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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

The Myth of the Infallible Scholar

One of the problems we've had throughout the history of mankind are "experts." We see almost daily news articles and government policies containing the rationale "experts agree" and similar arguments. In terms of logical thinking, we have to step back and see the subtle flaw in this reasoning.

Experts are not necessarily wrong on the matters discussed, but neither are they necessarily right. The medical "experts" in Washington's day believed that bleeding was a way to fight infection and it cost him his life. They may have agreed on the method, but agreement (consensus) is not evidence (certainly not conclusive, unaltering evidence).

In the course of an interpretive argument, one may appeal to an expert, but such an appeal is not conclusive. Established facts are conclusive. The rest is interpretive theory

The May 5,1978, episode of the TV show "In Search Of" (In Search Of - The Coming Ice Age) begins this way:

In 1977 the worst winter in a century struck The United States. Arctic cold ripped the Midwest for weeks on end. Great blizzards paralyzed cities of the Northeast. One desperate night in Buffalo, eight people froze to death in marooned cars... The brutal Buffalo winter might become common all over The United States. Climate experts believe the next ice age is on its way. According to recent evidence, it could come sooner than anyone had expected. 

Three of the "climate experts" referenced are Dr. Gifford Miller, Glaciologist from the University of Colorado, Dr. Chester Langway, Chairman of the Geology Department, State University of New York (SUNY),  and Dr. James Hayes, Columbia University Geological Laboratory. 

That's a fairly impressive set of credentials. I would conceivably have no way to intelligently discuss a number of issues with these academics. But part of the "evidence" presented in the broadcast are "sea cores, enough to form a detailed history of climate during the last million years." An entire department at Ivy League Columbia University studied a million years' worth of evidence and concluded the earth's climate is cooling. Experts. Top Experts. One of the finest universities in the world.

Only a few years after this show was broadcast, another set of "climate experts" came to the completely opposite, diametrically-opposed, contradictory conclusion that the climate is warming, not cooling. And for the same supposed reason: fossil fuels.  

What happened? What happened was a difference in interpretation based on supposition, guided by tribal and political leanings. The evidence from "the last million years" didn't change. The three PhDs quoted didn't go back to school. What changed was a cultural and political shift in a desired outcome. I have no idea how to interpret sea cores and now I know that so-called "experts apparently don't either. 

What we have seen since the eighties has been a myriad of prediction after prediction after prediction from "climate experts" that have all failed to come to pass. Not even close to coming to pass. And any evidence which contradicts the accepted opinion is squashed. 

This post is about so-called Biblical or Greek or Theological "Scholars," so I won't include an exhaustive list of climate predictions gone wrong, but since I made the assertion, here is a representative example printed in the Associated Press June, 1989:

Other failed predictions:

  • 1990 Five years to save the rainforest
  • 1999 Himalayan Glaciers will be gone by 2009
  • 2000 Snow no longer seen in England by end of decade
  • 2007 Fewer hurricanes
  • 2008 Arctic ice-free by 2013
  • 2012 More hurricanes

ABC News ran a scare piece during their nightly broadcast in 2007 showing Manhattan underwater, milk and gasoline over $10/gal. The year  used for this future, inescapable doom? 2015.

It it also puzzling that some of the most alarmist politicians, who are predicting rising sea levels, have purchased multi-million dollar homes on the east and west coasts of the USA and on the beaches of Hawaii. Clearly, they don't believe their homes will be underwater any time soon.

Just to put a period on these "experts," here is short video of more "experts." Please note this video is from 2020, so we have to add 2 more years to these false prophecies.

Now let's apply this sort of reasoning to theological issues. The logical error in view here is basing an argument, not on established facts, but rather  on established "expert opinion." The underlying problem is the same as with the climate, a tribal desire to find a desired outcome.

When it comes to the interpretation of scripture, the "experts" agree on very little. Even if so-called "Greek Scholars" and/or "experts" agree on the translation of a word or phrase, that certainly does not imply agreement on interpretation. We have evidence. We have scholars. We have disagreement on interpretation. So, to settle oneself firmly in one camp or another based solely on the interpretative opinion of an expert is dangerous indeed. Eternally dangerous if I may say so.

Logical fallacy: Appeal to Authority

When we look at "Greek Scholars," we note that they represent a wide swarth of interpretive opinions. Greek scholars become:

  • Catholic
  • Eastern Orthodox
  • Atheists
  • Reformed
  • Mormons
  • Charismatics
  • Humanists
  • Dispensationalists
  • Fundamentalists
  • Deconstructionists
  • Etc.

IOW, being a "scholar" carries minimal weight in arguing one has the right theological conclusion. The difference between a "Greek Scholar" and me is that he/she might know the definition (or definitions) of Greek words whereas I might have to look for the meanings... from other Greek Scholars. That is, he might know Strong's definition right off, I would have to look for Strong's (or Wycliff's or Mounce's or Bullinger's or Young's, etc.) and by doing so, be just as informed. If the conclusion was unalterable, we wouldn't have such a divergence in interpretive opinions.

I can also look up Greek grammar and word usage. 

The difference is interpreting these words, in their contexts, theologically. We can both know what "ekklesia" or "parousia" may mean, but we might interpret them very differently. Someone being a "Greek Scholar" does nothing for the supposed iron-clad nature of his conclusion (as evidenced in the list above).

As we've repeatedly noted on this blog, when it comes to Bible interpretation, we must seek to be consistent and in context. The Bible does not contradict itself. If there is an apparent contradiction, the problem is in our understanding, not in the text. And this problem almost always arises when we bring our conclusions to scripture (our desired outcome) and try to force them upon the text.

We must also understand, that in the end, the Lord will hold us each individually responsible for how we handle His word. To be sure, the Lord knows we are but dust. We will ALL find that we got some things wrong. The Lord is not looking for perfection. But what the Lord is looking for are workmen who rightly divide the Word of Truth who need not be ashamed (2 Tim 2:15). 

My doctrines are my own, and I have but one authority, scripture. How I handle it is my responsibility. I defer to no "Scholar" on my interpretations, even if I need the scholar to help with translation.    

Study to show YOURSELF approved unto GOD alone.

You are a Theology of One.