Very Strange Bedfellows 2

For my write-up today on Jules Witcover’s Very Strange Bedfellows: The Short and Unhappy Marriage of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, I’ll use as my starting-point Witcover’s quotation of Spiro Agnew on page 75:

“Truth to [young liberal protesters on college campuses] is ‘revealed’ rather than logically proved, and the principal infatuations of today revolve around the social sciences, those subjects which can accommodate any opinion and about which the most reckless conjecture cannot be discredited.”

I sometimes feel this way.  Whenever biblical scholars liken themselves to brain surgeons—-as when they criticize people who think that they can read the Bible without the guidance of biblical scholarship, when these same people wouldn’t try to perform brain surgery on their own but would consult experts—-I’m somewhat skeptical.  I just have a hard time putting biblical scholarship into the same category as brain surgery, since biblical scholarship seems to me to be rather speculative in areas.  I’ve wondered at times if biblical scholarship and the humanities in general are sometimes like what Agnew says about the social sciences—-that they can accommodate all sorts of different opinions, and they have their share of reckless conjectures.

There is a strong part of me that sees sciences such as biology, chemistry, and physics as objective, while regarding the humanities are more subjective.  A professor of mine once commented that I had a bias that regarded the physical sciences as more stable than the humanities, but that my bias was incorrect, for the physical sciences change quite a bit.  He may be right on that.

Agnew’s comment also made me think about Kant, postmodernism, and deconstruction.  I’ve long thought to myself: What is the point of students learning about these things in college?  So there are intellectuals who doubt that there is objective truth.  How do students benefit from learning about this sort of perspective?

I think about an experience that I had in college.  A friend of mine was pre-med.  He was on a bus with his debate-team coach, who was a postmodernist, and she was trying to justify slavery from a post-modern perspective.  He contrasted that with what his biology professor did when my friend turned out to be right while the biology professor turned out to be wrong: the biology professor admitted his error!  My friend gained a fresh respect for the physical sciences, as opposed to the humanities.

I can guess about how some of my acquaintances who study the humanities may respond.  They might say that the humanities have a system of peer-review, and that keeps out crazy perspectives.  They may also suggest that I must not know much about the humanities, to question that they are real sciences.  Well, let me say this: I acknowledge that there is real science that goes on within the humanities.  There are ideas that accord with the facts and that come out of a rigorous methodology of seeking truth.  Facts are facts.  Facts accord with some ideas better than others.  But there have been plenty of times when I have read articles or books on biblical studies and I’ve thought to myself: “That sounds pretty speculative to me!”  These books or articles may rest on facts, on some level, but there’s a degree of speculative interpretation going on there, as well.

I’ll stop blathering right here!  I guess that, if I have a policy, it’s to listen to what people are arguing.  Even if the humanities may strike me as rather speculative at times, there may be times when they are getting at truth.

NOTE: I find James McGrath’s thoughts here to be helpful.  I actually wrote this post before I read McGrath’s post.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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