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Re: Anomolies vs. Miracles (was Re : Common ground for study)

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  • Eric Eve
    ... Great! I m glad I ve at last succeeded in making myself clear to somebody. ... Yes, though I think the anomalies that force change in scientific theory
    Message 1 of 12 , Aug 1, 2003
      Brian Trafford wrote:

      > Thank you for this Eric, I now have a much better understanding of
      > where you are coming from on this question, and find myself in
      > general agreement with much of what you said. Perhaps the
      > word "miracle" carries too much baggage to be used in historical
      > critical discussions, and should be replaced by something else like
      > anomaly, especially as acceptance of the latter does not necessitate
      > acceptance of the existence of the supernatural, and can remain well
      > within the realm of scientific and historical inquiry.

      Great! I'm glad I've at last succeeded in making myself clear to somebody.

      > (One thinks of all the shocking new scientific discoveries that keep
      > popping up now and then, forcing science to significantly modify its
      > theories and explanations for how the universe actually works, to see
      > how anomalies change our perception of the world on a regular basis).

      Yes, though I think the anomalies that force change in scientific theory
      tend to take the form of general contradictions in the current model rather
      than specific events, don't they? (E.g. on the classical model of the atom,
      an electon orbiting a nucleus ought to radiate electromagnetic energy, so
      according to the law of conservation of energy the orbit ought rapidly to
      decay causing the electron to fall into the nucleus, meaning atoms on the
      classical model ought not to exist - oops, let's rethink this - ah, quantum
      mechanics!). But you raise an important general point, that it is really
      only meaningful to talk about anomaly in relation to a particular set of
      theories (which are in principle always revisable). That's why I think one
      should be wary of definitions of anomaly (let alone miracle) that use an
      expression such as 'violations of the laws of nature', unless one makes it
      very clear in what sense the term 'laws of nature' is being employed. To
      rule out an anomaly because it conflicts with current scientific
      understanding risks supposing that scientific understanding is now complete;
      to define anomaly relative not to current understanding but to the laws of
      nature 'as they really are' raises the double problem (a) that unless we
      know the laws of nature 'as they really are' we cannot identify an anomaly;
      and (b) that if we're not careful the statement 'anomalies cannot happen'
      collapses into the tautology 'what is impossible is impossible'.

      That said, I suspect most working scientists would have some perception of
      what types of anomaly could not be fitted into any conceivable revision of
      the scientific theory that would not make the entire edifice of natural
      science come crashing down around our ears. This is partly due, I think, to
      the way that scientific understanding increasingly comes to form an
      interlocking series of theories that form a fairly tight fit; I have some
      recollection from my reading of popular science that there are very few ways
      that quantum mechanics can be formulated without mathematical
      inconsistencies: thus it is either right, or completely wrong: it can't
      simply be tweaked to fit new data. Moreover, I think this sense of what kind
      of revisions to natural science can be accommodated without bringing the
      whole structure crashing down (which neither relativity nor quantum
      mechanics have done, for example) would lead one to be fairly confident in
      classifying certain events as hard anomalies that are likely to remain hard
      anomalies under any feasible upheavals in modern science (part of the reason
      for the distinction between hard and soft anomalies is to allow for the
      possibility that the soft sort may simply find themselves accommodated under
      a new scientific paradigm). Thus, it is probably safe to assume that no
      feasible revolution in scientific understanding is going to make it any less
      of an anomaly to walk on water or feed five thousand people with five bread
      rolls. Even allowing that our scientific understanding is corrigible, it
      thus seems a sound epistemological principle to suggest that we can't allow
      the possibility of anomalies of this sort without sawing off the branch of
      rational judgement on which we're trying to sit. Even if it should turn out
      from the perspective of the science of the future that we were wrong in our
      judgements of what could feasibly be incorporated into scientific theory, it
      remains the best we can do in the present.

      This is not to rule out the possibility that the universe may be a weirder
      place than we often like to imagine, but here two opposite considerations
      seem to me to come into play:

      (1) On the one hand, commitment to a particular scientific view, or a
      particular rationalist perspective, could well rule out evidence of strange
      phenomena that do not fit the current paradigm; it is very easy for us
      simply to filter out what does not fit into our worldview;

      (2) On the other hand, the human love of the wondrous, the bizarre, and the
      spectacular, the human propensity for both credulity and fraud, suggest that
      one would be wise to treat anecdotal evidence of the weird and wonderful
      with caution, if not downright scepticism (gosh, I think I'm starting to
      sound like Hume here!).

