Saturday, November 24, 2007

Biblical Inerrancy?

"inerrant in the originals"
(Image from Wikipedia)

My philosophical friend Bill Vallicella has occasionally broached the issue of "scriptural inerrancy" -- such as in a blog post of over a year ago, when he informed his readers that he subscribes to the journal Philosophia Christi but does not belong to the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS), for even if he intended to violate his policy of "study everything, join nothing," he could never join this particular society, for to do so, he would have to sign the following statement:
I subscribe to the "Doctrinal Affirmation" of the EPS as follows -- "The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and therefore inerrant in the originals. God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory."
Bill could not sign the Affirmation because as he understands inerrancy, the Bible cannot reasonably be viewed as inerrant "in its entirety." Being a reasonable, philosophical sort of fellow, however, he notes that he might have misunderstood the meaning of "inerrancy," and he therefore passed the issue to his readers for comment, asking if someone could define the term and explain it putative reasonability.

The EPS statement on "inerrancy," by the way, reminds us of Ted Olsen's summary of what the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) requires of its members:
ETS membership has only two doctrinal requirements: you must affirm the Trinity and the inerrancy of Scripture.
The ETS website is perhaps a more authoritative place to look:
The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.
Clearly, the members of these two societies -- the EPS and the ETS -- belong to the same subset of Christians. Moreover, this requirement by these two societies implies that evangelicals affirm inerrancy. Perhaps most do, but not all ... though "evangelical" is a slippery term.

Anyway, my posts of the past few days have remined me that I don't know what the term "inerrancy" precisely means -- though I could check out what Wikipedia has to say on this issue and follow up its links to more scholarly sources. One could also peruse The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which asserts that the Bible "is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches" and "is without error or fault in all its teaching, ... in what it states about God's acts in creation, ... [and] about the events of world history," which is pretty far-reaching but which also does not state precisely what would consitute an "error."

Several of Bill Vallicella's commentors provide definitions of inerrancy, as I now see from the blog entry, and one of the commentors mentions J. P. Moreland's view indicating that "he does not believe in six twenty four hour periods of Creation," which I suppose means that Moreland would consider a literal reading of the Genesis creation account to be in error.

This has aroused my curiosity about Moreland's view of inerrancy, so I've now taken a look at the article mentioned yesterday: "The Rationality Of Belief In Inerrancy" (Trinity Journal 7.1 (Spring 1986): 75-86). I don't find an explicit statement of what inerrancy means for Moreland, but I did find his statement on why he thinks that "one is within his or her epistemic rights" (page 75) in holding to inerrancy:
[I]nsights from the philosophy of science show that one can be rational in affirming inerrancy in the presence of a number of anomalies even if this involves suspending judgment or using ad hoc hypotheses. This activity can be rational because: 1) hypotheses are not formed or tested by enumerative induction (where cases are evaluated in their own terms) but by hypothetico-deduction or abduction (where the particular cases are judged against the backdrop of the hypothesis); 2) the fact/interpretation distinction, though a genuine one, is not always easy to draw; the rationality of theory change, therefore, is not a simple matter of falsification, but rather a very complex affair that defies simplistic treatment; and 3) problem cases are not treated qua particulars but qua members of a class and, thus, the evidence of this whole class must be overthrown before the case can rationally be judged as a falsifying instance of that class. (page 85)
Without going to the trouble of explicating this passage in its entirety (which I'll leave for readers as homework), I'd simply like to note that this gives an inerrantist considerable leeway for maintaining belief in biblical inerrancy despite what 'errantists' might consider evidence against that belief.

Note to my students: don't try to defend the 'inerrancy' of your essays with Moreland's arguments, for you can be within your epistemic rights, yet still be wrong.

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At 10:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm evangelical, I suppose, but I do not hold to inerrancy. Sheesh, we don't even claim that Jesus never made a mistake.

I believe the Bible is inspired and is authoritative in matters of faith and practice. Not that that makes it always easy to interpret.

There could be some mistakes in scripture having to do with history, geography, science, etc. Not a problem for me.

At 10:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, I think that evangelicals are not universally committed to inerrancy, and I think that even among those who are so committed, the term doesn't always mean the same thing.

Thanks for visiting.

Jeffery Hodges

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