Herodotus' Mice and the need for historical verification

From: Glenn Morton (glenn.morton@btinternet.com)
Date: Sun May 05 2002 - 13:05:41 EDT

  • Next message: Glenn Morton: "RE: Genesis & sacramental texts"

    Hi Blake,

    I want this out as a preface to what I argue below:

    One thing which I think comes into play here is that you are working
    strictly within a Judeo christian set of assumptions. When you have worked
    around the world, as I have, both living and traveling to various places and
    seeing other cultures, you realize that your personal set of assumptions my
    not be true. Here in Scotland hardly anyone gets married. They live together
    and have children. No one goes to church (<2%). Assumptions in the US
    (especially among evangelicals) about such a society would believe that
    there would be crime in the streets and a society falling apart. That isn't
    happening. I actually feel safer here than in the US. What I say above is
    looking at the higher level assumptions you have, which is that Christianity
    is correct and therefore all we have to discuss is the finer details of
    Christian theology. That isn't the case. THere is a whole wider world of

    You wrote:

    >-----Original Message-----
    >From: Dr. Blake Nelson [mailto:bnelson301@yahoo.com]
    >Sent: Saturday, May 04, 2002 6:27 PM
    >I think I see where we are talking past one another.
    >Let's see if I can state it one more time. I do not
    >think you wrong. I think requiring a concordist view
    >of everything in scripture as the only basis for
    >"rational" faith in Christianity wrong. That is my
    >point and we seem to disagree there.

    Can you please point me to a statement where I said that I require "a
    concordist view of everything in scripture as the only basis for "rational"
    faith "? I didn't say that. You are seeing me through your preconceptions
    rather than seeing what I am saying.


    >I think I agree with you about the point of Genesis --
    >that Jehovah created the world as we experience it and
    >know it now.

    A rare point of agreement on this issue. A minute of silence is called for!

    .....Ok, let's continue. :-)

    I think you would possibly insist on an
    >ex nihilio hypothesis, but I dont see that Genesis has
    >to be read as ex nihilio creation and in some ways
    >could be interpreted not to be ex nihilio.

    Now, this you need to explain. In normal views of a non-divine creation,
    the vacuum seems to be the underlying substrate out of which the universe
    arises. Or maybe the branes in the most recent theory du jour. Whatever
    this substrate is, did God create it? If he didn't, then it is co-eternal
    with God or co-created with God. If God did create it, then I see no room
    for it NOT to be ex nihilo.

    >I think one of the best discussions of the
    >nonimportance of the scientific how of how this
    >universe came into being (other than it being
    >dependent on God), is George Ellis's Before the
    >Beginning. Thus, I do not see the Big Bang as
    >providing considerable confirmation of the fact that
    >the universe seems to be a created universe.

    I agree. Once again, you are assuming that I fit into some Platonic
    idealistic mold out of which concordists are stamped, fully formed all with
    the same set of beliefs. You need to understand that not everyone fits into
    your Platonic categories. You also need to understand that a person can be a
    concordist and still be educated and know a few things about this world.

    Why don't you also cite the grand-daddy of the before the beginning crowd,
    John Archibald Wheeler, who gives a great discussion of his ideas in the
    last chapter of Misener, Thornton and Wheeler, Gravitation. You should read
    it some time. I have-all of it! It is a good book. Want to discuss Wheeler's
    ideas of pre-geometry?

    I say this only to get you to cease underestimating me.


    >Depends what you mean by created. Genesis clearly
    >indicates that the form of the universe we have is
    >dependent upon God. I tend to favor an ex nihilio
    >understanding, but if the universe were somehow
    >demonstrably eternal (such a thing cannot be
    >demonstrated within science), I would still have no
    >reason to doubt the existence of God on that datum.

    I would have reason to doubt God's necessity. It goes back to something a
    YEC friend once told me (not everything YECs say is false). He said, if God
    can't be creator, how can he be savior. It goes back to my point about
    Genesis. If Jehovah didn't create the universe, then does he really have the
    power to raise a man from the dead, get a guy to walk on water, make the
    mass necessary to feed 5000 from a few fishies? To me that is the logical
    connection--the power of God to accomplish the claims. If God has no power,
    then how can he have power to raise Jesus from the dead?

    >> How would we test whether or not God created
    >>the universe by doing as you say, pushing it to its
    >>extreme limits.
    >No, I was saying that a rule or principle may be
    >pushed to its limits. Obviously, the only way to test
    >whether God sustains the world in existence is to take
    >God away and see if the universe still exists. This
    >cannot be done.

