Saturday, December 17, 2005

Questions Seeking Answers

Why do various religious websites that deny [or impugn the idea] that, yes, an individual can correctly interpret, say, scripture, apart from some group-defined consensus ["the church," "the community of believers," etc] bother to cite scripture references in their posts?

This seems contrary to the notion that such a site is trying to promote. After all, individuals read blogs. I don't know that a church or a community of believers reads a blog and comes to some conciliar decision. To this reader, it seems that scripture is being offered with the sense that I, the individual, am supposed to understand it and see that such blogs are correctly advancing their theses.

Here's another question: what's so special about group thinking? Groups, communities, etc can take wrong turns as can an individual. Sometimes, collective thinking is helpful, sometimes it isn't. What's so special about a church council, etc?

And to boot, how are we supposed to see if a church council or a panel of scholars is indeed correct, plausibly correct, supported by the evidence, etc, if we are denied our own individual judgement on whether the rules of evidence have been followed? Am I supposed to write a blank check to a council or a third rate scholar who substitutes faddery for actual evidence? Am I supposed to join a secondary group that will affirm the primary group? Will this require a tertiary group to affirm the secondary group's affirmation? Etc.

These seem to be rather heretical and backwards questions for certain quarters of the internet.

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BTW --- you don't need a doctorate or even a degree in religious studies to evaluate a religious or scriptural argument. You merely need an idea what consitutes an argument and facility with the subject material. Similarly, you don't need a PhD in physics, mathematics, or statistics to see for yourself [if you have the background] that [say] the proofs of my theorems in my book are right. You don't need to be an expert to catch that errant footnote where I claim [falsely] that something tacitly requires the Axiom of Choice [thank goodness it doesn't affect the argument]. You merely need to know that particular area, degree or not. I didn't need a DPhil degree to find Bertrand Russell's essays on religion to be childish and unsupported. I don't need a PhD in religious studies to hold my own with a mainstream scholar on those areas in which I've studied carefully, say, the authorship of the fourth gospel. Despite being trained in mathematical statistics, I've published a modest collection of co-authored papers in analytic philosophy, applied statistics, and mathematical analysis. Nobody claimed that not being "formally trained" with the requisite alphabet soup after the name somehow rendered good work unpublishable. My textbook was in an area in which I had no formal coursework, but was self-taught. So it seems odd to me to see third rate scholars playing the ostentatiousness game with their degrees when serious challenges arise, as if degrees are some sort of club membership for the latest disputation. This is the attitude I see with liberal mainline scholars, and frankly, it reeks of insecurity on their part. I can understand their frustration with bad arguments, but at the same boat, I'd think a well-read undergraduate from a Bible college ought to be able to nail a Jesus Seminar scholar on several points, degree or no.

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