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I've previously highlighted the distinction between Biblical Studies and Scriptural Studies, of which this is a postscript seeking community feedback on future direction. While there is a similar post seeking future direction, I wanted to frame this question a little differently and offer another option on how to carry it out. Stating the dichotomy as "Bible study" vs. "studying the Bible" is somewhat confusing, however, and the distinctions can often be subtle. This is why I prefer the language "Scriptural Studies" vs. "Biblical Studies," respectively.

Scriptural Studies are inherently religious/spiritual. They seek to understand, interpret, and apply the Biblical text. Biblical Studies attempts to begin with as few assumptions as possible, but even this depends on an institution's stated biases. Christian and Jewish-influenced universities generally allow for doctrinal biases. But this is a site for everyone. Although this site is specifically of interest to those studying Judeo-Christian texts, biases that are not shared by a majority of scholars within these traditions should not be taken as 'givens.' At the same time, we are not trying to be a Judeo-Christian religious site, so even further neutrality is desired (especially since we claim to welcome atheist viewpoints).

But to remain 'neutral' is not truly a 'neutral' position. This pseudo-neutrality is a logical fallacy which is also a bias when we approach the text (as Jack and several others have pointed out). So rather than argue for quixotic objectivity and neutrality, I'd like to go on record as admitting that I'd like to see a specific bias here on BH.SE: a pseudo-neutrality. This 'neutrality' would preclude unqualified religious assertions of truth from the Christian and Jewish perspectives.

Biases

Here are some of the specific assumptions inherent in Scriptural Studies by many Christians and/or Jews that often go unstated/unqualified (explicitly) on BH.SE:

  1. The text is true and accurate.
  2. The text applies to a specific group (or to oneself) today.
  3. The text is relevant to a later issue or idea in history (cf. anachronism, e.g. asking what a 1st-century text says about a Christian doctrine that developed post-15th century).
  4. A text is continuous with other Biblical texts. Except when explicitly stated in a text or when demonstrated (such as two texts by the same author), continuity between Biblical texts is an assumption. This is especially true when viewing New Testament texts as continuous with the Hebrew Bible, but also when comparing contemporaneous texts by different authors.
  5. Any assertion of modern-day-revealed truth concerning the texts (I believe this site should take a decidedly empiricist approach to epistemology; this would rule out answers claiming modern divine/spiritual revelation concerning the text).

How to View & Handle Biases

I certainly don't think that asking a question with one of these assumptions should always be off topic, but I do think that such assumptions require 'leaps' of logic that need to be justified and/or clearly stated/qualified as biases. However, an OP's biases should not preclude answers that do not share the same sets of biases. In other words, a question about the meaning of 1 John 5:7 should remain open to answers challenging the phrase's authenticity as well as answers seeking to explain the meaning of the full verse as recorded in manuscripts such as the Textus Receptus.

Avoiding the list of biases above does not mean that the OP must adopt the opposite biases. For instance, while I don't believe that #1 should be implied/unqualified in a question, this does not mean that the OP must begin with the assumption that the text is false and/or inauthentic. I just would like to see it stated/qualified if the assumption that the text is true is implied by the question (but the OP should still remain open to answers challenging the authenticity/truth of the text in question).

So here is my question: how should we view and handle biases? I've created several options below to vote on, feel free to add your own.

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Biases can be either good or bad, and are unavoidable, but should be handled with respect

I've added this answer because of my own bias (smile). Anyone who believes in objective truth (as I do) logically holds that a bias aligned with truth is a good one, and one aligned with error is a bad one. But we all have good and bad biases, and cannot approach the text without embracing some of them (as they are the very core of how we perceive reality). The key to me for this site would be handling bias with respectfulness, even if disagreeing with it.

  • Questions: While being explicit about bias should be encouraged, those asking a question should not be limited on their bias at all. They are not the experts, they are the one's seeking expert answers. They may never have even pondered the foundational issues of such biases, or what their own bias is much less begin to know what biases to state or avoid. It should fall as a burden upon those who wish to answer (who are expected to be expert) to deal with the bias in questions in a respectful way. The questioner should maintain similar respect in answers that may go against the bias.
  • Answers: Those answering (as experts) should be able to isolate the key biases from the question and/or have enough experience to ask for clarity of a bias if it is felt needed. Answers should address the context of the questioner bias, but do not necessarily need to assume that context for answering. That is, those answering should at least state their bias if it is detected as different than that of the questioner, but if not (or if choosing to answer from the perspective of the questioner), not necessary. Some support for the counter bias may be noted, but not necessarily required of an answerer (else we are always adding the same philosophical addendum to all we say)--simply stating that you are coming from a different view, and then proceeding to give your answer from your stated (not defended) bias should be enough to give the questioner your context.

For both, the key is not to "attack" the bias if it is disagreed with, but to challenge reconsideration of the bias by offering an answer from a perspective of a differing bias. Editing/censoring should be limited mainly to improper tone and degrading speech, not to content from a perspective of bias. This would seem to allow the most inclusive reach for the site, while not limiting people to answering outside of what may be their philosophical context.

