In “Why should a Christian think the Bible is inspired? (Part 1)” I addressed the following two issues:
“The question is minimally how a person can rationally believe a particular canon of books is divinely inspired. More robustly, it is how they can know a particular canon of books is divinely inspired.”
I then proposed to address these questions by considering a relevant analogy, the question of “how a person can rationally believe a particular canon of books is uniquely inspiring.”
Next, I painted a whimsical picture of a young undergraduate student who finds his beliefs about the canon of inspiring western literature challenged by a student who rejects the western canon as nothing more than an arbitrary collection of DWEMs (Dead, white European males) who produced a series of works of no more instrinsic value than other works not produced by DWEMs.
That situation is presented as an analogy for the person who accepts the Bible as inspired canonical literature but who then has the boundaries of the canon challenged by others who (a) accept a different boundary for the canon (e.g. they include the apocrypha) or who (b) accept a completely different canon (e.g. the Qur’an) or who (c) accept no canon at all (at least not formally; informally you will often find people who reject formal canons nonetheless slipping into a de facto canon).
The main point was that absent defeaters, it is reasonable to accept the testimony of trusted authorities in a particular doxastic community. And that means accepting the trusted authority’s testimony as to which studies are legitimately scientific, which economic policies are viable, which pinpoints of light are stars, which pieces of literature are inspiring, and which pieces of literature are inspired.
From the argument to half-baked rebuttals
One of the disheartening things in this business is when you spend a lot of time developing an argument with a tight analogy and it is rewarded with a series of rebuttals that raise secondary and tertiary issues as if stitching together a series of weak responses somehow adds up to one strong response.
To illustrate this kind of problem I have decided to pick on Ian’s response in which he throws in everything but the kitchen sink.
Ian begins by focusing on narratival details which are incidental to the analogy. For example, he observes that
“Mortimer seems to be quite a gullible fellow, doesn’t he. All it takes to deflate his starry-eyed (and entirely misplaced) trust in his anthology is one sneer from a random fellow student. Why does he give so much weight to her testimony? She isn’t even an English major.”
Such observations are about as relevant as assessing the off-road ability of an SUV based on paint color. In this case, Ian’s complaints about the narrative are simply irrelevant to the core claim that absent defeaters, it is reasonable to accept the testimony of trusted authorities in a particular doxastic community.
Next, Ian takes aim at additional extraneous details in the narrative:
“I think you’re exaggerating the difficulty of conducting one’s own study. Mortimer doesn’t need to scrutinize the entire canon of literature in order to trust that it is uniquely inspired. All he needs to do is study a few samples. If, after conducting his study, he has no idea whether the works are qualitatively superior or sententious crap, then he probably doesn’t need to be an English major. If he finds that the samples he studied tend mostly toward being qualitatively superior, then he is justified in inferring that the canon of literature is at the very least inspired, and that given more time to develop his skill in literary criticism, he may be able to confirm that it is indeed uniquely inspired.”
Again, this quibble is irrelevant to the main point that absent defeaters, it is reasonable to accept the testimony of trusted authorities in a particular doxastic community. But even so, I cannot resist pursuing this claim on its own terms. Having taken a degree in English literature, I can say that appreciation for the quality of a particular literature is more complex than studying a few “samples” in a literary petri dish. Developing an appreciation for the genius of many types of literature is a very gradual process.
I am reminded here of a conversation I had with a friend who is a music aficionado comparing Kenny G and John Coltrane. I agreed with my friend that John Coltrane was a better saxophonist. I accept that “A Love Supreme” is in a completely different league than “Songbird”. But as many times as I’ve listened to that album, I still find it hard to “get”, and I certainly cannot articulate in any intelligent way how Coltrane’s saxophone is so vastly superior to Kenny G’s. In short, my beliefs about Coltrane’s superiority as a musician and the unique place that “A Love Supreme” occupies in the jazz canon are rooted not in my own appraisal of samples, but rather in my acquiescence to the testimony of superior authorities.
Ian then veers from the irrelevant into the whoppingly false: “Although we trust the testimony of others, it can work out to our detriment as easily as to our benefit, and provide us with false information as readily as true.” (emphasis added) But this is obviously false. If it were true we would grant no additional credibility to the meteorologist on the weather or the physician on the best treatment for our cancer. But we do grant that additional credibility to these authorities, and we’re surely right to do so. They are not infallible, but we’re certainly much better off listening to them in their area of expertise than we are listening to the unwashed masses.
So where does this little exercise leave us? Precisely here: a dozen weak rebuttals do not add up to one good rebuttal any more than a dozen half-baked pastries add up to one confection toasted golden brown.