Have Christians Missed This Fact?

Have Christians Missed This Fact?

A writer says Christians have missed an important fact. Dr. Craig checks it out.

Transcript Have Christians Missed This Fact?

Kevin Harris: The one fact almost all Christians miss. I, as a Christian, would like to know what that is. Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I'm Kevin Harris. Dr. Craig, Dr. James Lindsay has written a book that has a foreword by Vic Stenger. He's also got a blog, and he says there is one fact that almost all Christians miss.[1] He says, “So far as I can tell, there is at least one fact that nearly all believing Christians miss--a very simple fact. That fact is every reading of the Bible is an interpretation.”

Dr. Craig: That is unbelievable that this man actually thinks that Christians are unaware of the fact that when you read the Bible you are giving an interpretation to the text. I wonder if he is at all aware of the whole discipline known as hermeneutics which is the science of interpretation. Every student in seminary will take a class in hermeneutics in which he will learn the proper ways to interpret different types of literature and to apply these hermeneutical principles to the Bible. So it is astonishing that this man would think that Christians are unaware that whenever you read the Bible you are interpreting this piece of literature. I think any reflective Christian is aware of this.

Kevin Harris: This often results in a relativistic mish-mash when people say this, Bill. “Everything is subject to interpretation,” “That's just your interpretation,” and so on. I could take this article - “The one fact almost all Christians miss” - and say, “Oh, look, this is an article on raising hamsters.” That's my interpretation.

Dr. Craig: That's exactly right, Kevin. As we'll see as the blog proceeds, he gets into this post-modernist nonsense about texts having no objective meaning, and this whole thing is so self-refuting. As you say, if what he is saying is true then this very blog is subject to these same deficits. This is not something that would be unique to the Bible. Any text, when you read it, has an interpretation, including Lindsay's blog. So as you say, this is about the breeding and raising of hamsters. That's what this really is, and Lindsay has really helped us to see. But actually, Kevin, I interpret it differently. I think here he is using irony and satire to emphasize how objective and true the Bible is. Really he wants to strengthen people's confidence and faith in the Bible. That's my interpretation of the blog.

Kevin Harris: He says,

Whether we're looking at hyper-liberal Anglicanism, evangelical Protestantism, mega-fundamentalist literalism, Christian-Left Catholicism, C.S. Lewis's creedal "mere" Christianity, or anything between or beyond, every one of them requires a reading of the Bible that is an interpretation of the Bible.

When I say “almost all” and “nearly all believing” Christians miss this fact, what I am saying is that to take one's own take on Christianity, however nebulous or strict, as being the truth, one has to miss the fact that it is based upon an interpretation of the Bible.

Dr. Craig: Now how does that follow? Doesn't he think that there might be a correct interpretation? That there is an interpretation that is true that reflects the meaning that the author actually had in mind? This is an enormous non sequitur to think that because, when we read text and we interpret them, that therefore there is no truth. If that were true then his own blog has no truth.

Kevin Harris: He says, “Indeed, that interpretation of the Bible defines what passes as being 'true Christianity' and it is the role of faith to glaze over that fact.”

Dr. Craig: And that is obviously incorrect. You do not glaze over the fact that there are multiple interpretations of certain texts. Sometimes it is difficult to determine the meaning of the text, and in other cases the text is very, very clear and there is widespread agreement on the interpretation of the text. It will vary from passage to passage.

Kevin Harris: He says,

This, then, brings us to the central question posed of all religious believers--a question that they cannot answer: How do you know your interpretation is correct? And it generalizes: How do you know any interpretation is correct?

Dr. Craig: And the science of hermeneutics attempts to address that question.[2] If he were right then, as I say, we are lost in a sort of post-modern bog of subjectivism and relativism, and we couldn't even interpret those sentences to mean what they obviously do mean. But I think it is very clear what Lindsay means. We have a clear insight given the context of what he is writing as to the meaning he intends to convey in asking this question. The science of hermeneutics attempts to answer it by laying down principles of literary interpretation about the meaning of words, the historical context in which the passage was written, the literary genre of the type of text that we are interpreting, and so on and so forth. So this is not at all an unanswerable question. If it were, indeed, the question itself would be uninterpretable.

Kevin Harris: He says,

Note that science, depending upon evidence and perhaps a smattering of the philosophy of science, effectively settles interpretive debates eventually. The reason is that they rely upon evidence that becomes less and less subject to varied interpretation the closer one looks.

Dr. Craig: Isn't that astonishing in its naïveté? What about articles that are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals? Every time you read one of those you are interpreting what it says. If there is no right way to interpret it then there could be no advance of science; there could be no understanding of the evidence. So the idea that it depends upon evidence that's going to settle interpretative debates assumes that there is a way to properly interpret the research materials about that evidence that you read about in scientific journals and talk about with colleagues whenever they open their mouths. The fact is you can't confine this kind of post-modernist relativism to biblical literature. It is going to affect science as well. That is why dyed-in-the-wool post-modernists deny that there is any objectivity to science as well.

Kevin Harris: He says,

Now, I've argued before that we cannot know for certain (see Dot, Dot, Dot) that scientific models are "true" descriptions of reality. I'd say all that we can conclude is that they possess sufficient explanatory salience and predictive power to be comfortable calling them "descriptions of reality," carrying the ever-present qualifier of "provisional," where the provisions can be laid out by the philosophy of science and reinforced to some degree by statistical confidence in the predictive power presented.

