Re: [asa] philological notes on randomness

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Sun Nov 15 2009 - 15:54:48 EST


Nowhere did I appeal to the LXX translators as an "authority". I folded
their translation choice into my argument, as one part of it, but did not
rest my argument on their translation. My Hebrew argument was strong enough
on its own to cast doubt on the translation provided, and the reference to
the Septuagint merely provided a parallel argument, suggesting that the
Greek translators might have had something like my translation in mind.

I did not say that the views of other translators were irrelevant. However,
the majority can be wrong. And it is very important to point this out to
Richard, since he persistently betrays the view that the majority of experts
(on AGW and on Darwinian evolution) should be deferred to. (Indeed, a month
or so ago I wrote a lengthy post regarding the political and epistemological
problem of relying upon "experts", which no one here took up.) The dangers
of this view are particularly relevant to the discussion of Darwinism, as,
in the almost complete absence of detailed evolutionary pathways, its
political and cultural power (within the educational system and courts and
in the media, for example) must rest in great measure upon public
obsequiousness before the opinion of the majority of experts. (In
experimental science, by contrast, there is generally enough solid empirical
evidence that such deference does not have to be insisted upon. Sciences
that can demonstrate their truths never rely upon the prestige of authority,
the consensus of the majority, statements of official scientific bodies,
lists of Nobel-Prize winning signatories, etc. My physics and chemistry
teachers never once relied upon authority or consensus to get me to believe
in a theory.)

My point about Richard's and/or Randy's acceptance of "at random" was that
it was unconscious. If they had done what I did -- made a study of the
original Hebrew -- and then concluded that the consensus of the translators
was a good one, that would be one thing. But it appears from the context
provided that Richard and/or Randy seized upon an English translation
uncritically, without being aware of the contestable translation decision
that was made, and used it as a "proof-text" in an argument about the
meaning of the word "random" today, in a philosophical/scientific context
(Darwinian evolution) far removed from the literary/religious context of the
Biblical story. For someone like myself, who has spent a good part of his
life working among Ph.D.s in Biblical Studies and Religious Studies, the
danger of such proof-texting is obvious. I suspect it is less obvious to
people with Ph.Ds. in Computer Science or Engineering who have not had the
benefit of such training, so I thought it would be worthwhile pointing it

You say that "random" -- suitably nuanced -- is still acceptable as a
translation. Even if that is the case, that translation was not used with
"suitable nuance" in the debate with Logan Gage. It was yanked in as a
proof-text and was loudly trumpeted as having utterly destroyed Gage's
argument. This is not "nuance"; this is an irresponsible use of the Bible,
based on a desire to score a debating point rather than to study a passage
carefully in context and determine what it means. It is exactly the sort of
disreputable Bible-quoting for which TEs regularly condemn YECs. The
intellectually proper thing for Richard and/or Randy to do is to acknowledge
that perhaps the text in question has been mistranslated or over-translated,
to withdraw it from the argument, and to look for evidence from elsewhere in
the Bible to make the point -- and then to get someone like myself or George
Murphy or Pete Enns to check out the translation before applying it to any
argument. But based on my experience, it would not be wise for me to hold
my breath waiting for such a retraction or such a change in modus operandi.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Murray Hogg" <>
To: "ASA" <>
Sent: Sunday, November 15, 2009 2:38 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] philological notes on randomness

> Hi Cameron,
> Actually, Rich's list of translations does show one thing, viz: it's not
> quite so odd as you suppose to translate the term in question as "random"
> or something of that sort.
> It needs to be remembered that the persons responsible for such decisions
> are not entirely bereft of linguistic skills, and the corollary of "I can
> dance toe-to-toe with the translators" is, of course, "the translators can
> dance toe-to-toe with you."
> I still acknowledge that action in question was the act of an intelligent
> agent - so it doubtlessly permits of all sorts of caveats and nuances as
> to what "random" means in this context.
> But please let's not pretend that "random" - suitably nuanced - is an
> overwhelmingly poor choice, nor that a broad consensus by translators -
> who know the Hebrew AND the LXX - is an entirely irrelevant consideration.
> As for 'appeal to authority' - why is your appeal to the translators of
> the LXX not precisely a logical fallacy of exactly the same sort? Are
> translations from Hebrew to Greek sacrosanct in a way translations from
> Hebrew to English are not?
> Blessings,
> Murray
> Cameron Wybrow wrote:
>> you give me a list of translations which disagree with me, as if that
>> refutes my argument. Since you are concerned about logical fallacies,
>> you might notice that you have committed one here yourself: appealing to
>> authority.
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Received on Sun Nov 15 15:55:02 2009

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