Thursday, August 29, 2013

FYI When Reading about Archaeological Finds and the History of Israel

It's probably important for scholarship to expose itself a little and let people know that biblical archaeologists and historians have been involved in a dispute concerning whether Israel has claim to contemporary Palestine for some time. In other words, often the field is made up of scholars who are trying to support current Israel as a nation or to undermine that identity.

As such, I wouldn't really trust the field all that much when it finds something that supposedly argues one way or the other. You can use data to support either view. It also causes scholars, like anyone I suppose, to exaggerate, sensationalize, and even pretend that their findings say much more than they do.

Take, for instance, the supposed recent discovery of David's palace complex at Khirbet Qeiyafa. Is it really David's palace? How exactly do we know that? Is there some inscription on a stone that says, "David was here," or "David loves Bathsheba"?

Consider also the claim that archaeologists have found Jesus' tomb, or the tomb of James his brother. You know, because no one was named Joshua, Jacob, or Miriam in first century Palestine. LOL.

Sometimes it seems clear that certain findings are legit (e.g., the Tel Dan inscription), but when we're dealing with a lot of the assessment of what is found, the public should be made aware that there are minimalists who are trying to argue for minimalism because they don't agree with Israel being considered a state and taking over what they view to be Palestinian land (if the use of the term "Palestine," which I have used and has become standard fare in academia evidences this bias). What's even scarier is that this sentiment tends to be German borne. But this is also true on the maximalist scale with many Israeli archaeologists who want to claim that every stone proves a unified state under a Davidic monarchy.

Most of what we find, frankly, isn't going to prove one thing or the other. It's just going to be fuel used by one's preconceived ideas. We all analyze what we consider evidence and select it for use based upon our analysis. Some things we keep. Others we reject because they are viewed as improbable evidence for the contrary view by virtue of their supporting a contrary view (some scholars, although not many, still believe the Tel Dan inscription to be a forgery because it does not accord with their theories that David either never existed or was not really that important of a political figure).

In any case, beware of archaeologists and historians bearing gifts to support your views. The gifts were likely custom made for that very purpose.

Atheists and I Agree, Objectivism Is Nonsense

"Beliefs come first, reasons for beliefs follow" (Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain, 133).

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Objectivism Again

I recently wrote a little blurb dealing with Objectivism a few weeks ago. By "Objectivism" I really mean the belief that we can obtain a true knowledge of reality of the whole by evaluating what we can only experience, as we can never know if we are experiencing the partial or the whole. Of course, if one is wrong in his belief of whether he is experiencing the partial or the whole is to distort the nature of reality, and therefore, the phenomena he is experiencing. Hence, he is not really experiencing the nature of reality as it exists, but merely as something distorted by his metaphysic. In order to experience reality with some sort of analogical accuracy, he must get his metaphysic right. That metaphysic cannot be confirmed and known to be right, however, through what he experiences, as that would be to beg the question of what he is experiencing when he comes into sensory contact with phenomena, whether he is accessing something partially or completely in terms of its nature. Hence, I wrote this:

That the senses give us an accurate perception of reality can only be confirmed by belief in a reality we cannot perceive with the senses. As one must know what reality is independently of himself in order to measure his perception by it and establish the idea that what he perceives is, in fact, reality. Ergo, faith in a metaphysic is a necessity in the evaluation of any claim that concerns a knowledge of reality. Hence, objectivism is false, as it is not the senses that give a knowledge of reality, since they must be measured by an a priori knowledge of reality, but the metaphysic by which knowledge is gained by faith. 

An atheist attempted to refute my claims in some comments of his blog, and then again in a post, both of which fail miserably to understand the argument and address the problem. Instead, he seems intent to merely exhaust his readers by lengthy posts that give the impression that he has actually said something relevant to what I've argued. This sort of sophistry is evident in these long posts when they attempt to nitpick everything about my argument, but the argument itself. Hey, if you're going to bluff, make sure you do it with a lot of words so it seems like you've got something to back up your claims.

In any case, I will attempt to explain my problem with his response, and then just comment on a few things.  It is highly unlikely that we will come to an agreement, as he thinks I don't get it and I don't think he gets it, and as many of you know, I just give up at certain points when people just don't seem to get an argument or want to play sophists.

But his confusion and the total failure of his argument exists when he misreads my use of the word “reality” as something that posits two realities. I said no such thing. I am discussing the essential nature of the one reality. That’s implied in my discussion of metaphysics. The problem is that he is assuming his definition of reality that is already rooted in his naturalistic worldview, but that merely begs the question that asks, “What is the essential nature of reality and how do I attempt to take hold of such knowledge?” My answer is not that it is impossible to take hold of such knowledge. My answer is that everyone already attempts to take hold of it via a faith position. If he denies the validity of arguing from an unverifiable assumption in order to come to an unverifiable conclusion via faith, then he is left with a complete nihilistic view of knowledge, where any knowledge of reality is impossible, which he seems to think is an objection to my objection when it is actually just establishing it. So, if we cannot begin with a faith position, then we are left with knowledge "no how." Since he assumes that "knowledge" must be gained through sensory perception, he is left without the ability to know reality. Of course, because we do believe that what we are experiencing is at least a part of reality, that indicates our ability to know; but I haven't moved that far ahead yet. I'm still only at the objection.

