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Trafford Re: Arnal's quick note on "reductionism"

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  • Brian Trafford <bj_traff@hotmail.com>
    ... wrote: ... Agreed. At the same time, if there is no method to evaluate and test the hypothesis, then it remains pure speculation, or faith based
    Message 1 of 4 , Jan 3, 2003
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      --- In crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com, Bob Schacht <bobschacht@i...>

      I wrote:
      > >...The putting forward of the hypothesis is relativistic, but the
      > >assumption that you build your own hypothesis upon removes the
      > >ability of any historian to test your hypothesis in an objective
      > >manner.

      Bob replied:
      > Brian,
      >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.

      Agreed. At the same time, if there is no method to evaluate and test
      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 is
      >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
      >the hypothesis.

      This is what I am doing. I am critiquing the assumptions, and it was
      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,
      >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.

      Bob responded:
      >I don't think you are using the term "reductionism" appropriately,
      >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
      >historical documents..."
      >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.

      I am not sure that I am following you here. I have criticized Bill's
      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
      defined it?

      >I don't think Bill would deny that
      >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.

      As I said previously, semantic quibbles can be most unfortunate. But
      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
      historical evidence.

      >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 what
      >followers of Jesus in the second half of the First Century were
      >interested in.

      Bill's argument is that the Gospels represent what they were
      interested in, but not what they believed to have actually happened.

      >But you want the
      >Gospels to be primary historical evidence about Jesus as if they
      >were the direct testimony of witnesses, which is doubtful.

      This is NOT my argument. As I told Bill, Mike, and anyone else who
      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,
      >negates the ability to impose controls on that data, and therefore
      >to test ANY particular hypothesis put forward. "

      Bob replied:
      >Leaving aside for the moment whether Bill's position is an
      >assumption or a conclusion, I don't think it "negates" what you are
      >claiming it negates.

      Once we reject the idea that the evangelists and their audiences
      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
      closed circle.

      >I have been having debates with Bill on CrossTalk and XTalk for
      >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
      >argument is.

      If I have mischaracterized Bill's argument, then it is my hope that
      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.


      Brian Trafford
      Calgary, AB, Canada
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