Monday, July 30, 2012

Bearing False Witness

A reader has asked for some commentary on the subject of the commandment against false witness (Ex. 20:16/Dt. 5:20) and how this fits in with such things as the "honorable lie" as an action. In modern times this would also include such things as the repeatedly-used "hiding Jews in the cellar when Nazis come by" situation, as well as things like a spy in a foreign country.

There are a couple of points we can make here. The first and most obvious is that ancient law codes were didactic rather than absolute. This means that although this commandment is expressed in absolute terms, this does not necessarily mean it will not brook exceptions. Some of the "Big Ten" would be hard to get any leeway out of (like not serving other deities), but we can say with certainty that the Sabbath command did, even by Jesus' own assertion.

But of more relevance, even if more obscure, is the specific phrasing of the commandment: Do not bear false witness. The specific words used relate to the bearing of legal witness in court. Examples confirm this – not all uses of “false witness” have defining contexts, but the ones that does indicates a legal setting:

Deut. 19:16-18 If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him [that which is] wrong;  Then both the men, between whom the controversy [is], shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days;  And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, [if] the witness [be] a false witness, [and] hath testified falsely against his brother…

In addition, uses of the word “witness” reflect a legal context:

Gen. 31:44 Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee. (One of many passages where the word is used in the context of covenant agreements.)

Lev. 5:1 And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and [is] a witness, whether he hath seen or known [of it]; if he do not utter [it], then he shall bear his iniquity.

Num. 35:30 Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person [to cause him] to die.

Ruth 4:10-1 Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye [are] witnesses this day. And all the people that [were] in the gate, and the elders, said, [We are] witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem…

Ps. 35:11 False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge [things] that I knew not.

Jer. 32:10 And I subscribed the evidence, and sealed [it], and took witnesses, and weighed [him] the money in the balances.

The commandment is thus narrower in its application than is commonly believed.

Of course, this is not to say that dishonesty on matters outside court gets a free ride! But as is usually the case, our applications of these texts is not the black and white matter so many critics (and even some believers) suppose it to be.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Petrus Romanus Eschatological Quackery

Ordinarily I wait 3 years to put up older E-Block material, but given the short "shelf life" of this particular material, I wanted to put up at least some of it now. 

The latest fantasy to come out of dispensational eschatology is embodied in a book  by one Thomas Horn, joined also lately by putative apologist Cris Putnam (who happens to  be the poorly educated "fundamentalist" I was referring to in some earlier postings). Their recent book together, Petrus Romanus [PR], consists of nearly 500 pages of conspiracy theory that would be equally at home at a showing of the Zeitgeist movie. I plan to do some more postings here on PR, as well as more E-Block material.

The central claim of PR is that there is a hint of an end to come in an obscure little "prophecy" attributed to an 1100s century bishop known as St. Malachy, which gives us the hint that once the current Pope, Benedict XVI, takes his last breath as pope, the one after that will be the last of the papal line -- and perhaps even (gasp) the false prophet who will usher in the age of the Antichrist. 

Malachy allegedly experienced a vision revealing to him what became a document known as "The Prophecy of the Popes" (POP). Beginning with Celestine II (d. 1144), Malachy purportedly offered a series of pithy Latin phrases that are (supposedly) somehow prophecies of each successive pope. In all, that's about 140 "predictions" (though as we'll see, they hardly deserve to be called that). 

You may already suppose that there would be problems, and there are -- even ones the authors acknowledge. For one, they agree to disregard about half of Malachy's prophecies because they believe the Catholic Church may have tampered with them, and we have no earlier manuscript than the 1550s. So, about 70 of the 140 are dispensed with before PR reaches page 20 out of 500. They also admit that many credible scholars have argued the whole thing is a forgery, though for the sake of argument, we will assume it is not, at least from the 1500s on, as the authors allow. 

The authors then allow that in some cases, the Catholic Church -- apparently convinced this thing had some validity -- may have purposely rigged papal votes so that someone suitable to the "prediction" was elected. Or, they suppose, a Pope may have in some way seized on his assigned "prediction" in order to fulfill it. In the end, they don't seem to regard this as enough of a possibility to be worried that it makes their case a sham, although they should have. 

I put "predictions" in quotes because these aren't "predictions" at all -- they're just very short Latin phrases, usually 2-3 words each, and with that length there is as much hard content as a bowl of Jello. [I won't even get into the whole problem of why they bother to use a prophecy from a source like the Catholic Church that they identify with waywardness. The rationalizations (e.g., "God often uses the most unlikely people") speak for themselves as circular reasoning and/or a desire to see only what they want to see.] The authors also note another author's assessment that past 1590, Malachy's mottos have an 80 percent accuracy. The bad news is that by Deut 13, that would get Malachy 100% stoned. 

The authors, at least, have the sense to admit that critics say the phrases are vague enough to be twisted to be seen as fulfilled in anything. [42-3] They even allow that this is a "major weakness" and that only a few of the prophecies are precise enough to pass the test. The bad news for them is that their best examples are far worse than they realize, and we shall spend the balance of this article examining what they apparently take to be their "best case" fulfilments. 

Leo XIII, 1878-1903 - Phrase: "lumen in caelo," "light in the sky."
"Light in the sky" could mean just about anything, and that should really be enough to dismiss this one as worthless. But the authors excite themselves with the observation that Leo's coat of arms "features a shooting star." Since Leo had this coat of arms long before being pope, they believe this is particularly impressive and a "compelling fulfillment." 

No such luck here! The vagueness of the motto is shown in that other sources, like the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, read it rather as fulfilled in calling Leo a "veritable luminary of the papacy" and specifically states that we don't need to bother with things like a coat of arms. Another Catholic site sees a fulfillment this way: 

Leo XIII wrote encyclicals on Catholic social teaching that were still being digested 100 years later. He added considerably to theology.
Obviously, if the motto is vague enough to accommodate such diverse readings, it is worthless as a “prophecy.” And of course, many popes could be vaguely described as "a veritable luminary" (for whatever reason) rendering such a description equally worthless. 

The authors’ rendition of a shooting star is likewise unhelpful. What escaped them on this point is that stars -- or, as they are sometimes called, estioles -- are standard symbols for a coat of arms, just as they are standard symbols for national flags. Leo has one. John Paul I (1978) had three stars of five points each. Pius X, the predecessor of Leo XIII, had one star, as did Gregory XVI (1831-46) -- and so did several other popes. Some others had more than one star; some had none. 

But, also of interest is that Leo's coat had more to it; namely, a tree and two fleur-de-lis (keep this in mind). That triples the chance to make some sort of connection, especially with a vague phrase like "light in the sky." One could readily connect this to one of several comets discovered during Leo's reign -- even those not visible in his area (as we shall see, this won't stop the authors in another case, so it need not stop us here), such as the "Comet Wells" in 1882.
Thus, this "fulfillment," far from being "compelling," is useless. 

Pius X (1903-1914) - Phrase: "ignis ardens" (burning fire).
As in the above, and for the same reasons , this one is easily deemed useless. The authors unwittingly admit as much when they point out that some apply this to a star on Pius' coat of arms (while failing to see how this affects their explanation concerning Leo XIII!), but choose instead to apply it to a vision Pius had of Rome burning. One may as well apply it to Pius having a liking for good barbeque, or having a tendency to get rashes or sunburn, or (more seriously) to some ardency of spirit on some issue. The aforementioned Catholic site adds its own variation as follows: 

The Pope had great personal piety and achieved a number of important reforms in the devotional and liturgical life of priests and laypeople.
At least the authors have the decency to call this one "debatable." Actually, it is worse than that. It is worthless. 

Benedict XV (1914-1922) - Phrase: "religio depopulata" (religion depopulated)
For this one, the authors figure they have an ace in the hole with the fact that during Benedict's reign, the following happened:
  • "World War I was devastating to the Catholic Church", though how this is so is not explained, nor is it explained how the war was any more or less "devastating" to the Catholic Church than to any other body or group. Put another way, the prediction means very little unless "religion" was specially and uniquely "depopulated."
  • 200 million people left the Russian Orthodox Church, having either left to join the Bolshevik revolution or been killed or persecuted by Communists. The authors cite figures of 43 million killed by Stalin, and 61 million killed by the Soviet Union. Their conclusion: Religion was "heavily depopulated during this period" and the prophecy offers "breathtaking accuracy."
Hold your breath. Once again, the vagueness of the terms causes a problem. The authors have allowed "religion" to be so vague as to encompass more than one religious tradition, which means all one would have to do is to find, during any papal reign, some instance of some religion, somewhere, suffering "depopulation" -- such as 7 million Jews in the WW2 era, or perhaps a million in Rwanda; or one might even appeal to Muslim deaths in the Iran-Iraq war.
Then, there's a real slipperiness, also, with "this period", where the 200 million figure doesn’t add up. It was hard to get accurate figures in this turbulent time when there was little means to conduct a rigorous census, but sources I have consulted place the population of Russia in 1914-1917 in the lower 100 millions. Furthermore, Stalin ruled and did his deathly work well after the reign of Benedict.

As such, it seems patently dishonest to use deaths from outside Benedict’s reign to fulfill this one. The Catholic site, by the way, also uses the Bolshevik revolution as a fulfillment, but only because it established Communism, not because of deaths, while another conspiracy theorist connects the motto also to millions of Christians being killed by the Spanish flu!

