WHEN THE SCHOLAR’S DON’T AGREE
How do you know what you know? Most of us have specialized knowledge in one or two areas, our profession and our hobbies, learned from education and or experience. Some professions like an historian or a theoretical physicist or paleontologist don’t get their information from first hand knowledge, but very often from someone else’s work, or from ideas that can only be “proven” by an agreement among peers.
For that matter, all of us know very little about everything that there is to be known from first hand knowledge. And for all of us unless you are a scholar and have studied the materials for twenty years you have no choice but to take the scholar’s word for it. The physicist trusts the biologist, the biologist trusts the archeologist, the archeologist trusts the astronomer, and the journalist trusts them all.
When an ancient historical document is studied there is no guarantee that it is authentic, or that it contains all the details we want to see. In science, when a scientist weaves a tale about the distant past it is only an “educated” guess, and there is no real way to confirm that it is true. When a physicist tells you about something that they can’t see or detect in any way, but it has to be there because without it their theory won’t work, you have to trust that they know what their talking about and that things really do add up. But what if there are historians who disagree, or scientists who say the story is wrong, or that the hypothetical stuff doesn’t really exist?
If both sides are claiming the other side is wrong or in some cases ignorant, who are you supposed to trust? How do you get two very opposite positions from looking at the same data? That generally occurs when some of the scholars have presuppositions and biases from which they base their investigation. The best we can do is listen to the evidence from both sides and make a decision. Of course the world view that we have when we start the investigation will have a great impact on which ones we will accept and which ones we will reject.
There are a few things that should be asked.
- What kind of evidence is being presented, is it physical, i.e. archaeological or observational.
- Is it based on supposition, i.e. “Here is what I think might be the case and it sounds logical.”
- Does it rely on quoting a lot of other sources to back up the claims? Such as “Dr. Soanso and Professor J.Doe also agree with my position. This may mean that they aren’t sure their arguments have enough merit to stand on their own.
- Does it refer to sources you can’t check out for yourself, or can’t determine if they are legitimate?
- How does the scholar deal with the opposing evidence, do they present it, can they deal with alternate points? Or do they ignore the opposition, attempt to twist the views or present straw man arguments?
- Can they call hostile witnesses, that is, can they present evidence from those from the opposing position that unintentionally agree with them?
- How much of the view is subjective, i.e. based on gut feelings, likes or dislikes of the one presenting the evidence.
- Is any evidence or support merely assumed, or taken for granted? If something does seem assumed, find out if it actually has a solid foundation, or is the evidence itself assumed to be the foundation.
- How many opposing views are there on the same side? If those who agree on the overall picture can’t agree on the details it’s a good sign there is a problem, but not solid proof that there is a problem with the overall picture. Find out what the disagreements actually are.
In the end all of us have to decide for ourselves. Trusting in someone else to decide what’s true for you just doesn’t cut it. Those who know God however have a tactical advantage in the search for what is true. The Holy Spirit.
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.
If you have doubts, or questions or concerns, present them to God. Or you can try to do it on your own.
Pilate said unto him, What is truth?