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Re: [XTalk] re: historical healing stories

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  • Antonio Jerez
    Message 1 of 6 , Feb 16, 2001
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      Tom Curtis wrote:

      ----- <But I believe that you bypassed my question(s) a bit. You mentioned that
      <some scholars and layman think it is an open question if Jesus is the son of
      <God. Although I think a historian can answer that question with a high degree
      <of probability (= NO, since there is little sign that anything remotely like
      <the Christian God exists in this universe), I do believe that the question is
      <so broad that the answer would be more of a value judgment.>>

      >>Though you think a historian can answer that question with a high degree of
      >>probability, it seems your historian is answering that question not as an
      >>historian, ie, not on the basis of evidence gathered in historical

      The historian I´m talking about is me, and I'm basing my conclusion precisely on
      evidence gathered in historical researches, i e through research in the real world and
      research in texts. If this is not working like a true historian I don't know what is.
      Pseudohistorians, on the other hand, are usually content with studying texts without
      talking a glance at the world outside.

      >>One of my problems is that by importing your conclusion from
      >>science or metaphysics into your methodology in historical Jesus studies you
      >>largely preclude those studies from providing their own answer to that
      >>question. I say largely because a very successful explanation of the
      >>historical data using that assumption would vindicate that assumption. But
      >>as you know, no such successfull theory exists. No theory can command
      >>consensus suport within the field of HJS, not even amongst those who employ
      >>methodological naturalism. As there are many people who do not share your
      >>historian's conclusion from consideration of scientific and metaphysical
      >>data, I think the introduction of metaphysical naturalism jumps the gun.

      I must confess that I don´t understand a thing of what you wrote in the last
      paragraph. In what way am I indulging in metaphysics? And how does the
      fact that secular historians don't agree about everything in Jesus studies strengthen
      the case for pseudohistorians arguing that nothing should be ruled out in historical
      studies - not even the possibility og godmen walking on water. I think you are
      putting out smokescreens again. "METAPHYSICAL NATURALISM"?????
      What do those words mean?

      >>r example) is that it lies in the
      >>rticulars. We are not interested in what some people can do now, but what
      >>sus did then (or how christianity started). Secondly, amongst the live
      >>eories about Jesus are theories that he was the son and incarnation of a
      >>eistic god. Therefore, what theistic theories predict or allow is exactly
      >>germaine to the point. And what they predict and allow is miracles.

      More hogwash. And how exactly are you supposed to find out what may
      have been possible in the past? By only comparing old texts with other old
      texts? Do you ever lift your eyes outside the books and into the real world?
      You also talk about "theistic theories" that can predict things and explain things.
      What are those "theistic theories" based on? A look at the real world? Hadly!
      I guess youre going to point finger at the NT again and ask us historians to
      take you seriously.

      ANtonio wrote:
      << << 2. Has Tom Curtis ever seen a man walking on liquid water? What makes
      >believe that a historian should put much effort into investigating claims
      >like that?>>

      Tom wrote:
      >> Well, no actually. Nor have I seen anyone who was claimed to be the son
      >>God. Nor have I seen any a priori disproof of the religious claims made
      >>about Jesus. So long as a question is open for any significant numbers of
      >>the scholarly community or the general public, we should not employ a
      >>methodology that begs that question.

      Antonio replied
      >> Maybe here is where we find the problem. You say you have never met anbody
      who claimed to be the Son of God. I on the other hand have met both people
      claim to be divine incarnations (in India), prophets who are in direct
      contact with
      God and Jesus (in Sweden), supposed healers (around the world) and believers
      and non-believers of all kinds. I have studied parapsychology, physics,
      antropology and traveled extensively around the globe. That is probably the
      why I do not find it meaningful to investigate claims about people walking
      on water.
      I am always open for new evidence, but I will not be content with a scholar
      just pointing
      to a book and saying that just because he believes in that book and millions
      of others
      >>do it it is a perfectly legitimate question to ask for a serious historian.>>

      Tom replied:
      >>I think it is clear, then, that your reason for excluding the miraculous lie
      >>outside of the historical sources. I do not think that a consequence they
      >>must be illegitimate reasons. There could be (but currently are not) very
      >>good reasons to, as a methodological step, exclude miracles in HJS.

