The “Cornell” conference’s ancestor?

| 35 Comments

The recent kerfuffle over the intelligent design creationism movement’s effort to publish the proceedings of a secret conference held (it appears) in a rented room at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration should remind us of an earlier Disco ‘Tute conference run along the same lines. In June 2007 an apparently secret [struck because it’s not clear it was to be secret] conference that was called the “Wistar Retrospective Symposium” was held in Boston. That one included a number of the same participants as the “Cornell” conference: Dembski, Marks, Meyer, Behe, and Axe among them. The main difference is that the 2007 meeting included some genuine experts in information theory and evolutionary biology who raised embarrassing questions for the ID pushers. Daniel R. Brooks of the University of Toronto was one such expert in attendance, and he guest-authored a post on it for the Thumb. The take-home message from Brooks was

ID dooms itself. In their own words at this conference, IDers espouse a program in which the scope and power of the Designer is restricted to purely human dimensions, in which the effects of the Designer on biological diversity have left no discernible trace that can be detected scientifically, in which the effects of Darwinian processes are the only biological phenomena that can be studied scientifically, and in which Darwinian processes are overwhelmingly more powerful than those of the Designer (because they inevitably cause the Designer’s creations to degenerate). For example, it must be evil Darwinian processes that produce emerging infectious diseases, otherwise each pathogen would remain associated only with the host for which it was designed. This is all just too silly.

Interestingly, immediately following the 2007 conference the organizers emailed participants

… stating that the ID people considered the conference a private meeting, and did not want any of us to discuss it, blog it, or publish anything about it. They said they had no intention of posting anything from the conference on the Discovery Institute’s web site (the entire proceedings were recorded). They claimed they would have some announcement at the time of the publication of the edited volume of presentations, in about a year, and wanted all of us to wait until then to say anything.

So like the recent “Cornell” conference, the organizers of the 2007 meeting planned to publish a proceedings volume, but as far as we can tell it has never appeared. While the year until publication mentioned is now approaching five years (shades of Paul Nelson’s ontogenetic depth!), there’s still nothing visible in prospect. Is the recent “conference” no more than the offspring of the earlier one, this time held sans critics so as to generate a propaganda book minus the embarrassing questions of genuine experts that Brooks described? Wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

I strongly recommend Brooks’ takedown to Thumb readers.

Hat tip to Joe Felsenstein for the reminder of Brooks’ post.

35 Comments

I regularly remind folks of the intelligent design creationism founders’ conferences at such venues as Southern Methodist University in 1992 and particularly the Bible Institute Of Los Angeles (now using the stealth acronym “BIOLA University”) in 1996. See http://www.talkreason.org/articles/HistoryID2.cfm for details.

Paul Burnett said:

I regularly remind folks of the intelligent design creationism founders’ conferences at such venues as Southern Methodist University in 1992 and particularly the Bible Institute Of Los Angeles (now using the stealth acronym “BIOLA University”) in 1996. See http://www.talkreason.org/articles/HistoryID2.cfm for details.

Excellent history of the ID “movement” from Flank which I thought noteworthy enough to bookmark on my main laptop. It should be noted that the 1996 BIOLA conference was the first of several organized by the Discovery Institute’s Center For the Renewal of Science and Culture, now known as the Center for Science and Culture.

This certainly sounds likely.

I had wondered if the slew of latter day creationist legislation seen in 2010 partly motivated the “Cornell” “conference” - if there was some sense of urgency to generate, by hook or by crook, an ostensibly peer reviewed ID book put out by a scientific publisher to give wingnut politicians something to wave around.

The two ideas are by no means mutually exclusive. They could have been planning a more “exclusive” conference for several years, but been especially motivated to try to get one rolling when they saw creationist bills being proposed.

harold said: …if there was some sense of urgency to generate, by hook or by crook, an ostensibly peer reviewed ID book put out by a scientific publisher to give wingnut politicians something to wave around.

The last ID book, Steve Meyer’s “Signature In The Cell” was published by HarperOne, HarperCollins Publishers sub-unit which publishes “influential books on personal growth, religion, spirituality, and wellness” - not a scientific publisher at all. Definitely a tactical error on their part, but hardly surprising.

