Friday, January 14, 2011

Exegeting the Book of Science

John: First, can the Mormon comparisons. Mormons for the most part avoid claiming that historical evidence supports Mormonism. Their apologetics consists of arguments to the effect that their religion isn't refuted by counterevidence, and that their beliefs are positively confirmed by one's own personal "testimony." What Mormons have been doing with the DNA claim has been to retreat from the historic Mormon position where contemporary Native Americans are identified as Lamanites, that is, descendants of people who were written about in the Book of Mormon. I think it slightly preposterous to suggest that the epistemic situation of Christianity is really no different from Mormonism.

I don't see anything in archaeology that suggests that the Exodus can be disproven in the same way that the historical Mormon claim that Native Americans are Lamanites has been disproven. At most, perhaps we don't have the confirmation we wish we had. It would be nice if you have the kind of archaeological confirmation for the whole Bible that you have for the second half of Acts of the Apostles (a confirmation that, of course, gets pooh-poohed whenever it is mentioned), but alas, we don't have anything that good for the Exodus. It is interesting how, when archaeology confirms the Bible, it is not important, but when archaeology fails to confirm the Bible, it's important. Heads I win....).

I would say that I do agree with the writer of this critique in that I think that you show a lack of discernment in perceiving wider implications for scientific discoveries. My favorite example was where you grabbed onto an ABC News article about the genetic basis for infidelity, and treated it like established science, not noticing that it's too early in the game to be making those sorts of pronouncements. As an example of someone, also an atheist and a practicing scientist, who is far better than you are at drawing careful implications from scientific developments, I would mention Blue Devil Knight.

Your mention of years of study is simply an appeal to your own authority, and for reasons I noted above, I am less than impressed. Going from science to broader implications involves two steps which have to be done carefully. First, you have to be sure that this is really good science, and you have to have a sense of how wide of support it has within the scientific community. Second, you have to be able to see how much real support the science actually provides to the claim you want to defend. Even fundamentalists insist that you have to exegete Bible passages if you want to use them. The same holds true, surely, for the Book of Science.

31 comments:

The Uncredible Hallq said...

I just posted this as a comment on a previous post, but I'll give the link here for the sake of discussion:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exodus#Numbers_and_logistics

If you want to defend the inerrancy of the Bible re:Exodus, insisting that the relevant passage has been mistranslated, or mistranscribed, or was intended as hyperbole, seems like the best bet.

Of course I think "it's mythology" is the most plausible conclusion of them all.

John W. Loftus said...

Hey Vic, can you name me just one archaeologist living and working in the relevant fields who think the historical case for the Exodus out of Egypt as recorded in the Bible is correct?

No one help here. Let Vic answer the question.

And let's say you find one. How is this person regarded by the other archaeologists?

Come on Vic. Strut your stuff here.

I've already linked to two must see documentaries. You don't show any awareness yet that you've watched them.

You do realize that maximalists like William Dever do not support the textual claims in Exodus either, don't you? Or are you ignorant about this kind of scholarship Vic? After all Dever became an agnostic because of archaeology.

Link.

"...the difference between minimalists and maximalists is not as great as it might at times appear - this is because the maximalists have had to abandon a great deal of their traditional ideas about the historicity of many portions of the bible. Sometimes also called the "Copenhagen School" (also: biblical revisionists and even biblical nihilists by less sympathetic people), the minimalist position is that the stories in the bible are largely mythical in nature. Although they take place in real places and may sometimes be loosely based on real people or events, the stories themselves serve a mythical rather than historical function. They are an attempt of later generations to develop and lay claim to an identity, not an attempt at disinterested historical reporting.

Curiously, the so-called "biblical maximalists" accept that as being an accurate assessment of quite a bit of the bible, at least up until the "United Monarchy" at the time of David and Solomon, when Israel and Judah were still part of one kingdom."

Victor Reppert said...

I'm not primarily concerned with a defense of inerrancy, because I am less than sure what exactly is supposed to count as an error. I am inclined to think there was an Exodus experience. My former Bible professor at Candler suggested that perhaps one tribe or sub-group of the group that later became the Hebrews had the Exodus experience. It would be interesting to see how a card-carrying inerrantist deals with these kinds of difficulties. It would also be of interest to see who, if anyone, is driving down the middle of the road on this issue.