His argument that I am moving the goal post is due to his own reconfiguration of my implicit definition to fit his own assumed metaphysic. That is what is so ironic with his attempt to dismiss the objection. With every attempt, he is merely displaying the problem. Instead, moving the goal post would be if I were adding conditions to an originally stated argument that I need to make it true. I’m simply clarifying the implicit in my argument that he confounds with the context of his own assumed metaphysic, of which he is apparently unaware.

He further sets up a strawman according to his own interpretation of the term “reality,” again, based upon his assumed metaphysic in which he has faith, by attempting to refute my argument based upon our ability to know physical phenomena through our sensory experience. This has nothing to do with my argument, and again, assumes his view of reality, i.e., that it merely consists of physical objects to be observed because physical objects are all that I can observe. 

The idea that physical objects make up the sum total of reality is a metaphysic that cannot be confirmed through sensory perception. Yet, he still affirms it in his definition of reality.
Hence, I am not arguing that there are “two realities,” and certainly not that there are two “opposite realities.” Opposite in reference to what? The way we take hold of it? That isn’t a distinction in the realities but in our abilities to grasp the one reality. In Christianity, God experiences all of the one reality, so they are not two realities by nature. I find his definitions to be rather sloppy and his argument lacks self awareness in terms of what it must assume in order to make the argument. Yet, as soon as he does so he proves my point.

But I can make a further argument that we have no way of knowing whether we are interpreting physical phenomena with any accuracy unless we have some outside confirmation that has a greater awareness and experience of the phenomena than we are capable.
Let’s say dogs could communicate and reason as we do, but were completely unaware, in dog world, that humans existed. Some believe that they do, and others believe that they do not. Let’s simply say that humans cannot be seen by dogs.
Those same dogs enter into a discussion, much like this one, where they all wish to comment on the color of a rose. They perceive that an object is there. That the object is there is not really the question at the moment, but rather whether their perception of the object is complete enough to understand certain questions about it.

Now, in a dog’s eyes, the rose is black and white. It has no color, as dog’s don’t see in color. Hence, the dogs come to a consensus among them that the rose is absent of color, and that, indeed, color is not even something that can be verified to exist.
I then move to make myself known to some dogs and tell them that color is very real and that the rose is actually the color red. They then go to tell the other dogs that a human, who exists outside of their sensory perception, but who has knowledge of the rose that transcends that of a dog’s knowledge, has informed them that color exists, and that the rose is actually not absent of color, but is instead a color called “red.”
Some of the dogs to which I did not speak believed that report, and others did not. Those who did not argued that to say that the rose has a color that cannot be perceived by our senses was merely to argue for something imaginary and speculative, since such a claim cannot be confirmed by us. Hence, they chose not to believe that the rose had any color to it, or that color existed at all. Hence, their disbelief brought them to believe something false about reality, since they based reality upon their senses, and what they could deduce from what they experienced, alone, and their sense and experiential reasoning was not a means capable of accessing such information. Those who chose to believe the report, however, absent of an ability to confirm the report, ended up believing something about reality that is true.
Now, imagine that dogs, who reported that a human had contacted them and told them that color existed and that the rose was red, made it up. It was, in fact, merely their imagination that thought up such a thing. In that case, color may exist, the rose may be red, but there is no way of knowing such. There is no way to access it. Hence, those dogs who relied purely on their sensory experience may or may not be right in their assessment of the rose. There is simply no way of knowing whether what is perceived about the rose is true.

Now, imagine that the situation is even worse. Imagine that the group is not a bunch of dogs, but jellyfish who are discussing the nature of a rose. Now the senses are even more limited, and the jellyfish is guessing about the rose purely through feeling one that has been dropped in the water. The object is truly there and being experienced by the observer, but the abilities of the observer will most certainly misconstrue the nature of the object.
To merely assume that one’s senses are perceiving reality as it is is to assume a faith position. There is simply no logical way around this.
Hence, the only possible way to access reality in such a conundrum is to either believe a report, that may or may not be true, that one who is transcendent has sufficiently communicated certain beliefs to us that now function as our presuppositions needed to make assessments of reality, or we must merely speculate in the dark and hope that we find the needle in an infinite haystack by assuming that our interpretation of data through sensory perception and experiential reason that is caught up in our sensory perception is accurate simply because we have nothing else to go on and it seems to “work” for us. The dog’s perceptions work for it. The jellyfish’s perceptions work for it. What works for evolution and survival has no way of producing any track record of “working” to assess reality as it is, as one would have to verify that such a view of the universe is true outside of himself, which is completely impossible if no higher beings, with a greater access to reality, exist.
It is possible to land on the right view, but my point is that such a view must first be assumed via a faith position. One cannot use an interpretation of reality gained from sensory perception when it is what is being perceived by the senses in the first place that must be interpreted by one’s view of reality in the first place. The question is not what the senses are perceiving but whether what they are perceiving is accurate. In the case of the dogs relying upon their sensory perception, we, being capable of more knowledge of the rose than they, know their assessment of reality when it comes to the rose and color in general is a false perception. Their abilities are merely given to them to sufficiently function in the world for survival purposes, not to accurately assess reality and come to the truth concerning the nature of the universe.
My only point here, then, is that sensory perception itself cannot be the vehicle through which one accesses reality. One must believe what the nature of reality is first and then argue from there. A dog must believe first whether color exists and has some affect on how we evaluate the rose in order to interpret that aspect of the rose. But that is a belief that it cannot verify through his own sensory perceptions.
Hence, when we discuss whether X, Y, or Z is true when it comes to natural phenomena, we must realized that our senses may only function for our survival, not to come to an accurate view of reality. We can hold certain axioms that we are experiencing something, and so the universe is real, but this too is really just a faith position, one not held by many people throughout the world (e.g., Hindus, Buddhists, Christian Scientists, etc.).

