Trafford Re: Arnal's quick note on "reductionism"
- --- In email@example.com, Bob Schacht <bobschacht@i...>
> >...The putting forward of the hypothesis is relativistic, but theBob replied:
> >assumption that you build your own hypothesis upon removes the
> >ability of any historian to test your hypothesis in an objective
> Brian,Agreed. At the same time, if there is no method to evaluate and test
>I'd quibble with this. Hypotheses *always*, without exception, are
>built on explicit (or, commonly, implicit) assumptions (usually more
>than one). Anyone who imagines otherwise is naive.
the hypothesis, then it remains pure speculation, or faith based
assertions. It will not be an historical hypothesis.
>But you are correct that the testability of a hypothesis isThis is what I am doing. I am critiquing the assumptions, and it was
>affected by the assumptions on which the hypothesis is based. If you
>don't like those assumptions, then the usual
>procedure is to criticize the assumptions rather than trying to test
my hope that I was making this clear in my previous posts. As it
appears that I was unclear, I apologize, and will restate: Bill's
assumptions are reductionistic, and oversimplifications that make
evaluation of his, or anyone else's hypothesis based on the Gospels
I then said:
>You start by denying us the ability to control the data,Bob responded:
>making analysis impossible, and this is not relativism, this is
>reductionism. The simplicitic nature of the opening assumption
>negates our ability to evaluate the data, and reduces it, instead, to
>pliable material that can mean whatever we want it to mean.
>I don't think you are using the term "reductionism" appropriately,I am not sure that I am following you here. I have criticized Bill's
>even by the definition you have offered. You summarized what you are
>arguing with Bill about by referring to his "operating premise,
>that the Gospels are nothistorical evidence, and that the
>evangelists and their readers did not even believe them to be
>You then complain that this " is a serious oversimplification of a
>very complex set of data." I think your point of view would be
>better served by parsing words a little more carefully.
assumption, and explained how it is reductionistic in its
application. I have also explained why this reductionism fails to
serve the historian, as it makes it impossible to use Bill's
assumption AND, at the same time, apply any kinds of controls to the
evidence that allows us to test the hypothesis being offered.
How is any of this a misuse of the term "reductionism" as I have
>I don't think Bill would deny thatAs I said previously, semantic quibbles can be most unfortunate. But
>the Gospels *contain* historical evidence; you are really arguing
>over what documents "are" historical evidence, which may not even be
>a useful issue, and probably means something different to you than
>it means to Bill.
the Gospels are the ONLY evidence we have for much of what we know
about what Jesus' earliest followers believed about the historical
Jesus. Rejecting them as historical evidence for *what those people
believed* on an a priori basis strikes me as absurd. Further, when
the documents themselves make claims that they are what the author
and/or readers believe to be true, I see no reason to reject this as
even prima facie evidence that they actually did believe what they
Now, does Bill believe that the Gospels contain historical evidence?
Based upon my readings of his posts I would have to say that he does
not believe this. Perhaps I have misread him, but he has been very
clear that we should be no more willing to accept that the Gospels
contain historical evidence than that the tales of Achilles contain
>You also need to pay attention to what they are (or might be)historical evidence *about*. For example, I don't think Bill would
>even deny that the Gospels are historical evidence about whatBill's argument is that the Gospels represent what they were
>followers of Jesus in the second half of the First Century were
interested in, but not what they believed to have actually happened.
>But you want theThis is NOT my argument. As I told Bill, Mike, and anyone else who
>Gospels to be primary historical evidence about Jesus as if they
>were the direct testimony of witnesses, which is doubtful.
asked, I see the Gospels as evidence of what the earliest followers
of Jesus believed about what he said and did. That's it. Did it
come from direct testimony of witnesses? Maybe. I suspect that some
of it did, though I know of no means by which we can determine what
did, and what did not come from such witnesses. That said, however,
I see no reason to argue that these people did not believe what they
wrote was true, and assuming it away as Bill does will not do.
I then wrote:
>"Worse still, however, such an assumption, by its very nature,Bob replied:
>negates the ability to impose controls on that data, and therefore
>to test ANY particular hypothesis put forward. "
>Leaving aside for the moment whether Bill's position is anOnce we reject the idea that the evangelists and their audiences
>assumption or a conclusion, I don't think it "negates" what you are
>claiming it negates.
actually believed what they wrote, then any potential controls of the
evidence goes out the window. This negates our ability to test any
hypothesis, since the proponent need only wave his hand, and contrary
evidence is cast aside. So, for example, if Luke says that he is
composing an orderly work, that we might know what happened, all the
exegete need say is Luke was making it up, so what difference does it
make if he said this, as he didn't believe it anyway. Is there a way
to rebut such a claim? If we take Bill's opening assumption as our
starting point, I do not see how. The reasoning is a perfectly
>I have been having debates with Bill on CrossTalk and XTalk forIf I have mischaracterized Bill's argument, then it is my hope that
>about 6 years now, and have discovered that before reflexively
>grabbing my lance, jumping on my steed and charging off to do battle
>with Bill, it usually saves me a lot of time and thrashing about in
>the gorse bushes if I first take the time to examine his language
>carefully and consider where the real argument lies. When I do so, I
>often discover that he is using his terms more carefully and
>precisely than I was, and that it is often necessary for
>me to alter the thrust of my own argument. This is not to say that I
>wind up agreeing with him all the time; we have some rather
>fundamental differences. But it usually helps promote constructive
>discourse if I take the time to carefully understand what his
he will clarify matters for me. I have tried to be as accurate as I
can, but it is always possible that I have erred. As of today,
however, I do not think that this is the case.
I have asked Bill to tell us what kinds of controls he uses in his
historical enquiries. Thus far I have not seen any. If, however, I
have missed them, then I would appreciate it a great deal if someone
could point them out for me.
Calgary, AB, Canada