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You wrote:

" a student of literature, history, anthropology, and theology, I am thankful that I can eat my cake and have it, too."

"I see a banquet spread out before me. One would have thought that the dogs under the table would have wished for a few crumbs to come their way. Apparently not. They refuse even the crumbs."

You have conjured an interesting scene/image (with emphasis on eating/feasting) here and you point the reader to Matthew 15:22-28 and Mark 7:25-29, the dialogue between Christ and the non-Israelite woman of great faith. With all due respect (and I truly hope I don't misunderstand your meaning), I cannot help but think that we (theologians and scholars of the humanities) must also consider the epistemological implications of Matthew 22: 11-14, as well as Luke 14:8-10, because who determines entitlement to eat at the table or crumbs from the table anyway? I get a sense that how and what we know (besides being a matter of choice - wishing and wanting) has more to do with entitlement and/or ontological standing.

John Hobbins

Hi R,

It's nice of you to pay attention to the metaphors I deployed. I am fine with adding in the dimensions of entitlement and ontological standing.

But in that case I would refer first of all, not to the eschatological banquet parables, but to the story of Esau and Jacob.

On grounds of ontological standing (the definition of what it means to be human, even if we don't develop that definition to the depths that Luther did in his Disputatio de homine) and entitlement, Esau would have done well to retain his birthright - that of pondering the imponderables.

Instead, in the name of instant gratification, he (the hard scientist) sells his birthright to his lowlife brother (that would be you and me, theologians and scholars of the humanities).

But to return to the banquet of Jesus' parables. What I am suggesting is that "blinded by the light" atheists refuse the invitation to attend.

Not that they are alone in refusing. Many choose not to attend; they have more important things to attend to.


Here is a quibble with your wonderful post: I suppose the term "hard science" is soft and slippery, but I will take a shot at it. Hard Science is science that is subject to the Falsification principles of Popper. The fields that Dawkins and Pinker are involved in are far too subjective to be considered hard science.

Mitchell Powell

Epistemology is where the fun is at. Oddly, several of my atheist friends who get frustrated when trying to argue about the Bible's historicity or some such issue are happy to engage on questions of epistemology.

John Hobbins

Hi Looney,

I understand your point, though I have reservations.

I am currently visiting Johns Hopkins University for two days of orientation for admitted students. Though she will spend a year in Lima Peru before she begins her pre-med track, my 17 year old daughter Betta will begin studies there soon enough. JHU suits her well because it is STEM focused with an emphasis on original research beginning as a freshman in college. Betta has a heart of gold; in fact, her goal is to practice medicine in Africa on a year round basis. But she is also a no-nonsense girl when it comes to science.

Now what you seem to be saying is that fields like evolutionary biology (Dawkins) and cognitive science (Pinker) do not traffic in falsifiable hypotheses. If that is true, I assume you are convinced that the fields of study like history, philosophy, and theology traffic even less in falsifiable hypotheses.

But I disagree. First of all, at their best, all fields of paleo this and paleo that - paleoclimatology, paleoastronomy, paleobotany, and so forth - depend on the same principles of interpolation and extrapolation as do physics, geology, and all the rest. In all of these fields it is possible to formulate falsifiable hypotheses. In fact, theories once held by most or even all geologists and biologists and cognitive scientists have been shown to be false. This is no different the history of falsified hypotheses in a field like physics.

I also have no difficulty in formulating falsifiable hypotheses in the disciplines of philosophy and theology. I have given examples before on these threads. When I do so, it seems to surprise a bunch of people. Perhaps you too find the notion of falsifiable hypotheses at the highest level of abstraction as it were, that of metaphysics and God, troubling as well. I don't know.

John Hobbins

Hi Mitchell,

I concur. Though I think it is especially exciting to think about how we know anything about the deep structures of history.

One doesn't have to read very long in biblical literature to realize what are taken to be those structures there. Things like collapse through internal dysfunction followed by restored by an external agent; exodus and revolution; the cross, the resurrection.

How do we justify the belief that these things, or other very different things, constitute the fundamental structuring elements of human existence and human history?

Mitchell Powell

If I had to boil this justification down to two phrases, those phrases for me would be "self-attesting" and "impossibility of the contrary" -- both meant in a broader and more general sense that some might imagine. As far as I am concerned, if collapse through internal dysfunction followed by restoration from an external source is not one of the deep structures of history, then all that's left is something I don't find worth living for: the hopeless watching of internal dysfunction tearing things apart without any chance for renewal. All that would be left then would be a Gramsci-style optimism of the will, if that -- the choice to act as though some more optimistic vision is true. But there's a grim hollowness there that would threaten to drive me crazy.