Pius XI (1922-1939) - Phrase: "fides intrepida" (intrepid faith).
"Faith" is so vague as to be of no use; all popes ought to have that. (NOTE: I mistyped it as "fire" earlier.) Beyond this, the authors seem to have a hard time finding a way to make Pius X "intrepid." They note that the dictionary definition is: "calm, brave and undisturbed." Noting an instance where Pius X made a deal with Mussolini to restore power to the Vatican, the authors ask plaintively, "Perhaps 'cold and calculating' fulfills this one?"

Sorry! No it doesn't. This prophecy is a fail.

The Catholic site proves the vagueness of this phrase by applying it entirely differently:

This Pope stood up to Fascist and Communist forces lining up against him in the lead up to World War II.
Pius XII (1939-1958) - Phrase: "pastor angelicus" (angelic shepherd).
There is tremendous irony in this one. The authors uncritically accept the badly debunked findings of John Cornwell that Pius XII was too chummy with the Nazis, and so end up suggesting, rather lamely, that since Pius claimed the title for himself, it must be an "ironic sort of fulfillment." So, now they have made it so that even a complete 180 of the phrase can be a "fulfillment"?

In that light, Pius' real record as a benefactor to persecuted Jews actually does make a better fit for "angelic shepherd" -- not that it matters, since any pope with a decent heart could have fit this as well, and many of them would qualify. However, we may be thankful that the authors did foul up so badly by using Cornwell, since it helps expose their poor research skills, and their ability to strain and stretch the Malachy mottos to the breaking point in order to force a "fulfillment." (For the refutation of this see Dalin’s The Myth of Hitler’s Pope, and see the link below: Cornwell’s deception begins on the front cover with the picture!)

Adding to the proof of the vagueness of this motto, the Catholic site ignores all of that and sees the fulfillment this way:

This Pope was very mystical, and is believed to have received visions. People would kneel when they received telephone calls from him. His encyclicals add enormously to the understanding of Catholic beliefs (even if they are now overlooked because of focus on the Second Vatican Council, which occurred so soon after his reign).
John XXIII (1958-1963) - Phrase: "pastor & nauta" (sailor and shepherd).
Half of this prophecy , at once, dies a painful death since every pope could be called a "shepherd" in their very role as pope. So, can we find that John was ever in the navy somewhere? Or, maybe the merchant marines? Maybe he had a rubber ducky as a child?

Not even close. The authors strain for a match by noting that John was the "patriarch of Venice," where there are a lot of gondolas and a "nautical street system" (apparently meaning the canals). If that's the way they want to play it, then any port city overseen by the papal candidate at some time in his career would make them qualify, and they don't even have to get on the water for a split second to make this work. John wasn't a sailor, and if being "patriarch of Venice" fulfills this prophecy, then I too fulfilled it by having North Miami Beach as my hometown. Or, it could be fulfilled by getting a nice anchor tattoo that says MOTHER, or even eating a lot of spinach to funny music.

The authors underline their own foolishness by telling an uncertain story of how one papal candidate allegedly hired a boat, stuck some sheep on it, and rode up and down the Tiber River on it as a way to demonstrate a fulfillment to the papal conclave. This ought to be a warning to the authors (but it isn't) that a living pope, with only rare exceptions, has more than enough time to figure out a way to make himself an "intrepid fire" or a "light in the sky", or to fulfill any number of other conditions. Of all the mottos we will see here only "religion depopulated" seems like one that could possibly be beyond their control as popes. However, even then, it would not be hard to force some fulfillment by finding a religious massacre, or else making some statement about how Protestants, et al, are simply outside the fold of the true Catholic Church, which is declared to be "THE" religion. Effectively then, we just "depopulated religion" by merely defining it more closely. It also does not occur to the authors that the papal conclave (for whatever reason thinking these mottos meant anything) purposely chose a man from a port city to strain a fulfillment.

Finally, regarding John XXIII, it is worth nothing that he was only patriarch of Venice for 5 years, from 1953 to 1958. He was born in a mountain city of Italy. He spent a lot of time in that area and also spent some time in Bulgaria. If this “prophecy” can be fulfilled by spending any amount of time in a port city, it is just that much more worthless.

Paul VI (1963-1978) - Phrase: "fios florum" (flower of flowers).
The authors here return again to heraldry, and their effort is no more successful. They point out that Paul had on his coat of arms a fleur-de-lis, which means "flower of lily." As before, though, this fails inasmuch as the fleur-de-lis is a fairly commonplace symbol. It is not even, as the authors claim, "unique to (Paul) among the papists," for as we have seen, it was part of Leo XIII's coat, and is also found in the coat of arms of John XXIII, Innocent X, Leo XI, Pius IV, Paul III, Clement VII and even Leo X of the famous fake “Christ a fable” quote. You can also find the fleur-de-lis in not a few famous places, ranging from the flag of Quebec to the helmets of the New Orleans Saints football team.
The authors claim that "flower of lily" matches "flower of a flower" "quite well" but it doesn't match it "well" -- it only matches it 50%. And, since it would hardly be any chore to somehow intentionally fulfill this, especially with a 15 year reign, this motto also fails miserably in terms of authentic and meaningful fulfillment.

John Paul I (1978) - Phrase: "de medietate lunae" (from the midst of the moon).
Here the authors think they have a whopper of a match, since John Paul was: 1) ”born in the diocese of Belluno" (and "luno" is Latin for moon); 2) John Paul ascended the papacy "on the precise day of a half-moon in its waning phase."
A "compelling match", as they say? Hardly! Again, the papal conclave would have little difficulty saying, "Hey, here's a guy who was born in Belluno. Ding. Forced match." (Not that this works anyway; the name of the city came from a Celtic phrase “belo dunums,” meaning “splendid hill”) And, if they hadn't had a guy from a place with a name like that, no problem because by just making sure his first day of service was on the half-moon day wouldn't be terribly hard (i.e., just dawdle in the conclave as long as needed so that it all works out). The authors' own records showed that it could take as long as 15-20 days to pick a new pope, and since there are two half moons, there were 2 chances each month to pin the tail on the donkey.

If all that failed, any papal candidate could have easily anticipated time to work out some fulfillment. John Paul ended up without that, since he died only a month into his reign, but he could hardly have known that would happen. As it is, a dawdling conclave makes for the quickest and easiest fulfillment.

We'll close by adding that the authors also uncritically accept the conspiracy theory that John Paul was poisoned. As with their acceptance of Cornwell's nonsense, this again reflects poorly on their research skills.

John Paul II (1978-2005) - Phrase: "de labore solis" (from the labor of the sun).
Yet another "light source" motto would make this an easy fulfillment in any event, but the authors, and Malachy, seemingly, got very lucky with this one. It is pointed out that John Paul was born during a solar eclipse, albeit one over the Indian Ocean, far away from Rome! And, he was also buried during one, albeit again, far away from Rome (over South America and the Pacific). Since it doesn't seem to matter to the authors (or maybe Rome) where a "fulfillment" occurs, even without the eclipse, it would not be hard to find something that would work like: sunspot activity, exceptional heat over some location, or even cloudy conditions where the sun "labors" to peek through the clouds. Also, it would not have been hard to delay John Paul's funeral to accommodate an eclipse. As it is, it took place 6 days after his death, but since he was born during one, this was just obvious "icing on the cake". And, of course, the papal conclave could easily select John Paul on that basis of having been born during a known eclipse. But, if they did not have such a candidate, there is, as noted, plenty of time to figure something out, especially with such a vague "prophecy."
As further proof of how useless this is, the Catholic site acknowledges the eclipse, but also suggests John Paul might have fulfilled it because he “comes from behind the former Iron Curtain (the East, where the Sun rises)” or “might also be seen to be the fruit of the intercession of the Woman Clothed with the Sun laboring in Revelation 12 (because of his devotion to the Virgin Mary).” Another conspiracy theorist connects it to John Paul’s origins in Poland, the “star of communism” or “sun of the workers.” Only Acharya S could do a semantic sashay to beat this one.

Pope Benedict XVI - Phrase: "gloria olivae" (glory of the olive).
The authors, by their reckoning, make this one a self-fulfiller, and it is an easy one. All Cardinal Ratizinger had to do, by their notion, is to pick the name "Benedict," for the olive branch is the symbol of the Benedictine monks. With typical “Left Behind” fervor, the authors also suppose this might connect to the soon fulfillment of the "Olivet Discourse", offering a series of potential future connections to Antichrist-like actions, which are little different than what we have heard from past failures like Hal Lindsey.

In contrast, the Catholic site rejects the connection to the Benedictines and goes for the idea that maybe Benedict XVI will be a peacemaker, a bearer of the “olive branch.” Given that it would not be hard for a pope, as a respected world figure, to find a way to do this somewhere during his reign, I don’t expect that will be hard to fulfill. It should be noted that before Ratzinger was elected, some speculated that it would be fulfilled by the election of a pope with “olive” skin (e.g., someone from Latin or Central America, or maybe someone of Jewish descent, relating to the olive tree as a Jewish symbol). Just more proof of how useless these “prophecies” are!)

