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« Links Mentioned on the Show | Main | Moore: Judgment Houses Miss the Mark »

October 24, 2011

Comments

I can barely hear it.

But if Jesus is celebrating an event which never took place with His disciples how then can He be the Son of God? Shouldn't He of all people know if this happend or not? Maybe I miss understood something here but this answer isn't making a whole of sense to me. Doesn't it also undermine the credibilty of the scriptures as a whole as the scripture does say this happend. If it didn't how can we say that the passover didn't happen and that is ok but the resurrection did happen for they are both contained in the scriptures. How can we trust the one and not the other? Again I'm sure I must of missed something here.

Hi Damian, no you haven't missed anything. I'm sure you will agree that you've olny begun to scratch the surface of all the serious implications that would do damage to the whole biblical revelation if something so significant is dismissed. Good on you for that.

Let's see----3,000 years later some pointed headed academics, thru their superior intellect, figure that the Passover didn't happen because logically speaking it makes sense to them. Do they have real evidence or is this based on assumption after assumption?

I don't know Les. How about you investigate it instead of dismissing out of hand.

The fact that we all need to come to grips with is that Les' "pointy-headed academics" are VERY good at what they do. The reason (the only significant reason, as far as I am concerned) that "liberal" scholars (in other words, "scholars") say the things that they do is that it is in accordance with the overwhelming amount of evidence available to us today. No one who does not subscribe to a certain inerrantist understanding of the inspiration of scripture believes that the passover happened. There simply is no evidence of it, and there are plenty of internal difficulties with the story itself (not least of which is the portrayal of God our Father slaughtering children for the sins of their fathers).

For myself, I am comfortable allowing discoveries made by our best groups of specialists to affect the way I understand inspiration. There is plenty of room to submit to the scriptures, to acknowledge them as containing the Word of God, and to regard them as authoritative for the Church while at the same time denying the historicity of the Passover. If there were not, then in my view the Church would be in a lot of trouble.

Arnauld-

I used to work with those pointy headed scholars. Some are indeed very good at what they do...mostly the ones in the 'hard' sciences. Those in the Humanities...not as much. Many of them that I met were as dumb as a bag of hammers. But many of them, probably a majority) were reasonably intelligent people. Even this better sort said things and had attitudes that made them seem dumber than most of the undergrads they taught. And the theologians were the worst.

The problem is that there's a natural tendency in all of academia to make outrageous claims. This is how you advance your career. I once overheard David Lewis (an Analytic Philosopher of some note in the late 20th century) say that a good strategy for advancement is to find the most counter-intuitive claim that you can just barely defend and then build a career arguing for it.

The problem is, most of these barely defensible claims are barely defensible because they're rather idiotic.

In the hard sciences, there is this terrible enemy that restrains the Lewis strategy: the real world. The more immediate the push-back is, the harder it is for your careerism to go off the rails. So we see very little of it in Physics and Chemistry. And even when it does happen, it's quickly reined in (remember Cold Fusion?).

Theologians don't face that 'problem'. God will let you say whatever you please about Him no matter how dumb it is.

In between, Archaeologists, Historians and so forth have less direct push-back from the world, so they are 'at risk' for attacks of the stupids.

Well, there is one other source of push-back for scholars...and that's other scholars.

But that just means that your views are subject to the prejudices of the others in your field. So David Lewis was only half right about how to advance. You defend the barely defensible, yes. But it also has to play into the prejudices of other scholars. It can't go against them.

This is why, Arnauld, you equated "liberal scholar" and "scholar" as if there could be no such a thing as a conservative scholar. That's almost true, because conservative scholarship, at least in the Humanities, will not be allowed to exist at most colleges and universities. You will see departments hiring manifestly less qualified and even stupid candidates because those candidates have proper opinions. Maybe they'll couch this idiocy in the language of choosing the candidate who is the best 'fit'.

So conservative scholarship is not less valuable, it's just that at most colleges and universities, it runs contrary to the prevailing academic prejudice.

Here's a thought experiment:

Assistant Professor John Smith wants to advance in academia, so he takes Lewis' advice and advocates the highly controversial view that Jesus was in fact, a lesbian.

Assistant Professor Jack Black (from the same University as Smith) also wants to advance and also takes Lewis' advice. He puts forward the argument that the Biblical story of Noah's Ark actually happened.

Who gets published? Who gets tenure?