      Thus the human capacity for self-deception cuts both ways. My own
      temperamental inclination in practice is to lean towards the scepticism
      suggested by (2), but I think it possible that some cases may yet turn out
      to fall under (1), though I would not expect anything in the hard anomaly
      category to do so. This thus leaves some scope for individual judgement on
      the plausibility of strange things narrated in ancient texts, while also
      providing the critic with a point at which s/he can say "Here I draw the
      line; beyond here I shall not admit that a literal intepretation of the text
      can be sustained as a report of an actual historical event; as a hard
      anomaly it must be ruled out." Of course another question, the answer to
      which does not strike me as totally obvious, is how far Mark, say, intended
      his reports of hard anomalies to be taken literally (it seems to me that
      Mark 4-8 works pretty hard to get the reader to see a symbolic meaning
      behind the sea and feeding miracles, but that does not exclude the
      possibility that Mark could have viewed them as actual events as well - but
      that will have to be a topic for another essay when I get round to writing
      it).

      Best wishes,

      Eric
    • Mike Grondin
      Eric- Thanks for putting me in Steve s company. Although I don t know him personally, we ve had a long history of correspondence relative to the Gospel of
      Message 2 of 12 , Aug 2, 2003
        Eric-

        Thanks for putting me in Steve's company. Although I don't know
        him personally, we've had a long history of correspondence relative
        to the Gospel of Thomas, and I find that our intuitions tend to
        coincide - probably because he's a top-notch logical analyst, in
        addition to everything else (scholar, humorist, provocateur?)

        I also love the way you Brits (other than Tom Wright) typically
        analyze problems. (I actually have some English blood myself - on
        my mother-nee-Tyler's side - which probably explains it.)

        Alas, not enough time at the present to adequately respond to even
        one of the interesting comments in your note. What I would like to
        ask, however, if you don't mind, is that you address yourself
        specifically to an issue which lies at the beginning of this series
        of threads, and even long before that. You refer to:

        > ... this (your) long attempt to suggest that finding a common
        > ground shouldn't be that problematic.

        But case in point: Steve and others (including myself) have
        virtually no doubt that the gospels contain a significant amount
        of authorial invention. Brian, on the other hand, has argued long
        and hard (if I understand him aright) that there's no reason to
        suppose that the authors didn't believe everything they wrote to
        be literally true. (And if so, of course, there couldn't be any
        significant amount of authorial invention.) We've had extended
        discussions on this before and gotten nowhere. Where do you think
        common ground might be found on this particular issue?

        Thanks,
        Mike G.
      • Eric Eve
        ... Well, I suppose this depends on what we mean by common ground here; I take it to mean a sufficient common basis to allow conversation/debate to be
        Message 3 of 12 , Aug 2, 2003
          Mike Grondin asks:

          > But case in point: Steve and others (including myself) have
          > virtually no doubt that the gospels contain a significant amount
          > of authorial invention. Brian, on the other hand, has argued long
          > and hard (if I understand him aright) that there's no reason to
          > suppose that the authors didn't believe everything they wrote to
          > be literally true. (And if so, of course, there couldn't be any
          > significant amount of authorial invention.) We've had extended
          > discussions on this before and gotten nowhere. Where do you think
          > common ground might be found on this particular issue?

          Well, I suppose this depends on what we mean by 'common ground' here; I take
          it to mean a sufficient common basis to allow conversation/debate to be
          meaningful. I assume that neither Steve nor yourself operate with the belief
          of a 'significant amount of authorial invention' as some kind of a prior
          dogmatic belief, but rather as a consequence of your study of the Gospels;
          IOW it would be something that you would in principle be prepared to give
          reasons for, not merely to assert. If Brian has "argued long and hard...
          that that there's no reason to suppose that the authors didn't believe
          everything they wrote to be literally true"* then he presumably also
          recognizes the need to argue for his position. Thus, a first condition for
          common ground in this situation, recognizing that the burden of proof lies
          on whoever wants to make an assertion, could in principle be met. A further
          condition would be that both sides sufficiently agree on what constitutes
          the proper grounds and methods of arguments (otherwise they'll simply be
          talking past each other), but one would hope that should be possible among
          scholars.

