Peer review can be a bitch. The purpose of the peer review process is to determine the credibility of a researcher’s work prior to publication. The process is integral because it weeds out potential publications with results or methodologies that seem dubious or unfalsifiable. Without this process, the literature would be too vast–too bogged down by junk science–to be comprehensible. A researcher must have thick skin if they are to survive the peer review process, because often their work doesn’t survive it.
One of the major things the review committee looks for is that you understand the literature of your field as it exists today. This can take either of two forms: 1) you have included a comprehensive literature review at the beginning of your book or journal article, or 2) you have strategically woven a literature review throughout the body of your work. I personally prefer the latter since my field is in the social sciences.
The common rule of thumb regarding a review of the literature is that you have two scholarly sources for every page of text. I use Chicago style with footnotes, so this number is actually higher. Let’s say it’s 2.1 references per page. This doesn’t include the conclusion because it’s generally frowned upon to include new information in the conclusion. But as you can see, even a short double-spaced 100 page document might have a 20 page bibliography.
The purpose of the literature review is to determine gaps in the field. This gap is the focus of your work. If the goal is to provide insight into a phenomenon, one must research something that has not yet been researched. Even if your hypothesis fails, you have contributed a greater understanding: Eg. “Whereas our initial assumptions suggested a correlation between A and B, our findings suggest that other independent variables might instead correlate with B.” In other words, you have slightly closed the gap, and future researchers might not try to correlate A with B.
This is a long introduction for a blog. I apologize for that.
Christianity (actually the Christian who argues from their religion) is not concerned with gaps because its book is “inerrant.” Because of this the bible is used as a sole document for making an argument. Christians do not compare what the bible says with other Christian texts because no such texts exist (to be fair, other interpretations of the bible have been published, and those might be referenced). The Jews have the Torah and the Talmud. The Muslims have the Qur’an and the Hadiths. At least these two religions have two places from which to cite information (although this is still a far cry away from acceptable academic standards).
Furthermore, no argument from Christianity is subjected to the peer review process. Sure, there are some scholars who hold a doctor of theology, but I’m quite certain that their dissertations have bibliographies longer than one source. The bible might not even be included in their work.
To be sure, we should consider what would happen if we submitted a document of original “research” that relied solely on one piece of literature. Let’s assume that I submitted for peer review an article that only cited Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State, and War. It’s one of the most important contemporary books in political science, and my research might take valuable insight from Waltz’s work. But despite how “original” my contribution is to the field, without pulling literature from the entire field, my work is merely a book review from my own point of view. And the committee will laugh me out of the room. A review of Waltz’s book is not new knowledge.
This is precisely the problem with arguments from the bible. They are merely reviews of the bible. And these have absolutely nothing to say with authority any more than a Muslim has authority when he quotes Muhammad. These arguments don’t tell us anything.
Christians might argue that they don’t need to consider other books because the bible is perfect. I’ll be clear: The bible can only be perfect to those who believe the bible is perfect. It’s far from a perfect book, and it doesn’t offer insight into anything more than how ancient Christians thought we should behave.
Keep this in mind when Christians attempt to make an argument from the bible. Their arguments deserve every bit of scrutiny that you can muster because it is anything but a reliable argument. It lacks any insight from other areas, and it cannot survive a peer review, even if the argument is coming from the Pope himself.