A few words on Interpretation and Rhetoric in regards to Creationism


To recognize our emotional drives, to be aware of their force in directing or even methodizing our thought, to make allowance for them but on no account to deny that they exist or to be deceived as to their force and direction—this is to minimize, if not to cancel out, the famous dangers of emotional thinking. (Hoyt Hudson – Educating Liberally 1945, 63)

What does Hoyt say? First, he acknowledges that the ‘whole man operative’ (Donald C. Bryant, 1949) has a part of him which is emotional. This emotion drives our understanding of what is presented to us. Recently, we have been afford a name for this theory – a theory which allows that people will eschew the facts for their own opinions, especially if the presented facts will in some way damage the presentee’s psychological make-up. This of course is the theory of motivated reasoning. When examining ‘foundational truths’ such as theology or doctrine, we must understand that people have long held opinions, and that often times, their opinions will not change, but become more entrenched even against facts especially if they are not able to reconcile the new facts with held opinions. This is why it may be preferable to do theology in a community, or to have the theologian explore every facet on his or her own and punish them greatly, with great humiliation, if they cannot or will not question those who have gone before.

Bryant begins his essay by noting that Aristotle decries any other use, other than reason, to make decisions and yet spends two-thirds of his book studying the other processes which we use. We are indeed emotional and spiritual creatures and in that, we find defenses against reason, rationality, and facts because just as we would defend our physical selves against foreign sources, we find that we must defend our mental programmes equally, and if not more so. But, equally so, Bryant notes Johnson, who more loudly than Aristotle’s rants against non-rationality, decries rationality as the sole measurement of the domesticated day.

Bryant goes on to write,

Caution in the presence of emotion in oratory and of its primary vehicle, style, pervades the extended treatment of those topics even in Thonssen and Baird’s notable book. There the conclusion is that emotion is an ‘auxiliary fact supplementing our conception of the art of oratory,’ not a principle, but a datum of rhetoric; and style in oratory is the non-mysterious ‘costuming’ of truth,—which can be discussed without reference to Longinus. That is the cur-rent state of the case, and no doubt the desirable one. It is a perceptible departure, however, from our inherited tradition of rhetoric, where style and emotion are the factors which identify the noblest oratory.

So, while I acknowledge that the theory of motivated reasoning is indeed something to keep not in the back of our minds when dealing with various subjects, but at the very forefront, I must also conclude that the emotional ties to our opinions, our own conceived facts, is equally important in understanding rhetoric – in the interpretation of biblical passages which is part and parcel with building our own hermeneutic. The great orators of the past new enough not to pretend that we are emotionless, logic driven creatures –  or else, I fear, rhetoric, poetry and the vastness of human literary devices would cease to work and we would be left with nothing more then a text book on arithmetic.

In total – as I proceed with looking at the mythical Adam and Jason’s response to it, as a abject rejection based not on facts but on what it does to doctrine, we should keep in mind that the great orators and rhetoricians of the past allowed that the theory of motivated reasoning was not always a terrible thing as it allowed rhetoric to flourish as the espousers thereof used emotion and mental attachments by their audience to words and thoughts to propel rhetoric to its rightful place and afford it the proper use. However, as Quintlilian reminded us, it is our duty to examine in fine detail those, and their words, who have gone before – and as people of faith, it is no less a duty to examine the authors, composers, redactors and unknowns who have given us the Sacred Text but more especially, to examine whether or not our faith is dependent upon our own understanding of the Text, or the ultimate Truth which it contains.

For background, Cicero, Quintlilian, more, and to see where I am going

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4 Replies to “A few words on Interpretation and Rhetoric in regards to Creationism”

  1. I think you’re missing the underlying point of my post.
    I’m saying that the ultimate issue is the authority of infallible Scripture vs the tenuous conclusions of fallible scientists.
    Where is Piltdown Man today? Where are Mitochondrial Adam and Eve today?
    This issue has the potential to lead to the rejection of centuries, and millenia biblical truth and theology. One cannot hold to that which was held 2,000 years ago and reject a literal Adam and Eve.
    The Scriptures have been proven reliable time and again. Sure, there are shifts from time to time. In all, orthodoxy is nothing rare, nor is it new. Why abandon them so easily.
    I know one can say “interpretation”, “hermeneutics”, etc. In the end, what drives that? What about the emotions that cause us to wish to appear intellectual? What about the emotions that drive us to wish to be acceptable to atheists and agnostics who don’t believe our Bible? In the end, to water down Biblical authority is to give them even less reason to believe.
    We’ll simply have to disagree on this.

      1. Lol.
        I’m overwhelmed this week, so I probably won’t be responding.
        Never the less, I already disagree. I’m right no matter what you say. That’s the Baptist way 😎 (joke)
        This is an instructive discussion, regardless of where we fall; though I do wish you would agree with me. Thanks for talking with me.

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