It appears that Craig missed my point spectacularly, probably because he wears Jesus-colored glasses. The point I was making is simple--every reading of the bible is just an interpretation. As Craig amply demonstrates, he (and probably more than a few Christians more widely) gets that interpretation is necessary, but what they fail to acknowledge is that all interpretations of the Bible are ultimately unjustifiable and untestable--and hence not worth considering, particularly as candidates for The Absolute Truth™. This is one fact that almost all Christians miss, and it appears that William Lane Craig, the most noted apologist amongst them, has missed it as well.
Before I get to examining some of Craig's specific statements about what I said, I need to point out why he and almost all Christians miss this fact, other than the Jesus-colored glasses. Craig reveals it by spending a great deal of the time that he doesn't use to belittle me and my capacity to think clearly talking about the "science" (cough!) of hermeneutics. That's how he missed my point. It seems to me that Craig may think I'm arguing on his terms rather than saying that his terms are idiotic. Because a Christian cannot simultaneously maintain belief and believe that the terms of that belief are idiotic, the fact, and thus my point, is missed rather like a kid who swings a baseball bat so hard, and whiffs, that he spins around and falls over.
Though I'm not sure it deserves it, I'll do a little to respond to Craig's statements with the rest of this post, but I think I'll hold myself to answering his rhetorical questions about me in the main. That will, at least, be fun, and doing much else runs the risk of taking his terms too seriously, which no one should do.
Craig: "I wonder if he is at all aware of the whole disciple known as hermeneutics which is the science of interpretation."
Yes, I am. "Science." :snigger:
This one deserves a little attention, though, because this is another fact that many Christians, including Craig, miss. People live their lives by the interpretation of Christianity they pretend is The Absolute Truth™. They use their interpretation to guide their decisions, to inform their ethics, to feel super important about their ethics, and to browbeat people personally and politically on matters related to their ethics.
We do not, on the other hand, do that with most other texts. We might engage in careful hermeneutics of Jefferson's letters to gather information about how he thought the United States should be ordered and play out, but outside of a band of people on the fringe, we do not order our lives or even the main working of our nation on the assumptions that (a) even if we determine what Jefferson truly meant and intended by his words, that they are The Absolute Truth™, and (b) that anything Jefferson said even is The Absolute Truth™.
This differs from what Craig and other Christians do with the Bible in an extremely important way. It also misses the other point I made--how on earth could differences in interpretation be resolved? There are an awful lot of interpretations of the Bible, and the only real "hope" of resolution comes down to interpreting a cobbled-together collection of mythological texts as if it is real and then using the "Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit" to declare victory. Of note, in 2007, Donald McKim published an authoritative Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters, a book of more than 1100 pages chronicling the history of how, to quote John W. Loftus, "Biblical interpretation is like looking into a mirror since believers think that God believes whatever they do!" To read histories of Christian interpretation is to watch the vigorous branching of belief structures based on little more than "that guy's a heretic;" "no I'm not!" into some 40,000 distinct denominations, all of whom believe in their hearts that the others are all wrong in some degree.
Craig: "I think any reflective Christian is aware [that whenever you read the Bible you are interpreting this piece of literature]."
"God said it; I believe it; that settles it." Dr. Craig may not be aware that they make bumper stickers that say that and that people actually buy them and put them on their cars. I even saw one personally a few months ago.
I am so glad, though, that he said "piece of literature." Indeed. Thanks, Bill. That's rather my point.
Craig: "As we'll see as the blog proceeds, he gets into this post-modernist nonsense about texts having no objective meaning, and this whole thing is so self-refuting."
Huh? Craig seems to misunderstand that I'm talking about the Bible, not "texts" in general. This is probably because Christians fail to understand that the Bible is largely fiction. "Objective meaning" is such a weird phrase to use for a work of fiction.
Craig: "Any text, when you read it, has an interpretation, including Lindsay's blog. So as you say, this is about the breading [sic] and raising of hamsters. That's what this really is, and Lindsay has really helped us to see."
Um, Dr. Craig, I appreciate your attempt at satire, but, um, your cheese, uh, slipped off your, uh, cracker, sir.
Craig: "But actually, Kevin, I interpret it differently. I think here he is using irony and satire to emphasize how objective and true the Bible is. Really he wants to strengthen people's confidence and faith in the Bible. That's my interpretation of the blog."
Um, Dr. Craig, your, uh, cheese, sir.
