David Bokovoy posted a careful and thoughtful analysis of the relationship between scholarship and apologetics in the wake of Greg Smith’s controversial piece on John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories. I really appreciate David’s approach and the care he takes in trying to offer a balanced perspective, but I still found myself disagreeing with David’s overall thesis. My hope is that by explicating my disagreement beyond a comment and into a post, it will help move the discussion forward beyond particular examples and into a broader discussion about the overlap between scholarship and faith.
The best place to begin is with the classic text for apologetics that comes from 1st Peter Chapter 3 (NRSV):
(15) but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you (16) yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.
I always find it interesting that in typical Christian discourse on apologetics, almost everyone ignores the “in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord ” of verse 15 and goes straight to the occurrence of apologia, with its connotations of reasoned defense (Plato’s famous account of Socrates’ trial is called an apology as well) and what that must entail. The fact that the command to be ready to give a reasonable defense is sandwiched between a command of sanctifying Christ in your heart and giving your reasoned defense with gentleness and reverence, seems to be a 300 pound gorilla no one wants to talk about.
As an atheist, I understand that people of faith live their lives according to that faith and that means faithful scholars are going to engage in scholarship that meets the spirit of that faith. Some people see this as a conflict of interests, but I don’t think that must be necessarily so. It seems to me that apologetics is itself a kind of a demeanor, and one which we should expect from mature Christians in almost every aspect of their lives, including scholarship.
David states that scholarship and apologetics are two different fields, as if they were two different disciplines. I’m not sure I totally agree with this distinction; not all scholarship is apologetic in nature and not all apologetics is scholarly in nature, but surely some scholarship is apologetic. To give an example from my own training I’d offer Alvin Planting’s ‘Warranted Christian Belief’ (hereafter WCB) as an example of scholarship that also happens to serve the role of apologetics.
Plantinga satisfies the conditions for scholarship because WCB is rigorous in thought, transparent in motivation, and does a good deal of work in moving the discussion forward. While I certainly disagree with the bulk of the book, working through it was not only profitable in terms of sharpening my own philosophical ability, it exposed me to criticisms that have to be dealt with while framing them in such a way as to help make my own position better.
I think a necessary if not essential feature of scholarship is its ability to be edifying and useful for people who don’t share the author’s worldview. I would argue that this wasn’t achieved by striving for objectivity or by working from some kind of naturalistic assumptions, but by following a different set of criteria. What specifically is this criteria? I’m not sure.
My intuition tells me that the questions that I should be asking are to be found on the other side of the professional philosophy house, specifically the work of Hans Gadamer and his Philosophical Hermeneutics. It will take me some time to gather my thoughts, but I wanted to pose a few preliminary questions to my fellow contributors and our readers:
Is objectivity in scholarship worth striving for? To borrow a line from Catholic theologian David Tracy, “ We belong to history just as much as history belongs to us.” We all stand within our own traditions, is it worth the effort to try and move out of that context in pursuit of objectivity or are we just kidding ourselves by dressing our work up in terms and methods that just gives the mere appearance?
Is there a strong correlation between the virtues of good scholarship and the virtues of a faithful Christian, Muslim or Jew (or any other tradition)? An honest pursuit of the truth, charity towards your fellows and your “Others”? Temperance when it comes to behavior in scholarly and academic contexts? An honest and robust participation in dialectic?
I look forward to reading everyone’s thoughts.