Amy-Jill Levine - Who Was Jesus of Nazareth?
Posted: 09 September 2006 11:19 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I listened to the podcast twice and have more questions!

My initial impression was that Dr. Levine is a believer, but it is not clear whether she believes in Judaism or Catholicism.

I browsed the CSER web page and could not find many answers.

Can a believer really be impartial in the "scientific" study of Religion? (The logical extension of the question is can an atheist/agnostic do the same?)

After listening to Dr. Straus (Medicine podcast) I had to associate both productions, caring for others within a religious/cultural framework. As anybody can infer from my Forum name, I am a Physician. Everyday I hear from my patients religious comments, usually I go along with the comments, but many times I am internally conflicted as an agnostic!

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Posted: 10 September 2006 10:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Re: Amy-Jill Levine - Who Was Jesus of Nazareth?

[quote author=“OhioDoc”]My initial impression was that Dr. Levine is a believer, but it is not clear whether she believes in Judaism or Catholicism.

I’m not 100% sure either, but she does say she’s Jewish on the podcast. Of course, for some people that’s a religious designation, and for others it’s more of a cultural designation. (And some self-described Jews are even atheist). I don’t think she’s Christian.

[quote author=“OhioDoc”]Can a believer really be impartial in the “scientific” study of Religion? (The logical extension of the question is can an atheist/agnostic do the same?)

I think the easy answer to this question is “Yes”. Of course, I’m not saying every believer or non-believer can be, but certainly there are honest, careful thinkers who are willing to follow where the evidence leads.

FWIW, in the case of this particular podcast, I felt that Prof. Levine was quite even-handed in her specific analysis and critiques of ‘the historical Jesus’. Her general approach is the one that I know my cousin uses. (He’s also a professor of the same subject, and not Christian). That is, that there is enough evidence for us to say that Jesus’s existence isn’t a fiction. Also, that Jesus’s real historical life was really a Jewish one; he was a Jew, preaching a strong message to a Jewish audience who he hoped to influence. He was really not thinking about ‘Gentiles’ at all.

FYI a book that my cousin recommended me is called The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders. Goes over much of the same territory.

My only problem with Prof. Levine, and (as I recall) Sanders as well is that they are too apologetic towards religion in general and the branches of monotheism in particular that they study.

So, Levine basically says that the apparently religious wars we see all around us nowadays and in the past are all really due to ‘politics’ and ‘politicians using religious language’, and not due to religion at all. That strikes me as a whitewash. Of course, politics is a necessary component, but the issues are religious. Just as one can grant that religion gets people to do charitable things, one simply must be honest enough to note that it does often get people to go to war with one another.

All one needs to do is look at the Old Testament to see that these sorts of religious wars did happen and were, indeed, common. Look at the Crusades. Look at the Reformation and Counter-Reformation in Europe. Look at the history of Islam in India. Look at the Middle East today. To claim that this is all simply due to bad politics is to be blind to the damage that religious ideals can cause. After all, if you think that you are beloved of god and the other guy isn’t, that gives you a whole lot more impetus to go about exterminating him. If you think that Jerusalem was given you by god, that gives you a whole lot more impetus to go over there and try to take it by force from the ‘infidel’.

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Posted: 10 September 2006 11:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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That is the real beauty of the scientific method. When used properly it works to describe the scope of known perceived reality regardless of ones belief.

The problem with using science in some religious exploration is that often the religion involves transcendent or internal dimensions that can not be prodded with the scientific method. Much like some parts of philosophy and logic.

So all science can say at that point is that science can shed no light on the subject. Draw from that what you will.

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Posted: 11 September 2006 12:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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[quote author=“cgallaga”]The problem with using science in some religious exploration is that often the religion involves transcendent or internal dimensions that can not be prodded with the scientific method. Much like some parts of philosophy and logic.

This is arguable. Which ‘transcendent or internal’ dimensions were you thinking of, Chris?

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Posted: 11 September 2006 04:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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None specifically. The point is that many religions postulate that they deal with things that are not part of the observable universe. Some even say that the entire universe appears the way it is to us because we perceive it the way it is. In other words there is no objective universe that can be known…we can only interact with the universe subjectively.

And the other part is that even empirical science rests on some logical assumptions that can not be proven using the scientific method. One of the first assumptions is that all reality can be known through empiricism…but we cant test that assumption with empiricism.

Brian Greene said it eloquently when asked on an NPR Q&A : I’ll poorly paraphrase, but better to hear him yourself. He agreed that yes there well may be a creator that made things just so. But that line of thinking does not appeal to Greene and that he prefers to have duplicable evidence, however his method can not exclude that creator.

Edit to add: The part I horrible represented (he is much more detailed) is around the 20 to 30 minute section. He breaks things down into How and Why and points out that Science answers how but has not yet had any success at answering the why’s.

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Posted: 11 September 2006 02:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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[quote author=“cgallaga”]None specifically. The point is that many religions postulate that they deal with things that are not part of the observable universe. Some even say that the entire universe appears the way it is to us because we perceive it the way it is. In other words there is no objective universe that can be known…we can only interact with the universe subjectively.

Yeah, that’s true, but the question is what their evidence is for any of this. Clearly, since these are not features of the observable universe, they have no evidence.

So while you’re right that this stuff isn’t amenable to the scientific method, one might say, so much the worse for the believers. ... Unless they have some epistemic method which is superior to science, which of course they don’t.

[quote author=“cgallaga”]And the other part is that even empirical science rests on some logical assumptions that can not be proven using the scientific method. One of the first assumptions is that all reality can be known through empiricism…but we cant test that assumption with empiricism.