But to give this a little attention, in no way do I suggest that Christians accept any interpretation of the Bible. That would be ridiculous. No Christian (that I'm aware of) uses the Bible to argue that the moon is made out of mashed potatoes. Christians use the Bible like a mirror, like Loftus suggested. They use biblical interpretation to reflect and pseudo-justify what they already believe.
Christians believe that death is a bad, scary lie, so they use the Bible to pretend they'll get to live forever. Christians believe that they are hugely important and that their mistakes and wrongdoings have cosmic importance, so they use the Bible to make sense of that. Christians believe that it sucks that life isn't fair, so they use the Bible to pretend that a loving God is in control. Christians believe that certain behaviors are bad, icky, or inappropriate, and while some (e.g. murder and rape--both occasionally condoned and commanded by the Bible) certainly are, others aren't, but Christians use biblical interpretation to browbeat people for arbitrary things (like how they dress, who they have sex with, what they eat, if they use bad fucking words, and whatnot).
The point I made, though, is that they don't have a way to resolve these kinds of thing. Catholics have to confess and eat crackers to go to Heaven; Protestants do all kinds of different things. Some Christians are mortally against birth control, abortion, homosexuality, racial integration, women not being a man's property, and so on and so forth, and other Christians hold opinions that radically oppose those--and all use biblical interpretation as their arbiter of, you guessed it, The Absolute Truth™, which they cannot know but excel in pretending to know, via biblical interpretation.
Craig: "Doesn't he think that there might be a correct interpretation [of the Bible]? That there is an interpretation that is true that reflects the meaning that the author [sic] actually had in mind?"
Thanks for asking. Yes. I do. It's ancient mythological ramblings by a variety of authors who didn't agree with each other, didn't have the faintest idea of how the world works, and were pretty barbarous. It belongs on a shelf wedged between the Bhagavad Gita and The Epic of Gilgamesh, near other titles like the Yijing, Odýsseia, and the Iliad. In a slightly different circumstance, we would find The Silmarillion on that shelf as well, but because it isn't ancient, we don't call it mythology and just recognize it as fiction. That's the correct interpretation of the Bible.
Now, that's not quite the question Craig asked. Do I think that there's an interpretation that is true that reflects the meaning that the authors had in mind? No. No, I do not. It's mythology, which hits like a Zeus-hurled thunderbolt on that "true" thing.
Here, I have to do a block-quote of their interview to make a short response,
Kevin Harris: He says, “Indeed, that interpretation of the Bible defines what passes as being 'true Christianity' and it is the role of faith to glaze over that fact.”I'm not sure Dr. Craig is in touch with how the vast majority of the Christians in the world use faith. As such, he didn't respond to the point of that comment, which was the role of faith, along with the idea that some often-unique biblical interpretation, for most Christians, passes for them as The Absolute Truth™. Reading this part of their interview, then, is a bit like watching someone strike out at tee-ball.
Dr. Craig: And that is obviously incorrect. You do not glaze over the fact that there are multiple interpretations of certain texts. Sometimes it is difficult to determine the meaning of the text, and in other cases the text is very, very clear and there is widespread agreement on the interpretation of the text. It will vary from passage to passage.
Kevin Harris quotes me: "He says, 'This, then, brings us to the central question posed of all religious believers--a question that they cannot answer: How do you know your interpretation is correct? And it generalizes: How do you know any interpretation is correct?'"
Craig: "And the science of hermeneutics attempts to address that question. ... The science of hermeneutics attempts to answer it by laying down principles of literary interpretation about the meaning of words, the historical context in which the passage was written, the literary genre of the type of text that we are interpreting, and so on and so forth." (emphasis mine, both bold and italics)
You'd think after a couple of thousand years, instead of rampantly diverging into 40,000 denominations, each with a different interpretation, each filled with churches with variations on that interpretation, each filled with believers with variations on that interpretation, they'd have narrowed in on an answer instead of consistently diverging. And all the while they call it The Absolute Truth™. You'd think.
This "science" of hermeneutics is the problem, or rather its application to a work of fiction to obtain an interpretation that is not fictional and, indeed, isn't even real. It is one thing to work to interpret the collected works of Shakespeare to gain insight into the social and political realities of seventeenth century England because we actually know that seventeenth century England was a real place and historical period. Likewise, it is reasonable to interpret the Bible to gain insight into the times and cultures depicted in its pages, since we know those exist. It is not, however, reasonable to use it to draw conclusions about theology for the same reason it is not reasonable to use the Harry Potter novels to draw interpretive conclusions about magic. It isn't even reasonable to use the Bible to draw conclusions about many or most of its chief characters, again for the same reason that a careful hermeneutical anaylsis of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets tells us absolutely nothing about Salazar Slytherin.