So sorry, no sale on the appeal to authority for the liberal scholars. They're really not all that. They're mostly reasonably intelligent people who have every incentive to use their intelligence to say and defend the stupidest things so long as they are heretical or tend to undercut Christianity.

WL

I appreciate the thoughts. I am not at all unaware of the biases and political maneuvering that go on in all academic departments, but I still don't think the pessimism is warranted. Yes, a radically counter-intuitive idea that turns out to (surprisingly) be somewhat defensible might attract a lot of attention - but only in the short term. Academics are just as fickle as everyone else and such 'fads' do not have any staying power in the Academy. The hypothesis that Jesus was a lesbian might raise a few curious eyebrows initially, but it would most assuredly end up on the trash heap in a very short time. In contrast, those hypothesis that survive many years of scrutiny and criticism are, in my opinion, representative of the best we have to go on. Another way to forge your career in Academia is to demonstrate the falsity of popular theories; this is why silly theories based on nothing but conjecture simply do not survive.

The theory that the Passover, more or less as described in Exodus, never happened is an established theory that has survived decades of scrutiny and is accepted by almost all scholars except those who reject it only for doctrinal reasons. I don't think this claim is terribly controversial. What it amounts to is that IF one does not take the story in Exodus to be God-revealed Truth, accurate in all its details, one would never conclude that the Passover happened just by taking into account all of the relevant data available to us now. The only reason to believe in the historicity of the story is a particular view of inspiration that demands it. In any case, the reasons for thinking that it did not happen are worth taking seriously, and we are not warranted in dismissing them simply because of conspiracy theories we hold about Academia. I entirely agree with you about the need for caution about simply accepting the consensus of liberal scholarship on their authority alone, but discernment also cautions against over-reacting on the other side and dismissing all the results as products of an anti-religious bias. Just consider the effects throughout the history of the Church of our digging our heels in against the established opinion of the Academic community. It has never worked out well for us. In fact, I would go further and claim that our defensive reaction has severely crippled our ability to be God's witness to the world.

I retract my implication that liberal scholars are all the scholars that there are - that was unfair. There are some excellent scholars with conservative religious views. The problem in my opinion is that conservative views about the inspiration of scripture all too easily lead one into a defensive position of 'holding the fort' against those who deny their views. This position is very difficult to combine with a genuine commitment to following the best evidence wherever it leads. We've been over this stuff before and don't need to get into it again; hence my retraction.

This is not about conspiracy theories. It's an argument about academic prejudice

The problem is that the "Jesus is a lesbian" theory may get knocked over, but not until Heretic-Smith has tenure and is in a position to decide who else will get tenure. And just to be clear, it's not going to be Orthodox-Black. It's never going to be Orthodox-Black, not unless Black wins the lottery and gets one of the few chairs that conservative scholars can have...either at a fortress college or in token-capacity elsewhere.

The only reason to believe in the historicity of the story is a particular view of inspiration that demands it.

This is quite an overstatement Arnauld. It suggests that you have some insight into the minds of anyone who trusts the biblical account/record whether or not they claim it to be inspired. Maybe some of those have reason to trust the biblical record as a whole because they are convinced by prophetic accuracy, or others because of internal witness, or even just a simple mistrust of "pointy headed scholars" whose record[s] are generally and shamefully abismal when contradicting the Bible.

Thanks for a thorough response W/L, I got quite a lot from what you had to say regarding your experiences.

Arnauld,

Could you point me to where I could take a look at the "overwhelming evidence" proving the Passover in Exodus was not recounting some kind of actual historical event?

I am sympathetic to your difficulty with squaring the death of the firstborn with the demonstrated character of God depicted in the story of Jesus. The precise nature of the inspiration of Scripture is also a source of much disagreement. Inerrancy, of course, is a much qualified and slippery concept.

I'm not sure why we get worked up over the deaths of the firstborn in the Passover story. As if God is doing something evil by sending out His angel to kill them.

Everyone dies. The angel comes for everyone.

Now, perhaps the universal fact of death is an instance of evil that needs to be grappled with by believers in the only Good God. But the Passover story does not raise any special moral issues.

OK speaking of "pointy headed academics" anyone know who Marcus Borg is? I seem him often on the "History Channel" as a Biblical expert. This "expert" believes that Jesus did not resurrect physically. Can anyone explain why he would say this based on scriptural evidence? This guy has a prejudice and it's most likely due to his political views---possibly. He's also one of the emergent church gurus.

Arnauld, I do not think, has argued that there is evidence against the Passover. I think his point is that there is no evidence for it.

