August 08, 2004

The Documentary Hypothesis

from - smijer

He who begins by loving Christianity better than truth, will proceed by loving his own sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all.
I disagree with this quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, though I once endorsed it. I find that the third premise just isn't borne out in the modern world. Perhaps it once was a general rule, but my experience is that Christians have their share by proportion of generous and caring people. Sure, one can easily think of examples of people who followed the exact path Coleridge described. On the other hand, in the ecumenical utopia that is modern America's smorgasboard religiosity, one can easily think of any number of people who began by loving Christianity better than the truth and never proceeded to that next stage.

I open with a quote about loving Christianity better than truth, because I have had a fairly specific example on my mind last day or two, and I think it is indicative of a mindset best described as exactly that. Many people feel that Christianity and the truth are quite compatible, and feel that they themselves are equally committed to both. This post is not meant to dispute that claim (though I disagree that Christianity and truth are compatible). The post is here just to highlight the kind of thinking that many people use, whether they are aware of it or not, that does promote religion at the expense of truth. My example is conservative Christianity's insistence that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible, collectively known as the Pentateuch. It illustrates the willingness of some to advance doctrine over truth.

Recently, a friend of mine, unversed in Biblical scholarship, was given a study Bible with notes and information about the authorship, dating, and other relevant data about the books of the Bible. My friend had no particular reasons to be prejudiced in favor of the view that Moses wrote Genesis, but he nevertheless came away from his study Bible notes with a strong impression that scholarly consensus had settled firmly on the side of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. In fact, only a large subset of strongly conservative scholars still hold the view that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, or even that any single individual wrote it. Mainline, liberal, and secular scholars have reached the opposite conclusion. Why did the editors of this study Bible mislead my friend this way? And why are only conservative scholars still clinging to Mosaic authorship? Because Christianity (at least in its conservative "Bible Believing" form) teaches as doctrine that Moses wrote the Pentateuch.

Before I explained to my friend that there was no positive evidence for the theory of Mosaic authorship, I wanted to double-check myself. I visited some of the web-sites of people who argue strongly for Mosaic authorship. While doing so, I came across this page on a page sponsored by the pseudo-science organization that calls itself Answers in Genesis. It turns out that, indeed, there is no positive evidence for Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. What was interesting was that the page does purport to present positive evidence in a section boldly headed "Evidence for Moses authorship of the Pentateuch", containing six points and two follow up paragraphs.

Now, if one were not well versed in how Christian apologetics worked, one might casually read the heading, the points, and the follow-up, and go home thinking that one had just heard six good reasons to believe to think that Moses wrote the pentateuch. In fact, not one of the reasons actually supports the theory. How's that for a bait and switch? So, if "Evidence for Moses authorship" is the bait, let's see what they have given us in the switch, point by point.

  • Contrary to the views of Wellhausen and others, archaeological research has established that writing was indeed well known in Moses’ day. The JEDP hypothesis falsely assumes that the Iraelites waited until many centuries after the foundation of their nation before committing any of their history or laws to written form, even though their neighbours kept written records of their own history and religion from before the time of Moses.

  • The glaring fallacy is this: I might just as well claim that writing had been invented in the days Moses would have lived as evidence that he wrote Gone With the Wind. What this evidence actually does, is show that concerns from over 100 years ago that Moses might not have been literate were unfounded. It answers a no-longer current objection to Moses' authorship. It does not provide evidence that Moses wrote.

    The second fallacy is the attack on the Documentary Hypothesis (aka the JEDP), saying that such a theory assumes that the Hebrews didn't bother to record their own histories and laws until long after they existed as a coherent political entity. If that is indeed a flaw of JEDP, it still does not serve to advance the theory of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. If one makes the assumption that at least part of the Pentateuch actually dates to the time Moses would have lived (approximately 12-1500 BCE), then that is no reason to assume Moses wrote it. I am almost certain that Gone With the Wind was written in my grandfather's lifetime, but that is not evidence that my grandfather wrote it.

    In fact, it is not even a valid objection to JEDP. JEDP does not speculate on what might have been recorded by the Hebrews prior to the earliest writing in the Pentateuch (thought to be "J's" contribution from around the 7th to 10th centuries BCE), nor does it generally speculate on whether the Hebrews had even developed a tribal identity long prior to that. In other words, the JEDP is not inconsistent with the Pentateuch being written at the beginning of Hebrew history, nor is it inconsistent with other records being kept at the beginning of Hebrew history that were later made obsolete by informal incorporation into the Pentateuch, and then lost.

  • The author is obviously an eyewitness of the Exodus from Egypt, familiar with the geography, flora and fauna of the region; he uses several Egyptian words, and refers to customs that go back to the second millennium bc.

    The first claim may be the most egregious one. How does one conclude that the author of the account of the exodus was "obviously" an eye-witness to it? Even if we generously assume that the exodus was an actual, historical event, how can we claim that the author of the book about Exodus was "obviously" there when it happened? Was the author of the book about the Great Flood "obviously" an eye-witness to it? What about the author of the creation story?

