The Flakiness Of Claims To Biblical ScholarshipPosted: January 6, 2013
We all like to think that the brains are on our side; that intelligent people, if provided with all the relevant details, would agree with us. And our arguments do feel bolstered when there is support from people that we might think of an intelligent; those with fancy degrees, intellectuals, or noted authors.
But Ive found during my forays into debates and controversy that claims of intellectual support are sometimes largely smoke and mirrrors.
Sometimes people will appeal to the idea of the ‘scholar’, implying that such a person is so much of an expert that their conclusions are largely beyond debate. The New York Times once referred to a presentation by Christian pro-homosex apologist Matthew Vines as ‘scholarly‘. Vines had been a college student at an Ivy Leage school, but reports did not state he had graduated, much of his speciality study was done independently at home, and he has said that he was reproducing the work of others rather than breaking new ground in research. If you read critiques of his work, you may also agree with me that his conclusions are known to lack balance. He knows how to speak eloquently, is very familiar with at least one side of the controversy he specialises in and he knows how to throw in some jargon here and there, but is this enough to be ‘scholarly’? If anyone reads lots of books about a particular subject, are they fit to be called a scholar? Arguably yes. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines ‘scholar’ as someone who has done advanced study in a special field or is ‘learned’ or holds a scholarship. The term could be applied to any learned but narrow-minded ideologue just as much to anyone else who has done in-depth study. On that basis, the term doesnt sound so fancy or reflective of no bias, does it?
What’s worse is when people refer to non-specific ‘scholarship’ to bolster their case. EG without naming a scholar, they make statements such as “modern scholarship has found that …”. I recently challenged a blogger to substantiate their particuar argument, asking him to refer me to relevant material online (I dont want to have to buy the books of authors whose work is poor quality). He declined, stating that quality material supporting his position is available if I search it out. Where is the strength of argument in that? He claims that the brains support his side of the debate, but when asked for proof, he doesnt refer me to any. And when I referred to other blog sites, he responded that he doesnt consider blog sites to be a scholarly form. He seemed to imply that books were the only material worthy of consideration. What’s worse though, is that we were discussing Christian theology; IE a religion that teaches you dont need to be special or gifted in order to be a hero. A religion that treats steriotypical elitism with distain. Academic books have their place, but this blogger was arguing that if you want to really grasp his doctrine (which is counter-intuitive to what you read in the Bible), your only option is to read the book of a ‘scholar’. That is an example of hiding behind intellectual snobbery, and it’s not congruent with the Christian teaching that Christianity is accessible to anybody.
Another finding that has disappointed me, is the lack of enthusiasm by academics, to dialogue with those who disagree with them. Words like ‘scholar’ and ‘academic’ seem to go hand in hand. I would hope that neither would be closed-minded ideologues, but rather would be happy to discuss alternate points of view. Ive come across several academics who are happy to publicise their views on a blog, but who either dont display the feedback that I leave using their feedback function, or who disable blog feedback (EG, as at Feb. 2013) on their controversial posts that interest me. On the bright side, I did have some ongoing dialogue with one academic, but after half a dozen exchanges he too stopped responding before we had reached a sense of agreement 😦 Academics themselves have pointed out this problem too –
Due to potential misunderstandings, the second to last paragraph of the above post has been edited subsequent to initial publication, primarily to include the words “Academic books have their place”. The final paragraph and youtube clip were also added subsequent to initial publication of the post.