    Then I think both of us would agree that God's sustanance is not testable
    and not scientific.

    >>One way to be sure that God created would be for that
    >God to
    >>inspire a simplified,
    >>but true story of how it happened.
    >Sure. But this smacks of Carl Sagan's (I think)
    >question about spiritual experiences (could be UFO
    >abductions, but someone said it about NDEs or
    >spiritual experiences), why don't they ever bring back
    >information like some new law of physics? Personally,
    >if God is concerned about relating scientific laws to
    >people, that is not a God that means much to me, even
    >though I have scientific training. It is the personal
    >God that cares about individual people that is the God
    >I see attested in scriptures.

    But I would contend that part of caring about people SHOULD be the concern
    that they find the truth, both morally and theologically. By allowing a
    non-true story of how the world is created to follow the true statement "God
    created the heavens and the earth," raises the question as to the validity
    of the statement. I mean, I can claim to be the creator of the universe but
    that doesn't make it so. It is NOT that God should be interested in giving
    us scientific law, (although that is all most of those with your view want
    to see) it is that God should USE the laws to point people to himself. If
    the people don't find him, He can't have that personal relationship which he
    says he wants. By giving or allowing a non-historical creation story, God
    left us adrift to fall into all sorts of heresy and false religions and that
    isn't a CARING thing for Him to do!!!!

    I think Sagan had a point and a good point at that.

    >>What never seems to register with those of your
    >I do take exception to this in that you are presuming
    >and not telling me what you presume my belief to be.
    >It may be that you are completely wrong about my
    >belief, whatever that may be. I cannot infer from
    >your statements what that belief is.

    I will stand corrected here. You did say to Walter Hicks that it might or
    might not be true.

    But let me note that you at least don't appear to be very eager to look for
    any concordances. Let me change the word 'poem' for the word 'myth'.

    You wrote to Walter Hicks on Thu 5/2/02 8:18 PM
    >>>I think the argument is that the Jews used the myths
    of surrounding cultures and reworked them to explain
    YHWH. In this sense, I think Genesis is at least an
    apologetic that says something true about the one true
    God that the other myths missed.<<<<<

    I would merely ask how on earth do we KNOW that what they said about YHWH is
    really true? One would need independent verification for one to be sure
    that what they said about YHWH was true and I don't know where you got your
    independent verification from if not from something they said which was
    verifiable observationally? God's sustenance isn't verifiable so what is?

    This may make you mad again, but I don't see that you have a basis for your
    claim that they said something true about Yahweh unless you have something
    tangible. What you have is merely a belief that they said something
    true--and as we all know beliefs may be true or false--like the belief my
    friend had that he was the messiah!

    >> is that a poem can
    >>contain not only historical truth (Homer)
    >So, the gods on Olympus worked against one another,
    >some on the side of the Trojans and some on the sides
    >of the Greeks? You are making my point. I do believe
    >there are several kernels of truth in the Illiad.

    And now you make my point!

    >There are other things that are highly likely to be
    >false, such as disputes and direct intervention among
    >the gods, the actual horse itself, etc., etc. Because
    >there are things in the text I believe likely to be
    >false does not lead me to believe that nothing in
    >Homer is true.

    Agreed, so what in Genesis 1-11 is true. Give me a list of factually or
    historically true verses (it doesn't need to be comprehensive just give me a
    couple of them).

    >>but also >scientific truth as
    >>above. Poems are merely a means of conveying
    >>information (in the colloquial
    >>sense of that word), be it true knowledge or false
    >Sure, and I have never said anything against the truth
    >that Genesis imparts about the dependence of universe
    >on God.

    ARRRGH. Prove that this is a TRUTH!!! It is a BELIEF not a truth. You can't,
    as you said, take God away and see what happens to the universe. Your belief
    may or may not be true. You seem to totally ignore the fact that you have no
    evidence of any sort to assert this as truth. If that is the way truths are
    determined, what is the difference between your claim and the claim of the
    YEC that there was a global flood. They too have no evidence for their
    belief either. Or what of the Hindu who believes that we float in a sea of
    clarified butter--they too claim that this is a truth. But like you, they
    have no evidence for their truth any more than you do for your truth that
    the universe depends upon God.

    My entire point in going for concordism is that without it, we are left
    adrift and no better or worse than someone who believes the world floats in
    a sea of clarified butter.

    If the universe is not in some sense
    >dependent on God, then God is meaningless, sure. But
    >there is no way that proving the entirety of Genesis,
    >except for the existence of God, to be true in every
    >respect that the proposition that God created the
    >universe is true.

