Sunday, May 07, 2006

The argument from silence


DagoodS said:

“Steve, thanks for the response.

A few days ago, Evan May posted some websites regarding this area here:

If you don’t want to believe a skeptic as to the problems of Kitchen’s dating, perhaps another Christian? I recommend you start at the link entitle: “The Origins of Israel...”


I’ve read this material before. I was the one who asked Evan to hyperlink these online articles and reviews in the first place. He was kind enough to post the material I sent him.

ii) Bringing up the date of the Exodus/Conquest is a diversionary tactic. Your original post was an effort to shore up the argument from silence by alleging certain consequences which would leave their mark in the historical record.

Whether we favor the early date or late date is tangential to that issue.

iii) There are conservative scholars who favor the early date, conservatives who favor the late date, and conservatives who are noncommittal on the date.

iv) This is a red herring since Dagood doesn’t believe the Exodus ever happened, regardless of what century we assign it to.

“What I was looking for was a method by which we can determine fact from fiction in the Exodus account, and you seem to understand the difficulty in providing one.”

That’s a complete distortion of my position. I don’t have a method for distinguishing fact from fiction in the Exodus account because I don’t have the need for such a method, and I don’t need it because I don’t regard the Exodus account as an admixture of fact and fiction.

Rather, I regard it as factual in toto. So the burden is not on me to come up with a criterion on the prior assumption of an assumption I reject in the first place.

“Argument from Silence. Actually, the argument from silence is not as bad as you think. Let me give you two examples:

What I did in the original blog was presume there was no evidence for the contention, and demonstrate how the claim itself could not have happened. There would be ramifications (just like rats in refrigerators, or worlds blowing up) that could not be covered up, or disappear, no matter how much one tried.”

Yes, and I, for one, have rebutted that argument.


Literal reading of Exodus Now, every Christian that has addressed the original blog has informed me in some way, shape or form that we cannot take the account of the Plagues/Exodus/Invasion literally.

That it requires explanation, modification, or interpretive dance in order to align. Where it says “all the livestock” we must read “some of the livestock.” Where it says “600,00” it must mean a different number. All of Pharaoh’s army actually means a squadron of charioteers. All the water to blood means some of the water to blood. That there must have been frogs left from the first plague, because God requires some frogs to start to make millions of frogs.

Christians have been debating back and forth as the extent and specificity of these events. As I have continually pointed out, they disagree as to when it happens, placing the dates in ranges as different as 1000 years!

Now, as you point out, I am informed that there is no other evidence for these events. No outside vector to determine what is true and what is not. I am now further informed that the only recording of these events is also wrong, in some way.

In light of all this, all I am asking for is a method by which we can determine what is true and what is not in the recounting of Exodus. The best I have seen so far, is “Believe it because I say so.” Now if only all the “I” ‘s could get together and agree among themselves as to what it is saying.


Dagood is deliberately beclouding the issue by conflating my position with the position of theological moderates and liberals.

i) From a conservative perspective, the question at issue is not whether we interpret the narrative literally, but which literal interpretation is correct.

To do this you need to be conversant with narrative criticism and the poetics of biblical narrative.

For example, one narrative technique is to temporarily withhold information from the reader. In the narrative cycle, not everything is stated at the outset. Certain matters are foreshadowed, revisited, and refined in the course of the historical exposition.

ii) Dagood’s problem, aside from his ignorance of the craft, is he total lack of critical sympathy and detachment.

He has an ax to grind. He is not attempting to understand the narrative from the inside out—to “inhabit” the world of the narrative.

Rather, he’s attempting to discredit the narrative.

iii) You don’t have to believe in Scripture to rightly construe it. But correct interpretation does demand a measure of critical detachment and disinterested sympathy—an ability to bracket your own preconceptions and identify with the viewpoint of the text.

Dagood’s aim is not exegesis, but disproof. So he goes out of his way to pick it apart, rip certain verses out of context, and reposition them.

This is, of course, contrary to the very nature of a narrative, where the individual verses and sections are designed to function in a part/whole, means/ends relation.

iv) I don’t have a problem with the figure of 600,000 refugees.

v) This is not a case of making the word “all” mean “some.”

Rather, this is a case of allowing the literary unit (the narrative) to supply the unit of meaning. The question at issue is not what the word means, but what the narrative means.

Once again, this is simply a matter of assuming the viewpoint of the narrator. It is not the narrator’s intent to contradict himself from one verse to the next.

The narrator knows where he’s going with this account. He has orchestrated the account with a view to the denouement.

The account is narrated from start to finish, but it is mentally composed in reverse order. And the words exist in a state of mutual adjustment. Each word has a small, but calculated and cumulative contribution to make to the net effect.

vi) And I never said that God needed to make millions of frogs out of some preexisting frogs.

I reserve judgment on where the frogs come from, because the text is silent on that point.

If need be, God could make them all from scratch. At the same time, the text never says this.

I’m committed to whatever the text may say, but I don’t commit the text to what it never says.

My interpretation is analogous with the other cycles, in which some fauna and flora are preserved on the first round, to survive for a second round.

But I have no a priori problem with a miraculous multiplication of frogs from scratch.


  1. The selectiveness of the application of the argument from silence by the materialist is pretty apparent. If I say, "there is no reason to believe there is anything such as dark matter, apart from your need for it to be there to make your theory work" I'm accused of making an argument from silence. Now when I cite a witness to some past event and note their objections to it are based on no evidence they claim lack of other evidence proves their point. Now notice the difference in the two cases, in one something is posited on the basis of nothing more than an unsubstantiated claim, and in the other it is based on the surviving testimony of an observer. One is not observed and the other is. These are hardly similar cases.
    It becomes quite apparent that in their world I must prove everything, they must prove nothing. This is of course "rational".

  2. There are four articles of faith for the post-Christian critic:

    (a) Parallelism in Biblical events (eg, a father and his son both having "I told the king my wife was my sister and now he's demanding to marry her!" episodes, decades apart) can only occur because somebody edited the stories centuries later, or simply invented them.

    (b) Everything George W Bush does in Iraq will be a point-for-point replay of the Vietnam War.

    (c) Silences in historical records regarding Biblical events (eg, the Babylonians' reticence about Nebuchadnezzar becoming a Yahwist after a spell of insanity) prove those events were invented.

    (d) American history has suppressed the shameful truth about the USA's genocide of Native Americans, about its repression of gays and socialists, about the fact that Eugene Debs polled ONE MILLION votes in 1920, etc, etc.

  3. On a different subject: what are the common, if any, criticisms of the movement called 'neo-calvinism'. For reference I was reading the last outtake from this post: