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Lately there have been some flags on answers citing sacred texts to theological questions. Examples include this and this, but it is not restricted to western religions (this for instance).

At first, I have accepted these flags (rejecting the posts) based on a gut feeling, but recently Pé de Leão has challenged that gut feeling and I feel like he is making a good case for why these answers should, in fact, be accepted. I'm quoting from here:

How does citing a source seem to propose blindly accepting it? Don't you think that most people would hope that others would agree what they're saying? I personally don't expect that always to be the case. There's value in citing the truth whether its accepted or not.

Maybe you shouldn't be trying to make a distinction that doesn't exist in practice (i.e. between philosophical and sacred text). If someone rejects the Bible, they are treating it as something profane, so why should it be singled out as being any different from any other philosophical writing?

Joseph Weissman once told me that this is no place for such arguments. He said we are not philosophers, so we are here to help people understand the arguments of those who are. Therefore, the lack of philosophical arguments hardly seems to be a reason for rejecting an answer.

For the full discussion, see here. I added a link to the last paragraph.

Let's get the discussion out of flags and comments, because they are too restricted, and bring it to meta. What does the community think about answers like this?

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    Why is this even an issue? As far as I know there is no existing grounds for rejecting any texts. Unless I'm mistaken, you were doing so not based on any PSE policy, but based on your gut feeling alone. Therefore, why are we trying to create a new and artificial distinction to reject certain texts solely on the basis of personal bias? If there is an existing policy, what is it and where is it written? – user3017 Dec 16 '16 at 17:05
  • @PédeLeão it is an issue, because we are getting flags on these posts. Also, there are implicit rules; not everything can be written down exactly. – user2953 Dec 16 '16 at 18:20
  • But according to what specific policy? The existence of flags does not establish that there exists a valid policy. And what implicit rules? If such rules exists, the question has to be answered as to their nature in order to determine whether they are valid or not. Otherwise, it's difficult to address your question because it appears to have no valid basis. – user3017 Dec 16 '16 at 18:31
  • @PédeLeão this is meta, and this is a discussion. The fact that there are flags show that some people are unhappy with these posts. I hope that in this meta post we can get some consensus, whether new policy follows from that or not. – user2953 Dec 16 '16 at 18:35
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    "Maybe you shouldn't be trying to make a distinction that doesn't exist in practice (i.e. between philosophical and sacred text)" Simple question: when's the last time you saw a reputable philosopher cite the Bible (or any other sacred text) in a published text to butress a philosophical argument?. If that isn't a distinction that exists in practice I don't know what is. – user20153 Dec 17 '16 at 20:51
  • @mobileink. Are you saying that you recognize the Bible as inspired by God? If it's not sacred to you, why would you call it sacred? If you treat it as common, you refuse to recognize any distinction by which it should be excluded from any other common text. – user3017 Dec 17 '16 at 21:00
  • @Pé de Leão: By that reasoning, there is no principled reason to exclude my shopping list, or whatever my crazy uncle said last Teusday, as a source on Philosophy SE. All that matters is that I truly believe it is true. – user20153 Dec 17 '16 at 21:11
  • @Pé de Leão : how do you get from an argument against the notion that the distinction between the Bible and Non-sacred texts doesn't exist in practice, to asking whether I think the Bible is inspired by God? – user20153 Dec 17 '16 at 21:15
  • @mobileink. Concerning your shopping list, that depends on whether you're clever enough to incorporate it into a valid response to a question or not. If not, there are already existing policies for excluding irrelevant and substandard material. However, in the case of theological questions, it seems absurd to assert a priori that religious texts are irrelevant to whatever might be asked. – user3017 Dec 17 '16 at 21:25
  • @Pé de Leão : an excellent reason to exclude theological questions from the Philosophy SE. – user20153 Dec 17 '16 at 21:30
  • @mobileink the reason for opening a meta post was that the comments do not provide enough space for a proper argument. This may be a good chance for you to explain your position a bit more in-depth in the form of an answer, also because this allows others to show if they agree with it by voting. – user2953 Dec 17 '16 at 23:12
  • so I guess we can go ahead and cite the writings of, say, L. Ron Hubbard, or the Church of Satan (churchofsatan.com) etc. etc. as legitimate philosophical sources? So long as the citer is a true believer? – user20153 Dec 17 '16 at 23:15
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    @Keelan: ok, I guess you're suggesting I should do a proper answer rather than comments? alas I do not really have one, but I'll try. ;) – user20153 Dec 17 '16 at 23:21
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    I suspect that many philosophers and theologians would dispute that distinction between philosophical and sacred text doesn't exist in practice. That theology and philosophy are distinct (although not sharply separated) was recognized already by medieval Christian philosophers (e.g. Aquinas), and the emancipation of philosophy from theology only increased in modern times. On SE we have Philosophy and Christianity as two separate sites. Even the Bible itself has clearly distinguishable philosophical (e.g. Ecclesiastes) and dogmatic (declaratory) parts that are simply asserted. – Conifold Dec 18 '16 at 3:42
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    Perhaps it is an interesting question for the main site if there is an intrinsic distinction between philosophical and dogmatic text (not based on their origins). I wouldn't expect any sharp boundary or clear definition but intuitively it has something to do with interpreting/explaining/promoting something as a given rather than problematizing and arguing for it (faith vs reason in scholasticism). This does not distinquish just sacred texts, of course, but also many ideological and "inspirational" texts. Quoting them for position statements is ok as long as they are treated philosophically. – Conifold Dec 19 '16 at 0:03
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I can't speak as intelligently about eastern religions, but as far as Christianity goes:

