The Instigator
Truth_seeker
Pro (for)
Tied
2 Points
The Contender
ergodicsum
Con (against)
Tied
2 Points

Is there an unbiased method to correctly interpret the Bible?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/31/2014 Category: Religion
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,333 times Debate No: 44924
Debate Rounds (3)
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Votes (1)

 

Truth_seeker

Pro

In this debate, i will discuss about an unbiased method in order to correctly interpret the Bible. Please feel free to give your thoughts/opinions and votes.

What does it mean to interpret? It basically means to explain the meaning of literature, painting, music, and other forms, thus Biblical Hermenutics is the science of interpreting the Bible.

Unlike other religions, The Bible is compiled by many different authors over centuries, sharing the same theology, but developing it overtime as books gradually became accepted as canon.

Why do we have so many different denominations? Because there isn't a practical, solid, logically consistent, and strict method of interpreting the Scriptures. When people interpret the Scriptures with a biased perspective, using proof-texts, taking verses out of context, or studying the Bible to make it fit with their theology. I think the main problem is a misunderstanding of the ancient language that the Bible was written in. However, it is faulty to logically assume that because a person has a certain theology, he or she will automatically make a biased conclusion or to assume that he/she will conclude that her/his interpretation is false because it contradicts his/her theology. The student can still apply the system of Hermenutics without inclining to his or her beliefs. Theological concepts must always be flexible, subject to change when and only when the strict Discipline of Biblical Hermenuetics is applied.

It cannot be argued that Scripture can be subject to a private interpretation based on the fact that literary devices such as poetry, allegories, and others are ambiguous. Yes, these types of literature can generally have multiple meanings to the reader since there is a fluid and changing set of different thoughts, beliefs, values, and interpretations particular to each person, but the Bible is a unique set of writings, interdependent on each other and different types of literature.

Essentially, the writings and prophetic books have a specific historical context to the Torah. For example, the Law of God in Psalms 1 is understood to refer to the Torah, the set of instructions given by Moses to Israel on mount Sinai, thus the ungodly in this passage are those who reject God and his instructions. In Psalm 2, the holy hill of Zion has a historical and spiritual significance. In Psalm 2, we read of God's anointed, how do we know if someone is anointed? The process is outlined in the Torah and other books. Throughout other books of we read of the soul, what makes up the soul? We find the definition established in Gen. 1-3. This removes some ambiguity in the study of the Bible and it cannot be subject to one's own personal interpretation involving the use of metaphors or similes to the text as a normal poem would.

When we learn about abstract words, we think in abstract terms because we have a Greco-Roman and Western mindset. For example, how is Love defined? Is it something that can be seen, tasted, touched, smelled, so on? Hebrew has concrete thinking in words we would consider abstract and thus, ambiguous. Here are a few examples:

Faith - What is faith? What does it mean to have faith? The word Faith comes from the Hebrew word Aman (Strongs #H539) which means to support as the arms of a parent is helping a helpless child

Righteous - What does it mean to be righteous? One Hebrew word of the word Righteous is "Yashar" (Strong's #H3477) meaning "One who walks in a straight line."

Spirit - What is a Spirit? What makes up a Spirit? It comes from the Hebrew "Ruach" (Strong's #H7307) meaning "Wind." The root word means a prescribed path.

As you can see depending on how these words are used, ambiguity of these concepts diminishes.

Biblical Hermenutics establishes these basic principles when interpreting the Bible:

1) Who was the writer?
2) Who was the audience?
3) Is the choice of words, wording, or word order meaningful in this passage?
4) What is the cultural and historical context?
5) What is the author's intended meaning?
6) How was the author's message understood in his time period?
7) Why did he say it that way?

Identifying the type of Genre as legal, narrative, poetry, wisdom, gospel, or prophetic literature of a book or a literal interpretation further helps establish sound interpretation. Recognition of literary devices such as similes, metaphors, and hyperbole's also helps interpret the Scriptures correctly.

Analyzing the Bible in it's respective historical, literary, and cultural context restricts implanting interpretations that don't exist within the text itself. For example, It prevents people from claiming that the Trinity was invented in the councils of Nicaea and is therefore not a Biblical Doctrine, when there is evidence from the church fathers using the term of the Trinity and predating these councils.