Hence, neither the essential nature of the universe can be known through sense perception and experiential reason, nor can lesser questions concerning the full reality of physical objects be confirmed based upon sensory perception, since all is subjectively experienced with a finite set of tools that may distort reality, since those tools are given to us for survival, not discovering truth concerning the nature of natural phenomena.
That we can, in fact, discover such regardless of the above, displays first a faith position that has been assumed and a knowledge we have been given that transcends our own abilities to achieve through the senses. Either an argument for the existence of a higher being that has communicated such information to us or blind luck must, therefore, follow.

If a higher being is argued for, the higher being must have a transcendent knowledge that experiences reality as it is, rather than analogically and subjectively as we do, otherwise we run into the same conundrum with a finite being, even if that finite being is more advanced in his sensory perception than we are (i.e., an advanced alien life-form). Hence, we are back to God or blind luck, but both are faith positions that are, by necessity, assumed in any methodology of inquiry that deals with assessing the nature of reality.

To put this simply in questions, I would merely ask an atheist, “Are there questions about the rose that cannot be answered by an evaluation made from our sensory experience, but may have to do with true components of its nature?”

If “Yes,” does that not assume that there is a reality that cannot be perceived by us, and how do you know that?
If “No,” does that not assume that there is no part of reality that exists that cannot be perceived by us, and how does one know that?

I see no possible answer to either answer but that one must first believe what the nature of reality is in order to then know what he is perceiving is actually real.

He goes on about imagination, and I just wanted to say this. If we are the product of evolution then really what needs to evolve are mechanisms that allow us to more effectively survive. What exactly is an imagination for? That we have them is admitted by all here. But why do we have them? Let me suggest that perhaps the reason why we have imaginations, ones that create a host of false views of reality, is because it is meant to be a mechanism that allows us to take hold of a truth concerning the nature of reality that is inaccessible to us through sensory perception. Yet, we need to access what can only be confirmed transcendentally. I use “imagination” differently here than my interlocutor who seems to use it negatively. Of course, to suggest that what is claimed to have been divinely revealed is imagination is merely to beg the question with one’s own imagination. In other words, if information has been divinely revealed then this is not mere imagination, but rather reception of a well-informed report. Only the agnostic and atheist is left with imagination to refute it, as there is no claim to divine revelation, and therefore, the naturalist’s metaphysic must be truly imagined.

I won’t bother addressing his claim that he was not making a tu quoque. I think it is obvious to anyone reading it that he admits such in his very denial. It simply does not matter, even if it were true, that my solution does not solve the problem or ends up with the same problem. The only issue is whether the problem exists within an objectivist view.

FYI, I was reading Rand when the objection came up in my mind. I found her supposed rationale against what I’ve said to be an exploration into the same type of question begging I’ve addressed above.

I also found it a bit humorous that he keeps confirming elements of my point by making them his point. I just chuckle and say to myself, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I am saying.” But he doesn’t understand what I’m arguing, so he just goes on and on down the rabbit hole of his own strawman rebuttal.

However, let me address something of his objection:

The point is that the form of our perception is just as “objective” as the object we perceive in the sense that it is not subject to our preferences, wishes, etc. It is not a matter of “faith” or “belief in a metaphysic,” that we perceive the rose one color or another. Perception is more fundamental than belief. This is what attacks on the senses like Hodge’s fail to acknowledge.  

I'm not addressing our faculties as objective. I'm addressing knowledge of our faculties accessing reality. That the reality of the object's nature is distorted by the dog's faculties is obvious. He may have faculties that perceive something, and that the object is independent of him, but he has misconstrued its nature because of the limitation of his sensory abilities.

I also take issue with the idea that I am attacking the senses. That is caricature that lends itself easily to the strawman he is making. I am arguing that the senses cannot evaluate whether they themselves have accurately come to a knowledge of reality by using themselves. That is circular. The senses cannot confirm or deny a belief concerning reality. Hence, what one perceives with his senses must be interpreted by something other than the senses themselves, including how much reality his senses are perceiving accurately.

