Re: Something must change

Tom Pearson (
Tue, 18 Aug 1998 09:36:26 -0500 (CDT)

At 04:44 PM 8/16/98 -0500, Glenn R. Morton wrote:

>How could God carry Noah through the flood if it wasn't HISTORICAL? By this
>I mean a flood that actually happened. And if the account we are given in
>the Scripture doesn't match the data of science, then the account in
>Scripture IS NOT HISTORICAL. PERIOD. If the account in Scripture violates
>observational data then it is FALSE just like the Book of Mormon is FALSE.
>We simply can't engage in a double standard.

This, I'm afraid, may be precisely the problem. From what is known
of pre-modern cultures, and their attitudes toward oral and textual
literature, it appears that there just is an unavoidable double standard at
work. By and large, when someone asks me today whether a particular
statement is *true*, I'm guessing that they are asking whether that
statement corresponds (now, or in the past) to some identifiable object,
event, or state of affairs in the physical world. But as far as can be
known, it seems that pre-modern folks did not share that standard (a
correspondence standard) in order for a statement to possess legitimate
truth value. So when these ancient narratives recounted past events, there
was no presumption that the incidents of the narrative corresponded to
specific, verifiable incidents in the physical world. That's a standard
that emerges in the modern period, and is fully normative for us in the late
twentieth century. But the pre-moderns give no indication they shared that
norm. There is a double standard at work.
To be sure, this is an exasperating situation, but it is
unavoidable, I think. A contrary position, and one I suspect some
non-scientists have adopted, would hold that all human beings are
essentially alike, and always have been, particularly with regard to
cognitive functioning. This involves the claim that human beings, in
whatever culture, have held to the same general standards of truth and
falsity, right and wrong, fact and fiction, that we do today. There is
simply no evidence to support this claim. Indeed, there is plenty of
evidence to the contrary. There's a pretty broad consensus among scholars,
for instance, that pre-modern people did not regard "the past" as a domain
containing a number of separate events that could be scientifically examined
for factual content. That's a modern notion, and one that has developed
over a period of time. Earlier cultures did not make sense of the world,
and did not comment on the world, as we do. There are some today, of
course, who will nonetheless treat uniform (meaning from Day One until now)
cognitive functioning among humans as a necessary default position. I think
they are wrong, by modern standards.
As for the Book of Mormon, I suppose we'd need to determine if the
text was actually written by an ancient native American people many
centuries ago, or was authored by a nineteenth century religious fanatic.
If it's the former, then I don't see any need to examine it for "historical
accuracy" in the modern sense. If it's the latter, then fire away.

Tom Pearson

Thomas D. Pearson
Department of History & Philosophy
The University of Texas-Pan American
Edinburg, Texas