    The other claim, that the author was familiar with ancient Egyptian flora, fauna, language and customs, is fine evidence that the author had some connection to Egypt. There is evidence that the author of Gone With the Wind was familiar with 19th century Georgia's flora, fauna, language, and customs... that isn't evidence that Scarlett O'Hara wrote it.

    Even though the claim doesn't actually support Mosaic authorship, it is fishy on another level. It is (I think purposely) extremely vague. How familiar were the author(s) with Egypt? When did the Egyptian customs "that date to the second millenium" actually fall out of common use? Did any of the ones that the author(s) were familiar with continue to the first millenium BCE? Were the author(s) familiar with them as one might be after reading a recorded history of them or hearing an oral tradition about them? From the perspective of the Documentary hypothesis, were J, E, P, and D equally familiar with Egypt, or was there a difference between them? What trade routes existed between Judah and Egypt, and how much contact did those two cultures have with one another? I don't know all of the specifics, but I suspect that some of them would do more to suggest that the author(s) connection to Egypt was not so direct as Moses should have been, and some of the specifics would lend credence to the Documentary hypothesis.

  • The Pentateuch claims in many places that Moses was the writer, e.g. Exodus 17:14; 24:4–7; 34:27; Numbers 33:2; Deuteronomy 31:9, 22, 24.

    When I read this claim, I was somewhat surprised. If true, it would be the first evidence for Mosaic authorship in the list (at least where such claims specifically reference themselves). It would, by far, be the strongest evidence for Mosaic authorship. And when one checks this scripture (I recommend Blue Letter Bible), one finds that not one of these passages claims that they were written by Moses. Furthermore, they are all written in the third person and in the past tense. To be thorough, I will review each passage:
    Ex 17:14 - The Lord told Moses to write a memorial of Joshua's battle against the Amalekites in a book and to "rehearse it in the ears of Joshua".

    Ex 24:4-7 - The Lord gave Moses some instructions, Moses wrote down "the words of the Lord" (the instructions he had just been given?), then built an altar. All of this happens in verses 1-4. It isn't clear why verses 5-7 are important to the claim that "Moses wrote something". The "book of the covenant" is mentioned in verse 7, but only in the context of being read aloud.

    Ex 34:27 - Moses writes "the book of the covenant", identified with the ten commandments.

    Numbers 33:2 - Moses is said to have written about the "going out" of the Israelites at and after the exodus, though this writing isn't identified with the book of Exodus. The author of the chapter then proceeds to relate the same journies. This may be a claim that Moses wrote Exodus, but it is not a specific, self-referencing claim that would be evidence of Moses' authorship. At most, it is only evidence that there was a tradition of Moses authorship of Exodus. We are looking for a claim to the effect that "Moses wrote this". That would be evidence of Mosaic authorship. There is no such claim in the Pentateuch. In this case, it is unclear whether we even have a reference of "Moses wrote that" where the "that" is part of the Pentateuch.

    Deut 31:9, 22, 24 - Actually, this entire chapter claims that a certain song or law had already been written by Moses, that it was the song and law presented in that chapter, and that it should continue to be written, sung, and remembered. In other words, this chapter is evidence against Mosaic authorship. It is saying that "this law, and song" had already been written by Moses, and now the author is reminding his readers of it and exhorting them to continue to pass it down in this way. This is a strong indication that while the Deuteronomist thought he was relying on Moses for this chapter of his book, the book was not written by Moses. This chapter makes better sense in light of the Documentary Hypothesis which holds that 'D' wrote all of Deuteronomy, including this chapter, and the story of Moses' death and burial.

  • Many times in the rest of the Old Testament, Moses is said to have been the writer, e.g. Joshua 1:7–8; 8:32–34; Judges 3:4; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; 21:8; 2 Chronicles 25:4; Ezra 6:18; Nehemiah 8:1; 13:1; Daniel 9:11–13.

    Most or all of these verses came nearly 1,000 years after the time that Moses would have lived, and might easily have relied on the same tradition. In fact, it is thought that 'D' wrote parts or all of Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Kings in the 6th century BCE. They only testify to the existence of the tradition that the Pentateuch was written by Moses, and such traditions themselves are poor evidence.

    Many people take these passages of the Old Testament as being true on faith. If they accept the truth of these passages on faith, then their belief in Mosaic authorship comes from faith. That isn't evidence, and should not be presented as such. That's the bait and switch again. Whatever your thoughts on whether faith is valid in its own right, faith and evidence are two entirely distinct things.