Paul and harold, HarperOne has also published an ID book on the brain, “The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul”, co-authored by Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and Denys O’Leary. Whatever one might think of this, this is definitely not a tactical error on Harper Collins’ part to publish both this book and “Signature in the Cell”. Nor is a tactical error for Simon and Schuster’s Free Press to have published Michael Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box” and “The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism” (Slightly off the topic, I have copies of both “Signature” and “The Edge of Evolution”, which I received as review copies merely to write my harsh, but accurate, Amazon reviews of both.). The bottom line for either one is money, which is why the Free Press did give Richard Dawkins a very substantial six figure advance for his “The Greatest Show on Earth”. Springer, however, is also motivated too by its longstanding reputation as an important publisher of scientific works, so I am cautiously optimistic that the additional peer review which is being done for the Cornell “symposium” volume will result in its rejection a potential Springer publication.

Typo, I meant Denyse O’leary, not Denys O’Leary. As regular PT readers know, she is unofficially the Canadian “minister of propaganda” for the Dishonesty Institute:

John said:

Paul and harold, HarperOne has also published an ID book on the brain, “The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul”, co-authored by Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and Denys O’Leary. Whatever one might think of this, this is definitely not a tactical error on Harper Collins’ part to publish both this book and “Signature in the Cell”. Nor is a tactical error for Simon and Schuster’s Free Press to have published Michael Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box” and “The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism” (Slightly off the topic, I have copies of both “Signature” and “The Edge of Evolution”, which I received as review copies merely to write my harsh, but accurate, Amazon reviews of both.). The bottom line for either one is money, which is why the Free Press did give Richard Dawkins a very substantial six figure advance for his “The Greatest Show on Earth”. Springer, however, is also motivated too by its longstanding reputation as an important publisher of scientific works, so I am cautiously optimistic that the additional peer review which is being done for the Cornell “symposium” volume will result in its rejection a potential Springer publication.

John said: Whatever one might think of this, this is definitely not a tactical error on Harper Collins’ part to publish both this book and “Signature in the Cell”.

My point was it was a tactical error on the creationists’ part - to use a religious publishing house to publish what they desperately wanted to be accepted as a “science” book - only to find the big book stores were shelving it in the “Religion and Philosophy” section instead of the “Science” section.

Wasn’t this the conference at which Ann Gauger of the newly formed DI “laboratory,” the Biologic Whatever, presented results from a study of bacteria? IIRC, it was pointed out that her results actually showed Darwinian evolution in action, whereupon the session was abruptly cancelled, a giant hook yanked Gauger off the stage, there were no more questions and everybody scuttled away.

Maybe not quite that dramatic.

Paul Burnett said:

John said: Whatever one might think of this, this is definitely not a tactical error on Harper Collins’ part to publish both this book and “Signature in the Cell”.

My point was it was a tactical error on the creationists’ part - to use a religious publishing house to publish what they desperately wanted to be accepted as a “science” book - only to find the big book stores were shelving it in the “Religion and Philosophy” section instead of the “Science” section.

You and John are both correct.

Creationists use different strategies in parallel, and although this is rather crafty of them, the strategies sometimes interfere with each other.

1) The overall long term goal is to force fundamentalist dogma into public school science classes and/or to eliminate or distort the teaching of evolution (and anything else they don’t like) in public school science classes. Such efforts have tended to be challenged in court (although they have also sometimes been resolved by ultimate rejection of the proposals by voters, before a wasteful court case was necessary). Hence the invention of “ID” and the occasional claims that “ID isn’t religious”. For the courtroom, at least with courts no more blatantly willing to support the right wing side of any case, regardless of the law, than we currently have in the US, disguising ID/creationism as “neutral science that has nothing to do with religion” is more or less necessary. Hence, constant but unsuccessful efforts to do that.

