Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Brief Blog Adventure

I have been debating whether Scripture is the infallible word of God with someone on Facebook. She continually claims that I am more interested in my own personal desires than truth. This is a frustrating obstacle to honest discourse right now. I realize that we all question the psychology driving each other's beliefs, but man, she and I don't even know each other.

These are the thoughts I sent to her in response to this claim. Do you have any thoughts or experiences along these lines?

"Finally, let me say that I have pursued answers with all the honesty I can muster. I will assume the same of you. Since I do not know you well, I question your judgement not your motivation. And you and I have come to different conclusions on the nature of Scripture. Being the son of a Baptist minister, I know what it is like to doubt oneself in the extreme when changing one's opinions about religion. Ironically, it is a growing faith in God, that if He exists He is good and will correct me with care if I am wrong, that has allowed me to question and change my thoughts. During many bouts of prayer, reflection, and self-doubt and many dark nights of the soul, I have always come again to the conclusion that we must live according to what we think is true, not according to what we are afraid might be true."

Of course, there is nothing wrong with an humble dose of what we hope might be true as well!


  1. Hi, Steven- Thanks for your excellent recent posts.

    I think we all have to admit to psychological motivations and skewed pictures of reality. So we are right, actually, to accuse each other of ulterior motives and unsound reasoning, as a rule. That is why our discussions get so circular.

    How do we get around that, so to speak? We need some kind of external touchstone, like logic and evidence. Otherwise we are fully trapped in psychically-driven systems.

    The bible stands as that touchstone for Christians, generally, but once one learns how that came to be and what the quality of its claims are, well, it just melts away and joins the pool of florid creations of the human imagination.

  2. Burk, thanks and mostly I agree here. Without common agreed-upon values and shared meanings for our language, circular arguing is all that is possible.

    But it is charitable to at least hold open the possibility that the other's inability to accept truth based on reason might not be greater than that same inability in ourselves, for surely we all suffer from this affliction to different degrees. All of our perspectives are limited - though this is no excuse not to hold strong opinions.

    Of course we are going to theorize about the other's motivations for a view that we do not see supported by reason, but there is a level of humility and politeness that might be at the very least a good place to start!

  3. Steven,

    As one who disagrees with you more times than not, I am in a great position to doubt your sincerity. What I have come to realize, though, is that you seek the truth more earnestly than virtually any Christian I know.

    There was a comment I submitted to you ages ago that saddens me when I reflect upon it. In that post, I questioned your honesty with yourself... when I think back, what struck me as "dishonest" was this idea that you could not possibly be viewing the same evidence with no preconceptions or you would not possibly have come to the conclusion that you did. I would imagine your current debate partner is feeling something akin to this... we all do at times. When I'm being honest with myself, though, I know that you are steadfast in your sincerity. I apologized then but I'd like to reiterate that I was utterly wrong with my accusation. She is too.

  4. Randy, what a thoughtful comment! I appreciate it. I know you are coming from a similar place in your heart and that is why I enjoy discussing/debating with you in particular.

    I do not think there is anything wrong in thinking that one's debate opponent is biased. The problem is thinking that we ourselves are not.

    When we question a person's motivation more than our own, we are basically saying, "You are more biased than I am." It's a strong claim, and perhaps a fine one to make, but we know that our own thoughts are biased and that, odds are, we have some incomplete or incorrect facts in our playbook.

    So while maintaining and putting forward a strong opinion, based on our best thinking and the best information available, a degree of humility and respect towards the other person is courteous and intellectually responsible. Even if he/she is a nut job.


    thanks again, Randy!

  5. I think even the term "bias" should rarely play a role in these types of discussions. First and foremost, if you're dealing with a biased person, it makes little difference. That person may be more obstinate, but that shouldn't impact the discussion. The arguments remain the same. The bias accusation generally just impedes the accuser.

    I have taken (as you well know) to trying to pinpoint the areas of disagreement and asking the tough questions related to those areas... I've found (and I can tell you have to) that simply presenting arguments does little good.

    I can especially understand one who is not convinced of infallibility. Truthfully, the claim cannot be verified 100%. The claim is made of texts which we no longer have. I have, of course, presented my reasons for trusting Scripture, but infallibity is really an in-house debate anyway. What are we even claiming is infallible? Is she arguing from Greek manuscripts? NIV? NASB? Seems a silly area for questioning motives...

  6. Perhaps saying we were arguing infallibility is not technically correct. It was more the general authority of Scripture, I suppose.

    But her arguing style was of the shotgun variety - throw out many points and then accuse the opponent of ignoring the one's he did not address. And she operated on this type of argument - Since you don't accept that the Bible is God's singular, unique revelation, then you are ignoring God and setting yourself up as God! Of course this conclusion depends on the very premise I deny, so it was a tough discussion. I just tried to explain that a person isn't rejecting God per se if he rejects a claim about the Bible, etc.

    Anyway, it was still worthwhile. Her intentions were good, I am sure. I know she was worried about my eternal salvation and I do appreciate that.

    I agree with you though, Randy. A successful discussion distills the disagreement down to its barest, most easily understood state, allowing the two debaters to be satisfied in agreeing to disagree. It gives a sense of clarity and sets out to get rid of equivocation rather than simply to change the other's mind.