      What? Yes, my reasons for excluding miraculous explanations in any text
      I am studying is precisely because I lift my head from time to time from the books to take
      a look at the real world. Pseudohistorians try to avoid that as much as possible. They
      are mostly content with comparing texts with texts and taking philosophy courses where
      they learn expressions that may sound fine but are utterly meaningless.

      >> If you
      >>could point to a scholarly consensus in philosophy (the academic area
      >>concerned with metaphysics) that theism in general, or miracles in particular
      >>were incoherent, then your methodological assumptions would be justified. No
      >>such consensus exists. Therefore requiring such a methodological assumption
      >>would be equivalent to requiring a methodological assumption of behaviourism
      >>because Skinner was a confirmed behaviourist. When the experts in an area
      >>can't reach a consensus, we ought not to enforce a disputed judgement as a
      >>methodological requirement in a particular area of study.

      I am not interested in metaphysics or the nonsensical ideas some biblical scholars
      may have picked up in philosophy courses. You will always find scholars or scientists
      disagreeing with each other about many things but this does not mean that we shouldn´t rule out any
      outlandish idea before getting into a discussion. If you want us to argue about the
      possibility of miracles I want hard facts from the real world (not books!). If you don't
      have that you shouldn't be on this list but join a theological or philosophical forum.
      Besides - the fact that theism may be a logically selfcontained system from a philosophical
      viewpoint does not mean that it has to have any grounding whatsoever in reality. Theism
      may sound logical and appetizing to bookworms, theologians and pseudophilosophers and others who
      seldom try to ground theories in the real world, but it has less and less appeal for historians
      and scientists who try to look beyond books and imaginary worlds.

      >>As an aside, I am currently involved in a debate with my sister to the effect
      >>that creation science is not science.

      Who is arguing against the creationsts? You or your sister? I honestly don't
      think there is any difference whatsoever between you and the "creationist
      scientists". As far as I see it you are basically using the same method - only
      look at the books, blend it with a little philosophical jargong that may fool
      some and don't present any evidence whatoever for your assertions from
      the real world.

      I´ll stop at that. I don't think it is worth going on much further. The rest of
      Tom Curtis answer convinced me of that.

      Best wishes

      Antonio Jerez

      <<The last 500 years of European scientific history has amply demonstrated
      that this is the way to go forward, both in science and the historical
      inquiery. <snip> I also want to point out that I do not rule out the
      supernatural without reason; it's precisely because I have studied the world
      outside the books that I have come to the conclusion that we can leave out
      supernatural explanations IF we do not find strong evidence to the contrary
      in certain cases. If I understand your line of reasoning a historian should
      never rule out anything when he deals with texts. If enough people think a
      thing is still open to debate they are asking perfectly legitimate questions
      and should be treated as scholars and true historians. What about the
      creationist scientists or all the millions around the world who believe that
      we still haven't solved the mystery of the fairies? I don´t see much
      difference between you and them.>>

      I think we agree that our methodology should not rule out open questions. I
      think we also agree that a question is only open if it is being actively
      canvassed. (This is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a
      question to be open.) New questions may open if people start to canvass
      them, but we don't need to consider them until we do. We also agree (this
      may surprise you) that a question is not open if it is contradicted by, or
      incoherent with, a well established body of knowledge. This does not mean we
      cannot open the question, only that if we wish to we must first show the body
      of knowledge was not as well established as previously thought. We even
      agree that the facts of science are well established bodies of knowledge
      which contradict young earth creationism, and are incoherent with the
      existance of fairies. Were we appear to disagree is whether the facts of
      science make miracles (and possibly theism) incoherent.