2) However, to get to court at all, there has to be someone preaching creationism in a taxpayer funded science class, or other inappropriate, taxpayer funded venue. Therefore another part of the strategy is to create public confusion. Flat earthers don’t have the slightest chance of getting their dogma into public schools, for example, at least not yet. The public understanding that the earth is approximately spherical is too strong. The public must be kept confused, or evolution denial rarely come up and be scornfully dismissed by the vast majority when it did.

It’s important to understand that, biased polls notwithstanding, US public acceptance of the basic scientific consensus on the history of the earth and life is pretty strong. Science-based presentations about dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals are popular (far more popular than “creationism museums”), indeed, part of popular culture, and statements about the age of dinosaur fossils are controversial only among YEC creationists. Human evolution, while sometimes seemingly denied in polls that set up a fake conflict with “religion”, is actually strongly accepted and referred to frequently in popular culture. Contrary to stereotypes, the US has a strong history of widespread admiration for science, and that hasn’t been entirely destroyed yet.

In order to confuse the public, as many “science-y” sounding books, editorials, and media interviews as possible is the goal. However, in a setting of skeptical scrutiny, such as a courtroom, this is at odds with the fiction that ID/creationism is serious science, because serious science isn’t communicated in this way.

3) Lastly, to make money and have some bastions of enthusiasm, the authoritarian religious right base has to be pandered to. Average members of the public don’t buy dense, verbose, bullshitty “ID” books, any more than they buy dense, difficult science textbooks. You can confuse the average person about whether or not there is a “controversy”, but you can’t make them care very much.

But the base has zero interest in vague dissembling that “the designer could be an alien” who may have merely tweaked “the bacterial flagellum” and a few other such things into existence for some purely mysterious reason. The base wants at least barely coded assurance that it’s really about hard core authoritarian “Biblical literalism”.

The base does understand prioritizing “doubts about evolution”. The dishonest gotcha game of stealth apologetics - “Now that you admit that it at least had to be an alien, doesn’t it make more sense that it was Jesus?” - is massively popular.

But at the same time, they can’t tolerate straying too far from the authoritarian YEC message.

Furthermore, the authoritarian fundamentalist movement is part of a broader ideology, and the base won’t tolerate anything that doesn’t make its loyalty to the overall ideology clear, at least in a coded way.

So, in the end, these three parallel strategies partly work against each other. Constant excessive use of naive, inadequately reviewed, lay audience venues creates confusion among that audience, but works against the claim that ID/creationism is “science”. And pandering to the base is necessary for funding and enthusiasm, but the association with overt YEC, other science denial, and a political ideology works against both the claim of being “science”, and against the goal of confusing the broader public.

Doc Bill said:

Wasn’t this the conference at which Ann Gauger of the newly formed DI “laboratory,” the Biologic Whatever, presented results from a study of bacteria? IIRC, it was pointed out that her results actually showed Darwinian evolution in action, whereupon the session was abruptly cancelled, a giant hook yanked Gauger off the stage, there were no more questions and everybody scuttled away.

Maybe not quite that dramatic.

Yes, that’s the one. According to Dan Brooks’ account, immediately after a critic pointed out that Gauger had shown that a beneficial mutation had occurred in her experiment, the moderator closed the session and everyone went to coffee break:

[Gauger] was then prompted by one of her colleagues to regale us with some new experimental finds. She gave what amounted to a second presentation, during which she discussed “leaky growth,” in microbial colonies at high densities, leading to horizontal transfer of genetic information, and announced that under such conditions she had actually found a novel variant that seemed to lead to enhanced colony growth. Gunther Wagner said, “So, a beneficial mutation happened right in your lab?” at which point the moderator halted questioning. We shuffled off for a coffee break with the admission hanging in the air that natural processes could not only produce new information, they could produce beneficial new information.

Wagner said, “So, a beneficial mutation happened right in your lab?” at which point the moderator halted questioning. We shuffled off for a coffee break with the admission hanging in the air that natural processes could not only produce new information, they could produce beneficial new information.

But the designer could have slipped in new information right in the lab. You can’t control for supernatural designers/sneaky aliens or whatever.

