[b-hebrew] Academic Debate"

dwashbur at nyx.net dwashbur at nyx.net
Thu Nov 1 00:56:15 EDT 2007

On 1 Nov 2007 at 5:12, Yigal Levin wrote:

> ----- Original Message ----- 
> From: <dwashbur at nyx.net>
> >> > On 30 Oct 2007 at 8:22, Yigal Levin wrote in part:
> >> >
> >> >>Since none of us have yet recieved direct prophecy from God, we
> >> >> cannot "take on faith" that the authors of the Bible did either.
> >> >
> >>
> >> To which Dave Washburn answered:
> >> > This is perhaps the biggest fallacy of all in "modern" scholarship. 
> >> > "It
> >> > hasn't happened to me
> >> > or anyone I know, therefore it doesn't happen."  Yes, I know I'm
> >> > simplifying, but that's the
> >> > essence of the argument.  And it's nothing but a cop-out.
> >> >
> >>
> >> No, it's not. I didn not say that "it doesn't happen", only that since I
> >> have no empirical evidence of it happening, I can not figure it in as a
> >> factor.
> >
> > Okay, briefly, what sort of "empirical evidence" would be required?
> >
> > Dave Washburn
> Any reasonable proof that anyone that I know, or that anyone that I can have 
> access to knows, or that any reliable witness that I could ultimately have 
> access to knows, that anyone had actually, undeniably, recieved messages 
> directly from God. Now I admit, that since we live in a cynical world, it 
> would take a lot to convince me, but if He wished to, I'm sure that He could 
> find a way. And I'm not being cyinical here myself. As others here have 
> stated, modern science is based on observation. That does not mean that 
> every one of us has personally observed every "law of nature" in action, but 
> we know that reliable witnesses, people working in controlled conditions or 
> trained observers in the field, have observered and recorded the various 
> phenomena that make up the basis for our understanding of the natural world. 
> Claims by people to have seen or experienced things which are not 
> explainable by the laws of nature as we know them are rightly treated as 
> being "problematic" until the same phenomena are observed again by people 
> from within the scientific community, in the same controlled conditions.

While it sounds very impressive, this is actually elimination by definition.  How many 
hurricanes have been observed in "controlled conditions"?  Or glacier formation?  Or the Big 
Bang?  There is plenty in this world that can't be so observed, and history in particular 
requires its own set of rules that are necessarily outside the realm of repeatable 
observation.  Let me give an example.  A few days ago marked the 126th anniversary of a 
famous event in American history.  In Tombstone, Arizona Territory, there was a showdown 
between four members of a questionable group and four members of a group purported to 
represent law and order.  A bloody battle ensued and three members of the former group 
were killed, while two of the latter were seriously wounded; a third was grazed.  The fourth 
member of the former group ran away when the shooting started, while the fourth member of 
the latter group was untouched, and became a household word in America: Wyatt Earp.

There was an inquest, a preliminary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence to 
charge the Earps with murder.  Several witnesses claimed that the cowboys had their hands 
up and were in the process of surrendering when the Earps opened fire; several other 
witnesses said that Billy Clanton, one of the cowboys, fired one of the opening shots.  The 
hearing went on for weeks, and even though the judge in the case ultimately exonerated the 
Earps, the controversy continues to this day.  Some claim that the Earp side fired first, while 
others accept Wyatt's version in which he and Billy Clanton fired the first two shots, more or 
less simultaneously.

How can such an event be repeated in controlled conditions?  It can't, obviously.  I've spent 
about 10 years researching it (just for fun) and I have definite opinions on the subject that 
don't matter here, but I, and everyone else who has looked into it, has to work from a corpus 
of testimony that is fixed pretty much for all time.  And there's the problem for modern 
science: historical events can't be repeated.  Until somebody builds a time machine so we 
can go back and watch for ourselves, testimony from people who were there is all we have.  
Hence, the so-called rules of scientific observation can't apply here, or we end up with 

Some testimony contradicts our own experience.  The ancient Chinese have a record of a 
star that just appeared in the sky, blazed bright enough to be visible even during the day for 
a time, and then vanished.  We've never seen such a thing, and we can't do any kind of 
experiment to repeat the observation.  All we have are the ancient records.  Now, we know 
from astronomical observation that there is such a thing as a supernova, so we conclude - 
reasonably - that the Chinese probably saw a supernova that happened relatively close to 
our solar system (in astronomical terms).  *But we don't know for sure.*  We assume it was a 
supernova because that's all we know that could potentially produce such an effect.  But we 
can never know *for sure.*  All we can do is take the testimony and come with the best 
explanation we have available, even if it contradicts our current experience.
> In the world as we know it, if a person writes about events that happened in 
> the past, he either: 1. had written sources, 2. depended on oral tradition, 
> 3. made it up. Possibility number 4, "God told him", does not work in the 
> world that we live in, which leaves the other three to be discussed on a 
> case-by-case basis, which I'm willing to do, but not right now.

When writing several centuries after the fact, like us, that's true.  But in the case of ancient 
testimony, we also have to deal with the possibility that it was written by someone who was 
there.  The "world as we know it" is quite limited.  There's a whole historical realm that went 
before that often defies our imagination.  We can't judge it by our current world without 
doing it a major disservice.  Even if what they left behind includes messages from 
Something beyond their comprehension.  I'm not going to take it any further than that, 
because it gets too far afield.  My point is, we can't just write off their claims because they 
don't square with our "modern" experience.  Shakespeare, via Hamlet, said it best several 
hundred years ago, and we do well to heed his words.

Dave Washburn
Why do it right when you can do it again?

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