Notice that these basic principles of Hermenutics do not support any particular Doctrine or belief, but they are the set of rules which correctly interpret the Bible's own message. This method exists, the problem is that not everyone follows it when interpreting Scripture.
ergodicsum

Con

My position is that any method of interpretation has some degree of bias. There is no such thing as an unbiased method. We can try to minimize bias using different techniques, but ultimately we cannot fully remove all bias. This is true for science as well as history or even biblical interpretation.

Bias is an inclination of temperament or outlook to present or hold a partial perspective and a refusal to even consider the possible merits of alternative points of view.

There different types of bias such as cognitive, racism, tribalism, sensationalism, and cultural, to name a few. The causes of biases are diverse and have to be studied individually. Because the causes can be different, we need different techniques to minimize each type of bias if we can identify that a certain type of bias is likely to appear.

Pro failed to identify the different types of bias that can occur in interpreting the bible. Without having a firm grasp on what types of bias can occur, he cannot outline a plan of eliminating the biases.

Pro then offers the principles of Biblical Hermeneutics, I assume as the unbiased method. However, looking at the list, the principles are themselves interpretations of texts, and Pro fails to show a method to perform each of these interpretations without any bias.

For example:

1) [Who is the writer] We have to read texts and interpret them to determine who the writer was. There are debates about who wrote different books of the bible.

3) [Is the choice of words, wording, or word order meaningful in this passage?] This is a matter of choice, someone can conclude that it is meaningful, while someone else can conclude that it is not meaningful. No method is given such that no matter who performs it, it will always give the same answer.

5) [What is the author's intended meaning?] How can read a text and determine, without bias what that author meant? No procedure is given as to how one can accomplish this without any bias.

In conclusion:

Pro did not present a method with removes all biases from the procedure of interpreting the bible.

I will now comment on a few things in Pro's opening statement. Pro states:

"However, it is faulty to logically assume that because a person has a certain theology, he or she will automatically make a biased conclusion or to assume that he/she will conclude that her/his interpretation is false because it contradicts his/her theology."

I agree that it is faulty logic to assume that someone will automatically make a biased conclusion. However, it is also faulty logic to assume that they will not make a biased conclusion. My position is not to assume that someone made or didn't make a biased conclusion. My position is that unless we can be sure that we have a technique to minimize the bias, then we cannot claim that there was no bias.

Pro claims that "Hebrew has concrete thinking" to imply that the Hebrew is different than other languages by not having ambiguity.

For example Pro says the following:

"Faith - What is faith? What does it mean to have faith? The word Faith comes from the Hebrew word Aman (Strongs #H539) which means to support as the arms of a parent is helping a helpless child"

Where and how did Pro obtain that this is the case? No references are given. His only reference is Strong's number. However, if you look at this Strong Number you won't even find the word child: http://biblehub.com...

Even theologians agree that using Strong's numbers to conclude the meaning of a word is a flawed method. http://www.armchair-theology.net.... Strong's numbers are intended as a way to quickly find where in the bible the word is used. Not as a absolute definition of the word.
Debate Round No. 1
Truth_seeker

Pro

Con did not explain how Science, History, and Archaeology are biased, thus we have no way of knowing if his claim is necessarily true. Con's claim that i did not outline different types of bias is false. In round 1, i described one motive for making biased conclusion of Scriptures based on a particular and opposing theology or a more personal understanding of the text.

In Con's counterargument, he outlines several steps of which he claims i failed to give a method to resolve these difficulties:

1) "We have to read texts and interpret them to determine who the writer was. There are debates about who wrote different books of the bible." Yes, there are different debates as to who wrote different books of the Bible, however, this is where other fields of Science, Archaeology, and Scholarship help us to identify the authors.

3) "This is a matter of choice, someone can conclude that it is meaningful, while someone else can conclude that it is not meaningful. No method is given such that no matter who performs it, it will always give the same answer." Since we are trying to study the Bible without any bias, every word, phrase, and order vital to our understanding of the text is important by default. Careful study of the ancient languages and of the ancient world in which the text is set in will increase the accuracy of interpretation. If someone for example ignores a verse that potentially destroys their theology, another person can point that out and catch them making a biased conclusion.

