glenn morton wrote:
> Hi George,
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: george murphy [mailto:email@example.com]
> > Sent: Friday, November 03, 2000 1:06 PM
> > 1) You didn't say "If everything in Genesis 1-11 was
> > wrong" but "If
> > everything in the OT was wrong." These discussions of origins
> > get so sharply
> > focussed on those chapters of Genesis that they may seem like the whole of
> > Hebrew scriptures but they aren't. They are an important but
> > small part of the
> > OT, & arguably not the most important.
> It is amazing how you want to read what I say through your personal filter.
> What I was illustrating with my question was the importance of objective
> verification. I asked a question which is a perfectly valid question of
> obviously the extreme situation. If everything in the OT was wrong, then no
> one would believe it. It would be irrational to believe such a document. I
> doubt that anyone would disagree that a document that is entirely wrong must
> be rejected.
> Given that, it is then reasonable to ask, what percent of a book must be
> false in order for it to merit rejection? I simply don't think this is as
> bad a question as you obviously do. Maybe it threatens your position but to
> me, it is entirely a rational question to ask. Does 50% error warrant
> throwing the thing away? Does 10%?
> Now, as to why I switched from OT to Genesis 1-11 with my question to you it
> is simple. If I had asked for a list of everything verifiable in the OT, it
> would be onerous for you to list it and you could reject my request on those
> grounds. Thus, I chose a smaller area, which by the way was the entire
> context of the discussion between Howard and I that you jumped into. Howard
> was complaining about A & E not necessarily being real and A & E are most
> assuredly discussed in the first 11 chapters. Thus, in the context of this
> discussion you joined, that is the issue--Genesis 1-11 with Adam and Eve.
Refutation of a statement about "everything in the OT" doesn't require a
listing of "everything verifiable" but only of one thing. My point was your
hyperbolic language which you did nothing to
But rather than continue on that - do you think that "everything" in the
OT is "verifiable" or
"objectively true" in your sense? If not, then your argument turns on you.
Does 1% justify throwing the whole thing away? I don't just as that as
rhetoric. In our past debates you seem insistent that everything in the Bible
which _can_ be seen as historical narrative _must_ be that kind of account.
> > 2) To say that a text expresses truth different from
> > the kinds of
> > truth conveyed by accurate historical narrative isn't to say that
> > it's "wrong".
> And we have had this discussion many times. By WHOSE STANDARD? By WHAT
> STANDARD? If I say that a story of two salamanders mating captures the
> 'truth' of the creation of the earth obviously with a different kind of
> truth, then who can possibly disagree with me? You have made the most
> unverifiable of assertions! How could I possibly know that the mating of two
> salamanders captures the essence of the creation? By what possible
> experiment, or vision could I defend that view? And to say that Genesis is
> not historical yet captures the truth of creation is similar in style and
> content to the salamander story. I am reminded of what the Mad Hatter said
> about theologians not wanting verification so that one area of knowledge can
> be retained for them in which science can't encroach.
& again I have to repeat, I believe that important parts of the Bible
are historical narrative and that the biblical story is firmly linked to the
real world. But the important theological statements of
Christianity involve interpretation of historical events and thus cannot be
verified simply by historical study. The theological claim that creation is
good (as below) can't be verified as might a claim about historical events. The
claim that Jesus died for our sins is a different type of statement from the
claim that Jesus was crucified near Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate.
Of course that is obvious. But a person who argues as you do could
accept all the "verifiable" statements in the Bible about the flood,
crucifixion, &c but deny the truth of all the theological ones
saying, "BY WHOSE STANDARD?"
It also ought to be said that your insistence on biblical statements
being "verifiable" doesn't really commit you to as much as you seem to think.
E.g., your ingenious Mediteranean flood scenario is _in principle_ verifiable,
but the possibility of actual verification in a sense which any historian would
accept is exceedingly remote. So your position is pretty safe too.
