Anti-Intellectualism in Christian, Jewish and Atheist communities

That’s a possibility. I have at times heard sentiments along the lines of “The Bible contains everything we need,” though different people probably mean different things by that.

My daughter is taking on online chemistry class at a classical Christian school. In the intro class talking about the nature of science and whatnot, the teacher claimed that science could discover facts, but it could not discover truth. The only source of truth is the Bible. And according to her, the problem with scientism is that it claims science is a source of truth. (Actually, scientism claims that science is the only source of truth, which is problematic.) Had to debrief that a bit. Kind of goes against the Augustinian “all truth is God’s truth” motto that classical schools usually like to quote.

So yes, it worries me that some Christians have decided that if science can discover truth, it’s a threat to God or something.That breeds anti-intellectualism. Maybe I’m not getting the nuance she was putting on “truth,” but even if she was using truth to mean ultimate spiritual truth, that is a kind of troubling dualism that privileges spiritual over physical. There is only one reality. When we describe it well, either with Scriptural, spiritual principles, or with science, we are getting at truth.

9 Likes

And the “All truth is God’s truth” is a great bridge building concept that no theist should have any immediate problem with. I use that a lot.

It’s the whatnot that can get interesting. I would love to see “whatnot” and “advanced whatnot” on our school transcripts, but my boss just isn’t enthused.

3 Likes

While science may be able to give answers and truths according to things of physics, geology, and other science stuff, it falls flat on its face when it comes to answering issue of emotions and spirituality. The Bible is a book that offers spiritual answers, and you won’t expect it to answer issues of geology and such. That is where science comes in. And it goes vice versa the other way as well.

I totally agree. And I also think high schoolers can handle a robust discussion of epistemology that broaches the idea that we have different ways of accessing truth and different discourses for talking about what is true, depending on how we know what we know. Lots of true things are accessed through ways of knowing that have nothing to do with interpreting Scripture or listening to the Holy Spirit.

4 Likes

Hi everyone, I’ve been reading this forum for a while now, but this is my first time posting.

I’ve been on a bit of journey around the subject of Evolution and Christianity, but that is for another time perhaps.

Hi Reggie, you make an excellent observation about the rise of Anti-Intellectualism (Anti-I). I can’t speak for Jews or Atheists, but in my little corner of Christianity, there are certainly some who are extremely sceptical of all science. This is especially true of church leaders.

However, I would contend that Sola Scripture, properly understood, shouldn’t contribute to the rise of anti-i. The issue the reformers were trying to settle with Sola Scripture was ‘What is the final court of appeal in matters of Christian doctrine?’. The Catholic church at the time answered Scripture and tradition. The Reformers answered, Scripture alone.

This is reflected in the way many historic creeds speak about the sufficiency of scripture. They argued that Scripture alone is sufficient for a saving knowledge of God and what he required. For example:

Belgic Confession ArticleVII:

“We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein.”

Heidelberg Catechism

Question 22: What is then necessary for a Christian to believe?

All things promised us in the gospel, which the articles of our catholic undoubted Christian faith briefly teach us [in the Apostles’ Creed].

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Question 2: What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

Question 3: What do the scriptures principally teach?
The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

Westminster Confession

1.6
.The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture…
1.7
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: (2 Pet. 3:16) yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

The issue at hand (in my opinion) and the one that contributes to the rise of Anti-I in the church is not Sola Scriptura, but biblicism. John Frame outlines four forms of Biblicism, I wonder if any of these chimes with your experiences:

[Biblicism] is commonly applied to (1) someone who has no appreciation for the importance of extrabiblical truth in theology, who denies the value of general or natural revelation, (2) those suspected of believing that Scripture is a “textbook” of science, or philosophy, politics, ethics, economics, aesthetics, church government, etc., (3) those who have no respect for confessions, creeds, and past theologians, who insist on ignoring these and going back to the Bible to build up their doctrinal formulations from scratch, (4) those who employ a “proof texting” method, rather than trying to see Scripture texts in their historical, cultural, logical, and literary contexts. (“In Defence of Something Close to Biblicism” in John Frame, The Collected Shorter Theological Writings (Logos Edition), 2008)

Certainly, I’d say that belief in Sola Scriptura and the Sufficiency of Scripture requires a soft biblicism of sorts since the bible has the final say on matters of faith and doctrine. However, it is, in my opinion, the hard biblicism that Frame describes above which is the most dangerous root of Anti-Intellectualism in our churches.

