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Does Higher Criticism Attempt to “Destroy the Bible” Part V

July 20, 2010

If you’re just joining this conversation you might want to read these first.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

We are getting far enough into this that it is getting prohibitive to recap all that has been said so far. Basically, the first three posts considered some of the assumptions of scholars; there are, of course, more assumptions than what I have highlighted, and other scholars may have emphasized different ones than I have, but for a blog conversation: good enough for the girls I go with! Then in post IV, I moved more into the procedures of scholars, and in that post I suggested that one of the things scholars do very well is read texts very closely. Which brings us to today’s conversation.

Reason, thinking, and inductive conclusions.

Now, we are not going to get to the bottom of epistemology, the scientific approach, tradition, interpretation, and authority in a single blog post, nor would I have any intention of doing so unless I was going to treat these matters in a book. However, allow me to make a couple points on the validity of using our brains, and then we can move onto post VI, and most likely the end of this series.

First, Everyone values Enlightenment categories and ways of thinking. Most every single person in the western world has been inculcated, socialized, and deeply, deeply ingrained into Enlightenment categories of thinking. You simply cannot avoid how much every person values this way of thinking. We live in the scientific age and there is simply no way to avoid it; it is like being a fish in water. It surrounds you and is your environment. A good example of how hard it is for anyone to get away from these categories of understanding is Apologetics.

Apologetics claims to “defend the faith” but really what it attempts is to offer evidence and argumentation so that you can have a certain and rational basis for your thought world. There is very little, if any space for “belief” or “faith”. More often at the end of the argumentation process the claim is offered that you can be “certain” or “sure” of what you already think. This is not faith. Really, what these apologists and their audiences value is rational ways of thinking, Enlightenment categories, and the scientific method which is why they go through such lengths and mental gymnastics to make their faith fit into that matrix. How can we know the Bible is true? The facts prove it.

From this observation comes our second point: if we are all trained, raised in, and value rational ways of thinking: Why? Here, I am indebted to a friend and colleague who stated this answer to me in one of our lengthy conversations. Simply put: it works!

It’s that easy: it works.

Take a look at the computer you are reading this on. Take a look around the world: flying hunks of metal in the sky that now have people communicating with each other around the globe through the internet. Recently while driving I called my uncle on his iPhone, who unbeknown to me was in China, and we had a short conversation on little pieces of plastic held to our ears while on different sides of the planet. Looking around the world it would be hard to deny the amazing advances in medicine, science, and technology over the last few hundred years. Which is why we value those categories of thinking.

Now this is not to say these processes are perfect. The recent Oilpocalypse is a good example of this: just because we can drill 12 kilometers into the earth’s crust there are still serious ethical and philosophical questions to be answered on whether we should do so, and if we do, what is the cost of doing it right or wrong for the human race.

However, this post is not about the specific positives or ills of the scientific method, but whether biblical criticism attempts to destroy the Bible. Again, my answer would be ‘No’. Higher criticism favors certain categories of understanding–as we all do–for seeking truth and knowledge. Trying to analyze an ancient piece of literature using methods that have proven themselves reliable and profitable does not mean having an anti-bible or anti-Christian agenda. In fact, as I have stated elsewhere I have met and worked with people who, while doing good scholarly work on the one hand, could care less about any “anti” anything agenda on the other. They are simply pursuing ways of understanding and knowing through methods that have great explanatory power and make much sense in the categories we all value.

We are all trained in it, experience has shown us it works, therefore, we value it.

Someday, maybe, I’ll wrap up all of these meandering thoughts in a post with some final thoughts.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2010 3:56 pm

    The one major shortcoming of the Enlightenment: lack of a values framework. In fact it tended to destroy traditional mores and replace them with pure reason — if a thing was possible, if it was rational, it was by definition good. The eugenics movement popular among early-20th century progressives (Teddy Roosevelt, f’rinstance) and the German Third Reich is a great example: the outcome is rational (a “better” race of humans), so the ends justify the means.