Craig: "Fine. So he wants to say that scientific models are more or less, I think, accurate descriptions of reality which are subject to revision. That is just fine. Now, why can't our interpretation of his blog be similar – we have a pretty good idea of what was meant by this blog and that is subject to revision."
I don't think they do, clearly.
Craig: "Maybe he will correct us; write you a letter, Kevin, and tell you, “Wait a minute, this isn't really about hamsters. Craig was right. This was an endorsement of reasonable faith.” [laughter]"
Yes, haha! Hahahaha! (Dr. Craig, your, um, cheese, sir....)
Craig: "He can correct our misinterpretation if we do so, but nevertheless I think we can say we have a pretty accurate handle upon what he wants to say in this blog."
Your cheese, sir...
Craig: "And see here is, again, this sort of naïveté where he fails to realize that the evidence is conveyed by language."
Sigh. Look, in some tee-ball circles, they give you five strikes, not three, before you're out. Pick yourself up out of the dust, hop back in the batter's box, and try again. If you want to know what I think about evidence, though, you can read that here.
It's not about conveyance of things by language. It's about not having any evidence by which you can settle theological disputes. The sciences, by comparison, luckily have lots of it, and they eventually reach consensus, and that consensus is affirmed whether people believe it or not. Christianity cannot--cannot--offer such a boast, though it could if some strain of it were actually true.
Craig: "Notice, Kevin, here there has been a shift from talking about the interpretation of literature to saying faith lacks this reality check in the evidence. Where in the world did that come from? I thought we were talking about interpretive principles?"
It came from reality mattering, not just talking in circles about interpreting literature.
Craig: "How do you interpret a piece of literature like the Bible, and how can you be confident or reasonably sure that your interpretation is the correct one? That has nothing to do with whether or not faith has supportive evidence for what it affirms."
That's pretty spectacular. First, we have Harris missing the fact that an obvious fact about Christianity is not an "agenda," and then we have Craig missing the fact that it was implied--indeed he responded to it at the beginning of the interview when they mentioned that I had written, "Whether we're looking at hyper-liberal Anglicanism, evangelical Protestantism, mega-fundamentalist literalism, Christian-Left Catholicism, C.S. Lewis's creedal "mere" Christianity, or anything between or beyond, every one of them requires a reading of the Bible that is an interpretation of the Bible." (emphasis original)
It's not even just that there are so many denominations, though, this being the more relevant point that I actually made. They disagree as fundamentally and radically as it may be possible to disagree on something, and they grow further apart over time. hyper-liberal Anglican John Shelby Spong would have been burned as a heretic only a few centuries ago, mega-fundamentalist literalists only sprang up in the wake of Darwin, Ingersoll, and Russell, et al., in the last 150 years, and within each we see seeds of more divergence. Consider blowhard super-conservative Catholics like the shills on FOX News (Bill Donahue comes immediately to mind) and compare them to the hyper-liberal Christian Left, which is composed of many Catholics who see eye-to-eye with the likes of Donahue on essentially nothing of substance.
Craig: 'That would then be something to discuss as well because certainly there are doctrines or passages in the Bible that we do not know exactly what interpretation is correct. There is a diversity of views on these. For example, one of the most notorious is in 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul says, “If the dead are not raised then why are people baptized on their behalf?” Nobody knows what Paul is talking about because that, though known to the ancient Corinthians, is not something that has endured in church history so we don't know. There are all kinds of speculations about what the meaning of Paul's question was when he talked about being baptized on behalf of the dead. In a case like this, we just have to say, I think, that we don't have the resources to be confident how to properly interpret that question.' (emphasis mine)
My entire commentary, though I realize I'm taking it out of context, is the emphasis I added above. That and this: speculations.
This, though, is my point, and it's the one Craig missed with them. All Christian belief structures are just interpretations of a fictional text, not The Absolute Truth™.
Craig: 'But other things that Paul says clearly, like “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, we are of all men most miserable; you are still in your sins.” There it is very clear what Paul is asserting.'
Of all of the possible examples he could have chosen, he chose this one. I couldn't be more pleased--though he seems also to miss the point that being "still in your sins" isn't clear in meaning whatsoever.
NB: Since Craig was responding in an interview, I'll be courteous and charitable and will simply publish this as I wrote it the first time through, extemporaneously and without revision. Pardon any errors or lack of clarity, but I feel like it's fair to respond on a somewhat level playing field.