James Crossley's blog Contact: jgcrossley10 - AT - yahoo - DOT - co - DOT - uk

Sunday, May 04, 2008

When Wrong is Right

The great Bishop Wrong has made comments which are of direct relevance for recent blog debates and blog debates over the years. In particular he engages with William Bartley and the apologetic move of 'you're biased too!'
Many scholars who engage in heavily theological interpretations of the Bible will, at some stage, come up with a tu quoque defence for defending their theological bias. The tu quoque defence begins by pointing out that all rational argumentation is ultimately ungrounded, and that all arguers have presuppositions which must be based on their (biased) preferences. This is true. But the apologetic use of the tu quoque defence involves the additional step of arguing that the theological bias is therefore as warranted as any other. This is more than highly questionable. By far the most developed exposé of the “But you’re biased, too!” defence of theological interpretation is by William Bartley, in The Retreat to Commitment (rev. edn. 1984)...
Bartley’s own solution is essentially Popperian. Bartley gives up the attempt to positively justify one’s position, on the recognition that the most one can do is to provide falsification of positions. That is, full positive justification of a particular interpretation is always out of reach. However, it is quite likely that some interpretations will turn out to be better than others in the light of critical discussion and tests. At the very least, it is possible to evaluate and rank interpretations according to their success in explaining all the evidence.
Bartley’s answer gives a good reply to those apologists who rely on the ultimate groundlessness of knowledge, so as to defend their fideism. I’m not so sure that it deals with the subjectivity involved in selecting and evaluating data, but the critical process to which this is subjected means that the relativistic argument is itself relativised. All up, Bartley provides a fine and detailed examination of the apologetic move of Barth and others, in which they appeal to the relativity of knowledge in order to make an argument–not for relativism, but–for fideism.

I always wondered about people who make this apologetic move if it is possible to go the step further and say each bias is therefore as ultimately meaningless as any other... This also got me wondering (and I happily admit to speculation here) if there has been an increase in the 'we might be biased but so are you' approach in NT studies or biblical studies as a whole of the past ten years? I am speculating because I think it can be shown pretty clearly that overt perspective approaches have increased from 'secular' to some very prominent conservative conclusions, not to mention very conservative and confessional sounding book titles in academic NT studies.

Just speculating...


Anonymous steph said...

Ha Ha what a coincidence.

May 04, 2008

Blogger Jim said...

I wonder which blogs and blog debates you might have in mind in particular?

Enquiring minds want to know.


May 04, 2008

Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

James, you wrote:
"This also got me wondering (and I happily admit to speculation here) if there has been an increase in the 'we might be biased but so are you' approach in NT studies or biblical studies as a whole of the past ten years?"

No, I don´t think you are seeing mirages. Bultmann must be spinning in his grave after all the nonsense that has been published the last ten years by the likes of the good reverend bishop Wright, Ben Witherington et. al. One gets the feeling that historical Jesus studies are returning to the stone age again after a long period when progress was really made.

May 04, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim, have you been reading Tintin?

May 04, 2008

Blogger Steven Carr said...

Certainly any discipline where a work by Bauckham can be praised is in big trouble.

As a scientist, used to seeing people not engage in quite such circular reasoning, and ad hoc hypotheses, I was shocked by the standard of the work.

May 05, 2008

Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

although I have been harsh with Bauckham I want be fair and say that all in not black in a work like "Jesus and the eyewitnesses". In some aspects his work is a welcome antidote to the almost total scepticism of people like Crossan who argue that the early Christians didn´t know almost anything about what happened after the arrest of Jesus and made upp the passion story almost from nil. I do think chapter 3, "names in the gospel traditions", is quite good and some of the points he tries to do there are quite valid. I do agree with him that the gospel writers didn´t make up (most) names out of thin air and that many of the figures in the gospels go back to very early traditions.
And as Maurice Casey and his pupil James Crossley have shown convincingly many of the stories in the gospels, like the sabbath controviersies, fit very neatly in the sitz in leben of the historical Jesus and appear to have been transmitted by eyewitness reports.
And Bauckham can be an excellent scholar when he wants to. His book on Revelation "The climax of prophecy is great.

May 06, 2008

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Nit-picking Sabbath controversies certainly fit in very well with the extant texts, thus supporting the idea of a historical Jesus in a circular fashion. But were those controversies the dissemblings of editors? Were the real controversies much more fundamental and historical? Were they controversies over animal sacrifices as a means of cleansing from sin? The prophet was surely up to something pretty radical that could cause civil unrest and bring Roman intervention. And I am not thinking of violence. His mission was one of ideas.

May 07, 2008

Blogger N T Wrong said...

This also got me wondering (and I happily admit to speculation here) if there has been an increase in the 'we might be biased but so are you' approach in NT studies or biblical studies as a whole of the past ten years?

N. T. Wrong, Bishop of Durham (NC):
While I can't condone idle speculation, I'll just point out that it was exactly 10 years ago that the Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar was set up "to renew interpretation of the Bible as Scripture in the Academy".

May 08, 2008

Blogger James Crossley said...

Bishop, what can I say? You've done it again.

May 09, 2008

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

If you are in the academy of biblical studies, your bias is the preservation of the existence of Jesus when there is little evidence to show that he ever was. This assures a plentiful supply of students, and bread on the table. But the totally mythycist case is equally biased towards explanations in terms of ancient history with little or no real foundation.

Did Davies really say? "God is an atheist?" He can't be too bothered about a supply of students any more. As for N T Wrong, here's another brave one playing Mr Wolf. If he met N T Wright face-to-face it would no doubt be: "Yes Bishop, no Bishop, three bags full Bishop, have a cup of tea."

May 10, 2008


Post a Comment

<< Home