    Once again, I didn't ever and havent ever said that every detail must be
    true. It would be nice to have ONE detail be true however--one detail other
    than the unverifiable claim that Jehovah created the heavens and the earth.

      God's creation of the universe is
    >not, in a strict sense, either provable or testable.

    Agreed, and that means that without some sort of concordism, we are adrift
    in a fideistic sea in a boat with all other religions.

    >>The thing I fail to understand about your side of the
    >Again, we may be more on the same side of the fence
    >than you think. It is rigid assertions that put me to
    >the other side of the "fence" where ever it may be
    >located, because I do not believe that most things are
    >subject to rigid requirements.

    It would be interesting if we are on the same side of the fence but I am not
    sure we are. I see an epistemologic need for some form of verification I
    don't see that need in your views. What I see, I may be wrong, is that it
    doesn't matter if God created the universe at all or not, it doesn't matter
    if Genesis has fact or not, Christianity is true regardless of what is
    factually/historically wrong with it. Would you beleive Christianity if the
    entire OT was false?

    >>is why God, with
    >>all that power to raise a dead man, make a fellow
    >>walk on water, change
    >>water to wine,
    >I would differentiate the revelation of Jesus the
    >Christ from all other revelations of God. IN that
    >life and in that life alone, God is most fully
    >revealed to us. Yes, so I would expect greater
    >indicia of divine power in that respect.
    >But, you put words into my mouth that I have never

    REad it again. I didn't put those words in YOUR mouth, I wrote :
    >>>The thing I fail to understand about your side of the fence is why God,
    with all that power to raise a dead man, make a fellow walk on water, change
    water to wine, can't even have the ability to give the poor Hebrews a true
    poem about their origins! And that it doesn't seem to bother anyone is even
    more amazing to me. <<<

    No where do I say those are your words. I said I don't understand the
    position which allows NT miracles but gets squeamish about OT miracles,
    which include the flood and creation. If you don't allow NT miracles either
    or you accept all the OT miracles, then please correct my mis-impression.

    >>can't even have the ability to give >the poor Hebrews
    >a true
    >>poem about their origins!
    >The words are that I have never said that Genesis did
    >not contain truth. We only differ as to WHAT in the
    >poem must be true to consider the whole poem true.

    And once again, I have never said that every detail must be true. But one
    should hope to find something which is true and true by means of some sort
    of verification rather than being true merely because I believe it to be
    true! If the only truth in early Genesis is that the universe is depended
    upon God, then I would simply say that I find that to be a useless truth
    because it does nothing other than give me a warm feeling inside.

      Things certainly would have been better if the Bible had merely said "God
    created the heavens and the earth. Out of slime came life. There was a man
    named Abram...."

    >tend to be a minimalist in this regard to avoid the
    >problems that lead to YECers. That does not mean that
    >I disagree with the bulk of the content of the text.
    >You have asserted that Genesis must be true in order
    >to believe the Gospels. I reject that.

    I have asserted that God must be the creator in order to beleive that He has
    the power to pull off what the Gospels claim actually happened. Jehovah
    supposedly raised Jesus from the dead and gave Jesus the power to do his
    miracles. That is the claim. I can accept it as true but that doesn't make
    it true. I can look to see if Jehovah actually had that kind of power at
    hand. On this level the two G's, Genesis and Gospel, are linked. If Molech
    is God the creator, or indeed if there is no creator, then Jesus didn't
    rise. To me that seems rather simple but I sure have trouble getting that
    across to people.

    >>This is the logic which makes me view Genesis in the
    >>way I do. I think
    >>that either we have an impotent God, a God who
    >> doesn't care what people say
    >> he did (and thus allowed them to make up the
    >> story of creation which lacks any
    >> truth value),
    >I never said this. Never even implied this.

    I didn't say you said it. I am contending that these are the logical
    consequences of the positions you are taking. The only truth in early
    Genesis you have offered is a non-verifiable dependance of the universe
    upon God. The atheist says you are wrong. To what do you point to defend
    your indefensible position?

    >>or we have the wrong God. But what I see is that no
    >> matter what God had said, people would say it is
    >> a great story which is true.
    >A pedantic, but important point, the chronicle of
    >creation does not say it is being dictated by God.

    I don't care if it is dictated, inspired in a puff of wacky-tobaccy, or
    cobbled together by a schizophrenic mystic, people would still say it is
    'true' regardless of what it said and that is the point. We need some form
    of verification more than "Gee it tells us all sorts of nice things about
    God (whcih I can't independently verify) and thus it must be true."

