Tag Archives: Fundamentalism

Another Update to “Religious Bigotry in a University Classroom?”

For the background to this story, see here and an update here. To bring everyone up to speed, just a couple of weeks ago Paul Derengowski decided to post an update regarding his situation to a blog dedicated to “Defending Christianity from Mormon Doctrine.” By way of summary, Paul is trying to sue those he considers responsible for forcing him to resign from his post at Tarrant County Community College, but all his efforts to find legal representation have been unsuccessful. I think it’s clear enough why that is.


Review: Journal for Trinitarian Studies and Apologetics (1)


I recently ordered and received the first issue of The Journal for Trinitarian Studies and Apologetics, the new journal published by the conservative Evangelical organization, Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, or CARM. This issue retails on Amazon for $6.50. I plan to review each article individually on my blog, but in this post I share some general introductory thoughts regarding layout, editing, tone, audience, etc.

I think such a post is merited for two reasons. First, this post provides a bit of rhetorical context for the individual article reviews. These aren’t traditional academic articles written for an academic audience; rather they are devotional articles with an academic tinge that are aimed primarily at a conservative Evangelical lay audience. A couple of the articles are even written by lay authors. I get the impression from the tone and from the lexicon employed by the authors that they are speaking directly to members of their own faith community. The authors’ hermeneutical presuppositions, when they are stated, are largely presumed to be shared by the readers, and there is no defense or support offered for those principles that flatly contradict traditional academic approaches. For example, in Dalcour’s article we find the following axiom asserted in the author’s interpretation of the gospel of John:

We must take Scripture as a unit: All Scripture is theopneustos
“breathed out by God.” Hence, John 8:58 and the other absolute “I am” clams [sic] are all a part of 1:1 and 20:28, which are a part of 5:17 and 10:30. And these are a part of 1 John 5:20, which is a part of Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:6-11; and Colossians 2:9, which are all a part of Isaiah 9:6 and the prologue of Hebrews.

In other words, fundamentalist dogmas must govern the investigation, because the author says so.

The journal is ostensibly apologetic in scope, but there is little, if any, apologetic aimed beyond the boundaries of the Evangelical faith community. Rather, the journal seeks to convince its own constituency that Evangelicalism is biblically and intellectually defensible, and that other traditions lack that support. Most commonly falling between the crosshairs are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, Muslims, and Mormons, but even they are addressed as the uninformed “other.” Broadly speaking, the journal is faith promotion and boundary maintenance, drawing an ideological line in the sand around the authors’ and editors’ conceptualization of Evangelicalism. The editor’s own contribution (the last article in the volume) illustrates this in his marginalizing of those Evangelicals who espouse an anthropological monism (but more on that later).

Second, the problems with the layout and editing are so numerous and egregious as to require their own discussion. This journal lacks professionalism at every stage of the editorial process. When I got the journal, I first opened to the copyright page and the first things I noticed were two ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers), which are used for individual books. Someone didn’t think to register an ISSN (International Standard Serial Number), which is designated for serial publications like magazines and journals. This means they have to register an entirely new ISBN with each issue they publish (the journal states it is biannual).

I turned the page and the next thing I saw were ligatures connecting the “t” to the “r” in the word “introduction” in the title of the editor’s introduction. The kerning is inconsistent throughout the article titles, and in several places it is quite noticeable. As an example, here is a scan of a single title page.

cover i

Notice, in addition to the bad kerning, that the indentations for each paragraph are inconsistent. Did the editor not want the last line of the first paragraph to end before the first word of the next paragraph? They picked an unfortunate method for overcoming that problem. Neither are the author’s name and the subtitle centered on the page. Rather, they seem centered on the indented first lines of the paragraphs that follow.

Next, there are issues with the fonts. The editor’s introduction is in a smaller sized font than the rest of the articles, to begin. All the articles use transliteration where they reference Greek and Hebrew, but the article by Edward L. Dalcour appears to have been intended to have some Greek script. It clearly didn’t come through, though. Footnote 14 on page 97 quotes another author, stating, “cf. Isaiah 43:10 where the very words occur iJna pishteushte –oJti egw eimi.” That’s right, the font and/or keyboard wasn’t changed to Greek, leaving a jumble of Latin characters easily decipherable to English speakers familiar with the Greek keyboard configurations. This happens twice more in the body of the article, with the intended Greek phrase in a conspicuously larger sans-serif font.

