2013-10-30

How would Jack Andraka ever be recognized if his interest were Biblical Studies?

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by Neil Godfrey

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Andraka
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Andraka

Imagine a sixteen year old high school boy relying entirely upon Google, Wikipedia and freely available online scholarly publications claiming to have found a new explanation for Christian origins that was radically different from anything proposed to date. I suspect he will be ignored. If he makes enough noise to attract some popular attention he will be dismissed as a crank.

How could it be any different? Biblical studies are fundamentally ideological.

It is different in the hard sciences where tests for correctness can be devised to give an objective result open to all to see and accept. In the field of cancer research it is quite possible for a sixteen year old high school boy relying entirely upon Google, Wikipedia and freely available online scholarly publications to devise “a new, rapid, and inexpensive method to detect an increase of a protein that indicates the presence of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer during early stages when there is a higher likelihood of a cure.”

The result of his project was a new dipstick type diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer using a novel paper sensor, similar to that of the diabetic test strip. This strip tests for the level of mesothelin, a pancreatic cancer biomarker, in blood or urine, to determine whether or not a patient has early-stage pancreatic cancer. The test is over 90 percent accurate in detecting the presence of mesothelin. According to Andraka, it is also 168 times faster, 1/26,000 as expensive (costing around three cents), over 400 times more sensitive than the current diagnostic tests, and only takes five minutes to run. He says the test is also effective for detecting ovarian and lung cancer, due to the same mesothelin biomarker they have in common. [Wikipedia article]

199 out of 200 scientists whom Jack Andraka approached asking for the assistance to conduct put his theory to the test rejected his idea. Of course, in Biblical Studies there is no way for the community to come to agreement on the validity of a radically new theory from a sixteen year old high school kid who relies entirely on Google, Wikipedia and online research. The ideological nature of the discipline will never allow it. There can be no objective laboratory tests to demonstrate its validity with any sort of relative objectivity.

Andraka the Bible student would be scoffed at as not having qualifications, not having published, not being a “real Scholar”. And the one out of 200 who might be sympathetic to his views would probably have to remain silent for fear of ridicule and security of tenure.

If there’s a point to this post it is simply to raise the question and provoke some thought on a number of points that we hear raised so often by the institutional elites of the seminaries and certain religion departments in universities.

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Neil Godfrey

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7 thoughts on “How would Jack Andraka ever be recognized if his interest were Biblical Studies?”

  1. Of course, in Biblical Studies there is no way for the community to come to agreement on the validity of a radically new theory from a sixteen year old high school kid who relies entirely on Google, Wikipedia and online research.

    of course, he might not even get a chance to do the research! For example, the Wikipedia article in English on “Crucifixion” has nothing of the recently discovered or reinterpreted epigraphs or the latest research from Gunnar Sanderson or even David W. Chapman, but is very heavy on mid-1970s scholarship (and before) and Christian iconography on the Cruci-fiction of Jesus Christ.

    1. I’d encourage you or anyone with some knowledge of their works to make up this serious lack and add some notes on Samuelsson and Chapman to the Wikipedia article. That’s the beauty of it. We are free to correct any faults we see in it on the spot. 🙂

      1. Yes, I’d do that, except I tried to make a couple of changes before and they didn’t last 24 hours. It seems there is a band of hypervigilant conservative Christians out there that want to make certain articles in the public domain conform to their views. According to “spin” of the now-defunct BC&H / HAR boards on the FRDB that they even edited out of the Wiki article on Joseph Stalin, his daughter’s testimony that he was no athiest.

        But I’ll give it a go when real life gives me time to do so… 🙂

        1. Yeh, I’ve noticed that a few times, too. There is always the opportunity to take disputes to some panel or discussion board, but of course one needs the time and energy to follow that through. The burdens of democracy.

          On a related note, I recall an account of what happened to a local community radio station somewhere on this continent — a small group of Christians infiltrated it and their persistent energy in forever working to take over eventually led their opponents to yield in the interests of getting on with their lives. Liberty and freedoms really do require vigilance and organized effort.