    >How about a God who wanted His glory and presence
    >known and inspired His people to write a story in
    >terms they understood that contrasted his reality
    >against the proclaimed false reality of man made gods
    >of those peoples whom His people knew?

    Why does everyone seem to think that primitive man couldn't understand "Out
    of the slime came life."? What makes it so impossible for early man to
    understand that simple but TRUE statement?

    That's one
    >possibility. An apologetic from God, stressing
    >fundamental truths about His nature, but not intending
    >to be an exhaustive or accurate scientific set of

    But wouldn't it be nice to have one single scientifically true statement? As
    it stands, everyone flees from early Genesis.

    >> If God had said the world arose from 2 salamancers
    >> mating we would defend it as theologically true!
    >Why? What is the theological content? As I pointed
    >out above, God did not say, in the beginning I
    >created... It is being reported by people.

    Why does the theological content determine truth. Turn the problem around.
    It is the truth of theology which is at issue! We can't start by assuming
    that the theology our mothers and fathers taught us is true simply because
    they taught us. Our epistemology must be based upon more than that. Most of
    the world doesn't accept that our theology is correct because they aren't

    >I do not see how your counterfactual salamanders
    >examples give us any handle or traction on the
    >problem. Then God would be saying He wasn't
    >responsible for Creation and if he said nothing else,
    >would not be important theologically or in any other
    >way to us.

    Who made the salamanders? In the Beginning God made the heavens and the
    earth after having created two salamanders whose issue created all the
    animals we see. Even that would in some evolutionary sense be true.

      I do think Genesis is unique in avoiding
    >the problem of things such as the dualism of myths
    >that existed about creation at the time. I believe
    >this to be true and distinctive of Genesis.

    You miss the more fundamental issue here. What if dualism is really the
    metaphysical reality. If that is the case, then Genesis is wrong. You have
    already assumed that Judaic theology is correct and then use it to claim
    that the Bible, by having that theology is correct. Logically this is
    petitio principii.

      I don't think it worth the
    >bother since our disagreement stems more from the
    >rigidity of your assertions that it has to be
    >concordistically "true" as historical or scientific
    >fact in some strict sense (although you and YECers
    >disagree in the degree to which you must concord).

    You are not listening. My views on Genesis 1 can not in any way be called,
    'in the strict sense.'

    >In fact, I do not claim any of Genesis is not
    >historical. I do claim that there is no reason to
    >reject scientific understandings of the universe
    >because of Genesis or vice-versa. We must
    >fundamentally understand the limits of our different
    >types of knowledge. Scientific knowledge, deep down,
    >can never disprove or prove the kind of God attested
    >to by the books of the Bible.

    No, but it can verify or falsify claims about particular events, which will
    leave observational remains, claimed to have been done in a particular order
    by that God.

      It simply cannot go
    >there. Ellis, Polkinghorne, Buber, all sorts of
    >people have discussed this at length. Not all truths
    >are scientific and historical.

    They are not truths but beliefs. Muslims believe things, which are mutually
    exclusive with your beliefs, they would claim the title of truth for their


    >>"England revolted against George Washington and
    >>earned their freedom
    >>from American tyranny," is a demonstrably false
    >>statement which in no way is
    >>in a system requiring precision. I simply can't
    >>believe you are advocating the above view!
    >LOL. Actually, as a Yank, I would agree with that
    >statement. But what I was saying is that the Bible is
    >not a set of propositional statements.

    I too am American, just one living in a wonder place called Scotland. As to
    the Bible not being a set of propositional statements, I agree that that is
    NOT all that it is. But importantly, it does have SOME propositional

    In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
    The waters parted and the Israelites passed through on dry land
    The walls of Jericho fell down.
    They found the stone rolled away.

    >>I have read Herodotus, know of this story and think
    >it is really
    >>interesting. Having seen films of rat swarms in
    >>Australia, where they
    >>covered the ground--literally-- I could believe such
    >>an event. What do
    >>find objectionable to such a story's history?
    >It would be the only recorded event of mice causing a
    >military defeat and thus highly improbable.
    >Especially since battles were rather common in the
    >area where it is thought to have occurred and those
    >little buggers are not reported as having chewed away
    >the bow strings of other invading armies.

    There is only 1 recorded resurrection in which the man didn't die again.
    How likely is that? Apply your standard of probability to the resurrection
    or face the charge of having a double standard--one for Herodotus' mice and
    one for your religious belief.


    see http://www.glenn.morton.btinternet.co.uk/dmd.htm
    for lots of creation/evolution information
    personal stories of struggle

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sun May 05 2002 - 19:00:44 EDT