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John Hobbins
Interests: The study of language, literature, and history, weblogs dealing with current affairs, science fiction movies
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John Hobbins is now following Michael W. Kruse
May 7, 2012
Point taken. Those in the best position to grasp the plain sense meaning of a text nonetheless often disagree about that sense is. Even a little knowledge can sometimes be useful in weeding out eccentric views among the literati.
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Looney, I would say that economics is a science in the same sense as many others. In fact, economists excel at developing testable hypotheses which are subject to critique from a variety of points of view (not just mathematical cogency and statistical accuracy). It is no accident that Karl Popper himself taught at the London School of Economics. On the other hand, economics in the sense of worldview alternatives, the choice between a vision of economics inspired by Milton Friedman or Amartya Sen for example, is more difficult to adjudicate, though most economists and non-economists would take offence if you were to argue that there is no relationship between the data economists consider and the divergent worldviews economists espouse. There is a strong relationship; often, furthermore, the truths divergent worldviews embody are complementary as opposed to mutually exclusive. It is more a matter of a hierarchy of truth as opposed to a difference between truth and falsehood. Which brings us to young earth creationism. The fundamental problem is that it seems to be an entirely ad hoc explanation of the data in hand. The position, it seems to fair to say, would not even exist if not depend for a particular reading (in my view, a misreading) of biblical teaching. Which is why I am, with plenty of others, a creationist who believes that God designed the world such that biological change occurs, in ways we are far from understanding perfectly, through a number of mechanisms some of which go under the umbrella term of evolution. That said, your kids' professors might learn a thing or two if they read more widely in their own field. Miller and Collins are top-tier biologists. They connect the biological dots in the same way biologists in general do, but draw different metaphysical conclusions.
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Nobunaga, I concur. In fact, some atheists put some putative believers - Jewish or Christian - to absolute shame. Based on Matthew 25, in fact - though plenty of Christians are in denial about this - there are bound to be plenty of surprises on Judgment Day.
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Mitchell, My experience has been similar to yours. In more than one phase of my life, I tried atheism on for size, and found it hollow. Maybe I am missing something, but it struck me in practice and still strikes me as a highly sophisticated form of denial in the sense of a form of mental behavior. To be clear, I am also fully aware that, as a helpful NYT article put it, denial literally makes the world go round. Like paranoia, it is an essential survival mechanism. On the other hand, the quest for truth ultimately involves a willingness to move beyond denial, fear, and paranoia to faith, hope, and love. So, at least, it seems to me. The NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/20/health/research/20deni.html
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Hi Looney, Sorry I didn't get to your comment earlier. Here is an off-the-cuff response. Precise, unchanging mathematical definitions are possible in all scientific disciplines which deal with empirical questions at some level of analysis and with respect to many kinds of data. Still, for sciences that study more complex and multidimensional realities, it is not at all the case that the most interesting - and testable - hypotheses are best expressed in mathematical terms. As for Karl Popper, it needs to be stressed that Popper's critique was a friendly one, that is, he spoke throughout his career as a self-critical proponent of evolutionary theory, not as an anti-evolutionist. For those on this thread who are unaware, Popper said the following: “Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program” (Unended Quest, 1976). Later, he modified that statement such that he asserted only that evolutionary theory - more precisely, key aspects of the theory, such as the one that states that survivors survive - is difficult to test. I think Popper's 1976 statement is more salient, in the following sense: insofar as evolutionists attempt to solve the problem of whether the process of evolution is guided or unguided, we are now talking about a metaphysical program. At the very least, it has to be said that it is unquestionably very difficult to decide, on the basis of empirical observations and testable hypotheses about them, between the following alternatives: The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference. -- Richard Dawkins, "God's Utility Function," Scientific American 275 (5) (November 1995) 80-85; 85 The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, the wisdom of a provident and purposeful God, intent upon a fruitful and dynamic world, and committed to a promise of freedom that makes