Re: [asa] Methodological Atheism in Biblical Studies

From: <>
Date: Thu Oct 02 2008 - 15:53:26 EDT

The assumption that miracles don't happen may be routine among historians but if so they are really getting outside the bounds of that discipline - or at least into a border area where history overlaps with science, philosophy and, yes, theology.

Again I am not campaigning for an over-emphasis on miracles. Furthermore, we should not assume that all the events commonly described as miracles must be beyond the capacities of creatures (d.h., must be "violations of the laws of nature"). Miracles make up a very small subset (of measure zero) of all events that historians might study but in this discussion they serve the important function of revealing the limitations of a certain approach to the study of the Bible.


---- David Opderbeck <> wrote:
> Yes I saw the CT article -- I know Bob Cochrane -- good guy. They didn't
> call me though. ;-(
> The book you link looks good, I will have to add that to my library. I
> guess I'll have to read your full chapter, but this strikes me as troubling:
> "In all of my historical work, however, I employ standard
> historical methods. There are no other methods."
> This is exactly where the divide lies in Biblical Studies, as far as I can
> gather. But the difficult thing is that "standard historical methods" rule
> out divine action, at least divine action that can be observed in "history."
> The "historical" study of the Bible, then, rules out any assertion that its
> miracle stories are events that happened in "history." For this reason, for
> example, many if not most "academic" Biblical scholars dismiss NT Wright's
> historical perspective on the Resurrection of Christ (one of the leading
> popularizers of academic Biblical Studies, blogger Jim Wright, who is a
> Baptist minister, dismisses NT Wright as a sort of fundamentalist). To the
> extent any of these folks believe in the resurrection, it seems to be in
> more of an existential view -- Jesus' bones might be moldering somewhere,
> but he rose in the hearts and minds of his disciples. But I think many if
> not most of us who take the Bible as "scripture" would say that this
> existential view of the resurrection isn't "history" at all -- or at least,
> if it's "history," then the category of "history" has been divorced from the
> category of "Truth." All of which sounds similar to our debates about
> method and the definition of "science."
> (And this reminds me of my college senior year historiography seminar in Dr.
> Franz's house overlooking Coy Pond, munching Mrs. Dr. Franz's warm chocolate
> chip cookies -- those were the days!)
> On Thu, Oct 2, 2008 at 1:49 PM, Ted Davis <> wrote:
> > Law might (these days) be more open to the insertion of specific religious
> > perspectives/beliefs/commitments than most other areas of academic
> > discourse. There was an article about Christian perspectives at various
> > law
> > schools a few months ago in CT. Perhaps you saw it, David?
> >
> > In history of science, it's very hard to insert a specifically Christian
> > perspective into academic discourse--that is, it's very hard to get it
> > published in a secular journal. Fortunately, the mainstream view in my
> > discipline is, that the older way of writing history of science and
> > religion--the "warfare" school of AD White and company--is highly
> > inaccurate
> > and misleading. I buy that 150%, obviously, and so I am very happy to do
> > mainstream history of science (which is what the lion's share of my
> > scholarship has been).
> >
> > I have in recent years however begun to write more things that are either
> > (a) aimed mainly at a Christian audience, but still drawing heavily on
> > mainstream scholarship; or (b) aimed at a secular academic audience but are
> > attempting to highlight specific ways in which the faith of important
> > scientists shaped aspects of their careers in science. Category (a) is a
> > type of popularization, not traditional scholarship, and my faith
> > commitments are transparent in that arena. (This is no different IMO than
> > E
> > O Wilson or Michael Ruse or Francis Collins writing for a popular audience.
> > It's understood in that arena that worldview insertion takes place.)
> > Category (b) could be a new genre of scholarship, or at least and
> > underutilized one. The people about whom I have been writing these past
> > few
> > years were all Christians, at least in their own minds if not necessarily
> > in
> > someone else's (e.g., was Newton a Christian, given that he rejected the
> > divinity of Jesus? was Millikan a Christian, given that his concept of God
> > was pretty close to that of Einstein?), but I'm not trying to hold them up
> > as role models (some might say that I did do that for Boyle, but he really
> > was a pretty good role model for Christians in science and an honest
> > historical picture is likely to underscore that); I'm trying to understand
> > them on their own terms, and in the context of the circumstances in which
> > they did their science. IMO, for many of the people I'm looking at, the
> > interaction of the religious and scientific parts of their lives is only
> > rumored and not really understood, simply b/c no one has ever tried to
> > understand it before (for Newton and Boyle this is not true, but for the
> > modern people I'm working on it is definitely true).
> >
> > In all of my historical work, however, I employ standard historical
> > methods. There are no other methods. I've written about this here:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > Ted
> >
> --
> David W. Opderbeck
> Associate Professor of Law
> Seton Hall University Law School
> Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology

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Received on Thu Oct 2 15:53:42 2008

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