25 March, 2006

Vox Apologia - Scholars disagree?

The question on Vox Apologia this week is here.

There are really a couple of questions in this question, but the fun starts like this:

Suppose two biblical scholars (Or scholars of any other religious material for that matter) disagree in a mutually exclusive manner...

What happens? Well obviously they argue, start a flamewar, define lines of disagreement and demand that everyone they know pick one side or the other of those lines, then start a new denomination or two.

But I suppose the question of what should happen could be more interesting.

DarkSyde goes on to clarify the question:
Does it or does it not make sense, in those cases where it is possible, to consider empirical when trying to decide which case appears the more likely? I'm thinking for example of the estimated age of the universe or the earth, the geometry of the solar system, or the shape of the earth, all of which have been argued about from various perspectives throughout history based mostly on personal interpretation of religious text.

Going with the first example, the universe cannot both be nearly 14 billion years old and also be fewer than 10,000 years old. Since there are Christians on both sides of this argument, you can ask what those theologians do.

The specific question is whether the apologists will look at empirical evidence. The answer to that is a hearty, "Yes." And both will interpret that empirical evidence in some way that supports their positions. Then both will use that evidence to draw lines in the sand, and ask everyone to pick sides. In some rare and remarkable situations, empirical evidence will even lead one of those theologians to change his position.

Copernicus and Galileo were discomfitted a long time ago. The old techniques employed to bully people into disbelieving their own eyes were both unsuccessful and wrong. They are largely gone now.

The shoe seems now to be on the other foot. A lot of noise is being made these days regarding Intelligent Design theory. The media is now attempting to bully some very intelligent people into disbelieving their own eyes on that subject. Their accusation is that the Christians ignore all the empirical evidence, preferring to accept uninformed assertions in our sacred text. The truth is more complex than that. I have read a couple of William Dembski's books, and he cannot honestly be accused of ignoring the empirical evidence. He interprets it differently than the secular scientist, but he is definitely taking the empirical to heart.

Given the remarkable track record of the bible against a slew of enthused opponents, it makes sense to me to consider its assertions before choosing between unclear interpretations of empirical evidence. That understood, the days of ignorance about the world are gone, and the world and theologians are both the better for it.

What seems more interesting to me is what should happen between two theologians when they disagree, but that's another question.

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