Yours is a most accurate assessment, harold. As a reminder to Paul, the reasons why mainstream publishers like Harper Collins (Harper One) and Simon and Schuster (Free Press) publish books written by the likes of Behe, Meyer and O’Leary is because they sell. While Springer is also interested in selling books, its market share is potentially much lower than the others, simply because it caters almost exclusively to an academic audience (That reason alone should give creationists pause thinking that Springer will publish the Cornell “symposium” volume after it receives additional peer review; I am cautiously optimistic that Springer won’t publish it.).

I think what we need to do is to convey to the public our excitement and enthusiasm for biological evolution, explaining why the life sciences can be best explained via the prism of evolutionary theory. In his Stephen Jay Gould acceptance speech before the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Evolution, Ken Miller said that we need to tell stories well, stories that will convincingly persuasive that the public will realize that Intelligent Design and other forms of creationism do not make any sense. I think this is excellent advice (He starts talking about this around the 50 minute mark here.):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?featur[…]=9nYBEMtBXgA

Karen S. said:

Wagner said, “So, a beneficial mutation happened right in your lab?” at which point the moderator halted questioning. We shuffled off for a coffee break with the admission hanging in the air that natural processes could not only produce new information, they could produce beneficial new information.

But the designer could have slipped in new information right in the lab. You can’t control for supernatural designers/sneaky aliens or whatever.

In fact, it’s well known that the Flying Spaghetti Monster changes the readings of scientific instruments.

For example, a scientist may perform a carbon-dating process on an artifact. He finds that approximately 75% of the Carbon-14 has decayed by electron emission to Nitrogen-14, and infers that this artifact is approximately 10,000 years old, as the half-life of Carbon-14 appears to be 5,730 years. But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage.

From http://www.venganza.org/about/open-letter/

harold said:

In fact, it’s well known that the Flying Spaghetti Monster changes the readings of scientific instruments.

That’s what I love about the FSM. He doesn’t futz around arguing with “evilutionists”. He just says “I alter your perception, so all your rational arguments are crap.” That’s what a real omnipotent god would do. He wouldn’t piddle around with floods and talking snakes and stopping the sun. If He didn’t like the results, He’d just reset time like doing a computer restart and change things until He got the result He wanted. The Bible portrays God as a blundering, human-invented fool.

Ah no, mon cher, He would get it RIGHT on the first throw!

It is of course off topic for this thread but with God lurking in the sky(?) maybe it should be pointed out that when it comes to the Bible, people abandon whatever ability for critical thinking they might have.

Scholars have studied the Bible, its origins, its sources, the settting, the times and culture in which it was written - and their findings are somewhat different from what people tend to believe.

Several different authors contributing to the OT have been identified.

The oldest known source of the OT probably was written between the years 800 to 740 BCE, i.e. 500 years after Moses.

In the middle of the 6th century BCE a new author sat down to improve the works of the Yahwist. This author is called the Elohist. He used the Yahwist’s works as his foundation, but made additions and deletions and reworked the text to better conform to more ‘modern’ thinking.

The third author of the Old Testament is called the Jehovist. He integrates the Jahvist and the Elohist. The result was that many stories were put side-by-side or even interleaved sentence by sentence. Thus a number of ambiguities or contradictions arose, like the Jahvist’s story about the pact of Sinai that in the account by the Jehovist was remade into a renewal after the Golden Calf corruption affair.

Do people really learn about the origins of the Bible, do they bother to search for knowledge? The churches don’t tell, that’s for sure!

Rolf Aalberg said:

Do people really learn about the origins of the Bible, do they bother to search for knowledge? The churches don’t tell, that’s for sure!

Actually, the “best” churches *do* tell about this. I had a couple of Episcopal pastors who always placed the Bible verses in historical context, both culturally and textually, explaining what it meant to the people at the time, not just what it sounds like to us today. They really do teach such things in seminary, including studying the sources in both Greek and Hebrew, not just the KJV, and the “better” pastors do pass that on.

Now, what they teach in evangelical seminaries, I have no idea. But I suspect that it isn’t a scholarly examination of history and belief.