> Here is the quote:
> "Of course, the real reason modern theologians want to keep science
> divorced from religion is to retain some intellectual territory forever
> protected from the advance of science. This can only be done if the
> possibility of scientific investigation of the subject matter is ruled out a
> priori. Theologians were badly burned in the Copernican and Darwinian
Yes, & I said the same thing (even using a phrase about theology having been
"badly burned by
its encounters with the Copernican hypothesis and Darwinian evolution" in an
article in _Lutheran Forum_ in 1985. (But I did not go on, as Tipler does
below, to proclaim that science can do everything. Of course his own theory has
now crashed and burned.)
To say that theology has to be concerned with real historical events and
that it should be engaged with science, which I certainly believe, is a far cry
from saying that everything in the Bible is historical narrative.
> Such a strategy seriously underestimates the power of science,
> which is continually solving problems philosophers and theologians have
> decreed forever beyond the ability of science to solve." ~ Frank J. Tipler,
> The Physics of Immortality, (New York: Doubleday, 1994), p. 7
> And Dean Wooldridge in one of the 2nd most depressing book I have read, said
> something similar:
> "IN addition to giving up its traditional weapon for compelling
> moral behavior, religion will have to make drastic modifications
> in its theology. There is obviously no room for a personal God
> in a world that is rigidly obedient to inexorable physical laws.
> Miraculous suspension or modification of such laws in behalf of a
> group or individual, perhaps as the result of a direct prayerful
> appeal to some higher power, will be even less credible than it
> is now. Equally unacceptable will be the prophets and other
> superhuman individuals who typically strengthen the popular
> appeal of religious dogma by surrounding it with an attractive
> aura of unworldly materialism." Dean E. Wooldridge, Mechanical
> Man, New York: McGraw?Hill Book Co., 1968. p. 190
This was written before the advent of chaos theory, but anyone who in
1968 could write about "a world that is rigidly obedient to inexorable physical
laws" has to be discounted pretty heavily - not to mention that he obviously
knows nothing of traditional doctrines of providence.
> I would submit that your fleeing from objective verification has more to do
> with protecting unverifiable belief systems than with anything else.
I have referred before, & I think even sent you a copy, of the paper
I gave at the 1999 ASA meeting. It's now been published in the most recent
(Sept.2000) PSCF. I think it makes clear that my position is a bit different
from your description of it.
> > So I think the term "caricature" is accurate.
> It might be if you had understood what I was doing with those questions.
> > As to verifiable historical material in Gen.1-11, I
> > think there's
> > some but not a great deal. 2:10-14 is a small part of the 2d
> > creation account,
> > in a sense a minor detail, but it serves the important function
> > of indicating
> > that this theological account is about the world we live in. The
> > flood story
> > probably carries memories of Mesopotamian floods. (Yes, yes, I
> > know the details
> > don't fit.)
> As Johnny Cochran said, "If the gloves don't fit, don't convict!" It is the
> details that make something verifiable. Yes, there was a dead woman, yes
> there were gloves, but they didn't fit the defendant! As a physicist you
> once knew this truth. You could not possibly go into a peer review with a
> revision to graviation that didn't match the details. You would be laughed
> out of the room. And a plea that this is verifiable (Yes, yes, I know that
> it is 3 orders of magnitude out) simply won't cut the mustard---except when
> it comes to religion and then we say "Details don't really matter." See
> above. We flee from verification.
This would be to the point if the theological claims were about the
> Exactly what details convince you that this story contains evidence of
> Mesopotamian floods when
> 1. the reputed Noah would have been carried down to the Indian Ocean rather
> than up towards Turkey
> 2. This would have occurred in about 3 days rather than a bit over a year.
> 3. That, in Mesopotamia there is no geological evidence of any widespread
> flood outside the range of normal flooding.
> 4. That archaeologically there is no break in Mesopotamian civilization.
> Exactly what detail convinces you that you are correct in your assertion?
> 11:1-9 refers to historical Babylon. Some of the
> > names in these
> > chapters may refer to real historical figures - certainly Abram &
> > maybe others
> > near the end of Ch.11.