We have thus seen that the ten most recent Malachy "fulfillments" are either gross failures or are so vague that they could be easily and readily "fulfilled" in any number of ways -- especially given that Popes had their entire reign to work something out, and papal conclaves had every ability to make the process easier. We might add that past mottoes were no more difficult to fulfill, such as:

  • Pius VIII -- "religious man" (gee, how many popes has this one missed on?).
  • Innocent XIII -- "from good religion" (that's a hard one to match when you select from a conclave of bishops who are already considered to be part of a "good religion"!).
  • Alexander VIII -- "glorious penitence" (not hard -- either find a guy who did a lot of penitence; or have him do a lot of penitence during his reign; or have him issue some papal statement about the subject – one conspiracy-monger claimed it was fulfilled because Alexander’s surname was “Peter,” who denied Christ and then repented!).
Other mottoes may have been harder to fit -- such as Innocent XII, "rake in the door" (?! … supposedly fulfilled because his surname was the Italian word for “rake”), but given all the available options for intentional fulfillment, and the vagueness of the mottoes, Horn and Putnam are doing no more than engaging in eschatological con artistry. For whatever reason, the Catholic Church is apparently wanting to match on these mottoes, but that in turn makes it worthless as real prophecy (a point that escapes Horn and Putnam completely).
According to the list, up next is the authors' title character -- Petrus Romanus, or Peter the Roman. Horn and Putnam think this will be the false prophet. The Catholic Church, of course, does not see it that way, and I suspect they are thinking, "well, thank goodness, we'll be done with this list after this guy" and fully expects to continue the papal line without having to worry about making some sort of match to Malachy's list.

I imagine Horn and Putnam would be little impressed, no more so than Whisenant or Camping were when elements of their case were debunked. They would say we are missing the forest for the trees, and that their case was more complex (though we'll take on more aspects as we proceed with this series), or come up with some other sort of holier-than-thou threats of the wait-and-see variety.

Well, we will wait and see … and when Horn and Putnam find themselves on the ash heap of history, along with Whisenant and Camping, I'm sure we'll also see the same sort of skilled rationalization we got from those characters.

Discuss on Theologyweb 

Link on Hitler's Pope


And while I'm here, here's the rest of the E-Block's contents this round:

* Part 4 and last looking at Winn's "Questioning Paul."
* Part 1 of a series look at Earl Doherty's replies to Bart Ehrman.
* Part 1 of a series evaluating near death experiences.
* Part 4 of a series on Orthodoxy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Topical Update: Rene Salm's Nazareth Miss

From the June 2009 E-Block. Damage to ministry time was minimal from jury duty yesterday,  but enough so that it was better to call up a back issue. Besides, I'm still behind on getting those up.


One of my chapters in Shattering the Christ Myth was devoted to the thesis of Rene Salm that the village of Nazareth itself did not exist. In that chapter I discovered a number of errors by Salm -- thanks due to Dr. James Strange of the University of South Florida, a leading expert on Nazareth -- to say nothing of a certain amount of dishonesty. (You can read about some of that in the TheologyWeb thread found here, even if you do not have STCM.) In the meantime, Salm has also received the questionable endorsement of magician/paranormal debunker James Randi (much to the consternation of some members of Randi's forum!). 

Dr. Strange had quite a chuckle over the pretentious use of the phrase "Scholar's Edition" on the cover of Salm's book, and you might suppose that a chuckle was all scholars would have over what Salm had to say. Surprisingly, this has not been the case. I was alerted to the fact that some scholars of archaeology did indeed descend to give Salm a review, and even allowed him to comment, though this seems to have been because Salm himself submitted one of his papers to the journal (which they printed; and it offers basically a repeat of his arguments from the book and his website). The journal, The Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, recently offered three evaluations of Salm's thesis, and we'll encapsulate their report (and compare it to ours) in this update, as well as consider Salm's own replies on his website. Needless to say, the archaeologists are not kind to Salm in their evaluations. 

Item #1: "On the Nazareth Village Farm Report: A Reply to Salm"

This article was authored by Stephen Pfann and Yehudah Rapuano, both of whom have been taken to task by Salm in his writings. The first portion of the article concerns alleged difference between two mapping reports Salm looked at; I did not touch on this issue in my book, but in brief, Salm raised one of his charges of dishonesty based on the alleged differences. Pfann and Rapuano reply is sufficient to reprint:
Contrary to Salm's assertion, there were actually no 'substantial different claims' between Haiman's report and our own. Ours is simply more detailed concerning the pottery finds, adding to it the data from the several seasons of actual controlled excavations.
After this, a summary statement is made which is worth reprinting in full:
Earlier pottery from the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods, which was found during our survey, no matter how meagre the fragments and numbers might be, bears witness to a time in which complete vessels of these types were once in use in the somewhat smaller town with a commensurately smaller population. A surface survey rarely provides sufficient data to unravel a site's history. This is why controlled excavations are necessary to provide stratigraphic evidence drawn from undisturbed layers. As it turns out, the excavations did confirm the surface survey's initial finds but this time by controlled excavations and from definable archaeological contexts. No claim was made to state that the pottery finds from the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods were 'substantial' with respect to the Late Roman period finds, as Salm contends. However, the finds, connected with the agricultural terraces, were certainly sufficient to substantiate the presence of an agrarian-based population at Nazareth during those periods.
In terms of specific evidence, Pfann and Rapuano also affirm the coin evidence of Yardenna Alexandre at Mary's Well, and later, evidence of lamps datable to the Early Roman period (the one where Jesus' Nazareth would be). On his website, Salm claims to have a "signed copy" of Alexandre's report and says that it "makes absolutely no mention of such early coins" to the period of Jesus. Given Salm's past record of dishonesty, and his lack of serious scholarly credentials, I believe the balance of who is telling the truth lies on the side of Pfann and Rapuano.

They then note that Salm produces an alleged quote from the Nazareth Village paper ("beginning with the early to late Roman period") that does not appear in the paper.

An issue is addressed next which is one I made some note of: Salm three times accused archaeologists of incompetence because he thought that they looked at the same object and dated it differently at two different times. The actual problem was more pedantic, and more or less as I predicted: The problem was one of misnumbering and editing, not "double dating" as Salm alleged. (In other words, if a report contained two different dates for an item labelled "4G", Salm assumed that the archaeologists looked at item 4G twice; in actuality, because of editing errors, two different items were given the label "4G" inadvertently - which I supposed was the actual problem, while Salm instead gravitated to a far less charitable conclusion of archaeological incompetence.)

They also note that there are indeed catalogues that give detailed descriptions of the items found and "support for their assigned dating." Salm made much of such information not being provided in the reports, and used it to rhetorical advantage to suggest a cover-up.

The conclusion of Pfann and Rapuano is fairly strong and deserves to be quoted:
Salm's personal evaluation of the pottery, which he rehearses from his book The Nazareth Myth, reveals his lack of expertise in the area as well as his lack of serious research in the sources. By ignoring or dismissing solid ceramic, numismatic and literary evidence for Nazareth's existence during the Late Hellenistic and Early Roman period, it would appear that the analysis which René Salm includes in his review, and his recent book must, in itself, be relegated to the realm of 'myth'.

Salm's reply: On his website, Salm characterizes the reply of Pfann and Rapuano as "desperate" and after a comment on the mapping surveys (which, since I did not address that issue, I cannot comment on) says:
Rapuano closes with a long (and thoroughly unconvincing) explanation as to why the earlier report was so remarkably flawed. Incidentally, he is not above redating Bagatti when it serves the tradition's purposes.
The latter "redating" is not explained, but I think it speaks for itself that Salm fails to describe Rapuano's explanation regarding editorial issues, and badly overdescribes three numbering errors as constituting a "remarkably flawed" report!

Item #2: "Nazareth Village Farm: A Reply to Salm"

This item by Ken Dark is also short (less than 3 pages) and spot-checks Salm on a number of mistakes, some of them of presumption, in other cases of failing to compare findings at Nazareth to other sites. For example:
Salm also ignores recent evidence for domestic structures terraced into hill-slopes at other Second Temple period settlements in the Galilee, refuting his argument that '[t]he steepness of the NVF (the average slope is 20%) and the discovery of a tomb reveal that this area also was not the site of ancient habitations'...
Dark also makes the same observations as Pfann and Rapuano regarding enumeration errors and dismisses Salm's suppositions that artifact dating is merely a matter of archaeologist opinion. One particular paragraph is worth quoting in full:
Salm is also unfair to Rapuano when he says, 'Rapuano's 75 itemizations are fairly peppered with tentative words such as possibly, probably, evidently, appeared to be, etc.' This is not suspicious, only a pottery analyst's usual scholarly caution. If Rapuano becomes more cautious relating to Second Temple period material, perhaps the most obvious reason is because he is sensitive to the interpretations that may be placed by others on pottery from Nazareth dating to this period. Confidence in Salm's knowledge of Roman period pottery in the Galilee is shaken by his criticism that 'where the archaeologist offers a typological reference' it is 'almost always to the same source: D. Adan-Bayewitz, Common Pottery in Roman Galilee (1993), Bar Ilan.' This is unsurprising: Adan-Bayewitz's excellent study is the standard work of reference on the Roman period pottery produced in the Galilee.
Dark also replies to Salm's claim of discrepancy between the reports on coins by saying that "Pfann etal. asked the site director (Yardenna Alexandre) for information about the coins from her site, which she provided and allowed to be included ahead of her own publication. There is no evidence here of an irregularity, only of Ms. Alexandre's "academic generosity."

Dark's conclusion is also worth a full quote:
...[I]t may be that the ceramic evidence for Second Temple period activity at the site of Nazareth Village Farm is, as published, ambiguous. However, field systems are notoriously hard to date using archaeological evidence and this does not make Salm's argument for a post-Second Temple date for the settlement at Nazareth any more credible. The available archaeological evidence from the centre of contemporary Nazareth, by contrast, suggests that the settlement of Nazareth existed in the Second Temple period and included the area around the existing Church of the Annunciation.
This relates to a point I made in STCM, that much of the evidence for Jesus' Narazeth would be under the modern city, and that casual finds (eg, during construction works) would have been the source of much information.

