I was listening to NPR’s “Fresh Air” program a couple weeks ago, and it was an interview with Kitty Ferguson, who wrote Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind, and who has known Hawking since the 80’s, as she has been in the role of being his editor since that time. She very plainly made a remark that I think was just plain honest and far more direct than I think the host was expecting. She stated of Hawking, that when he speaks of religion, he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. She said essentially that he is outside of his field of expertise, and that this was common among scientists, who know so much about their field that they feel they can pontificate upon every other field as well. This is the problem of scientism, as it seeks to answer all questions with empirical inquiry and a philosophically naturalistic worldview.
But this is also something that many have commented about within the field of biblical scholarship as well. The worst of these offenders, in my mind, is Bart Ehrman. Here is a scholar whose scholarship is in textual criticism. He studies New Testament manuscripts in various languages and notes the development of the manuscript in relationship to other manuscripts. His dissertation at Princeton was on the Coptic witness of the Gospels in Didymus the Blind’s works. So his expertise is in looking at that sort of data. It’s not in exegesis, and even though every New Testament student/scholar will have a good amount of exposure to exegesis, it does not make him an expert in the field. His expertise is also not in theology and philosophy.
Now, I wouldn’t really have much of a problem with him moving into these areas if he didn’t make so many statements that lack the nuance, and a disclosure of all of the information rather than just that which supports his theses, that are required of scholarly work. So when he debates on theodicy, or writes books about supposed biblical errors based on a misunderstanding of theology, or when he interprets a passage of the New Testament a certain way, and can’t seem to understand how anyone interprets it differently (like someone who knows how to actually put works together literarily), it just becomes another noisy gong and clanging symbol to everyone who knows better, and an unnecessary hindrance to the faith of others who don’t.
Ehrman, and those like him, are A+ scholars in their fields, but often we find them to be F students when they go outside of those fields. And I do give Ehrman an F in theology, as he either does not understand it well, or he is just being dishonest in order to support an agenda. I frankly don’t know which is worse, especially since he just seated himself in the heavenly places at the last SBL, using himself as the standard for who should be a mouthpiece for the divine scholarly community to the public. You can see what I mean here: http://michaelhalcomb.blogspot.com/2011/11/problem-with-bart-ehrman-sbl-2011.html
In any case, people need to be more discerning when they read this stuff or hear debates by these scholars, because when they speak outside of their field of expertise, they are speaking as layman, not experts. I don’t care how many books they have written, how many speaking engagements they have had, what their credentials are, etc. If they go outside of their field of expertise, then you simply have to take them, as you would any other non-expert, with a grain of salt.