  • the Bible is hard to interpret. It is hard to know what framework to use, and within a particular framework it can still be hard. The process of interpreting the Bible is called exegesis. Just as we are not philosophers on this site, we also should not be exegetes - it is essentially creating original work.

  • most positions about the Bible that are defensible have been thought of already. A good philosophical answer citing the Bible will not then simply quote the Bible, but will say who held that sort of position. For someone claiming enough expertise in a question to offer an answer, I think that's a reasonable bar. I also think it's a pretty easy bar - most of the famous Christian thinkers (Aquinas, Augustine, Origin, Luther, Calvin...) have written about these problems and texts.

  • Some Christian groups (my own, the Catholic Church, being one) are often skeptical of the idea of using a simple proof text method. We believe that the full meaning of the Old Testament is seen in the New, that the New Testament makes sense in light of the old. Passages have to be read with regard to the totality of scripture. It is hard to develop ideas in a readable post.

  • Things that are even very obvious to Christians today, like the Trinity or the single-person, dual-nature of Christ, historically took generations to systematize. I'm therefore skeptical that someone quoting scripture and doing no more could give a very comprehensive, useful, expert-level answer in a reasonable length post.

In summary, I think it's a fine start to use scripture for philosophical questions - obviously for theological, but most issues that religions address - but a good answer should not stop there.

  • Good answer +1. You make a good point about quoting theologians, and I also think there should be a place for quoting Scripture too. It's a shame that the policies for citing philosopher or some other authority are widely ignored here. – user3017 Dec 16 '16 at 23:30
  • Something doesn't make sense to me: You say that your church is skeptical about the proof text method (and they should be if the text doesn't support the idea to be proven), but I noticed that you just posted a theological answer with no citation whatsoever. Where's the quote from a theologian that you claim is so important? Isn't the citation of a single verse of Scripture better than no citation at all? – user3017 Dec 17 '16 at 2:11
  • how does this answer the OP's question? – user20153 Dec 20 '16 at 19:15
  • @mobileink the last paragraph clearly gives guidelines. I'm going to accept this answer because it seems to be accepted by the community (+7/-2) and the downvotes are not explained, nor is any other answer given to this question. – user2953 Dec 21 '16 at 21:56
  • @Keelan: ok, but I'm puzzled. when I asked how this answered the OPs q, I did not mean to suggest anything about "accepting" it or not. I just want to know how it addresses the q. I'm opposed to censorship of any kind, especially deletion of messages once they have been made public, no matter how stupid they are (guilty!). – user20153 Dec 21 '16 at 22:07
  • @mobileink sorry, that could have been more clear. My comment was meant to have two parts, only the first responding to you. – user2953 Dec 21 '16 at 22:09
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    I think we need a lot more clarity on the last bit I think it's a fine start to use scripture for philosophical questions - obviously for theological, but most issues that religions address - but a good answer should not stop there unfortunately. Obviously, we can't perfectly spell out what is and isn't a philosophical answer using theology, but it seems at least to me that we need more guidelines on this. – virmaior Dec 31 '16 at 13:39
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    @virmaior: fwiw I have no idea what "a good answer should not stop there ", especially when "there" means a thump of the bible. A good answer should go on to ... what? Catechize the non-believers? Expound on The Mysteries of the faith? All very interesting but not what I signed up for when I started following the philosophy SE. – user20153 Dec 31 '16 at 22:21
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Introduction

