Ed Babinski Responds to Randal Rauser on "Biblical Cosmology"

Randal Rauser highlighted my name and chapter in The Christian Delusion in several posts on his blog at TheChristianPost.com. I will respond here.

In his last most post dated June 28, 2010, The Burden of the Critic he stated, "I'll simply provide a concise summary and partial restatement of my epistemological position and the problems with Babinski's chapter. . . .At the very least, it is the job of the critic to provide a coherent epistemology which avoids infinite regress and which offers plausible grounds to believe that 'The Bible is God's word' could not be among those beliefs which fit into (a) or (b). Sadly, people responding in this blog, not to mention Ed Babinski, do not even have that evidential burden on their radar screen." [emphasis Rauser]

My reply appears below:

Hi Randall, all I said in my article on "The Cosmology of the Bible," and in fact the ONLY substantial disagreement you seem to have with my chapter in The Christian Delusion is my statement [that I am paraphrasing below]:

"IF [emphasis added] there are any words of God in the Bible they appear to be delineated as such by humans who wrote the Bible and by humans who read it, and humans are also the ones who interpret such words, and who choose to focus on the importance of some sentences and delegate others as being of less importance, and attempt to harmonize still others."

I might add that no interpretation can be proven to be inerrant nor even necessarily inspired, so even if some humans claim a book is inerrant or inspired there remain different interpretations of such a statement--and different interpretations concerning what divine information the Bible is allegedly conveying--with disagreements stretching from Genesis to Revelation.

Let me add here the words of a Christian:

"The most zealous defenders of the verbal inspiration of the Bible admit that there are parts of it of less importance than others.This is a great admission, because another is involved in it, namely that we ourselves must be judges of the comparative importance of these different parts." - Thomas Erskine (Scottish Evangelical and also universalist)

Secondly, you claim that the idea of an infinite regress defeats skepticism. And you add that you believe that "believing in the Bible" [however you happen to interpret such as statement] is rational. You leave out the fact that deism is equally rational. So are the beliefs of modern day denominations of Jews who disagree concerning the Christian interpretations of their holy books. So, alternatives remain. Even if "skepticism" was defeated questions remains concerning the alleged Hebrew-Christian anthropomorphic God and the alleged divine inspiration of certain books. I'm merely reminding readers that it's not simply a question of either/or with no possible middle views and questions.

Speaking of skepticism, when was the last time you read an article on the state of skepticism in philosophy today? One happens to have been published recently in the American Philosophical Quarterly (Volume 47, Number 3, July 2010), "Skeptics without Borders" by Kevin Meeker and Ted Poston. The point out that many philosophers today take a humbler stance concerning epistemological claims, and admit they are "chastened knowers" with "fallibilistic knowledge," and that epistemic questions remain no matter what one's viewpoint. They discuss ". . . the powerful quarantine problem, which has plagued the search for exalted epistemic states at least since the time of Hume. More specifically, we contend that the quarantine problem shows that we lack certain and luminous knowledge because such exalted epistemic states would be qualitatively different than other such epistemic states. As such, if we were able to achieve such exalted states, then there would be a precise boundary that demarcates them from the nonexalted states. Alas, we could find no such borders, either in the responses to Williamson or in his appeal to necessary truths that appear in a simple tautological guise. This result does not, of course, demonstrate that we lack fallibilistic knowledge; but it does show that we have no reason to give in to the lingering epistemic temptation to postulate a realm of unveiled truths. To the extent that we have knowledge, it is deeply fallibilistic."

As for infinite regress, I don't see any need to posit such a thing even for non-supernaturalists. It's enough for a non-supernaturalist to posit that a cosmos of cosmoses exists that has always existed and will always exist. (See brane theory, and also read about multiple-cosmos theory, there is even mounting evidence that many galaxies lying in one discrete region of our own cosmos is being pulled in one direction in unison, perhaps being pulled by another space-time bubble lying outside our own.)

Final questions:

1) Is there some sort of supernatural thing holding the cosmos of cosmoses together, determining its every change and movement? A God? A unifying force of some sort? Who knows? We haven't even gotten off the cradle planet yet. Scientists continue to debate field theory, we haven't spied the tiniest particles or strings of energy, we can't even see to the end of THIS space-time bubble of a cosmos. In fact most of the cosmos remains invisible to us if at the very beginning a faster-than-light-speed expansion took place as theorized. So our telescopes are not even able to detect MOST OF THE COSMOS.

2) How does a believer in cosmic purpose address the occurrence of several mass extinction events in the past? Was the Designer shaking his etch-i-sketch? Was it an admission of wasted time spent on perfecting/evolving beings that would simply be wiped out en masse before humans even arose? What about the history of upright hominids, hominds that had larger brains than modern apes, that also went extinct?

EXTINCT SEMI-ERECT HOMINIDS WITH BRAIN CAPACITIES LARGER THAN MODERN APES
Australopithecus africanus
Australopithecus garhi
Australopithecus sediba New
Australopithecus aethiopicus
Australopithecus robustus
Australopithecus boisei

EXTINCT ERECT HOMINIDS IN ORDER OF FURTHER INCREASING BRAIN CAPACITY
Homo habilis [tool makers]
Homo georgicus
Homo erectus
Homo ergaster
Homo antecessor
Homo heidelbergensis
Homo neanderthalensis
Homo floresiensis
[google: human evolution talk origins archive for a discussion of each fossil species]

Today there's only
Homo sapiens sapiens

Astronomers even mention that during the time of the Australopithecines a relatively nearby star went nova lighting up the night sky for our early ancestors. If a star lying much nearer had gone nova, it probably would have been the end of our ancestors. Such a star has in fact been discovered, lying nearer, but it isn't expected to go nova for a million or more years, though all types of other catastrophic events could also happen to our lifeboat bobbing in space. The earth's orbital path remains cris-crossed by hundreds of cataloged meteors. The cosmos is not safe, neither is the earth's shifting crust. Yellowstone could become a super volcano. Geologists are keeping close tabs on it. There is evidence it has blown in the past. Complex life forms remain restricted to few planets, and live on their surface. Five miles up or down from that shifting surface, we perish. Comparing the earth's unsafe unpredictable place in the modern cosmos with Genesis 1 is part of what was mentioned in my chapter, "The Cosmology of the Bible."

There are many questions in my opinion.

Edward T. Babinski

10 comments:

Harry H. McCall, CET said...

Ed,
Great counter arguments.

I am finishing up Karel Van Der Toorn’s Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible (Harvard University Press, 2007).

What is clear is that believing critics like Randal Rauser completely fail to understand the development of the Hebrew Bible in its ancient Near Eastern scribal context.

Somehow (according to believers like Rauser) the Hebrew Biblical tradition seems to have somehow purified ancient concepts (now claimed as Biblical truth) having their matrix in recorded Akkadian texts which themselves have been updated and transformed earlier textual traditons; most notably the long and multi level textual history of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

By this, I think it is highly significant that an extremely small number of professors who teach Sumerian and Akkadian literature in any major university believe in the cosmology of the Bible.

It is truly sad that Mr. Rauser did not deal with the reality of Karel Van Der Toorn’s book before taking his epistemological position with your chapter.

Harry H. McCall, CET said...

Ed,
Thanks for the in-depth response.

I strongly don’t believe people like Rauser knows just how much time “homework” you have done on the ANE and its brother, the late Biblical cosmology.

BTW: I have the EJ Brill set by WW Hallo, The Context of Scripture (3 volumes). This is a long welcomed update of Princeton University’s text Ancient Near Eastern Text Relating to the Old Testament edited by J. Pritchard whose first edition was begun in the late 40’s and now is in its somewhat outdated final 3rd, 1969 edition.

Anonymous said...

The infinite regress Randal is referring to is the infinite regress posed by evidentialism as an approach to epistemology:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidentialism

I believe that Randal proposes that foundationalism is the solution, and that beliefs such as "the bible is divinely inspired", "the Christian god is the one true god" and "the Christian god loves me" are properly basic - they do not require evidence to warrant belief.

It seems to me that there is no evidence based investigation of the Christian bible that could possibly convince Randal that it is not inspired by the Christian god because Randal somehow just knows that it is. Its his "sensus divinitatus" I suppose.

Accordingly, Babinski's essay does not affect his belief.

I believe that Randal's claim is that only "defeaters" for his belief that the Christian bible is divinely inspired would be relevant.

I have provided him with Eric Baldwin's ideas about an internal rationality defeater, but he has avoided engaging this defeater, and has merely repeated his objection to me that evidential approaches are subject to an infinite regress of evidences and explanations.

-Silver Bullet

Edward T. Babinski said...

On the "infinite regress" argument, why is the question of "infinite regress" not applicable to "God?"

Because "God" is "properly basic?"

But a "cosmos of cosmoses" that has always been and always will be, is not "properly basic?"

How can one prove that only one of those is properly basic?

That reminds me of another argument, namely that the parameters for a cosmos that supports living things is evidence of special design but if the chances of living things arising were indeed as slim as such folks say, slim chances could also imply a combination of randomness and time rather than foresight and planning.

And if life is as extremely rare as those parameters suggest than that could mean that who or what brought about this cosmos could be indifferent to its existence as well as indifferent to any living things this cosmos may contain.

In other words, if our number was so rare it had to come up in some super Monte Carlo game then maybe this cosmos IS the result of chance.

