Telephone Game vs. Oral Traditions You don’t understand the nature of …

Comment on Debate between Stephen Meyer and Charles Marshall by Sean Pitman.

Telephone Game vs. Oral Traditions

You don’t understand the nature of orally transferred historical accounts – i.e., oral traditions. They aren’t like your telephone game example. They are far more consistent over time for several reasons (Link).

1)They are passed on to large groups of people who, collectively, remember the details of the story better than if it were passed on between individual people.

2) They are passed on by people trained from early childhood to remember the details of the story – a story repeated over and over and over again by numerous people who all agree on the details of the story.

3) The details of the story are considered important to remember by many people, and great effort is made to transmit these details accurately.

It is for such reasons that the collective “core” of historical accounts of some famous historical figure, like Alexander the Great, can be trusted with a fairly high degree of confidence – to include the details of his numerous battles and even the details of conversations he had with various people. That’s quite amazing if you think about it, and not at all like the telephone game you play with your students. After hundreds of years useful historical information can be and clearly has been maintained in such cases.

Beyond this, it doesn’t matter if the Bible was written by numerous authors. What matters and what adds to the credibility of the Bible is that these authors agree. That is why having four different authors write about the life and death of Jesus, each with a different take and different details about various events, add to the credibility of their accounts. If there were only one account or if the various authors presented identical details of various events, this would take away from the overall credibility of their story – as it would in any court case where multiple witnesses were describing the same event. Beyond this, the testable elements of their writings can be empirically tested for accuracy against other sources and currently available empirical evidences.

As far as the Genesis account in particular, I’ve already explained to you how your Documentary Hypothesis has lost credibility over the years. It now seems most likely that one author (Moses) did in fact write the Genesis account. Did he use other sources? Most likely. However, he also claims to have spoken “face-to-face” with God Himself about all kinds of things. Given the truth of such a claim, it it’s hard to come up with a more original source that God. Of course, how does one test the credibility of such a fantastic claim? By testing those elements that can be tested. That’s how. What about redactions? The evidence is that there were no substantial redactions of the writing of Moses aside from some updates of various names of cities or the spelling of various words and the like – nothing which substantively changes the details of the stories themselves.

Why then believe that the Genesis account is historically accurate? – that it isn’t just some fanciful legend? If the empirical evidence is most consistent with the Genesis account, like I believe it is, then the Genesis account gains credibility as real history – even with regard to those specifics that cannot be directly tested (just as is the case for the history of Alexander the Great and other historical figures of antiquity). For example, if there is evidence that life has not existed on this planet for millions of years, not even 100,000 years, that life is very young indeed compared to the claims of mainstream scientists, this adds a great deal of credibility to the Genesis account of origins – to include the literal 7-day creation week. The fact that the 7-day weekly cycle is of ancient origin and that the circadian rhythms of pretty much every living thing is governed by a circaseptan (7-day) cyclical rhythm is also in line with this argument (Link). The arguments for the requirement for intelligent design to explain various aspects of the universe and of living things is also far more consistent with the Genesis account of origins than the self-assembly story of mainstream scientists. It all starts to add up more and more and more in favor of the Biblical account of origins.

Is this some form of absolute proof? No. Of course not. It’s all about the weight of evidence. Which argument is most consistent with the currently available evidence? But, you seem to want more than the weight of evidence. You seem to want direct demonstration or some form of absolute proof. You accuse me of “attempting to argue [that] we can absolutely trust historical accounts.” That’s not at all what I said. You seem to think that science is about producing “absolutes”. Well, I’m sorry, but science doesn’t work that way. Historical sciences in particular are not based on a direct or in any other way absolute reproduction of past events, but on the weight of evidence as to what most likely took place. There is nothing definitive here. It’s all based on the weight of evidence. That is why one’s conclusions could always be proved wrong, or shown to be most likely wrong, given additional evidence.