Salm's reply: Salm refuses to engage the most important specifics which rebut him, and dismisses Dark's commentary as "evasive" and unable to acknowledge that, in the field of archaeology, "absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence." That, of course, is false; such is not always the case, but "absence of evidence" isn't the problem here.

One most critical matter is the evidence Dark alludes to at the same site of modern Nazareth. Salm has no reply to this, other than to say that Dark "ignores that the valley floor is the ideal village location" (and the actual site isn't? and isn't it a better site for farming than for building things over?) and to deny that the evidence exists. Dark's correction on enumeration is, as with the first article, not credited but ill-described ("He dismisses pottery and survey contradictions with a literary wave of the hand as if they are mere inconveniences.") and Dark is falsely accused of hiding disagreement with reports like Alexandre's by calling them "interim" (but nothing is said of Alexandre's academic generosity).

Item #3: Review of The Myth of Nazareth by Ken Dark

It is this review that is the "smackdown" that one would hope for, if any is; still and all, Dark spends only a few pages on Salm's book, and makes some of the same points I did. Dark notes Salm's lack of courtesy to scholars regarding enumeration errors, as well as his hypocritical dismissal of Strange as not qualified to do archaeology. (Dark also notes in turn that unlike Strange, he is a professional archaeologist, and has dug at Nazareth.) He also notes Salm's "intemperate, and usually not especially complimentary" dismissal of scholars.
Dark replies with five themes. The first reflects one of my own points (courtesy also of Strange) that "it is not possible to show archaeologically on the basis of available data that Nazareth did not exist in the Second Temple period (or at any other period), because the focus of activity at any period may be outside the - still few - excavated and surveyed areas." Not that Dark thinks this is the case: Salm, he says, "does not discuss them all in sufficient detail" to make his case, but his point is that:
The underlying premise of the book - that by reinterpreting archaeological data one could show that Nazareth as described in the New Testament did not exist - is, therefore, flawed, and its central research question is scientifically invalid.
The second theme has to do with an area I did not address, one that would be beyond my expertise to address: Salm is criticized for insufficient knowledge of the hydrology and topography of the Nazareth area. He notes that Salm's bibliography doesn't reflect adequate study on this point, and repeats the point made in the prior article concerning buildings on slopes. The most stunning point deserves a quote:
Incomprehensibly, there is no mention of the well-documented wadi - known from written, artistic and archaeological evidence - that ran through the centre of Nazareth, although this must have been one of the striking features of the locality until its nineteenth-century infilling.
The third and fourth theme have to do with the dating of the Nazareth Kokhim tombs, which is also beyond my expertise to address, so I did not do so in STCM. He notes the Salm's reconstruction of the chronology is invalid, and lacking reference to an important work on the subject, Rachel Hachlili's Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period. Of note also is that Dark points out that in using a certain dating procedure now recognized to be fallacious, Salm is over 50 years out of date!

The fifth and final theme for the review has to do with pottery. This is worth a quote:
...the fact that most pottery from Nazareth (as at the vast majority of excavated sites anywhere in the Roman world) consists of small sherds is presented by Salm as if this devalues their chronological significance. Few twenty-first-century archaeologists would credit Salm's assertion that: 'two- and three-inch fragments of pottery vessels are a precarious basis indeed for fixing the type and date of an artefact' (p. 125).
He also notes that Salm uses a dating scale put together "before the present standard published ceramic chronology of the area during the Roman period was formulated" and that Salm's "bibliography omits several important works on pottery dating" which Salm should have been able to obtain easily, even as an amateur. Of this he says, "their absence illustrates the basic flaw in Salm's use of the available source material and points of archaeological reference" (in spite of Salm's own supposition that perhaps he may have missed only "one or two brief reports"!). Dark's conclusion is also worth quoting:
...despite initial appearances, this is not a well-informed study and ignores much evidence and important published work of direct relevance. The basic premise is faulty, and Salm's reasoning is often weak and shaped by his preconceptions. Overall, his central argument is archaeologically unsupportable.
Salm's reply: As before, Dark is handled tendentiously ("weak review") and dishonestly ("deals in generalities,") and Salm even goes so far as to claim that Dark "yields on this major point" regarding the absence of Hellenistic pottery when, in fact, Dark pointed out why Salm's demand that such be there was misplaced (some Jewish communities did not choose to use Hellenistic pottery).
In direct reply, Salm says little; much of what he offers in "reply" is descriptive rather than in the nature of an answer. He claims that Dark "wrongly berates me for not mentioning a seasonal water source in the middle of Nazareth" but the water source Salm mentions is not a wadi, but a spring. He claims that he consulted Hachili's book, but it was not "in any way applicable" to his arguments (!) and also "entirely incompatible" with Dark's claims and doesn't present a contrary chronology. Once again, we'll let the fact of Salm's prior dishonesty stands in terms of who ought to be believed. To reply to Dark's final assessment, Salm quotes the assessment of his friend "L. Falvey" who is not a professional archaeologist, and accuses Dark of ignoring the lack of evidence.


It would have been nice to see the scholars take Salm to task in much more detail. However, one cannot blame them for doing as little as they did. Salm's reckless dishonesty - well-documented by STCM and by this article - makes it unnecessary to take him seriously. Salm misrepresents what others say without any hesitation, and refuses to admit to his own mistakes, even when caught "red-handed". In close, I think it is enough to quote these paragraphs from Salm's analysis on his website:
The scholars in question averred that there was, in fact, no incompetent 'double-dating.' It was simply, they explained, a minor (!) difficulty of "misnumbering"…two numbering schemes that apparently were not harmonized. Uh-huh.

Well, guess what? According to the NVF report, a cache of Hellenistic and Early Roman coins has recently been 'found' at Mary's Well (at the Northern end of the Nazareth basin). Wow. Nothing remotely similar has ever been found in the Nazareth basin. The earliest coin found there dates to about 350 CE. A cache of Hellenistic and Early Roman coins is exactly the sort of evidence which the tradition needs in order to decide the matter in its favor.

The traditional camp now has an extensive Nazareth literature upon which to draw for future citations and authority-the writings of generations of hidebound archaeologists and scholars (Viaud, Kopp, Bagatti, Strange, now Dark). It is a self perpetuating culture which can (and probably will) go on ad infinitum, as the tradition cites false facts and skewed information, seeking only to appease the many who don't care to think, anyway.

Then there's the rationalist camp, which on this issue is represented by a small but growing literature on Nazareth (Cheyne, Zindler, Salm). There may now exist the critical mass needed for this view to also become a self-perpetuating alternative to the traditional, bogus position. I certainly hope that's the case, and that we do not lose our initiative regarding this Achilles' heel of Christianity. It may be that the rationalist and faith-based camps are speaking past each other, and probably always will. But our side needs to assert itself when the opportunity presents, if only because none of us wants mankind to suffer through another Dark Ages ruled by faith and unreason.
With commentary like this, it is not difficult to assign Salm a place with others on the fringe like the makers of the Zeitgeist movie. It seems fairly clear that in Salm's world, no evidence will work against him because the case is already decided and any dissent is the result of a conspiracy.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Adventures of Herc and Rom

This is the last item I'll post from the April 2009 E-Block. The Ticker may take some time off if I get pegged with jury duty (the usual waste of time for me as a former corrections employee) this week. I was asked to comment on alleged "parallels" between Jesus, Romulus, and Hercules. Here they are.

  • Romulus is born of a vestal virgin, which was a priestess of the hearth god Vesta sworn to celibacy (Early History of Rome, 1.3-1.4). However, like many "virgin births" often used as parallels, this is a case of a virgin being implanted with "divine seed" and indeed, the passage cited indicates something quite, erm, sexual was involved:
    But the Fates had, I believe, already decreed the origin of this great city and the foundation of the mightiest empire under heaven. The Vestal was forcibly violated and gave birth to twins. She named Mars as their father, either because she really believed it, or because the fault might appear less heinous if a deity were the cause of it.
    As we have noted elsewhere, the language used by the NT (Luke particularly) indicates that the conception of Jesus was an act of divine fiat in nature similar to that of the creation of the world in Genesis 1, where the Spirit "hovers over" the primordial waters.
  • Romulus and his twin brother, Remus, are tossed in the river and left for dead (A "slaughter of the innocents" tale which parallels that of Matthew 2:13-16). In only the loosest sense, perhaps. The twins are disposed of in a way that was rather typical for the day; exposure of infants, especially those who were unwanted (eg, handicapped or the product of some illicit union) was just something the Romans did. To that extent, there's no real parallel here, save by using broad terminology to describe quite different events. In addition, Jesus was not actually exposed whereas Romulus was.
  • Romulus is hailed as the son of god. This is a true parallel; whether it is significant is another matter. "Son of God" seems to have been a more generic phrase; but in Romulus' case, does it mean that Romulus was the incarnate Wisdom of a deity, as it means in Jesus' case? Rather, it seems to be recognition for his achievements after his apotheosis.
  • He is "snatched away to heaven" by a whirlwind (It is assumed that the gods took him), and he makes post mortem appearances (See The Early History of Rome 1.16). The former, of course, would at best be an Elijah-parallel, not a Jesus-parallel! The latter is true, but a case again of broad terminology. There is no hint of Romulus appearing in a resurrected (glorified, physical) body; to that extent, one may also as well say that any "ghost story" is a parallel for Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, which would seem to take matters too far.
  • In his work Numa Pompilius, Plutarch records that there was a darkness covering the earth before his death (Just as there was during Jesus’ death according to Mark 15:33). True, though there is more to it; the full citation reads: However, it does not seem that Romulus actually died here, and the darkness seems to have come from the weather, which in turns seems to have been the cause of the whirlwind which took him up. It's the closest so far, but once again, to draw a parallel requires some appealing to "least common denominator" descriptions. In addition, it is noted that Romulus' body ascended to heaven, as did Jesus'; I do regard this as a true parallel, and an intentional one: Jesus' bodily ascension would have served as a strong political and religious statement in an era when it was only the most powerful and virtuous like the Emperors who were counted worthy of ascending to heaven. Jesus' ascension was a purposeful slap in the face to the powers that be.
  • He also states that Romulus is to be know afterwards as 'Quirinus'; A god which belonged to the Archiac Triad (a "triple deity" similar to the concept of the Trinity). This information may be found in the second paragraph of the translation of Numa Pompilius.... I am told that the note re Quirinus is not meant to be corresponded to the Quirinius in Luke. In terms of the "Triad" I see no "similarity" to the Trinity, aside from there being three persons as members. Two of the members are not in hypostatic relationships with the third and most superior in power; the ancient work referred to for this information says, The next thing he did was to add to the two priests of Jupiter and Mars a third, in honour of Romulus, whom he called the Flamen Quirinalis. This seems to not be much upon which to base a "Trinitarian theology".
Heracles (Hercules)
Such is our verdict on Romulus; what of Hercules?

