The Book

The book arrived today. And in class today I was talking about the book. And apparently while anyone can read the book, not everyone can understand it.

“The book” in each of the above statements refers to different things. Yet they seem strikingly interconnected.

Jesus: Neither God Nor Man - The Case for a Mythical JesusThe book that arrived in the mail today is Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (thanks, John!). “The book” that I was talking about in class today is The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein, which is referred to as “the book” in George Orwell’s novel 1984. A major theme in the novel is the question of whether history exists objectively, or whether everyone believing something to be true makes it true. As I reread 1984, thoughts of creationism and mythicism were inevitable.

That what we call history is our reconstruction of the past, and not the past as it “really was,” is in fact mainstream scholarship and not a fringe viewpoint. It is the use of this to justify rejecting mainstream scholarship that shifts one from the scholarly realm to the fringe – as though because there is room for uncertainty, it is as likely that bloggers who don’t do scientific research will figure out the truth about evolution as the vast majority of scientists, or that self-published authors with no credentials in history are as likely to correctly reconstruct the past as those whose professional lives are spent studying the evidence we have from a given period in the past.

Nineteen Eighty-FourThe methods that we use to study the past, whether the history of biological development or the history of individuals, movements or societies, are secular and can be used by anyone. So too the tools used to study literature (see Jim Linville’s further discussion of this subject in relation to the Society of Biblical Literature). But the average creationist will say that this secular character is the problem, while the typical mythicist will say that the secular tools of literary and historical study are apparently inadequate to the task of freeing the minds of most historians and scholars from the hegemonic assumptions of Jesus’ historicity and the sway of Christian dominance.

As James Crossley pointed out in a recent interview, the observation that “we all have presuppositions” is far too regularly treated as though it were a profound insight, and then ignored, as though this observation were sufficient justification for plowing ahead on the basis of one’s own assumptions.

This connects with the last point I hinted at in the first paragraph, but as this post is growing increasingly long, I will leave that last point for my next blog entry. For the present, let me just as the most fundamental question: how do we know when to trust experts, or the collective judgment of society, over our own instincts and opinions? Most of us deeply desire to believe that there is objective truth, and that sanity or delusion is not merely whatever society says it is. Yet we all are prone to delusion, and as human beings are resistant to believing that we are ourselves deluded: although we see clearly how others are led astray by their presuppositions, we are inevitably confident that the same is not true in our case. Critical scholarship in fact represents the attempt to overcome this tendency and introduce rigor and as much objectivity as possible into considerations. How effective is the scientific method or critical scholarship at accomplishing this? Are there points at which you disagree with most experts about something? Do you ever justify this by saying “everyone has presuppositions”?

HT John Wilkins
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  • Angie Van De Merwe

    Collectivism is what some call "the Church". And just as the political realm works, so does the "Church", under the guise of "god's design", or purposes. The other collcetives, those in power, such as scientists find these people useful for their purposes of studying social groups, belief structures, and evaluating human behavior by the usefulness of "the masses wihtin the Church". And the Church plays to the same drummer as oligarchial systems. Nothing new under the sun. It doesn't take "prophetic" insight to understand such human behavior.Glad to live in a country where courts arbitrate these kinds of abuses of power to protect individual liberty and one's right to worship, or honor one's own conscience in speicified situations.

  • Angie Van De Merwe

    More interesting would be to understand the history of law, liberal democracy, political theory/philosophy ….as these underwrite our Founders and their understanding of our country and its values more closely.

  • Anonymous

    How ironic.In 1984 Goldstein's book turned out to be a fake, written by Big Brothers agents.Not Buying It.

  • Anonymous

    Other delusions include the idea that all existence is the result of mindless processes…The Big Bang, Abiogeneis, etc.None of it demonstrable.And yet touted as science.

