Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Arbitrariness of Gosse

It occurred to me recently that I don't get the logical structure of the Gosse approach to evidence for the age of the Earth, evolution, etc--i.e., God planted mounds of evidence to test our faith. Let's say, for the moment, that we're ok with the bizarre theological implications of a trickster God. I still don't get it.

For the believer, theoretically, God created both nature and the Bible. The accounts in each clearly contradict each other (for a Biblical literalist, at least). So, what reason is there to claim that nature is the deceptive side, and the Bible true? Isn't it just as likely that the account contained in nature is true, and God is deceiving us in the Bible? From a logical standpoint, I don't see a reason to pick one over the other.

Obviously, the rest of the religion is built around the Bible, so that provides psychological motivation to protect that side. But I don't think I ever realized how arbitrary their choice seems on logical grounds, even putting aside the other problems with the idea (verifiability, Last Thursdayism, etc).

6 comments:

MKR said...

Interesting point. "What reason is there to claim that nature is the deceptive side, and the Bible true?" I suspect that it comes down to the fact that the Bible says things while we merely interpret nature. Remember that Christian creationists (though admittedly not Jewish ones) think that the Bible just reveals its meaning unambiguously to anyone who reads its words with their heart open to the Holy Spirit (or some such nonsense). They believe that what they are doing when they interpret the Bible is not really interpretation but just reading the plain meaning. By contrast, when we look at nature and try to figure out how it works, we have to engage in all sorts of complicated reasonings and inferences—the kind of heavy brainwork that fundies regard with profound suspicion. So of course they trust the conclusions of their Bible reading rather than the conclusions of natural scientists.

As for Jewish creationists who adopt the omphalos hypothesis (as it is called after Gosse's book), surely the fundamental reason is that they regard rabbinic tradition, most of which dates from well before anything was known about the history of the earth or the cosmos, as authoritative.

MKR said...

It occurs to me on reflection that my previous comment may not answer the question that you were asking. You ask specifically after "logical structure," or reasons "from a logical standpoint," while what I offered were causal-historical explanations. But I think that those are the only kind of reason to be had. Your question presumes that the Gossian confronted the two competing hypotheses, "Nature is deceptive" and "The Bible is deceptive," and adopts the first of the two on the basis of some reasoned judgment. I don't think that any such rational reconstruction of the position is possible. What we are dealing with here is not so much a reasoned conclusion as a kind of intellectual spasm. The fundamentalist believer is wedded to his belief in the literal truth of the Biblical cosmogony; he cannot give up that belief without suffering the wreckage of his entire way of thinking (and probably his way of life as well). So of course he rejects the hypothesis that is incompatible with that belief.

JewishGadfly said...

Thanks. I think you're right on both counts. I considered the "nature requires interpretation" option--which would help, at least--but figured a) text also requires interpretation, and b) the omphalos hypothesis seems to accept that, if the natural world were NOT a hoax by God, it would yield the scientific conclusions it does. That is, the hypothesis doesn't argue that the interpretation of fossil layers and radioactive dating is incorrect (as other creationist arguments do), but rather argues that fossils were merely placed to look like what our interpretations correctly yield.

I think you're right that (a) doesn't work for the reasons you mention, but (b) still makes sense to me--if the conclusions based on the evidence are taken as valid but "faked by God," couldn't it be compared to the Bible?

In any case, I agree about the likely history and motivation for it. It just occurred to me that the whole idea is sort of funny in this way, from an outsider's perspective.

JewishGadfly said...

I mean, for reasons besides the obvious.

G*3 said...

You make a really good point. I have to remember this.

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