I will try to answer this problem on a different basis. I am kind of surprised that this thought did not occur yet.

I like the approach of James, namely that direct quotes out of the Holy Book cannot stand for themselves and should not stand for themselves in this StackExchange. The reason given - that there are systematic approaches to all the problems by people that are considered not only theologists, but also philosophers - is sound. But there are two aspects in there I simply want to emphasise, making this some kind of an extension to his answer:

Two things to be considered

Aspect 1: One of the questions with the most resonance here argues that we are not here to do philosophy, but to use philosophical texts to answer questions about philosophical texts (or positions). This is also true for religious texts insofar they inhibit philosophy, of course. But the problem with religious texts, as James pointed out, is that they are not coherent. They use metaphorical pictures and exaggerations to point out certain morals. Until fundamentalists came into the world in the 19th century, no theologist of credence thought the Bible should be read as literal truth; just because it is hardly possible to do so without being contradictive.

Therefore, using the Bible in direct quotes, in order to be accurate and complete, you have to be an exegete, i.e. theologist, because you create original work. It is more than just choosing texts and offering an interpretation that fits the work, you have to create a coherent whole out of something that is deliberately ambiguous - and ideally by taking the whole of the scripture into consideration, not only one part (as James rightfully pointed out!). That is not what we are and what we do (and what makes some philosophy unsuitable for this format as well, btw).

Aspect 2: I think this is even more important, to be honest. If I have to use scripture not only as anecdotal digression, but as integral part of my answer to suit the question, the main concern should be wether this really is a question that is suitable for this StackExchange. Therefore, the whole question kind of misses the point. If I respect the knowledge and opinion of @PédeLeão and take for granted that his answer is a good answer to the question with the quotes used, the question seems to be rather a theological one than about philosophical texts as distinguished from sacred texts.

Therefore, this StackExchange would be the wrong place to ask it and Christianity.SE (or the corresponding specialised SE) would be a better place for it. It should therefore be the main question and concern what exactly the question aims at. If it asks in religious context, but explicitely for philosophical answers, scripture is misplaced in an answer (unless used to show the link/origin for a quote from a philosophical text). If it wants to clarify a question about religious positions 'internally', so to say, it is not even a question about philosophy (in the sense that we have to distinguish at some point if we have different SEs - the other SE would be a better place with experts more capable of answering the question accordingly). This does not leave much of a room for answers based on sacred texts here.

Conclusion

I do not question the fact that theology and philosophy have essentially been the same (or at least shared most subjects and methods) in the western tradition until roughly the late 18th century. But as we have specialised SEs for each major religion, questions demanding an answer that is based on sacred texts rather than philosophical ones in a narrow sense should be part of another SE, leading to good and accurate answers using sacred texts being misplaced here in this sense.

And the other way round, each answer that uses sacred texts without the question explicitely or implicitely demanding it would be misplaced in the sense that in order to be a good one, it either has to create a holistic theological position that considers the whole of scripture (and we are neither philosophers nor theologists, to use the picture from above), or could just as well use philosophical texts that thematise the subject in question and already made the work of systematically considering the whole of scripture. And these are almost certainly available considering all philosophical traditions.