So, for instance, I may perceive my daughter running to me, but what is the causation of her running? Are there natural causes alone or are there also supernatural causes I cannot perceive with my senses. There is no way to confirm or deny either position by using those very senses. Furthermore, what is my daughter? Is she spirit and body or just body? I have no way of knowing what it is that is running to me, i.e., the nature of the person, via my senses. There is simply no way to confirm or deny such using the senses, and as such, the idea that one is directly perceiving the reality of an object in a way that is not subjective is nonsensical.

Now, if Hodge is suggesting that there are things in reality which are by their very nature beyond the access of any of our sense modalities (sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell), he needs to argue for this. He should not special plead his case here, insisting that we need to validate the senses while giving himself a free pass from having to validate claims about some “reality we cannot perceive with the senses,” especially if he indicates no method by which we can reliably distinguish between what he calls “reality we cannot perceive with the senses” and something he may merely be imagining. 

I didn't think I had to argue for the obvious, but apparently in neo-atheism I do. In fact, this is all I was attempting to say. I was specifically addressing Rand's idea that one can access reality objectively through the senses. My point is that this is impossible, and relies completely on a presupposition concerning the nature of reality that cannot be confirmed by the senses in the first place. I wasn't attempting to say anything more about Objectivism than that.

Also, I would point out that faith and reason are not compatible. Faith rests on the primacy of consciousness metaphysics while reason requires the primacy of existence. These are not reconcilable. I’m guessing that, if Hodge does not accept this, he does not have a very good understanding of reason; he may not even understand faith very well for all we know.  

As long as one defines reason within a naturalistic system that is self defeating, then one can go on spouting this sort of nonsense, but in reality, reason must assume, via faith, all sorts of presuppositions that one cannot establish by reason without begging the question. This tells me a lot about my friend here, and why he may be incapable of reading my argument (I mean, he can't even read my name correctly afterall). The assertion that faith and reason are not compatible is just that, an assertion. You can say that they are two means of taking hold of reality, as I have, but you cannot claim them to be incompatible. If that were true, logical argument, which rests upon certain faith assumptions, could not exist. It does not matter that one call these assumptions "axioms." That is merely a convenient way of stepping over the issue and avoiding the question. Oh, but if only I understood faith and reason, I'd be an atheist, right? LOL. This is a perfect example of the blindness that comes when one is not aware of his presuppositions and how he actually knows what he thinks he knows.

What exactly is that problem? I perceive objects and formally recognize the fact “existence exists.” This recognition is all-encompassing – it encompasses everything that exists. It leaves nothing that exists out. And yet, I did this by beginning with perception and then forming concepts on the basis of direct perceptual input. Where’s the problem? Hodge has identified no problem here.

The problem is in defining “existence” as that which is perceived by the senses or reasoned to by what is perceived. Such assumes a naturalistic metaphysic that cannot be sensed or reasoned to without first assuming it and its subsequent definitions. In essence, he has stacked the deck by defining “existence” in favor of his arguments and automatically excluded an alternative view of existence that may include that which cannot be perceived by the finite human mind. Hence, what exactly is existence is precisely at the point of dispute.

The senses do not disallow the formation of concepts. The senses simply provide the initial input for concept-formation. Since concept-formation involves the process of measurement-omission, the conceptual level of cognition expands our awareness beyond that which we immediately perceive. This does not require an appeal to “a reality we cannot perceive with the senses,” but rather a process of abstraction from perceptual input. It does not require that we posit a supernatural consciousness which magically installs knowledge in our minds, a supernatural consciousness which we can only “access” by means of imagining it. Rather, it requires us to recognize the fact that what we imagine is not real, that what we perceive is real, regardless of whether we like it or not. Thus I doubt Hodge is suddenly going to adopt a warm attitude towards Objectivism (big ‘O’) in spite of his flailing errors in trying to take down objectivism (little ‘o’). 

First, I never argued that the senses disallow the formation of concepts. I feel as though this entire conversation has been held between three people: Myself addressing Bethrick and Bethrick addressing past interlocutors. He is simply arguing with someone else at this point. Is this my fault for not articulating my argument better? Perhaps. It's possible, since I have my kids jumping on me or asking me questions every two minutes, that I have not been as clear. It would not have been the first time. However, I also think that some of the blame lay with my reader as one who is attempting to cookie cutter my argument into something he thinks he can handle better. In essence, what he argues here is what I said he was arguing and nothing more: Data collected by sense perception and reason that uses sense perception to form concepts. The problem is that he seems painfully unaware that the formation of concepts are being derived from a belief about that whole process that presumes a particular metaphysic that he first needs to form concepts from the data. Hence, what is forming the concept is not the data gained from sensory perception, but the faith in a metaphysic that then uses the data to reason to his view of reality. In other words, it's all circular, but he wants to argue, along with Rand's Objectivism, that he has direct access to unmediated facts that alone make up the totality of the characteristics of reality via sense perception and concept formation based upon the data collected by it.

