Prejudice: Deciding the outcome before hearing the evidence

If we are going to consider the evidence for anything we need to avoid coming at it with presuppositions. We all have background, culture, upbringing, beliefs and experiences that affect the way we look at things. Presupposing things leads to prejudice, pre-judicial judgement. It is to decide what is true, who is guilty, what happened and why first and then hear the evidence after. It can be positive or negative. You can look at a person and say to yourself, "They are a thief." Or you can look at someone else and think "They must be honest." Either way, if you make that decision as soon as you see them in a courtroom, before the evidence is presented you are not giving them a fair trial. You cannot, with integrity, eliminate a possibility before considering the evidence, just because you don't like it or it doesn't suit you.

Here are some typical presuppositions:

Everything must be proven "scientifically." The Laws of science can be proven scientifically. The Laws of mathematics can be proven mathematically. But many things cannot be proven scientifically. Did anyone read stories to you when you were a young child? Prove it scientifically. Is this boy in love with that girl? Prove it scientifically. What did you have for breakfast last Thursday? Prove it scientifically.

Everything has to be proven beyond all other possibility. Let's consider those childhood stories. You could produce historical evidence. Maybe you can produce the book. Perhaps you can get the person who read to you to testify to the fact. Maybe someone else was there listening with you, say a brother or sister, who can also testify as a witness. Does that provide perfect proof that it happened? No, but it would be good enough for a court of law to pass judgement and it would be good enough for a historian to accept.

Accounts of miracles must be rejected out of hand. If there is a creator god who is involved with their creation then logically they could be a possibility and also they would be unusual. Let's just look at this in the context of the resurrection of Jesus. The argument goes that Jesus could not have risen from the dead because people don't rise from the dead. Therefore there must be some other explanation, and if there must be some other explanation then he didn't rise from the dead. This is a circular argument and can be used to "prove" just about anything. It is true that people do not generally get resurrected after three days.  If they did we would not refer to it as the miracle of the resurrection but as the law of resurrection. Another point is that if Jesus was resurrected then there was a cause. Someone or something brought him back. We can't just start from a position of saying "It couldn't have happened." without looking at the evidence first. But if it did then it was most unusual and we have to ask how and why.

As an aside here, it is worth pointing out that scientific progress involves thinking the unthinkable. In the early 1800s the leading view of scientists was that the disease, cholera, was transmitted by particles in the air called "miasmata." Have you heard of miasmata? Probably not and there is a reason for that. Dr John Snow thought the unthinkable, that maybe there was something in the water that transmitted the disease. The lead medical officer for London labelled this theory "peculiar." The experts did not think Dr John Snow knew anything. However by studies of the 1854 outbreak he was able to convince people that the source was a particular water-pump. The popular version of the story has it that he had the pump disabled and the outbreak stopped as a result an everyone believed his theory. That is a bit of an over simplification but, while it took a few years to investigate the details, the idea of miasmata was replaced with the understanding of germs!

This does not mean we have to believe every outlandish idea or conclude that anything we don't understand is a miracle. That would be another presupposition. We do need to be willing to follow where the evidence leads.

If the Bible is the word of God it must have been dictated from above. Another way of putting this is: If the Bible is a human book it cannot be a divine book. This is tied into our western way of thinking that separates the physical (or secular) and the spiritual. If we look at Jesus we see the Word made flesh. Jesus, fully God, also became fully man in order to fulfil his mission. In the same way the Bible is both a human and divine book. There are some prophetic passages that are more of a word declared from heaven and written down, but much of it is records of human interaction with God and his plan. This does not need to make it any the less inspired. It can still be accurate and authoritative. It is a method for a transcendent God, beyond space and time, to effectively communicate with us living within the constraints of this universe. Telling the story of someone you can identify with is often more effective than just listing principles on abstraction. A legal library contains far more than volumes of statutes. It also contains many volumes of case law. This is where the application of the status can be understood. To the Jews the Old Testament was The Law and The Prophets. The Law is not just the statutes recorded by Moses on the desert, but the CASE LAW from the lives of the patriarchs before Moses as well as the nations, leaders and people afterwards.

Because of this we need to understand the people and the times to rightly judge their words. This includes  bearing in mind the type of literature they are writing at the time. The Bible is a library of different types of book. Psalms are poetry, songs from the heart. Proverbs are nuggets of wisdom often like Tweets, constrained to 144 characters. History and prophecy are different again. And they are generally written in the observational language of people on the ground rather than God in heaven. It is easier to try to put ourselves into someone else's does than onto God's throne. 

As I was preparing this post I was sent a link to this interesting blog post listing  17 ways of prejudicing an examination of scripture.