      I think our knowledge of the universe is such that we have no need of a
      theistic theory any where except (just possibly) in the question of the
      origin of the cosmos. On the basis of science, other than in the most
      speculative and least well tested area of science, theism is redundant.
      Despite this, the possibility of theism in general and of miracles in
      particular is not incoherent with the scientific knowledge that is available.
      On this point I think there is close to (though not quite) a consensus
      opinion amongst the metaphysicians. Therefore science cannot at present
      close a question that is otherwise open in HJS, the question of whether Jesus
      performed miracles. You may disagree on this point, but your disagreement is
      not a well established body of knowledge, it is just an informed opinion.

      << >> It is not clear to me that there are good historical
      >>(as opposed to metapysical) reasons to reject the walking on water. If
      >>have such good historical reasons I would very much like to see them.
      >>However, if your historical argumentation presuposes the answer to a
      >>metaphysical question, I think it is question begging in relation to many
      >>the historical questions raised about Jesus, including the ones I am
      >>interested in. Not as question begging as the fundamentalist's whose
      >>methodological assumptions beg even more questions - but the difference is
      >>degree, not kind.

      Je ne comprand. As I see it historical study can hardly stand apart from
      sciences like sociology, antropology and "hard" sciences like physics and

      Nor, indeed, can it stand apart from other disciplines such as philosophy and
      theology. If you wish to use the results of another discipline, however, you
      should be able to establish that that result has consensus acceptance, or you
      should clearly indicate the disputed nature of the result, and the method in
      which you are using it. In the latter case, you cannot complain if someone
      criticising your work does not use the result you employed. To do so would
      be to enforce a consensus outside a discipline which studies the subject when
      no such consensus exists inside that discipline. So if no consensus exists
      in philosophy or theology (the disciplines that study this question) that
      miracles cannot occur, you have no right to object if scholars employ a
      methodology that assumes they can. You may object that the relavent
      disciplines are sciences, but none of the sciences explicitly study the
      question of whether miracles can occur, and no consensus exists amongst
      scientists to that effect in any case.

      <<>>No theology is a good predictor in science. The theories of God's
      >>psychology are simply to vague to make detailed predictions. In
      >>no theological theory is tested by science, and methodological naturalism
      >>appropriate in science. The same applies in secular history. Certainly
      >>World War 1 the theologies of British and German theologians and pastors
      >>not adequate to make any predictions about whose side God was on. In
      >>"sacred" history, however, many theologies do make effective predictions
      >>so those theories are in question as to their explanatory power.
      >>Methodological naturalism is, therefore, as out of place as methodological
      >>supernaturalism (admiting only of supernatural explanations) in sacred

      This reminds me of the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould's recent essay where
      he argued that science and theology shouldn´t really be in opposition to each
      other since they dealt with different things. The essay only showed that
      is a good scientist but an ingnoramus when it comes to theology and
      religion. Theology is not just about "God's" psychology. Theology and
      systems also make claims about the outside world and why it looks and works
      a certain way. Many of these claims can be tested scientifically. Which is
      fewer and fewer people knowadays believe in raging demons or the ability of
      gurus to walk on water.>>

      In Gould's defence I would point out that he is demonstrating not ignorance,
      but an acceptance of an opinion (I think wrong) which commands wide spread,
      though not consensus suport in theology. As to "God's psychology", I was
      attempting to point out that most theistic theories are insufficiently
      detailed to be good predictors in science. Given that a theistic theory
      predicts that god will create the cosmos, what does it predict about the
      detailed structure of the cosmos. An effective prediction of detailed
      structure must ultimatly depend on details of god's psychological foibles.
      Such foibles are, of course, unknown and possibly unknowable. Therefore any
      such detailed predictions will be ad hoc. In science, methodological
      naturalism is appropriate because it is redundant. On general considerations
      we know that no supernatural theory could be a good predictor of scientific
      observations. (This rule fails partialy, but only were science fades into
      metaphysics in the more speculative areas of cosmology). In secular history,
      methodological naturalism is a good rule because the supernatural questions
      aren't open. No one pursues them, and it is unclear with current theologies
      how anyone could (again the theologies are to vague for adequate prediction).
      But in sacred history, methodological naturalism is not prima facie
      redundant, and there are people pursuing the supernaturalist questions.
      Therefore we ought not to presume methodological naturalism in sacred
      history, HJS included.


      Tom Curtis
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