follow the evidence

December 23, 2009 at 1:11 am 9 comments

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

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.

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Entry filed under: belief, fundamentalism.

a beka a partheid a time to sew…

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lorena  |  December 23, 2009 at 2:22 am

    To me, the problem with faith is that you’re required to believe something you can’t believe. In other words faith is akin to intellectual dishonesty.

    Leaving faith requires intellectual honesty. “I can’t believe, so I don’t have to, and I won’t force myself to.”

    As to the “I don’t know,” I think it’s nice to have it available. Being fallible humans, who can blame us for not knowing everything? We just don’t, period.

  • 2. Boz  |  December 23, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    attr said: “Is belief in the virgin birth a strong candidate for a required belief? Where should the line be drawn? And who should draw it?”

    I don’t think that there should be any required belief. If there is a required belief, we are not following the evidence. As you correctly note:

    “Certain beliefs cannot be challenged. Certain conclusions are ruled out a priori, before considering evidence, with the “right” answer pre-determined.”

    attr said: “If it is reasonable for people to [..] make a choice knowing evidence is lacking, then …”

    It is not reasonable to reach a conclusion (other than ‘I don’t know’) where evidnece is lacking. This is a fallacy known as the argument from ignorance. An example: No one knows what the origion of the universe was. So, Allah must have done it.

  • 3. the chaplain  |  December 25, 2009 at 11:18 am

    “I Don’t Know” is the right answer to a whole lot of questions.

  • 4. atimetorend  |  December 27, 2009 at 12:00 am

    Boz and the chaplain, I agree whole heartedly of course, that “I don’t know” is a legitimate response. Evangelicalism does allow for a degree of “I don’t know,” as long as you exercise it with certain limited parameters. I really did claim that freedom to question a while ago, but it was a significant step for me at the time.

  • 5. Sabio Lantz  |  December 27, 2009 at 12:01 am

    “I don’t know” — that sounds almost creedal !
    Sound like something that should be said at a sacrament.
    Good post

  • 6. atimetorend  |  December 27, 2009 at 12:02 am

    Lorena, those are good points. What is surprising to me looking back is that I would ever have been willing to sweep questions under the carpet and try to force myself to believe anything. There are those in evangelicalism who are more willing to allow for uncertainty and not commit the sin of intellectual dishonesty which you mention, but I did not hear of them until I had pretty much rejected the premises of evangelicalism.

  • 7. Tristan Vick  |  January 21, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    I think the comment that Al Mohler made precisely details the narrow, limited, and insufficient views of apologetic Christians.

    “The real question is this: Can a Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth? The answer must be no.”

    Case in point: If you only knew what the Bible said on “talking snakes” then you would consider it the whole authority on “talking snakes.”

    Without any real world evidence, without any other fables or folklore, without any reasonable context to put it in–it would be the only thing you knew–and since it is the only thing you know about talking snakes–you’d make the error Mohler does by describing it as the ONLY thing to KNOW.

    This is a false assumption, based (sadly enough) on one’s own propensity to believe in their devotional convictions without actually taking the time to research or investigate other avenues of interest. It’s entirely biased, and predicated on subjectivity, not objective analysis or scrutiny of a variety of possibilities. It’s the adherence to one possibility and the denial that there could be anything else.

    It’s piss poor thinking if you ask me.

  • 8. atimetorend  |  January 23, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    Tristan, very well said, thanks for commenting. Apologists don’t want real world thinking like that, they just want submission to the text, or what they believe, or whatever. It is piss poor thinking if it is even thinking in the first place. It seems like just deciding that one is going to take a certain position no matter what, and then telling other people they are foolish or morally culpable to take another other stand.

  • 9. the authority of paul (or someone) « a time to rend  |  February 14, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    […] conclusions of critical biblical study are rejected out of hand. Not much fun if you can’t follow the evidence where it […]

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