Ethnic perspectives on the Bible and minoritized biblical scholarship are predominantly missiological and pastoral endeavors. The aim of these minoritized approaches is to retain or recruit ethnic “minorities” by persuading them that the Bible offers them some comfort or analogy to their experience that can be beneficial. Rather than being postcolonialist or anti-imperialist, these perspectives can be viewed as another version of Christian colonialism, bibliolatry, and imperialism.
By Hector Avalos
Iowa State University
Click here for article.
Ruth is mentioned. Perhaps the best-known allusion to this Biblical character in English literature is Keats' reference to her 'standing alone amid the alien corn', which I can't help thinking is a rather beautiful set of words. This may not amount to an objective reading of the text, since homesickness may not be a very important feature of the original portrait. It may not be a very perceptive portrait of contemporary immigrants. It does take advantage of 'everyone's knowing' the story of Ruth. I rather value the ability of Bible stories to keep up a degree of cultural unity, even though the ideas taken from the Bible may not fit perfectly, or may fit disturbingly badly, with the modern experiences on which they have some bearing and even though there may be misinterpretation brought about by the views of the modern author. I still think that having stories that 'everyone knows' has considerable value, even though the set must in the nature of things be limited and perhaps in practice, owing to the accidents of history, be Eurocentric, even in a certain sense Judaeocentric, considering where the stories came from. Am I extending latreia to the Bible? Does that make me a bad person?
#1 - Martin Hughes - 08/14/2017 - 21:43
According to Hector Avalos, biblical studies should only use methodological naturalism. Since the purpose of the article is to address problems of bias in biblical scholarship, it is ironic that Avalos seems unaware that a commitment to methodological naturalism may itself be a form of bias.
Perhaps Avalos thinks that an adherence to methodological naturalism is a position that one arrives at once certain biases have been eliminated. Needless to say, this is hopelessly question begging. Certainly, we may assume that any particular phenomenon probably has a natural explanation and try to seek such an explanation. But what happens when all efforts to find a natural explanation have failed?
Do we just assume that there must be a natural explanation, irrespective of all the failed attempts to find it? And if we do this, are we demonstrating the freedom from bias that Avalos seems to prize? I think not. On the contrary, it seems that we are doing quite the opposite.
Let us consider two cases where the spectacular failure of all efforts to find a natural explanation may well suggest that we should consider the possibility that the Universe is not a closed system, free from any supernatural interference. The first case is the origin of the first self-replicating cell. If there had not been such an intense, and fruitless, effort to find a scientific solution to the problem, we would not realise how compelling the case for a miracle is.
The second case is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Again, the sheer, and utterly ineffectual, effort to find a remotely convincing natural explanation is itself a compelling argument for the miraculous.
#2 - David Madison - 08/17/2017 - 10:14
Dear David Madison,
Thanks for your comment, but I don’t accept some of the main premises of your counter-argument.
First, I don’t know what you mean by “supernatural.” I define “natural” as what I can detect with my natural senses and/or logic.
If “supernatural” means something beyond the natural, then I don’t know how I would ever detect something that is outside of the natural senses and/or logic. Accordingly, the term “supernatural” is either meaningless or you need to provide us with the specific method by which you detected its existence.
Second, the reasoning you use to infer a supernatural cause is faulty. Basically, it can be reduced to this:
“If science cannot find a cause for X, then the cause for X must be supernatural.”
Imagine if in the early 1980s, someone said that they did not know why certain people were dying of disease X, but later the cause was discovered to be HIV. Would they be justified to call that cause “supernatural” before such a discovery?
It also is like arguing that if we never determined who killed a certain person, then the killer must be supernatural.
Historically, your method has never worked. There is a long list of phenomena that were once thought to be supernatural (lightning, human reproduction, illnesses) that later were shown to have natural causes.
The fact that we have not found the exact mechanism for the first formation of life might only mean that we have NOT YET found one.
The opposite has NEVER been the case to my knowledge. I don’t know of any instance in the history of science where something that was thought to have a natural cause turned out to have a supernatural one.
So, why would I use a method that has batted a ZERO in the history of science, when methodological naturalism has batted near 1000?
I also don’t accept that premise that Jesus resurrected and so that requires some explanation. Non-facts don’t require an explanation, and the resurrection of Jesus is not a fact. What requires explanation is the STORY OF THE RESURRECTION, which is the actual fact before us.
Producing stories of resurrections is a very natural process. All you have to do is use your hands to write one or your vocal organs to tell one.