          'Common ground' surely does not mean that all parties have to agree in their
          conclusions, or else either no one would ever be allowed to dissent from the
          'official view', or we'd have to split into 100 different scholarly groups
          with own particular blends of conclusions; I'm quite sure neither of these
          is what you have in mind!

          (*BTW, is it necessarily so of an ancient author, perhaps one believing
          himself to be writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit, that 'he made
          x up' and 'he believed x to be literally true' are absolutely incompatible
          statements? I don't want to push the point since I'm personally less than
          convinced that 'literal truth' was the primary concern of the Evangelists in
          everything they wrote, it's just that it occurred to me when I was quoting
          your phrase).

          Best wishes,

          Eric

          -------------------------------
          Dr Eric Eve
          Harris Manchester College
          Mansfield Road, Oxford, OX1 3TD
          Tel: 01865 281473
        • Mike Grondin
          ... No, of course not. But if one gets a feeling that the conclusions of the other party are presuppositions instead of conclusions, and that they re not
          Message 4 of 12 , Aug 2, 2003
            --- Eric Eve wrote:
            > 'Common ground' surely does not mean that all parties have to
            > agree in their conclusions, or else either no one would ever be
            > allowed to dissent from the 'official view', or we'd have to split
            > into 100 different scholarly groups with own particular blends of
            > conclusions; I'm quite sure neither of these is what you have in
            > mind!

            No, of course not. But if one gets a feeling that the conclusions
            of the other party are presuppositions instead of conclusions, and
            that they're not really open to serious question, then what you
            call 'common ground' turns into quicksand. I would put it in terms
            of the conditions for scholarly discourse, and I would think that
            one such condition - a necessary one - is what's called "good
            faith". What this demands, IMO, is that all parties be prepared to
            provide rational and evidentiary support for their positions - or
            at least admit that belief X is not open to question for them. I
            guess it's an issue of trust. Without a sense that the other party
            is acting in good faith, one perceives reasons as rationalizations,
            and the possibility of fruitful discourse quickly disappears.

            > (*BTW, is it necessarily so of an ancient author, perhaps one
            > believing himself to be writing under the influence of the Holy
            > Spirit, that 'he made x up' and 'he believed x to be literally
            > true' are absolutely incompatible statements? I don't want to
            > push the point since I'm personally less than convinced that
            > 'literal truth' was the primary concern of the Evangelists in
            > everything they wrote...

            Oh, no, I don't see how there can be any doubt that the primary
            concern of the Evangelists wasn't that. But now you bring up an
            interesting point that probably bears further discussion. Suppose
            I believe that the HS is revealing to me an event or event-detail
            hitherto unknown - say, the words that Jesus was supposed to have
            written in the sand. Firstly, it seems that I can't fail to know
            that it's *new*. Secondly, however, it seems that I *can* fail to
            know that *I* invented it - since I'm fooling myself into believing
            that I'm the recipient of supernatual information at that point.
            Nor would I even think of supposing that those forces might be evil
            forces, or that a good spirit might seek to implant untruths in me
            in order to "advance the faith". So, yes, it does seem that I can
            fool myself into believing that what is in fact my own creation
            corresponds to something that really happened. I don't think that's
            the way the Evangelists operated, however, nor does it seem likely
            that leaving it open whether or not the Evangelists believed their
            story innovations to have really happened would satisfy someone who
            wanted to claim that there wasn't any significant degree of
            authorial invention at all.

            Regards,
            Mike Grondin
            Mt. Clemens, MI
          • leon santiago
            Gordon Raynal wrote:
            Message 5 of 12 , Aug 8, 2003
              Gordon Raynal wrote:

              <<*** . . . wonder storie(s) . . . . primarily been
              defended and attacked on the basis of "did it actually
              happen?" as the basis for searching out truths/ "the
              point(s)" of such stories.) How strange and how
              fundamentally sad. I dare say if folks were to pick
              up the Odyssey they don't start dissing Homer for his
              imagination and don't start searching out questions of
              truth on the basis of asking questions about whether
              the wonder filled stories he tells are rooted in
              "facts". Likewise when reading Shakespeare ("Do
              ghosts really exist and can they talk?" from Hamlet,
              for example).... and on to watching this summer's
              "blockbuster movies." (I didn't hear anyone come out
              of the theatre from watching "Terminator 3" going
              "What a deceitful movie 'cause there really can't be
              liquid robotic computers who can turn their appendages
              into different killer machines at whim!"). ***>>

              Yes, Gordon . . . but then, no one ever told me that I
              was going to spend eternity in an agonizing place if I
              didn't believe that those liquid robotic computers
              were real. Or that such belief was the ONLY way to
              obtain salvation from such a fate. Your analogy seems
              inappropriate at best and mocking at worst. I agree
              with you that the true value of these stories
              transcends their historicity, and that they belong
              among the great mythological traditions of the world
              as such.