Of course, we all know that Wikipedia is a tricky source to use for things like this.

My main concern was with the point-blank claim that archaeology disproves the Exodus. I think we're a long ways off from that kind of a conclusion.

John W. Loftus said...

Now is it then true that archaeology has proven the Exodus story false? Not in exactly the same way as DNA proves Mormonism false, but so what? That's wasn't my claim. Nonetheless I think so, just as I think scientists have proven evolution true.

What to do then abut biblical fundamentalists who think otherwise, like you?

Probably just laugh at them.

You, my friend, are a biblical ignoramus.

John W. Loftus said...

Looks like we posted at the same time Vic. Okay you're not a biblical fundamentalist, but there was no Exodus experience to speak of that matches in any way shape or form as the biblical narrative. It would be akin to Santa Claus being based on the life of St. Nick.

Nada, zip, zilch. That's what you got.

John W. Loftus said...

I don't really want to be this hard on you, but your biblical and scientific ignorance seems massive to me, sorry.

steve said...

Defending the Bible against Wikipedia? Perhaps you should try defending the reliability of Wikipedia, then get back to us.

Victor Reppert said...

The article that I linked to didn't say that archaeology proved that the Exodus did occur, but rather that it hadn't been proved false. The article in fact noted that if something like that had happened to the Egyptians, they wouldn't keep a record of it, since it would have been a great source of national embarrassment.

I have seen documentaries on the Exodus; I think I saw one when I was flying either to or from England for the Lewis conference in 2005. I don't know if these are the ones you are referring to.

A disproof claim is a strong one, and the comparison between the DNA problems with Native Americans being descended from Hebrews requires a high standard of evidence.

John W. Loftus said...

Oh that's right, I forget. You require proof that your faith is false. You're looking for a potsherd dated in the 1400's BC in Hebrew that says this: "The Exodus story to be written 800 years from now is nonsense."

John W. Loftus said...

So again, name me just one archaeologist living and working in the relevant fields who think the historical case for the Exodus out of Egypt as recorded in the Bible is correct?

Again, no one help Vic out.

steve said...

I've already named names. The fact that Loftus would even continue to pose this question shows his ignorance of the relevant literature.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic check out these posts by Hector Avalos:

Dr. Avalos on the Sargon Legend.

Moses is a Basket Case of Bad History

Six Words for Triablogue.

There's so much other stuff I could share if you would just be interested.

Try The History of God with a link to the JEDP theory.

Come on Vic. You think the OTF is valid. Now do it.

Bob Prokop said...

Call me one of Joe Sheffer's "Middle of the road Extremists" on this one. I've read the biblical narratives more times than I can count, have with moderate interest followed the archeological debate about the Exodus through the years, and have pretty much settled into a position I am comfortable with, which is:

I believe the Exodus story, as told in the Five Books of Moses, is on the whole a reasonably historically accurate account of real events, narrated with embellishments common to histories written at the time. Among said embellishments would be speeches put into the mouths of historical figures to advance the narrative - "filigree", as one commentator labled such. Greek historians such as Herodotus and Thucydides routinely did the same thing without the least embarassment.

So why would a book I consider to be divinely inspired contain such "errors"? Because they're not errors! They are literary conventions, just as words, syntax, and genre are. The literary type of these narratives is "history", so we shouldn't be surprised if they conform to the norms of that type for the age they were written in. What is the problem here? I sincerely don't see one.

So if you were to ask me, "Did God speak to Moses out of a burning bush?", I would have to answer "Yes, I do". If you were to ask a follow-up question of "Is the account in Exodus a word-for-word faithful telling of what actually transpired in that conversation?", I would answer "Probably not, but I really don't care". What matters to me is the MEANING of that encounter.

Victor Reppert said...

No, YOU made the disproof claim. I didn't make a proof claim. I made the claim that your disproof claim, as I understood it, overshot the evidence. Or, at least, I presented some arguments suggesting that it overshot the evidence.