  • Anonymous

    C'mon don't be that way. The Big Bang was first proposed and developed by a devout priest. And it can be tested because we can see that at one point the galaxies that were farther away were once a lot closer to one another and at one point of the past, if you back far enough, they were joined together in one hot and compressed mass called the singularity. Brian

  • Anonymous

    Also, quiet a few physicist and biologist would disagree with your claim that we are a product of a "mindless" process. While evolution may be unpredicable at times it is not random and along with the greater universe it has a certain rationality. We of course must not be so foolish as to say that this rationality or intelligence if you will is anything like what the Intelligent Design movement claims in which a Designer crafted a process so flawed that he/she had to make several adjustments along the way until he came out with us. A principle of Catholicism that I cherish is that the universe has a certain contingency to it. So God through the system he created could produce a speicies capable to partaking in his divinity and creation. All without having to reduce God to the role of a bad magician. This concept applies to greater universe as well.Brian

  • Gary

    Called the strong anthropic principle, which is a favorite of mine, which many physicists support. Seems as I remember "1984" for the similarities between then and now (Dept of Truth, which was really the Dept of Propaganda – better known today as Fox Broadcasting – or Dick Chaney; and the Dept of Peace, which was really the Dept of War – which I believe our Dept of Defense was once called – Libya is not a war, Libya is not a war….repeat three times fast, and you will believe. Personally, I prefer Huxley's "Brave New World", with Soma now being the Viagra of our day. No stress, just pop a pill. Sounds like today, alright.

  • Gary

    Funny, mindless processes. Only humans can describe evolution and the laws of physics as mindless. Strange how orderly the laws of physics are? I can describe the mass of an object quite exactly by a simple formula expressed as a function of it's velocity, rest mass, and speed of light. I can express all the characteristics of communications with electronics or light by a couple formulas called Maxwell's equations. Rather orderly, if you ask me.

  • Anonymous

    Brian, the laws of Physics, as we currently formulate them, break down at the point of the "Big Bang".In fact, we don't even know, nor can we know, what "Banged". LOL!Nor do mainstream biologists see evolution as exhibiting any kind of rationality. Dawkins makes it clear that evolution is purposeless and meaningles.Which makes these the great Myths of our time…our own "creation myths" if you will.Because they are fundametally irrational.

  • Gary

    Funny again, "the laws of Physics, as we currently formulate them, break down at the point of the "Big Bang""…the "breaking down" actually reflects the unification of the strong and weak forces, gravity, and electromagnetic laws…breaking down to what? A unified, single law, still being searched for, but most physicists agree that it exists. So, as I said before, order out of chaos. Certainly not "mindless". As far a biology, try reading Ken Miller's "Finding Darwin's God", which has been mentioned before in this blog. Dawkins is a joke….he thinks he is a physicist, as well as a biologist. Plus he is REALLY obnoxious. By the way, "Anonymous" (the first anon, not Brian), I shouldn't be arguing with you, since I feel we actually believe in the same thing as far as religion. The difference is that you have a veil over your eyes in regard to science. I do not view religion and science as incompatible. I guess you do. End of discussion for me!

  • Anonymous

    Even Dawkins thinks that the idea that we just products of a mindless process is absurd he said so himself on the Colbert Report. And I second Gary's reccomendation for Ken Miller. Ken shows that a large part of the science/faith dictomy is due to the false assumptions on both sides. To supplement this reading I would suggest Guy Consolmagno who shows us how a techie makes sense of religious in their life.Brian

  • Anonymous

    Gary, even funnier is that there is no single unified law.Stepen Hawking has in effect given up on it, just punting to "M" theory.And yes, Dawkins says that the idea that we are the result of mindless processes is absurd, but he can't face the fact that that is what atheists like him believe.Evolution, as he promotes it, leaves no room for mind, purpose, or intelligent direction of any kind.Now as to Ken Miller, that is a different story, and I tend to agree with him but he is NOT an atheist but a practicing Catholic…that atheist lapdog of Dawkins, P Z Myers (a genuine anti religious hater) has frequently bashed Miller.