It is at this point that I part ways with the likes of Drs. Cameron and Kent and others like them who appeal to “faith” to give them a form of absolute assurance. Such an empirically blind faith, in my book, is no better than wishful thinking. It is emotion-driven faith based on what one wants to be true – regardless of what the evidence can or cannot tenably support. Again, I’m not talking about absolute proof here. I’m talking about a faith that is consistent with the weight of evidence.

This is why I say that if Darwinism is true, Christianity is a lie. They are antithetical stories. Both cannot be true. They cannot be harmonized. That is why I would leave the SDA Church, and Christianity as well, if I ever was presented evidence that showed that neo-Darwinism is in fact the most tenable explanation of origins. Such a demonstration would, for me, clearly falsify the claims of the Bible and undermine its overall credibility. The maintenance of “faith” in the face of such evidence simply wouldn’t be rational – as Dr. Cameron would agree. His faith need not be rational or at all related to the weight of empirical evidence. My faith, on the other hand, must be in line with the weight of empirical evidence as I am able to understand it.

Sean Pitman Also Commented

Debate between Stephen Meyer and Charles Marshall
Again, you seem to base your ideas on the “science” of Darwinian evolution on what you believe a God would or would not do – not on the actual empirical evidence available regarding the creative potential of RM/NS. How then is your position “scientific”? or otherwise rational?

Debate between Stephen Meyer and Charles Marshall

Legal proof is not absolute. Usually in civil cases, depending on the jurisdiction it is based on the preponderance of the evidence ( much like the weight of the evidence). In criminal cases convicting evidence must be beyond a reasonable doubt. The reason there are appeal courts is that often the lower court judges can and will make mistakes in evaluating the evidence or the application of law to the facts. The great benefit of the legal process of course is that evidence – especially oral evidence – gets tested by cross examination and then adjudication which is greatly beneficial in determining its reliability.

I agree. The problem with determining truth on an individual level is that you must weight the evidence for yourself. No one can do it for you. You can use scientific tools to do the job, but you’re still the one doing the evaluation and determining what the evidence most likely means. You can, of course, rely on the opinions of others who appear to be more “expert” in various fields of study. However, even this determination must be made on an individual level.

So, when I argue for the “weight of evidence” I’m not arguing that this weight of evidence would necessarily be universally agreed upon or that any particular “court of law” would recognize it. What I’m saying is that each individual has to determine it on a personal level.

Of course one cannot do this with historical oral evidence, hence the problem with the potential unreliability on passed down oral stories. Obviously I am more skeptical than you are on historical accounts regarding divine ocurrences. This is because so many cultures and a plethora of religions make claims – largely through prophets – as to a direct connection to God(s). As I have not experienced this phenomenom, nor known anyone that can rationally demonstrate this, I remain skeptical that God is of this manner or intervenes in the cause and effect nature of our universe. All my religious friends say I must have faith or feel the spirit to experience this phenomenom. Science, to me, is the great, rational eye opener that gives natural explanations for physical, biological phenonmena rather than leave us ignorant in a state of fear and mysticism.

I totally agree. I’ve also have never experienced God speaking to me in any kind of direct manner. I’ve never “felt the Spirit” as many others claim to have experienced. No angel or supernatural being of any kind has ever spoken to me in a manner that I could actually recognize as Divine – something outside of myself. So, what then is left for me when it comes to discovering God? For me, it is the same basic logic and arguments used for any kind of scientific discovery. Using these arguments and evidences it has become clear to me that a being indistinguishable to me from what I would expect from a God does in fact exist and did in fact create the universe, the basic laws of nature, living things on this planet, and is behind the fantastic prophecies of the Bible. The Bible in particular is unique in my investigation. No other book or religious document comes remotely close to what the Bible has to offer. Just on a historical basis alone, the Bible is by far the most accurate historical document known to modern man. This, however, doesn’t necessarily make it Divine or of any kind of supernatural origin – at least not in my book. For me, the primary feature that makes the Bible clearly supernatural in its origin are its prophecies – prophecies which are unlike any other prophecy from any other religion or religious document. Many of the Biblical prophecies are extremely detailed and precise and open to clear falsification depending on future outcomes. Compare this with the vague prophecies from the “prophets” of other religions where the “fulfillment of the prophecy can only be determined “after the fact”. For me, only a God who created time itself would be able to produce the amazing prophecies that the Bible contains.