genuine love possible. -- from Kenneth Miller’s Georgetown Lectures, 1/29/09 Kenneth Miller, of course, is one of the foremost biologists in the country. Like Francis Collins, T. G. Dobzhansky, Francisco Ayala, and plenty of others, he finds God in evolution. It needs to be stressed that there is a ton of empirical evidence for evolutionary processes. For example, the notion that human beings and other primates have common ancestors is by far and away the most elegant and convincing explanation of the data we have in hand. Looney, if you disagree with this, I would appreciate it if you said so right off. If we don't agree on this, I have to wonder if you are a young earth creationist or something like that. The problem with young earth creationism, of course, is that if Dawkins' and Miller's metaphysical interpretation of change processes in biology (i.e., evolution) qualify as metaphysics and opposed to physics (and Popper thought that metaphysical propositions were not meaningless, and are capable of criticism, but not in the same way insofar as they deal with more than empirical phenomena), YECism does not qualify even as an interpretation of the change processes. It qualifies only as a Johnny Cochran style demonstration of sufficient doubt in the case of murder of a specific definition of God. Fine, but that has literally nothing to do with science. To come at the question once again, I would encourage you to read more widely in Popper. Popper you see took great pleasure in criticizing the kind of global hypotheses that you seem to want to write off from scratch as unscientific and perhaps also devoid of truth for that reason. I would suggest that you are making things too easy on yourself. For example, if you want to criticize communism, go right ahead, but the style of argument you adopt can just as easily be used against capitalism. For my part, I have severe criticisms to make of both capitalism and communism, both in practice and in theory. I am in fact deeply suspicious of anyone who cannot do likewise. In fact, I wonder if it is not the opposite of the scientific method to declare that so much of what human beings ponder is imponderable for human beings qua scientists. I see you agreeing with Pinker on the question of imponderables, though perhaps you, like him, turn right around and ponder those very questions, without seeing the irony therein.
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Hi Mike, I'll be honest and say that little to no Greek and Hebrew combined with Strong's Concordance is a dangerous thing. Sure, you are going to see patterns that you will otherwise miss. But it will be very easy to draw the wrong conclusions based on insufficient foundations. I am big believer in the concept behind Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule. Gladwell claims that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. Applied to the case of the knowledge of the fine detail of biblical literature, I would add that those 10,000 hours need to be spent with the text in the original languages. We expect that doctors and engineers and lawyers clock those kind of hours in their respective disciplines. We expect that of athletes and entertainers. It's about time that we expect the same from those who claim to be biblical scholars, and from at least a subset of those teaching on the front lines (pastors, priests, rabbis).
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Hi Nathan, Karen Jobes is an excellent scholar, but I don't think it is helpful to draw an analogy between simultaneous translation and literary translation - the translation of the Bible is a subcategory of the latter. In literary translation there is an attention to detail that can only produce decent results given a tremendous investment in terms of knowledge, time, and gifts. If you are translating the Bible, Marx, or a classic like Shakespeare, an attention to detail at the level of diction and fine nuance is expected. This is content that is understood to be in need of slow and deliberate reading (even if such was not the intention of the original author, who may have tossed off a letter or an essay with great haste). There is of course more than one school of literary translation. I am arguing that it is better to err on the side of the "Puritans," whereas you may prefer to err on the side of the "Cavaliers." For the distinction, go here: http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1550/article_detail.asp For further discussion: http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2011/06/the-difference-between-faithful-and-unfaithful-translation-of-biblical-literature.html Better yet, of course: read the Bible, Marx, Homer, and Dante in the original languages.
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Hi Mitchell, I concur. Though I think it is especially exciting to think about how we know anything about the deep structures of history. One doesn't have to read very long in biblical literature to realize what are taken to be those structures there. Things like collapse through internal dysfunction followed by restored by an external agent; exodus and revolution; the cross, the resurrection. How do we justify the belief that these things, or other very different things, constitute the fundamental structuring elements of human existence and human history?
