August 16, 2006

This Post is Old!

The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

Inerrancy of the Autographs: Does it Matter?

Update (8/21/06, 10:15PM): I've now made the corrections described in the first update below. The differences were all too small to effect the interpretation, with the possible exception of (17): the probability of (7) increased by .002, (11) increased by .021, and (17) increased by .040.

Update (8/21/06, 2:33PM): Welcome Prosblogion readers! I've realized that there was a minor error in my math below. The numbers for (7), (11), and (17) should be marginally higher than they are. The numbers I have given are the probabilities that the Bible teaches the proposition in question AND that it is right. The numbers need to be corrected to add in the probability that the Bible doesn't teach the proposition and it is nonetheless true. I don't have time to correct the numbers right now, but in the meantime, for each one you can correct the numbers for yourselves by adding the product of P(Tx|~Bx) with P(~Bx) to the originally posted value. I think that should give the correct numbers, but hopefully will have a chance to look it over in more depth this evening (or maybe a reader would like to help me out).

A common argument levelled against Evangelicals (most recently by Neal in the comments to my post on Jesus' witness to the Hebrew Bible) is that if, as most Evangelicals believe, it is that autographs of the Biblical books that are inerrant, then the doctrine of inerrancy is irrelevant since the autographs no longer exist. (The 'autographs' are the original manuscripts handwritten by the original authors of the books.) If something other than the autographs is supposed to be inerrant, what would it be, since there is disagreement among the manuscripts, and no single manuscript seems uniquely priveleged over the others? What this amounts to is the claim that the inerrancy of the autographs is irrelevant because there is uncertainty about what the autographs in fact said. This is very similar to the claim that inerrancy is made irrelevant by the uncertainty in our interpretation. Both of these arguments are seriously flawed in precisely the same way. What I hope to do here is, by making some very simple applications of the Bayesian probability calculus (I haven't done this in a while - feel free to correct my math), to show just how deeply mistaken these arguments are, and how much impact the truth or falsity of the doctrine of inerrancy will still have on our reasoning, despite uncertainty about the teachings of the inerrant books.

There is uncertainty everywhere in this world. If we are (rationally, justifiably) certain about anything at all, it is only about very elementary logically necessary propositions like '2+2=4', and even here there is some question (uncertainty!) about whether we are, or ought to be, truly certain. However, human beings go through life, act, make decisions, and form beliefs despite all of this uncertainty, and acting and forming beliefs while still uncertain is not a violation of any rational principle - on the contrary it saves us from an extreme form of the Buridan's ass dilemma. The reasoning pattern a perfectly rational being goes through to make decisions and form beliefs under uncertainty is (thought to be) codified in the Bayesian probability calculus, which currently sees wide application in philosophy and artificial intelligence. I am not going to try to explain how the whole thing works here, but see Wikipedia on Bayesian inference.

So, first we must formulate the doctrine of inerrancy in the autographs more formally. We are going to be doing first order predicate logic on the universe of propositions here, which will be a little confusing. Just remember that the upper-case letters are predicates or functions and the lower-case letters are variables or constants.


  • Bx =df. the autograph of some canonical book of the Bible teaches that x

  • Tx =df. it is true that x

  • Then the doctrine of inerrancy is as follows:

  • i =df. '∀x(Bx->Tx)

That is, the doctrine of inerrancy states that for any proposition x, if the autograph of some canonical book of the Bible teaches that x, then x is true. In the standard probability notation, P(x) =df. the probability of x, and P(x|y) =df. the probability that x is true given the y is true. So i could be reformulated as follows:

(1) i = '∀xP(Tx|Bx) = 1'

That is, if we were to have absolute certainty that some book of the Bible taught x, we would have certainty that x was true. But, the critic replies, we never have certainty that the Bible teaches x, i.e.


This, however, does not mean that (1) tells us nothing. Let us consider some conditional probabilities on i. To take a simple example, suppose we are trying to determine whether such a person as King Saul ever lived. We know him as a legendary figure in Jewish and Christian traditions, but we haven't yet looked at the Bible. So:

  • s =df. 'King Saul actually lived'

Suppose we assign P(Ts)=.3, since we know that Saul is a legendary figure but we haven't seen any reliable historical sources documenting his existence, and legendary figures are sometimes based on fact, but often are not. Now suppose we study the Bible and discover that:

(3) P(Bs)=.97

That is, there is a 97% probability that the Biblical books, in the autographs, teach the King Saul really lived (historically). The 3% doubt here is mostly because we have less early evidence of the Old Testament than the New Testament (there's a little more possibility of transmission error) - I don't think there is much doubt that that is what the Bible we have now teaches. 3% is still a very generous helping of doubt, given the evidence (we're being a little skeptical). Now, from (1) we have:

(4) P(Ts|Bs&Ti)=1

This means that P(Ti|~Ts)&le.03 - the probability of inerrancy cannot be greater than the probability that the Bible doesn't teach that King Saul lived, if King Saul did not in fact live. From this we can conclude by Bayes' theorem that:

(5) P(Ts|Ti)=.93

That is, if we know that the Bible is inerrant, there is a 93% chance that King Saul actually lived, but if we ignore the Bible, there is only a 30% chance. (We assume for simplicity that P(Ti|Ts) = 1 - that is, that we have no reason to doubt inerrancy as long as Saul actually lived.) This, clearly, makes a big difference! But what would happen if the Bible wasn't inerrant, if it was only right most of the time. Would the difference be significant? Suppose we say that there is a possibility that the Bible would say Saul lived even if he didn't, but it's fairly small. P(Bs|~Ts)=.2. However, since Saul was the first King of Israel, he is pretty important to the Bible's story, so if he did live, the Bible would probably tell us about it. P(Bs|Ts)=.85. On this account, we will conclude that:

(6) P(Ts|Bs)=.646

Now, this is the probability that Saul actually lived if the Bible says he did. The overall probability that he actually lived is P(Ts|Bs)*P(Bs)+P(Ts|~Bs)*P(~Bs) (the first addend is the probability that the Bible teaches that Saul lived AND Saul did in fact live, the second is the probability that the Bible does NOT teach that Saul lived, but he nevertheless did), so:

(7) P(Ts)=.629

So, if we take the Bible to be only generally accurate instead of inerrant, we have 62.9% probability that Saul lived, instead of 93%. This is still enough to base a belief on, but it is certainly (or at least probably) a significant difference! Furthermore, since probabilities are multiplicative, if we take something with higher uncertainty about the Bible's teaching, the difference will be larger. Suppose we take the statement:

  • a =df. 'the spiritual offices of apostle and prophet no longer (ought to) exist today' (see Ephesians 2:20)

Now I regard this as very uncertain. There are interpretive difficulties, and since it is pretty much only one verse (although there are a few other verses that could be taken as suggesting this without implying the overall cessationist position - e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:8-9) the possibility of transmission errors is greater. However, none of the major manuscripts have discrepancies here, so the uncertainty in transmission shouldn't be too significant; it's mostly the interpretive difficulties we are concerned with. Let's assign:

(8) P(Ba)=.6

So P(Ti|~Ta)<e;.4. In order to make our calculation we need to determine the prior probability of Ta. We would really have no idea about this without the Bible, so the prior probability P(Ta)=.5. Making the same simplifying assumption as before, we can conclude that:


This is not incredibly high, but enough to base our beliefs and actions on, at least tentatively. We often live and act on lesser probabilities than this! But what happens if we assume, as before, that the Bible is only generally reliable? Since this is a spiritual rather than historical matter, and the Bible is particularly trustworty on spiritual matters, let's use a somewhat higher probability than before; say, P(Ba|~Ta)=.1. Since this is an important spiritual statement for the life of the Church and we wouldn't know about it if the Bible didn't tell us, let's assign P(Ba|Ta)=.95. From Bayes' theorem we find:

(10) P(Ta|Ba)=.905

Which is pretty high. However, when we add in our uncertainty about Ba, we get:

(11) P(Ta)=.564

Which is barely better than even odds! When the uncertainty factor in the Bible's teaching is significant, even a small possibility that the Bible might be wrong will make a big difference in the justifications we can give for our beliefs. Note too that in this case we are trusting the Bible a lot more than we did in the Saul case (since we assume the Bible knows more about spirituality and how to run churches than about history). If we plugged in the same values we used for Saul with this much uncertainty (and the same prior probability for Ta), we would get:

(12) P(Ta)=.486

There is another interesting point that comes out of this type of analysis: if the prior probability of the proposition is lower than, or even on near equal footing with, the probability of errors in transmission or interpretation, the low prior probability can overwhelm the probability increase due to the Biblical teaching, even on inerrancy. For instance, consider:

  • e =df. 'the theory of evolution as currently understood is entirely on the wrong track (and not merely imperfect or incomplete) as far as the truth about the development of life'