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  • Glad to see ya back here Scott. – Dan Mar 21 '14 at 20:58
  • I like the tone of this answer very much. Perhaps the best way to 'state a bias' is not to 'label' it at all (especially because often labels are appropriated by folk with very different world views), but to properly show your work: showing your logic lays your bias bare. – Jack says try topanswers.xyz Mar 22 '14 at 10:59
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Biases are absolutely unavoidable; our studies are rooted in them.

I am new here, and uncertain about voicing my opinion. Still, I am willing to give my thoughts on this seemingly vital topic.

The site under consideration, as I understand it, is Biblical Hermeneutics. Being in agreement on that, I am a bit confused on the "bias" issue, seeing that the Bible, itself, sets the pace for bias. The Bible sets forth a bias for the existence of God, offering no proof of that bias. The God of the bible is biased in favor of his plans, ideas, opinions, etc.

It seems the height of inconsistency to graciously allow the Bible its biases, but to deny that same grace to those earnest souls endeavoring to study it. To me that is akin to studying nutrition but being prohibited to make mention of the foods you find most nutritious.

Questions can only be asked from a man's or a woman's current perception (a bias). To try and formulate a question which is outside the scope of one's understanding is irrational. Likewise, answers can only be given from the bias of one's current understanding (a bias). An answer that is not based upon a man's understanding is not an answer at all, it is merely conjecture.

If we admit the unavoidable existence of biases, then we can hardly claim to be ambushed by them. Let those who insert personal bias into questions or answers be prepared to give a reason for that bias if that bias is called into question. All belief/understand should be rational and, therefore, susceptible to elucidation, whether we agree with that elucidation or not.

To that end, I embrace the proposal of ScottS: Mutual Respect. I like to think that my current biases are subject to change in favor of a better bias (understanding). Admittedly, we would all still be in diapers if we had not had our personal biases altered in favor of a better understanding of hygiene.

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  • Thanks DrFry and welcome to meta. Not everyone knows this place exists but it's actually where most stuff gets decided so what you say here really matters. I also happen to agree with what you've said here and how you've said it but that's beside the point :) – Jack says try topanswers.xyz Apr 4 '14 at 20:48
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These biases are bad and we should seek to avoid them in questions and answers

(Unstated biases are bad and should be avoided at all times)

  • Questions: We don't want these biases to influence the direction of answers on BH.SE, but we also recognize that sometimes these biases are unavoidable. Thus, the biases are generally acceptable if they are explicitly qualified and stated, but should be avoided when possible. Questions that do not conform to these standards should be edited and/or closed.
  • Answers are free to take any number of perspectives, but these biases must be explicitly stated and qualified. It is preferred that they be avoided when possible. Answers that do not conform to these standards should be downvoted, edited and/or deleted.
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    The title of this answer does not match the content. I'd prefer if the title was 'Unstated biases are bad'. – user947 Oct 6 '13 at 0:17
  • @bmargulies I added a subtitle to hopefully clarify. I'm hesitant to completely change the title since some have already voted. – Dan Oct 6 '13 at 1:21
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These biases are actually good and should be embraced

  • Questions are welcome from any perspective with any implicitly or explicitly stated biases so long as the OP takes seriously the process of understanding the Biblical text.
  • Answers: Those who want to answer the question should take the OP's biases into account and tailor the responses to them (by implicitly or explicitly acknowledging, affirming, or challenging their biases).
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These biases are bad, but we can't avoid them

  • Questions: While we want to minimize how these biases influence the direction of answers on BH.SE, we believe that these biases are almost always unavoidable. Thus, the biases are generally acceptable so long as they are explicitly or implicitly stated. Comments and votes are the primary tools for questions that contain these biases.
  • Answers are free to take any number of perspectives with explicit or implicit biases. The tools for handling answers are primarily votes and comments.
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These biases are bad and we should seek to avoid them in questions

  • Questions: We don't want these biases to influence the direction of answers on BH.SE, but we also recognize that sometimes these biases are unavoidable. Thus, the biases are generally acceptable if they are explicitly qualified and stated, but should be avoided when possible. Questions that do not conform to these standards should be edited and/or closed.
  • Answers are free to take any number of perspectives with explicit or implicit biases. The tools for handling answers are primarily votes and comments.
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  • I can't vote, but for the record, this is my top choice. – Dan Oct 4 '13 at 22:25
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    I'm with Ms. Quiet here. Answers and comments are what make it unfriendly (when it's unfriendly)/ – user947 Oct 6 '13 at 0:16
  • I guess you could probably state my attitude as: "These biases are bad and we should seek to avoid them in questions (to the extent that questions including them should be edited or closed), and we can ruthlessly downvote them when they are not made explicit in answers." I just don't want to see answers being edited a whole bunch to keep up these standards. There are better tools in place for conformity purposes, and many from various perspectives honestly don't know how to express themselves in this pseudo-neutral fashion. Comments and votes will teach them quickly. – Dan Oct 6 '13 at 1:17
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    Plus, editing questions and being the 'pseudo-neutrality police' would be a lot of work in questions alone, let alone answers. I don't want to pass any policies that I wouldn't be willing to enforce as a mod (read: wouldn't have time nor motivation to enforce). – Dan Oct 6 '13 at 1:18
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    I have to think about this more. There is a fine line between pluralism with pseudo-neutrality vs. censorship masquerading as neutrality. – Dan Oct 6 '13 at 5:28

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