Now, does that mean that I am going to believe an absolutely literal reading of all of Exodus unless you can prove otherwise? No. In one sense, I am an ignoramus, in what I think is a respectable sense, in that I think sometimes the best response to questions like this is to say that I don't know. But I can still object vehemently if you say that we DO know that there WAS no Exodus whatsoever.

I'm not claiming expertise in this area, of course.

steve said...

Of course, we responded to Avalos. As usual, Loftus is only giving one side of the argument. BTW, real skeptics aren't that one-sided.

Also notice that when his bluff is called, he simply repeats himself or moves the goalpost.

Bob Prokop said...

I just checked out your links, John, and I have bad news for you. Not only have I long been aware of the Mesopotamian parallels to the story of Moses, but I've actually read the original documents (in translation, of course). Mesopotamian history happens to be one of my more esoteric interests.

Again, what is the problem here? You're fond of calling other people ignorant, etc., but you're really showing your own rather astonishing ignorance here. It's almost embarrasing to watch you discredit yourself so thoroughly. And I say this as a would-be friend! To trip up over something as basic as literary convention, and to then figuratively (I hope) shout "Aha!" just lays you open to the charge of being a complete fraud. And I know you don't desire that!

John W. Loftus said...

Look Reppert, this is what the present evidence shows us. Is it proven to your satisfaction? No. I never once in my life said that an argument must be convincing before it can be said to have been proven.

Now try this one: Evolution has been proven to be a fact.

That too is my claim.

So you or someone else will go and call me ignorant because of Behe or Dembski. You or they will claim such a thing is not proven at all.

The case is similar.

And no, I am no expert on either evolutionary science nor archaeology. Why must I be an expert to recognize the results of an overwhelming number of archaeologists and scientists?

You might as well write something disputing Dawkins, Coyne, or PZ Myers on evolution. See what they say. lol

I have given plenty of reasons why I think you are massively ignorant. I never once said that in order to make that claim I must convince you I am right. One cannot hope to convince a massively ignorant person that he is wrong for in order to do so he can no longer be massively ignorant.

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"And no, I am no expert on either evolutionary science nor archaeology. Why must I be an expert to recognize the results of an overwhelming number of archaeologists and scientists?"

Because Hector Avalos keeps telling us that unless somebody is an expert in the field, he is in no position to evaluate the arguments of other experts in the field. Are you now admitting that he is wrong?

John W. Loftus said...

Steve, I have corroboration from my study of the Bible that it was edited an re-edits showing an evolutionary process.

And you misrepresent Hector. If one claims to be an expert he had better do that, yes.

People are telling me I'm wasting my time here. I need a break from this utter stupidity.

Victor Reppert said...

At this juncture, I would have to admit that, with respect to evolutionary biology, people like Behe are marginal figures. I know you like to marginalize conservative scholarship, but I seriously doubt that people like Kenneth Kitchen are as marginal as Behe is in biology. I know you like to marginalize conservatives in biblical studies, but it looks to me like there's a whole spectrum out there.

Intelligent design could progress in the right direction (more proposals for researching their claims, less attention to public school controversies, more open repudiation of Young Earth Creationism), which would improve their status with the scientific community.

The fact that the hard-core defenders of evolution would laugh at their opponents doesn't impress me much.

When I was in seminary I learned that there were problems with a literal reading of Exodus; the kinds of problems that Chris pointed out in the first comment, but that a substantial historical core to Exodus was still a reasonable possibility. I have seen nothing in the evidence that overthrows that conclusion.

Bob Prokop said...

John, please, before you leave us, tell me why I should be at all concerned about the Book of Exodus conforming to the literary conventions of its time (see my previous posting)? It's a simple question...

John W. Loftus said...

Bob, you don't need to be concerned at all. You can believe without Exodus being a historical record.

It's just one of many things that are not historical in the Bible.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately wherever you go there you are.

Bob Prokop said...

I know we're straying off topic here, but now that it's come up... I recently had a conversation with a professional biologist here in Baltimore, who (almost in a whisper) confessed to me that he believed in Intelligent Design, but was afraid to admit it because of the near-Stalinist demands within the professional community to "close ranks" and admit to no deviation from the Party Line.

And no, I will not betray my trust and reveal his name. Suffice to say, he is widely published, and his name would be immediately recognized. If I weren't a close personal friend, he never would have confided in me.

