Out of the Box

Thinking outside of the box is never easy in any walk of life, and academics are no exception. Whether they work in the sciences or the humanities, academics view the world through established paradigms that represent the consensus view in their respective fields. Scientists proceed by formulating theories that they then set about testing; but those theories are usually borne out of the consensus and if proved correct, have the result of enhancing or confirming the status quo – but rarely challenging it. That is why Einstein was a genius – by formulating the proposition that it is light that is constant and time that is relative, he turned the consensus on its head. I don’t think it is an accident that he did so, not from a tenured position in a university, but from a lowly post in a patents office. The Humanities too proceed mostly within accepted frameworks and it takes a brave academic to challenge the consensus. Outsiders to a discipline are often the ones to challenge consensus paradigms – they have nothing invested in the status quo and are freer to think outside the box. Academics work in professional silos. They protect jealously their turf and, not surprisingly, resent people from other disciplines pointing out flaws in their cherished models.  But this is inevitable, intensely human, and in many ways desirable; it is one of the problems with information available on the internet that it has not been subjected to the sort of peer scrutiny that operates on all members of a particular academic community. The result is often misinformation, paranoia and nonsense.

So the purpose of this blog is not (as you might have guessed) to bemoan the fact that as a literary academic, I have not exactly been welcomed by the community of biblical studies. What I want to draw attention to is that those engaged in such studies are unique among all academics in that they are not just committed professionally to the defence of existing paradigms – they are incapable of even admitting the possibility of challenge, because they, unlike any other academics, have made an a priori decision to throw away their intellectual credibility by an act of pure faith in religious belief. It is one thing to say: ‘The paradigm to which I am professionally attached has been evolved by eminent scholars over many years, and while I remain open to the possibility it may be in error, I require considerable hard proof before I admit that possibility’. It is quite another thing to say: ‘The paradigm to which I am attached is unassailable; I have committed to it unquestioningly as an act of faith, and therefore any facts or proofs that seem to contradict it cannot be correct’. It would be like saying: ‘Newton has said all there is to be said on physics; Einstein may have some ingenious ideas, but they cannot be right by definition because Newton’s formulations are infallible’. Academics like anyone else should be free to believe whatever they like in the religious sphere, but they should not intrude that into their work. So why do we tolerate whole departments full of biblical studies academics who pursue what can only be characterised as a pseudo-science? Publically funded institutions should not support any research or teaching that is biased by irrational perspectives that are impervious to challenge: it runs counter to the very idea of a modern university.