I cannot think of any other framework other than the one supplied by the Bible and communities that read it as part of their identity that provides answers as adequate as it does. As I say this, I realize that I am defining adequacy by the standards of the framework I was raised in, so there's some circularity. But if everyone thinks in circles, then I will search for the circle that best fits the world.

For all the crazy things religious people have done and said throughout the years, I still can't imagine another circle I would rather think in. And whenever I've tried to think in other circles, I've been overwhelmed by the clear awareness that I'm kidding myself. Grace, as far as I am concerned, is irresistible.


I have heard other atheists call Dawkins a "soft atheist" which probably prompted him to come away with the "cultural Christian" line. Dawkins has commandeered John Lennons "imagine" but "imagine" a world where the hard atheist got to play out his beliefs to the logical end end ?

Sort of Reminds me of the work by John Levenson in "creation and the persistence of Evil" the relentless attack of order in the creation, which is exactly what these hard atheist seems to be craving. To my mind its good they point out the glaring inconsistencies with the world view but praise be to God they are still "culturally Christians".


John, I have heard these arguments before that falsification can easily be produced. If we embrace that, than we can argue that the science of communism can equally produce a falsifiable assertion: "Show me a capitalist society where all men are equal." This would void the entire purpose of falsification were it accepted. The problem is that this assertion cannot be mathematically derived from Marx's universal equation of communism.

It is only possible to have falsification where there is a precise, unchanging mathematical definition from which a prediction can be made. With most of the fields you cited there is no such foundation. Hypothesis can be produced, but can't a contrary hypothesis also be produced? Evolution usually produces an infinite number of contradictory hypotheses on the outcome of an event, but since every practitioner has her own constantly changing definition, it is impossible to show anything.

John Hobbins

Hi Looney,

Sorry I didn't get to your comment earlier. Here is an off-the-cuff response.

Precise, unchanging mathematical definitions are possible in all scientific disciplines which deal with empirical questions at some level of analysis and with respect to many kinds of data. Still, for sciences that study more complex and multidimensional realities, it is not at all the case that the most interesting - and testable - hypotheses are best expressed in mathematical terms.

As for Karl Popper, it needs to be stressed that Popper's critique was a friendly one, that is, he spoke throughout his career as a self-critical proponent of evolutionary theory, not as an anti-evolutionist.

For those on this thread who are unaware, Popper said the following:

“Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program” (Unended Quest, 1976).

Later, he modified that statement such that he asserted only that evolutionary theory - more precisely, key aspects of the theory, such as the one that states that survivors survive - is difficult to test.

I think Popper's 1976 statement is more salient, in the following sense: insofar as evolutionists attempt to solve the problem of whether the process of evolution is guided or unguided, we are now talking about a metaphysical program. At the very least, it has to be said that it is unquestionably very difficult to decide, on the basis of empirical observations and testable hypotheses about them, between the following alternatives:

The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

-- Richard Dawkins, "God's Utility Function," Scientific American 275 (5) (November 1995) 80-85; 85

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, the wisdom of a provident and purposeful God, intent upon a fruitful and dynamic world, and committed to a promise of freedom that makes genuine love possible. -- from Kenneth Miller’s Georgetown Lectures, 1/29/09

Kenneth Miller, of course, is one of the foremost biologists in the country. Like Francis Collins, T. G. Dobzhansky, Francisco Ayala, and plenty of others, he finds God in evolution.

It needs to be stressed that there is a ton of empirical evidence for evolutionary processes. For example, the notion that human beings and other primates have common ancestors is by far and away the most elegant and convincing explanation of the data we have in hand.

Looney, if you disagree with this, I would appreciate it if you said so right off. If we don't agree on this, I have to wonder if you are a young earth creationist or something like that.

The problem with young earth creationism, of course, is that if Dawkins' and Miller's metaphysical interpretation of change processes in biology (i.e., evolution) qualify as metaphysics and opposed to physics (and Popper thought that metaphysical propositions were not meaningless, and are capable of criticism, but not in the same way insofar as they deal with more than empirical phenomena), YECism does not qualify even as an interpretation of the change processes.

It qualifies only as a Johnny Cochran style demonstration of sufficient doubt in the case of murder of a specific definition of God. Fine, but that has literally nothing to do with science.