Beyond this, on a lesser but still important level of evidence, are my own personal experiences with my own prayers, specific prayers, that have often been answered in a manner that I cannot deny as requiring Divine power to explain. This doesn’t tell me about what is right or wrong in the Bible, of course, but it does tell me that there is a God who is personally interested in me and my life.

I understand the attraction of Christianity and its contribution to humanity. The redemptive message is very alluring to humans that all fit on different pegs of the moral spectrum. Being without God, or unaware of God’s presence, does not mean being without morality or humanitly. In fact I consider the highest morality to do good without notice or any prospect of recognition whatsoever other than instrinsic gratification. ( ie anonymous philanthropy). A very hard state to achieve but worth attempting if one is an optimist 🙂

Yes, I agree. However, I see this motivation as a gift of God, not naturally acquired. It is a Divine spark that is equivalent to the voice of God speaking to the mind and telling us the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. This Divine consciousness, or “conscience”, cannot be explained through naturalistic arguments. It is therefore a compelling argument against atheism. The atheist cannot present a tenable argument for the existence of evil or ethics in general. While it is possible for an atheist to be morally good and upright, it is not possible for the atheist to present a cogent argument as to where his/her moral sensibilities come from. From the purely naturalistic perspective, there is no real morality – no real right or wrong. Everything is morally neutral with each individual determining his/her own personal moral “truth”. However, from the Christian perspective there is a very good reason for the existence of a universal morality of the kind you just articulated. The reason for the universality of such a moral understanding is because we were all created, originally, with this moral code planted within each one of us. We inherently know the difference between right and wrong because God gave each one of us this ability from birth. From the atheistic perspective, on the other hand, it makes no real sense to call one action evil and another good – upon what universal basis?

I do find though that your sceintific exactitude regarding the prospects of macro evolution vs. your acceptance of biblical claims based on ‘historical claims’ to be far apart in rigourous rational examination. If, objectively you examined such bilbical claims with as much scrutiny as you do ‘sequence space’ I think you would better understand the problem of the double standard. Forgive me, but my observation is that you do take a large part of biblical origins on faith using the pretext of the weight of the evidence.

I appreciate your opinion here, but this is obviously not how I see things. For me, it’s all the same. All forms of science require a leap of faith beyond that which can be absolutely proved. You often talk about a lack of “proof”, but that only suggests that you view science as more of a proof than of the weight of evidence for or against a particular theory. Also, consider that the weight of evidence from one perspective might not be so from another perspective. The weight of evidence is affected by all of one’s personal experience, background, knowledge, and even personality. There is a subjective component to it. One may try to compensate for this by using rigorous tests and falsifiable arguments to evaluate the world around one’s self. However, it is impossible to completely escape the subjective nature of evaluating the evidence that comes to your mind through your senses. That it why, in the end, you must do your own thinking for yourself. No one else can do it for you.

In saying this I quite acknowledge that there is much yet to test and examine regarding evolution. However, I don’t think any competing ‘scientific’ theory for the origin and development of life on earth, or in the universe has come to light yet. It still may and I remain open to that. I would greatly enjoy the proof of ID of life in the universe as this would suggest an entity with God like powers, but maybe

Again, I encourage you to continue your search along these lines and look closely at the evidence for the creative potential and limitations of mindless naturalistic mechanisms – like random mutations and natural selection. If you do your own detailed research along these lines, I’m extremely confident that you will being to realize that only intelligent design on a very high level can explain living things, or even many of the complex subcellular machines within living things. This was in fact the first steppingstone for me when I began to wonder if God really did exist. After a couple years of studying this problem I became very excited to discover that intelligence is in fact required to explain functional complexity beyond very low levels of functional complexity – regardless of where it may be found (i.e., human language systems like English or Chinese, computer codes and software, or biological codes and information systems within DNA).