Second to this, his following statement is merely begging the question. He seems absolutely oblivious that his stated rules for obtaining accurate knowledge concerning reality all assume belief in a metaphysic that cannot be established without first assuming the validity of those rules and the metaphysical belief that establishes their validity for accessing the nature of reality in the first place. The fact that he is so unaware of what he and his assertions are doing displays why he thinks that I am the one who doesn't get it.
Finally, I never posited that belief in something supernatural is necessary. He doesn't get my argument. I argued that one must believe something about the nature of reality, whether there is a supernatural element OR NOT, in order to analyze what exists (i.e., reality) in the first place.

So where’s the confusion? The universe exists. The solar system exists. The solar system moves. Where’s the confusion? What is “the essential nature of the universe” if it’s not the same as all the characteristics that make it up? If the characteristics of the universe are for some reason supposed to be different in nature from “the essential nature of the universe,” how would one go about determining this? Hodge nowhere explains any of this. But it’s clearly a premise that helps drive the rest of what he wants to say.

So where’s the confusion? The universe exists. The solar system exists. The solar system moves. God exists. Demons exist. They are the first causes of natural phenomena. Where’s the confusion? What is “the essential nature of the universe” if it’s not the same as all the characteristics that make it up, including all of its supernatural elements that cannot be perceived by the senses? We can all play "let's beg the question."

If the characteristics of the universe are for some reason supposed to be different in nature from “the essential nature of the universe,” how would one go about determining this? Hodge nowhere explains any of this. But it’s clearly a premise that helps drive the rest of what he wants to say.

I never argued anything near this. No one is saying that the characteristics of the universe are different in nature from the essential nature of the universe. The problem is that he is assuming his worldview in order to argue that his definition of nature is normative. But one must know what the characteristics of the universe actually are before he argues that all of its characteristics can be naturally perceived or conceptualized from that perception. There is nothing to validate the belief, but the belief itself.

Also, if one supposes that “there is a spiritual element” to something, how does he ensure that he has not mistaken what he may merely be imagining for something real? We do not automatically have knowledge; we must discover and validate it, and we can make mistakes. This is why we need an objective method – this is why we need reason. But Hodge and other mystics treat their mystical claims as though they were immune from error, as though they were infallible in their mystical insights, when in fact it is among their mystical claims that mystics have their greatest clashes and disputes. Once one is on the turf of faith, he’s renounced reason as his method. He has no objective method to guard against error and ensure the truth of his verdicts. This is precisely why faith and reason will never be compatible.

This is what I find so problematic with these neo-atheists. They have no ability to be self critical. He's just presenting another logical fallacy, which is ironic for someone arguing in the paragraph that we must use reason to distinguish truth from error.
That we are left with the inability to reason our way to the nature of true existence is only a problem for atheists, not theists who believe they have received revelation. Perhaps they are wrong, perhaps atheists are right; but it's never something that one can confirm through reason, as reason must presuppose what the nature of reality is first in order to use sensory perceived data to make sense of that believed reality. At all times, one is merely using his reason to make his experience "fit" his hoped for reality. Whether he has landed upon the right view of reality is purely a matter of faith. There is no way to determine metaphysical claims of such a nature through physical means. But the atheist doesn't like this.My point, then, is that I am merely admitting to what everyone, including my atheist friend, does. He's just not as honest or aware of that fact as I am.
However, I have not abandoned reason, but merely argued that reason must be preceded by a faith position either way.

Notice that for Hodge, reason is not even a contender here. Either he must simply accept, on faith, reports that are claim to have come from a supernatural consciousness which he can only imagine, or he must “guess and believe, via pure speculation.” He does not even consider reason. He may think that reason just is guessing and believing via pure speculation. It’s not. But this is probably what has been taught to him and he never questioned.

I was taught that reason is pure speculation? LOL. Not quite. You can lay my argument at my feet, not at those of my professors. To give my simple definition Reason is the logical collecting, organizing, and correlating of data with one's presupposed worldview. It can never be anything other than this, lest it become self defeating. Hence, one can discern between truth and error when it comes to existence only after he has assumed a metaphysic, not before. So reason isn't "pure speculation," but it relies on something that is believed whether by speculation or by faith in a report.

Hodge writes: “Neither the object, nor my method for studying its physical nature, can tell me whether I have landed on the right metaphysical belief.”

So clearly he’s not employing reason. He tells us this right here. Whatever “method” he is using for “studying,” it’s not reason. Also, by characterizing the end goal as “landing on the right metaphysical belief” suggests that it’s all a very approximate affair of groping and, by luck, finding what he calls “the right metaphysical belief.” How he determines that whatever belief he’s accepted is “the right metaphysical belief,” he does not explain.

Actually, my argument is employing reason. The argument, however, is stating that no one is using pure reason, but rather everyone, if there is no transcendent mind giving us aid, is groping, and by luck, if at all, finding the right metaphysical belief. I don't explain how I determine right metaphysical belief because there is no method other than believing a contradictory metaphysical belief by which one can measure metaphysical beliefs.

And round and round we go, like a dog chasing its own tail.

Pot, meet kettle.

