Tag Archive | Science

The Bible and its Critics: Part One

The Discipline

I have often found myself astonished  while perusing the multifarious and ancient narratives accounting of a great flood.  From the Near east — the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians — to Asia, the New World native traditions, and the Masai people of sub-Saharan Africa, and, of course, the ever cherished Noah, the ubiquity of these stories and their similarity is nothing short of amazing and perplexing.

The scholars have enlisted the aid of the psychologist. In an effort to dismiss everything and reveal nothing, scholars of ancient traditions explain the phenomenon in hopelessly confused terms. They claim that there may exist something in the human mind that acted forcefully, or experience which acted incidentally, on the ancient scribes that induced them to put to print stories of such global demolition, something of an arcane, perhaps limbic, reaction to the noticed contingencies of life — earth, wind, water, fire — and their potential for great benefit and great suffering. And like today, bad news is profitable news. Modern cynicism having been superimposed over the detailed and ancient sketches of human experience, they are reduced to mere mechanisms of political and social control. This is what scholars suggest, and it is suggested frequently.

Picking up on this tone, literary atheists and secular scholars chime with great enthusiasm that there exist no extra-biblical evidence that suggests the Israelite exodus from Egypt and subsequent conquest of Canaan occurred, or that the Kingdoms of David and Solomon were more than mere tribal chiefdoms. This is not true, as we will see in forthcoming posts. However, let us assume, for the sake of this exposé on the discipline, that it is true.

Archaeology is not in the business of ontological proofs. Lack of evidence should never be considered evidence of lack. When dealing with a text “innocent until proven guilty” should be the maxim of analyses, as the Historian and legal scholar J. W. Montgomery notes,

 historical and literary scholarship continues to follow Aristotle’s dictum that the benefit of doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself. This means that one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies.

With this dictum in mind, one must ask the relevant question: is there any evidence that compromises or contradicts the historical narrative, as it concerns the exodus and conquest, of the Biblical text? There exists none. Not  a scrap. Not even the semblance of circumstantial evidence.

Moving back to the flood narrative one should notice the contrasting principles of what is expected in the conquest narrative and what is provided in the flood narrative. A specific, extra biblical, category of evidence that is demanded in the case of the political and demographic accounts of the Israelite excursions, is reduced to the universal psychological superfluity of ancient man upon the demand being met in the ubiquity of the flood narrative. Arguments now follow like tipping dominoes. It is modern science, critics proclaim, that precludes any flood on a global or large regional scale. Meteorologist and geologist repeat this with one tongue, while the other pontificates with serpent like duplicity that if global warming is not addressed, much of the lower lying regions of the continents will soon be covered in water. Dismal science, meet Dismal theory. Ancient myth, meet modern theory.

That the multitude of accounts of diluent devastation might be veridical is dismissed because of the encroaching theological suggestions. That the biblical text may not be mere mythic flotsam in cases of historical events has led some secularist scholars to occupy themselves with the concern that people of reasonable faculties may be more inclined to take its theological superstructure into more serious consideration. They are correct in their fears. In a  man disposed to see historic accuracy, visions of metaphysical congeniality, if not accuracy, are not far behind.

The duplicity and double standard that the bible is subjected to should be sorely disappointing, but it never is. Keep these considerations in mind for the following posts. We are dealing with a narcissism that has plagued men of intellectual posture for millenia, thus the Greek historian Thucydides writes in his Peloponnesian War,

“For though I have found it impossible, because of its remoteness in time, to acquire a really precise knowledge of the distant past or even of the history preceding our own period, yet, after looking back into it as far as I can, all the evidence leads me to conclude that these periods were not great periods either in warfare or in anything else.”

Thucydides’ calm admission of both certainty and ignorance should not be dismissed as the ancient ramblings of a nascent discipline. The most salient feature of the history of Historians is the presumption of knowledge while disposed to ignorance, if not arrogance.

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Four Men, Two Geniuses, Two Gaffes: Obama’s Ignorant Demagoguery.

