Tuesday, 30 December 2014

A Reply to Ryan

Somebody identifying himself only as 'Ryan' has taken me to task over a sentence in my previous post. The offending part:
Wallace is on the staff at fundamentalist Dallas Seminary and received his 'education' both there and at the equally dubious Biola.
According to Ryan I'm implying here - and none too subtly it seems - "that Wallace is stupid". He has four objections to make.
  1. He doesn't like my description of Wallace as "on the staff" at Dallas (DTS). He'd rather I acknowledge his status as a professor.
  2. He objects to my describing DTS as fundamentalist. This, he feels, is a synonym for stupid.
  3. He doesn't like the "scare quotes" around 'education'. Again, I'm apparently implying that Wallace is stupid because of an inferior education.
  4. He makes the same point regarding the use of 'dubious' to describe Biola.
Ryan then goes on - quite correctly - to state that Wallace is a well known scholar. He feels my statement constitutes an ad hominem attack.

I don't mind criticism, and normally I wouldn't bother to respond. Ryan however has offered a thoughtful critique, so seeing he has detailed his objections in some detail I've decided to make an exception.

To respond to Ryan's points in order:
  1. I don't mean to imply in any way that Wallace is stupid. Clearly he's not. Institutional affiliation has little to do with either intelligence or stupidity. Wallace is an extremely lucid and articulate apologist. While I describe him as "on the staff" that isn't intended as a put-down. In writing the item I didn't check his exact credentials, after all the post was about the Newsweek article, not Wallace! (BTW I have a near relative who is a senior lecturer in economics at a leading New Zealand university, but when people in the wider community ask him what he does he usually just calls himself a teacher, which is refreshingly Quakerish.)
  2. Is DTS fundamentalist? Putting aside dispensationalist goofiness in general, I invite Ryan to read for himself the lengthy "Full Doctrinal Statement (for Seminary faculty and board)" published on the DTS website. This isn't fundamentalist?
  3. What the term 'education' means for Ryan when applied to a university-level institution I'm not sure. I'm of the view that it is about, among other things, open inquiry, intellectual freedom and the quest for knowledge having priority over received dogma. The 'scare quotes' aren't about Wallace's intelligence or stupidity (as Ryan would have it) but the improbability of attaining a real education in the above sense at a place that doesn't permit this.
  4. Biola? Same point. Biola was founded by one of the fathers of modern fundamentalism, Lyman Stewart - as I suspect Ryan already knows. Every faculty member must affirm their "complete agreement" to Biola's doctrinal statement. Again, you can read that statement online.
Is Wallace a legitimate scholar? I don't mean to imply that he isn't any more than I mean to imply that he's stupid. What I did mean to imply was that real scholarship is seriously constrained at fundamentalist institutions. Thinking outside those constraints brings down consequences, as many academics have unfortunately discovered for themselves, and to willingly comply with those constraints must have corrosive consequences in the area of personal integrity. I'm told DTS does some good work in fields where there is no clash with its fundamentalist ethos (as per the Doctrinal Statement), but those are of necessity heavily restricted areas. 

So... no retraction.


  1. Attaboy Gavin. Stick to your principles. I love that you're not afraid to call a spade a spade.

  2. Gavin, thank you for your response. I am Ryan, though I'm probably only a "somebody" at Speedy... I believe you can get to my full name "Ryan Wettlaufer" just by clicking on the blogger link, no? Either way, a quick google will pull up my lame academic profile, which is all to say, I'm not just a crank sniping from the sidelines, I put my name behind what I say.

    And your explanation notwithstanding, I still say it. You do a fine job of explaining away the peculiarities of your reference to Wallace point by point, but taken as a whole the cumulative effect is still - for this reader - just too much. It is an odd way of referring to any scholar, and you'd likely never see it done in print that way. A conclusion is a conclusion, and an argument is an argument, and either can and should be engaged without referencing the personal background and schooling of the person who presented them. The fact that you do reference them does not pass my sniff test, and smells to me like a polemical swipe.
    And if I see it that way, that's saying something: Wallace's published critique of my work was not positive, and in some cases, I believe, not fair (and I am taking those points up with him personally); but that is to say, if anything, my bias should be *against* Wallace. Given that, if *even I* am seeing an unfair put-down in your description, I suspect many other readers will then too.

    And maybe you truly didn't intend it, but to me it nevertheless presents that way. Thus, I would say, logically, either: 1) you did intend it, or 2) you have not expressed yourself clearly.

    1. No Ryan, your full name doesn't show up by clicking the blogger link. Thanks for clarifying.

      I'm afraid I fail to take your point about not referencing a person's academic background. The credibility of a school directly affects the credibility of the degree offered. More-so for the institution one chooses to teach at. Not to say that an individual can't move on to remedy that situation. I'd cite Lester Grabbe as a fantastic case in point. His early studies and teaching were based at a particularly nasty little sectarian college in Southern California. But look at what he's gone on to accomplish.

      If you're saying that biblical scholars don't say unkind things about each other I can only respond by suggesting that you haven't read much by Maurice Casey (try his Jesus of Nazareth.)

      Why not engage Wallace's arguments instead? Sure, if that was the point of the post. But, as previously noted, it wasn't. Wallace's reaction - which I linked to for those who wanted to check it out for themselves - was merely illustrative. This was, after all, a very brief blog entry, not an academic paper.