Stories of resurrections have been produced repeatedly in history by natural causes (as works of the theological imagination or politics). I myself belonged to a Pentecostal church where I witnessed what others called “resurrections,” and I believed they were “resurrections” at the time. Such stories were not that extraordinary in my church.
I also am not sure that you are really current on the study of abiogenesis. You might consult these items, along with further readings in synthetic biology, a growing field that shows how human beings can produce types of organisms that have never existed before.
Even if we never find the exact pathway to the first living cell, it still would not mean that the answer must be supernatural. It would only mean that the earliest crucial data are not available. Not having these data does not constitute proof of a supernatural origin for life.
QUESTIONS FOR DAVID MADISON
1. How are you defining “supernatural”?
2. How would you detect what you are calling “supernatural”?
3. Can you name ONE instance where a phenomenon or event that was thought to be natural turned out to be supernatural?
#3 - Dr. Hector Avalos - 08/17/2017 - 16:38
Thank you for your reply, Dr Avalos.
I don’t particularly wish to be drawn into a debate about the definition of “supernatural”, since such debates tend to be rather fruitless – as your own attempt at a definition illustrates. You define “natural” as that which can be detected by the senses or logic. So if we can define God in a way that is logically consistent, does that mean that God is natural?
Your example of the HIV virus was partly anticipated by what I said in my original comment. We should generally assume that phenomena have a natural explanation and make every effort to find such explanations. In the case of AIDS, we were able to find a natural explanation. But this raises an important epistemological question. From your point of view, there are only two classes of phenomena: those for which we have found a natural explanation; and those for which we have not YET found a natural explanation. There is no such thing as a class of phenomena for which there is no natural explanation. Such a thing is ruled out a priori.
Now, I don’t particularly mind if you wish to adopt this way of looking at things, but it is an epistemological choice. And the problem arises when you define your choice as the one that is free of bias.
I must say that I am surprised by your attitude to the Resurrection. If the Resurrection of Jesus really was just one among many stories of resurrections which were similar with regard to the relevant details, then there would simply be no debate about the matter. The fact that you attempt to dismiss the issue in such a glib way suggests – dare I say it? – a certain bias in your approach.
Thanks for the link to the article, but what does it really tell us? Natural processes may give rise to one of the ingredients required for life – the purines. Needless to say, this is a long, long way from a step-by-step account of the origin of the first replicating cell. (Since the other two articles are about intelligent attempts to synthesise life, I am unsure of their relevance.)
#4 - David Madison - 08/18/2017 - 10:39
Dear David Madison,
Thanks for your reply, though the subject of the resurrection and the origin of life is not really the subject of my article.
In any case, you seemingly accept methodological naturalism, except for some beliefs you favor. For example, you state: “We should generally assume that phenomena have a natural explanation and make every effort to find such explanations.”
That is basically methodological naturalism.
RE: “So if we can define God in a way that is logically consistent, does that mean that God is natural?”
It is not just about logical consistency in the definition of God. It is also about the method by which you verified the existence of the entity you have defined.
I still don’t know how you even came to believe in the existence of non-natural phenomena and entities (e.g., what you call God) if you cannot detect them by your senses and/or logic. If you can detect them naturally, then they are natural by definition. So, how would you detect non-natural entities and phenomena?
RE: “If the Resurrection of Jesus really was just one among many stories of resurrections which were similar with regard to the relevant details, then there would simply be no debate about the matter."
Your rationale is faulty, and reduces to this: “If there is debate about Story X, then we can assume that Story X is true.”
There are debates about many stories in most religions. There is a debate about whether the Virgin Mary appears today, and so do you take stories of her appearances seriously?
There are debates of whether an angel appeared to Joseph Smith, and so do you assume that supernatural beings appeared to Joseph Smith?
And do you automatically assume the veracity of other stories in non-Christian religions that are also debated?
RE: “The fact that you attempt to dismiss the issue in such a glib way suggests – dare I say it? – a certain bias in your approach.”
What I am arguing is that you have misidentified the object of explanation. You think the proper object of explanation is the resurrection. I think the proper object of explanation is the STORY of the resurrection.
What is glib about that?
I have written fairly extensively on the resurrection stories, and on my historical epistemology---e.g., The End of Biblical Studies (2007). I don’t think that qualifies as a “glib” approach.
I also have debated the resurrection formally with William Lane Craig. Do you think he debates people who are not deemed serious by him?
