flavor of inerrancy is an ad hominem move. Because of what they've done with it in Genesis you've denied the principle, which I don't think is warranted. And this is returning to what we talked about before, but inerrancy doesn't necessarily lead to creationist science, for example. Some people just think that Genesis "truthfully asserts" that creation was six days and precludes an evolutionary perspective.

Kenny said...

J - I'm not aware of major figure or source that claims the "true in all it asserts" position, and simultaenously leaves room for non-literal interpretation regarding Genesis 1-10.

So, yes, I agree with the principle. And, honestly, I believe the writers of the Chicago Statement made a mistake by applying their hermeneutic the way they did: they were right at first, but wrong at second. I'm willing to take that position.

It's generally accepted that when interpreting a writing, the writing should be understood as a whole, and no portion of the writing should be rendered superflous or meaningless. Unfortunately, although I agree with much of the Chicago Statement, the writers have now made their own statement incoherent, and thus have made it hard for me to rely on them as a source.

But if you have another source that articulates the inerrancy hermeneutic more appropriately, please feel free to direct me to it. I have no problem with saying "I accept the Jason Statement on Biblical Inerrancy," assuming its aptness.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Responding to Kenny's comment regarding inerrancy of the Bible, I suppose I maybe fall a bit into the second category, except that I don't get involved in the culture wars creationism vs evolution debate. Perhaps it's because the Orthodox Church doesn't address these issues head on, and that's the way I am too, since I've been Orthodox pretty much all of my life. The Word of God being the divine Logos made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth is inerrant, even if He uses a scientifically inaccurant analogy, such as the mustard seed. Inerrancy means consistently reliable when it comes to conveying essential truth. Does that sound like a sophistic smoke screen? I hope not. I just don't probably have the vocabulary to express what I mean, but I think you know and also understand it the same way, and so do most followers of Jesus, otherwise they wouldn't follow Him.

The Bible is the verbal or written icon of the Word of God, and it's our only one, and so we have to trust it. Whether creationism or evolution is right has no bearing on the message of the Book, the message that "God is with us."

The Bible's essential teachings have been distilled into a short memorisable text, the Symbol of the Faith of Nicaea. "I trust in one God, Father, Almighty, Poet of heaven and earth…"

The Bible, as the revealed Word of God, inerrantly conveys actual truth (truth concerning the acts of God, what He does). The Bible, as written in human language, in the idiom of partial beings, does not inerrantly convey factual truth (truth concerning what is made by God, the facts surrounding our existence and awareness of the world). That's what scientists, historians and explorers are for. They can study God's facts. Theologians study God's acts. Sometimes a very gifted person can combine both types of study in one person, but most of us tend to be one or the other. That someone can be both without becoming a split personality demonstrates that "science and religion" are not mutually incompatible, but actually complement each other when given their proper place.

Kenny said...

Thanks for this post, Romanos! I like it. I'm particularly glad to have heard your description of the Nicean Creed, with God as "Poet" of heaven and earth. I think most versions I've heard, say "Creator of heaven and earth," but I believe the root Greek word is the same ("poesia," or something like that). But your translation has a sense of beauty to it.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Thanks, Kenny, for acknowledging my comment!

Yes, the word that most translations use is "maker of heaven and earth." The original Greek is "ποιητης" which means "poet" but has the extended meaning of "maker", and the modern Greek verb derived from the same stem has the mere connotation to "to do" something. A very different word is used for "maker" in the sense of "creator"… and that is "κτηστης" and the word for the creation (everything that was created) is "κτησις" which in modern Greek, by the way, tends to mean something like "a piece of land".

I like to translate the original Greek in ways that, while legitimate, convey a topic stripped of its secular-religious content, so you can focus in more on its actual meaning, not the meaning it has acquired through familiar use over a long time period. That's why I translate "πιστευω" as "I trust" rather than "I believe", because belief has now acquired as a religious term the meaning of mere intellectual agreement, a sort of acquiescence, but trust has an active meaning. Anyone can say they believe something, but it takes guts to trust.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, again, Romanos, for another good post! And thanks for enlivening the language for us.