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Hi Looney, I understand your point, though I have reservations. I am currently visiting Johns Hopkins University for two days of orientation for admitted students. Though she will spend a year in Lima Peru before she begins her pre-med track, my 17 year old daughter Betta will begin studies there soon enough. JHU suits her well because it is STEM focused with an emphasis on original research beginning as a freshman in college. Betta has a heart of gold; in fact, her goal is to practice medicine in Africa on a year round basis. But she is also a no-nonsense girl when it comes to science. Now what you seem to be saying is that fields like evolutionary biology (Dawkins) and cognitive science (Pinker) do not traffic in falsifiable hypotheses. If that is true, I assume you are convinced that the fields of study like history, philosophy, and theology traffic even less in falsifiable hypotheses. But I disagree. First of all, at their best, all fields of paleo this and paleo that - paleoclimatology, paleoastronomy, paleobotany, and so forth - depend on the same principles of interpolation and extrapolation as do physics, geology, and all the rest. In all of these fields it is possible to formulate falsifiable hypotheses. In fact, theories once held by most or even all geologists and biologists and cognitive scientists have been shown to be false. This is no different the history of falsified hypotheses in a field like physics. I also have no difficulty in formulating falsifiable hypotheses in the disciplines of philosophy and theology. I have given examples before on these threads. When I do so, it seems to surprise a bunch of people. Perhaps you too find the notion of falsifiable hypotheses at the highest level of abstraction as it were, that of metaphysics and God, troubling as well. I don't know.
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Hi R, It's nice of you to pay attention to the metaphors I deployed. I am fine with adding in the dimensions of entitlement and ontological standing. But in that case I would refer first of all, not to the eschatological banquet parables, but to the story of Esau and Jacob. On grounds of ontological standing (the definition of what it means to be human, even if we don't develop that definition to the depths that Luther did in his Disputatio de homine) and entitlement, Esau would have done well to retain his birthright - that of pondering the imponderables. Instead, in the name of instant gratification, he (the hard scientist) sells his birthright to his lowlife brother (that would be you and me, theologians and scholars of the humanities). But to return to the banquet of Jesus' parables. What I am suggesting is that "blinded by the light" atheists refuse the invitation to attend. Not that they are alone in refusing. Many choose not to attend; they have more important things to attend to.
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Hi TheraP, Much of what you say resonates with me deeply. Reading the biblical text with patience, for example, is something I aspire to. Thanks for your comments.
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Hi Angela, I think what is missing right now, at the intersection of source criticism, inner-biblical interpretation, and the history of the religion of Israel, is a bold global hypothesis as compelling and controversial as that of Wellhausen was. The recent volume by David Carr is praiseworthy because it is ambitious and covers a lot of ground, yet it lacks flavor it seems to me; it reeks of fatigue. I think there is a huge opening someone might walk through right now, with the right interdisciplinary focus.
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Hi Batzion, Translations tend to omit elements in the diction of the original that sound strange in the target language. For example, Russian names feature patterns that seem strange to non-Russians: why not alter the names to accommodate patterns in the target language. Some translations of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky novels do this very thing; others require the reader of the novel in translation to learn a new set of conventions. Concepts which are no longer understandable to many are sometimes omitted in translation. For example, Some translations of the Bible leave to one side references to expiation, atonement, and forensic justification because these are means or metaphors of salvation that are unfamiliar to many. But what if the truth the passage is trying to convey *is* unfamiliar, and requires unfamiliar concepts and idioms to come to expression? Such is the case more often than many realize. Simplifying translations make the truth the text seeks to convey more familiar than it actually is.
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Hi Mitchell, It is a sign of an enormous collective pathology that the chief form of politically correct punishment in the United States is a "time out" that may last anywhere from a few weeks to a lifetime. 39 lashes might well be more effective, less violent all things considered, and less damaging to the psyche than long time outs spent in the company of a radicalizing community of others in time out. Nor is this an argument for or against corporal punishment. Detention is a very concrete and very destructive form of corporal punishment. Along the same lines, I am also in favor of a careful and controlled use of spanking by positive authority figures in a child's life. Corporal punishment within limits stands a chance of being effective where timeouts are not. The subject of course is difficult and sensitive and for that very reason, in need of being reopened. On the other hand, as you intimate, the only people who dare question the status quo on such topics are, almost to a woman and a man, extremists of the right or the left. I am not an extremist in either sense. I pick my battles carefully in the political arena. It is true that extremists who otherwise disagree sometimes join hands and accomplish a lot of good. I don't see that happening at the moment, not on these issues, but that does not mean it shouldn't.