Indeed, note how you simply assume that a resurrection occurred, and then ask that we explain it with natural causes. You already assume the truth of the very claim in question. How is that not a bias?
That is like a believer in Krishna asking how you would explain the supernatural activities of Krishna with natural causes.
I think that you are expressing a general agreement with the validity of methodological naturalism, but you just make exceptions for your favored beliefs. That would be a biased approach.
Your position also may be best characterized as “selective supernaturalism,” which is how I have described William Lane Craig’s position, as well.
QUESTION FOR DAVID MADISON
Can you name ONE instance where a phenomenon or event that was thought to be natural turned out to be supernatural?
#5 - Dr. Hector Avalos - 08/18/2017 - 17:35
Dear David Madison,
Let me comment on a few other issues you raise:
RE: “Natural processes may give rise to one of the ingredients required for life – the purines. Needless to say, this is a long, long way from a step-by-step account of the origin of the first replicating cell.”
You are misrepresenting the article on purines. You give the impression that only ONE step or ingredient has ever been found because the article reports on one ingredient that was found.
In fact, many other “ingredients” of life already have been found, even in extra-terrestrial objects such as meteorites.
Each step and ingredient is potentially one step closer to explaining the origin of basic life processes (e.g., replication, metabolism).
The production of purines was simply one of the more difficult processes to explain, and that represents significant progress in the search for how these life processes could have begun.
Perhaps, you may wish to read a more synthetic view of the research. One older but still useful summary is by Robert Hazen:
RE: “Since the other two articles are about intelligent attempts to synthesise life, I am unsure of their relevance.”
Synthetic biology is relevant because it shows that it does not take a supernatural being to produce types of organisms that have never existed before. Therefore, it does help refute your argument that ONLY supernatural beings could explain the origin of life on earth. These scientists are not supernatural beings, and yet are able to produce types of organisms that never really existed before. Why would it be impossible for them to eventually find the chemical pathways that led to life?
#6 - Dr. Hector Avalos - 08/18/2017 - 17:37
Thank you for your further comments, Dr Avalos.
Let us suppose that the Ontological Argument for God succeeds. I’m not saying it does, but let’s suppose that it does. In that case, God would be part of nature, according to your reckoning. Nature is what can be “detected” by logic. I don’t think you really want to say that. After all, it would render the principle of methodological naturalism useless, since the definition of nature would now be too broad.
Regarding the Resurrection, it seems that you have moved the goalposts. In your earlier comment you talked about numerous resurrection stories. But now you cite examples of what seem much more like apparition stories than resurrection stories. If people had claimed to have seen Mary soon after her death and their experiences had convinced them that Mary had been raised from the dead, then we would have a resurrection story. Instead, we seem to have apparition stories. The same goes for the Angel Moroni.
It is not enough to demonstrate that the building blocks of life can be generated by natural processes. It must also be shown that the building blocks can be put together. A process that generates letters is not necessarily a process that could generate the complete works of Shakespeare – which may be a fair analogy for even the simplest self-replicating cell.
#7 - David Madison - 08/19/2017 - 09:16
Dear David Madison,
Let me address briefly your latest comments.
RE: “Let us suppose that the Ontological Argument for God succeeds. I’m not saying it does, but let’s suppose that it does In that case, God would be part of nature, according to your reckoning.”
I am not sure the ontological argument will help you very much. The problem remains that you have not defined “supernatural.” I don’t know what you mean by that word.
If God is part of nature, then what is “supernatural” to you? Besides, in classical Christian theology God is the creator of nature, and not part of nature. So, I am not sure how you are relating the ontological argument to God’s relationship with nature in your theology.
RE: “Regarding the Resurrection, it seems that you have moved the goalposts. In your earlier comment you talked about numerous resurrection stories. But now you cite examples of what seem much more like apparition stories than resurrection stories. If people had claimed to have seen Mary soon after her death and their experiences had convinced them that Mary had been raised from the dead, then we would have a resurrection story.”
You are using an argument whose flaws I addressed in this article. See again: http://www.debunking-christianity.com/2013/04/jesus-resurrection-and-marian.html
You are arguing that the temporal distance between the death of Person X and reports of seeing Person X alive after their death constitutes the difference between a resurrection story and an apparition story. To you, a resurrection must include reports of seeing the person alive “soon” after death.
However, I had noted that “resurrections” were reported in my church. These “resurrected” people were not apparitions. They were people we knew and were believed to have died, and then resurrected shortly (within minutes or hours) after their death. By your logic, we should believe in these resurrection stories even if we don’t believe in Marian "apparitions."