I’m no expert on this, but I’ve never heard of a distinction being made between a “Javist” and a “Jehovist”. Among other difficulties I have with this, the name “Jehovah” is a construction based on a misunderstanding by Christians several centuries after the Bible was complete. “Jehovah” is meaningless in Hebrew.

And the Yahwist and Elohist (along with the Priestly, Deuteronomist and a few others like the Redactor) are mainly sources only for the first five books of the Bible (or maybe a couple more), not the entire “Old Testament”; and I don’t think that the dating that you give is universally agreed on (for example, some date the Yahwist to roughly 1000 BCE, only a couple of centuries after Moses); as well as a couple of other quibbles.

Whoa that’s off-topic.

The most important message to take home from this post is:

The “Wistar Retrospective Symposium” was NOT SPONSORED BY WISTAR.

The “Cornell conference” was NOT SPONSORED BY CORNELL.

Let us add this to our archive of dishonesty.

Let’s compare what Phillip Johnson SAYS the IDers are “discovering” against what they REALLY DISCOVER.

Phillip Johnson said: Darwinists will say, “…We distinguish the fact of evolution from the mechanism of evolution.” But that’s a bogus distinction because the “fact”–common ancestry–incorporates the mechanism…

Biologists affiliated with the Intelligent Design movement [WHO? WHO?] nail down the distinction by showing that DNA mutations do not create evolution in any significant sense. Instead, they make birth defects, so the whole thing is false from the get-go.

[Berkeley’s Radical: An Interview with Phillip E. Johnson. Interview by James M. Kushiner, November 2000. http://www.arn.org/docs/johnson/le_[…]sradical.htm]

No one affiliated with the DI has ever studied birth defects. But let’s compare this to what they’re really “Discovering” at “Discovery.”

[Gauger] was then prompted by one of her colleagues to regale us with some new experimental finds. She gave what amounted to a second presentation, during which she discussed “leaky growth,” in microbial colonies at high densities, leading to horizontal transfer of genetic information, and announced that under such conditions she had actually found a novel variant that seemed to lead to enhanced colony growth. Gunther Wagner said, “So, a beneficial mutation happened right in your lab?” at which point the moderator halted questioning. We shuffled off for a coffee break with the admission hanging in the air that natural processes could not only produce new information, they could produce beneficial new information.

Rolf is giving the “documentary hypothesis” proposed by Wellhausen and others about 1876 as an explanation for the creation of the Pentateuch plus Joshua - not the entire OT. It rests on the observation that the Pentateuch is composed of passages that are only somewhat integrated with each other and which contain different vocabulary and are clearly concerned with different matters, and that there are some relict references, not entirely expunged, to a pre-monotheistic mythology and even pantheon.

Once the passages are separated out - no small task - there do seem to be at least three - probably four - different sources, and they tell many stories or incidents in duplicate, leading to the conclusion that the text is a redacted collection.

Wellhausen gave them the symbols Rolf mentions, but as for four individual originators and a redactor, it’s an awful lot to hang on the fact that different passages of text refer to God by three different names or titles that are consistent in each. Why not more? Why not entire schools, communities?

Deuteronomy, or part of it, is identified with the scroll of the law found by Hikiah in the Temple about 623 BCE. (The eighteenth year of King Josiah, anyway.) If so, this is as far back as any of the text can be traced, except for tiny scraps. A short version of the Aaronic Blessing, for example, (using Yahweh, not Elohim) appears inscribed on a small piece of sheet silver which may be a little older than that. Still, the idea that the Pentateuch’s oldest parts may have originated as far back as 1200 BCE is little more than a guess. Maybe they did, from the tantalising hints of premonotheism, but there’s no evidence.

As for what the evangelicals teach in their seminaries, they are often close students of the languages, the traditional apologia for inconsistencies in the texts being to claim a different translation. They do that with Genesis 1 and 2, for instance.