  • In the New Testament, Jesus frequently spoke of Moses’ writings or the Law of Moses, e.g. Matthew 8:4; 19:7–8; Mark 7:10; 12:26; Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:46–47; 7:19. Jesus said that those who ‘hear not [i.e. reject] Moses’ would not be persuaded ‘though one rose from the dead’ (Luke 16:31). Thus we see that those churches and seminaries which reject the historicity of Moses’ writings often also reject the literal bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Once again, the authors of the New Testament were two millenia removed from the nominal lifetime of Moses, and relied on Old Testament traditions to accept Mosaic authorship. Once again, this is a matter of faith, not evidence. There is also an attempt to paint the mainline and liberal seminaries and congregations that accept the Documentary Hypothesis with a very broad brush of ad hominem. The suggestion is that if one rejects Mosaic authorship, one is likely to reject the resurrection of Christ, and go to hell for it. The fact is that the mainline churches that accept JEDP also believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Only the very liberal ones reject that.

    More importantly, it is this point that is most illustrative of the love of Christianity above truth. You must believe that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, not because it is true or because there is evidence for it, but because you must not disagree with the words that the gospel authors attribute to Jesus and Paul. You must believe the Bible. You must love Christianity better than truth.

  • Other New Testament speakers/writers said the same thing, e.g. John 1:17; Acts 6:14; 13:39; 15:5; 1 Corinthians 9:9; 2 Corinthians 3:15; Hebrews 10:28.

    Again, this is a matter of faith, not evidence. Now we have seen each of six points purporting to be evidence that Moses authored the Pentateuch, and we have seen that not one of them actually supports the proposition! In fact the only evidence that Moses wrote the pentateuch is that there was an Israelite tradition to that effect at some point after the time that Moses would have lived.

    I had intended to proceed and cover the positive evidence for the contrary: that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, and that the Pentateuch is the product of more than one persons', largely produced long after Moses would have lived. I can see, though, that I am running long on my sermon, and I know you are all ancient to get out to the restaraunts before they get too crowded. I will pick this topic up again next Sunday. Brother Mike, would you go ahead and lead the altar call?

    ::

    Posted by smijer at August 8, 2004 11:19 AM
  • Comments

    Dr. George Wald, Nobel prize winning Biochemist from Harvard, commenting on the impossibility of life spontaneously arising from non-life, said, "That leads us to only one other conclusion, that of supernatural creation. But we cannot accept that on philosophical grounds. Therefore, we choose to believe the impossible, that life arose spontaneously by chance."

    Thanks to Horizonsnet.Org

    univar.jpg Posted by Jadarm on August 8, 2004 03:11 PM
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    Only problem is that horizonsnet.org didn't quote Dr. Wald very accurately. Anytime you see a reputable scientist being quoted as saying something that seems:
    a. in direct contradiction to neo-darwinistic theory of the development of life or current understanding of the age of the earth or any other scientific issue that is of special interest to religious people, or
    b. supports mainstream scientific thinking but does so in a way to leave science and scientists looking absurd,

    then there is a very strong chance that your quotation was either fabricated, misquoted, or quoted out of context in a way that distorts the meaning of the scientist. Creationists are famous for this bit of deception. When your position is contradicted so strongly by the evidence, about the only other option is prevarication.

    "Quote-mining", as this creationist practice is called, is so widespread, that people concerned about the truth in science have gone to the effort of setting up a database of common instances. The Wald quote is number 57 in the database. It is in section 1-4, first quote on the page, where it is discussed in detail, and the problem of the origin of life is separately discussed. The actual quote is much longer, as follows:

    The great idea emerges originally in the consciousness of the race as a vague intuition; and this is the form it keeps, rude and imposing, in myth, tradition and poetry. This is its core, its enduring aspect. In this form science finds it, clothes it with fact, analyses its content, develops its detail, rejects it, and finds it ever again. In achieving the scientific view, we do not ever wholly lose the intuitive, the mythological. Both have meaning for us, and neither is complete without the other. The Book of Genesis contains still our poem of the Creation; and when God questions Job out of the whirlwind, He questions us.
    Let me cite an example. Throughout our history we have entertained two kinds of views of the origin of life: one that life was created supernaturally, the other that it arose "spontaneously" from nonliving material. In the 17th to 19th centuries those opinions provided the ground of a great and bitter controversy. There came a curious point, toward the end of the 18th century, when each side of the controversy was represented by a Roman Catholic priest. The principle opponent of the theory of the spontaneous generation was then the Abbe Lazzaro Spallanzani, an Italian priest; and its principal champion was John Turberville Needham, an English Jesuit.
    Since the only alternative to some form of spontaneous generation is a belief in supernatural creation, and since the latter view seems firmly implanted in the Judeo-Christian theology, I wondered for a time how a priest could support the theory of spontaneous generation. Needham tells one plainly. The opening paragraphs of the Book of Genesis can in fact be reconciled with either view. In its first account of Creation, it says not quite that God made living things, but He commanded the earth and waters to produce them. The language used is: "let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life.... Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind." In the second version of creation the language is different and suggests a direct creative act: "And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air...." In both accounts man himself--and woman--are made by God's direct intervention. The myth itself therefore offers justification for either view. Needham took the position that the earth and waters, having once been ordered to bring forth life, remained ever after free to do so; and this is what we mean by spontaneous generation.
    This great controversy ended in the mid-19th century with the experiments of Louis Pasteur, which seemed to dispose finally of the possibility of spontaneous generation. For almost a century afterward biologists proudly taught their students this history and the firm conclusion that spontaneous generation had been scientifically refuted and could not possibly occur. Does this mean that they accepted the alternative view, a supernatural creation of life? Not at all. They had no theory of the origin of life, and if pressed were likely to explain that questions involving such unique events as origins and endings have no place in science.
    A few years ago, however, this question re-emerged in a new form. Conceding that spontaneous generation doe not occur on earth under present circumstances, it asks how, under circumstances that prevailed earlier upon this planet, spontaneous generation did occur and was the source of the earliest living organisms. Within the past 10 years this has gone from a remote and patchwork argument spun by a few venturesome persons--A. I. Oparin in Russia, J. B. S. Haldane in England--to a favored position, proclaimed with enthusiasm by many biologists.
    Have I cited here a good instance of my thesis? I had said that in these great questions one finds two opposed views, each of which is periodically espoused by science. In my example I seem to have presented a supernatural and a naturalistic view, which were indeed opposed to each other, but only one of which was ever defended scientifically. In this case it would seem that science has vacillated, not between two theories, but between one theory and no theory.
    That, however, is not the end of the matter. Our present concept of the origin of life leads to the position that, in a universe composed as ours is, life inevitably arises wherever conditions permit. We look upon life as part of the order of nature. It does not emerge immediately with the establishment of that order; long ages must pass before [page 100 | page 101] it appears. Yet given enough time, it is an inevitable consequence of that order. When speaking for myself, I do not tend to make sentences containing the word God; but what do those persons mean who make such sentences? They mean a great many different things; indeed I would be happy to know what they mean much better than I have yet been able to discover. I have asked as opportunity offered, and intend to go on asking. What I have learned is that many educated persons now tend to equate their concept of God with their concept of the order of nature. This is not a new idea; I think it is firmly grounded in the philosophy of Spinoza. When we as scientists say then that life originated inevitably as part of the order of our universe, we are using different words but do not necessary mean a different thing from what some others mean who say that God created life. It is not only in science that great ideas come to encompass their own negation. That is true in religion also; and man's concept of God changes as he changes.

    So back in horizonsnet.org's face.. booyah.

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 8, 2004 05:05 PM
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    Few things:

    I'm not comfortable with your fundamental assumption of religion/Christianity in disjunct/competition with some general body of "Truth". I think you fail to see the epistemic problem through on down to its depths. "knowing" that your wife/mother/father loves you is as difficult a proposition to prove/determine with anythign approaching an objective and failsafe methodology as "God Exists" is via any of the classic arguments.

    Problem is, I think, that the Enlightenment methodologies you hold to, at least MAY hold to as I'm "reading between the lines" are, if held to the same standards by which you may or my not hold Christianity/Religion, just as slippery.

    All that to say, I think a radical new approach to epistemology & "knowing" is needed.

    I walk out the door and see a world that I don't understand, that I can't put together in my own head, but yet somehow manages to keep on going. It follows, for me, that somebody or something far smarter & powerful is running this confusing show. My faith doesn't "rest" on this, by any means, nor do I think this argument (and I don't intend it to be one) should automatically make sense to anyone else (and if it doesn't, they're somehow fallacious), but I think it should be representative of the *competing* mindsets.

    univar.jpg Posted by JosiahQ on August 9, 2004 11:03 AM
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    JosiahQ,

    Some reasonable questions from you. I have tried to sit down with a book or two about epistemology, and/or about unifying forms of knowledge based on "enlightenment methodologies" as you put it. The problem is that I quickly get bored and tired of the formalism.

    Except when I make mistakes, I am most often trying to work from a post-enlightenment epistemology starting with two axioms:
    1) Our senses are generally reliable
    2) The world can be understood on some levels

    I then proceed with a four stage method...
    1) notice something interesting
    2) use my imagination (or someone else's in the form of stories they tell me) to try and explain it.
    3) make sure the explanation adequately answers the question.
    4) check explanation for predictive power and for potential falsification.

    If the explanation carries substantial predictive power and (more importantly) resists efforts at falsification without ad hoc justification, then I have confidence in it.

    I do not always carry through these steps on a conscious level. The idea that my head hurts because my wife just whacked me with the rolling pin is not very controversial, and doesn't take a lot of thought.

    Sometimes, as we do well to be aware, our own reaction to a thing will effect its outcome. I don't often get radiation from the television because I don't often watch television (not because television doesn't put off radiation).

    The methodology I have described is very similar to the one most people use for most of their decisions, unless they have a strong emotional attachment which sometimes leads them astray. The genius of the enlightenment was not that Gallileo and Newton invented science -- it is that they finally realized that with care, rigor, and a good imagination the same methods that work for everyday decisions can apply to practically any question about the world we live in.