I hope that helps you in your thinking.

(sorry for all the typos, I think I got them all. Dyslexia is a pig. Thankful for the edit button!)

10 Likes

This made me think, thank you. I hadn’t heard of the word biblicism before. It seems like the polar opposite to scientism in that it assumes all knowledge can be arrived at by way of the Bible just as scientism assumes that science can answer all questions. Both amount to nothing-but-ism and are such extreme simplifications of our experience that the truth each arrives at cannot help but be a distortion.

4 Likes

Welcome to the forum, Liam. I think you are absolutely right about the distinction between sola scriptura and biblicism. I also think many Christians conflate the two without realizing it and think they are honoring their Protestant heritage when they are actually disrespecting it. Thanks for the John Frame quote, that’s a good diagnostic.

1 Like

Great insights, Liam @LM77. Welcome to the forum. It seems I hear someone almost weekly present the Bible as a rule book for life. If only it were that simple. I think you are correct that such an interpretation is incorrect, and both prevents us from realizing scripture’s deeper meaning, and makes scripture something it is not.

Thanks for all the warm welcomes everyone. I’m thankful that my first post has been a helpful contribution.

This issue of Sola Scriptura vs. Biblicism is one my wife and I have kicked around many times. We are both have a great appreciation for Reformed Theology but also love the sciences. I keep insects and have an armchair interest in entomology; my wife has just completed an MA in Bioethics and is about to begin her PHD. We are both saddened and concerned by the biblicism approach to Scripture we see and people’s deep mistrust of academia and science. So if others have benefited from our rabbit trails, I’m thankful for that.

@MarkD, I think you are on to something regarding the relationship between biblicism and scientism. This is something I have not considered before but I think the connection is there. Thanks for sharing, I’m going to think about this some more.

@Christy Oh yes, I think this is certainly the case. On one level, folk in the pew go by what they are taught by their leaders, so on one level it isn’t their fault. Church leaders, especially those who receive conservative and/or Reformed training really should know better. But then popular writers in the field are not much better when it comes to biblicism. Either way, it underscores the vital importance of a rough knowledge of church history and a cursory understanding of the development of key historical Christian doctrines.

Hi @jpm. Most certainly it is wrong as it holds us back from the deeper meaning which can be found through Theology, the teaching of the past, or extra-biblical data.

I’ve often wondered if people want it to be simple because simple is safe. If the Bible is an exhaustive well of knowledge then I don’t have to wrestle with science and how that fits with Scripture (which can be uncomfortable and hard at times). And if I take the Bible on a literal surface level then people perhaps think they don’t need to wrestle with interpreting it which requires praying and thoughtful consideration (of course they are interpreting it but that is a different issue). The point is biblicism feels safe and folk feel walled off and protected against the bad stuff ‘out there’ because all they need, they suppose or are told, is in their Bible or popular level Christian books.

6 Likes

Welcome, Liam, and I think that hits the nail on the head. I’m one of many here who has mentioned their tendency to gravitate toward black-and-white thinking (whether by nature or nurture or some combination), and yes, when everything is systematized and spelled out for us, it can feel like it eases some of the burden of interpretation and wrestling. I used to see boldness as taking a hard stand on a particular doctrinal idea and defending it to the bitter end (and sometimes it is), but I’m realizing that sometimes boldness means saying “I don’t know” and being willing to hold multiple interpretive possibilities without feeling the need to declare one of them as the absolute truth.