Apparently Hodge’s concern is that, if he didn’t take the faith route, reality would be limited in such a way that his theological confessions did not apply. And he wants to avoid this. But his entire approach is backwards. He approaches the matter as one who must accept an unspecified number of “presuppositions” about reality prior to investigating reality and allowing those “presuppositions” (“belief in a reality we cannot perceive with the senses,” “faith in a metaphysic,” “a report that claims to be from One who [is] transcendent,” etc.) to govern what is and what is not accepted as truth about reality.

Not really. My concern is that neo-atheists don't realize that the knowledge of reality is already limited by our finitude. I'm not arguing that we all have different ways of knowing and I want to keep mine. I'm arguing that we all know the same way, whether neo-atheists admit it or not.

Also, Hodge seems to resent the prospect of being “in the same boat” with others, even though he, like everyone else reading this, is a human being with a human consciousness and thus neither omniscient nor infallible, able to perceive and form concepts, facing a fundamental alternative between life and death, thus needing to identify what he perceives in order to make living possible, and thus in need of an objective method by which he can reliably identify what he perceives. But throughout all his efforts to refute objectivism (whether big or small ‘o’), he’s continually made statements to the effect that reason is never going to be on his side unless he makes some radical changes in his thinking.

I'm not quite sure where this even comes from. I've been arguing the whole time that we all are in the same boat.

We all start with what we perceive. It’s what we do with what we perceive that is the game-changer. If one wants to evade what he perceives in preference for something one merely imagines, religion is the more philosophically developed result. If one does not seek to evade what he perceives, then he needs an objective method by which to identify what he perceives. But seeking to refute objectivism, Hodge declares war on objectivity. This is only fitting given his devotion to his imaginary god.

Only by assuming one knows all about the object that he perceives can he argue that what he perceives is all-encompassing; but as I've said before, this is belief in a worldview that cannot be established by what is perceived in the first place. He simply doesn't realize how strong his faith is and how much it shows in such statements as these.

Hodge clearly wants to narrow the options between directly perceiving something and having “faith in a metaphysic.” Like so many other mystics, he does not understand the relationship between the conceptual and the perceptual. He probably assumes there is no relationship, and in the case of much of what he considers “knowledge,” there is no relationship. But it would not follow from this that the conceptual level of cognition has no relationship to perceptual awareness. It is more ignorance-borne speculation on the part of the theist which closes the door to reason and objective knowledge.

Now he's arguing what I "probably" believe. LOL. If only he could actually address what I say instead of what I didn't say. No one closes the door to reason, but objective knowledge depends upon subjective apprehension, and our definitions, of knowledge. Knowledge to a philosophic naturalist is what can be obtained through the senses and reason that uses the experience gained thereof. Knowledge to a theist is that which is revealed, obtained through the senses, and uses the experience gained thereof. The difference is that the theist admits that he starts with faith in something he believes to be revealed. The philosophical naturalist merely assumes the self evident nature of his metaphysic and proceeds from there. That's the problem. Who is denying reason if one must ignore the presuppositions needed to use it in the first place?

This just confirms my point above, that it’s all ignorance-borne. Perception is more fundamental than belief. But Hodge has yet to understand this.

This just confirms my point above, that it's all ignorance-borne. Perception is not more fundamental than belief when forming concepts, as the reasoned formation needs those beliefs to form it in the first place. But Bethrick has yet to understand this.

Jon D. Levenson, The Hebrew Bible, The Old Testament, and Historical Criticism: A Review

Jon D. Levenson, The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism. Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1993).

Levenson is the Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard Divinity School and has authored numerous insightful books and articles.

It is no secret that modern biblical critics have parted ways with traditional methods of interpreting the Bible. Levenson argues that modern biblical criticism has used this information, largely, in an attempt to dislodge traditional views within Judaism and Christianity. The thinking has been that if one moves the question of divine authorship to the realm of historical evaluation, then the humanness of the text can be pitted against more unsavory teachings of the Bible. Hence, modern liberals can pick which texts are likely divine and which are just human by observing the human element of the text in its historical evolution and many contradictions.

He cites some of the biggest names in the history of modern biblical criticism, as those who dismiss the Hebrew Bible as the "Old Testament" that is largely a product of primitive humanity, in order to emphasize the more enlightened New Testament. Among these titans are none other than Wellhausen, Eichrodt, and von Rad. He also critiques Barr as falling into this tradition, as one who emphasizes the original intent of an author. "Original intent," however, has much to do with identifying the situation and source texts in a diachronic investigation of the Bible that fails to reassemble the text into a coherent literary and canonical unit, and as such, it remains not only speculative, but unconcerned about its context as we have presently received it. In fact, Levenson remarks that, in its earlier days, the Jewish Theological Seminary once referred to "Higher Criticism" as "Higher Anti-Semitism" (83).