    The same argument is used today re: genetic engineering and (usually using scare quotes) China — the idea is that the Chinese will (at some point in the future) see the value of genetically engineering “super-workers” and “super-soldiers;” the former to be docile and productive, the latter to be be strong, agile, fast-healing and resistant to pain. (Add in the neocon proclivity for chasing hobgoblins, mix with the Bushian policy of pre-emption, and — Presto! — America just has to do it before China does!) It’s just eugenics by another name.

    ISTM the most important question in most any discussion will ultimately be one of values. The banker can tell you how to finance the project; the architect can efficiently but exquisitely design it; the metallurgist can recommend the best materials for the job; the contractor can deliver it on time and under budget; the politician can wax poetic on public funding and leaving a legacy to future generations. But at some point, someone has to settle the question of whether we should build a 2000-ft phallus at the mouth of New York Harbor.

  2. Reader permalink
    July 21, 2010 11:10 am

    How can we know the Bible is true? The facts prove it.

    From this observation comes our second point: if we are all trained, raised in, and value rational ways of thinking: Why? Here, I am indebted to a friend and colleague who stated this answer to me in one of our lengthy conversations. Simply put: it works!

    It’s that easy: it works.

    But on the other hand, if higher criticism and archeology present irrefutable or strong proof that the Bible is indeed not true, or is very likely not true, or is not what people think it is, then it would be wrong or irrational for us to believe in the Bible.

  3. Jake permalink
    July 21, 2010 5:03 pm

    This might be completely semantic, but maybe instead of simply stating “it works”, a better way of putting it might be “enlightenment categories are the best thing we’ve got right now”. It stands to reason that in a thousand years, our general way of looking at the world will be as quaint and ill informed as the way we saw the world a thousand years ago. I really enjoy trying to imagine how humanity will perceive itself and its environment in the future, what we will eventually value and disregard and in what manner we’ll look back on where we are now. I hope that the general direction in which we are moving as a species will be seen as forwards and not backwards. Sometimes I wonder…

  4. July 22, 2010 12:55 am

    I would say yes. Biblical criticism *does* attempt to destroy the Bible. And this is not even a covert, but a rather lamely overt agenda.

    First a note: I was brought up in the West, as an atheist and scientist, and became a Christian as an adult. Second, I agree that we don’t even realise in the beginning just how much our culture indoctrinates us into the popular Enlightenment view and the ‘historical-critical method’. This brainwashing is so strong, we rarely question it, even if we become ‘fundamentalists’. But every seasoned scientist worth their salt eventually faces head on their own bias, assumptions etc., as part of the scientific method itself, and becomes acutely aware of such cultural goggles.

    What I found in investigating active academic Biblical criticism of the last 100 years, is that it has been driven since the 1830s by Unitarians, with a very real Unitarian bias and agenda. The original goal was to ‘cleanse’ the Bible of Trinitarian and other ‘church’ accretions, which they were all convinced was the source of all the superstition and ‘miraculous’ in the text as found.

    This agenda gradually died off, but not before killing the Bible and its original ‘Reformation’ authority, and this was no byproduct, but something a lot of diverse political interests made the effort to agree to cooperate in accomplishing. Unitarians, agnostics, atheists, communists, all banded together to ‘slay the monster’ of fundamentalism and religious ‘intolerance’.

    Given the sad state of understanding of the Bible text, perhaps it was good after all not to let fundamentalists dominate the West in church and state. But nowadays the “fundamentalist threat” rings hollow, and appears more of a knee-jerk prejudice than a legitimate cause.

    The Unitarian agenda is easy to document. Here is an example tabulation:

    But there is another, now worse attack on the Biblical text. It rests in the shoddy unscientific work of modern authors, and the perpetuation of 19th century pseudo-scholarship passed off as science. Here is an example (of available 100s) of that:


  5. phil_style permalink
    July 23, 2010 9:13 am

    OK, I’m no scholar, philosopher or academic, just a guy. This is really a train of thought, and not my expression of any immutable “facts”. Althougth I’m going to employ “executive” language, just so I don’t need to write “IMHO” every scentance…

    The questions “does the his-crit method try to destroy the bible” is a bit of a waste of time asking isn’t it?
    There are more important issues that are “tricle-down”, if you will.