This could lead us into tiresome, unenlightening, if one is intellectually honest about it, inherently inconclusive debates about the burden of proof. Arguments that really boil down to cavils about who gets to be lazy.

But it should hardly need to be mentioned that there actually is some evidence for the Passover. There's a nearly contemporaneous written account: The Book of Exodus.

The fact that Exodus records a Passover miracle is sometimes fallaciously cited by liberal scholars as a reason for not counting it as evidence. This is a truly horrible argument, but it underscores the liberal prejudice of academia. A liberal prejudice that results in bad scholarship.

Thought experiment. If there were a million independent accounts of the Passover, wouldn't that be incontrovertible evidence of the Passover, however miraculous the claim is?

So what are we to say? Is there some sacred number between one written account and one million that magically transforms non-evidence into evidence? No. Of course not. Every account is some evidence for the Passover. Adding an account cannot change the evidentiary status of another account. The new account can only add weight to (or take weight away from...if it is a contrary account) the case for the thesis.

So there is some (rather good) evidence for the Passover miracle in the form of the Book of Exodus. This is blindingly obvious unless you have an academic prejudice.

Just as an aside, I'm not sure how miraculous we have to assume that the events of the Passover were.

I don't think we have to assume that it happened the way it did in DeMille's classic: The Ten Commandments. The Bible doesn't record a killer mist going through Egypt that night.

It's a cool effect on screen. And as far as I know, it did happen that way.

But it might also be that one firstborn died of stage four cancer, another got run over by a chariot, another died of old age, another suffered crib death. And so on. It might be that it just so happened that the firstborn not behind blood-covered doors all suffered 'normal' deaths that night. It might be that the only clear miracle in the whole affair is that Moses predicted it.

So, insofar as the 'Book of Nature' has been properly read by us and counts as any evidence against the Passover. it only Moses's specific prediction that is really up for challenge.

WL is right that the evidence against the Passover's historicity is actually a lack of evidence FOR it, but I don't think this needs to lead us into any considerations about burdens of proof. The reason is this: we have a considerable amount of historical left overs from Egypt at the relevant time era. If we suppose that there did occur, around that time, all of the events told in Exodus it is wildly surprising that we have nothing but the story from the Hebrew culture. Had the waters of the Nile river (one of the largest rivers in the world) actually turned into blood, had every first born child in Egypt died in a single night, has Pharoah's entire army been wiped out by a miraculous event in the Red Sea, had 600,000 slaves (twice the estimated population of Egypt at that time) left overnight, we would expect to see some mark of it in the historical records we have.

We do not. What we have is the story we are all familiar with and nothing else. Here are two explanations of that data: A) The exodus/passover happened exactly as described in the Bible (combined with some ad hoc theory about why there is no mention of it in Egyptian history), and B.) The event did not happen, at least not exactly as described. By any measure of theory confirmation, B does much better with respect to all of our evidence than A does.

Of course, this does not mean that it is impossible that the events of Exodus happened, nor does it mean we have no reason to think they did. Given the evidential superiority of the alternate explanation, however, it does mean that one's reasons for holding to the historicity of the Passover are almost all theological, which was all I was saying from the beginning.

WL is going to complain that I've ignored his point that we do have a historical record of the events of the Passover - in Exodus. He might mean one of two things: 1.) The Bible is inerrant and so gives accurate information about any event it portrays as historical; or 2.) Regardless of the inspirational status of the Bible, the account contained in it about the events of the Passover constitute a good reason to think those events happened.

(1) would be clearly question begging, given this context. I don't think WL would disagree with this and that's why I think he meant something more like (2).

The problem with (2) is that the story in Exodus just does not read like a straight-up historical account. If the same story occurred in Zoroastrian literature, we would all agree that it is mere myth rather than anything to be taken with historical seriousness. We would do so even if we did not rule out the miraculous a priori, because we would recognize that there is no corroborating evidence and (this is the important point), given the wild significance to the Egyptians of the putative events, we should expect that there would be.

I will not pretend to be an expert on any of this material, and I am entirely willing to be convinced that there is more extra-biblical support for the Passover than I have been assuming. One good source, for anyone interested (one written by an evangelical, no less) is Kenton Sparks' "God's Word in Human Words".

If Egypt were a pluralistic 21st century culture, your argument from silence might have merit. How are you going to stop an event with the significance of the Passover from being recorded. In this culture, the story would be ubiquitous in an internet nano-second.