              Jonah and the great fish, Moses climbing up Sinai,
              great stories conveying timeless and meaningful
              messages, yes . . .

              But the fact is that the Christianity that we have
              inherited is a religion founded on the belief in
              certain historical events that were reported to have
              occurred at a certain place and time. Moreover, these
              things were claimed to have occurred once and ONLY
              once in history. As historical events, are they not
              subject to our examination by current historical
              methods? I don't think you should dismiss this as
              folly. It must be done, precisely so that we can view
              the stories in their proper mythological context once
              the gloss of veneration has been bracketed.


              Who was it that said that extraordinary claims require
              extraordinary evidence? Was it Schweitzer? (pardon the
              paraphrase).

              peace

              le�n santiago
              tempe, az



              =====
              I like roots but I prefer fruits.
              Caetano Veloso

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            • kirby@earthlink.net
              My first question is, has anyone attempted to catalogue and cross- reference the Jesuine sayings that seem to cohere with other sayings as well as those
              Message 6 of 12 , Aug 8, 2003
                My first question is, has anyone attempted to catalogue and cross-
                reference the Jesuine sayings that seem to "cohere with" other
                sayings as well as those Jesuine sayings that seem to be "in
                tension with" other sayings (or actions) in the gospels?

                Anticipating a negative answer, my second question is, what sort
                of resources could I turn to in building such a cross-referenced
                database? (Besides a Bible and a super memory!)

                My vaguely conceived goal is something like Crossan's appendix,
                but with the emphasis on the criterion of coherence rather than the
                criterion of multiple attestation, and then to try to do something
                with the data.

                best,
                Peter Kirby
              • Bob Schacht
                ... Peter, I suppose you ll have to start out by defining what cohere with and be in tension with mean. If you don t, you ll get a stew of such diverse
                Message 7 of 12 , Aug 8, 2003
                  At 12:40 PM 8/8/2003 -0800, kirby@... wrote:
                  >My first question is, has anyone attempted to catalogue and cross-
                  >reference the Jesuine sayings that seem to "cohere with" other
                  >sayings as well as those Jesuine sayings that seem to be "in
                  >tension with" other sayings (or actions) in the gospels?
                  >
                  >Anticipating a negative answer, my second question is, what sort
                  >of resources could I turn to in building such a cross-referenced
                  >database? (Besides a Bible and a super memory!)
                  >
                  >My vaguely conceived goal is something like Crossan's appendix,
                  >but with the emphasis on the criterion of coherence rather than the
                  >criterion of multiple attestation, and then to try to do something
                  >with the data.
                  >
                  >best,
                  >Peter Kirby

                  Peter,
                  I suppose you'll have to start out by defining what "cohere with" and "be
                  in tension with" mean.
                  If you don't, you'll get a stew of such diverse composition that no one can
                  agree on what it means.
                  If you do: Others will argue with whatever definition you come up with, but
                  at least we'll know what you are looking for.

                  Bob
                • kirby@earthlink.net
                  ... I think that the meaning is the kind of stuff the same person is likely to say and the kind of stuff the same person is unlikely to say, assuming that
                  Message 8 of 12 , Aug 8, 2003
                    On 8 Aug 2003, at 14:25, Bob Schacht wrote:

