InterVarsity Press, SBL, and Rumors of a Ban

IVP Academic:

Just today, InterVarsity Press claimed:

For 70 years, IVP has been committed to fostering dialogue and a robust exchange of ideas
– Jeff Crosby, InterVarsity Press

This is great news, although admittedly surprising to me – because I’ve been looking for a publisher for some rather radical new biblical criticism I want to have published.

Yesterday, Michael Bird leaked the possibility that IVP’s bookstall might be banned from the SBL annual meeting and Jim West leaked parts of a letter from John Kutsko of SBL to InterVarsity Press, in which Kutsko expressed the desire to discuss the future IVP exhibits at the annual meeting. This all follows a Time Magazine report on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA’s decision to fire employees who disagree with its Position Paper on sexuality. IVP’s sex position is still firm (i.e. the gays are bad).

Expectedly, evangelicals have become outraged at the possibility of discrimination against a discriminatory employer, and insist that this is all to do with academic freedom, and nothing to do with their homophobia. There’s a concerned article in the conservative evangelical World magazine, a response by Michael J. Kruger of the Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina called “How My Books are Being Banned at the Society of Biblical Literature“, and conservative blogger and radio host Erick Erickson announces in alarmist terms that “The Society of Biblical Literature Is Now Banning Christian Organizations“. Christianity Today reports on Michael Bird’s blog post, Rod Dreher of The American Conservative deplores “The Power Of The LGBT Seal Of Approval“, and Albert Mohler (president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) claims that the “secular left” has become more intolerant than the Christian evangelicals who are firing pro-gays from their jobs and that the SBL has “trended to the left” over the years and now wishes to ban any group not committed to “the biblical truth” of gender, marriage, and sexuality.

But as for the question of whether IVP should have a space at the SBL annual meeting? Well, I agree with Noam Chomsky, and not just because I want IVP to display my forthcoming book. A few decades ago, Chomsky said, in defending a famous French holocaust denier’s right to express his denial of the Jewish holocaust:

It is elementary that freedom of expression (including academic freedom) is not to be restricted to views of which one approves, and that it is precisely in the case of views that are almost universally despised and condemned that this right must be most vigorously defended.

Thank God that IVP share this commitment to fostering dialogue and a robust exchange of ideas. I’ll send my book proposal in soon.

The demarcation of humanities from pseudo-humanities. Or, is Theology the queen of the pseudo-sciences?


I’m interested in the question of whether it is possible to specify a demarcation of the humanities from pseudo-humanities, and the related question: if so, how? One valuable outcome of settling these questions is that it would counter all the wacky theorizing out there – such as reptilian shape-shifting overlord conspiracies, vaccine conspiracies, 9/11 conspiracies, and theology.

But the basis for a demarcation has been notoriously difficult to arrive at, even in the “hard” sciences.

What Michael Mahner points towards in the quote below – in a discussion of theology – seems like a good basis for demarcating pseudo-scholarship from genuine scholarship within the humanities.

The main problem with theology is institutional, because theology is by its very essence denominational: the theologian is the representative of some particular religion and is therefore expected to accept its creed as a given. The core of this belief system is not open to revision as a matter of principle, wherefore it must be regarded as a form of unscientific dogmatism. Thus, it is impossible that, as a result of internal progress in research, Christian theology will come to the conclusion that Christianity is actually false and Hinduism is true after all. For example, in the past 200 years the research of many theologians has contributed to demolishing the authority of the scriptures by putting them in a proper historical perspective, but this has not led them to abandon Christianity. Rather, it has spawned a hermeneutic industry of apologetics, attempting to save the Christian faith by reinterpreting and re-reinterpreting its tenets, often in unintelligible terms.

– Martin Mahner, “Demarcating Science from Non-Science”, pages 515-575 in Theo A.F. Kuipers, ed., Handbook of the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 1, General Philosophy of Science: Focal Issues (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2007), p. 551

To summarize: good scholarship in the humanities tests every idea; bad or pseudo-scholarship in the humanities begins with ideas that it seeks to defend, and finds ways to continue to defend those ideas, being forced to dismiss or relativize any conflicting evidence.

In practice, however, this difference becomes difficult to measure. Tendentious people don’t think they’re any more tendentious than anybody else. Is it tendentious if one assumes that the laws of physics are universal, applying everywhere and for all time? Is it any more tendentious if my research takes it as properly basic that God exists, that he is a triune being comprising three persons, that the Son is co-eternal with the Father, that all people are sinners and do not deserve eternal beatific life, and that the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth results in the salvation of certain people?   It is always possible to point to certain seemingly “core” understandings within any field of research which seem to be beyond challenge. So is support for a certain body of knowledge – e.g., chemistry, physics, biblical studies, history, theology, mesmerism, reiki – just a matter of personal preference? Do they all provide knowledge, yet just of different kinds?

I don’t think so. Instead of a hard and fast demarcation, it might be better to think of the divide between pseudo- and genuine scholarship in the humanities as one of degree. Up one end of the scale are disciplines that have generated a lot of knowledge over the past couple of centuries, both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences. Down the other end are those fields which seem bent on construing any facts to serve their theories, while ignoring or relativizing those facts which don’t so easily fit with them. I think it is possible to work out the grounds for such a distinction – albeit a contentious one.

In this regard, theology must be the queen of the pseudo-sciences. For it is the domain in which the most human energy has been applied in order to defend a significant body of assumptions which no longer cohere with knowledge derived from the commonly accepted genuine sciences. No doubt theologians will disagree…