Why Faith-Based Scholarship Sucks So Bad

Apr 15, 2018
Why Faith-Based Scholarship Sucks So Bad
  • If we ever actually find evidence of anything supernatural, it won't be coming from theologians and apologists. It'll be coming from physics people and archaeologists and whatnot.

    Lambchop Commentary:

    Exactly. That is the basis for Michael V. Fox's argument that "faith-based" scholarship should be denied a place at the academic table [LINK]:

    Any discipline that deliberately imports extraneous, inviolable axioms into its work belongs to the realm of homiletics or spiritual enlightenment or moral guidance or whatnot, but not scholarship, whatever academic degrees its practitioners may hold. Scholarship rests on evidence. Faith, by definition, is belief when evidence is absent. "There can ... be no faith concerning matters which are objects of rational knowledge, for knowledge excludes faith" (thus Aquinas, as paraphrased by the Enc. of Philosophy 3.165). And evidence must be accessible and meaningful apart from the unexaminable axioms, and it must not be merely generated by its own premises. (It is not evidence in favor of the Quran's divine origin that millions of people believe it deeply, nor is it evidence of its inerrancy that the it proclaims itself to be "the Scripture whereof there is no doubt.") To be sure, everyone has presuppositions and premises, but these are not inviolable. Indeed, it is the role of education to teach students how to recognize and test their premises and, when necessary, to reject them.

    This is why credentials play a part in evaluating the competency and qualifications of a source. Someone can read widely, sure, but without being in an environment that encourages questioning and challenging their beliefs and assumptions, they're likely to only double-down on their pre-existing opinions (and, yes, religious faith resides squarely in the "opinions" category). Such are the dangers of someone presuming to be self-educated; they have no teacher or instructor who ever knew more than they did.

    Faith-based Bible study is not part of scholarship even if some of its postulates turn out to be true. If scholarship, such as epigraphy and archaeology, should one day prove the existence of a Davidic empire, faith-based study will have had no part in the discovery(even if some epigraphers incidentally hold faith of one sort or another) because it starts with the conclusions it wishes to reach.

    There is an atmosphere abroad in academia (loosely associated with postmodernisms) that tolerates and even encourages ideological scholarship and advocacy instruction. Some conservative religionists have picked this up.

    Hellloooooo, Lydia McGrew!

    I have heard students, and read authors, who justify their biases by the rhetoric of postmodern self-indulgence. Since no one is viewpoint neutral and every one has presuppositions, why exclude Christian presuppositions? Why allow the premise of errancy but not of inerrancy? Such sophistry can be picked apart, but the climate does favor it.​

    The claim of faith-based Bible study to a place at the academic table takes a toll on the entire field of Bible scholarship. The reader or student of Bible scholarship is likely to suspect (or hope) that the author or teacher is moving toward a predetermined conclusion. Those who choose a faith-based approach should realize that they cannot expect the attention of those who don't share their postulates. The reverse is not true. Scholars who are personally religious constantly draw on work by scholars who do not share their postulates. One of the great achievements of modern Bible scholarship is that it communicates across religious borders so easily that we usually do not know the beliefs of its practitioners.

    Trained scholars quickly learn to recognize which authors and publications are governed by faith and tend to set them aside, not out of prejudice but out of an awareness that they are irrelevant to the scholarly enterprise. Sometimes it is worthwhile to go through a faith-motivated publication and pick out the wheat from the chaff, but time is limited.

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