Look around us, the moon, no life there. Mars, maybe the simplest life forms if any, same with a moon around Saturn. While the rest of our solar system probably contains no life at all.

Douglas Adams used to tell the story about a puddle of water that arose after a rainstorm, and that puddle felt so snug in its hole that it produced an H2-Opic (ryhmes with "anthropic") hypothesis that said the odds were phenomenally against a hole existing in which that bit of water could fit so perfectly.

But as the sun arose and beat down on the puddle of water it began to evaporate, but the little puddle still clung to the view that it was marvelous how such a hole existed in which the puddle continued to fit so perfectly, until of course the puddle completely evaporated.

Add to that story the saying of Bertrand Russell that,

"If I were granted omnipotence and millions of years to experiment in, I should not think Man much to boast of as the final cause of all my efforts. Man, as a curious accident in a back-water, is intelligible: his mixture of virtues and vices is such as might be expected to result from a fortuitous origin. But only abysmal self-compla­cency can see in Man a reason which omniscience could consider adequate as a motive for the Creator."

Read also, "The Theologian's Nightmare" by Russell: http://books.google.com/books?id=bWfSR5CPhqUC&lpg=PA190&ots=sGBcqBDVom&dq=%22Bertrand+Russell%22+%22The+Theologian's%20Nightmare%22&pg=PA190#v=onepage&q&f=false

Or consider the view that humanity might one day be superseded, even on this planet, by other intelligent species in the future. Some such species might be a genetic hybrid, human and something else, or a hybrid of human and computer, or totally artificial intelligent life forms. Or nothing, and our earth will simply perish while the stars continue to burn for billions of years after humanity has vanished. They are "designed" to do so, as even YEC creationist astronomers admit.

If someone doesn't have questions after considering all of the above, then at the very least they should be able to see how and why others do have such questions. The questions are obvious, including the ones I pointed out in my reply to Randal. The answers are the things that are difficult if not impossible to definitely conclude and agree upon.

Edward T. Babinski said...

On the "infinite regress" argument, why is the question of "infinite regress" not applicable to "God?"

Because "God" is "properly basic?"

But a "cosmos of cosmoses" that has always been and always will be, is not "properly basic?"

How can one prove that only one of those is properly basic?

That reminds me of another argument, namely that the parameters for a cosmos that supports living things is evidence of special design but if the chances of living things arising were indeed as slim as such folks say, slim chances could also imply a combination of randomness and time rather than foresight and planning.

And if life is as extremely rare as those parameters suggest than that could mean that who or what brought about this cosmos could be indifferent to its existence as well as indifferent to any living things this cosmos may contain.

In other words, if our number was so rare it had to come up in some super Monte Carlo game then maybe this cosmos IS the result of chance.

Look around us, the moon, no life there. Mars, maybe the simplest life forms if any, same with a moon around Saturn. While the rest of our solar system probably contains no life at all.

Douglas Adams used to tell the story about a puddle of water that arose after a rainstorm, and that puddle felt so snug in its hole that it produced an H2-Opic (ryhmes with "anthropic") hypothesis that said the odds were phenomenally against a hole existing in which that bit of water could fit so perfectly.

But as the sun arose and beat down on the puddle of water it began to evaporate, but the little puddle still clung to the view that it was marvelous how such a hole existed in which the puddle continued to fit so perfectly, until of course the puddle completely evaporated.

Edward T. Babinski said...

CONTINUED FROM ABOVE

Add to the above the saying of Bertrand Russell that,

"If I were granted omnipotence and millions of years to experiment in, I should not think Man much to boast of as the final cause of all my efforts. Man, as a curious accident in a back-water, is intelligible: his mixture of virtues and vices is such as might be expected to result from a fortuitous origin. But only abysmal self-compla­cency can see in Man a reason which omniscience could consider adequate as a motive for the Creator."

Read also, "The Theologian's Nightmare" by Russell: http://books.google.com/books?id=bWfSR5CPhqUC&lpg=PA190&ots=sGBcqBDVom&dq=%22Bertrand+Russell%22+%22The+Theologian's%20Nightmare%22&pg=PA190#v=onepage&q&f=false

Or consider the view that humanity might one day be superseded, even on this planet, by other intelligent species in the future. Some such species might be a genetic hybrid, human and something else, or a hybrid of human and computer, or totally artificial intelligent life forms. Or nothing, and our earth will simply perish while the stars continue to burn for billions of years after humanity has vanished. They are "designed" to do so, as even YEC creationist astronomers admit.

If someone doesn't have questions after considering all of the above, then at the very least they should be able to see how and why others do have such questions. The questions are obvious, including the ones I pointed out in my reply to Randal. The answers are the things that are difficult if not impossible to definitely conclude and agree upon.