  • Heracles is the Son of a god (Zeus). The answer to this is the same as above. That said, our contact added: In Library of History 4:9:1-2, it is recorded that Zeus is both the father and great-great- great grandfather of Heracles, just as Jesus is essentially his own grandpa, being both "The root and offspring of David" (Revelation 22:16) as he is part of the triune God which is the father of Adam and eventually of Jesus. Both are doubly related to the Supreme God. I am not persuaded that this description does the matter justice. Library of History says at the point referenced:
    This, then, is the story as it has been given us: Perseus was the son of Danaê, the daughter of Acrisius, and Zeus. Now Andromeda, the daughter of Cepheus, lay with him and bore Electryon, and then Eurydicê, the daughter of Pelops, married him and gave birth to Alcmenê, who in turn was wooed by Zeus, who deceived her, and bore Heracles. Consequently the sources of his descent, in their entirety, lead back, as is claimed, through both his parents to the greatest of the gods, in the manner we have shown. The prowess which was found in him was not only to be seen in his deeds, but was also recognized even before his birth. For when Zeus lay with Alcmenê he made the night three times its normal length and by the magnitude of the time expended on the procreation he presaged the exceptional might of the child which would be begotten
    It would seem to me that there is a world of difference, again, in descent via divine intercourse versus creation by divine fiat; and of being produced by such intercourse, and being the hypostatic attribute of divinity.
  • Diodorus writes that,"For as regards the magnitude of the deeds which he accomplished it is generally agreed that Heracles has been handed down as one who surpassed all men of whom memory from the beginning of time has brought down an account; consequently it is a difficult attainment to report each one of his deeds in a worthy manner and to present a record which shall be on a level with labours so great, the magnitude of which won for him the prize of immortality."-Library of History, 4:8:1. Jesus is also said to have done a very large number of good works. John 21:25 says that: "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." I find this, too, to be a case of reducing descriptions to a "lowest common denominator" -- under the description of "works". Is Heracles' clearing of the Augean stables to be classified with the healing of a blind man because both are "good works"? If that is so, then there are also the same parallels to be found in the lives of other gods, Roman emperors, Atzec kings, and modern charity workers.
  • Hera tries to kill Heracles as an infant by sending two serpents after him (Library of History, 4:10:1) yet Heracles survives by strangling them. This parallels Herod's slaughter of the innocents in an attempt to kill Jesus (Matthew 2:13-16). Does it? The serpents were sent after Heracles in particular, and no other infants were involved...and Jesus was long gone by the time his would-be assassins arrived. It seems to me again that for a parallel this broad, we may as well again appeal to the ancient practice of exposure of unwanted infants.
  • Heracles makes a descent into Hades and returns from it with Theseus and Peirithoüs (4.26.1), just as Jesus descends into the "lower parts of the earth" or Hades (Ephesians 4:7-8)... I cut this one off at the chase, for as I have noted elsewhere, I do not think Jesus did descend into Hades, or that Ephesians supports that idea:
    The reference to "lower parts" is in the comparative, not in the superlative, which does not accord with a reference to the underworld (as in the LXX version of Ps. 63:9 and 139:15, which does use the superlative -- Linc.Ep, 245). Rather, the "lower parts" is understood to refer to the earth itself (the word "of" is not in the original Greek), the descent being the Incarnation, and the ascent being the Ascension. A couple of lines of evidence support this view. The interpretation requires that the phrase "the earth" be taken as being "a genitive of opposition which further defines the preceding noun" [Linc.Ep, 247], a procedure which is used elsewhere in Ephesians (2:14, 15, 20; 6:14, 16, 17). It also fits in with the theme of a descent/ascent or humiliation/exaltation Christology which first describes Jesus coming to earth, then ascending to Heaven (John 3:13, Phil. 2:6-11). Finally, there is a problem in reading the passage as indicating a "breakout" from a Spirit Prison, since the indication both in the Psalms source that forms the background (Ps. 68:18) and in the language is that Christ has taken prisoners after some sort of campaign, not freed those who once were prisoners. Who was it that was taken prisoner? In all likelihood, this involves the "principalities and powers" defeated on the cross. (Eph. 1:21-2; Col. 2:15) The idea of a descent into the underworld must be read into this passage over and against a much more likely interpretation based on the internal clues of Ephesians and the Christology of other NT passages. Finally, it should be noted that there is a strong parallel to this verse in a Targum commentary on Ps. 18 [Linc.Ep, 242-3]. Although from a later source than the NT, it undoubtedly has earlier roots, for it is inconceivable that the Targums should have borrowed it from the NT. Speaking of Moses, the passage reads:
    You have ascended to heaven, that is, Moses the prophet; you have taken captivity captive, you have learnt the words of the Torah; you have given it as gifts to men.
    Obviously there is nothing here to suggest that Moses went to Hades and freed a load of prisoners; he did ascend to Sinai (from the earth!) and receive the covenant. Paul now takes over this language to express Christ's own fulfillment of Ps. 18, and there is no parallel idea of a descent into Hades for him to draw from. His readers would never have understood such a thing from this passage.
Such are my views of the parallels claimed.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Reviewing The Grand Design, Chapter Three: What is Reality?

It's been a few months, but Dan Ventress is back to continue this series.


My apologies for the hiatus, but I had university work to do. Now that I have some more free time available, I can continue the review of Hawking and Mlodinow’s The Grand Design. During said hiatus, however, I did manage to go to the Unbelievable? 2012 conference in Clapham, London here in the UK, where I got to see none other than John Lennox, but also Canadian astrophysicist, Hugh Ross, both of whom were giving talks on the relationship between religion and science and both of whom made mention of Hawking and his and Mlodinow’s book, The Grand Design. It is also fitting that we return to review the third chapter, given that it is one of the centrepieces of the book, and yet is by far the worst piece of sophistry I have ever read. In this chapter, Hawking and Mlodinow describe what they refer to as ‘model-dependent realism.’ Whilst I will, of course, spend the most amount of time deconstructing the laughably absurd ideas contained within this notion, I will also devote some time to correcting the other profuse errors contained within this chapter.

They begin the third chapter with the ‘goldfish analogy.’ They note how a council in Monza, Italy, banned its citizens from keeping goldfish in bowls because it would present the fish with a distorted view of reality, and so would thus be cruel. Hawking and Mlodinow question whether or not that would really be the case:
But how do we know we have the true, undistorted view of reality? Might not we ourselves also be inside some big goldfish bowl and have our vision distorted by an enormous lens? The goldfish’s picture of reality is different from ours, but can we be sure it is less real?” Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, p53.
Hawking and Mlodinow use this as the pretext for their discussion on epistemology. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge, and aims to address issues such as defining knowledge, detailing how knowledge is acquired, and asking whether or not it is even possible to obtain knowledge. This is incredibly ironic, as Hawking and Mlodinow have previously asserted that philosophy is dead, but then, nobody accused them of being consistent.

Now, you would expect for Hawking and Mlodinow to assert that science is the supreme and ultimate arbiter of knowledge, a self-defeating epistemological system known as ‘scientism,’ derived from the hopelessly defunct verificationism, and logical positivism of the 1940s. Yet, strangely, they do not do this, despite their misleading appeal to Copernicus, Galileo, and the Roman Catholic Church. They literally assert that, hypothetically speaking, if goldfish were able to hold scientific laws from their own distorted perspective that always held true, and thus enabled them to make testable predictions about objects outside of the fishbowl, then would have to admit that their view of reality was valid. In a way, this is similar to scientism, except that whilst those who hold to scientism maintain that there is an objective reality, and science is the only thing that can establish fact, Hawking and Mlodinow appear here to be saying that something is true if it is part of a successful model or theory.

This example is flawed for so many reasons. First of all, again assuming along with Hawking and Mlodinow that, in some hypothetical situation, goldfish were able to formulate scientific hypotheses, how would the way goldfish see things physically affect their theories of light? Let’s think about this: we as humans KNOW that other animals, such as the goldfish, see things differently than us. Even certain subsets of human see things differently, such as people who are colour-blind and so on. The reason we know these things is precisely because of our understanding of how the world works. Our knowledge is informed by scientific knowledge on the anatomy of various biological life forms, and our knowledge of how light acts physically. The only thing is different is the perception of each individual species, and, indeed, even of unique individuals within a species.