    And those methods can give me answers with a degree of certainty about whether my mother, father, or wife loves me. It isn't failsafe. I could be fooled. Particularly, since "love" can be thought of as a purely subjective state of mind, it requires a degree of intersubjective observation - one must "compare notes" with others who feel the emotion to correlate the behavioral evidence with the emotion we associate with it. Now we can have a good enough degree of confidence that our wife loves us to marry her, and turn our back on her when we sleep from my methodology.

    When we apply this method to ask about the existence of God, we only get the silence in reply. We can imagine a God, but we can't make any useful predictions based on the theory (though sometimes we cheat and use knowledge gained in the ordinary way that we relate to our religion, and make some unsurprising predictions). We can imagine a God, but the idea only resists falsification because it doesn't make any useful predictions. We can test other religious ideas, too... For instance, "God is good" (or to those who have yet to make the leap of faith to the existence of God, "If there is a God, God is all-good"). Those premises often only resist falsification because they are insulated by ad hoc premises such as "God's ways are ineffable".

    So, the same epistemic method that allows our scientists and technologists to understand nature and manipulate it in ways that truly would have seemed miraculous to our ancestors is also good enough to give us answers we can have confidence in about the love of our family... but somehow the most important entity in the universe, and all things directly related to him are invisible to that method.

    I was careful in my post to leave open the question that religion and truth might actually be compatible... However it is in religion that we are most likely see clear instances of disregard for the truth out of love for belief. The people who insist that the Bible is without error, or that the universe is only 6000 years old are clear examples. My post is part of a challenge to others, who believe that God must have blood before he is able to forgive, or that God tortures some people forever to examine whether they are more dedicated to religion or to truth.

    I do appreciate your thoughtful comment, though... I see you are local to here, so maybe I've just made a new blogo-friend... I'll be browsing your blog later on...

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 9, 2004 12:31 PM
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    Smijer, it would be simply nit-picking to point out that your two-axiom, four stage method is *very* enlightenment, in fact in some ways it seems representative of the "high-water" mark of enlightenment epistemology as represented in Hume (although it being the high-water mark is just my opinion).

    I am curious as to your method; it sounds really interesting. I've got a few questions & observation:

    1. You'd need to include your mental faculties (imagination) & those of other people (at least in the "general reliability of the mental faculties" sense) as an additional axiom if step 2 of your method is to generate something approximating truth. Step 1 of your method I can see, for the most part, following from axiom 1, but axiom 2 assumes step 2 (along with the existence of minds and other minds) to the point where step 2 doesn't follow from axiom 2 (certainly not in a formal or informal sense), and would need to be assumed.

    2. You do realize though, that your axioms/method are wide open to the "evil demon" hypothesis, and that you cannot, with any certainty, be certain that there is anything outside of your own mind.

    3. It is true that in the modern world, the break with the medieval world was such that it gave birth to modern science, and mankind finally being allowed to attempt at understanding and usefullness of the world never before conceived of. But it would be a lack of careful study, or it would be dishonest, to not also point out that with the birth of the age of reason, or modern science, that as Foucault points out in "Madness & Civilization" there also came the birth of madness and insanity. As the West tossed off the bonds of a semi-gnostic church, it also lost any point of referent for who and what a human being was. If you'll grant Christianity anything (or religion in general), its that it does have some pretty concrete things to say about who and what we are as human beings. When the West chucked the Church, it really was a throwing out of any and all foundations, heck, it was their central conceit.

    But I want to be clear when I say I think the medieval church was wrong, and that there was an unhelpful commitment to deductive knowledge as opposed to inductive knowledge (scientific method). But I do want to note that even Francis Bacon, father of modern philosophy and the new scientific method, said you couldn't have the inductive method & modern science without the foundation and grounding of the deductive world.

    which brings me to 4.

    You make a leap, and one I think is false, from thinking that the scientific method can tell you, with adequate certainty, that your wife loves you. I'd contest, that given enough examination, there'd be a foundational faith-commitment on your part that your wife does love you. The evidence points that direction of course, and sometimes it doesn't, but at a certain level you choose to believe your wife loves you, especially when things are rough and difficult.

    But I want to go further and expound on something I touched on earlier. The scientific method is woefully inept at telling us about the best stuff of life. Sure, the scientific method can help us come up with incredible medical techniques or great technological discoveries, but it doesn't tell us why we should care or why it should matter, or for that matter, why we should think the scientific method itself is itself true. On its own terms, the scientific method may have the potential to be applied to do some incredible things, but it doesn't, in and of itself, tell a particular scientist in a particular place why he should even try it.

    My point being that for whatever reason, for a dang long time, people for the most point have recognized the need for something beyond the mere material & physical. When folks have its given us the most beautiful things in life: Shakespear, Mother Theresa, the eradication of Small Pox, free form Jazz, etc. etc. etc.