5. " How can read a text and determine, without bias what that author meant? No procedure is given as to how one can accomplish this without any bias." Con ignores the rest of the method i outlined after #7 in the rest of the argument during round 1. The authors of the Bible had a message given in a particular point in time and audience.

It is ultimately the responsibility of Scholars, Archaeologists, and other trained professionals to be able to transmit information of the ancient world and all things related to the Bible to us. We should seek to determine how much evidence we have for a particular interpretation of the Bible vs. another and the quality of the evidence itself.

In response to Con's claim of my misuse of Strong's, i did not use it as dictionary evidenced by my statement "...depending on how these words are used..."
ergodicsum

Con

The main issue in the discussion is that Pro fails to distinguish the difference between less bias and zero bias. He has proposed methods that in some cases will reduce bias, but not remove all bias.

Pro tries to deflect proving this by saying that we can utilize what scholars and science have discovered. The first problem with this is that we have no evidence that science or scholars were not biased in their findings. The second problem is that there are topics where scholars disagree. In those cases we have to pick a position which is supported by some scholars but rejected by others. Pro did not give us a method to pick which position to take that is not biased.

The debate asks if there is an unbiased method. By understanding human psychology we can see that we are all biased in different ways and hence any method we performed is going to have some degree of bias. We can only aim to reduce bias. Bias cannot be removed completely and Pro has failed to show that all bias can be removed.

I pointed out some types of bias that can creep up in the different principles that Pro stated. He claims that he has "resolved the difficulties." If you read carefully, he tries to give ways to reduce bias. However, he never gives us a way that would completely reduce all bias.

Examples:

1) "Yes, there are different debates as to who wrote different books of the Bible, however, this is where other fields of Science, Archaeology, and Scholarship help us to identify the authors."

Can looking at science and archaeology lower the bias in interpreting who wrote a book? Yes, I agree that it can, however, you cannot completely remove all the biases. The reason is that the those fields cannot remove the bias completely either. Pro has not shown that science and archaeology are totally free of bias. Then when we interpret the results of science and archaeology, how can we remove all the biases we have?

3) In this example Pro initially claimed the following in the principle he stated.

"Is the choice of words, wording, or word order meaningful in this passage?"

I then called him out on how determining what is meaningful is prone to bias. He replied with the following:

"Since we are trying to study the Bible without any bias, every word, phrase, and order vital to our understanding of the text is important by default. "

Is this really an answer? Not really, he is essentially telling us that the things which are vital are important. Well duh! Did he tell us how we are to determine what is vital? Not at all, that depends on a person's choice which can be influenced by cultural bias, theological ideas, etc.

He then tries to change the issue from one of "How do we determine what is important" to telling us that we need to study things carefully and that will increase the "accuracy" of interpretation. How exactly does that remove all bias? That is not mentioned.

"Careful study of the ancient languages and of the ancient world in which the text is set in will increase the accuracy of interpretation. If someone for example ignores a verse that potentially destroys their theology, another person can point that out and catch them making a biased conclusion."

Does studying ancient languages and ancient history reduce bias? Yes to some degree. Does it completely remove it? Not at all. Can we study ancient languages with zero bias or understand history with zero bias? Pro has not proved that this is the case.

Pro goes on to say:

"It is ultimately the responsibility of Scholars, Archaeologists, and other trained professionals to be able to transmit information of the ancient world and all things related to the Bible to us. We should seek to determine how much evidence we have for a particular interpretation of the Bible vs. another and the quality of the evidence itself."

Can we assume that scholars, archaeologists and other trained professionals, interpreted their findings without any bias? Pro has not provided any evidence that this is the case.

In conclusion,

Pro tried to deflect the issue of bias by claiming that if we use what scholars, archaeologists and other trained professionals have transmitted then we have a method with zero bias. This is highly optimistic. As we have seen, we have to assume that the archaeologists, and scholars interpreted their observations without any bias, and then we have to choose which scholar results to accept and that choice can be influenced by bias.

PS

Pro claims the following:

"In response to Con's claim of my misuse of Strong's, i did not use it as dictionary evidenced by my statement "...depending on how these words are used...""