However, they start with the dogmatic assumption, absolutely intransigently held, that Scripture is inerrant. There are parts of the Pentateuch that are credited in the text to Moses himself: Exodus 21-23; Numbers 33; Deuteronomy 5 6-21; Deuteronomy 31: 24 and most of Ch 32. Therefore, say the evangelicals, those parts were written by Moses, or were heard and accurately recorded by someone very close to the same time, and therefore date from about 1250 BCE. If it were not so, Scripture is in error, which is impossible.

In fact, most Evangelicals hold that Moses wrote the whole lot himself, except maybe Deuteronomy 34, which describes how he died and was buried. This really is straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

Scott F said:

Rolf Aalberg said:

Do people really learn about the origins of the Bible, do they bother to search for knowledge? The churches don’t tell, that’s for sure!

Actually, the “best” churches *do* tell about this. I had a couple of Episcopal pastors who always placed the Bible verses in historical context, both culturally and textually, explaining what it meant to the people at the time, not just what it sounds like to us today. They really do teach such things in seminary, including studying the sources in both Greek and Hebrew, not just the KJV, and the “better” pastors do pass that on.

This is also common in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The documentary hypothesis was even included in my Sunday School curriculum when I was in high school back in the the 1970’s.

SWT said:

Scott F said:

Rolf Aalberg said:

Do people really learn about the origins of the Bible, do they bother to search for knowledge? The churches don’t tell, that’s for sure!

Actually, the “best” churches *do* tell about this. I had a couple of Episcopal pastors who always placed the Bible verses in historical context, both culturally and textually, explaining what it meant to the people at the time, not just what it sounds like to us today. They really do teach such things in seminary, including studying the sources in both Greek and Hebrew, not just the KJV, and the “better” pastors do pass that on.

This is also common in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The documentary hypothesis was even included in my Sunday School curriculum when I was in high school back in the the 1970’s.

SWT, not sure if you know, but Gordon Glover (author of Beyond The Firmament, producer of 16 lessons on science and theism/Christianity) is Presbyterian USA. Some of his lessons touch on what you and Scott F address.

Glover, like me, grew up a young-earth creationist. He as a teen even hoped to work for ICR someday but that obviously never came to pass.

Dave Luckett said: In fact, most Evangelicals hold that Moses wrote the whole lot himself, except maybe Deuteronomy 34, which describes how he died and was buried. This really is straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

Just another example of how their standards of what is impossible override everything else. Just because they don’t believe that Moses could write about his own death and burial (even though they accept his knowledge of other future events). Such as, because it’s been learned in the last 500 years that the Earth goes around the Sun, the standard readings, for some 2 millennia, of the obvious statements in the Bible that the Sun goes around the Earth are discarded and reinterpreted on the sole basis of naturalistic evidence. There are no statements in the Bible denying evolution which are as well grounded as is geocentrism. Gnats and camels.

Actually, the “best” churches *do* tell about this.

You are correct. My church has no problem with this stuff. It’s interesting, in fact.

Tenncrain said:

SWT said:

Scott F said:

Rolf Aalberg said:

Do people really learn about the origins of the Bible, do they bother to search for knowledge? The churches don’t tell, that’s for sure!

Actually, the “best” churches *do* tell about this. I had a couple of Episcopal pastors who always placed the Bible verses in historical context, both culturally and textually, explaining what it meant to the people at the time, not just what it sounds like to us today. They really do teach such things in seminary, including studying the sources in both Greek and Hebrew, not just the KJV, and the “better” pastors do pass that on.

This is also common in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The documentary hypothesis was even included in my Sunday School curriculum when I was in high school back in the the 1970’s.

SWT, not sure if you know, but Gordon Glover (author of Beyond The Firmament, producer of 16 lessons on science and theism/Christianity) is Presbyterian USA. Some of his lessons touch on what you and Scott F address.

Glover, like me, grew up a young-earth creationist. He as a teen even hoped to work for ICR someday but that obviously never came to pass.

I wasn’t familiar with Glover, thanks for the link.

Rolf Aalberg said:

It is of course off topic for this thread but with God lurking in the sky(?) maybe it should be pointed out that when it comes to the Bible, people abandon whatever ability for critical thinking they might have.

Scholars have studied the Bible, its origins, its sources, the settting, the times and culture in which it was written - and their findings are somewhat different from what people tend to believe.