  • Three huge problems: 1) You either completely misread James' answer or you're deliberately twisting his words. 2) I completely reject your assumptions that their is any contradiction or incoherence in the Bible, nor is it true that it should not be interpreted literally (except in the case which are clearly figurative). 3) You're overlooking the fundamental fact that all quotations of philosophical texts, whether theological or not, require some measure on interpretation at least insofar as they are considered relevant, but often to a greater extent as well. – user3017 Dec 30 '16 at 12:35
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    @PédeLeão: 1) I build upon aspects of his answer, leading to other consequences. 2) To name just 'a few' and some more. 3) I do not overlook that in fact I even admitted that philosophical texts (narrow sense) might just as well be unsuitable because of the very same reason: That there is a difference between reasonable interpretation of one bit of text and the necessity to develop a holistic reading of considerable inconsistent amounts of text relevant – Philip Klöcking Dec 30 '16 at 12:52
  • People often confuse interpretive difficulties with contradictions: A & ~A. – user3017 Dec 30 '16 at 13:06
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    @PédeLeão: The point being is that this type of - let it be 'superficial inconsistencies' or whatever you like - and the sheer number of textbits potentially relevant for a question leaves you with a choice between cherry-picking certain texts in favour of your interpretation (making the answer kind of lacking something) or developing exegesis by yourself. Why not simply resort to the numerous philosophers/theologists that already did this before? In the light of our normal policy and these problems I do not see the sense in directly quoting scripture instead of them as basis of an answer. – Philip Klöcking Dec 30 '16 at 13:15
  • I don't recognize any major problems, and the normal policy is to accept the quotations of Scripture as everyone has been saying. You seem to be the only one saying otherwise, and that's not based on any discernible distinction. Kantian texts are also difficult to interpret, so wouldn't it be in consonance with your theory to prohibit direct quotes of Kant as well? – user3017 Dec 30 '16 at 13:39
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I think the problem with that post is neither the philosophical content, nor the citations, but rather that it misjudges its audience. It's written in a style that is familiar to a Christian believer with a philosophical mindset, but it doesn't read well in a secular context. Ultimately, I think people are glancing at it, judging it quickly as proselytism, and flagging it, without persisting through to understand the actual philosophical ideas it contains.

With that said, I believe presentation is as important as content on StackExchange. I disagree that these posts should be deleted, but I understand why they were downvoted, and would like to take this opportunity to encourage the poster to consider editing to better reach the SE audience. There are many people of faith here who frequently post well-received answers that draw on their beliefs --the secret is all in how it is presented.

That is not to say we don't need to be cautious with the flags. There are at least a few people here who are allergic to any mention of religion. In the normal course of SE, their opinion doesn't outweigh anyone else's, but if we do start aggressively deleting religious questions or answers, we'll end up skewing the site in a way that doesn't respect the very real overlap between philosophy and theology.

  • Someone told me exactly what this is about, saying "I am totally intolerant of religious fanatics trying to be philosophers." I disagree that there is any reason to jump to the conclusion that I was trying to proselyte. Both questions were about what a theist believes, and I gave proper and acceptable quotations to make clear the source of those beliefs. For that reason, I also disagree with your censorship of perfectly acceptable quotations as if they somehow lower the quality of the presentation. Who is to judge that one philosopher's words make for a better presentation than another's? – user3017 Dec 29 '16 at 9:59
  • @PédeLeão I'm also a Christian, and I don't hide that fact. But I understand that I'm not typically addressing other Christians when I post here. I'm not censoring you, I'm making a good faith effort to help you express your ideas in a way that will help them better be received. It's your job here to reach the "audience," not their job to connect with you. I agree --as expressed above --that deletions are inappropriate. But the downvotes you've received are largely because you're not willing to meet your audience halfway. – Chris Sunami Dec 29 '16 at 14:16
  • You edited my answer by removing the quotes from the Bible. Have you ever done that with any other philosophical quote? You can try to sugarcoat it however you want, but it appears you are discriminating against Biblical texts. You can prove me wrong by editing some other post, removing the quotes by some other philosopher such as Dennett, Nietzsche or Marx. And no, I will not meet anti-religious bigotry halfway because that kind of intolerance is simply unacceptable and should not be dignified by compromise. – user3017 Dec 29 '16 at 15:03
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    @PédeLeão If you look at my own answers to questions, I almost exclusively cite by reference rather than including extended quotes, whether the source is sacred or secular. In my experience, extended quoting tends to be off-putting in this context, regardless of the source. It is beginning to seem to me that you are more interested in speaking than in being heard. – Chris Sunami Dec 29 '16 at 15:20
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How does citing a source seem to propose blindly accepting it?