Science

In the 3rd century BCE a man of strong physique and penetrating intelligence made his way across the Sahara to Egypt. He was born in Cyrene, in modern day Libya. Having noted that the local surroundings were as dispossessed of intellect then as they are now, he left for Alexandria. One can see him in a robe of wool, linen maybe, perhaps a staff in hand, maybe on camel back. He wore sandals or went barefoot, as the dust of his path surrounded him in patterns of elegance that are so often the expected descriptors of a man of such mental magnanimity. The lines on his face revealed the scorched erosion of a hostile and unforgiving sun. His eyes were steady, sharp maybe, his mind dicing the very air he breathed.

Ptolemaic Egypt was a congenial place, at a congenial time. Chronologically ensconced between the height of Hellenism, and the pragmatic ravishing of Rome, it was a center of learned culture and political stability.

Eratosthenes of Cyrene came into influence in Alexandria. He studied there until his Ptolemaic patrons decided to give him a position in harmony with his prodigious mind. He was appointed as the chief of the Alexandrian library, the one that later mobs, in religious zest, so frightfully destroyed. He was good friends with Archimedes of Syracuse. The two men were separated by nearly a thousand sea miles, a situation revealing then, as now, that men of considerable intellect are few and far between.

Eratosthenes has many monumental achievements to his name; he was the founder of a scientific chronology, laying out the history of civilization since the Trojan war, year after languishing year of rise, fall, abandonment; he is credited with having invented the astrolabe, a model of the Ptolemaic solar system, along with it came the necessary lines of celestial longitude and latitude. He knew the earth was round; he calculated its circumference with stunning accuracy. The sun’s zenith in Syene, a city south of Alexandria, at the summer solstice was reported to be directly overhead. This was not to be unexpected, Syene lies on the tropic of cancer.  What was unexpected, and only in the character of man to discern, is that Eratosthenes found something to derive from this observation. Back home in Alexandria, the sun’s position on the summer solstice is 7°12′ south of the zenith or 1/50 of the circumference of a circle. Assuming that the Earth was 360° the calculation of its circumference was a matter of simple geometry: 360°/7°12′ times the distance between Alexandria and Syene. His calculation was only hampered by the difficulty of measuring the exact distance between the two cities. Nonetheless, his calculations were only off by a mere 2%. The knowledge of the earth’s spherical dimensions was known then, and it was known in 1492.

History

Dwight D. Eisenhower is known by liberals as the man who warned about the “military industrial complex” and known by everyone else for everything that he did, and everything of substance. Conservatives lament his above statement, consoled by the fact that if the old boy was still around for the fall of the soviet empire, his tune would have whistled more congenially.

Eisenhower was the supreme allied commander in Europe during WW2 and oversaw the campaign all the way to the gates of Berlin. The American forces having liberated Dachau, along with medical aid, he immediately ordered that photographs and film be taken because as he stated “sometime in the future, some son of a bitch is going to say this never happened.” He was prescient and abrupt.

The man was paternal in a way that only Generals can be. He successfully negotiated the political and egoistic rivalry between a cheeky Victorian General Montgomery, and a stalwart, uncompromising Patton. Like two fighting siblings, they both threatened to tear the family apart. Only Eisenhower’s equanimity in the face of puerile infighting united the American and British forces to become the greatest military machine the world had ever seen.

The Invasion of Normandy was the greatest and largest amphibious assault undertaken by any army, at any time, and at anyplace, and still is to this day. The projected casualty count makes our current wars look like farmers skirmishing with 22 rifles. The entire might of two nations was in play, and the future of Europe and the world was at stake. This was certainly audacious, the outcome of the invasion was not clear. Clarity of success didn’t come until the first week, and it was almost a year more of fighting ahead. The night before the landing, Eisenhower penned two letters, a letter of resignation, and a letter of victory, metered praise, and hopeful determination. He sent and read the latter.

Demos

I have recounted the above almost entirely from memory, with a quick glance at a book to reacquaint myself with Eratosthenes’s method. Some may find the admission haughty. And it may be so. But it is for this reason that when I hear our current leader of the western world, Barack Obama, declare that people who are skeptical of the his ardent and undying eroticism with green energy, and are unimpressed with his unyielding attempts to thwart new drilling, “would have been members of the flat earth society in Columbus’s day,” I know that his rhetorical skill is as keen as his intellect is not. Or when I hear our bumbling vice president, whose very name induces both laughter and disdain, say that the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound was “the most audacious military operation in 500 years,” I am morally outraged at this repugnant political twerps demotion of the thousands of American, British, and Canadian soldiers and French resistance fighters that died in June of 1944. Or I am reminded of the raid on Entebbe; or the Spanish armada’s defeat; or Gettysburg, Antietam, Bull Run. The list of military campaigns exceeding that of the raid in Pakistan in both quality and scope is almost endless.

