A Bouquet for Mr. Jones

The true scientific spirit and Christian humility have much in common.

JULIA NEUFFER, Assistant Editor, SDA Bible Commentary

The ordinary mortal wants security. He also wants certainty. It is painful to be told by an expert, in response to an in­quiry, "Your question cannot be answered com­pletely. We simply do not have enough facts to reach a final conclusion." It is small com­fort to be informed that one of the marks of an educated man is the ability to reserve judg­ment when the facts are insufficient. We want answers!

Even the research scholar, dedicated to a quest for truth, is only human, and conse­quently is under pressure from his own inclinations to believe that his particular solution to a problem is the final answer. It takes a sense of proportion and a spirit of humility to realize and admit that in his special field, as well as in many other subjects, he must often say, "This looks to me like the answer, but the facts are not all in; someone may yet have a better right to a conclusion different from mine."

Having learned caution from reading various scholarly conclusions, some of them obviously the product of minds that were blind to the limitations of their theories, I felt a warming of the heart when I found a gem of a para­graph in the preface to a scholarly work by one Charles W. Jones. I stopped and reread it. "This Mr. Jones," I thought, "deserves a bouquet, and I wish I could hand it to him."

Most probably he is Dr. Jones, though no degree appears on the title page of the vol­ume—his edition of the chronological works of Bede, published by a learned society. He in­troduces these writings of Bede with an ex­tended discussion of the development of the medieval ecclesiastical calendar. In the preface he speaks of earlier writers on the subject whose work was characterized by "logic, insight, and genius," but who nevertheless reached wrong conclusions through inadequate study of the available source material. Then he adds, with rare candor and with the true scientific spirit:

"So often have their theories been upset by the evidence of manuscripts which they did not see, that I here caution the reader against more than the most tentative acceptance of any theories I ad­vance in this book. They are the best that I can offer in the light of a wider reading of evidence than has previously been offered; but the process of organizing and using the available material is yet incomplete, and even if the day arrives when we have used it all, our previous erroneous assump­tions should warn us against pressing too forcefully the comparatively slight evidence we have."—Charles W. Jones, Preface to his edition of Bedae Opera de Ternporibus, p. x.

This quotation reminds us that the true scien­tific spirit and the spirit of Christian humility have much in common.

On the eternal verities of truth we as Chris­tians are privileged, and we are obligated, to give the trumpet a certain sound. But we do not know everything; to claim certainty on points for which it does not exist is only to in­vite trouble—a loss of face by the proclaimer and a loss of faith by the hearer. When we ask our converts to give their hearts to God, we also ask them to give up their former opinions that have been based on inadequate knowledge of the Scriptures, and we exhort them to have the courage to accept truth as they find it, regardless of the consequences. Surely we who are in the church ought to be careful lest we ourselves either cling to our in-trenched pride of opinion or jump to conclu­sions on inadequate information.

It would save us, and others, much trouble if we were always cautious in arriving at con­clusions from partial evidence—whether in judging the words, deeds, or motives of our neighbors or in interpreting Biblical, historical, or other statements of fact. The spirit of open-mindedness (sometimes called the scientific at­titude) has been well expressed in Christian terms in the counsel given to this people:

"The Bible student must empty himself of every prejudice, lay his own ideas at the door of investi­gation, and with humble, subdued heart, with self bid in Christ, with earnest prayer, he should seek wisdom from God."—Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 463.

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JULIA NEUFFER, Assistant Editor, SDA Bible Commentary

May 1956

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