My point was that he has no references about the claims he makes about the words Faith, Righteous, and Spirit other than Strong's numbers. My point is that he cannot claim that Strong's number is the reference because it cannot be used a dictionary.
Debate Round No. 2
Truth_seeker

Pro

Con's claim that the 1st problem is that we have no evidence that Science and Scholars weren't biased in their findings once again does not support his claim that Science and other fields of History are biased, thus it cannot be concluded that bias exists in the realm of Science and other fields of History. The logic simply does not follow. With that in mind, we can however observe that humans can have bias, but it is likely that humans will be able to spot humans misusing methods. A few examples is racial bias in Marijuana arrests https://www.aclu.org...). Another example is bias in animal testing (http://www.sciencedaily.com...). It is the misuse of the Scientific and Historical methods that causes bias, not the methods themselves. Furthermore, not every study done is going to have bias which would affect our understanding as Con seems to imply.

Psychology is such a general term that we cannot be able to specifically know how we are all biased as Con did not provide any Psychological research or experiments to support his claim.

Since we aren't scholars, there is no "method" that we can do to pick which position isn't biased. However, there are several points in criteria which help us to spot even subtle bias in scholarship. One is that there is an inappropriate approach to a particular subject. Another is that there is only a one sided presentation of the information, excluding other information which exposes a professional committing the fallacy of selective evidence. The Scholars who propose the most qualitative and quantitative evidence.

Con attempts to point out the fallacies in my proposals, but if you look deeper at his arguments, he misuses what i said and there is an error in his reasoning.

1) "Can looking at science and archaeology lower the bias in interpreting who wrote a book? Yes, I agree that it can, however, you cannot completely remove all the biases. The reason is that the those fields cannot remove the bias completely either. Pro has not shown that science and archaeology are totally free of bias. Then when we interpret the results of science and archaeology, how can we remove all the biases we have?"

As I've explained earlier, Con mistakenly suggests that Science and Archaeology will always have the same consistent degree of bias. The best approach is to go with what the evidence as a whole demonstrates.

3) As I've stated earlier, the message of the Bible must always be studied as a whole. Con seems to imply that we will be biased at every moment, second, and time in life which isn't always the case. As long as we focus on correctly interpreting the Bible with a mind willing to accept whatever is written, very little to no bias is found. I did not change the argument from "How do we determine what is important" to another subject as Con claims. Con appears to commit the fallacy of shifting the burden of proof, his argument is as follows: "Scholars and Archaeology have bias, Pro has not shown that they don't have bias, thus it's implied they are biased." As I've stated earlier, this can be resolved by studying both opposing sides, recognizing bias, and finding evidence to correct a mistaken conclusion.
ergodicsum

Con

Pro is using a tactic here known as "burden of proof." He is trying to unload the burden of proof which is his, into me. He is the one that is making the claim that there is a method without bias to interpret the bible. He claims to rest his method on Science and scholars. But when I point out that he didn't prove that Science and scholars are not bias, he makes the claim that I am the one that is supposed to prove that Science and scholars have bias sometimes. If I don't prove that science and scholars are bias, then we have to conclude that they are not biased.

Reader, I ask you here, did Pro prove that science and scholars have no bias? He did not prove that. Hence he cannot claim that we have to accept that as true.

Let's analyze his statement:

Con's claim that the 1st problem is that we have no evidence that Science and Scholars weren't biased in their findings once again does not support his claim that Science and other fields of History are biased, thus it cannot be concluded that bias exists in the realm of Science and other fields of History. The logic simply does not follow.

1. I claim that we have no evidence that science and scholars were not biased.
2. Pro claims that I have no evidence that they are biased.
3. Because I did not provide evidence that they are biased, we have no choice but to conclude that they are not biased.

Let me illustrate the bad logic in this argument by replacing [science and scholars are not bias] with a different statement [there isn't a pizza inside this box].

1. I claim that there is no evidence that there is a pizza inside this box
2. Pro would claim that I have no evidence that there isn't a pizza inside the box.
3. Hence because I did not provide evidence that there isn't a pizza inside the box, we have to conclude that there is a pizza inside the box.

In order to conclude that there is a pizza inside the box you have to provide evidence of a pizza inside a box, not point out lack of evidence for the contrary.