Obama is the type of demagogue that is all too comfortable both praising an unhistorical narrative—an intellectually courageous Columbus, a valiant explorer bringing Europe out of the dark ages and progressing it towards greater understanding—and at the same time lamenting its later effect, colonialism, he finds himself in a position of both utter ignorance and pernicious dubiousness. He knows one, but scant of the other. Perhaps if instead of reading Cornell West, he read Burke, Locke, Plato or Aristotle, his machinations of mendacity and intellectual pretensions would not make themselves readily apparent. We are now under the guidance of a man who knows not from where we came, dislikes what we are, and wants to lead us away from the very civilization that he is so uncompromisingly ignorant of.

Proof of Purposelessness

Scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.

—A.N. Whitehead, Mathematician and Philosopher.

A proof of purposelessness would be the miracle of miracles, in that all teleological fragments constituting a proof itself would be refutation enough.  Yet, today, in the 21st century, when science has revealed a universe of such complexity,we find that many scientists themselves, their denizens on their mad white coat tails, believe that it has no purpose whatsoever.

A bang for your buck.

It began with a bang, and a bang began it. As it is comically called, Big Bang cosmology is an ideological threat for some and an inspirational delight for others. Theologians placidly smirked as evidence for an actual beginning of the universe emerged in the 1920’s and was confirmed a few decades later by the very undertaking that many hoped would deny it, mathematical physics. They’re still smirking.

But what’s this? On a recent Discovery Channel program, a network known for its stunning filmography if not its flaccid intellectual content, Stephen Hawking confidently declares that all that is necessary to create our universe is space and energy. If E=MC^2, I too have no way of debating those necessities. A triviality having been established, it can be translated: all that’s needed to create the universe is the universe. Putting the statement into context though, that G-d didn’t create the universe, all that is necessary becomes everything that needs explaining. And those necessary items need to explain themselves. This is not a circle of thought that is designed to evoke any confidence whatsoever. Physicists now find themselves in a difficult situation, much like that of an interrogator tasked with extracting information from a languid and innocent suspect, at what point will the torture begin?

The torture began. Quantum cosmology is the last hope for an un-caused universe,; it is a hope maintained by a devotion whose piety is eclipsed only by that of the Pope’s devotion to the ubiquity of the body of Christ. It reminds me of a magician exclaiming that the illusion is real and that the real is an illusion. All those real numbers as we track back to the singularity become complex, and time now, represented by the real numbers, now (to use the present twice) is represented by the complex. There is no order in those numbers; they go nowhere.  Before and after become irrelevant, thus time is irrelevant, and the singularity disappears — abracadabra, to take a term from Aramaic.

It must be noted that this is strictly an intellectual construction, it has not been tested and by an almost reluctant turn to the definition, it cannot be. After all, time ALL ON ITS OWN transforms from the real to the complex, an event implying intelligence, and unpredictability. Amusingly, what remains is something like a a sac, not a point, where time and space are directionless and thus irrelevant. Nothing has been noticed, and nothing has been explained. Commenting on the fact that quantum cosmology has ended physics as a practical or useful science, Alexander Vilenkin remarks, melancholic, “sadly, quantum cosmology is not likely to become an observational science.” Astute Dr. Vilenkin. Neither was conventional cosmology.

Mathematician and Philosopher David Berlinski agrees regarding Vilenkin’s assessment of things: “Correct. Quantum cosmology is a branch of mathematical metaphysics. It provides no cause for the emergence of the universe, and so does not answer the first cosmological question, and it offers no reason for the existence of the universe, and so does not address the second. If the mystification induced by its modest mathematics were removed from the subject, what remains would not appear appreciably different in kind from various creation myths in which the origin of the universe is attributed to sexual congress between primordial deities.” The most derisive aspect of this comment is the observation that Quantum cosmology is a branch of “mathematical metaphysics.” This I find amusing.