> I will agree with you that those names refer to real people and real
> Babylon. But their existence is not really verifiable at this late date.
> Currently we have no physical evidence of Abram's life. All we have is
> evidence that the story was written consistently with life in Babylon, and
> that is different from verification. verification entails some sort of
> objective physical evidence. One could possibly get verification for a
> recent Adam and Eve by means of genetics--but it actually falsifies a recent
> A & E. One could get verification of Genesis 1-11 if one could prove where
> the geologic remains of the flood are. The candiates all have problems.
> Caspian Sea area--too flat with no mountains. Black Sea--no need for an ark
> since at the rate of infill one could walk away from the disaster.
> Mesopotamia--no evidence and the ark lands on the sea not a mountain.
> Mediterranean--too old for most people's taste. But in principle the flood
> could be verifiable as it should have left evidence.
> > Not a lot you say? Maybe not for your purposes. But
> > some of the
> > very important theological statements are, by their nature, not
> > ones that you
> > can verify by historical research. E.g., the repeated claim in Gen.1 that
> > creation is "good" - how would you verify that by such research?
> Don't conflate the desire to have the verifiable verified with the flawed
> concept that everything must be verified including unverifiable statements.
> Your thinking is fuzzy here. And you are not really seriously listening to
> me. I have never advocated trying to verify goodness and you know it.
Exactly - except that I know quite well what you're doing. You are
trying to establish the "verifiable" (far different from "verified") truth of a
lot of biblical claims - and then are going to say to the skeptic, "OK, now I
want you to accept a lot of claims (goodness of creation, forgiveness of sins,
&c) which are really a lot more important, but unfortunately they aren't
verifiable." That is indeed one classic apologetic approach. I think there are
serious problems with it today & that there's a better way - agaisn, see my
paper in PSCF.
> > & that claim
> > is far from being common religious property - there are plenty of
> > crypto-Manichaeans.
> > > > A second, & distinct, point: You seem unwilling to
> > differentiate
> > > > between morality and theology. The morality taught by many other
> > > > religions does
> > > > indeed have a great deal in common with that of the
> > > > Judaeo-Christian tradition.
> > >
> > > Now, you are reading me wrong. I most assuredly agree that the morality
> > > taught by other religions is worthwhile. No doubt about it. But
> > if you claim
> > > that your theology is so great, upon what is that claim based?
> > It seems to
> > > me that it is based upon nothing more solid than personal and cultural
> > > prejudice favoring the Christian religion. Why can't the
> > advocates of other
> > > religions make the same claim that 'christian morality is
> > great, but their
> > > theology stinks'. It seems to me that this results in a standoff.
> > It's a standoff only to the extent that "For Christ's
> > sake God forgives
> > you your sins" and "You'll go to Hell if you don't earn God's
> > acceptance" is a
> > standoff.
> Muslims don't think we will fair well being infidels and all. They would
> absolutely reverse your sentences toward us. And Mormons would say "It is a
> standoff only to the extent that don't get to be a God in the afterlife."
> We can all assert our individual preferences, but the only way to
> differentiate these preferences is by objective verification of physical
You are not really paying any attention to _theological_ differences.
The distinction between
a religion of law (which includes Islam, Mormons, & virtually all non-Christian
religions) & gospel
is fundamental. On that basis one can make a pretty clear distinctions between
Christianity & everything else.
> > I emphasized (below) that the heart of the Christian
> > claim has to do
> > with "the historical
> > reality (N.B.) of the crucifixion of Jesus." Just this
> > historical reality is
> > disputed by Muslims, something that shows their unwillingness to
> > pursue any
> > historical investigation of religious issues.
> Seems to me that with regard to anything other than the resurrection you are
> unwilling to pursue any historical investigation of religious issues. Or
> more correctly, when I attempt it you like to tell me how wrong it is. If
> you are going to criticise the Muslims for this, then take a look at
First, note that I said nothing about resurrection here.
