Your productivity amazes me. When do you get time to do the work for which
you get paid? Thanks for all your stimulating input to this list serve.
In a message dated 8/22/98 you wrote:
"While I agree that ancient people probably held the coherence theory of
truth, one can be internally consistent but very wrong. Each of the great
philosophers from Spinoza to Descartes, to Hume to Liebnitz, Kant, Hegel
etc were internally consistent but they all contradicted each other on
numerous things. So their views were coherent, but incompatible. By the
coherent view of truth, they were correct, all of them. But since they are
incompatible, all but one had to be wrong."
Coherence and internal consistency are two different matters. Coherence
refers to agreement with other related theories. The flood account, as I
wrote earlier, is coherent, i.e., in agreement with, other accounts in the
bible that depict the wickedness of humankind--the Fall, the Tower of Babel,
individual wickedness-- and under this criteria is true. Since coherence was
the only game on the block in those days, to judge the truth of the flood
account by correspondence criterion which did not exist then in the form it
does today, and to judge the account by correspondence criteria, is to apply
the wrong criterion of truth.
Why did God allow this to happen? Why did he not inspire the Genesis writers
to be historically accurate? Try this. Imagine that God had withheld the
inspiration of Scripture until the present century. Then suppose he inspired
current men and women to write the 20th century version of what is contained
in the Bible. Any 20th century biblical author would utilize our current
criteria of truth: coherence (call it A) and correspondence (B). What else
could he or she use? We would have a Bible that would satisfy modern
assumptions of truth. Now suppose that 2K years from now a third theory of
truth was discovered (C), more powerful than either A or B. Would it be fair
to discard those parts of the Bible written in the 20th century that did not
conform to C? I think that is what you are doing with those apparently
historical parts of the Bible that do not conform to B.
You wrote, "I think the best way to discuss the inapplicability is by
reference to the only novel I have read 3 times, the Lord of the Rings. By the
theory of truth, Middle Earth is a real place with real hobbits. Middle
Earth even has a written history, the Silmarillion, and peripheral
literature (Tom Bombadil poems) But of course it is totally fictional,
having sprung from the very ingenious mind of Tolkein.
"Is Middle earth true in any real sense? Only in our heads."
Lord of the Rings is a long-time favorite in our family, too. My wife used to
read it aloud to our children as we were driving over the prairies on our way
to vacation in the Rockies, partly to keep them from asking, "Are we there
yet?". She and I just recently re-read the trilogy together. Long ago we
registered our little bull terrier with the AKA under the name "Bombadil".
Tolkein's trilogy, however, has nothing to do with the current discussion of
coherence. You wrote, "By the coherence theory of truth, Middle Earth is a
real place with real hobbits." That's not so. The trilogy is not coherent
with any other current valid account of reality, nor does it correspond to our
understanding of reality.
You wrote, "I find the argument that Biblical writers couldn't have
understood modern views a really weak argument because many, indeed most,
cultures believed in evolution back then. So we know that in simplified forms
many cultures believe that mankind arose from the earth which would be
consistent with evolution. In fact I think the fact that God ordered the land
and sea to
bring forth life is evolutionary teaching in the Bible.(Genesis 1:11, 20)
The land and sea did the 'bringing forth'."
I don't deny that early cultures had understanding of aspects of their world.
I simply say they did not have the rigorous correspondence theory as their
criteria of truth in the same way that you and modern scientist use it. Far
more important to them was whether their stories hung-together to form a world
view, not whether their world view was an objective account of reality.
You wrote, "Tolkein's stories are an epic struggle between good and
eradicated the dropping of the ring in the volcano did that. It is
consistent with the story of Bilbo Baggins who found the ring, and his
struggles with Golem. Bilbo, Frodo and their friends are saved and
victorious. This is as true as the laws of Newton and Einstein. I just
wish I could find out how to get there. So where do I go to find Middle
Granted that Tolkein's stories are coherent with the struggle between good and
evil; they might have become part of the world view of early Middle
Easterners if Tolkein had lived and written in that time. But they fail the
modern correspondence test. Thus they are not as true today in any sense as
the laws of Newton and Einstein.
I wrote, "Our task, it seems to me is not to try to account for the flood
story with the correspondence theory, but rather to see how it coheres with
other Biblical stories and the cultural beliefs and norms of the time."
You responded, "We can and should do the same for Middle Earth."
I wrote, "The Bible is a mixture of accounts, some of which are best treated
by the coherence theory of truth, and some of which fit the correspondence
It's up to us to sort them out. That's a big job. I suggest that the story
of the flood is consistent with the coherence theory whereas the account of
the genealogies in Gen. 11 is more consistent with the correspondence theory.
"There are two errors to avoid. One is the rigid correspondence-theory-error
in which the historical accounts of the Bible are subjected throughout to
scrutiny by scientific methods. Are they consistent with historical,
archeological, and geological facts? If not, throw them out. The other is
the rigid coherence-theory-error in which the Bible is explained away as
arising solely out of cultural and psychological needs of the writers."
You wrote, "But this is what I think a lack of history in the Scriptures does.
Without history, what function does the Bible serve OTHER than the soothing of
I'm not saying the Bible lacks history. Nobody is saying that. The issue is
the flood account. Is it history? I am saying, No; to apply modern criteria
of history to a story is a misapplication of correspondence criteria of truth.
The story is true because it coheres with other biblical accounts of the evil
in the human heart.
What function does the Bible serve OTHER than the soothing of psychological
needs? Read the Pauline epistles as a start. For them Sicilian martyrs
died, they were the basis for St. Augustine's conversion; for Martin Luther's
reformation, for Karl Barth's theology (See Peake's Commentary). They can
provide the same empowerment today. That's just a start. Carry on in the
Gospels, the Psalms, and on and on.