Levenson’s proposal is that the Bible should be understood primarily within various religious communities that interpret it. Since the Bible has meanings that no one ever intended, a quote he marshals from Barton, and a variety of traditions are recorded from a historical perspective, then the Bible, as canon, whatever canon that may be, is more legitimately interpreted within a religious setting that gives sense to its teachings. As he argues against Barr’s claim that we are not given which law is to be dominant over which, and thus, have contradictions, Levenson argues that within a canonical framework, neither is meant to be dominant. Both exist to be interpreted within the religious community, whatever community that may be. Hence, Levenson, while maintaining the validity of historical and sociological analyses of the Bible, relativises its meaning to whatever interpretive community makes of it.

It is here that he makes use of Child's canonical criticism that takes a unit, its literary use, and it interpretation within the larger canon into consideration when looking for the meaning of any given text.

Hence, everyone, both Jewish and Christian interpreters (and I suppose atheists as well), can agree when it comes to the sensus literalis in historical investigation of a text, but it is when these texts are placed within the literary context of a book, a section of books, or canon that we must part ways. This is particularly true when it comes to Jewish people and Christians, as their canons are different once the New Testament and ecclesiastical tradition versus Jewish traditions are added to the Hebrew Bible (79-81).

However, the fact that Levenson argues that only those faith traditions that take the unity of the Torah (and by extension the Hebrew Bible for Jewish people and the Old and New Testaments for Christians) seriously are capable of interpreting the Bible for those traditions (sorry secularists and liberals). Historical observations are welcome, but are not determinative for traditional communities simply because they fall short in considering the larger contexts in which smaller units of language must be interpreted.

Hence, Jewish interpreters will separate themselves from Christian colleagues and from anyone doing Biblical Theology from a Christian perspective (and even a Jewish one that sees the Bible as a collection of situationally-driven commands), which is why Levenson argues we see so few works that look anything like Biblical Theologies from a Jewish perspective. Any attempt at theological agreement based upon an interpretation of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is marked, not by dispute and what divides us, but by compromising both positions. Hence, Jewish-Christian dialogue can never be one where the two traditions come into theological agreement, since their texts and traditions are forever at odds. Agreement can only exist in the historical questions that merely provide the seed of an idea, but saying nothing as to how far the tree will ascend into the sky, or in what direction it will ultimately grow.

It is here that Levenson brings out his deadly argument, however, by arguing that Protestant assumptions are not only unnecessary to the critical method but are also contradictory toward its assumptions. The assumptions and intent of the historical method, says Levenson, has always been to undermine tradition and to, indeed, replace religious tradition with a secular one. Levenson relates the fact that when young fundamentalist scholars enter secular programs, they often turn liberal within two weeks. In fact, Levenson argues, that has been the primary intent of the historical investigation of the text from its inception. This does not invalidate the historical methods, but it should cause Jewish and Christian conservatives to ask, Why should I trade your tradition for my mine? Levenson argues that there has been no answer to this question, simply because most critical scholars are oblivious to their own tradition in the first place.


I really appreciated Levenson spanking modern criticism in its slight of hand to change the criteria in determining divine authorship from theological to historical/sociological. I completely agree that these two categories are not necessarily at odds. I have attempted, for years, to explain to people that the theological question of divine authorship simply does not hinge on when the text was written, how many sources are used, what those sources may have originally said in their pre-canonical context, whether the individual books or texts originally contradicted one another, etc. If the Bible is an anthology, it is a divine anthology. If it is not, it is a human anthology. Either way, such a question cannot be answered by anything but faith in a metaphysic that has nothing to do with historical questions and the level of human involvement regarding the text. As Levenson argues, "the truth of a method must be logically distinguished from the uses to which it is put" (88).

I also appreciated the admission that Jewish people and Christians cannot just agree about the ultimate meaning to a given text through exegetical observation alone. As Levenson argues, we do not agree on what the canon is, and since the canon is ultimately the source to be interpreted, we will have no theological agreement upon what the text ultimately means for us. Each community must do this on its own. However, as I say below, this does not necessarily legitimize all interpretations, as we are left with faith in divine intent when we evaluate whether contradictory interpretations are equally valid, depending upon the identity of the community.

Hence, even in studying together, or with liberals and secularists, Levenson proposes that "to the extant that Jews and Christians bracket their religious commitments in the pursuit of biblical studies, they meet not as Jews and Christians, but as something else . . ." (84).

Even in the belief that one meets together in neutrality when investigating historical claims, for that matter, needs to be held in check. Levenson here quotes Kugel's observation that scholarship itself is entrenched in the Protestant tradition of pietism (i.e., liberalism), where man meets God unmediated by Church hierachies and human means of intervention.

The fact that he takes critical scholarship to task and exalts Childs' canonical approach as normative for scholars, whether Jewish or Christian, in today's situation is also a great step forward. He takes certain scholars like John Collins to task when Collins attempts to argue in a way that assumes autonomy from tradition, even while admitting that it is not. 