                    > At 12:40 PM 8/8/2003 -0800, kirby@... wrote:
                    > >My first question is, has anyone attempted to catalogue and cross-
                    > >reference the Jesuine sayings that seem to "cohere with" other
                    > >sayings as well as those Jesuine sayings that seem to be "in
                    > >tension with" other sayings (or actions) in the gospels?
                    > >
                    > >Anticipating a negative answer, my second question is, what sort
                    > >of resources could I turn to in building such a cross-referenced
                    > >database? (Besides a Bible and a super memory!)
                    > >
                    > >My vaguely conceived goal is something like Crossan's appendix,
                    > >but with the emphasis on the criterion of coherence rather than the
                    > >criterion of multiple attestation, and then to try to do something
                    > >with the data.
                    > >
                    > >best,
                    > >Peter Kirby
                    >
                    > Peter,
                    > I suppose you'll have to start out by defining what "cohere with" and "be
                    > in tension with" mean.
                    > If you don't, you'll get a stew of such diverse composition that no one can
                    > agree on what it means.
                    > If you do: Others will argue with whatever definition you come up with, but
                    > at least we'll know what you are looking for.

                    I think that the meaning is "the kind of stuff the same person is
                    likely to say" and "the kind of stuff the same person is unlikely to
                    say," assuming that the person is consistent.

                    What I am thinking about is a sliding scale, something like from 1
                    to 5, with 5 being two verses saying virtually the same thing -- for
                    example, 1 Cor 7:10-11 and Mark 10:11-12 -- and with 1 being two
                    verses that are practically in contradiction -- for example, the
                    medieval Gospel of Barnabas having J say "I am not the Messiah"
                    and John 17:3 having J refer to himself as "Jesus Messiah," the
                    one sent by God (I hope I've picked clear and relatively
                    uncontroversial verses). Then a value of 4 would apply to two
                    verses that, for example, both indicate a feasting/non-fasting
                    lifestyle, while a value of 2 would apply to two verses that can be
                    harmonized but not without effort (famously, the kingdom is here
                    now, or the kingdom is yet to come). The value of 3 would be
                    reserved for two verses that have no conceptual relation.

                    Structurally, one would have a table with all items corresponding to
                    all items, with a lot of 3's but with other values to show the
                    coherencies and tensions perceived in the materials. Another way
                    to look at it would be as an annotated translation with footnotes to
                    all the other verses that are in the relationship of 1, 2, 4, or 5.

                    I hope that this helps to clarify the kind of database that I would
                    like to build, perhaps with help. I could use references to books
                    that do part of the work or would otherwise help.

                    best,
                    Peter Kirby
                  • townsendgm
                    ... snip ... Guy Townsend responds: Actually, it was Carl Sagan. Guy Townsend
                    Message 9 of 12 , Aug 8, 2003
                      --- In crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com, leon santiago
                      <taino_leon@y...> wrote:
                      >
                      snip

                      > Who was it that said that extraordinary claims require
                      > extraordinary evidence? Was it Schweitzer? (pardon the
                      > paraphrase).
                      >
                      Guy Townsend responds:

                      Actually, it was Carl Sagan.

                      Guy Townsend
                    • Rich Griese
                      Dear Peter, the way I would approach it is to create a database of the texts you are speaking with. Anyone with database experience could help you. If you then
                      Message 10 of 12 , Aug 13, 2003
                        Dear Peter,

                        the way I would approach it is to create a database of the texts you
                        are speaking with. Anyone with database experience could help you.

                        If you then learn SQL you can search and sort things until the cows
                        come home.

                        AND the ability to assign attributes to any data element is very useful.

                        What would be my recommendation. But I think it sounds like a great
                        project. I had tried to enthuse Dr Robert Price of the Jesus Seminar of
                        this a few years ago in San Jose at a convention a few years ago.

                        I'm sure people have done such a thing. It would amaze me if there were
                        not groups out there.

                        Cheers! Ricco
                        RichGriese@...
                        ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
                        /////////////
                        On Friday, August 8, 2003, at 01:40 PM, kirby@... wrote:
                        > My first question is, has anyone attempted to catalogue and cross-
                        > reference the Jesuine sayings that seem to "cohere with" other
                        > sayings as well as those Jesuine sayings that seem to be "in
                        > tension with" other sayings (or actions) in the gospels?
                        >
                        > Anticipating a negative answer, my second question is, what sort
                        > of resources could I turn to in building such a cross-referenced
                        > database?  (Besides a Bible and a super memory!)
                        >
                        > My vaguely conceived goal is something like Crossan's appendix,
                        > but with the emphasis on the criterion of coherence rather than the
                        > criterion of multiple attestation, and then to try to do something
                        > with the data.
                        >
                        > best,
                        > Peter Kirby
                        >
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