What’s my opinion on Carrier’s take on method? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Our continuing review of SGWG involves looking at the chapter on methodology next. To be fair, I do indeed think it’s important to show one’s methodology. Usually in a debate on the NT, I will ask someone what their methodology is for determining authorship or the historicity of a text. Usually, they have none.
Carrier says at the start that the end result of any method can never be absolute certainty, but why should anyone think this? It could depend on the claim. Some fields use a more inductive reasoning. Others use a more deductive reasoning.
For instance, consider the following syllogism.
All cats are felines.
Shiro is a cat.
Shiro is a feline.
If the premises are true, the conclusion follows with absolute certainty. I have absolute certainty that tautologies are true and contradictions are false. With other fields, like science and history, one has a more inductive approach. These fields rely more on probability. (It is strange to see the emphasis on science which is inductive and the disregard then of other fields that use more deductive approach, as certain philosophical arguments do.)
Carrier even says a god cannot have absolute certainty. He could be the victim of a greater Cartesian demon. As a Thomist, this argument doesn’t apply to me because whatever is at the end of the chain is ultimate and in fact, it is necessarily good. I will not full flesh out that argument here, though I have written more about it in my review of the Summa Theologica portion on God and on the five ways.
Carrier in seeking a good method starts out with predictive success, but is this not begging the question? Axioms of logic don’t involve predictions. They start with a certainty that a contradiction cannot be true. Logic in fact is not a method of finding truth but rather of finding error. Some methods work less by predictive power and more by explanatory scope.
It’s not a shock that in fact Carrier comes down on the side of the scientific method as the best method we have. As I said last time with pointing to Feser, the method works great with science, but it does not work great with other fields of knowledge. The scientific method has often been made too all-encompassing. As said before, this is not to denigrate science and it is a shame to think that such a claim is a denigration of science. It is to recognize its limitations. Use the scientific method for science. Use a literary method for literature, historical method for history, etc.
The problem that often comes is one has a claim that falls outside of the realm of science, such as miracles or the existence of God and immediately hears “Well do you have any scientific evidence?” You might as well ask if you have any mathematical evidence that Shakespeare wrote his plays. Of course, science can help inform us on these areas, such as showing us the way nature works when there is no interference (Although to be fair, I question the existence of laws of nature seeing as I hold to essences more) or perhaps Intelligent Design arguments. (Which I’m also skeptical of seeing as it treats the universe more like a machine)
Eventually, we get to the historical method. We are told on page 58 about how experts in the field should meet qualifications of reliability. These include genuine qualifications suited to the issue at hand, corroboration by others, and that the bias be controlled. I have no problem with these by and large and of course, the list is not limited to these.
I do think it’s important that we seek experts who have credentials in the field and I would add that we seek them from all sides. Too many atheists are ready to discount a claim in NT history because it comes from a Christian scholar, just as too many Christians could deny a claim in scientific theory because it comes from an atheist. Both are wrong. Look at the evidence. Don’t look at the position.
I also agree that one should seek corroboration from other experts. This is why I find it important to look for works that are by writers who have undergone peer-review. In history, we recently had the case of Joseph Atwill and “Caesar’s Messiah.” Atwill did not put his opinion to scholarship first to have it tested. Nope. He went straight to the media. This is sensationalism.
It’s also important with books to see who published the book. Most academic publishing houses want to protect their reputation and not publish material that will be embarrassing to them. This doesn’t mean everything by a non-academic publisher is false as its harder and harder to get published today, but in today’s age, self-publication is easier and easier, meaning one must be quite careful.
Also, biases need to be controlled. We all have them. That’s also the purpose of peer-review. You submit your work to those who are of a different mindset and see if you can defend your view. It doesn’t mean you will prove your view, but it means you do defend your view.
All of this is well and good but I found myself wondering, “Does Carrier’s Christ myth idea pass this criteria?” The answer is no. This is one of many reasons I can’t take such an idea seriously.
The next section we will go through in our review will be discussing the origins of the universe. We’ll cover that next time.