The footnotes also use a sans-serif font that does not fit well with the body of the text (except for one article, which uses a seriffed font throughout). Similarly, the journal title along the left page headers is in a sans-serif font, but the issue information along the right page headers is not.

The footnotes themselves are inconsistently edited, as well. Only about half of the footnotes have periods at the end. In some articles there is a loose pattern of omitting the period after simple source references, but this is also inconsistently applied, and in one article there are virtually no periods at all in the footnotes. Here is an example of the sloppy editing that dominates:

cover ii

I rarely spend any time at all critiquing things like this in a book or article review, but the quality here was so unexpectedly bad that I felt it needed to be addressed. If CARM is looking to create some kind of respected or authoritative forum for Evangelical voices, the first thing they need to do is find an editor who knows what they’re doing.

My next entry will engage the fourth article in the volume, Edward L. Dalcour’s “Jesus’ Claims to be God: Answering the Objections.” I am going out of order because the discussion related to Dalcour’s article will provide some context for the discussion of other articles, particularly those of Bowman, Felker, and Neasbitt.

James Barr on Inerrancy

Please forgive the paucity of posts recently. My wife is pregnant and on bedrest, so other responsibilities have taken priority. I ran across a lengthy paragraph in James Barr’s Fundamentalism that I thought merited note, though. From page 51:

In fundamentalism the truth of the Bible, its inerrancy, understood principally as correspondence with external reality and events, is fed into the interpretive process at its very beginning. That is to say, one does not first interpret the passage on the basis of linguistic and literary structure, and then raise the question whether this is true as a matter of correspondance to external reality or to historical events. On the contrary, though linguistic and literary structure are respected as guides, and indeed conservative literature contains a good deal of boasting about the command of these disciplines by conservative interpreters, the principle of the inerrancy of scripture has an overriding function. It dominates the interpretative process entirely. The questions: Might linguistic and literary form suggest that the passage is a myth or legen? Might it be mistaken in matters of historical fact? Might it be something generated not by external events which occurred in this sequence, but by problems in the inner experience of the early church?—such questions are therefore eliminated from the interpretative process from the beginning. The fundamentalist interpreter may consider them, but only in so far as they are forced upon him by the arguments of critical scholars. They do not form part of his own interpretative procedure at all. This means, however, that though linguistic and literary form are respected as guides, they operate as guides only under the overriding control of the principle of inerrancy. The question is, therefore, which of the various interpretations is supported by the linguistic and literary evidence, under the overriding assumptions that the passage is inerrant as a description of external events and realities? The passage is inerrant: the only question is, which is the correct path to the necessarily inerrant meaning?

Lady McGaga On Inerrancy

James McGrath has some great thoughts up on his blog regarding the all-too-common notion that those who reject inerrancy are only uncritically appropriating modern naturalistic/humanistic/liberal/whatever presuppositions. He has said pretty much everything I have only recently begun to try to articulate, so I won’t bother to add anything to it, but will just point you to it and suggest you give it a read.

Alpha & Omega Ministries and Thinking Critically

I’m composing a post in response to a video that James White has posted on his Alpha and Omega Ministries blog and noticed another post on the A&O blog today that I thought I would quickly respond to. The post is entitled “Thinking Critically about Biblical Criticism,” and in it TurretinFan basically provides what he believes to be a handy critique of the critical methodologies employed by those whom he believes uncritically promulgate the notion of contradictions in the Bible. Here’s the meat of his post:

In the following series of posts I’ve identified four issues that, if presented in separate gospels, would likely lead to the charge of contradictions amongst the gospels. However, in each case, the text in question comes from the same book: 1 Samuel. In various ways, the seeming contradictions are resolved, either by showing that the different accounts simply bring out different aspects, or showing that the different accounts are actually of different events.

