Monday, November 22, 2010

Robert Price on Naturalistic Historical-Critical "Bias"

"Those who claim that only a naturalistic bias prevents critics from accepting the Biblical miracle stories as factual have to explain why they themselves are by no means willing to accept all the wonders of nonbiblical scriptures and legends. It is obvious that they are trying to substitute for historical method the old doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible. Their real gripe is not that critics hold a theoretical bias, that of naturalism, but rather that they fail to hold one, namely belief in the historical infallibility of the Christian Bible (21).

Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. Price, Robert. New York: Prometheus Press, 2003.
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Andrew T. said...

Faith in the God of the Bible does not necessitate denying that miracles occur in other contexts and traditions. One can adhere to the Abrahamic-covenantal model and merely consign those other miracles some lesser, peripheral status.

Peter said...

Hey Andrew,

Considering that you accept the reality of miracles, do you uncritically accept their presence in every tradition? How do you feel about Marian miracles and crying icons? What rubric of partiality do you apply to allow your acceptance of some but not others? Do you begin with a critical bias toward any, and if, so, why do you partially apply a critial bias?

Andrew T. said...

I cautiously accept the reality of miracles. They are exceedingly rare, but I am not a naturalist/materialist. One of the best influences the Netzarim have had on me (amidst a great deal of bad influence) is the idea that miracles do not have to be violations of natural physical laws; they can be amazing, exceedingly unlikely events that are unable to be explained at that particular point in time, and in contemplation of them people are brought nearer to God. And I believe that they occur in every tradition, because no tradition has a monopoly on truth. Godly miracles certainly do not require a perfect context to manifest. In the book of Judges Israel was exceedingly sinful, idolatrous, and disobedient, even flat out pagan, but God's hand still worked behind the scenes many times and Israel was ultimately delivered. Note that this certainly does not mean I believe that all traditions or all miracles are equal.

I think I'd better do more research on Marian miracles and weeping icons before commenting on it.

Andrew T. said...

Hello Peter,

I read the HuffPo article you recently Tweeted. It was well-written and makes many good points, but I find the last part of that article objectionable. Many commandments of Torah, such as the dietary restrictions he mentioned, are not meant to be rationalized. They are to be observed wholly in a spirit of obedience to God's will, though there are demonstratable health benefits to some of them. I would put the abomination of homosexual intercourse in the same category, though I think that only the union of a man and a woman is a legitimate marriage in God's eyes, as is clearly taught in traditional Judaism. Judaism's views of marriage bear a timeless wisdom that we can all learn from. But I'm getting off on a tangent, here.

After reading that article, I found another very good one authored by Deepak Chopra. He eloquently defends the primacy of consciousness against the hyper-materialism advanced by Stephen Hawking in his latest book. Read it here:

Peter said...

Hello Andrew,
I enjoyed the article too. I am fond of the “reality of God” the Idea concept. To restate how I understand this, God is very real as an idea, an idea that has significant top-down influence on humanity. In the God-as-Idea model, God is an aspect of human cultures and theology is then a branch of anthropology. I accept this reality and feel that interaction with this God important for a number of reasons.

I am wholeheartedly with you regarding the rationalization of Torah commandments. This is one of the issues that I take up with Messianics who, for example, attempt to construe the “dietary law” into a health and wellness code. It is not. Ostrich is healthy and far healthier than any kosher beef that I’ve encountered. Kosher beef can be just as dangerous as pork—or, for that matter, just as healthy and safe.

It used to bother me when I was Messianic that more Messianics did not see that the “dietary law” was a matter of faith: obedience driven by covenant fidelity. It bothered me that they seemed to have to explain them as healthy and so beneficial before they would accept the virtue of obedience out of love for God.

The HuffPo article was not attempting to enter into the intra-Jewish dialogue of covenant obligations—instead it was being critical of arbitrary use of the Pentateuch as a source for public ethics. If a faith community desires to practice a purity code, as dangerous as such a proposition proves itself to be time and time again, they are entitled to doing so. If that means no wearing of red, eating of fish on Fridays, sex through a sheet, or any other number of arbitrary standards, then so be it. Though group identity and cohesion through distinctive ritual/ceremonial/arbitrary practices can be of benefit to some, such often also leads to baseless prejudices toward outsiders and potential psychological harm to practitioners, especially those born into such groups.

Question for you Andrew: if the Pentateuch did prohibit homosexuality, would you consider it a sin?

Andrew T. said...

Hello Peter,

If Torah had no specific commandment against homosexuality, I think eschewing homosexuality would still be a reasonable exegesis because Torah also sets a clear ideal of marriage. None of the 613 commandments of the Pentateuch forbid dressing immodestly, but it reasonable exegesis to prohibit it, as the Rabbis have done, since it clearly violates the spirit of Torah. But I think a homosexual could be an otherwise irreproachable Torah-keeper and a very good person, just like somebody could fail to tithe but otherwise be a faithful keeper of Torah. The fundamentalists are wrong for over-emphasizing the sin of homosexuality.

We are not in agreement on purity codes. As a naturalist, you view the Torah's purity code as a social construct and analyze its utilitarian value. On the other hand, I believe the Torah is divine, part of a covenant between God and one people that endures forever. A Jewish person who lays tefillin or immerses in a mikvah isn't doing so purely for the practical benefit of social cohesion; these rituals offer a sublime link between the human and the divine. If this person's religion has failed to make him a decent person, which would include having compassion for and accommodating homosexuals, then religion in that case has failed.

Can purity codes lead to insularity, tribalism, and intolerance? Of course. Every tradition can be made a force for ill by myopically radical interpretation. Many Chareidim eschew internet access, restrict members to an ultra-narrow code of monochromatic dress, and view non-Jews as lesser humans.

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