Perhaps a better hypothetical example would be bats, since they are blind and thus cannot see at all, instead using sonar navigation. Yet this still would not lead to a multiplicity of views being equally valid. Hawking and Mlodinow would no doubt assert that, because bats can’t detect light, then it is not real to them (providing they can develop theories that are different to ours and do not utilise light) but at the same time say light is real for us. This is simply not the case whatsoever. This is the age-old dilemma of: if a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Something exists, regardless of whether or not we can detect it. There could be an invisible teapot orbiting Mars. Such a thing might be unknowable from a purely physical, scientific standpoint, but has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not it exists. Indeed, we can reasonably conclude that such a thing does not exist based on our current knowledge. Again, we can’t be 100% sure, but then, nobody requires 100% proof for anything. Those who assert otherwise are simply deluded, fact, not opinion.

Hawking and Mlodinow’s argument thus appears to be as follows:
1.      Something can only be said to be real if it is part of a successful scientific model.
2.      There can be multiple models explaining the same phenomenon that are equally successful.
3.      Therefore, these models are equally valid.
This argument is predicated on the following (false) assumptions, however:
1.      Science is the only means of acquiring knowledge.
2.      Truth of a theory is measured by its success at explaining current phenomenon, and predicting future phenomenon.
3.      Knowledge requires 100% certainty.

If we reject these three assumptions, then there is no reason whatsoever to buy into Hawking and Mlodinow’s argument whatsoever. For example, Hawking and Mlodinow think that two competing models are equally valid if they are both successful models. However, why think truth is measured by success? This is merely a form of epistemological pragmatism: something is true if it works for me.

The problem is that, if what they are saying is true, we have no reason to accept it. Since they have not demonstrated the truth of their statements using the scientific method, they have not demonstrated their statements are successful in the sense they use the term, and have not demonstrated what they are saying is true is 100% certain. Of course, they can’t do this, not only because it is impossible, but also because they fallaciously conclude that, because said things are impossible, then knowledge of such statements truth-values are impossible. This is nothing but self-defeating epistemological suicide. Nothing has any meaning whatsoever. You could interpret my words, all of which are clearly defined in English, as meaning anything. Or you could randomly decide they have no meaning. I could just string together any random assortment of non-sequiturs I like, as it wouldn’t matter anymore.

Moving on, let us look at more of the blunders Hawking and Mlodinow. In order to illustrate two different models of reality, they describe geocentrism and heliocentrism, which describe the movement of celestial bodies. The geocentric model states that the earth is stationary, and that other planets go around it, whereas the heliocentric model states that the earth, and the other planets go around the sun. Now, before I get started critiquing various blunders they make presenting the historical background of these ideas, I just want to say how hilarious it is for Hawking and Mlodinow to use these examples as the basis for talking about their ‘model-dependent realism.’ Are they seriously suggesting that heliocentrism is no more or less real than geocentrism? We’ll come back to more of this later.

The whole manner in which they present the history of these ideas is simply fallacious and factually incorrect. For instance, the authors make the following remark:
Despite Aristarchus’ heliocentric model, these beliefs [geocentrism] had been held by most educated Greeks since at least the time of Aristotle, who believed for mystical reasons that the earth should be at the centre of the universe.” – Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, p55
First of all, and this is just a minor nitpick, it is implied that Aristarchus had a fully fledged heliocentric model that was rejected in favour of Aristotle’s ideas, eventually culminating in Ptolemy’s models and ideas as presented in The Almagest. This straightforward account, if indeed Hawking and Mlodinow intended for their account to be taken this way (and given their appalling historical knowledge I would not be surprised if it were) is simply incorrect. First off, Aristotle preceded Aristarchus by 70 years, and even died 10 years before Aristarchus was even born. Secondly, the earliest forms of Greek geocentrism can be traced back at least as far as Anaximander, almost 300 years prior to Aristotle. Secondly, we have no way of knowing how complete Aristarchus’ model was, since his works are lost, and the only reason we know of his heliocentric model is because it is reference by Archimedes in his book The Sand Reckoner.

Thirdly, the ancients had no way of knowing whether or not which model was the correct one. Aristarchus hypothesised that the stars were very far away, and that this explained why there were no observable movement of the stars relative to each other as the Earth went around the Sun, a phenomenon known as parallax. Since stellar parallax is only detectable through telescopes, Aristarchus' prediction was simply unprovable at the time, and since geocentrism was consistent with planetary parallax, it was assumed to be the reason why no stellar parallax was observed. Geocentrism was not held for “mystical” reasons whatsoever. That was simply the limit of the science of their day. Hawking and Mlodinow argue that such a model “feels natural,” thus implying that human intuition is either flawed, or outright false. This is simply nothing more than a veiled well poisoning, as well as a slippery slope fallacy. However, they manage to make the blunder of outright asserting that the geocentric model was adopted by the Catholic Church and held as official doctrine for 1400 years.

This is simply outright false, and for many, many reasons. First of all, the Roman Catholic Church did not even exist until 300 AD at the earliest. This was when the Bishop of Rome began assuming to himself a role of superiority over the other bishops, thus negating previous tradition as well as ignoring the Bible. This was the beginning of a series of changes instigated by the Bishop of Rome, eventually culminating with the Great Schism between the Churches who opposed the changes made by Rome, and those who sided with them. Secondly, there was no universal doctrine regarding the relation between the earth and the sun until the Galileo affair. In other words, prior to Galileo, there was NO official doctrine on the matter whatsoever. Since Hawking and Mlodinow argue that no model is more or less real than the other, then it is rather puzzling why such an example is even bought up at all. What is really going is that Hawking and Mlodinow are simply trying to bash religion and philosophy.

Indeed, their next move is to fallaciously bring up the case of Galileo as some kind of proof that religion is inimical to science:
Though the idea wasn’t new, its revival was met with passionate resistance. The Copernican model was held to contradict the Bible, which was interpreted as saying that the planets moved around the earth, even though the Bible never clearly stated that. In fact, at the time the Bible was written people believed the earth was flat. The Copernican model led to a furious debate as to whether the earth was at test, culminating in Galileo’s trial for heresy in 1633 for advocating the Copernican model, and for “thinking that one may hold and defend as probable an opinion after it has been declared and defined contrary to the Holy Scripture”. He was found guilty, confined to house arrest for the rest of his life, and forced to recant. He is said to have muttered under his breath “Eppur si muove”, “But still it moves”. In 1992 the Roman Catholic Church finally acknowledged that it had been wrong to condemn Galileo.” – Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, p56
This is so absolutely and unremittingly false that I scarcely know where to begin, although I can at least comment that their errors here manage to be less than most commenters on this matter.

Copernicanism was not met with “passionate resistance” until the Galileo affair. Whatever debate and opposition was stirred up prior to the Galileo affair was minimal and amounted to nothing. There was no “furious debate” that culminated in Galileo being tried for heresy. Rather, the furious debate, and Galileo’s subsequent trial, was a result of Galileo’s publication Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Galileo was encourage by the Pope, who was Galileo’s supporter at the time, to write a book whereby he featured the best arguments for and against both Geocentric and Heliocentric models. However, what Galileo did was to produce a very one-sided account whereby the Copernican scientist and the neutral observer sided against the supporter of Geocentrism, a priest named Simplicio (which means ‘idiot’ or ‘simpleton.’) Worse, Galileo attributed some of the Pope’s own words to this Simplicio character, which was tremendously insulting.

It was for this that the Pope turned against Galileo and sent him to the Inquisitors. Furthermore, Galileo’s own data was consistent with the Tychonic system as well as Copernicanism. As for the Catholic Church overturning these decisions, it overturned its rulings on the ban on teaching Heliocentrism in 1758. The prohibition of Galileo and Copernicus’ work was overturned in 1835. The 1992 statement was Pope John Paul II issuing a formal apology on behalf of the entire Roman Catholic Church. Yet it had already overturned the decisions that resulted from Galileo’s trial much earlier. As for the phrase “Eppur si muove” there is no evidence that Galileo ever actually uttered it. To their credit, Hawking and Mlodinow rightly note how the Bible is actually silent on the issue of planetary orbits. Of course, they still try their hand at making subtle digs against religion by implying that the Biblical authors believed that the world was flat. It was believed that the world was flat during much of the Old Testament period, however, not only is there is no evidence of such a doctrine within the Biblical text, there is no clear indication whether or not the Ancient Israelites even believed in a flat earth (not that it would have mattered if they had done.)

Yet, as aforementioned, Hawking and Mlodinow claim that neither geocentrism nor heliocentrism can be said to be more real than the other. So, what is the point of bringing up such examples? It seems as if it is little more than simply to bash religion. On the one hand, there is no right and wrong, but on the other hand, one answer is somehow better than the other… and religion and philosophy are stupid, or something. It really is hard to tell what Hawking and Mlodinow are getting at sometimes, since there rarely is ever any semblance of coherency in their book. It is amazing the depths some people are willing to stoop to in order to defame religion. That a scientist of Hawking’s calibre has to stoop to defending anti-realism solely in order to call religion names speaks volumes. As William Lane Craig has said, bad arguments such as these are actually backhanded compliments for theism. Theism is just so plausible, coherent, and well evidenced that any argument for atheism has to be put forward, physics, even the laws of logic themselves be damned.