Anonymous said...

Mr Prokop with all those details you mentioned you have probably given him away.

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"Steve, I have corroboration from my study of the Bible that it was edited an re-edits showing an evolutionary process."

That's so vague that it merits no response.

"And you misrepresent Hector. If one claims to be an expert he had better do that, yes."

No, that's not his stated position.

"People are telling me I'm wasting my time here. I need a break from this utter stupidity."

Actually, you're wasting your time at DC. You're wasting everybody's time.

And if atheism is true, then everything you do is a waste of time. We're all just filling time and killing time.

You don't matter, John. Nothing you say or do matters, John. If atheism is true, then it doesn't matter if atheism is true. That's the rub.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

Vic,

Would you be willing to lay off the "the Bible fares much better than the Book of the Mormon" rhetoric, then?

After all, a Mormon might say "I'm not a card carrying Book of Mormon inerrantist, but I'm inclined to think some Native American group had a Book of Mormon experience. Anyway, I don't think we can say point blank that the archaeology disproves Mormonism."

For the sake of argument, I'm willing to consider that this might be a perfectly reasonable thing for a Mormon to say. If you think otherwise, can you find a non-arbitrary reason for doing so?

Also: I linked to Wikipedia because it seems pretty representative of what I've heard secular scholars say about the Exodus, and I don't think those arguments have been adequately addressed here.

Victor Reppert said...

Chris, I think that is pretty much what the Mormons have done. The trouble there is that they have a history of people from the Prophet, Seer and Revelator position who have identified the Native Americans with the Book of Mormon peoples.

I think the New Testament has a substantial degree of support from archaeology that is not paralleled with respect to the Book of Mormon or the Qur'an. You also don't have first-century novels from which the Gospels were plagiarized, but you do have a 19th Century novel from which the Book of Mormon was plagiarized. So I think the parallel breaks down.

Jayman said...

The Uncredible Hallq, in military contexts (such as Ex 12:41: "the hosts of the LORD"), the Hebrew word eleph may refer to the men of fighting age in a village or a district. If this is the case, then Ex 12:37 envisions about 7200 fighting men and around 28,800-36,000 Israelites in all. This is far fewer than the over 2 million implied by many translations. In the wilderness the Israelites were miraculously fed by manna so it is irrelevant whether the Sinai desert could have hosted the Israelites without divine intervention.

Anonymous said...

Loftus: "One cannot hope to convince a massively ignorant person that he is wrong for in order to do so he can no longer be massively ignorant."

Hahaha. Anyone want to start a pool on how long it takes Loftus to implode into a black hole of irony?

cl said...

I see Loftus is up to the same-old same old:

After all Dever became an agnostic because of archaeology.

Frank Tipler became a Christian because of physics. Your point?

Now is it then true that archaeology has proven the Exodus story false? Not in exactly the same way as DNA proves Mormonism false, but so what? That's wasn't my claim.

Surely you're not descending into sophistry, are you John? I ask because truth and falsity are Boolean. You claimed - and I quote - "Archaeology has also shown us there was no Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt." Such a proposition is either true - or false - as stated. Of course, we all know it's false, we just want you to admit it instead of trying to save face with this, "Well, it's not true like this other thing is true" nonsense. Stop equivocating.

[... John then proceeds to quote Dever ...]

If you're not a Christian despite Tipler, why do you imply that we should reject the Exodus on behalf of Dever?

Why must I be an expert to recognize the results of an overwhelming number of archaeologists and scientists?

Overwhelming? You allude to the same handful of 4-6 men. How does that qualify as overwhelming?

Now try this one: Evolution has been proven to be a fact. That too is my claim. So you or someone else will go and call me ignorant because of Behe or Dembski.

No, I will call you ignorant because, "with evolution we no longer need a creator" is also your claim - a claim so thoroughly vapid and false that you would literally castigate any theist who even alluded to such pedestrian nonsense. Keep fighting everybody if you must, but we're trying to save you from the perils of dogmatism and fallacious thinking here.

Take responsibility for your claims. Supply the necessary emendations, or - if you cannot rectify - then, recant. Be objective about things. That's what skepticism is all about.