      Did you read Wallace's comments on the Newsweek piece? Could they be described as temperate, irenic and respectful of Kurt Eichenwald?

      And on that note I think this exchange has done its dash. And yes, I did pull up your academic profile after your last set of comments, and it seems anything but lame to me ;-)

    2. Here's a quote from the DTS's statement of faith:

      >"We believe that this divine inspiration extends equally and fully to all parts of the writings—historical, poetical, doctrinal, and prophetical—as appeared in the original manuscripts. We believe that the whole Bible in the originals is therefore without error. "

      In my humble opinion a biblical scholar who believes that should be listened to as much as a geologist who is a believer in the hollow earth theory.

    3. It is clear that DTS occupies a certain place in the spectrum. Are we to suggest that Kurt Eichenwald does not? I think not. A particular example: Kurt Eichenwald has been very active in Gay Rights. Might that not color his view of 2 Timothy? What I find when I look into the controversy about Timothy is really nothing new:

      1. The language of the Pastoral Epistles differs from other Pauline language.
      2. Paul seems to refer to a mature Christianity with well defined beliefs when every knows that Christianity had to be yet unformed at the time of Paul.
      3. Paul refers to Gnostic ideas when Gnosticism had not appeared on the scene, etc.
      4. Hence, the Pastoral Epistles were written at a later date than Paul, possibly by one of his understudies.

      As you can imagine these ideas are easily challenged. So then we have a divided field. Most scholars believe that Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles. A minority of scholars believe that he did. Given Eichenwald's record of social activism, which group is he going to side with? Should that by any means be considered objective? I would suggest that Eichenwald's view is no more objective than the DTS statement concerning scripture.

      Eichenwald does follow a common methodology used by the opponents of Christianity. First, he is not castigating people for being illiterate of the content of the Bible as regards morality and practice. He is castigating people for not being conversant with and faithfully believing of all the objections to the Bible. Second, his goal is to invalidate the Bible in entirety. His approach is "If I can show you one place where it is wrong, then you must discard the Bible in total." In fact, that is the only way you can really dodge the explicit Biblical language regarding homosexuality. But if we shed as a courtesy all the fragments of the Bible with reasonably controversial provenance, have we changed its essence? Not at all.

      -- Neo

    4. I'm surprised that anyone would refer to either the Dallas Theological Seminary or Biola University as anything other than fundamentalist institutions, since both institutions believe in Biblical inerrancy.

      Since Ryan states that it's "up for debate" as to whether DTS is fundamentalist, I wonder what criteria Ryan uses for such a determination. If a belief in Biblical inerrancy is not enough to call these institutions "fundamentalist", then what would Ryan consider to be enough to rightly call an institution fundamentalist? And what is the "traditional sense of that term" that Ryan refers to, which he believes puts is "up for debate" in DTS's context?

      BTW, I don't regard "fundamentalist" as equalling "stupid", as per Ryan's "fundamentalist" = "fundy" = "stupid." formula, although I can see how a belief in those maths might cause a person to defend against the "fundamentalist" classification of certain ideas and institutions.

      Thankfully, there are bold champions of Christian fundamentalism, like Warren Chisum - chairman of the House Appropriations Committee - the most powerful committee in the Texas House of Representatives, who distributed a memo based on Biblical inerrancy to all his fellow legislators , telling of TRUTH of the geocentric model(the Biblical model, where the Earth stands still and the Sun revolves around the Earth), and how the heliocentric model - the model where the Earth revolves around the Sun revolves around the Earth - is just part of a Jewish conspiracy, aided by Copernicus.
      We can rejoice in the fact that the Texas legislature has influence over the Texas State Board of Education, whose school textbooks have been revised with the idea that Moses was behind the formation of the United States while trying to obliterate the word "slavery", and minimizing the importance of the American Civil Rights Movements in textbooks.
      Funny, though, that Moses wouldn't like slavery mentioned.

  3. One of the checks and balances within academia is the peer review process. A paper isn't so much presented as it is opened for discussion, comment, critique, and evaluation. The opinions we as individuals may have of materials produced by say, Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA), do not carry nearly the weight of the aggregate work product produced by peer review. Consistent positive peer review is the reason why the stigma of Ambassador College no longer is a factor when considering the scholarship of Lester Grabbe.

    There will always be fringe elements attempting to obtain mainstream acceptance for their theories and research. In some cases new and innovative thinking emanates from these sources. Time and rigorous testing determine the final outcome. That may be frustrating for some, but it is a necessary part of the process, and for our protection. You would not want blanket instant acceptance of research into race and genetics by David Duke.


  4. Whoops! I see that in cutting and copying and pasting - when composing my previous comment - I left too many words in, resulting in an ill-defined heliocentric model.

    Here's a better rendition-
    Heliocentric model: The Earth revolves around the Sun.
    Geocentric model: The Earth stands still, and the Sun revolves around the Earth.
    (The 'jew-inspired heliocentric model' and 'the illegal teaching of evolution' - among other evil things - were referenced in the powerful Texas legislator Warren Chisum's memo to all his fellow legislators.)

    Of course, that was way back in 2007, and there's no politicians in these more enlightened times that would try to infuse scientifically disproved Biblically-based concepts into politics. Right?
    Whoops! Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), author of the book "The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future", is most likely going to become chairman of the powerful Environment and Public Works Committee as a result of recent elections.

    Inhofe said, "The Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.’ My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”