I really enjoy fleshing out ideas with you because it gives me a better understanding of how a highly intelligent, reilgious person thinks. This is a great pleasure and source of wisdom for me for which I am extremely grateful. You are also a decent, well meaning guy- often misunderstood by Adventists in theological disagreement with you. As I do not have a dog in the LSU fight I have no comment on your conduct on that internecine dispute.

It’s been enjoyable for me as well. I’m often too busy to respond right away, but I do enjoy these discussions.

All the best.

Debate between Stephen Meyer and Charles Marshall

I got a chuckle over your appeal to apolgetics authority when it comes to the veracity of oral tradition and historicity 🙂 A tad bit of bias?

Let’s test your theory: what parts of the Illiad do you think are true and why? Fiction? Fact? A bit of both?

I’m not saying that there are no mythical stories – obviously. Clearly, myths can evolve and develop over time and they can have an element of original truth. Many such myths arose soon after the death of Alexander the Great for instance. What I’m saying is that the Genesis account was not written as a myth or in the style of a myth, but was written in an obvious effort, by the author, to present a real historical account of real events. Even secular scholars of Hebrew agree on this much. In other words, it is quite clear that the author of the Genesis account was actually trying to wright down a factual account of real history – not some fantastic myth that would have been mythological even from his own perspective. The intent of the author is important here. It is also important to understand that those passing on this account considered it extremely important to pass on this account with a high degree of accuracy. Unlike your comparison to the game of telephone, it is well documented that the Hebrew Scriptures have remained essentially unchanged over thousands of years of time – aside from a few minor updates of the names of places and the like.

Now, when it comes to determining if the story is true or not, that’s when the credibility of the author’s account comes into play… as I’ll discuss a bit further below.

What parts of the earlier ‘recorded’ flood story Epic of Gilamesh do you think are true and why? Do you think that those witnesses are any less credible than the ‘unknown’ author(s) of Genesis who relied upon passed down stories about the Nochian flood? Don’t you think the Epic of Gilamesh was passed down to large groups of people who thought it important? ; so important in fact that it was recorded on clay tablets? Do you think there is any chance that the Noachian flood story was a modified version of the earlier Epic of Gilamesh? As both versions meet your historical test as above cited which is true or accurate? Either?

There are in fact a great many stories around the world in many different cultures about a world-wide Flood. This fact alone support the Biblical claim that all humans descended from those who survived the same Flood – and speaks against the idea that this Flood that has left its impression on human memory at large was just some local or regional flood.

As far as the common claim that the Bible borrowed its account from the Sumarians, that the Epic of Gilgamesh (EoG) came first, this is very unlikely for several reasons. First off, this notion is taken directly from the discredited Documentary Hypothesis which you continue to reference for some reason. The Biblical account is far more internally consistent and is also much more consistent with empirical reality. For example, the ship described in the EoG is a perfect cube, not at all seaworthy, whereas the ark described in Genesis has been shown to be very stable in high seas. The gods in the EoG are petty and fearful for their own well-being. The God of the Genesis account is concerned for the pain and suffering that is being caused by the rapidly increasing evilness and violence of mankind – consistent with the general theme of the rest of the Bible and with the empirical evidence we see in the world in which we live. The total duration of the Flood described in the EoG is less than two weeks – to include just seven days of rain. This is not as consistent with the effects of a truly worldwide Flood as is the Genesis account, lasting just over one year before Noah and his family could get off the ark. There are numerous other similar details that collectively favor the credibility of the Biblical account both in regard to internal consistency and the currently available empirical evidence (Link).

