Posted by: cjobrien | 29 December 2010

What Scholarship, Learning and Understanding Are All About

Creationists, Intelligent Design activists, and “Biblical” archaeologists, please pay attention:

James McGrath posts a wonderful essay on Illustrating Differences Between Scholarly Research and Mythicist Blog Conversations that all of us who have any interest in what understanding and scholarship should be all about. Unfortunately, the culture in this country is developing a very warped sense of how to reason and reach conclusions about almost any topic you can imagine. Most people seem to think that knowledge can be attained cheaply and easily, that experts don’t count (read both McGrath’s previous post as well as Duane’s post on the subject), and that anyone with a laptop and access to internet can be become an expert in a field and successfully challenge those who have spent lifetimes learning their field. It is a long post, but here’s a snippet:

And here we see the biggest methodological problem that confronts creationists, mythicists, and other such points of view that ignore scholarship, choosing instead to attempt to figure things out on their own (or with the help of some likeminded conversation partners), in conformity with their own convictions, without concern for scholarship or research, and no need for labs or excavations or knowledge of ancient languages. Whether we are talking about the question of biological evolution, or the question of whether a historical figure of Jesus existed, these are questions for which particular pieces of evidence may be important, but ultimately the decisive consideration is that large numbers of scholars working on different specific areas related to these questions independently produce results that correlate with one another and cohere with the theory.

Ok, one more….

Because that is how scholarship works, whether in the humanities or the natural sciences. It is not any one scholar, but the scholarly enterprise as a whole, that helps us to understand the big picture. And complaining that you are not convinced when you haven’t taken the time to study the subject in a serious way simply illustrates that you have done something far worse than simply ignoring experts’ conclusions or finding them unpersuasive. You’ve failed to understand how expertise is achieved in relation to questions that no one scientist or historian can master alone. And as a result, you’ve left yourself open to being misled, whether by others or by yourself.

This last paragraph expresses my real heartburn with people like Gregg in my previous post. They don’t want to do the work to understand the issue, either because they’ve already made their minds up and are simply protecting their own personal belief system, or they are intellectually lazy. I have always enjoyed James McGrath’s perspectives and posts on various issues – he’s the one individual I can point to that makes me think I may be a bit hard on the religious. To paraphrase commenter David on my previous post: If more believers were like James McGrath, I could find Christianity (and belief in general) a bit more palatable.

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