1. A King for Israel: Blessing or Judgment?

2. The Crowning of King Saul – Private or Public – Initiated by Samuel or the People?

3. How did “Is Saul Also Among the Prophets?” Become a Parable?

4. When and At Whom did Saul Hurl His Javelin?

The point of those posts is, I hope, to provide some examples that my fellow apologists can bring up to help to show people how easy it can be to allege contradiction simply based on differences in accounts.

The main issue I have, without going into the arguments he produces for each case, is that one must presuppose a single author for 1 Samuel in order for his premise to hold. As with the different gospels and numerous other books of the Bible, this is evidence not of acute variability within a univocal text, but of literary layers and multiple authorship. A couple quick examples within 1 Samuel support this. First, as Thom Stark points out in chapter 7 of The Human Faces of God, Saul is introduced to David in 1 Sam 16:21–22 (and loves him greatly, sending a letter to his father asking him by name to allow him to stay in his service), and then must be reintroduced to David in 1 Sam 17:55–58. He has to ask David to his face what his name is and who his father is (and this after Saul talked with David and even put his own armor upon him). In fact, even the reader has to be introduced all over again to David’s father. Another interesting problem is that of the word נחם, “to repent” in 1 Sam 15. In v. 29 the text says Yhwh “will not repent (לא ינחם), for he is not a man that needs to repent,” but then in v. 35 the text says “And Yhwh repented (ויהוה נחם).” Same verb, same niphal stem. Is the author just not paying attention and wrote down two contradictory statements, or do we have here two originally independent sections of text brought together in a single textual tradition? Either way, univocality is absolutely precluded. The notion that 1 Samuel is unified enough to assume single authorship in the four pericopes listed above is unfounded. It makes much more sense that we simply have separate literary layers.

Trusting in the Bible vs. Human Reason

James McGrath shares some reflections on that all-too-common trump card appealed to by fundamentalists: trusting the Bible vs. trusting human reason. He makes two good points, and I think the cartoon he shares is representative of pretty much all of fundamentalism (and not just Christian).

Believing Scientists (and Scholars)

Jim Linville has a post up by his big brother, Allen, that is a comment from his recent Carnival of the Godless. His brother takes issue with some of the assertions from an entry from the Primate Diaries by Eric Michael Johnson. Here is the gist of his brother’s concern:

I am not a religious person, not even a slightly spiritual person, unless it involces good beer or single malt scotch. But I will not ridicule or demean someone’s contribution to the knowledge of how some portion of the universe works just because they believe that a supernatural being or beings was/were the cause of the universe.

A respectable position irrespective of one’s ideological leanings. Allen also mentions a few different believing scientists who made significant contributions to our understanding of the world. I want to share some of the comments from Johnson’s article that I find interesting:

Yes, religion is incompatible with science. This doesn’t mean, of course, that religious people are incapable of doing science. Far from it. There are certain questions that don’t probe too deeply into the foundations of a person’s faith and they have no problem employing their reason to its fullest in those cases.

He’s referring, I believe, to a species of compartmentalization whereby the believing individual reserves his critical thinking only for topics which do not impinge upon the foundations of his faith. I believe this is not an inaccurate observation, but is not necessarily a universal truth. Jim’s brother responds,

There are hundreds of examples of real, important, long lasting scientific work done by devout people of all religions in geology, astronomy and physics. These sciences, along with biology, are now under attack by a variety of unreasoning, closed minded people. But in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, the discoveries were not ignored but fully researched and probed to the fullest allowed by the technology and theories in place at the time.

Somehow they managed to either separate the science from their faith or accept that the new discoveries were a part of the workings of whatever version of God he or she believed in. A person’s religious views generally does not demean any scientific endeavour that person engages in, no more so that the person’s race, gender, age or sexual orientation.

Back to Johnson:

But when reason starts to get uncomfortably close . . . well, that’s when the desperate appeal to fuzzy thinking becomes apparent. Because the assumption of God is so obvious to them (and I’m sure they feel it powerfully) the evidence suggesting that evolution follows natural mechanisms and has no need of a supernatural intelligence must therefore be wrong. They’ll bend over backwards trying to rationalize irrationality.

