Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Sister Presuppositions of Palaeography and Paleontology

A paleontologist goes searching for fossils with the idea that he's going to find a missing link, some petrified skeleton that will fill his presupposition of naturalistic origins.  He has predetermined a narrative without God and he goes looking for the "evidence" that will tell that story.   He goes looking for what will "prove" his presupposition.  He starts with a position that fits every fossil he finds.

A palaeographer goes searching for an ancient manuscript with the idea that he's going to find something that has been lost, the Bible, that will fulfill his presupposition that the Word of God needs to be found.  He has a predetermined narrative that goes looking for the "evidence" that will tell that story.  He goes looking for what will "prove" his presupposition.  He starts with a position that fits every manuscript he finds.

Is there something authoritative that tells us how the world, how that man, originated?  Is that already settled truth?  Did God speak and tell us how the world began, how that man began?  Is the Word of God true?  Is the Bible evidence?  Why would man keep looking, when he already knows?

Is there something authoritative that tells us that God would preserve every Word, that believers would not lose any of the Words, even the letters?  Is that already settled truth?  Did God speak and tell us what He would do with His Words, that His people would not be without them?  Is the Word of God true?  Is the Bible evidence?  Why would man keep looking, when he already knows?

The people searching for fossils are unbelievers.  The people who started searching for manuscripts were unbelievers.  Unbelief fuels paleontology.  Unbelief fueled paleography.

You could make a living, fame and fortune, finding fossils.  You could make a living, fame and fortune, finding manuscripts.  The palaeographers, the manuscript hunters, were all over the Middle East and Europe, trying to make a name for themselves.  Even if they couldn't find it, they could, well, still find it.  They had to find it.   Their presupposition demanded it, or at least fame and fortune said they needed to.   If those two beliefs are already settled -- God created the world and mankind and God preserved every Word -- then why are people still looking?  There are wrong presuppositions.  Men are not believing God.

I was listening to James White talk about his debate with Chris Pinto.  He said something to this effect -- and this isn't an exact quote:  "I just want to know what the original text of John is."  Or, "I just want to be able to read something that is closest to the original of John."  But how does James White know that he doesn't already?  Is it scripture that guides him on this position, that the original wording has been lost, and still needs to be found?  No.  What is it?  Palaeography.  Principles originated by men, by which they judge ancient manuscripts, that is what guides James White.  This is not a faith position.

James Whites professes faith in Christ.  I'm not doubting that.  When did believers start regarding scripture the same way unbelievers do and have?  Believers were judged to be unscholarly, less intelligent.  They went to Europe and to really know, to really, really know, you had to fit with scholarship.  Scholarship questioned the supernatural.  It questioned presuppositions.  Presuppositions became up for grabs.  A shift came.  Now it was in vogue for professing believers to question scripture.  This is not the historic or biblical position.

The unbelievers in academia, secular academia, put the pressure on believing academia.  They were unsophisticated and cornpone, not to be respected.  They really couldn't back up their claims with real scholarship.  This syncretism of the secular with the sacred, like Solomon of Israel before the divided kingdom, led to the dilution of the faith.

Now where we stand is the  next iteration of the above.  The new "believing" academia puts its pressure on other believing academia.  When I charged Dan Wallace with changing a biblical position based upon "evidence," he wrote:

One reviewer criticized my views as follows: "Wallace looked at evidence and then changed what he believed about Scripture." Actually, I don't take that as a criticism, because the evidence I looked at was what informed how I should understand the text.

In line with this, he writes:

Up until the last few years, I would say—and have said—that the practice of textual criticism neither needs nor deserves any theological presuppositions.

Wallace allows science, palaeography to "lead him to the truth."  He will not allow theological presuppositions to do so.  This is the shift in evangelicalism and fundamentalism.  It is also what has affected evangelical and fundamentalist thinking on inspiration, interpretation, and application.  There is mounting doubt that starts with doubts about the Word of God, because of the "evidence."

We see the same questioning of creationism.  Seven day, twenty-four hour creation is no longer in vogue.  Paleontology, the evidence, has caused a shift.  Evangelicals are too "allowing the evidence to lead them to the truth."

These are the sister presuppositions of palaeography and paleontology.


Ken Lengel said...


When it comes to studying Theology, I think there are two primary presuppositions all must have in order to understand who God is and what He desires of us. The first is the presupposition that God exists. Since none of us have met him face to face, it is a presupposition. Second, we must have the presupposition that God has revealed Himself to us. He has done that through creation and through the Scriptures so that we may know Him. Without revelation from God, man would be most miserable. When you see the importance of this revelation, it leads directly to the preservation of His Words, so that man may know Him. No doubts. No scientific theories required. No proof of His revelation. When we begin to doubt the very revelation by which we know Him, we doubt His existence and our ability to know Him. While this may not be a presupposition, it is a corollary to this discussion, without faith in the revelation provided to man by God, man can never know God either.


Kent Brandenburg said...


Good observation and points. Creation and the Word -- the two most attacked today. The two require faith. Hebrews 11.


Steven Avery said...


In a certain sense, isn't the pseudo-science of textual criticism more involved with * philology * than paleontology?

Note that I agree with your general theme, however we sometimes see paleontology given a wider sense, when it is more a science of the writing and the materials.

By contrast the wiki definition of philology is:

Philology is the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary criticism, history, and linguistics.

Yours in Jesus,

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Steven,

You probably meant palaeography, not paleontology. I think we are judging with palaeography the age of the writing, whether it was ancient or not. That's what I've read in the discussion. I didn't think there was a precise parallel here, so I get what you mean.