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.