When Scholarship Serves Superstition


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I just came across this statement on a blog I was reading. It refers to a book written by Dr. Peter Enns, former professor at Westminster Seminary, who was fired for writing said book.

Here’s the statement:

Upon my second reading and more reflection, however, I questioned whether Enn’s answer helped doubters to keep the faith.

Is this what scholarship is about? Helping doubters keep the faith?

Some people think the Christian (or any) faith is about deciding first what’s true, and then making sure one never says anything that conflicts with the truth one has already decided is true. Enns, and most real scholars, believe one decides what is true based on where the data leads.

Enns got fired several years ago for not holding to the truth the seminary had already declared. The problem, of course, is that this conflicts with the very essence of scholarship itself. It makes no sense to declare one’s self a Biblical scholar if one has already decided, before even approaching the text, that the Bible says this or means that. That’s not scholarship, that’s superstition, which scholarship is meant to combat.

If I say, “I believe the human hand is made of gummy bears,” and then every time somebody tries to show me evidence to the contrary, I dismiss them, saying, “You’re misleading me because your evidence is telling me the opposite of what I know to be true,” then I have — with that statement — surrendered my right to be a called a rational person. And if I surrender my right to be called a rational person, then how much more have I surrendered my right to be called a scholar?

Scholarship — when it is real — has not decided in advance what the outcome of a study must be before the study has been done. Neither does it dismiss the results of a study simply because the results conflict with the beliefs of those who did the study (or their bosses, or the stated beliefs of the organization they work for). Indeed one of the things that makes the work of academics so critical is this commitment to following truth wherever it leads.

It is deeply disconcerting for me to see such a lack of understanding of what sound thinking is in an academic environment that awards Ph.D’s to people, calls itself a university/seminary, and claims to value knowledge.

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