Let's face it: the prior probability of P(Te) is low. There are enough problems and objections that it is certainly non-zero, but most of these objections probably point merely to imperfection and incompleteness on the part of our current understanding, and not to the theory being completely off base. Evolution has huge explanatory power and makes successful prediction (though this is mostly due to micro-evolution, and not macro-evolution - no one seriously denies micro-evolution). It even looks good from a natural theology perspective: ironically, evolution is a very intelligent design! Every engineer dreams of designing a system like this, which naturally improves itself over time. It is, in fact, in some respects a design worthy of God Himself! Furthermore, we are non-experts talking about it, and almost all the experts embrace the theory in some form. So take:

(13) P(Te)=.07

That is, there is a 7% probability that evolution is entirely on the wrong track. However, the early chapters of Genesis seem to teach something contradictory to the theory. Still, there is room for doubt about the genre conventions and truth-conditions of the early chapters of Genesis, so P(Be) has a not insignificant uncertainty factor. Let's say:

(14) P(Be)=.75

That is, there is a 75% probability that the teaching of the early chapters of Genesis is that evolutionary theory is entirely on the wrong track. What we want to know is P(Te|Ti). As before, we assume that evolution is our only reason to doubt Ti, so P(Ti|Te)=1. This gives us:

(15) P(Te|Ti)=.231

The low prior probability P(Te) overwhelms the Scriptural evidence so that - much to the chagrin of most Evangelicals - we conclude with .779 probability that evolution is on the right track to the truth. The point I'm trying to make is not that we should believe in evolution (I don't know nearly enough for the probabilities I made up above to be meaningful), but that incorporating outside data into our search for Biblical truth, especially in cases where the Biblical teaching is unclear, is not a reasoning mistake, even if we have an absolute belief in inerrancy. This is in some sense not sound Biblical interpretation - that is, we shouldn't conclude from this that the Bible teaches evolution (though we will come to the conclusion that it doesn't teach against it), or ask other Christians to accept it as part of our common faith - but it is sound reasoning in light of our assumptions and the evidence. It is the conclusion someone who comes to the Bible already believing (a) in it's inerrancy, and (b) that the probability of evolution being false is fairly low ought to come to (provided he concludes that there is significant uncertainty as to the teaching of the early chapters of Genesis - if P(Be) was .95, P(Te|Ti) would be .601. The clear teaching of Scripture - where it is truly clear - still overwhelms everything else). Another point to note here is that in this type of case, if the Bible is merely generally reliable, then it's impact on P(Te) will be essentially negligable. Inerrancy brought P(Te) from .07 up to .231, which is quite significant. However, assuming the Bible is merely generally reliable, the means of creation is pretty well outside its scope, so it would be thought less reliable here than elsewhere. P(Be|~Te) might be around .2 (since the Bible would be considered unlikely to talk about it in the first place) and P(Be|Te) might be .4. This will give us

(16) P(Te|Be)=.131

When we add in our uncertainty factor and P(Te|~Be), we have:

(17) P(Te)=.138

That is, without the Bible the probability of evolution being wrong would be .07, and with the Bible it would be .138. In other words, if the Bible is merely 'generally accurate' it's barely worth considering it's view on an issue like evolution, but if it is inerrant then what it says will contribute quite significantly to our beliefs and our degree of uncertainty about them.

What I have tried to show here is not that inerrancy is true or false, but simply that it matters. In fact, what I think the application of Bayesian analysis here shows is that both inerrantists and more liberal Christians are reasoning correctly based on their beliefs about the place of the Bible. Of course, this discussion doesn't have too much to contribute to a discussion of whether inerrancy is true or false, but it certainly shows that it matters, and it matters a lot - even if there is a great deal of uncertainty in transmission and interpretation of the Bible. In fact, where there is uncertainty it matters more. However, I should point out that there are many cases where the uncertainty factor with regard to interpretation is pretty low (the uncertainty in transmission is almost always low, especially for the New Testament), and in these cases theological liberals and conservatives ought to be much more likely to agree, since the difference between the Bible being probably or absolutely right is not being multiplied across serious uncertainties of interpretation.

Posted by Kenny at August 16, 2006 6:51 PM
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Any important physical or mathematical principle can be explained using the English language. Ex. "Moving rods appear shortened" or "No transformation of energy is completely efficient."

What is your principle here? Your entire essay can be contained within the sentence

"Trusting the available biblical texts profoundly affects our understanding of the world."

Or more specifically

"Lost, inerrant texts are important because they contribute accuracy to available, errant ones."

Subjective assignment of numerical values to intangibles is a clear demonstration of "justification by association". Your subjective numerical values accomodate your non-numerical personal values. They do not represent our shared reality which is subject to the laws of nature and the language of mathematical probability.

Physics is not metaphysics. Probability is not a values survey.

Your extreme desire to complicate the simple is understandable: The bland, sterilized, gutted Christianity of 2006 is *boring*. Can you imagine Jesus calling a convention of pastors a "generation of vipers" ("sons of female dogs")? Did you know that Paul did not actually write that "our righteousness is as filthy rags" but actually, literally, that "our righteousness is as 'feces' ".

So of course you're bored, your intellect is starving. The solution is not to reinforce the boredom through meaningless mental gymnastics. The solution is to find *real truth* and joyfully, reflexively love the God who loved con-man sex machines like Jacob and brats like Joseph, hookers like Tamar and Rahab. The God who commanded Hosea to marry a hooker, who commanded Isaiah to walk around Jerusalem naked for three years.

This is the God which modern Christianity hides from us, who is "made void by our traditions". As C.S. Lewis writes, "He's not a tame lion!" Recharge yourself by letting Him out of this sterile, stifling, contrived box and you'll find that writing like this (above) will give way to ecstatic sharing about the real Creator.

Posted by: Neal at August 21, 2006 12:22 PM

Just so you know, I linked to this post from my own blog as well as the above trackbacked post at Prosblogion. Your software throttled the second trackback, presumably because it was from the same server and had almost the same text.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at August 21, 2006 1:07 PM

Neal, you are make a lot of interesting remarks, but I would appreciate it if you explained your objections, and more importantly your reasoning for them, more clearly.

As I understand it, Kenny is making an ARGUMENT that the doctrine of inerrancy (that the original texts of the books in the Old and New Testaments were inerrant) still have a tangible, and actually very important, effect on our beliefs, even if we no longer have those texts. He is giving precise mathematical evidence in favor of this, which cannot be explained in pure English language without destroying its effect as the evidence.

You seem to claim that Kenny's assignments of numerical values are biased. I think that his assignments are very reasonable- he is giving probabilities to statements like: The Bible teaches X. We are X certain that this is included in what the authors wrote. Anyway, if you disagree with those numbers, fine, choose whatever ones you want. But, whatever numbers you pick (short of putting in a 0, saying that you are absolutely certain that X is not taught by the Bible or that you are absolutely certain that X is not part of what the original author wrote), you're going to find that the doctrine of inerrancy makes a significant difference in how certain you are in your beliefs. And that is Kenny's point- that the doctrine of inerrancy is important and relevant- and this math supports his argument.

Finally, Neal, just as one cannot place God in an intellectual box- and I clearly think that the evidence on this blog is sufficient to show that Kenny has not put God in a "sterile, stifling, contrived box" nor is he bored with Christianity- nor can one put God in a different box by saying that one shouldn't investigate questions like this intellecutally. One can't put God in a mere intellectual box, but neither can one keep Him out of intellectual inquiry. Answering questions like this is a way of reassuring doubting Christians and answering the challenges of athiests/agnostics- something that it is important for Christians to do. It cannot replace enthusiastically sharing the gospel, but it also cannot be neglected.

Posted by: Lauren at August 21, 2006 9:30 PM

Neal, Tamar wasn't a prostitute. She was pretending to be one so she could commit incest with her father. If you're going to define someone's very identity by their particular sin, you should at least get their sin right.

Second, there's a very strong likelihood that Gomer wasn't a prostitute either but was just a promiscuous woman. Again, there's a difference. Commentators disagree on this, but that very fact leads me to hesitate at calling her a prostituteb

Third, Isaiah almost certainly wasn't naked. He would have had undergarments on that cover far more than we have covered when we wear shorts in the summer. English translations don't do justice to what the Hebrew says, which is just that he was to go around without his normal outside clothes, which in the Hebrew mindset was still scandalous but was not indecent exposure as we conceive of it.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at August 21, 2006 10:50 PM


YOU ON KENNY- "...the doctrine of inerrancy (...) still have a tangible, and actually very important, effect on our beliefs, even if we no longer have those texts"

ME ON KENNY - ""Trusting the available biblical texts profoundly affects our understanding of the world. ... Lost, inerrant texts are important because they contribute accuracy to available, errant ones."

What are we disagreeing about?

"I think that his assignments are very reasonable."

But this is not mathematics, this is you agreeing with Kenny. No one asks if numerical data is "reasonable". You can ask if the *collection method* is reasonable. The collection method here is "Ask Kenny, he's the only one who can know."

Yes, this is probability. Probabilty is based on *past experience* - intimately linked to *previous measureable data*. There is NO objective data here. There is only Kenny's opinion. He's simply rating himself on a scale of 0 to 1.0 on his personal beliefs, then throwing them into some formulas and seeing what comes out.

"But, whatever numbers you pick (...), you're going to find that the doctrine of inerrancy makes a significant difference in how certain you are in your beliefs."

His calculus is not a one-to-one function, it's not even a defined number of inputs. There are an infinite number of domain sets which produce the same range. Furthmore, if your domain set is all 0.5 (you just don't know, that's why you're trying this approach), you won't know anything more when you finish than you did when you started. That's zero information gain. Asent singularities in the domain, this indicates a is transformation or a compression scheme which is infinitely lossy and irreversable. It doesn't indicate a function.

Inerrancy *of the original, lost texts* actually doesn't matter at all, because we have no access to them. We might as well argue whether a tree makes a sound when it falls in the forest and no one hears it.

"I clearly think that the evidence on this blog is sufficient to show that Kenny has not put God in a 'sterile, stifling, contrived box'"

He's not even arguing for inerrancy, he's arguing for the *importance of the question*. What could be more sterile than that? Do I actually need to put a percentage on "how important biblical inerrancy is to me"? Is my passion so contained that I let a mathematical formula choose what I want to study?

"One can't put God in a mere intellectual box, but neither can one keep Him out of intellectual inquiry."

I would never suggest or propose such a thing. My faith is grounded in the historical facts of the Resurrection - the result of pure intellectual inquiry of a very non-mathematical nature.

"Answering questions like this is a way of reassuring doubting Christians and answering the challenges of athiests/agnostics-"

I may step on some toes here, but the reason this is so unprofitable is that it's wrong. It uses probabilty as a cover for Kenny's personal value of lost, inerrant texts. There are two outcomes for this kind of work. 1) Serious examination reinforces the widespread belief that one must be inept or stupid to be a Christian. 2) Someone accepts Kenny's premise based on meaningless analysis. Neither is acceptable.

"something that it is important for Christians to do. It cannot replace enthusiastically sharing the gospel, but it also cannot be neglected."

To be fair, Kenny is definitely not sharing the Gospel here. He's trying to demonstrate why biblical inerrancy is important to *everyone* (not just him) because he can't accept the premises behind any of the normal arguments for inerrancy, but he still really wants to believe in it.

MY point was that there are other areas and methods of intellectual inquiry which will bring him more joy. I was genuinely hoping that some of my characterizations and translations would be more interesting to him than this kind of writing. You can see how far I got :)


First of all, it was her father-in-law, not her father. Definitely a faux-paus but not incest. Second of all...

"Pretending to be a prostitute". HA HA HA! This is AWESOME! It was okay because she was *only pretending*! Sure, she put on the clothes, set up her tent, waited by the side of the road, had sex with him, took payment in exchange, and got pregnant. She was so good at "pretending" that her target john didn't even *know* she was pretending! Imagine how much trouble this method could save *actual prostitutes*, or even honorable girls on prom night! Just pretend! Men can't tell the difference!

This is box-building of a very impressive quality.

As for Gomer, let's apply the same set of labels and corrections that you use in *every other situation in your life*. Otherwise you'd be a hypocrite, right? Let's imagine that your casual accquaintance has a girlfriend who cheats on him, and he calls her "that whore", "that hooker", or that "prostitute". Do you correct him? Do you tell your casual accquaintance that he is misusing a term and that she is actually "that tramp", "that slut" or "that doxy"?

No? So why are you doing it to me?

Because you're preserving the box you've built for God. Does it matter *in the least* whether she was a former prostitute and current adulteress, or that she was a former "fornicator" and current adulteress? No. God told Hosea to do something destable that brought him tremendous unhappiness, shame and problems - a lifetime of them. That is the point, the *only* point, of my characterization. It's a box-shattering point.

As for Isaiah, there is abosutely no dispute about the translation of Isaiah 20:4, and the phrase is "with bare buttocks". Did they wear thongs in Isaiah's time? Did the people see him as a man who was headed to the beach every day for three years? No. It was shocking to them, *that was the whole point*. If it wasn't shocking to them, there would have been no point. It was shameful, it indicated someone stripped of their public dignity, just like it does for a man today. In Victorian times, I guess he could have walked around with bare ankles and gotten the same effect - but these were not Victorian times. His butt was bare.

