CHRISTIAN TRACTATUS - SECTION 11

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11. Biblical claims are to be validated in the same way as any other claims related to matters of fact.

11.1 That is, the Bible cannot be assumed to enjoy any special status that removes it from the realm of criticism.

11.1.1 In particular, we cannot simply take the Bible as a gift from God telling us how things are. This assumption begs the question of how we know that the Bible enjoys this special status (assuming it does).

11.1.1.1 The above remark will appear commonplace to one without a Christian/fundamentalist background. What follows is particularly addressed to those of a Christian/fundamentalist persuasion.

11.2 The Bible may therefore not (and therefore should not) simply be assumed to be infallible (or "inerrant" or whatever stronger term is required) without arguments justified externally from the Bible. We believe the Bible to be inerrant (if we do) for reasons outside the Bible.

11.2.1 This is because the argument that the most logical foundation for Christianity is first of all to posit the existence of God and secondly to posit the Bible as his inerrant word of revelation is insufficient to establish the uniqueness of Christianity, for the reasons below.

11.2.1.1 Christianity cannot dispute on this a priori basis with any other religion with its own god and book. A Christian can only argue that his God and Book are true whereas other religions' gods & books are false (or inadequate) for reasons outside the Bible. He needs to point to some common standard, that is, to the world as experienced under the interpretation of reason.

11.2.1.2 Of course, if the Bible were to be proved to be inerrant (or even well founded in its essentials) by some non-arbitrary demonstration, it then could and should be used as a yardstick to evaluate other religions, but only once so established.

11.2.1.3 The factors by which we come to conclusions about the internal consistency and factual reliability of any religious book should be the same as those wherewith we judge the merits of the Bible, and are external to any particular religion.

11.2.1.4 To reject other religions (and their books) simply because the Bible rejects them (if it does) is to make an arbitrary choice of religion, unless that choice is also governed by reasons external to the Bible.

11.3 Since the Bible is an observable fact of the world, its character cannot be deduced a priori but is to be determined experimentally, ie. by analysis of the text in relation to itself and our other knowledge of the world.

11.3.1 Putting this into Christian language, we cannot prescribe what God must have done by way of self disclosure, but only describe what he has in fact done.

11.4 Because the evidence of our own eyes is more certain than the evidence for the inerrancy of Scripture, it would not make sense to say that our perception of the world as a physical system is fundamentally mistaken simply on the evidence (real or supposed) of the Bible.

11.4.1 We apply this principle when we recognise figures of speech in the Bible (eg. the chariot of the sun, the storehouses for the wind, the four corners of the earth etc.).

11.4.2 Certain scientific theories may be mistaken. However, it has to be argued both on a case by case basis and cumulatively whether the probability of error of the particular physical theory exceeds the probability of the contentious Biblical passage being inerrant (or having been correctly interpreted).

11.4.2.1 The classic case of the above is the opposition between the various theories of biological evolution & the literal interpretation of Genesis. The divide between Christians on the issue seems to be driven both by scientific and by exegetical beliefs.

11.5 The Bible should not unnecessarily be brought into conflict with the rest of our knowledge of the world. However, if it does come into conflict, we cannot simply prescribe that the Bible is correct. There may be situations in which it is more conscientious to admit that the Bible, taken at face value and without forced interpretation, is incorrect.

11.5.1 The Bible has many radical things to say about the world as a political and moral system. In the moral sphere, when evaluating the rightness of actions and attitudes, the Bible has at least as much right to a hearing as any other authority. However, its statement must still be evaluated for reasonableness.



© Theo Todman 1992 - 2000.
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