Thursday, May 19, 2011

Majority Text: (IX): Analyzing Terms and Claims

When the Probability Arguments in favor of the majority readings were first described in detail by Hodges (Pickering, Identity of the NT Text, Appendix C), they were attacked by D. A. Carson and others, who essentially abandoned any precise Divine Preservation of the NT text. 

What is 'Normal' Transmission?

Carson adopted the 19th cent. materialist/rationalist view, that there was nothing miraculous in the textual transmission process: there was no special 'Divine control' over copying; -  i.e., no supervision, influence or interference by God to protect the exact wording throughout the ages.

Because there was nothing immediately detected in the copying process to distinguish it on a supernatural basis, 19th century critics were convinced there was no such influence.  God was an 'unnecessary hypothesis' for a "scientific" description of textual transmission.  For these investigators, the existence of copying errors and corrections in all manuscripts was taken as evidence against any supernatural intervention.   The copyists were on their own.

Materialism Remains Unproven

The anti-supernatural attitude was prevalent throughout the late 19th and early 20th century.  But in spite of the failure of scientific methods to detect non-material effects, the question of supernaturalism vs. materialism has proven to be a most difficult if not insoluble philosophical problem.   The caution is this: just because something is not obvious, observable or easy to detect doesn't mean it has no existance.   The same 19th century skepticism would have also rejected radio communication, and atomic bombs.   Finally, anti-supernaturalism itself has no place in Christian faith systems.   Belief in an invisible God who intervenes in history is fundamental to both Christianity and Judaism.

The Meaning of 'Normal' in the Probability Model

While textual critics have used the word 'normal' in the sense described above, we must note that it has an entirely different meaning in discussions of the Majority Text Probability Argument:  In this context, 'normal' just means an average process, following a predictable pattern with expected results.  'abnormal' would not mean 'supernatural', but rather it would be used to describe any unusual process or anomaly which resulted in an unexpected outcome.  

The Probability Model does not address the question of 'supernatural' vs. 'materialism' .  It is not concerned with causes at all.   It is strictly a descriptive model that makes only basic mechanical assumptions about the process, such as the limits of time-direction, the consequences of ordinary transcriptional probabilities, and the effects of processes on statistical results.  As such, the Probability Model is not a 'supernatural' theory, and it makes the same assumptions about the ordinary world that every other scientific model does.  For purposes of analysis, the Probability Model assumes that errors are 'random' undirected events, just as other scientific models would.   But "undirected" here simply means that a process is not under control of a person or cause which would unnaturally skew ordinary physical events.   So this model is not any kind of argument in favor of supernaturalism:  instead it allows the same variety of world-views that other models do.

Because of this approach, the Probability Model cannot offer direct 'proof' of God's providence or Divine Preservation.  It can only offer objective evidence which proponents of such philosophical positions can find either compatible or incompatible with their system of philosophy.   So it is not the responsibility of proponents of the Probability Model to defend supernaturalism, or even interpret its findings in the light of various world-views.  That must be left to others, theologians and philosophers, and investigators of the supernatural.

What the Probability Model can do, is offer a coherent and rational description of the copying process, and from this, evaluate various text-types in a history of textual transmission and also assist in the reconstruction of original text(s). 

(to be continued...)

No comments:

Post a Comment