Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Arguments, Evidence, and Speculation

YouTube is an intellectual wasteland, so I didn’t expect any serious arguments when I started making vids there. But one particular backwards mentality over there who goes by “crazypills2” tried a tactic I haven’t seen in a bit, which amounted to this: Any time evidence or an argument was put to him, he just dismissed it as “speculation” and decreed that therefore he was under no obligation to answer it.

Our particular issue was a difference in numbers between OT books, but these observations could apply to other issues as well. However, let’s just use a hypothetical example in which 1 Samuel says David had 300 goats, while 1 Chronicles says he had 500. What would be “evidence” for deciding this case?

The evidence would be, in the main, the texts themselves and any variant readings. It would also be, more broadly, evidence to show that a confusion could occur: For example, that a Hebrew 3 looked like a Hebrew 5 sufficiently that some confusion of the two would occur.
It’s hard to call this sort of thing “speculation” and get away with it. But it happens, and he did it.

What would be “argument” for deciding this case? Here’s where the likes of “crazypills2” try to foist a game of semantics. While the terms are often confused, I’d put it this way: Argument is a conclusion based on the data, whereas speculation is based on non-data. Now this goes further, into a game that many of these critics play, as crazypills2 put it: If you offer explanations with no evidence, no one is obligation to refute them.

But here’s the rub. We see two texts, one that says David had 300 goats, another 500. The explanation of people like crazypills2 is that one writer (or both) made a mistake. But they no more saw this happen then we did. Both sides offer a hypothesis on why there is a difference in the texts, and both rely on the same evidence of the texts itself, to that extent. But that’s where “evidence” ends for those who claim an error was made. They don’t have the evidence of a film showing someone making the mistake. All they have is the text.

Do they have “argument”? Yes, they have basically one: People make mistakes. This can justify a hypothesis of error. But it is just as equitable to say in reply that people do things right as well. The two ideas cancel each other out, and leave us with a justification for the original author being error-free.

Besides, our own hypothesis can use the same premise as the critic, inasmuch as we might propose a copyist error rather than an error in the original. So neither side has this advantage, though our side has more freedom of possibility.


Comparatively speaking, our side has more evidence: Direct (the texts), plus such
information as the potential confusion between a 3 and a 5 (indirect). There might be other direct evidence such as alternate readings. We also have more arguments, in turn: The potential mechanisms for mistake in later copying, and the opportunities to have one, which would be more numerous than they would be for an original.


In the end, it’s pretty clear that this sort of resort used by crazypills2 is an admission that your evidence and arguments can’t be dealt with. The critics don’t want to admit that in situations like this, they are as dependent on hypothesis to reach a conclusion as we are. That means evidence and arguments are what they need to address.

Crazypills2 left my channel with the remark that the way to get banned from Christian channels (though I didn’t ban him, I told him I’d just delete comments that did not engage my arguments) was to “ask for evidence.” It’s clear rather that he and others have arbitrarily defined “evidence” and arguments so as to avoid engaging and answering it.

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