He even admits that humans do in fact have bias but tells us that we shouldn't worry:

"With that in mind, we can however observe that humans can have bias, but it is likely that humans will be able to spot humans misusing methods."

He even goes on to show us examples of bias in humans.

"A few examples is racial bias in Marijuana arrests https://www.aclu.org......). Another example is bias in animal testing (http://www.sciencedaily.com......). It is the misuse of the Scientific and Historical methods that causes bias, not the methods themselves. Furthermore, not every study done is going to have bias which would affect our understanding as Con seems to imply."

He claims that the method was not biased, it was only that humans misused the scientific and historical methods. What caused people to misuse the method? In these cases it was bias. In other words what Pro seems to be telling us is that, if you don't introduce bias into the method, then the method will not be biased. A fairly obvious concept. However, the method cannot be separated from humans. Humans have to do the method, the method cannot be done by itself. It needs to be done by humans, which have cultural, racial, cognitive and other biases.

Pro then claims that Psychology is such a general term and we cannot specify how we are all biased. It seems to me that Pro was just too lazy to do a google search on biases and specifically cognitive biases. The study of biases is extensive and would take a very long time to lay out the specifics of just one type of bias. I will link to a wikipedia entry which lists more than 50 types of biases.

http://en.wikipedia.org...

The following will give you a taste of why Pro doesn't really have any evidence for his position. He claims the following:

"Since we aren't scholars, there is no "method" that we can do to pick which position isn't biased. However, there are several points in criteria which help us to spot even subtle bias in scholarship. One is that there is an inappropriate approach to a particular subject. Another is that there is only a one sided presentation of the information, excluding other information which exposes a professional committing the fallacy of selective evidence. The Scholars who propose the most qualitative and quantitative evidence."

He says he gives us criteria to determine which positions to pick:

1. "One is that there is an inappropriate approach to a particular subject." Can you think of a more vague statement to make? How are we supposed to determine inappropriate?
2. "There is a one sided presentation of the information. This tells us that a scholars has committed the fallacy of selective evidence." This is a little better but it then biases us to only consider scholars which present several sides.

Pro then claims to show the errors in my reasoning. If you look at parts of his language, he will speak in very broad language and will avoid any specifics.

1) "As I've explained earlier, Con mistakenly suggests that Science and Archaeology will always have the same consistent degree of bias. The best approach is to go with what the evidence as a whole demonstrates."

First of all, are we supposed to take Pro's word that there is no bias in Science and Archaeology? He also statements that the best approach is to go with what the evidence as a whole demonstrates. How does this show us that all bias is removed if we look at all the evidence as a whole? Like I said before Pro keeps confusing "reducing bias" with "removing all bias." Looking at all the evidence can reduce bias, but it doesn't remove all bias. Did Pro show us that it removes all Bias? No.

3) In this point Pro states the following: "As I've stated earlier, the message of the Bible must always be studied as a whole. Con seems to imply that we will be biased at every moment, second, and time in life which isn't always the case."

Which is a misunderstanding of my position. My position is not that we are biased at every moment, it is that we are not free from all bias. Some times we don't realize we are bias, hence we cannot make the conclusion that there is a system with zero bias. Which is Pros position in this debate.

Pro finally addresses my point that he hasn't proven then scholars and archaeology don't have bias:

"Pro has not shown that they don't have bias, thus it's implied they are biased." As I've stated earlier, this can be resolved by studying both opposing sides, recognizing bias, and finding evidence to correct a mistaken conclusion.

In other words he claims to be able to correctly pick from several scholars who is biased and who is not biased without any bias. Did he ever tells us in detail, not in broad strokes how he is able to do always be right in picking who has bias and who doesn't have bias? He never did.

In conclusion,

Pro seems to think he has a super power that enables him to always figure out which scholar is biased and which scholar is not biased. He also tells us that because there is no evidence that science and scholars are biased we have to conclude that they are not biased. Even when presented with all the types of bias that can plague the human mind.
Debate Round No. 3
No comments have been posted on this debate.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Josh_b 3 years ago
Josh_b
Truth_seekerergodicsumTied
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Total points awarded:22 
Reasons for voting decision: considerably even debate. However, I don't think either side came to a completely identifiable conclusion. Further development is suggested.