To come at the question once again, I would encourage you to read more widely in Popper. Popper you see took great pleasure in criticizing the kind of global hypotheses that you seem to want to write off from scratch as unscientific and perhaps also devoid of truth for that reason.

I would suggest that you are making things too easy on yourself. For example, if you want to criticize communism, go right ahead, but the style of argument you adopt can just as easily be used against capitalism. For my part, I have severe criticisms to make of both capitalism and communism, both in practice and in theory. I am in fact deeply suspicious of anyone who cannot do likewise.

In fact, I wonder if it is not the opposite of the scientific method to declare that so much of what human beings ponder is imponderable for human beings qua scientists. I see you agreeing with Pinker on the question of imponderables, though perhaps you, like him, turn right around and ponder those very questions, without seeing the irony therein.

John Hobbins


My experience has been similar to yours. In more than one phase of my life, I tried atheism on for size, and found it hollow. Maybe I am missing something, but it struck me in practice and still strikes me as a highly sophisticated form of denial in the sense of a form of mental behavior. To be clear, I am also fully aware that, as a helpful NYT article put it, denial literally makes the world go round. Like paranoia, it is an essential survival mechanism.

On the other hand, the quest for truth ultimately involves a willingness to move beyond denial, fear, and paranoia to faith, hope, and love. So, at least, it seems to me.

The NYT article:

John Hobbins


I concur. In fact, some atheists put some putative believers - Jewish or Christian - to absolute shame. Based on Matthew 25, in fact - though plenty of Christians are in denial about this - there are bound to be plenty of surprises on Judgment Day.



Thanks for your response. I should say that to my knowledge, capitalism did not call itself a science, although Economics refers to itself as the "dismal science", thus distinguishing themselves from hard science.

And yes, I am a young earth creationist, since this i find to be the only viewpoint that is compatible with the reality that I know of as an engineer. Technology does not spontaneously generate. Never has. Never will.

My kids have just been through the latest that UCLA has to offer on this in their molecular biology curriculum (required for chemical engineering). Basically the professors argument is that design can only be explained by evolution, hence, any evidence for design is deemed to be evidence for evolution. Of course the meaning of the evidence is contingent on the acceptance of the premise, not the other way around.

But I can agree with you that it would require God's intervention for evolution and the big bang to work out.

John Hobbins


I would say that economics is a science in the same sense as many others. In fact, economists excel at developing testable hypotheses which are subject to critique from a variety of points of view (not just mathematical cogency and statistical accuracy). It is no accident that Karl Popper himself taught at the London School of Economics.

On the other hand, economics in the sense of worldview alternatives, the choice between a vision of economics inspired by Milton Friedman or Amartya Sen for example, is more difficult to adjudicate, though most economists and non-economists would take offence if you were to argue that there is no relationship between the data economists consider and the divergent worldviews economists espouse.

There is a strong relationship; often, furthermore, the truths divergent worldviews embody are complementary as opposed to mutually exclusive. It is more a matter of a hierarchy of truth as opposed to a difference between truth and falsehood.

Which brings us to young earth creationism. The fundamental problem is that it seems to be an entirely ad hoc explanation of the data in hand. The position, it seems to fair to say, would not even exist if not depend for a particular reading (in my view, a misreading) of biblical teaching.

Which is why I am, with plenty of others, a creationist who believes that God designed the world such that biological change occurs, in ways we are far from understanding perfectly, through a number of mechanisms some of which go under the umbrella term of evolution.

That said, your kids' professors might learn a thing or two if they read more widely in their own field. Miller and Collins are top-tier biologists. They connect the biological dots in the same way biologists in general do, but draw different metaphysical conclusions.

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

Dear John,

It has been awhile since I posted on this blog.

First, interesting article. It appears that epistemology is where the action is occuring.

Second, it also seems that no one has been paying attention to Ecclesiastes. That little book of 12 chpaters is a philosopher/scientist's nightmare considering that all is done "under the sun."

Third, regarding the phrase "under the sun." It also appears to be similar to, if not equivalent to, "naturalism."

Fourth, "there is nothing new under the sun;" all we are seeing these days is the same lie posed by the Serpent in the garden, "you shall be as god, knowing good and evil."

Finally, I remind myself that an "atheist" does not mean "no god," but actually means "without (a visible form) of god. Jews and the early Christians were called "atheioi" at one time. The Greeks thought that one had to believe in a "visible" god. Modern atheists do not believe in any god that CANNOT be seen.

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

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    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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    Copyright © 2005 by John F Hobbins.