I don't think this problem of 'blindly' believing texts is a problem restricted solely to sacred texts: I've been accused of being a Platonist for quoting Plato, and a metaphysician for quoting Aristotles Metaphysics (my interest was in its Physics); and no doubt a Heideggerian for defending Heidegger!

My appreciation of these texts has deepened from defending them; but its annoying to be labelled simplistically as a disciple of anyone thinker merely because I've quoted them.

We are not philosophers

For sure this site is no place to engage in the writing of original philosophy, for obvious reasons - there is no peer review and hence no guarantee of quality (inasmuch this is ever possible); but I do think we have to be philosophical enough to appreciate good argument, or a summary of such.

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This question should never have been raised because there was already PSE policy that specifically addressed this issue.

In an answer posted by @virmaior, he provide three examples of quotes, the first being a Bible citation of Genesis 4:2, and the second two being quotes of Ayn Rand and Richard Dawkins. Concerning these, he said the following:

None of these sources are automatically wrong to include in answer but a mere quote does not constitute an answer -- especially if it is not directly relevant. (bold text added)

Although the point of his answer was to prohibit answers that consist of nothing more the quotations, he makes it clear that Biblical citations are acceptable according to PSE policy.

At the time of this writing, that post has received 7 upvotes, and the wishes of those who voted should be respected by maintaining the policy for which they voted.

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    That answer does not really explore when a post is OK and when not. It is unclear if the upvotes say "we should downvote posts that only draw from bible quotes" or "bible quotes are acceptable". So I still think that this new meta question has a purpose. – user2953 Dec 18 '16 at 8:46
  • @Keelan. What it does say clearly is that those sources are not automatically wrong, so you're suggesting that virmaior had no sound reason for making such a claim. I disagree. The merits of an answer are usually not decided according to what sources are cited but according to their relevance and accuracy in responding to the question. That is not to say that there may not be good reason to reject one on the basis the material cited, but being from the Bible does not of itself provide such a reason. – user3017 Dec 18 '16 at 10:21
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    No, I'm saying that it is not clear what sentiment the upvotes on virmaior's answer reflect, and that we therefore cannot consider it an answer to this question. The purpose of this question is to explore when and how bible quotes are / are not acceptable. Saying that no source is automatically wrong is just the start of the discussion I intend to have here. – user2953 Dec 18 '16 at 10:34
  • @PédeLeão I don't think the issue is the Biblical citations per se, please see my answer below. – Chris Sunami Dec 29 '16 at 5:14
  • @ChrisSunami. Except that's simply not the case. Keelan said, "Yes, of course many of these flags are just 'he quoted the bible, that doesn't belong here' and that is not correct." – user3017 Dec 29 '16 at 10:16
  • If people are flagging things only because you're quoting the bible, then I agree 100% that the flags are not warranted. But it seems difficult if not impossible to localize the motives of those flagging your posts in that way (n.b. I haven't flagged any as far as I can remember). I'd guess they're flagging them because they feel the frequency of quotes and manner in which they are treated is somehow problematic. (I'm still not sure why that would make it flag-worthy -- since that would seem to make it ideal for downvoting for clarity reasons without seeing it as in need of moderation). – virmaior Jan 3 '17 at 9:15
  • @virmaior. The quoting of religious texts is all that is in question here, and it's not impossible to localize the motives. Keelan made that clear when he said, "Yes, of course many of these flags are just 'he quoted the bible, that doesn't belong here.'" In response, he followed his "gut" rather than established policy and closed my question as well as at least one other. – user3017 Jan 3 '17 at 9:58

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