As I pointed out in that online article, your rationale could also eliminate the historicity of Paul’s encounter with Jesus or the Transfiguration story that has Elijah and Moses (See Mark 9:4) in it hundreds of years after their deaths or “disappearances.”
Your criterion is arbitrary because there is no reason, in a universe where miracles can occur, that God can only raise someone “soon” after death. Read Matthew 27:52-53 again to understand that the author believed in the resurrection of saints long after their deaths (see also 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Indeed, you are being selective and arbitrary in using the word “apparition” for a story’s whose historicity you don’t favor. Otherwise, why do you conclude that “apparitions” should be defined by the temporal distance between the death of a person and a report of seeing that dead person alive?
QUESTION FOR DAVID MADISON
If those who report seeing Mary alive use the same objective language (“saw her”; “touched her”; “she spoke to us”) used in the Jesus stories to describe the experience of “witnesses,” then why are the Jesus stories not just “apparition” stories to you?
#8 - Dr. Hector Avalos - 08/22/2017 - 17:00
Dear David Madison,
I am adding more responses to your replies about the origin of life.
RE: “It is not enough to demonstrate that the building blocks of life can be generated by natural processes. It must also be shown that the building blocks can be put together.”
The self-assembly of many chemicals, including DNA, has already been demonstrated repeatedly. In fact, a Nobel Prize was awarded in 1977 to Ilye Prigogine (1917-2003) for elucidating some of the processes of self-organization.
Almost any chemical (e.g., amino acids) that is an ingredient for life has assembled itself from simpler atoms. In other words, self-assembly is a KNOWN natural process.
If amino acids can assemble themselves from simpler ingredients (e.g., hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen), then there is no reason that more complex chemicals cannot assemble themselves, as well.
Life is nothing more than the name we give to certain physico-chemical assemblages that have particular properties such metabolism and reproduction.
At the same time, all known physico-chemical entities require only physico-chemical processes to explain them, and life is a physico-chemical process everywhere we look. Metabolism is a physico-chemical process. Reproduction is physico-chemical process.
Human beings, who are not supernatural beings (if I understand your argument), can even modify these processes, which confirms that we are dealing with natural physico-chemical phenomena.
Perhaps more importantly, any physico-chemical entity can have properties not present in its constituents.
Consider water, which is composed of 2 atoms hydrogen and 1 atom of oxygen. Water has a set of properties that we can call “waterness.” It is a liquid at room temperature and normal atmospheric pressure, and it boils and freezes at specific temperatures, etc.
However, the set of properties we call “waterness” is not present in the individual oxygen or hydrogen atoms. For example, hydrogen and oxygen are not liquids at room temperature. The combination of oxygen and hydrogen produced new properties and functions not present in the constituents.
In other words, water comes from “non-water.”
And just as water can come from non-water, so can life come from non-life.
RE: “A process that generates letters is not necessarily a process that could generate the complete works of Shakespeare – which may be a fair analogy for even the simplest self-replicating cell.”
You cannot equate the “letters” that compose our genetic code with the letters that compose Shakespeare. That is a false analogy that has been debunked many times.
Your argument reduces to something like this: If the chemicals in Set A do not have the ability to arrange themselves into the works of Shakespeare, then the chemicals in in any other Set X cannot arrange themselves into any other configuration or perform any other function.
That is like arguing that since rocks cannot engage in photosynthesis, then there must not be any other set of chemicals that can engage in photosynthesis.
Different sets of chemicals can have different functions and properties. The letters (e.g., composed of ink on paper) in Shakespeare’s plays do not have the physico-chemical properties that allow those particular arrangements without human intervention. The “letters” that compose DNA or RNA can arrange themselves without human intervention.
Complexity also is a fully natural process as far as I can determine, and you still have not shown that it requires some supernatural cause.
Let me add that I was once a Six-Day creationist. I moved to old earth creationism and I advocated various versions of Intelligent Design at one time. So, I not only have heard your creationist arguments before, but I used them myself. I abandoned them because I found them to be superficial, arbitrary, outdated, and misinformed about scientific research into the origin of life,
More importantly, I found creationists and Intelligent Design advocates to be very uninformed about what the Bible actually says about the origin of our cosmos.
Finally, I am still not sure why you have been unwilling or unable to answer my question:
Can you name ONE instance where a phenomenon or event that was thought to be natural turned out to be supernatural?
#9 - Dr. Hector Avalos - 08/22/2017 - 17:24