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Hi Mitchell, I look forward to further reflections from your side.
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Hi Benjamin, Agamben is a great read; enjoy. Anarchism of a communitarian and socialist variety has always attracted some believers. Jacques Ellul, a great French Reformed intellectual, is the first example that comes to mind.
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Hi Al, I agree with your first statements but not with the last. Are you trying to say that businesses and non-profits are rackets, but governments are not? Or are you saying that being a scam artist is the definition of a human being? I don't see why NGOs in particular are scams, or why that is all that they are. Clearly the opposite is the case.
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Hi Deane, You're right, I should have caught your tongue-in-cheekness. Best wishes, John
Toggle Commented Jan 26, 2012 on A generation of locusts at Ancient Hebrew Poetry
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Hi Deane, Rossi, to be sure, is precisely the kind of politician that left-wing terrorists belonging to the Red Brigades feared the most, since Rossi has proposals for reforming and reworking the social contract that would stand a chance of building more equity into a social democratic system which the Red Brigades, and perhaps you as well, despise and would rather see bite the dust. A premise of this sort is the best I can do without further information as to why you would call Rossi a right-wing reactionary. Nothing could be further from the truth. Berlusconi had no use for Rossi's proposals or for his analysis; if you fall into the same category, you are of course free to offer proposals and analysis of your own.
Toggle Commented Jan 22, 2012 on A generation of locusts at Ancient Hebrew Poetry
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Hi J bird, Thanks for commenting here. A couple of issues come to mind. It is not obviously the case that קרנים refers to horns in Hab 3:4; on the contrary, that seems unlikely. Nor is a statistical argument persuasive. If "horns" is the primary meaning and "rays" or "bolts" of light a derived meaning, all other things being equal one would expect the primary meaning to be attested far more often than the derived meaning. Finally, the connection between horns and a crown ranges from strong to weak to non-existent. Even if the relevant texts present Moses as having horns in the wake of a theophany, it is not as clear as one might hope that the association "=power and connection to God" would be easily made.
Toggle Commented Jan 14, 2012 on Did Moses have horns? at Ancient Hebrew Poetry
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Hi Steve, Wouldn't it be interesting if we had someone in our Senate who was as honest as Rossi? I can't think of anyone who is.
Toggle Commented Jan 9, 2012 on A generation of locusts at Ancient Hebrew Poetry
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Hi Thera, Thanks for the conversation. In the world in which we live, I believe there is a place for hate, as there is a place for anger. Still, the general rule applies: "do not let the sun go down on your anger." That does not always work, with respect to anger or hatred, but it is a goal well worth pursuing.
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Hi Mitchell, I don't know if anything by Rossi has been translated into the language of the empire; I have his volume, "Meno ai padri, piu ai figli: Stato sociale e modernizzazione dell'Italia" = "Less to the fathers, more to the children: The social welfare state and the modernization of Italy." Rossi talks about the fact that the form modernization in Great Britain, Italy, and like countries including our own has taken is inconceivable without the structures of the social welfare state. At the same time, those structures and entitlements are so tilted in the direction of the non-young and healthy that the young and healthy, not to mention their children, are in consequence struggling with declining levels of economic prosperity. There needs to be a very significant course correction. I think he has a point but I am aware of the irony of writing that in a comment on a blog. Even if I were living below the poverty line as defined by who knows what US agency - I am not - I would still consider my children, 8, 17, and 20, not just me and my wife, as very much in the 1 per cent because, among other things, we are electronically wired. The internet is after all a freebie (or almost) brought to us originally by the military-industrial complex. Even though we as parents pay in big money every year to finance a number of entitlement programs for seniors and beyond, with the shortfall put on their credit card (the national debt), I am apt to consider my children as better off than I was at their age. Are they better off from the moral and social points of view? I hope that it is the case, but in large part that is in spite of, not because of, the immense amount of wealth and cash that sloshes around in this country, in their own hands and out of them.
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Hi Angela, What you say is very true and you say it very well. BTW, I had a great time reading your Eisenbrauns volume and am now in your debt for a a number of new insights, but I have not yet found the time to collect my thoughts into a review of the kind I am confident you would appreciate.
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