Saturday, February 15, 2014

"We have this book..."

So I've only had time to watch Matt Dillahunty and Israel Rodriguez' Friday talk at the 27th Annual Shenandoah Lectureship (it's quite frustrating to watch Rodriguez' continual failure to grasp basic concepts, like that words sometimes have more fine-tuned or specific meanings in industrial, medical or scientific use than they do in everyday parlance, and that you can't revert to the colloquial usage in the more rigorous context just because it better suits your argument...). One of the things that really stuck out to me was the sad resurrection of Ken Ham's "we have this book" line. So let me set the record straight.

Dear Debater,

You actually have a multitude of books. And cuneiform tablets. And hieroglyphic inscriptions. And oral traditions. And ancient scrolls. And cave paintings. There's every book, every story, every painting, every everything that was ever intended to convey the beginnings of mankind, intended to explain the rumbling thunder overhead, purported to divine heavenly presence in this sign or that, pretended to clarify the mysteries of life.

And you've chosen one tiny, tiny subset of all those stories, and provided zero justification for doing it. You might get giggles from folks who see this as a winning line in an argument, but you've proved nothing. If you didn't believe in your book, you wouldn't be on the stage. Restating your claim again and again is repetitive, but useless. A recycled claim is not evidence of the claim's validity.

See, it falls to you, debater, to tell us what makes that particular book right. Tell us why, while the Qu'ran's creation story is wrong, while Hindu writings are wrong, while Native American traditions on the subject are wrong, yours is right. Just saying "we have one" doesn't cut it. Big deal. So do they. Now tell us why we should care about yours any more than anyone else's, much less actual evidence that we can gather and analyze.

Here's the thing. There are many books (and other story formats) that make claims about origins (these also books that claim that your story is  bunk). Most of them are completely contradictory. But a book claiming something doesn't make it true. It's the job of the author and proponents of that book and its arguments to actually prove the validity of it, not just say, over and over again, that the book says it. Existence of the story is not the thing in dispute. Validity is.

If an atheist declared that gods are mere products of human delusion, and, when pressed for a reason, resorted to, "There's this book," he would rightly be laughed away from the podium. A book can make any claim it wants, and a book can cite supporting evidence; a book's arguments can be cited and referenced. But the fact that a book claims something is not evidence of any sort about the book's trustworthiness or validity.

This may strike a chord with the well indoctrinated, who aren't there for reason but reassurance, but it's not an argument, and it's not evidence. It's a rather sad attempt to divert from the fact that people like Ham and Rodriguez don't actually offer valid evidence of the Bible's authority. The fact that it exists and makes (unsupported) claims seems to be enough. But that's not the way this whole "evidence" thing works.

The fact is, authoritarian claims might work in religion but they don't cut it in science. No matter how many times you say it, or how often you hold up your book. So, if you want to believe your book (or your interpretation of it), you're free to do so. But if you intend to prove its validity, you need to try harder than "it exists". That's a painfully low standard, and one that is impossible to implement in practice.

No comments:

Post a Comment