Apologetics: July 2008 Archives

Last Monday, while driving back from Pennsylvania, we were listening to a previously-recorded Diane Rehm Show episode with James Carse, an NYU professor emeritus of religion. You can listen to the show here.

Carse seemed to advocate a religion-without-God approach, or at least he didn't think we should be confident about the existence of God. This was the first time I've ever found Diane Rehm extending complete incredulity toward someone who was left of her on an issue, but she really gave the guy a hard time with some of his outlandish biblical interpretation and eventually his admission that he'd rather die ignorant than arrive at any knowledge about ultimate realities. After a while, he got frustrated with her and her callers continuing to call him on his pick-and-choose out-of-context methods of interpretation, and he decided to try a new tactic. He decided to call into question the idea of correct biblical interpretation to begin with, with the following argument.

He cited that at one point there were 15,000 members of the Society for Biblical Literature and claimed that they all have to have a Ph.D. and thus have to have argued for some new interpretation, because no one can get a Ph.D. in biblical studies without a novel interpretation. Such a large number of experts continue to produce novel interpretations, and so there's no reason to be confident of any interpretation (or perhaps he was suggesting something stronger, that there's no right interpretation to begin with; I'm not sure which, so I'll take the weaker claim as the more charitable one, since the argument is much more fallacious if it's the stronger one). He calls it very willful ignorance to claim that you understand something in the scriptures.

There are several problems with this argument:

1. The argument actually undermines itself, because it ignores the very fact it relies on. There's tremendous pressure in academia to come up with novel interpretations in order to have a career. So the multiplicity of interpretations tells you less about the subject matter than about the culture that produces those interpretations.

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