    Anyways, all that to say, we could probably have some good discussion on just how old is the earth and what does Scripture say on that matter, but that's an issue Christians themselves debate, at do not have consensus on; but it isn't required to BE a Christian.

    My point being, when I walk out my front door, I see an interesting and compelling world, and the only thing in my imagination and limited experience that can even begin to explain anything, is the existence of something much bigger than the mere material or created, and for me that's Christianity. I feel it adequately answers the question, and heck, if there's anything out there that has some of the most insanely and wrongly abused predictive power, its gotten be Christianity. I think that's something both you and I would agree on.

    Anyways! Great talking, I'm back to work!

    univar.jpg Posted by JosiahQ on August 9, 2004 04:07 PM
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    Interesting again... I guess I'll just have to push the work to one side... I'm going to have to resort to that tedious usenet format to hold up my end at this point. I guess that's how you know its getting interesting...

    Anyhow, I don't identify my views with enlightenment philosophy, even though I have no doubt that they are at least dependent upon it. If it's enlightenment, then it's enlightenment.. I won't argue it.

    I do see your point that inductive reasoning must have a deductive foundation. I flatter myself that my methodology is informally grounded in a deductive philosophy. I'll address a couple of specific concerns now:

    You'd need to include your mental faculties (imagination) & those of other people (at least in the "general reliability of the mental faculties" sense) as an additional axiom if step 2 of your method is to generate something approximating truth. Step 1 of your method I can see, for the most part, following from axiom 1, but axiom 2 assumes step 2 (along with the existence of minds and other minds) to the point where step 2 doesn't follow from axiom 2 (certainly not in a formal or informal sense), and would need to be assumed.

    For economy, I have let "general reliability of mental faculties" follow from the "the world can be understood on some levels". Without generally reliable mental faculties, then it would be impossible to understand the world. On the other hand, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to propose

    You do realize though, that your axioms/method are wide open to the "evil demon" hypothesis, and that you cannot, with any certainty, be certain that there is anything outside of your own mind.

    Yes and no. That remains a possibility, but my system holds the absence of an evil demon as axiomatic... Actually, both of my axioms rule it out. I understand that my axioms may be wrong, but I can take what I jokingly call Nihil's wager.

    there also came the birth of madness and insanity.
    I can only assume you are speaking metaphorically on this point, but I'm not sure what the point of the metaphor is. Since I can't noodle that out, I'll just point out that, taken literally, it is somewhat incorrect - the birth of reason didn't bring the birth of madness - it brought the recognistion of that condition. If I do weakly see your point, it is that you feel that "the world went mad"... that the new exponential increase in our ability to reshape our environment amplified the poor choices and madness we already had as a species.
    When the West chucked the Church, it really was a throwing out of any and all foundations, heck, it was their central conceit.

    I would have to know what you mean by this. The central conceit of the Church was that it was the only foundation (for morality, for instance)... when the West examined the churh's claim using enlightenment thinking, it found the claim wanting (to the extent that we can collectively speak about the West, anyway). That did not necessarily entail throwing out any and all foundations (for morality, for instance)... it simply threw out the one that it had concluded was bogus. And the sky didn't fall. The church called (and continues, in more sophisticated ways) to call foul, reminding us how much we have to have a standard, and guess what they have in their pocket. The fact that the sky didn't fall when we kicked the legs from the church led some to speculate that such standards were nothing more than empty props (Paine). It led others to come crawling, begging, back to the church asking to repackage it's standard in a way that could survive in the presence of reason (Calvin). Others went out in search of better standards (Emerson).

    I identify most with Paine on this subject. I've encountered Euthyphro's dilemma a couple of times, seen apologists attempts to poke holes in it, and have come to the conclusion that there isn't much advantage to be had with objective standards of morality. Our values are dynamic and informed primarily by our biology, and they usually work fine, especially when given the proper nourishment of mutual consensus and enforcement.

    You make a leap, and one I think is false, from thinking that the scientific method can tell you, with adequate certainty, that your wife loves you. I'd contest, that given enough examination, there'd be a foundational faith-commitment on your part that your wife does love you. The evidence points that direction of course, and sometimes it doesn't, but at a certain level you choose to believe your wife loves you, especially when things are rough and difficult.

    I think you are unwittingly making an improper appeal to emotion here. I think we are all inclined to trust the love of our spouse beyond what reason and experience properly allow. I'm sure I do it myself, from time to time. That doesn't make that extra confidence warranted, though. And, the simple fact is that when the evidence starts pointing to real problems, it can actually be a kind of sickness to ignore what the evidence says in favor of that non-rational confidence tells us.

    but it doesn't tell us why we should care or why it should matter, or for that matter, why we should think the scientific method itself is itself true.

    That's my point above.. we don't have to be told why we care... we do care. You pointed out yourself that science must be deductively grounded. Since we care, and we have deductive reasons to trust science, and since science provides us with such satisfying and useful answers about how the world works, we use it.

