follow the evidence
“Go where the evidence leads” was a recent topic among several biblioblogs concerning academic freedom in seminaries, starting with a post by Dan Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary. I am including a couple links in case anyone is interested in the somewhat esoteric discussion. Both provide good summaries of the discussion and are blogs well worth perusing.
Exploring our Matrix – The Bible, Christianity, and Scholarship
Biblia Hebraica – Go Where the Evidence Leads
On my own tangent, regarding going where evidence leads and relating to the Christmas narratives, Al Mohler wrote a post a few years ago making this statement:
“The real question is this: Can a Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth? The answer must be no.”
For the record, I do not agree with this statement. A person does not have to give up being a Christian if they do not believe in a historical and literal virgin birth. Nor do they have to give up the right to formulate their own opinions. Mohler’s definition of Christianity is not universal; a claim conveniently asserted, but not so easily supported.
Maybe it should read:
“The real question is this: Can a Fundamentalist Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth and remain a Fundamentalist Christian? The answer must be no.”
I would be fine with that, let him define his own sect. :^)
There are of course many Evangelicals who would agree with his statement. I am not trying to make a case here either for or against belief in the virgin birth. However the statement goes well beyond the belief itself. It is a statement requiring Christians to have this belief, which is a relatively modern understanding.
“The Fundamentals” was a series of articles published and widely distributed in the early 1900’s to defend conservative Christian faith against the influence of liberalism. The articles outlined a number of doctrines deemed essential, or fundamental, to the Christian faith. It is in that sense that belief in the virgin birth is relatively new as a fundamentalist tenet. Certain beliefs cannot be challenged. Certain conclusions are ruled out a priori, before considering evidence, with the “right” answer pre-determined. Orthodoxy, “right thinking,” takes precedent over thinking and forming opinions. If use of reason should lead one to consider something contrary to those established by the orthodox tradition, it could only be that the reasoning was prideful because “God’s reason is higher than man’s”. A less subtle version might be the famous bumper sticker, “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It.”
Where does “I don’t know” belong in the equation though? There are a lot of unknowns about the gospel accounts. As ancient history published years after the fact and scarcely if at all documented in contemporary sources that will always be the case. Fundamentalists say that the bible is inerrant and seek to explain away any seeming problems by providing logical possibilities as solutions. That may be well and good as a position of faith, but it is not following where the evidence goes. Is belief in the virgin birth a strong candidate for a required belief? Where should the line be drawn? And who should draw it?
“Where does the evidence lead?” That question should be fair game for anyone, skeptic or believer. If it is reasonable for people to draw different conclusions about the evidence, or make a choice knowing evidence is lacking, why should it be unreasonable to try to follow the evidence, or to simply state, “I don’t know what happened?” How can faith require that others know with certainty what one takes on faith? I think I want my “I don’t know” back.