    1. Paul, your proposal bypasses, or misconstrues, the central point I was attempting to raise for thought in my post.

      There is absolutely nothing problematic with, as you put it, “novel ideas” that might “improve some aspect of Biblical studies” — even from outsiders. There will always be scope for new ideas that are raised in hopes of improving some aspect of a discipline, I am sure. Even McGrath indicated as much when he expressed some agreement with my earlier post on problems with the way peer-review currently works. Authors from outside the field of non-Biblical studies are indeed raising suggestions about ways the peer-review system could be changed that I have no doubt a good number of Biblical scholars would consider favorably. And there is nothing at all in principle to prevent a non-scholar from making a positive contribution and to having it judiciously considered here, either.

      Or if a non-scholar were to propose a new interpretation of a relationship between, say, Q and the Gospel of Mark, or a new interpretation of the origin of the Joseph of Aramathea character, and that demonstrated a thoughtful consideration of the extant scholarship, I have no doubt that many Biblical scholars would be willing to discuss the question cordially and sincerely. I know from first hand. In years past I did indeed propose a few thoughts about certain questions raised by Biblical scholars in scholarly discussion groups and did find a good number of scholars very friendly and open to such discussions from me, despite my outsider status. Dr James McGrath even engaged with me positively in our earliest discussions — saying I was raising some “very interesting” points.

      So Paul, I do not accept your conclusion from the points I was attempting to raise in my post here. You write:

      A) A proposal from a non-scholar requesting assistance from Bible scholars would receive a more negative response than the proposal from Jack Andraka. Therefore:

      B) Biblical Studies is more ideological than the sciences.

      I do not agree with that “Therefore”. Your B does not, “therefore”, follow from your A.

      In fact, my own personal experience in discussions with Biblical Scholars would never let me propose such a statement.

      I have invited you to direct discussion on my views but you seem to prefer to fling ridicule and nonsense about what you think I am arguing in other venues.

      I (and Tim, here, too) have sometimes referenced the Chomsky model of censorship among the intellectuals in democratic states. There is always room for debate between Left and Right, Wets and Drys, Democrats and Republicans, and a few more. No-one tells (as a general rule) scholars what to think or say; ditto, no-one muzzles reporters from the questions they ask, the views they express, etc. (Again, as a general rule.)

      No-one has to. Those who would truly think independently, as opposed to thinking within the politically correct parameters, are weeded out from the selection process long before they get to those positions.

      Ironically, it was Albert Schweitzer (though no doubt there were others, too) who proposed a new form of Christianity that was not ideologically bound to history. Today, Thomas Brodie stands as an example of what a Christianity not so ideologically bound could look like. As we have appreciated so well ever since Marx, there is nothing so ideological as history. And the three religions of the Book are indeed religions ideologically bound to a particular fundamental view of history.

      Science does not hang on the same sorts of ideology. That ought to raise questions about the way Biblical scholars respond so viscerally to outsiders and their ideologically challenging views.

      Now that brings us to the related question my post raises: Ideology is protected by Thought-Guardians. In the Jack Andraka story I was pointing to the difference that can result when scholarship is made open to all. No thought-guardians to filter and refract the interpretations of what one reads. But we know that the Biblical scholars can outdo the scientific community when it comes to fighting off the outsider by means of referencing “Scholarly Credentials” — the official badges of the guardians of correct-thought.

      1. I should clarify that one other aspect of the Andraka story that I found striking was the radically different nature of the test he developed. It was not just a “novel idea” to tweak for a bit of improvement. It was a significant and very important breakthrough in early and reliable testing for certain cancers that came from a nobody outsider. Hence my reflection on a radical new idea entering Biblical Studies from an outsider — that’s more than just a “novel idea” that stands to “benefit” some area of study. That’s the way I was looking at the Andraka story. If you don’t like it viewed that way, then so be it.

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