TF Torrance: The Effect of Dualism upon Biblical Interpretation

I have been doing A LOT of reading in Torrance’s work on theology and science, and it has been quite illuminating. It becomes increasingly clear to me that TF was on to something important here, and that engagement with this material is vitally important. In any case, the paragraphs below are – I think – a good introduction to a lot of this stuff, albeit in a form that assumes more than it explains, as directly implied to the question of biblical interpretation.

Thomas F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology: Consonance Between Theology and Science (T&T Clark, 2001), 28-30.
"[L]et me refer to the positivist restriction of knowledge to observational phenomena. According to this view, we derive the rational components of knowledge, such as scientific theories, by deducing them from observations – for there is, it is alleged, no direct cognitive access to rational forms or theoretical structures, but only indirect access by way of logical inference. The effect of this upon biblical interpretation is two-fold.
(a) By cutting out any possibility of immediate apprehension of rational or intelligible elements in any field of investigation, dualism limits the theological component in biblical knowledge to what is logically derived from observations or appearances. Behind this, of course, there lies the Kantian idea that we cannot know things in themselves or in their internal relations, but only in their external relations as they appear to us, so that things can be incorporated as “objects” into our knowledge only as we bring extrinsic theoretical factors to bear upon them from the structures of consciousness. This means, for example, that it is impossible for us ever to know anything of Jesus Christ as he is in himself, for we are restricted to Jesus as he appeared to his contemporaries – and indeed to the impression he made upon them as it is mediated through the structures of their consciousness, by which they made him an “object” of their faith and knowledge. It will thus be the task of the biblical scholar, through some for of “the historico-critical method,” to bring to view and to clarify as far as he can the impression Jesus made as he actually appeared to his contemporaries, stripped of any theological interpretation put upon him in the course of the developing tradition – for by definition such theological elements cannot have their intrinsic rootage in Jesus himself. This means that only after the biblical scholar has established by some set of criteria what are acceptable as observational data, shorn clean of any theoretical components, may the theologian go to work on them to deduce from them valid theological ideas or doctrines. This of course yields a rather nominalist notion of theology similar to the nominalist and conventionalist conception of scientific theory or natural law held by the positivists, e.g., Ernst Mach.

(b) The restriction of knowledge to what is observable or to what may be deduced from observations, operates only with the epistemological model of vision, thereby casting its dualism into the form of a visible realm, to which we have access only by intuition, and an invisible realm, to which we have access only by logical inference or hypothetico-deductive activity. The denial of any direct cognitive access to intelligible reality entailed here – which…empties faith of cognitive content – is considerably reinforced by the limitation of intuitive apprehension to visual or aesthetic experience, for it cuts out the possibility of intuitive acts in auditive experience and ignores the deep interconnection between understanding and word and between faith and hearing. The effect of this is to undermine the all-important place of word in the Scriptures, which not only empties the biblical material of its distinctive rational form but thereby also undermines the necessity for a thoroughly theological interpretation of the Scriptures. The dualism at work behind this approach cuts off the word of the Scriptures from the objective Word of God, which is the immediately apprehended theoretical ingredient in God’s self-revelation to man and in man’s knowledge of God – for by definition, in the deistic disjunction between God and the world demanded by this dualism, there can be no interaction between God and our world of space and time. The effect of all this is to transpose the biblical material into a very different genre: of picture and image, symbol and myth, where at best we may have only some tangential or indirect relation to God and correspondingly only “oblique truth” about him – which critical minds have little difficulty in showing to be empty and meaningless.
This whole approach to biblical interpretation reposes upon the epistemological dualism between the empirical and the theoretical devastatingly destroyed by Einstein when he established, as in general relativity, the indissoluble unity of form and being, or the theoretical and empirical factors in knowledge, in such a way as to show that our basic scientific concepts are reached, not by logical deduction or inference from observations, but through immediate intuition or apprehension of an intellective kind."


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