[b-hebrew] Wellhausen: Computer Analysis

Bill Rea bsr15 at cantsl.it.canterbury.ac.nz
Wed Jan 9 15:14:14 EST 2008

Jim wrote:-

>If the computer cannot distinguish the first 10 chapters of Genesis from
>the Patriarchal narratives in the last 40 chapters of Genesis, or if the
>computer finds 11 different authors of Genesis, who on earth would trust
>the computer?

I feel compelled to point out the flaws in this argument. First, its
not a computer doing this. A human or humans has coded up his, her,
or their understanding of the methodologies into a piece of software.
The software is run in a completely automatic, mindless fashion.
We cannot assume that humans have reached the peak of their programming
ability. Often it takes years of programing, testing, refining, going down
wrong tracks and so on to get a good piece of software. Anything to do
with language has proven notoriously difficult to deal with. In my
previous example, that of reconstructing text family trees, the software
that was used on that problem existed for another task altogether. Many,
many man-years of development had gone into making cladistic analysis work
and that development is ongoing today. I know of no software which you
can just lift from another application to tackle the problem of multiple
authorship in the Books of Moses. That the first cut at developing
software to do this was a complete failure should surprize no one.
It doesn't mean the task is impossible or that the DH is wrong. All
it tells us is that the first attempt was a failure.

I'll make another comment on reasoning. A great deal of criticism on this
list has been directed at so-called ``circular reasoning''. The reality is
that often this is not what is actually happening. It could better be
described as ``spiral reasoning''. Assumptions are made, analysis is
performed, then the results of the analysis feed back into refinement
and alteration of assumptions, which improves the methods and analysis and
round and round it goes. Little by little progress is made. Those
who criticize this process seem to want a perfect answer on the first
attempt. The world doesn't work that way. Deal with it.

Bill Rea, ICT Services, University of Canterbury \_
E-Mail bill.rea at canterbury.ac.nz                </   New
Phone 64-3-364-2331, Fax  64-3-364-2332        /)  Zealand
Unix Systems Administrator                    (/'

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