apologists are experts


Let's face it - the vast majority of people who have spent a great deal of time studying the Bible believe it is the word of God. That's an inescapable reality. Should we leverage some credibility to the claims based on the position of the authorities? Let us consider the ramifications of doing so.


Let us suppose that there is a hypothetical dichotomy that the experts must decide upon. If 90% of the scholars agree with the position that favors Christianity, I would feel extremely confident that about 90% of the scholars came into the field as Christians. The opinion of such authorities, who began with the conclusion before considering the evidence, cannot be trusted simply because they are authorities. One simply cannot trust those with huge emotional investments to be objective on critical issues. You cannot trust a car salesman when buying a car; you should trust a consumer report. You cannot trust an Islamic scholar when studying Islam; you should trust a scholar who had no opinion going in. You cannot trust a Jewish scholar when studying Judaism; you should trust a scholar who had no set opinion going in. You cannot trust a mother of an artist when determining which artist made the best painting; you should trust an art critic with no knowledge of the artists. For this reason, I put little stock in the opinions of people who began studying Christianity years after they accepted the notion of a talking snake.

Apologists and the bunch ignore counterevidence when they find it, or find someway to rationalize it with the Bible. This practice isn't localized to one religion either. Muslims, Mormons, Jews, etc. will interpret according to their preconceived notions. The importance of the fact that such adults were indoctrinated with beliefs from childhood cannot be overstated! How else do multiple religions survive in the age of scrutiny and reason? This is why apologists must excuse me for wanting authorities, if they appeal to them, to have no religious preference. Practice of religion clouds judgment. Understanding of religion does not.

Not only does the problem reach outside of Christianity, it continues outside of religion. Think of other fields that skeptics and rationalists consider to be based on myths. What percentage of people who are UFO experts believe that UFOs are flying saucer vehicles piloted by aliens? I don't have the statistic with me, but should we not feel confident that the vast majority are UFO apologists? People with such interests will naturally join such fields, entering with the notion that they are flying saucers and beginning with the determination to validate their beliefs. UFO apologists don't pay much attention to evidence and explanations that debunk their beliefs; they find ways of making it consistent. They do not like simple explanations for sightings, so they begin with premise that the sighting is authentic, and mold explanations without breaking the premise. Does this not sound familiar? Have you ever seen the pseudoscientific techniques and equipment used by ghost hunters? Does this not sound familiar as well?

The same can be said for those who study Bigfoot, Nessie, yetis, psychics, ESP, ghosts, homeopathy, faith healing, etc. The believers become the experts; disbelievers have no interest. Every now and then, you will find rationalists dedicated enough to devote time for debunking such nonsense. These people, who have studied with great interest but without preconceived notions, are the ones who offer natural explanations. There is no reason that we shouldn't feel confident that people with no interest in the field who take the time to learn both sides will agree with the natural explanations offered by skeptics. The skeptic knows that Bigfoot is based on myth and that the evidence doesn't support the claims because he has no emotional investment in Bigfoot. Despite no good evidence, the believer is going to continue believing what he wants to believe, thanks in part to his bad reasoning. The Bigfoot enthusiast will not listen to reason because he convinced himself long ago of the veracity of his beliefs. Very rarely do we see disbelieving experts become believing experts. Even with years of conditioned reinforcement from their environment, the number leaving greatly outweighs the number joining.

Yes, the overwhelming majority of biblical experts believe in the veracity of the Bible. To someone who had never heard of such matters, however, Yahweh and Bigfoot should be no different. Smart people believe dumb things because they are very gifted at coming up with scenarios that maintain their beliefs. Have you ever read the explanations on why Matthew and Luke contradict on when Jesus was born? Debating the existence of Yahweh is no more of an issue to me than debating the issue of Bigfoot. I see this simply as a matter of exploring the best options to make Christians understand this very concept.

10 comments:

shargash said...

What about, say, Paleontology? Would you argue that you don't want a paleontologist as an expert on paleontology? Or, as maybe a better analogy, that you don't want a geologist who is an expert on Plate Tectonics to be act as an authority on the veracity of the theory of plate tectonics?

While your UFO example is, I think, correct. The Plate Tectonics example isn't. What is the difference? I guess the answer would have to be the scientific method.

I certainly have seen expert scientists who have a vested interest in a particular theory defend that theory beyond all rationality. But the scientific method establishes a process by which objectivity is eventually arrived at, even if subjectivity triumphs over any particular short period of time.

The problem with religionists, ufologists, et. al. is that they don't accept the scientific method. If they did, they would have had to admit that many of their beliefs have no basis in reality.

John W. Loftus said...

This is why I have proposed The Outsider Test for faith. The presumption when approaching said beliefs should be one of skepticism, or of holding no opinion when doing so.

In today's world we have the great three Master's of Suspicion who were suspicious of any belief especially when the advocate of that belief gains something by advocating it (Freud/sex, Marx/money,and Nietzsche/power).

openlyatheist said...

This is the 1st post of yours I've seen here Jason. I've seen your website. Keep up the good work.

John

Hallq said...

Actually, on just about any question you can always find people who know the subject matter well and will devote their time to it. For UFO etc, there's CSICOP. For the Bible, there's Richard Carrier and Robert M. Price.

