Monday, November 26, 2007

Biblical Solipsism

Here is a link to an excellent article by J. P. Moreland, which discusses a problem I have been noticing for some time now among certain segments of the evangelical community. I call this problem Biblical Solipsism. It typically amounts to the claim that the Bible is not only the final source of authority for the Christian, but that the Bible is the only source of knowledge and authority for the Christian. Other possible sources of knowledge or authority such as personal experience, culture, or science are denied any relevance or legitimacy. To give an example, I recently encountered an instance of this view on another blog when a commenter there responded to something I said with the following statement:

Frankly, I care very little for scientific "factual" data in comparison with Scripture. Science has changed constantly, as it is a fallible human endeavor. But Scripture has never failed, never been proven wrong, and never contradicted itself.

It's not that there is nothing true in this comment, but it's more about a certain attitude or orientation that the comment reveals. There is, at best, a dismissal of the relevance of extra biblical sources of knowledge for the Christian. At worst there is hostility towards them. The notion that Christians can learn anything from science or that it might in any way help us in our interpretation of scripture is notably absent from this comment. I find such a view very troubling because it seems to remove the Bible from the world of our daily existence and place it in a vacuum. The Bible, however, was not written in a vacuum, but was written out of specific cultural and historical situations. It responds to and engages with the realities of human existence, and must be read in conjunction with the world of our experience. The Bible would not even make sense to us if we did not already have some experience of the world as it is.

Furthermore, even if it is true that the Bible has never failed, never been proven wrong, and never contrdicted itself, as the above quotation maintains, this does not mean that all of our interpretations of the Bible are or have been correct. If, however, we insist on ignoring the world of human experience and denying the legitimacy of extra biblical sources of knowledge, it seems to me we isolate ourselves from a major source of possible correction.

The Christian tradition, broadly defined, has always interacted with the reality of the wider culture and the world of human experience. To cut the Bible off from serious interaction with the world of our experience and to deny that Christians can learn anything from observing and interacting with the world around us leads to an anemic, provincial faith and may even lead to intellectual dishonesty.

Anyway, enough of my jabbering. Check out the article by Moreland.


thekid said...

Great stuff here Gordon, your own jabbering that is. I'm going to head over to read the Moreland article now. I was very happy to find something new posted here already! Peace, Jen

Gordon Hackman said...

Thanks sis. Like a number of other things written on this blog, this piece was inspired at the spur of the moment by seeing that someone else was articulating what I had been thinking for a while. Glad you liked it.

Maria Kirby said...

I too, have been very troubled by the attitude of persons like whom you quoted. While I believe that scripture is true, this is an issue of faith because there have been plenty of times where scripture has seemed to me (and others) to be contradictory, wrong, and failing to give me help in my relationships with God and others. I don't think we would have the whole disciplines of hermaneutics and exegesis if this weren't the case.

And while our understanding of the natural world has continually been changing, I don't think that makes science any less valid. Gravity existed long before anyone realized that the world was round instead of flat. I am thankful for the truths we now understand about the natural world. I'm sure that they have extended my life expectation and the quality of life I can experience.

Since all truth comes from God and since we are beings that have both spiritual and physical aspects, I don't understand how the truths of the natural world would not be of God or have an impact on my spiritual life.

Judah said...

I just saw an episode of the original star trek (season 2) called The Changeling. They find a prob that had been sent by earth years before that was in an accident and has evolved into a supercomputer robot out to destroy "imperfect" humans.

So the part that corresponds with your entry is that the robot continues to assert that his prime directive to annihilate humanity is right because he is perfect and and has impeccable logic.

He really does have impeccable reasoning skills, however, that is how Kirk destroys it. He points out an error, and the robot cannot reconcile making a mistake with being a perfect logic machine.

I think sometimes we Christians can be like that robot in that we fixate on a principle or proscription in the Bible and dogmatically foist it upon complicated multidimensional situations. We fixate on peripheral directives, sometimes at the cost of or prime directive--love one another. We have to remember that however sound our system or logic is, it has to fit into the bigger context of life, and ultimately relationships (to God and others).

Woops sorry didn't mean to hunch-mutter all over this entry. It just is really good and brought up a lot of thoughts for me (=

James F. McGrath said...

I'll be very interested to know what you make of Herrick's book Scientific Mythologies. I've just finished reading it recently, and will be posting a review on my blog tomorrow.