Proof-Texting the Book of Nature

“Proof-texting” is when you already have your biblical interpretation in mind, and you go hunting for a verse that supports it. You’re not really interested, in that proof-texting moment, in whether or not the Bible as a whole supports your interpretation. (For example, we might think that Christianity means never judging anyone, and so we find the place where Jesus says, “do not judge,” without paying any attention to other places that say we should judge in a loving, constructive way.) Proof-texting by itself is not dishonest (some times we really do need to just go find a verse) as long as we also dedicate other (longer) times to actually investigating the text with honesty and integrity, giving attention to commentators, preachers, and others who have dedicated their lives to learning as much as they can about the Bible. But if we only ever come to the Bible with our interpretations already decided, then we’re just being dishonest readers.

Well, I think that “proof-texting” can happen with science too. If we have our conclusion already in mind, and all we do is run to science to find the one piece of evidence that supports our idea–without ever taking the time to understand the greater body of evidence as a whole (be it regarding evolution, climate change, whether the fetus is human, whether a given substance or lifestyle is harmful, etc.), then we’re not really doing honest science. We’re just “proof-texting nature,” just as someone ignorant of Christian teaching might proof-text the Bible.

A friend pointed out to me that this can go even farther with the ever-present availability of Google searches: one can always find someone out there who agrees with almost any position, but surely this does not count as honest research.

As a general principle that applies to all of these areas of inquiry, good academic research can be summed up as “rigorous, relentless honesty,” in my opinion. That is one reason why I find it aggravating when Christians make much of the idea that “not everyone needs to be a Bible scholar…”: right. Yes. Not everyone. But we nonetheless need Bible scholars in order to understand the Bible–unless we’d rather not understand the Bible as honestly as possible. And the same goes with science.


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