Several different authors contributing to the OT have been identified.

The oldest known source of the OT probably was written between the years 800 to 740 BCE, i.e. 500 years after Moses.

In the middle of the 6th century BCE a new author sat down to improve the works of the Yahwist. This author is called the Elohist. He used the Yahwist’s works as his foundation, but made additions and deletions and reworked the text to better conform to more ‘modern’ thinking.

The third author of the Old Testament is called the Jehovist. He integrates the Jahvist and the Elohist. The result was that many stories were put side-by-side or even interleaved sentence by sentence. Thus a number of ambiguities or contradictions arose, like the Jahvist’s story about the pact of Sinai that in the account by the Jehovist was remade into a renewal after the Golden Calf corruption affair.

Do people really learn about the origins of the Bible, do they bother to search for knowledge? The churches don’t tell, that’s for sure!

I suppose that’s a summary of what you might have learned in college 20 years ago. But the situation has changed considerably since then. Leading scholars (i.e. the Copenhagen School), have serious doubts that the OT texts int heir current form predate the Septuagint (the 3rd century Greek translation) more than a generation or two. The JPE source criticism of f the Pentateuch is also in the process of being abandoned (i.e. it still adhered to by many older scholars, but very few younger ones). Although we’re still left with the editing of traditional material, some of which might go back to the bronze age, but monotheism appears to have been added to the text later and later, and the historical narratives to be less and less reliable.

Helena, that’s right; and it drives the fundies batty. Wellhausen’s analysis (not new in his day - his work was a summary of the evidence, presented in a seamless logical fashion) is now doubted as to its dating of the sources and the nature of the sources themselves - but only the fundamentalists think that the text is unchanged since the Bronze Age, and they only think that because that’s where they start from.

Current scholarship is, as you say, trending towards the opinion that the Pentateuch in its final form dates even later than Wellhausen thought, and that the process of redaction and reconciliation of text was more of a collegiate, negotiated effort than he thought, rather than the work of four or so separately identified personalities - this based on the appearance of having been cobbled together as a compromise.

But this is only going from bad to worse, according to the “literalists”. They think Wellhausen was a heretic for suggesting that the text is a human production, not an emanation of the Godhead. Modern scholars must be even more so, on that score.

But that the Pentateuch is a not-completely-consistent redaction of sources, some early, is not seriously challenged, fundamentalist assumptions notwithstanding. The arguments are over who, when and where.

Dave Luckett said:

But this is only going from bad to worse, according to the “literalists”. They think Wellhausen was a heretic for suggesting that the text is a human production, not an emanation of the Godhead. Modern scholars must be even more so, on that score.

It’s always seemed to me to be an insult to a god (blasphemy?) to insist that something so POORLY written is his own work!

And that evangelicals cannot admit that the Pentateuch is the cobbled-up work of quite fallible humans says a lot about their own literary discernment–or their intentional blindness.

In fact, most Evangelicals hold that Moses wrote the whole lot himself, except maybe Deuteronomy 34, which describes how he died and was buried. This really is straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

I never understood where the “Moses wrote the first five books” thing came from. The text doesn’t assert this anywhere, does it?

Dave Luckett said:

Current scholarship is, as you say, trending towards the opinion that the Pentateuch in its final form dates even later than Wellhausen thought, and that the process of redaction and reconciliation of text was more of a collegiate, negotiated effort than he thought, rather than the work of four or so separately identified personalities - this based on the appearance of having been cobbled together as a compromise.

But this is only going from bad to worse, according to the “literalists”. They think Wellhausen was a heretic for suggesting that the text is a human production, not an emanation of the Godhead. Modern scholars must be even more so, on that score.

A Pentateuch designed by committee.

Nick Matzke said:

I never understood where the “Moses wrote the first five books” thing came from. The text doesn’t assert this anywhere, does it?

Not exactly. The passages I noted are said in the text to be the very words of Moses, but there is no general authorship claimed within the text itself, and the question of how Moses’s very words were reliably recorded is unanswered.