But you are quite wrong. I am quite willing to pursue historical
investigation, which is why I don't think that some (N.B., not "all" or "most")
of the accounts in the Bible are _not_ historical. You (almost always) insist
that they are and then try to find some phenomena that they might have, could
have, should have, referred to. I think you're closer to the Muslims here.
(So's your old man! :))
> BUT - the
> > theological claim associated with the cross - that the Crucified
> > is the Son of
> > God whose death reconciles us to God - is, like the goodness of
> > creation, not
> > something one can verify by historical investigation.
> Absolutely agree. And I have never said we could. But you miss the fact that
> for events like the exodus, Adam and Eve, the Flood, things ARE IN PRINICPLE
> verifiable. And yet you don't want them verified. Strange for a person with
> a physics background.
It is utterly false to say that I "don't want them verified": I think
the Exodus really happened (though not with 2.5 x 10^6 people) & is _in
principle_ verifiable, though the probability is low due, e.g., to the fact that
pharaohs didn't advertise their defeats. But if someone does find a memo from a
surviving charioteer describing how a band of Hebrew slaves escaped because of
some freaky weather, great. & while I don't believe your flood scenario, if
someone did come up with some hard
evidence for it, fine. I'll accept it. I am not committed "with the certainty
of faith" to what I presently think about the matter.
> > > > The same cannot be said for understandings of God and God's
> > > > relationship with
> > > > humanity and the world. The belief that God is revealed in
> > the historical
> > > > reality (N.B.) of the crucifixion of Jesus as the Trinity is not even
> > > > approximated by other religions.
> > > >
> > > What you have presented above is your belief system and your
> > personal and
> > > cultural prejudices, but you haven't really presented evidence for those
> > > beliefs. A muslim can claim that his religion's theology isn't even
> > > approximated by other religions. Big deal, we have two people making
> > > unsubstantiatable claims. Objective data is the only way out of this
> > > dilemma.
You don't seem to have read my paragraph below before writing this. A
Muslim _won't_ claim this - if knowledgeable about his or her faith.
> > This is incorrect. Muslim claims that the Qur'an is
> > God's ultimate
> > revelation tend to obscure for outsiders (& for many insiders)
> > the fact that
> > Muhammed thought he was proclaiming the original religion of
> > humanity & makes a
> > number of appeals to God's revelation in nature &c. Adam,
> > Abraham, Jesus &c
> > were all supposed to be good Muslims! Jews & Christians are, of course,
> > thought to "approximate" Islam, but to err by introducing various
> > distortions &
> > especially by not recognizing Muhammed as the seal of the prophets.
> > Similar things could be said about other religions.
> > Hindus & Buddhists
> > can find an honored place for Jesus as an avatar, &c, only excising the
> > inconvenient parts about his uniqueness & crucifixion.
> > Of course the distinctive character of Christianity
> > doesn't prove that
> > it's true.
> This last sentence is exactly my point that I have argued with you for
> years. Mere belief does not make something true. And without some type of
> objective verification, one is reduced to mere belief and in my opinion that
> maks us no better than Buddhists, hindus, Shintos etc who also believe their
> religion as hard as we believe ours.
Yes, belief doesn't create truth. But we have to start with some
beliefs in our search for truth
The question then is, what fundamental beliefs allow us to understand our
experience in the most comprehensive and consistent way. _Fides quarens
> But it is not simply a "religion" in the same
> > category with Islam,
> > Hinduism, &c.
> And they would say the same thing, that Christianity isn't in the same
> category as Islam. You have your belief and they theirs. Big deal. On this
> you two would agree, yet you want to let things lay on an issue that would
> verify (not prove) your religious document.
Actually "proving" Adam & Eve, the Flood, or the Exodus would provide no
distinction at all between Islam, Judaism & Christianity. As far as
historically verifiable (or supportable) truth is concerned, crunch time is
Calvary. & as far as theology is concerned, its the difference between law &
gospel. So if you want an apologetic which will be of any use with Muslims,
don't spend your time on the flood.
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