Arguing with Galileo

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020 — Happy Birthday, Honey!

Arguing with Galileo, Audio Version
Medieval Sketch

“Before answering the adversaries’ arguments,” a contemporary observer reported of Galileo’s debating style, “he amplified and reinforced them with apparently very powerful evidence which then made his adversaries look more ridiculous when he eventually destroyed their positions.”

Dava Sobel: Galileo’s Daughter

When he would debate an opponent, Galileo would not only summarize his opponent’s position, he would “amplify and reinforce” their arguments. Then Galileo would demonstrate the flaws in their position, point by point. Galileo often left his opponents feeling humiliated. In the mind of their audience, there was no question who had thought through the topic better.    

A few days ago a friend of mine suggested I find and watch a recently-released Bible prophecy video. If I were to watch the video, he wanted to know what I think of it. I told him I would look for it online, which I did, with some trepidation and measured skepticism. Still, out of respect for my friend, I did look for it. I found it and watched it. I watched the entire video. Sigh.

Sad to say, a lot of the Bible prophecy-related material online is under-informed junk or worse. I say that based on years and years of studying such material. I feel quite conflicted whenever I receive suggestions or recommendations from friends. But I will often go ahead and watch or listen or read whatever they suggest. Candidly, I usually expect the suggested material to be bad or, at best, bland. And it usually is. But every once in a while, I am pleasantly surprised.      

“Well, you do know that a lot of people approach your blog exactly the same way.” 

Sigh. Yes, I do know that. And honestly, well they should. There is so much under-informed and misleading #prophecy junk online, people should be understandably wary that what I say here might be more of the same. Still, I hope they give me a chance and read or listen anyway.

But it can be discouraging. Sometimes I wonder if I ought to just avoid everything related to Bible prophecy, the Book of Revelation, and the End Times. Most pastors, professors, and bloggers avoid these topics like the plague, except in times of plague, which might be now. With Coronavirus, people show an uptick in interest — albeit, wary interest.

It is admittedly confusing. If someone has not studied through all things End Times, how can they possibly know what is believable and what is not? That’s a good and necessary question. After watching the recommended video, I did follow through with my friend. And he said as much. He has not studied all this, so it’s hard to discern what is right and what is wrong. A lot of the material presented in the video did sound biblical and thus seemed kinda convincing.

In response, here’s what I suggested: Look for whether a presenter ever mentions or shows awareness of alternate positions and interpretations. Like all other prophetic material, the Book of Revelation requires careful interpretation. Does the presenter seem to be aware of alternate interpretations? If all you hear is a dogmatic take on what a particular passage must mean, be very cautious. That should at be a yellow flag. Granted, sometimes a presenter will deliberately avoid mentioning alternate interpretations. Listeners do want a succinct message, so a presenter might opt to KISS, to keep it simple and straightforward. But intellectual integrity will sometimes require a careful interpreter to present viable alternate interpretations.

Here’s another thought: a good interpreter will be able argue their position like Galileo. A good interpreter will understand alternate positions thoroughly and will be able to explain them accurately, even to the satisfaction of an opponent. An excellent interpreter will thereafter be able to explain why his/her interpretation is indeed superior to alternate interpretations.

The Bible-prophecy video I watched failed on these points. The presenter showed very little knowledge of alternate interpretations. He only presented his own camp’s interpretation. A skilled debater with an adequate grasp of the relevant prophetic material would be able to delineate multiple factual and logical flaws in his interpretation, to put matters very politely.

As I write these blog posts, I am attempting to strike a balance between KISS and what I hope is adequately careful scholarship. Frankly, it ain’t easy. It can be a hard balance to find. But I hope to argue somewhat like Galileo, albeit with more tact.  

Revelation 1:3

One thought on “Arguing with Galileo

  1. eunice schrotenboer - friend of deceased John and Susan Brillhart. - miss then both says:

    Good words for some deep thoughts and good warnings not to be blindly open to just every person’s convictions/interpretations.

    Like

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