    My point being that for whatever reason, for a dang long time, people for the most point have recognized the need for something beyond the mere material & physical. When folks have its given us the most beautiful things in life: Shakespear, Mother Theresa, the eradication of Small Pox, free form Jazz, etc. etc. etc.

    I don't think that the second follows from the first. I think that Shakespeare, the eradication of Small Pox, free form Jazz, etc. is precisely the result of people apply themselves toward fulfilling their own (and others') inborn or socially inculcated values. They do so more effectively with the aid of knowledge, but these pursuits are not "recognition of a mysterious and unknowable other", but just "recognition of other, and our own relationship to it", together with our cultural and individual values.

    if there's anything out there that has some of the most insanely and wrongly abused predictive power, its gotten be Christianity. I think that's something both you and I would agree on.
    It looks like it is going to be difficult for us to find things that we can fully agree on. I agree that Christianity has sometimes been abused in ways its founders never intended. I disagree that it has significant primary predictive power. It may coopt the predictive power of common sense, and it may make a few trivial predictions, but nothing like the predictive power of science. If you disagree, just try to use it to make useful predictions.

    In fact, I would even disagree that Christianity adequately explains the mysteries of the world... I would say that, instead, it takes the mysteries of the world and explains them using a God who is completely beyond comprehension. We still don't understand it, but now it is God we don't understand instead of the world. I don't think there is any significant reduction in mystery. If anything, given puzzles like the problem of evil, I would say that there is a net increase in the mysteries when Christianity is given as the explanation... not adequate at all, to me. Others see it differently, or are simply more comfortable with the ineffability of God than the ineffability of existence.

    Anyways! Great talking, I'm back to work!

    Now! There's something we can agree on. I'm enjoying this talk more than I've enjoyed a discussion in a long time... now I've got to get back to work myself.

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 9, 2004 06:46 PM
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    hello. I got here via a link from Josiah's blog and was pleased to find an interesting conversation going on. mind if I join in?

    In the post, you criticized Christians for believing without evidence that the Penateuch was writen by Moses. Yet in one of your most polemically charged paragraphs, you provided something that the Christian would regard as evidence for Mosaic authorship.

    "You must believe that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, not because it is true or because there is evidence for it, but because you must not disagree with the words that the gospel authors attribute to Jesus and Paul. You must believe the Bible. You must love Christianity better than truth."

    The NT teaches that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. If the Bible is the word of God, then that's pretty good evidence for Mosaic authorship. In other words, Christians believe in Mosaic authorship precisely because they think it's true, because it follows from something else that they think is true.

    I presume your response will be that the Christian belief in the inspiration of scripture is itself not based on evidence.

    But first, why is this a problem? You tacitly admitted, I think, that your axioms are not based on evidence, and yet you believe them. So you admit that it's OK to believe some things without evidence? Why can't it be an axiom that the Bible is the word of God? It's not self-evident of course; it's not even logically necessary, but then neither are your axioms.

    Second, there is evidence for the inspiration of scripture. In fact we can get there using your method. 0) there is evidence that the gospel accounts paint a relatively accurate picture of who Jesus was and what he said. 1) here is something interesting: a man who seemed to be solidly Jewish in his religion, and yet spoke of himself as being and doing things that, for Jews of the time, could only be done by God. Moreover, his claims were credible, in the sense that he exhibited the kind of countercultural goodness that gets more and more astonishing the more you look at it. In addition to all this, he seemed to have the same character--fierce yet gentle, commanding and self-assured yet jealous, full of pity yet innexorably just--that comes across in the OT as the character of the God of Israel. He also claims that he will be killed and then rise from the dead. After he is crucified, a number of people have some experiences where it seems to them that they see and touch and talk with and eat with Jesus. Also the tomb was empty (without these, it's hard to explain certain things about why the accounts were writen in the way they were). 2) explanatory hypothesis: Jesus was indeed the God of Israel and was raised from the dead. 3) this adequately answers our question of why Jesus did and said the things he did, and why people responded in the ways they did. 4) we find no serious falsification in our study of history. 5) since Jesus treated the OT as inspired, and authorized his apostles to speak for him, we can conclude that the Bible is the word of God.

    Yes, I skipped a lot of steps. My point is not that the evidence offered above is sufficietly good evidence to support the belief. My point is simply that it's wrong to say there is no evidence at all for the inspiration of scripture.

    But I think the more important problem is the first one. It doesn't make sense to criticize Christians simply for believing things without evidence, when you admit that it's OK to believe some things without evidence. Now, if you can explain why belief in the inspiration of scripture is the sort of belief that, unlike your axioms, shouldn't be believed without evidence, then you might have an argument. But I couldn't find that in your post.