However, now we have slogged our way through that tedium, it is time to grapple with the central “argument” of the chapter, and one of the key parts of the book. This is where the nuttiness level goes from 10 to 11, and where the true ennui begins. They flat out assert that either Copernicanism or geocentrism can be used as a model of the universe, bringing up their goldfish example again. They say that the “real advantage of the Copernican system is simply that the equations of motion are much simpler in the frame of reference in which the sun is at rest.” (Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, p57.) They even make allusions to the Matrix, asking how can we be sure if what we see is real or a computer simulation. They stipulate that aliens could be in control of our reality, and that even such aliens would also be unable to know if their reality is more real than our own. Hawking and Mlodinow state: “This is the modern version of the idea that we are all figments of someone else’s dream.” (Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, p57.)

They call their view “model dependent realism.” The view that there is no picture or theory independent conception of reality. They say that this is the lens with which to interpret modern science through. They say that the traditional belief that the external world is real and exists independently of observers, etc. is thus difficult to defend in light of modern science. It pains me to read such sophistry, literally, and figuratively. However, it gets worse if you can imagine. They claim that certain principles of quantum mechanics have produced results that contradict realism and even go so far as to suggest that our ‘four-dimensional world’ might just be a shadow of a larger five-dimensional space-time. They go on to mention anti-realism, saying that it cannot be disproven, but we have no choice to accept that is true.

When it comes to going into more detail about their absurd philosophical claims, they assert that: “Model-dependent realism short-circuits all this argument and discussion between the realist and anti-realist schools of thought. According to model-dependent realism, it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observations.” (Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, p61.) They say that if two models both agree with observations, then we can’t say that one is more real than the other, and that one is free to use whatever model is most convenient. This is excusable, they argue, because this is how people behave in the real world. In real life, people form models consciously and sub-consciously in order to interpret and understand the external world, and so the same should apply in science.

Where does one begin in dealing with such bizarre and logically disconnected statements? I’ve had to stop half-way through Hawking and Mlodinow’s description of their philosophical outlook here, because not only is it so long and tedious, but there are just so many errors, I’m going to have to stop to correct them now before continuing on. For starters, their claim that neither heliocentrism nor geocentrism can be said to be more real than the other. I’ll be blunt; heliocentrism is a fact. The scientific data we have confutes the view that the Earth is stationary in the centre of the universe, with the other celestial bodies revolving around it. This is one of the most basic of astronomical facts. The real advantage of Copernicanism is not its simplicity, but due to the fact it is the scientific model of the solar system that best agrees with the data we have.

That was the blatantly obvious and ridiculously easy to refute error. Now we shall take a look at the confused mare’s nest of philosophical blunders and errors Hawking and Mlodinow have made in those statements. Their appeals to the Matrix, and other Solipsist type philosophies is nothing short of hilarious. Do they seriously think there are no answers to such problems? Do they seriously think these are plausibly true scenarios? Of course, given their earlier pronouncement that philosophy is ‘dead,’ and these are all philosophical statements, it is not hard to see why they think these issues are problematic.

It is also not particularly hard to refute such notions that they bring up as being problematic. For starters, how do we know that we exist? From the simple fact that we are aware, that we are thinking, etc. The only response to the question of whether or not you exist is: “who wants to know?” Secondly, we may recall the famous Cartesian maxim of cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. The very fact that I am even contemplating my existence is proof of my existence. For if I did not exist, then who would be there to be doing the doubting? Thus bringing us back to the previous answer of: “who wants to know?” One’s own existence is probably the most concrete fact there is. Whilst it is possible, however unlikely, that other people do not exist, I can be totally sure that I exist. This is a philosophical issue, but, again, Hawking and Mlodinow think philosophy is dead.

Whether or not there exist other minds and other people is not so concretely established, but is something that is once again relatively easy to show. Let us consider Solipsism, the belief that there exists only one person, and everybody else isn’t real. Needless to say all the various people who have been Solipsists in the past all thought they were the ones who were real. Solipsism is easy to refute on the basis that I am not a necessary being. As such, it becomes inexplicable why I and I exist alone, and furthermore supposes the existence of at least one other being, namely, the necessary being. The other scenarios that Hawking and Mlodinow discuss can be similarly deconstructed, and it goes without saying that I could have deconstructed the previous scenarios in greater details, but I do not wish to ramble on longer than necessary. These matters are important philosophical issues, and it just makes me laugh how Hawking and Mlodinow throw their hands up as if these problems are insurmountable.

The main failing of their entire outlook, however, is the fact they think it is okay to hold to whatever model one finds convenient, and that multiple models can be accepted as true. Furthermore, according to Hawking and Mlodinow, multiple models can be held to, providing they all agree with observational data, even if they are mutually exclusive. This is simply fallacious, faulty reasoning. An important and elementary point of basic logic is that two contradictory statements cannot both be true simultaneously. Thus, a shape cannot be square and not square at the same time, a man cannot be married and be a bachelor at the same time, and so on. One could always deny the laws of logic, but then nothing they said would have any meaning any more. Since rational thought, mathematics, science, philosophy, etc. are all predicated upon the rules of logical inference. Without logic, there can be no meaning, and so I could string together whatever random collection of non-sequiturs I liked. Of course, if the laws of logic did not hold, then we would be observing a much different universe, and the denial of logic leads to impossible results.

With that said, there are opposing models that are, currently, on equal footing from an evidential point of view. Consider the various interpretations of the special theory of relativity. On one interpretation, absolute simultaneity does not exist, whereas on another interpretation, it does. On one interpretation, four-dimensional space-time is to be interpreted as a tenselessly existing block, whereas on another interpretation, space-time is tensed and three-dimensional, with the fourth dimension representing time. In both cases, either interpretation is on equal footing, yet there are still valid reasons for preferring one to another. For example, the interpretation where relations of absolute simultaneity are preserved and space-time is tensed and three-dimensional is to be preferred since it is consistent with the A-theory of time. The A-theory of time can be considered correct for other reasons, and since there are valid interpretations of STR that imply the A-theory of time, those interpretations are to be preferred.

Moving on, the implication that, because people employ metaphysical pluralism on a daily basis, metaphysical pluralism is somehow correct is more than simply erroneous, it is absolutely and unremittingly false. If there is any one uniform fact about human beings as a whole, is that the overwhelming majority are monumentally and superlatively moronic. People regularly employ certain systems of thought, modes of thinking, and employ homespun wisdom about common sense that utterly and entirely antithetical to human reason. The horror stories about encounters between the intelligent few and the unwashed hoards of human stupidity are all over the internet. There are literally people who cannot understand store deals, such as: buy one, get one half-price. This is simply a bandwagon fallacy, plain and simple. The irony, though, is that most people operate under the assumption that the external world is real.

Hawking and Mlodinow’s rationale seems to be, because people operate under so many different worldviews (or ‘models’ as they call them), then no worldview can be said to be more real than the other. This is a particularly bizarre variation of the old argument that, because there are so many different religions in the world, they are all somehow false as a result. This is such bizarre, and faulty logic that it truly strains credulity. How does the mere fact that many models exist mean that none can be said to be more real than the other? This is simply a non-sequitur that cannot be supported by any rules of logical inference.

Hawking and Mlodinow continue:
“...what one means when one says “I see a chair” is merely that one has used the light scattered by the chair to build a mental image or model of the chair… another problem that model-dependent realism solves, or at least avoids, is the meaning of existence. How do I know that a table still exists if I go out of the room and can’t see it?... The model in which the table stays put is much simpler and agrees with observation. That is all one can ask.” – Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, 63, 64
Essentially, Hawking and Mlodinow are trying to justify their anti-realist pluralism by arguing that the reality we think we are seeing is really a virtual construct produced by our brains not representative of true reality. The implication is that, because we cannot trust our senses, we cannot trust scientific models as being actually real. However, they then simultaneously claim that we can accept the existence of the external world on the basis that it is ‘simpler.’

Hawking and Mlodinow frame the discussion in terms of emphasising a difference between observation and reality. Observation is merely the electrical signals interpreted by our brains, whereas ‘reality’ is an almost ethereal metaphysical plane we can ultimately gain no knowledge of. This is a yet another version of the previous Solipsist style philosophies already mentioned. Instead of being trapped inside a virtual reality, this scenario places us firmly within a metaphysical reality that we call the ‘real world.’ However, despite being in the real world, we have no real contact with it due to a perceived gulf between it and our re-constructions of it. Because we do not perceive reality directly, but rather, our brains process the information our sensory organs take it before feeding it back to us, it is queried whether or not the brain, the sensory organs, and the data we receive are accurate. We are thus limited to the confines of our own mental constructs, reality blurred by our fixed, restricted fields of vision.

Note how Hawking and Mlodinow do not even pose an answer to the question at hand and do not even address the matter directly. They merely assume that such a gulf does exist, and that these things aren’t accurate. No arguments are discussed or even aired at all. What reason is there for suggesting that the mental construct produces by our brains from the data received from our sensory organs provide us with an image radically different to what actually exists? Mere unknowability is not a valid argument as it is simply an argument from ignorance, whereas there are good, valid reasons for trusting our minds and senses. When we see a chair, the belief that the chair is real and that we are seeing what it really looks like is a properly basic belief. Stating that we are building a mental image or model of an object based on light scattered off of said object is merely a description of how we are able to see the object. As such, this does not present an adequate defeater for our belief, and so our properly basic belief is thus warranted.