Well, we’ve discussed this before sort of ... one cannot be an empiricist ‘all the way down’, for this very reason. And I am not an empiricist ‘all the way down’. I do believe there are some assumptions we need to make in order for reason to get off the ground. In particular, deduction, induction and inference to the best explanation (so-called ‘abduction’).

If you assume that deduction is false, then literally anything and everything is true, including contradictions.

If you assume that induction is false, then it is literally impossible to ever learn anything about the future from the past.

If you assume that abduction is false, then it is literally impossible ever to causally explain any event.

So these things must be assumed in any rational discourse. But (and here’s the rub) they must be assumed by the religious believer as well insofar as he wants to (1) distinguish truth from falsity, (2) learn about the future, (3) explain events.

So the rational follower of the scientific method isn’t baking in any illicit stuff here. He’s just following the same sort of reason that the religious fellow does the other 99% of the time ...

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Posted: 11 September 2006 03:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Yeah…the thing I was saying is that her science or even her rational discourse is not effected by what untestable beliefs she may have. Most (all?) scientists have beliefs while doing their work. But the beliefs only steer the scientists they can not effect the science that is the end result (assuming the method is followed). So it doesn’t matter if Dr. Levine believes in FSM, Jesus or Yaweh… the method is impartial, every scientist has presuppositions and “beliefs” that the method either proves justified or false.

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Posted: 11 September 2006 03:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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[quote author=“cgallaga”]Yeah…the thing I was saying is that her science or even her rational discourse is not effected by what untestable beliefs she may have. Most (all?) scientists have beliefs while doing their work. But the beliefs only steer the scientists they can not effect the science that is the end result (assuming the method is followed). So it doesn’t matter if Dr. Levine believes in FSM, Jesus or Yaweh… the method is impartial, every scientist has presuppositions and “beliefs” that the method either proves justified or false.

OK, I think I see what you’re getting at here ... although I don’t know that I’d necessarily call Prof. Levine a ‘scientist’ per se. Really she’s a professor of religious studies, isn’t she?

As to whether she has a scientific world-view, or somesuch thing, it’s hard to tell from the podcast. She did seem quite reasonable though, and I suppose that’s where we’re agreeing.

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Posted: 11 September 2006 04:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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moore’s paradox

there is an obscure philosophical paradox called moore’s paradox

basically it goes like,
1) it’s possible that we believe in true things and false things.
2) but we cannot say that “x is true but i do not believe in x”

for instance we can’t say that “It’s raining outside but I don’t believe that it is” similarly

the guy who came up with the paradox, G.E. Moore, never thought much of it, but there is another dude, ludwig wittgenstein, who’s like, a super big shot philosopher, made a huge deal out of it.  but he apparently never figured out how to deal with this paradox. 

so, yeah, although we can say that belief is belief, and truth is truth, there is definitely a conflict between believing something, judging whether our belief is true.

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Posted: 11 September 2006 04:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Re: Amy-Jill Levine - Who Was Jesus of Nazareth?

[quote author=“OhioDoc”]
Can a believer really be impartial in the “scientific” study of Religion? (The logical extension of the question is can an atheist/agnostic do the same?)

And this is where a simple quote could have made my first post more clear. I was referring to the above. :D

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Posted: 11 September 2006 05:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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And Forgot ... all truth is tenuous especially scientific truth which in order to be science must be ready to be proven false at any time. That’s another thing I like about Green, he talks a lot about approximate truth: Example Newton had approximate truths that were very handy and are used still today. But later Einstein showed how approximate they were, and that ion some circumstances they are a poor explanation of reality, though they still can work within a more limited scope.

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Posted: 12 September 2006 12:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Re: moore’s paradox

[quote author=“forgot”]there is an obscure philosophical paradox called moore’s paradox

basically it goes like,
1) it’s possible that we believe in true things and false things.
2) but we cannot say that “x is true but i do not believe in x”

for instance we can’t say that “It’s raining outside but I don’t believe that it is” similarly

the guy who came up with the paradox, G.E. Moore, never thought much of it, but there is another dude, ludwig wittgenstein, who’s like, a super big shot philosopher, made a huge deal out of it.  but he apparently never figured out how to deal with this paradox. 

Well, Wittgenstein couldn’t have found a way to deal with this issue, since it is basically a question of definitions. When I say “X is true”, what I am saying is “I believe that X is true”. How could it be otherwise? Declarative sentences uttered in normal contexts are beliefs, or at least taken to be beliefs.

So, if “X is true” <—> “I believe that X is true”

And, if “X isn’t true” <—> “I don’t believe that X is true”

Then, “X is true but I don’t believe X” is a contradiction.

This is a lot of fun in philosophy class, but really it’s pretty banal.

[quote author=“forgot”]so, yeah, although we can say that belief is belief, and truth is truth, there is definitely a conflict between believing something, judging whether our belief is true.

Why do you say there’s a ‘conflict’ here? I heartily agree that psychology experiments show a human propensity for so-called “ confirmation bias ”, where we tend to be biased toward accepting information that accords with our prior beliefs. Sometimes this is a good thing (when we happen to have true beliefs), other times not. But it has nothing to do with Moore’s paradox.

I guess what I’m saying is that Moore’s paradox is a relatively straightforward issue of linguistic usage—what we take people to be saying when they utter declarative sentences. But ‘judging whether a belief is true’ (= epistemology) is quite a separate topic. One can say ‘[I believe that] two balls of different weights will fall at the same rate’, and then very simply and honestly go about testing this hypothesis.

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