There are a number of places in the text where the writer lets slip that he’s writing a long time after the time of Moses - one is at Deuteronomy 34:6, where the text remarks that nobody knows where Moses was buried, and another is in Numbers - I forget the exact place - where it is said that the land was then Canaanite, which is to imply that it wasn’t by the time the words were written, which can’t mean much before 800 or so. There are also numerous places where something is said to last “to this day”, implying a substantial space of time, and several references to place-names and people which didn’t exist until long after Moses’s time.

That said, Jewish tradition, well-set by the time of Jesus, referred to the Pentateuch as “the books of Moses”, and presumed his authorship. Jesus himself referred in several places to the laws or commandments “of Moses”, which the fundies say would necessarily imply Mosaic authorship directly. I don’t think it would, necessarily.

Much has been made of some apparently early material - Egyptian loan-words especially in Exodus, archaic Hebraic forms, some references to second-millenium BCE practices and documents. Nobody ever argued that this material wasn’t there, only that it was mixed with later material, arguing both composition and redaction, and that there is no evidence that Moses wrote any of it himself.

Dave Luckett said: There are a number of places in the text where the writer lets slip that he’s writing a long time after the time of Moses …

I wouldn’t phrase it that way, “lets slip”, for the writer(s) make no attempt to appear to be Moses. For example, they never refer to Moses in the first person (except where they are quoting the words of Moses): never does it say “the Lord told me to write this” or “I discussed this with my brother Aaron”. Concerning the writers’ knowledge of things that happened after the time of Moses, one can always appeal to the gift of foresight, for the Lord could reveal to Moses that something was going to happen (so Moses could know about the circumstances of his own death and burial). But let’s take the example of the Pentateuch speaking of the future kings of Israel. Yes, Moses could know that there would be kings, but what about his audience? When there was the dispute about instituting a monarchy in Israel, why did no one mention that it was inevitable, because Moses predicted that there would be kings?

I would say that whoever wrote the Pentateuch, they were not interested in making it appear to have been written by Moses. Of course, Moses could, for some obscure reason, want it to appear that he was not the author, in a kind of “Omphalos” hypothesis.

Fair enough.

I suppose that’s a summary of what you might have learned in college 20 years ago. But the situation has changed considerably since then.

You are indeed right; my source is at least that old and drawing on sources even older than that. I am glad I don’t have to sort it all out; I am satisfied that sound scholarship and fundamentalism are in serious disagreement.

During another discussion of the Biological Information: New Perspectives “conference” John Colliers reporting on the 2007 ‘Wistar Retrospective Symposium’:

A few years ago I was sucked into a conference run by the Discovery Institute. Some the ID people were sincere and perhaps naive. One had done their PhD at Cambridge, and another at Northwestern, under David Hull, my own mentor. I was a bit annoyed at finding I had been duped, but was pleased to renew friendships with Dan Brooks, Bob Ulanowicz, Bruce Weber and some others, as well as meeting Gunther Wagner and Steve Chaitin, and hearing Stuart Kauffman’s confusion once again about spontaneous self-organization (Prigogine style self organizing systems) and movement to a minimal energy point.

Michael Behe was there, and we talked. He is a nice guy, unlike the cads at the Discovery Institute. I had refereed a paper of his responding to criticism in Philosophy of Science. Since the criticism was both wrong and poorly argued, I thought he must have his say (as did the other reviewer, a prominent philosopher of biology whose name I am pledged not to reveal). A warning to those attacking ID: these people are much brighter than your garden variety creationists, and do be careful that you know what you are talking about, or else you guarantee them a refereed publication. In this case the original paper should never have been published.

Behe conveniently missed my talk in which I mentioned recent work showed that rotary “motors” in bacteria resulted from just two mutations, contrary to Behe’s argument that they are too complicated for evolution to produce. I also showed how Rosen’s non-reducibility argument applied to the resulting network, which Chaiting remarked was the clearest expression of the idea he had seen. So the meeting was worthwhile. But I still resent being duped.

(cross posted at AtBc)

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on March 9, 2012 4:41 PM.

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