6 Likes

@Reggie_O_Donoghue, good discussion. Have you read Richard Hofstadter’s “Anti-Intellectualism In American Life”? I believe I read some of this long ago in undergrad; the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” is another critique directed more to Christians. As I recall, the former does deal with non religious anti-intellectualism, too (I think some are called “crunchies,” as I learned from this forum). The Wikipedia article on anti-intellectualism was quite surprising to me–I had forgotten (and probably didn’t understand well at first) the anti-intellectualism in secularists in Asia–the Maoist and Pol Pot persecution of intellectuals, in particular. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-intellectualism

Thanks. for this thread.

Oh yes. I think it is incredibly disconcerting to come to terms with exactly how imprecise and open to misunderstanding language and communication can be, especially when you throw in the added dimensions of cultural and historical distance. The idea that the Bible might not mean what I intuitively thought it meant feels very dangerous, because then how can we ever know we are right?

1 Like

That is a caricature. Sola Scriptura does not say that the bible contains the all the world’s knowledge, nor does it direct Protestants to reject anything non-biblical. It makes a very limited and narrow statement that scripture contains everything needed in regards to salvation and God’s redemptive plan. That’s it. The bible is recognized as saying almost nothing about science, and a somewhat more but still limited amount of history and geography. Sola Scriptura was not a statement of general completeness, it was (rightly or wrongly) a rebuttal of the Roman doctrine of Sacred Tradition. (1) The men who proclaimed Sola Scriptura, far from being anti-intellectual, were among the intellectual giants of their era.


(1) Ironically we Sola Scriptura Protestants need our own sacred tradition: namely: what exactly is scripture? E.g., How do we know Jude is scripture?

4 Likes

Easily refuted by the lack of any reference to germ theory or quantum physics in the Bible

Yeah, though it’s not always consistently applied. I think some people use the idea of “the Bible contains all we need” more in reference to philosophical, relational, or psychological dilemmas, rather than hard sciences.

1 Like

I agree. On the other hand, if your particular interpretation of Genesis 1-3 leads you to believe that the everything in the universe is about 7000 years old, you might choose to believe germ theory, quantum physics, and YEC.

In fact, millions actually hold this set of beliefs. Biologos has the mission of gently undoing the harm that this set of beliefs creates for the church and for the world.

1 Like

Welcome, Liam @LM77!

I have observed that most if not all biblicists refer to the Bible as the Word of God, even though John 1:1 refers to Jesus Christ as the Word of God. That can be an easy mistake to make because both are important to our faith, but it is clear that Jesus is God, the Second Person of the Trinity, while the Bible is Holy, but not God.

Also the Greek word used by John for the Word is Logos, which means a rational Word believed by a rational faith, not mythos which means is a non-rational word believed on the authority of tradition.

Since Jesus is the Logos through Whom all things are created Jesus can be found in science as well as theology. Not all science is good or true, just and not all theology is good or true. Not all science is bad or false, just as not all theology is bas or false. It is Jesus the Logos Who is the Truth of both the Bible and theology and nature and science.

Insofar as the present is the epoch of Gog & Magog, i guess you don’t, you’re fortunate if you can preserve your own intellectualism

If you point out their Prideful uncompromising super-humanly presumptuous “my way or the highway” “know it all” mentality, and nobody else holds it against them, then there is no cerebral “gray brain matter” conversation occurring at all anyway

I guess you can save your breath

It doesn’t help to explain jokes, and it doesn’t help to explain the laws of logic… Certainly not more than once, just to be sure

Anyway the whole point of worldly secularism is that “there’s nothing to stop them”

If the God they deny doesn’t zap them then and there, nothing is stopping them… Will your words?

Statements about the eternal or the infinite are at best approximations or metaphors. It is impossible in any human language to articulate absolute truth about such issues. So theological issues should be stated with humility - a bit like this and a bit like that - but in fact being really like something else; something we don’t know about or couldn’t understand. Theologians often lack such humility. Herb…

1 Like