What does this suggest? Well, it clearly suggests that the Genesis account did not borrow from and was certainly not derived from the EoG, and most likely came first as the original account. Of course, there are many striking parallels between the two accounts. It is just that the Genesis account is the more credible account by far given the reality of a truly worldwide Flood. The credibility of the Genesis account is further established by the historical accuracy of the post-Flood stories described in Genesis. Such evidences, such as the discovery of archaeological evidence for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, long thought to be mythical, as well as the other cities of the valley in that region, found in exactly the same order as described in Genesis, add to the overall credibility of the author of Genesis as a very accurate historian. This is true throughout the Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls, and other ancient portions of the Bible, also testify to the fact that the wording of the Bible was very accurately preserved over hundreds and thousands of years – unlike your comparison with the game of telephone. The Bible is by far the most credible, the most accurate, historical textbook that we have. It has proven itself to be superior to every other historical text that discusses similar events, persons, places, etc. This is a fact supported by vast amounts of archaeological evidence which continues to undermine, again and again, the claims of the Documentary Hypothesis that you continue to cite…

As to the commentator in your link, I wonder if he spent much time in courts of law where the veracity of eyewitness accounts is tested? Perhaps you should talk to a few good trial lawyers about rules of evidence – especially hearsay or second hand evidence- in this regard. Also ask yourself how many historical acoounts of Alexander were written after the fact by historians that were not actually there.

Again, you seem to be looking for something akin to legal proof or something “beyond all doubt”. Well, that’s not science. Science, especially historical science, is about the weight of evidence, not absolute proof or the removal of the possibility all doubt. Science is about what seems to be most likely true, what seems to be most reasonable, given the limited evidence that is currently in hand – knowing, all along, that such a conclusion is always open to being wrong, to being effectively falsified, given some additional evidence.

In this line, ask yourself why pretty much all historians believe in the accuracy of the main outline of events in the accounts of ancient historical figures like Alexander the Great? – to include detailed strategies and events during his numerous battles and the very words that he spoke on various important occasions? – despite the fact that they weren’t written down for quite some time after his death and despite the fact that myths and legends about Alexander were rampant very soon after his death. Do historians believe in the reality of the core events of Alexander’s life based on absolute proof? Of course not. They believe based on the weight of evidence for the credibility of certain non-mythical accounts of his life – to include the internal consistency of certain accounts in particular as well as the lack of self-acclaim from these accounts, like those of some Alexander’s generals (Ptolemy in particular), who could have taken credit for acts of valor which they denied being involved in, giving credit to others instead. Also, descriptions of the flaws of the heroes and/or personal flaws within a historical account are also important. Such details add credibility to the other claims of the author as well.

The same is true, or at least can be true, of one’s belief in the claims of the Biblical accounts – for the very same reasons.

Recent Comments by Sean Pitman

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Thank you Ariel. Hope you are doing well these days. Miss seeing you down at Loma Linda. Hope you had a Great Thanksgiving!

The Flood
Thank you Colin. Just trying to save lives any way I can. Not everything that the government does or leaders do is “evil” BTW…

The Flood
Only someone who knows the future can make such decisions without being a monster…

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Where did I “gloss over it”?

Review of “The Naked Emperor” by Pastor Conrad Vine
I fail to see where you have convincingly supported your claim that the GC leadership contributed to the harm of anyone’s personal religious liberties? – given that the GC leadership does not and could not override personal religious liberties in this country, nor substantively change the outcome of those who lost their jobs over various vaccine mandates. That’s just not how it works here in this country. Religious liberties are personally derived. Again, they simply are not based on a corporate or church position, but rely solely upon individual convictions – regardless of what the church may or may not say or do.

Yet, you say, “Who cares if it is written into law”? You should care. Everyone should care. It’s a very important law in this country. The idea that the organized church could have changed vaccine mandates simply isn’t true – particularly given the nature of certain types of jobs dealing with the most vulnerable in society (such as health care workers for example).

Beyond this, the GC Leadership did, in fact, write in support of personal religious convictions on this topic – and there are GC lawyers who have and continue to write personal letters in support of personal religious convictions (even if these personal convictions are at odds with the position of the church on a given topic). Just because the GC leadership also supports the advances of modern medicine doesn’t mean that the GC leadership cannot support individual convictions at the same time. Both are possible. This is not an inconsistency.