Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Inerrancy Bombshell: Part A

I was going to title this post "What Physicists think", but of course there are many viewpoints in physics, and this post is not about that, but about a lot more.

But physicists have a unique and privileged viewpoint, because of their knowledge and experience in scientific matters. That is the part that I would like to introduce the reader to in this post, before explaining how it applies to the concept of 'inerrancy'.

The World of Perfection

The physicist's world is blessed. Its a world of paradox, but also of perfection. Physicists have no problem with concepts of perfection and purity: they experience it every day. Our world is made up of atoms, and atoms are made up of subatomic particles as perfect and pristine as any you can imagine. All electrons and protons are 'perfect' particles, absolutely identical and indistinguishable, according to both theory and measurement; they are ageless and exist forever, dancing in space.

All atoms, elements, compounds, metals; all matter, is built out of these flawless building-blocks. But its even better than that. These particles also behave according to precise and perfect laws of motion and energy exchange. The universe we inhabit is entirely made up of these perfect particles conforming to perfect laws of action.

In this world of physics there is no real 'data loss' or sloppiness, no real 'random' events. Most physicists have absolute faith in this world of measurement. Even what appear to be inexplicable, unexplained events are fully believed to be simply the result of our own over-simplification or ignorance of some powerful but previously unknown Law, soon to be unraveled. Every difficulty is just another mystery to be solved, another complex truth to be discovered. And its the repeated success of such investigations that leads the physicist, compels him to believe in the fundamental order and rule of law in our universe.

19th Century Materialism

So it was a no-brainer that scientists in the 19th century, given the physics current at that time, embraced Materialism. Due to Newton's powerfully successful physical laws, they had a kind of 'billiard-ball' view of the universe, as atoms bouncing off each other continuously in perfectly elastic collisions that lost no energy. Everything could be explained by this model.

There was no room in this model for magical forces, no room even for Dualism of mind and body, or spirit and matter. Anything that couldn't be measured and touched simply didn't exist, and anything unusual was a simply an illusion, misunderstanding, or fraud. It was natural for other researchers and scientists to embrace these same notions. All reports of supernatural events were of course mistaken or fabricated, and 19th century Rationalists went at the Bible with the same skeptical approach.

It was simply assumed that supernatural stories were added to the texts, in a time when superstitious belief ruled men's minds. The idea that the Bible had been interpolated and had accumulated numerous superstitions was taken for granted. It needed to be trimmed down, and the assumed 'interpolations' could be discovered and removed by straightforward comparison of differences among manuscripts.

So the TC Rule, 'Prefer the shorter reading.' was not arbitrary, accidental or even based on manuscript evidence. It actually came out of the 19th century Rationalist worldview, and was based fundamentally upon a skepticism of all superstition and religious belief.

The Crisis in Physics: (1908)

But just as textual critics were getting up to speed and putting into action the consequences of their own worldview (Lachmann, Hort, 1882 etc.), the very scientists who had embraced Materialism and Rationalism were facing the greatest crisis of 'modern science'. And the 19th century worldview was about to completely collapse.

The first problem was inexplicable lack of our ability to measure, see, touch, "the aether", the medium in which it was assumed everything floated. The second embarrassment was in the discrepancy regarding additivity of speeds, and an apparent "speed limit", that of light. The third problem was the 'quantization' of energy: why it always exchanged in discrete packets. There seemed to be a series of disastrous incongruencies that threatened confusion and the collapse of the explanatory power of physics.

All of these panic-causing mysteries were 'solved' when Einstein simply did the unthinkable: he embraced them as the new paradigm of physics: There was no aether, the universe had a built-in speed limit, and energy was transfered via discrete particles called 'quanta'. It would take another 50 years to work out the full impact of the new viewpoint. But by the 1950s we had got our head around the new ideas and had a full size electronics industry, computers and the atom bomb.

But these were not the real revolutionary items. They were only the first wave of discoveries. The real breakthroughs came in unlikely new fields of science and mathematics, Chaos theory, Information Theory, and other obscure investigations into oddball phenomena.

Unfortunately however, the thinking and ideas of ordinary men slid further and further out of sync with the real view of modern science. And, not surprisingly, the field of Textual Criticism, like many other fields, continues even now to flounder with an out-of-date and unworkable philosophical worldview.

I will save the bombshells for the next posts.

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