    Like Josiah, I disagree with your epistemology (although I wouldn't call it Humean). But I don't want to argue about that, because it seems to me that even if your epistemology is correct, it doesn't provide any grounds for criticizing Christianity. I don't actually justify my own beliefs in the ways spelled out above, because I don't myself see any need to make my beliefs fit the kind of epistemology you spelled out. But even if your epistemology is the right one, it seems easy enough to justify the inspiration of scripture by giving it the same epistemic status as the beliefs that our senses are generally reliable and that the world can be understood on some level.

    univar.jpg Posted by chris on August 12, 2004 10:22 AM
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    After posting my comment, I noticed the stuff on Morphemics. I apologize for the redundancy. Kevin, like Josiah, has gone after your epistemology. I still think my strategy is less complicated. On Morphemics, you suggested a reason why it can’t be an axiom that the Bible is inspired–namely that it’s not economical. I'll respond to this on my own blog (this is a link)

    univar.jpg Posted by chris on August 12, 2004 01:02 PM
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    Smijer, my response is below. Sorry its taken me a couple days. I've been busy with work.

    I am very curious as to why you think your axioms rule out the evil deamon hypothosis. This would be quite the accomplishment, and quite novel today. Not that I think you're wrong given its novelty, just that I don't see how formally it rules out the evil deamon. But again they ARE axioms: taken by faith.

    Concerning the age of modern science as the age of madness: no, I'm not speaking metaphorically, I'm speaking statistically and historically. It may be the product of a combination of factors, but with the birth of modern science, there arose sanitariums, insane assylums, and Don Quixote, the ultimate parody of the Modern Man. Again, I suggest picking up Madness & Civilization by Foucault (a French philosophy & author, gay, and very anti-Christian, for the record).

    My central point and thesis against the *system* of Modern Science, an ultimate source of truth & Life is Walker Percy's. He states in "Love in the Ruins": "(the) dread chasm that has rent the soul of Western man ever since the famous philosopher Descartes ripped body lose from mind and turned the very soul into a ghost that haunts its own house."

    I find, personally, Modern Science to be all great and good; that it has been an amazing *tool*, but its just that, a tool, and give no reason for why the tool should matter, why its "good", why any of its products are "good", and nor does it ultimately give us all the great and beautiful and interesting things that make life have any meaning. Sure, one can look at the scientific method, and say in particular be amazed at nuclear physics or molecular biology, but I'd contest that said amazement and the consequent value of physics, molecular biology, or science proper comes outside of the science.

    Point being that I find Modern Science, as a contained insitution, to be quite, well, vacuous. It speaks nothing to the human condition, to the everyday real-life struggles of anyone. Ya, laser surgery repairing corneas is awesome, but it doesn't say anything to the recipient of the laser surgery, and it doesn't answer, at any point, on any issue "why?"

    But, you did make the point that the fact exists that we DO care, and that's good enough for you. I suppose that's fine, but that does set you apart from most folks throughout history, the seekers, who see beauty in a sunset, or laser surgery, and want to know why? Who still think its an important and profound question to ask why anything exists at all. Why being and not non-being?

    Its not that I think the scientific method is wrong, I just think to lives ones life solely according to its structures and limits is life-squelching, incomplete, and isn't, in actuality, even possible, if only because one assumes modern science by faith anyways.

    Of course, this DOES sound like an intensely emotional appeal, but it doesn't violate any of your axioms.

    univar.jpg Posted by JosiahQ on August 12, 2004 04:07 PM
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    Chris & JosiahQ...

    Chris, thanks for dropping in. I have looked at your angle on this discussion at your blog. This discussion has obviously overflowed the limits of what a comment thread on Moveable Yype can handle. I am going to try to bundle a response to you, Kevin, Josiah and other interested parties with the second installment of my Documentary Hypothesis sermon this Sunday. That should be quite a task!

    JosiahQ,
    Thanks for spending your time talking to a crotchety old skeptic like me. I understand time constraints. It gets crazy sometimes!

    The appeals you are making appear (with one exception) to be appeals to values. You can address the question of why we have values, or why things are beautiful or compelling to us scientifically. As a matter of fact, that is one field that is very ripe for some serious study, and I am extremely interested to see some of the answers to those questions as they emerge. However, even before we find the answers to those questions, it is quite enough for our purposes to recognize that we have them. We can be moved by beauty without knowing the biochemical basis for our awe. We can protect the innocent and demand fairness in our dealings without understanding exactly why, from a historical perspective, those things are important to us. We can recognize our values without fully understanding why we hold them. Ultimately, I don't think we can change our values. We may change our ideas about what actions are consistent with our values, but I believe our values themselves are quite out of reach.

    The one exception I mentioned is your appeal to an answer for "why being instead of non-being"? If I seem fatalistic about this question it is because it seems so far out of reach. It's a question that no one from Aristotle to Hawking, or Augustine to Kierkegaard, has gotten even the most tenuous hold on. I would love to understand why being instead of non-being, but I can see no hope for answering it.

    I say spend the bulk of our time working on all the marvelous puzzles in front of us that we can perceive some small hope of solving.

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 12, 2004 06:01 PM
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