Friday, January 18, 2013

Here We Go Again

I spoke recently of the presuppositional fallacy that so many scholars commit, and then turn around and accuse their opponents of just using this argument to deflect the "real evidence." Well, I think I'm going to make an example of something Dr. Enns keeps harping on, because I think his misunderstanding of what a presupposition and ultimate belief is is very important for his attitude toward evangelical scholars. He states:

But here’s the thing about presuppositions: they are not all created equal. They can be tested. Put it this way, if someone asserts that the Bible must behave in a manner “X” because it is God’s word, and yet in your reading of the Bible you are finding a lot of “not X,” you either (1) have to question your reading skills, (2) admit you are so spiritually depraved you can’t read straight, or (3) consider that the assertion may be in error.

This is completely and utterly false. Presuppositions, in terms of ultimate beliefs, cannot be tested. They govern the process of inquiry so that they determine what conclusions you come to in order to determine whether you have X or "not X." In other words, how one goes about concluding that you have "not X" is governed by an untestable presupposition.

Now, of course, I think Dr. Enns doesn't understand what the type of presupposition is to which evangelical scholars are alluding when they make this argument. His idea that a certain belief about the Bible's accuracy is a presupposition is not really accurate. It's a proposition that stems from a presuppositional ultimate belief. It's an hypothesis one can ask of the Bible, but the actual ultimate belief type presupposition to which these evangelicals are referring is not something that can be tested. It either is or is not held via faith, and that goes either way. In other words, I think that he's confusing a testable presupposition, which is really just an hypothesis, with a nontestable presupposition, which is an ultimate belief, in this case concerning a metaphysical question about the Bible, that then determines how one views the data.

Hence, evangelical scholars are simply saying that liberals have certain presuppositions that predetermine what conclusions they can make about the Bible. So do evangelicals. The difference is that many evangelicals know that this is happening and liberals often don't, as it is evidenced by the fact that they think you can test presuppositions of this sort with data that can only be interpreted by philosophical or theological frameworks created by presuppositions and ultimate beliefs in the first place. To state otherwise is to make a circular argument that "non-X" can be established on the basis of Presupposition Y in order to test and critique Presupposition Z. That's nonsense. All you are doing is assuming Presupposition Y and critiquing Presupposition Z, and all of the data you've interpreted with Presupposition Y, with it.

It's an arrogance that disguises itself as more noble for using data to test ultimate beliefs, but has no ability of doing so. Again, if biblical scholars would just educate themselves in this area, it would really help them from making these arguments, and perhaps, lighten up their demeaning attitudes toward others who they view as ignoring the "evidence."

The truth is, I don't hold to a strict view of the Bible that says it must always relate exactly what happened in history or describe something scientifically accurate, since I don't believe that is the purpose of the Bible to do so for the most part. Nor do I have any issues with source criticism, unless used to interpret a book as its context. Nor do I have any issues with authors conflicting with other authors in their works before they were placed into the canon, again, as long as that is not used as a way of undermining the unity and context of the canon as it now stands. But to argue that those who have a far more restricting view of inerrancy cannot maintain their stance in light of data interpreted by someone else's presuppositions and ultimate beliefs is to perpetuate the Enlightenment error of objective certitude via the academic/scientific process. All one is really doing is assuming a particular faith stance in an ultimate belief and then making that the "objective" view. We don't need any more of that. It causes a lot of unwarranted hubris toward others.

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