Friday, April 1, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- passing the test

This week I’m going to talk about something you probably already know about, but given the sometimes fragmented nature of education today, I won’t assume you do.
You may have heard of Occam’s Razor.
This is a basic scientific principle which separates the big kids from the babies.
William of Ockham, a monk of the 1200s CE, formulated the principle that there should be a single explanation that covers all the facts. 
Isaac Newton said that as long as two situations have similar features or effects, we can assume they have similar causes as long as the assumption is sufficient to explain both and explains both of them accurately.   Newton was involved in the debate whether light was a wave or particle phenomenon, but wave physics covered only part of the observed phenomena connected with light, and particle physics covered everything wave physics didn’t. 
Einstein showed that quantization applied to energy, that waves delivered energy in packets of a certain size, which were the so-called particles of energy transfer like the photon.  And de Broglie showed that waveforms exist for all particles, and the mass of the particles calculates to the energy of this waveform.  So matter and packets of energy both have a dual wave/particle nature.  Heisenberg provided the rest of the solution to the puzzle.  What you test for affects your results.  If you use tests that focus on the particle aspects, you get particle results.  If you use tests that focus on the wave aspects, you get wave results.
The problems that Occam’s Razor causes for archaeology relative to Torah are at least two.
One is that archaeologists will quantify the scientific facts about a find and then try to apply it to part of Torah.  But they use a translation which is inaccurate, or they quote out of context which, as you already know, is a fundamental error, or they commit other fallacies. Identifying shabbatum as the genesis of Shabbat ignores both the details about shabbatum and the details about Shabbat.  It doesn’t cover all the facts.
The other problem is confusing an explanation that seems simple with an accurate explanation.  One example of this is deciding that because Hammurabi’s code has laws about battery, and Torah has laws about battery, the one must be copied from the other.  Things contributing to confusion are fallacies and hidden assumptions.  For example, when this conclusion was drawn, Akkadian and Assyrian had both been deciphered by westerners, and it was a short step from believing that because specialists in cuneiform knew what it said, anybody could know what it said.  But the cuneiform specialists didn’t deal with the limitations of access to the material, access to the training, and low literacy in the 1700s BCE.  That all contributes to a fallacy called presentism saying that the conditions applying now applied in the past.  They were looking for characteristics of their own culture in a past culture, simply because they learned how to read its writing. 
Claims that Torah copied from Mesopotamian literature also drew on a belief that all culture originate in one place and disseminated from there.  (In a way this is true, but the original belief was about Classical Greece; the proponents would have made fun of anybody who said the place was Africa.)  Van Dongen’s thesis about “The Song of Going Forth” partakes of this belief.  He assumes not only that the material had to disseminate to Greece for Hesiod to write his Theogony (seven centuries later) but also that it disseminated in text.  That text would have to be cuneiform for a millennium until the development of Linear B, and another half millennium until the Greek alphabet developed.  In the meantime the proto-Greeks would have to go to cuneiform school, etc. etc.  I’ll give the solution toward the end of this blog.
Next week I’ll discuss something that all sciences use but that doesn’t seem to have been expressed.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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