The main failing, however, is Hawking and Mlodinow are operating under the entirely unwarranted assumption that one hundred percent accuracy is required to establish fact. Because there is a degree of uncertainty, no matter how great or small, they conclude that that is apparent grounds for complete and total Cartesian scepticism. As far as I am aware, the only people who maintain the illusion of total certainty are fundamentalists who, ironically, maintain the same belief that total certainty is required to know something. Most people have no problem accepting things as probably true or untrue based on certainties lower than the one hundred percent. The only thing that could ever be known with that level of accuracy is that one exists, for reasons already discussed. Everything else is subject to at least some level of uncertainty, no matter how minute.

Moving on to the question of whether a table ceases to exist whilst I am out of the room, Hawking and Mlodinow, despite maintaining that no model is more or less real than another, still claim this question can be solved with their approach by stating that the model which is simpler and agrees with observation is to be preferred. This is simply a philosophical argument, albeit Hawking and Mlodinow don’t actually give any arguments in favour of their position. They just make a few bare assertions and expect their readers to accept it on blind faith. Indeed, there are good philosophical reasons for accepting the model where tables and other objects continue existing when we leave a room, because the model where they cease existing is simply implausible. Hawking and Mlodinow are correct that the model where objects continue to exist is simpler.

However, simplicity is only one measure and cannot be used as the sole basis for determining plausibility, although it is certainly useful. For example, for two competing models, one model could be simpler than the other and yet still be false. It is always important to have clearly-defined criteria when it comes to testing hypotheses, especially philosophy and science. In this case, however, there is just no evidence suggesting that the model where objects cease to exist once you leave the room is more plausible. Other reasons for rejecting the model where objects cease to exist is the principle that something cannot come from nothing. As such, for any model where objects cease to exist when you leave the room, there needs to be a mechanism or agent posited as the cause for this. Since there is no plausible mechanism or agent posited, this is another reasons for not accepting said model. However, the main reason for accepting the model where objects continue existing is due to the fact that this belief is based on the properly basic belief in the reality of the external world.

Of course, to say that Model Dependent Realism “solves” this problem existence is an absolute falsehood. It solves no problems whatsoever, raises dozens of problems of its own, and is simply patently invalid. Hawking and Mlodinow continue by discussing things readily held to exist, such as quarks, but cannot be seen and state: “...according to model-dependent realism, quarks exist in a model that agrees with our observations of how subnuclear particles behave.” [Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, p66.] It thus seems as if they believe that it is okay to treat quarks as real when dealing with the aforementioned model, even if they are not actually real… or something. Again, Hawking and Mlodinow aren’t exactly clear and concise in their language. Indeed, it is unclear what quarks existing in a model even means. Do they mean that they are treated as being real, or that hey actually exist? Does this occur when the model is being discussed, or simultaneously real and unreal at the same time? Whatever the answers are, it is clear that it devoid of any real substance.

Hawking and Mlodinow continue on to briefly discuss the matter of cosmological origins and how ‘Model Dependent Realism’ allegedly offers a framework for questions in this area:
An early Christian philosopher, St. Augustine (354-430), said that the answer was not that God was preparing hell for people who ask such questions, but that time was a property of the world that God created and that time did not exist before the creation, which he believed had occurred not that long ago. This is one possible model, which is favoured by those who maintain that the account given in Genesis is literally true even though the world contains fossil and other evidence that makes it much look older. (Were they put there to fool us?) One can also have a different model, in which time continues back 13.7 billion years to the big bang.” – Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, p67-68.
This really made me laugh out loud, and when you are wading through mind-numbing tedium such as this, you need all the laughs you can get.

Firstly, Augustine is not exactly an early Christian philosopher, given that he was born after the first council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Generally, early Christianity is defined as occurring between the death of Jesus and the first council of Nicaea. Secondly, the line about God preparing hell seems to be a veiled well poisoning fallacy judging by how it is phrased and where it occurs in the sentence. It is hard to tell, since the same line appears in Hawking’s work, A Brief History of Time, albeit written in a way that does not imply aforementioned well poisoning. Either way, this is an incidental point. However, the remark about Augustine believing that creation had occurred not too long ago most probably is, as is the rest of the quoted paragraph.

The third error that Hawking and Mlodinow commit is to make a blatant false dichotomy, mixed in with veiled ad hominems. Hawking and Mlodinow present belief in divine creation as being the exclusive preference young earth creationists, and falsely claim that belief in a 13.8 billion year old universe is a rival hypothesis to divine creation. This is an absolute and unremitting untruth. Not only is belief that the universe was created by God not the exclusive proviso of those who believe that the cosmos is a mere six thousands years old, but the amount of people who believe God created the universe, whilst simultaneously believing that the universe is 13.7-13.8 billion years old, is a very sizeable number. William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross, and Kenneth Samples are very prominent old earth creationists. Hugh Ross is himself an astrophysicist! Did Hawking and Mlodinow seriously not know this? Or did they know and hope to dupe unwitting readers into accepting this palpable falsehood?

Even more laughable is how they try and paint Augustine, and others who hold to belief in divine creation, as simple idiots. Even though there are Christians, such as William Lane Craig, et al., who argue for divine creation on the basis of existing and well-established data regarding the universe, such as the expansion of the universe and its thermodynamic properties. Furthermore, in his work, On The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Augustine specifically states that the interpretation of the creation story is difficult, and that Christians should be willing to change their minds about it as new information is discovered and presented. Despite believing that the world was younger than the estimations of pagans, he maintained a fairly allegorical interpretation of Genesis, and that the Bible does not mention the “course of the sun and the moon” because God willed to make us Christians. He even goes as far as to call it shameful when Christians speak on these matters ignorantly.

Lastly, whilst not as widely accepted as big-bang cosmology, evolutionary biology is not incompatible with belief in divine creation. There are many prominent Christians who accept evolution, such as: Francis Collins, Alistair McGrath, John Polkinghorne, and Kenneth Miller. The remark about fossils possibly being placed to “test us,” whilst a valid critique of young earth creationism, is simply an appeal to ridicule in the context in which it appears. Given that this paragraph is purely an exercise in poisoning the well against theism, however, I don’t really expect to see any decent arguments against any form of theism.

Hawking and Mlodinow next describe what they consider to be a good model. A model is a good one, according to them, if it is elegant, contains few arbitrary or adjustable elements, agrees with and explains all existing observations, and makes detailed predictions about future observations that can disprove or falsify the model if they are not borne out. This is actually not too disagreeable. The only problem would be ‘elegance’ since it seems particularly vacuous and poorly defined. Ironically, this is something Hawking and Mlodinow agree with this assessment, but then state that all of their above criteria are “obviously subjective.” [Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, p69] However, since the only example they give is, of course, the criteria of ‘elegance,’ it is hard to see why.

They also seem particularly incapable of even defining what exactly ‘elegance’ is. Hawking and Mlodinow seem to imply a principle not too dissimilar from Ockham’s Razor, yet it is hard to tell, given the vague, cryptic prose. What follows for the next few pages is are the examples of how successful theories came to replace unsuccessful theories, noting the example of how big bang cosmology replaced the steady state theory. The second example, however, is the example of an unsuccessful theory, Newton’s theory of light. Newton’s theory of light could not describe the Newton’s ring phenomenon, whereas the wave theory of light could. However, Hawking and Mlodinow note that in the 20th century, Einstein showed how the same effect could also be described by the particle theory of light.

In a rather bizarre turn, Hawking and Mlodinow claim that this “duality” supports their notion of ‘model-dependent realism.’
Dualities like this – situations in which two very different theories accurately describe the same phenomenon – are consistent with model-dependent realism. Each theory can describe and explain certain properties, and neither can be said to be better or more real than the other.” – Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, p76.
Not only is this a complete non-sequitur, but, as we have already seen, this is completely false. We have already seen how one theory can be preferred over another despite both theories being equal from an evidential standpoint. Hawking and Mlodinow continue unphased, and simply end by claiming that M-theory, a network of theories they claim is good at describing phenomenon with a certain range, whilst not a single unified theory is “acceptable within the framework of model-dependent realism.” [Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, p77]

Throughout the whole chapter, I was expecting them to conclude with a philosophical system to test theories, yet not only do they not do this, they end with yet another complete and utter non-sequitur. How has anything they said about ‘model-dependent realism’ led to this conclusion about M-theory? What even is M-theory? They haven’t even provided a single example of ‘model-dependent realism’ being a useful way of testing theories and now, all of a sudden, have dropped M-theory on top of us out of nowhere. Even worse, they end the chapter simply by briefly discussing the ‘alternative histories’ interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, and simply barely assert that it has passed every experimental test that it has been subject to.

This is yet another falsehood. Quantum Mechanics has passed experimental tests. However, the ‘alternative histories’ interpretation has not, since it is an interpretation of the QM model, not a model itself. There are many interpretations of QM, and they are ALL equal evidentially. This is simply nothing more than a fallacy of equivocation. All throughout this chapter Hawking and Mlodinow have made gross errors and a number of ludicrous claims and remarks, some even making no coherent sense whatsoever. Even worse, large sections of the chapter don’t even seem connected to the rest. My main complaint about this entire chapter as a whole is that is tedious, cluttered, and does not have a logical flow of argumentation.

After finishing this chapter, I am not even sure what Hawking and Mlodinow are even trying to argue, other than: M-theory is great, and the alternative histories interpretation of Quantum Mechanics rules. Both of which are, of course, bare assertions completely unsupported by the rest of the content of this chapter, and not even connected to the subject content of the rest of the chapter. This chapter simply has no real substance, and does not read coherently in any way whatsoever.