Re: Believe it even if it isn't true theology

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Sun Feb 19 2006 - 18:25:34 EST

*I would say the tradition of interpretation is utterly irrelevant because
even within Christianity, there was a first case of a person using the
'interpretation that accomodates modern understandings of science'.*

But interpretation doesn't happen by isolated individuals in a vaccum. It
happens in a community, over time, punctuated I suppose by particularly
strong synthesis and insights from particular individuals. I'm not so sure,
then, that you can say there is a "case of a first person" using a
particular method. In the Christian tradition, you can go all the way back
to the roots of the community and find efforts to understand the scriptural
narratives in light of other knowledge, punctuated by brilliant expostions
by folks like Augustine. Of course, they weren't looking at "modern
interpretations of science," but the roots of what we do now concerning
scripture and science go back to what they were doing then. It's nothing
radical or unusual within our tradition to ask how what we call "general
revelation" impacts our understanding of what we call "special revelation."
So I would argue that in assessing the validity of any theology or
theological method, tradition does matter, alot. Even Evangelical
protestants who hold to "sola scriptura" -- of which I am one -- recognize
the value of the tradition in understanding what scripture is saying to the
Church (at least those Evangelical protestants who think carefully about
such things).
*If he is allowed to do it, does that mean the theology his religion teaches
is true? How do you tell his true theology from our true theology? How does
one in your view, distinguish true from false theology without a
self-referential or begging the question approach?*

I think there are two different questions here: (1) is an interpretive
method valid within the context of a particular faith community / tradition;
and (2) once an interpretation has been made, is it True? So let's look at
question (2). This is a question of epistemology. How do we test anything
to determine whether it's true? What does "true" mean?

Here is where, IMHO, some of our faith / science arguments play out under
incorrect assumptions. The assumption seems often to be that faith claims
must satisfy a certain logical positivist version of the modern scientific
method to be considered "true." I don't buy that. The modern scientific
method is very useful for some things, but it fails as an overarching
epistemology, because used in that fashion *it* is "self-referential and
question begging."

In lieu of testing faith claims by the scientific method, how can we judge
between competing faith / truth claims? I think there's a whole set of
tools available. Is a given system internally coherent? Does it comport
with general human experience? Is it grounded in historical events? Does
it explain and amplify the moral sense? How did the tradition develop?
Does it resonate with personal experience? Finally, does it explain and
contextualize what we observe and intuit about the natural world?

Questions like these, I think, help us make our way through the maze of
competing religious and truth claims and give support to our faith
commitments. Ultimately, though, none of this kind of inquiry will give
absolute, perfect, complete knowledge of Reality. Because we're all human,
we all have to operate in a sphere in which we have to make faith
commitments without being indubitably certain that we are committing to the
whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. (This is true even in science -- can
you "prove" that the assumptions on which the scientific method are based
are true?) If you want indubitability, you'll end up in Descartes "I think
therefore I am" solipsism, and you'll realize that even that isn't certain.
One of the beautiful things about Christianity, I think, is that our
security doesn't rest in the human capacity to know things. It is a faith
grounded in reasonable evidences, rooted in history and in the life, death
and resurrection of Christ, but ultimately our faith rests on God's grace.

On 2/19/06, <> wrote:
> THis is for Jack Syme and David Opderbeck, Rich, George Murphy.
> Jack Syme wrote:
> >Why is your belief special? Adherents to other religions also believe
> they have a special form of belief. Please explain why
> >your belief is special and theirs isn't. Please explain this and not
> something I didn't ask.
> The asking of this question shows you don't even understand the issue. My
> belief is no more special than anyone else's. That is why I look for
> something objectively tangible to support the religious belief. What is so
> difficult about the concept that just because we beleive something to be
> true, doesn't make it true???? That is a 1st grade level piece of knowledge,
> yet here we have loads of people who basically are saying that belief in the
> Bible without any tangible/objective basis, makes it true, i.e. that it
> teaches TRUE THEOLOGY. What is the basis for that statement that it teaches
> true theology--it seems on this list to boil down to the belief that it does
> teach true theology and nothing more.
> And because my beleif, and your belief and the muslims' belief, and the
> sluggists beliefs are NOT special, we need something more than just our
> belief to shore up the epistemological basis.
> >Our belief is special only because of the real historical existence of
> Christ, his ministry, the miracles he performed, his crucifixion,
> >and resurrection. If these things are not true, then we are to be
> pitied. That is how our scriptures are different than the green slug,
> >zoraster, Mormanism, etc.
> As my atheist friends (who dont pity us) say, provide any objective
> evidence for those miracles and the resurrection, please. We can beleive it,
> and we can beleive all the miracles (but for some strange reason belief in
> miracles ceases when it comes to talking snakes), but so what--that is
> merely basing our religion upon our personal belief. If that is what we are
> doing we should admit it openly rather than talk nonsense about how we know
> that an uttlerly false account of the creation teaches true theology.
> DAvid Opderbeck wrote:
> >Glenn, I used to be a trial lawyer, and this is the kind of unfair
> question trial lawyers ask. It's not a "yes or no" question. >Period. You
> haven't addressed the point I made the first time you brought up the "green
> slug / Mormonism" hypo: in the >context of the faith tradition in question,
> is there a historical theology and a historical tradition of interpretation
> that
> >would allow the interpretation that accomodates modern understandings of
> science? If so, I would say "yes," a Green
> >Sluggist or Mormon could hold such views and be consistent with his / her
> faith tradition.
> Sorry David, I don't agree that it is an unfair question. Either a
> slugist can use the technique or he can't. The only reason you could
> possibly say it is more complex is if you decide a priori that one position
> is the preferred position. I would say the tradition of interpretation is
> utterly irrelevant because even within Christianity, there was a first case
> of a person using the 'interpretation that accomodates modern understandings
> of science'. Prior to that first case there was no tradition. That first
> person went against tradition and thus, your need for a tradition is
> irrelevant.
> But, thanks for answering the question (something some have spent months
> avoiding). If he is allowed to do it, does that mean the theology his
> religion teaches is true? How do you tell his true theology from our true
> theology? How does one in your view, distinguish true from false theology
> without a self-referential or begging the question approach?
> >Whether the Green Sluggist or Mormon or Christian or Atheist faith
> tradition is "true" is a different question. First you
> >need to ask whether a particular understanding of the faith tradition is
> coherent and consistent with the tradition. Only
> >then can you begin comparing traditions with each other and with evidence
> from history, philosophy and science. For
> >someone who seems to want to escape fundamentalism, you still think like
> a fundamentalist: everything is always either >a simple binary "yes" or
> "no," "on" or "off." Reality doesn't work like that.
> No, I don't think like a fundamentalist, I think more like an atheist on
> these issues. I am merely asking you all the questions my atheist friends
> ask me. And I for one can't find anything wrong with the questions logically
> or scientifically. Why is logic excluded in religion?
> Rich Faussette wrote:
> >No, not because I say so. You don't know the psychology and couldn't see
> the significance of all the information in the
> >story. The story *describes instinctive behavior precisely* the way
> psychologists do. The story *describes learned
> >behavior precisely* the way psychologists do. The story *describes a
> transition from instinctive to learned behavior*,
> >a transition only achieved by man. So do evolutionists describe a
> transition only achieved by man, and each transition,
> >the evolutionary one and the Biblical one includes the development of the
> "self," but most amazingly, in the nag hamadi
> >texts, Jesus specifically says, if you can walk around naked without
> being ashamed, you won't have any fear either, a
> >statement that is ontologically, theologically and evolutionarily true
> for a creature without "self consciousness" and
> >requires Jesus to understand Adam and Eve the way I am explaining it
> because Jesus actually describes not the fall, but
> >the redemption, meaning he is explicating my reading of the allegory *in
> reverse* an impossible feat to do if he didn't
> >uderstand it the way I am explaining it
> >Creatures without self consciousness, have little to no ontological
> anxiety (fear). Since they lack a well developed sense
> >of self, they are not ashamed to walk around naked.
> I kind of like your response because it depends upon EVIDENCE, something
> no one else seems to offer. I want to think about your response.
> George Murphy wrote:
> >I was resisting the temptation to get into this topic again with Glenn
> until I saw this from him. I am one who has given the example of
> >the Good Samaritan in discussions with him & he always avoids the issue -
> although by saying that people "try this one" he makes it >sound like some
> kind of trick that he's seen through. The point is that the story doesn't
> *need* to be historical narrative in order that
> >express the truth that Jesus uses it for. Sure, this *could* be an
> account of something that really happened but but there's not a shred
> >of evidence that it was.
> George, you are not the only one who has used the Samaritan, many have.
> And maybe that story doesn't NEED to be historical, but, the statement *'in
> the beginning God created the heavens and the earth' *DOES NEED to be
> historical. If it isn't then it is the claim of a group of neolithic
> delusionals. How do we know if Jehovah was the one who created the world in
> light of the fact that thousands of other gods claim the same thing? The
> only way I know is if the account has something real about it. Once again I
> don't know what is so difficult about that concept. It isn't like this is
> high school math or anything.
> Dick Fischer wrote:
> >No matter how nicely words are couched in tones of moderation, many
> believe that Genesis is simply untrue, but rally around the
> >New Testament as it apparently is an exception. Okay, that may work for
> some, for some it doesn't.
> As we say in China, ni shou dui. You speak correctly. And that rallying
> around the New Testament leaves a gaping epistemological hole.
Received on Sun Feb 19 18:26:13 2006

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