Jason Long said...

Shargash said:

"What about, say, Paleontology? Would you argue that you don't want a paleontologist as an expert on paleontology? Or, as maybe a better analogy, that you don't want a geologist who is an expert on Plate Tectonics to be act as an authority on the veracity of the theory of plate tectonics?"

I should clarify. I wouldn't trust a paleontologist who entered the field with his mind made up that T Rex, his favorite dinosaur, was truly king of the dinosaurs. I wouldn't trust a geologist who entered the field unwilling to entertain the notion that earthquakes are (or are not) predidictable. Anyone who enters a field with his mind made up on particular issue that he finds to be of utmost importance should not be trusted.

Democracy Lover said...

This is an important thread. The fundys I talk to argue from the point of view that unless you believe as they do you cannot understand the Bible. What every child should learn in school is that approaching any topic with a preconceived and immovable notion is not study at all, just a form of mental masturbation.

If we study American history with the fixed preconception that all our ancestors were wise and good and all our nation's actions were righteous and just, we have no chance of learning anything meaningful about our nation. I use this analogy intentionally.

I believe that a populace brainwashed into believing in a magic god in the sky who made the entire universe in 6 days, raised himself from the dead, and is interested in every little decision you make during every day and wants you to give your money to help Reverend Billy Joe Bilgewater save the lost -- that populace will believe anything they are told. Thus we have a majority who believes there were WMD in Iraq and that Saddam and Osama were bosom buddies and that homosexuals are out to destroy marriage and whatever other hokum is spread out before them. As long as the good Reverend Billy Joe tells them they are being threatened by atheistic secular humanist commie lesbians they will fall right in line - I mean isn't there a verse in Revelation warning about the Democrats or something?

Why do you think the right wing and the Christian nutcases are out to destroy the public school system? It's not the homosexual agenda or free condoms that really has them worried. They fear that the public school will teach their little Susie the scientific method - unfortunately not bloody likely in most of our school systems, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

why dont you join me at http://www.christianforums.com/showthread.php?p=23438741#post23438741

I am an ex minister having a strange type of debate with christians and another ex pastor has joined me.

John said...

Democracy Lover, are you really in love with the purest form of democracy? If you are, then you need to accept the fact that the super-majority of Americans believe in a single creator of the universe, and trying to impose your very small minority view on them is unfair and undemocratic.

As for the rest of your post...

1. I don't think that the majority of those polled in American still believe that there were WMD in Iraq.

2. White Southern Christians aren't the only people in America that are opposed to gay marriage. You should listen to a fire-breathing black Baptist minister tell you what he thinks of it. Ask Orthodox Jews. Ask any Muslim. The only reason why gay marriage is still being debated is because supporters of it edit newspapers and produce films.

3. You're just as afriad that your daughter, or future daughter, will happen across Christianity on her own and like it, and that nothing that you say will change her mind. Is that freedom of thought?

J. J. Ramsey said...

This post reminds me of something Jacques Berlinerblau said when discussing the problems of religion in biblical scholarship:

"Be that as it may, we Biblicists -- perhaps I should say you Biblicists -- are a fascinating and sometimes laudably heretical lot. How many times have exegetes inadvertently come to conclusions that imperiled the dogmas of the religious groups to which they belonged? In The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously, I ascribed a heroic function to biblical scholars, depicting them as (unwitting) agents of secular modernity. I would note that Julius Wellhausen and William Robertson Smith were most decidedly not Voltaire and Marx. They were not cultured despisers of religion, but profoundly pious individuals. It is a world-historical irony that their heresies played a role in the continuing secularization of the Occident. Subsequent generations of Biblicists have followed suit, and by dint of their efforts they have legitimated and routinized the right of an individual to criticize the sacred. As recent current events indicate, this is no mere cartoon heroism.

"All honor, then, is due to believing critics past and present. This is why, incidentally, I deplore the current secular chic of denigrating all forms of religious thought. Indeed, the tendency of today's Celebrities of Nonbelief to depict theistic thinkers as dupes and imbeciles actually exemplifies the cultural impoverishment (and desperation) of today's freethinking movements. Secular intellectual culture is moored in the 90s, and by this I mean the 1890s. A more serious engagement with religious thought would serve it well."

From http://www.sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleId=503

The problem I see with the statement,

"If 90% of the scholars agree with the position that favors Christianity, I would feel extremely confident that about 90% of the scholars came into the field as Christians. The opinion of such authorities, who began with the conclusion before considering the evidence, cannot be trusted simply because they are authorities."

is that it assumes the authorities in question really are basing their opinions on faith, not evidence. Now, for the more conservative scholars, this may be a good assumption, but when you get to the "laudably heretical" scholars, it becomes problematic. Actually, I have found the statement, "the overwhelming majority of biblical experts believe in the veracity of the Bible," has probably been untrue for quite a while. You should read the interviews on http://cafeapocalypsis.blogspot.com/ about "Faith Based Scholarship" to get an idea of the range of opinions on the issue. The interviews of Mark Goodacre and James Crossley are particularly interesting.

Apologists may be experts, but not all experts are apologists.

Josh (Joshster@epals.com) said...
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