In a little less than a month, I’ll be speaking at the FAIRMormon Conference in Provo. Titled Truth, Scripture, and Interpretation: Some Precursors to Reading Genesis, my paper will be about the importance of recognizing the presuppositions we make when interpretating scripture. We can use various metaphors for this. Each of us (including inspired prophets and apostles) has a Black Box made up of worldview and presuppositions about revelation, prophets, and scripture. The contents of the box differ for every person, time, and culture. The scriptural text gets fed into our black box, and out comes “what scripture says.” But since the content of those black boxes differs, so too does the end product of “what (we think) scripture says.”
(This was the half the problem, I think, in early 20th century arguments between Apostles. Few of them ever made their own presuppositions explicit in argument, so it basically came down to Joseph Fielding Smith saying “Well this is my reading” and Roberts/Widtsoe/Talmage/others countering “Well this is MY reading.” It didn’t really go anywhere. But there’s no time to go into that in the conference. See essays 3-6, 8-9 in The Search for Harmony: Essays in Science and Mormonism, which is also available online. )
I’ll be unpacking a few of those common assumptions, particularly as they apply to Genesis and young-earth creationism. This is a first step towards trying to turn our Black Box into a Glass Box, where our assumptions are visible and therefore, able to be evaluated and changed.
However, the vast majority of the time will be spent not on interpretive details of Genesis, but on that black box of assumptions (thus my subtitle “precursors to reading Genesis.”) I think we don’t really interpret or understand scripture until we’re aware of the presuppositions we bring to it. Indeed, I think the most dangerous interpretations come when we think we’re simply giving a “face value” reading with no interpretation at all, completely unaware of our lenses, which can seriously distort meaning. (Thus the title and lens metaphor of one of the books I recommend often, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes.) Since EVERY reading is an interpretation, the best readings will take account of and compensate for our presuppositions and lenses.
That summary sounds much more dry than I think it will be, but it’s important and I’m a decent presenter.
I’ll be followed by Ugo Perego, a geneticist, speaking about evolution, creationism, and the misuse of genetics. Matt Bowen is speaking the day before on Genesis 2-3 and literature.
So if you’re interested in the early chapters of Genesis, there is something for you at the FAIRMormon Conference this year.
The text of my presentation should be posted relatively soon after the conference, but that’s not entirely under my control.
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