My problem with the proposals, both of higher criticism, as seen in Barr, and in the postmodern hermeneutic, as seen in Levenson here, is that it all must continue this pretense of scholarship, as though committing linguistic fallacies are academic. Levenson often has the right idea here, often making spot on observations, but these observations lend themselves to a wholistic, literary reading of the text that reveals authorial intent, the very thing Levenson wants to now suggest is impossible to recover in the smaller units. Levenson admits this when he says that such sounds like the premodern Bible of the rabbis. However, because he wishes to maintain the validity of the historical criticism in which academia is so entrenched, all contexts must be considered valid in determining some aspect of a text's meaning.

Hence, where Levenson has decried the historical investigation of the text as primary, he has not dethroned it from that position simply because by admitting that his hermeneutic must take it into account, he has thus adopted it as primary. If it was not primary, there would be only a need to acknowledge the validity of some observations that have nothing to do with hermeneutics, but that is not where he ended in his book. He ended with the idea that, since these observations do collide with traditional hermeneutics, which see the canon as ultimately complimentary rather than ultimately contradictory, one must adjust his hermeneutic to meet the new consensus. Yet, this is precisely what he just critiqued liberals of doing earlier on, chastising them for confusing historical development with theological and ethical teachings one gets from his exegesis in canonical context.
Instead, what makes more sense to argue, built upon Levenson’s very observations, is that the traditional forms of exegesis are far more sophisticated in their goals, even if their methods were not fine tuned for the task, than is the modern historical and sociological study of Scripture that lands on diachronic  observations as controlling of what  now calls for a synchronic approach (i.e., using individual sources that are broken off from the text in order to deny the text’s literary arguments and contextual uses of the sources).
In essence, what Levenson should have argued is that Barr was committing the same fallacy with texts that those who Barr built his entire reputation and career decrying were doing when it came to word studies.  This is perhaps Barr’s, and modern scholarship’s, biggest failure in terms of applying linguistic integrity to biblical interpretation as a whole. Hence, Levenson should have simply argued that the traditional hermeneutic that saw the text as ultimately complementary within its literary context was, and is, more scholarly than what is often postured and puffed up as scholarship, even though lacking any linguistic responsibility in these areas.
Beyond this, Levenson’s argument tended to stray into an apologetic for Judaism against Christianity at times (and, indeed, seemed to read into everything a Protestant bias that did not consider, or even was antagonistic toward, Judaism). To be sure, there are real examples from which he draws, and of course, some of this was necessary for his argument, as he intended to show that modern higher criticism, even if accurate in some of its observations, is a liberal Christian attempt to dismantle the Hebrew Bible as God’s relevant Word to humanity, and instead, render it as obsolete in an attempt to show that Jesus’ purpose is to displace the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament. Of course, this conflicts with what Jesus Himself taught, but Levenson seems to tie in this ultra-liberal German Lutheran idea with Pauline Christianity. Of course, the main tension here is due to the fact that if Christianity is true then Judaism cannot be. And that is why this conflict really exists. However, Levenson's primary target focuses in on German Lutheran piety, and often does not distinguish between this and other forms of Protestant Christianity.

Levenson, with his postmodern hermeneutic that seeks to deny authorial intent, is really attempting to argue that the Bible can legitimately be used to validate both, given their respective contexts. Of course, that is true in a sense, but does not take into account that this does not make any religious community legitimate in terms of the divine purpose of the text. That all comes down to what is really metaphysically true, and the means by which we come to that knowledge (i.e., by faith). Hence, rather than a "right text" to determine meaning, we are left with needing the "right people" to do so. Levenson's proposal that attempts to make them all legitimate either assumes the humanness of the text over the divine (and we're all just worshiping God in our own way), or it assumes divine intent (i.e., God's people include both of these communities and therefore intends to say different things to both of them).

The fact that Levenson's suggestion is conditioned by our present pluralistic and relativistic context is likely fitting to his argument that the Bible can be interpreted within various contexts. However, it does seem to beg the question in the sense that one must first assume the modern postmodern context as determinative for all other traditions that would be more exclusive and premodern. In other words, one must assume the guiding hermeneutic of our present context as primary in order to advance the idea that the Bible itself is doing this. In the end the argument just becomes circular and an exaltation of the very modern context that Levenson sought to humble with more traditional voices.

In the end, I appreciated Levenson’s arguments against higher criticism as the primary guide to understanding the Bible in terms of its desire to redirect and reinterpret its theological and ethical teachings. Although I think he took it in the wrong direction, and ended up confirming what he sought to deny, the book is a must read for the many observations and arguments he does make that are spot on in terms of putting higher criticism and sociological/anthropological interpretive grids in their place. I definitely recommend Levenson’s book for those purposes. In fact, I wish it were recommended reading for everyone entering Bible programs, as it would help illumine the influences and working assumptions everyone is making when approaching biblical interpretation. For that reason, even when I disagree with Levenson's ultimate solution, I wholeheartedly agree with the approach.

On a final note, Levenson takes issue with most Christian seminaries giving the cold shoulder to languages such as Mishnaic Hebrew as evidence that there is a purely Christian bias in the seminaries. He would be happy to learn, I suppose, that, although my seminaries did not teach Mishnaic Hebrew, I did learn the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Targumic Aramaic well enough to read the Mishna and Talmud to some degree (if that's any consolation).