    Firstly the concept of “destroy” is a little muddy. But I’m going to assume that we don’t literally mean that all texts are going to be vapourised (in the material sense) or even that “all meaning and value is going to be removed”. I expect that most people consider “destroying the bible” to mean something akin to: the critical religious/theological claims of the bible are falsified.

    As Reader points out, the method could inadvertently “destroy” the bible, or at least demonstrate the falsity of it’s claims should direct contradicting proof of said claims be found. Now, methods don’t have “intent” but people using them do. It certainly is true that the hit-crit method is delibertaely employed by individuals who intend to “destroy” the bible by demonstrating that it’s claims are falsified. But how can theological claims be falsified? If the claims rest on historical and or physical events (such as the “resurrection”).

    Secondly, the his-cric method (if it is based on science) assumes naturalism. Science, and the discipline of History assume that supernatural events do not occur. The bible certainly appears to make claims to supernatural events. The his-crit method is forced to find “non supernatural” explanations for why people would write texts claiming such events happened. Therefore the his-crit method will invariably interpret the “meaning” and “intent” of a text differently to a methodology that has different metaphysical assumptions. Once again, if religious/theological claims in the bible are made on the basis of supernatural events, the his-crit method will “destroy” the bible. Although, it could be argued that (if there really is no supernatural) that it is the non scientific methods that “destroy” the Bible…

  6. phil_style permalink
    July 23, 2010 9:14 am

    I use way to many quotation marks….

  7. Kipp permalink
    July 23, 2010 12:12 pm


    Good post, as always, but I wanted to suggest one very minor clarification to your discussion of apologetics:

    “Apologetics claims to ‘defend the faith’ but really what it attempts is to offer evidence and argumentation so that you can have a certain and rational basis for your thought world. There is very little, if any space for ‘belief’ or ‘faith’. More often at the end of the argumentation process the claim is offered that you can be ‘certain’ or ‘sure’ of what you already think.”

    Quite to the contrary, I believe that the primary agenda amongst most apologists is to legitimize faith, but according to rationalistic categories. Your and my favourite, local apologist would protest vociferously over the assurance that any said rationalism might provide, insisting that this is a product of unnecessary modern biases that are part of a specific “worldview”, in which all such competing visions are equal in merit. I think that especially with the increasing gravitation towards post-modern challenges of Enlightenment thinking, modern apologetics is much more focused on this particular agenda: to ensure the validity of “faith”, but through rational processes and categories. For apologists, a common theme seems to be this insistence upon merging “faith” with “reason”; hence the inclination towards magisterial sounding titles and catch-phrases such as “Reasons to Believe”, “Reasonable Faith”, etc.

  8. Curious Presbyterian permalink
    July 23, 2010 1:56 pm

    What does the Enlightenment have to do with rational thinking? Was Aquinas not a rational thinker? Have you read any of the excellent scholarly books on medieval technological advances? “Great circles of wood in the water” rather than “flying hunks of metal in the sky.”

    I agree, and applaud, your previous posts on this topic, but this one commits the chronological fallacy.

    • July 23, 2010 2:47 pm

      OF COURSE there was people thinking before the enlightenment but Aquinas is a good example because it was FAITH seeking understanding. His sort of “rationalism” was still subservient to faith categories and was not indicative of the larger population. The Earth is still the center of the universe, burn witches, etc…

      The Enlightenment leads to the age of reason where these categories become ways of thinking that are standard for most people. It simply wasn’t like that before. Read something on the history of epistemology and you will see what this argument is based on, and it most certainly does not commit the (deep voice) “chronological fallacy” (cue the music: duh duh dunh)

  9. July 23, 2010 4:27 pm

    The music was nice, adding a dramatic touch. Can you reproduce the “pop” sound when Moe hits Curly? I’ve always wondered how that sound was actually done.


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