But it was not. It was a theocracy, where the king was the god. And it was a theocracy where the only one who would write about this stuff would be the king. I do not think it likely that the Pharaoh-gods of Egypt would have recorded their humiliation. I don't think this is an ad hoc answer at all.

Just to be clear, I'd bet the farm that they lost some ordinary battles, maybe even whole campaigns, that were never recorded either.

As for your two choices, 1 and 2. I did mean #2. But, for the record,#1 is not question-begging. The question before us is not whether the Bible is reliable. The question is whether the Passover occurred. The reliability of the Bible is of course relevant insofar as we are using the Bible as evidence for the event.

But isn't it patently obvious that, if one had excellent proof that the Bible were inerrant that would then make the case for the Passover stronger, not weaker

And as long as that proof did not use the occurrence of the Passover as a premise, it would beg no questions. As far as I know, no argument for the inerrancy of Scripture does use the premise that the Passover occurred.

But, all I needed to mean by my claim that Exodus is evidence was #2. This is enough to undercut your contention that we have no evidence for the Passover.

Now there's this:

[T]he story in Exodus just does not read like a straight-up historical account. If the same story occurred in Zoroastrian literature, we would all agree that it is mere myth rather than anything to be taken with historical seriousness.
I'm not getting the bit about it not reading like an historical account. If the Zoroastrians had a similar story, I'd assume that they were claiming that it really happened. That doesn't mean it did, but there'd be no doubt that the Zoroastrians were claiming that it did, and their account would be some evidence for the events they describe.

The argument you give for why Exodus, or the hypothetical Zoroastrian account, doesn't read like history is based on two claims:

  1. [W]e would all agree that it is mere myth rather than anything to be taken with historical seriousness. We would do so even if we did not rule out the miraculous a priori.
  2. [W]e would recognize that there is no corroborating evidence and (this is the important point), given the wild significance to the Egyptians of the putative events, we should expect that there would be.
In your first point, you are tacitly ruling out the miraculous a priori. That's why you added the "even if" bit. You assume that, in the first instance, we all would (or should) rule the account out as a myth because of the miracles. But even if we don't do that...

I think I attacked and defeated that view above. Miraculous claims can be supported by written evidence.

On your second point, you are just repeating your argument from silence, but now not using it as evidence against the event, but as an argument for ruling out the evidence that does exist for the event.

For starters, you only get one bite from that rotten apple.

But also, it surely cannot be the case that the status, as an allegation of historical fact, of one account written by one group of people is determined or effected in any way by the absence of other accounts not written by different people.

Surely, I can tell that Thucydides was writing about something he took to be a real war between Athens and Sparta without knowing whether or not the Athenians and Spartans ever wrote anything about it. Or without knowing anything at all about Athens and Sparta other than what Thucydides tells me. And surely Thucydides' words, even in that abstracted case, are some evidence for the Peloponnesian War.

Just because I sense an objection based on source criticism coming on, allow me to anticipate it.

You might say argue that the imagined Zoroastrian account should not be accepted as evidence for the imagined Zoroastrian miracle, not because of the miraculous claim, but because the claim serves Zoroastrian interests. It is a tenet of source criticism to give greater credibility to a source who has no direct interest in creating a bias for people to believe the event being described.

This principle is an example of one of the great tools used by academics to defend the barely defensible claims that they so love. That tool is the seemingly self-evident absurdity.

Of course a disinterested source is more reliable we all think. Right? Who could deny that.

But when you think about it, what we are saying is that the most credible source is the one who doesn't care if he is believed.

I'm not sure what kind of mental illness that describes, but it certainly does not describe a reliable source. Reliable sources are always people who believe what they are saying and who want and have some interest in your believing it too.

What this 'principle' borrows its plausibility from is the credibility of the statement against interest. Interests are curious things. I can have an interest that X be true, and at the same time have an interest the X be false. We call these the pros and cons of X. On balance, I may have a significant and overarching interest that X be true. If, in spite of that, I admit that X is false, then my claim that X is false gains credibility.

It's quite reasonable to give a statement against interest greater weight. Looking for totally disinterested sources....that's another matter altogether.

The idea that religion is a separate magisterium which cannot be proven or disproven is a Big Lie - a lie which is repeated over and over again, so that people will say it without thinking; yet which is, on critical examination, simply false. It is a wild distortion of how religion happened historically, of how all scriptures present their beliefs, of what children are told to persuade them, and of what the majority of religious people on Earth still believe.

Religion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable

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