Victor Reppert said...

Ed: I don't see that you have addressed Rauser's point at all. What he is claiming is that a properly nuanced understanding of the Bible as God's word can accommodate the scientific inaccuracy of the Bible. In other words, why should we expect the Bible to be a science manual in the first place? It's the sort of point that was made by the minister of my Methodist church when I was a kid, in response to some local anti-evolutionists.

The central part of his case is summarized neatly in this paragraph in the comments:

I see no problem with God appropriating as his divine discourse a wide variety of genres of literature including erotic love poetry (Song of Songs), wisdom literature (e.g. Proverbs), historical biography (Gospels) and cosmogonic creation myths (e.g. Genesis 1-3). Nor do the evangelical and Catholic scholars that Babinski interacts with have a problem with this. And until he can show that it is a problem he doesn't have an argument.

Nor does your appeal to epistemic fallibilism make a dent in Rauser's claim, since I don't see why a Christian can't be a fallibilist. Why Christians think they need absolute certainty for their beliefs is beyond my comprehension.

As for your final points, there's nothing in them that's logically inconsistent with Christianity.

I think that you and Rauser are talking past one another.

derreckbennett said...

>>>At the very least, it is the job of the critic to provide a coherent epistemology which avoids infinite regress....

Please. It is the job of the theist to propose an argument for God's existence that avoids Infinite Regress. Too many of them do. The cosmological argument is notorious for this. Nowadays, we have Intelligent Design, which shares the same fatal flaw.

Per Richard Dawkins' Ultimate Boeing 747 Argument, God would have to be a complex entity; therefore, God only serves to reiterate the problem of complexity rather than explain it. If complexity begats complexity in this sense, then we're stuck with the problem of Infinite Regress.

The theist asserts that God is not complex, because complexity consists of two or more interacting parts, which does not describe God since God is a Spirit. Um...Trinity, anyone? Smacks of complexity, as far as I can see.

And even if we do away with the Trinity, in an attempt to argue for some type of Deistic God, it would still have to be a complex thing. It would consist of a Mind, which Merriam Webster defines as "the element or *complex* of elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons." Even a Deistic God bears intelligence, intentions and the incredible ability to design and create Universes. He does complex things intentionally and must therefore himself be a complex thing, given that his thoughts have to be at least as complex as his designs.

The God Hypothesis explains complexity as the result of complexity. It explains life as the result of life, i.e. the living God. It explains mind as the result of mind, i.e. the mind of God. It explains existence as the result of existence, i.e. the existence of God. Such theistic arguments lead inevitably to Infinite Regress. For, if complexity begats complexity, if life begats life, if mind begats mind, if existence begats existence, then whence the complex thing, life, mind and existence from which God came?

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, why is the standard what is logically inconsistent with Christianity? Such a high standard you have there, fella.

Let's think rather along these lines: Why is it that your God revealed himself in ways that are indistinguishable from his not revealing himself at all?

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic,

I am not disproving God in my chapter, or blaming God for writing myths. It's obvious to both of us that humans wrote Genesis 1, and that humans today are busy interpreting and reinterpreting it as well in all kinds of ways.

What's not obvious is that that particular myth is the most God-inspired piece of writing on "creation" ever penned by a human being. It's a book of its day and age. It reflects ancient priestly concerns, and also depicts God like an ANE ruler of a kingdom, etc. Please read my chapter or allow me to send you a copy. (And please reread the beginning of my response to Rauser and my use of the word "if.")

There are also concerns not raised in my chapter, concerning how Genesis 1 relates to Judaic and Christian theologies in a more general fashion.

Lastly, we appear to have a book (the Bible) that you continue to claim is "inspired by God," from Genesis to Revelation. I haven't yet heard you claim it was only partly inspired "here and there" inside its pages.

You and Rauser appear annoyed that anyone might ask for evidence that the primeval history chapters are inspired by God, or that anyone might dare to question how relevant Genesis 1-11 is to understanding life and the universe compared with "less directly" inspired works produced today on all manner of things related to human psychology, sociology, history, science, etc.

Also, no doubt when Aristarchus of Samos advanced his heliocentric model of the cosmos in the 300s BCE it caused a bit of a stir, but the mere fact that someone COULD present such an idea means that there might have also been at least a chance for God to have "inspired" writers of the Bible to depict such a model 300 years earlier, when many scholars believe Genesis 1 was edited into its present form. But as you can read in my article neither Genesis 1, nor isolated verses in Isa. or Job depict such a model.

And later we can begin to discuss the evolution of henotheism to monolatry to finally, monotheism, and how Israel's hope of political independence from Babylon and Assyria drove such a development. We'll have to get together and talk about that as well as the early images of "Yahweh" found in the oldest strata of the OT, compared with later imagery.