Allen’s response:

Perhaps many do, the ones that fit into that category I encounter most often are the ones with very little or any formal science education. Real, practicing scientists I have studied do not suffer permanent lower back pain because of their beliefs. Yes, religious people can be good scientists.

While I have no real problem with evolution, I disagree with Johnson’s earlier comment that a simple appeal to “natural mechanisms” ameliorates all the complexities and unknowns. Assuming that those unknowns operate under the same mechanical principles (and then averring that they do) just because that makes the theory easily manageable is not an entirely scientific conclusion.

On the other hand, I believe there are plenty of believing scientists (and scholars) that have no problem thinking critically about issues that land right in their theological wheelhouse. We had courses on evolution available at BYU (taught by very competent scientists), and the vast majority of the Latter-day Saint student body took no issue with it. They also kept on believing in God and in some manner of divine creation.

To quote Hamlet, “Aye, there’s the rub.” Do we have to abandon one when a perceived conflict arises in the other? Perhaps when one has very strict and comprehensive boundaries. Johnson begins his article referencing his own Lutheran upbringing. He cites some standard religious problems and atheist responses:

I remember vividly Pastor Carl’s frustration when he couldn’t answer why, if every living thing was made for the benefit of man, do mosquitoes exist? He finally settled on an answer that, I would later discover, is an old favorite in shutting down inappropriate lines of inquiry.

“We can’t always understand God’s will.”But wait, I thought, you claim to understand God’s will in all of these other areas.

I believe he’s here throwing the baby out with the bathwater, though. The problem may not be with religion, but with Pastor Carl’s confidence in his explanation of it. I tend to be far less sure in my ability to pigeonhole God’s exact nature and will. After all, that seems to be the point of eternal life (John 17:3), not necessarily our temporal existence.

There are plenty of religious folks who believe scientific inquiry can inform our search for God. Not all religious traditions are diametrically opposed to scientific principles that conflict with traditional and fundamental interpretations of the scriptures. Most of those interpretations, after all, predate the modern scientific method. Those traditions, at the same time, usually hold to a limited number foundational articles of faith that may or may not align with current scientific paradigms. The more dependent these axioms are upon tradition, the more likely they are to conflict, in my totally uninformed opinion, with science. These scientists and scholars may be less likely to be convicted adherents to the most conservative and fundamental religious traditions, but may be firm adherents to their theologies.

Other scientists and scholars operate under a brand of compartmentalization slightly different from the type described above. They entirely separate all their religious beliefs from the assumptions that guide all their scholarship or science. Some find this intellectually dishonest, but others will argue that science is far from establishing a comprehensive picture of absolute truth (or even its existence), and so one can hardly be faulted for suspending religious judgment based solely on the scientific paradigm. What is popular this century may be flippantly dismissed next century or overruled by new discoveries, and I’ve heard people say they don’t want their soul sacrificed on the altar of science if the axioms upon which that altar is built are that rickety and transitory. Evolution may not fit properly into this paradigm, but evolution does not threaten all theists. Scholars and scientists who fall into this overgeneralized category may be perfectly happy to critically and objectively engage research and theories that totally conflict with their religious beliefs.

I think there are a number of different believing approaches to practicing science and scholarship, and readers will probably find my categories woefully inadequate. Johnson brings up important points to consider, but I believe he’s responding only to the worldviews to which he’s had exposure, which are limited in number. His exposure is also most likely limited in profundity. As is the case with many atheists who reject their faiths as youths/young adults, I believe Johnson is engaging a religiosity not far removed from the kind he experienced as a high school and college student. His view of science has progressed considerably since then, no doubt, but I have a hard time believing his view of religion has done the same.

There are a number of other roads down which one could take this discussion, but this is the road I’ve chosen. If you have questions, comments, suggestions, or corrections, I’d love to hear them. The biblioblogging topic of the week comes and goes, but this is a topic I believe will be with us in some capacity for quite some time, and I’m interested in others’ thoughts and what avenues I can explore for a richer understanding of how this applies to science and the academy.