Dr. Craig: Fine. So he wants to say that scientific models are more or less, I think, accurate descriptions of reality which are subject to revision. That is just fine. Now, why can't our interpretation of his blog be similar – we have a pretty good idea of what was meant by this blog and that is subject to revision. Maybe he will correct us; write you a letter, Kevin, and tell you, “Wait a minute, this isn't really about hamsters. Craig was right. This was an endorsement of reasonable faith.” [laughter] He can correct our misinterpretation if we do so, but nevertheless I think we can say we have a pretty accurate handle upon what he wants to say in this blog.

Kevin Harris: He says,

What matters with regard to these interpretations is that we have a way to claim that we're justified in calling them knowledge. We try to break them on the rock of evidence. To paraphrase the great Richard Feynman, it doesn't matter how beautiful or cherished a hypothesis is or how great the scientist championing it; if it disagrees with evidence, then it is wrong.

Dr. Craig: And see here is, again, this sort of naïveté where he fails to realize that the evidence is conveyed by language. You cannot escape human language here because that will be the medium through which one will convey the evidence. That is why, as I say, consistent post-modernists will deny that even science gives us any truth about reality; it is all about power and manipulation and so forth. But unfortunately even the post-modernists write books and articles about this which they expect us to accurately interpret. The whole project, as I say, is so self-refuting. But here I think we see Lindsay's naïveté in thinking that we have some sort of access to the evidence that will not be conveyed by language.

Kevin Harris: He concludes this way,

Evidence [is] the final arbiter in science, no matter what. If an idea disagrees with experiment, it is wrong. This is a reality check, and it works wonderfully.

Faith lacks this reality check while pretending it has it, and this is the one fact that almost all Christians miss.

Dr. Craig: Notice, Kevin, here there has been a shift from talking about the interpretation of literature to saying faith lacks this reality check in the evidence.[3] Where in the world did that come from? I thought we were talking about interpretive principles. How do you interpret a piece of literature like the Bible, and how can you be confident or reasonably sure that your interpretation is the correct one? That has nothing to do with whether or not faith has supportive evidence for what it affirms. I think his real agenda emerges in that last sentence where he has this kind of caricature of faith as belief in the absence of evidence, and then he tries to motivate this by this post-modernist spin on the interpretation of literature.

Kevin Harris: I think it is appropriate sometimes, Bill, to just do what you just did. And that is, it is sometimes appropriate to perhaps look at motivations of why a person is saying what they do, especially if it's just a blog and they haven't really spelled out an argument. Now, the argument will stand or fall on its own despite motivations.

Dr. Craig: Right.

Kevin Harris: But in this, I just see kind of a rant.

Dr. Craig: Well, I think it is all right to identify an agenda if something is agenda-driven. I think that last sentence does disclose that this is agenda-driven because he wants to enunciate a view of the interpretation of texts that would apply to the Bible and thereby undermine its objectivity and truth, but he won't apply that same principle to the literature of science or, indeed, to his own blog which is arbitrary and ad hoc.

Kevin Harris: In one case you have hermeneutics and studying literature, and the other you have material, physical science. So there are two different categories there. We would look at evidence for both right? Hermeneutics on one side and experiments on the other.

Dr. Craig: Right. What I want to emphasize is that he's comparing apples and oranges. The parallel to the interpretation of the Bible will be the interpretation of scientific texts – articles published in scientific journals. Discourse of scientists with one another. Lectures. That is the parallel – whether or not these have any objective meaning that we can actually discern, or whether it is a bog of relativism. What would correspond to the material evidence supporting scientific models and theories would be the material evidence supporting the truth claims of the Bible. For example, archaeology and history that goes to confirm the accuracy of, for example, the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus and the early church. The book of Acts is so abundantly attested by extra-biblical literature concerning what it says that its historicity even in matters of detail, I think, cannot be doubted. So we have that kind of material evidence in support of the truth of the Bible. He is comparing apples and oranges here when he tries to compare the interpretation of biblical texts to the material evidence supporting a scientific theory or model. The whole thing is hopelessly confused.

Kevin Harris: I think so. I think the other agenda is: if the Bible is inspired then why are there so many interpretations and why are there so many denominations of Christianity?

Dr. Craig: Well, maybe so, but he doesn't raise that point. That would then be something to discuss as well because certainly there are doctrines or passages in the Bible that we do not know exactly what interpretation is correct. There is a diversity of views on these. For example, one of the most notorious is in 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul says, “If the dead are not raised then why are people baptized on their behalf?” Nobody knows what Paul is talking about because that, though known to the ancient Corinthians, is not something that has endured in church history so we don't know. There are all kinds of speculations about what the meaning of Paul's question was when he talked about being baptized on behalf of the dead. In a case like this, we just have to say, I think, that we don't have the resources to be confident how to properly interpret that question. But other things that Paul says clearly, like “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, we are of all men most miserable; you are still in your sins.” There it is very clear what Paul is asserting.

Kevin Harris: Bill, in conclusion, I think you'd agree we haven't missed anything at all here.

Dr. Craig: No, I don't think he has identified a fact which all Christians have missed.[4]

[1] See http://goddoesnt.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-one-fact-almost-all-christians-miss.html (accessed May 31, 2014).

[2] 4:56

[3] 10:20

[4] Total Running Time: 15:50 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)