And really, if you've ever worn a loincloth, you know that you have to take it off for your butt to be truly bare. But I won't contest his complete nudity, the simple, undisputable fact of his bare bottom is enough to make my point.

You rob the text of any impact or meaning by putting God into your box. You pick at the word "naked" when it perfectly describes the skin of his hiney. God is not a Puritan. He sees us when we use the toilet and when we make love. He doesn't pretend those things don't happen. They each have a private place in our lives, but when God needs to make a point, he sometimes brings them out in public.

Do you understand that every patriarch down to Solomon had concubines? Do you know what a concubine is? It's a house prostitute. A "kept woman". She's clothed and fed and her children are cared for, because you like having sex with her. That's her job. Do you ever see one record anywhere in the bible of God reprimanding anyone for having even *one* concubine, much less several?

Notice that *every one* of your objections relates to sexual actions or displays. This is not a coincidence. You are forcing your inherited morals onto God. Do you imagine He will bless you for this?

I'll supply more examples on request, but you've already demonstrated my thesis - our inherited Puritan tradition "makes void the word of God".

Posted by: Neal at August 22, 2006 12:51 PM


First, all of your supposed objections to me actually addressing Jeremy's comment, so I'll let him answer them if he feels so inclined. Personally I feel that this discussion is irrelevant to the topic at hand.

Second, it is not my calculus, it is Bayes's calculus, and is used widely, as I said, in artificial intelligence and philosophy. People do find it compelling - people who are analytic philosophers. If you find that analytic philosophy is boring or doesn't bring you joy, allow me to suggest that you not read this blog. Meanwhile, I don't need you to tell me what brings me joy or enhances my spiritual life or anything of that sort. You have no access to my subjective experience. Furthermore, this blog is not about my personal spiritual experience. I would appreciate your not assuming that whatever is not found on this blog does not exist in my life. I prefer not to post items of a personal nature because this blog is intended for and available to the general public.

Finally, how do you know that I "can't accept the premises behind any of the normal arguments for inerrancy?" Does reading my blog for a week mean that you know more than I do about what I think and feel and believe? What are the 'normal arguments' for inerrancy anyway? No one who has every thought through the issue no matter how Evangelical they are believes the nonsense you are trying to attribute to the position of inerrancy. The only people who believe that one particular text is inerrant are the KJV-only fundamentalists, and they are few and far between. No Evangelical believes that his own interpretation is infallible (in fact, I'm pretty sure the only person in the world who believes his own interpretation is infallible is the Pope, and essentially every non-Catholic, whether Protestant or Orthodox, regards this as heresy). The nonsense you are trying to attribute to me is not only not my position, it's not even the standard Evangelical position! Next time you want to have a debate, let me suggest that you actually take the time to understand what your opponent is arguing for, and remember that he knows what he believes better than you do.

Posted by: Kenny at August 22, 2006 1:08 PM


1) You say: "Inerrancy *of the original, lost texts* actually doesn't matter at all, because we have no access to them. We might as well argue whether a tree makes a sound when it falls in the forest and no one hears it." This is the POINT of Kenny's argument- he disagrees with you on this. You have yet to provide a single shred of legitimate criticism to this point, whereas Kenny has provided a MATHEMATICAL argument, based on widely accepted Bayes's calculus, to the contrary, and all you do is continue to restate that it doesn't matter. Fine, if it doesn't matter to you, but if you want the rest of us to agree with you, you might want to actually provide a legitimate criticism or argument against Kenny, instead of continually repeating your position.

2) This is is painfully obvious in your comment: "His calculus is not a one-to-one function, it's not even a defined number of inputs. There are an infinite number of domain sets which produce the same range. Furthmore, if your domain set is all 0.5 (you just don't know, that's why you're trying this approach), you won't know anything more when you finish than you did when you started. That's zero information gain. Asent singularities in the domain, this indicates a is transformation or a compression scheme which is infinitely lossy and irreversable. It doesn't indicate a function."

Kenny is NOT arguing that you are going to gain more information, rather, that you can actually be reasonably certain in believing the information you have, (which you aren't at .5), which means that inerrancy is a relevant doctrine. When I (and Kenny) said "makes a significant difference in how certain you are in your beliefs", as anyone with a modicum of comprehension of statistics can tell you, DOES NOT mean going across the .5 threshold. It means, for a number greater than .5, approaching 1, and for a number less than .5, approaching 0 (by nontrivial amounts). Your criticism that no new information is gained is completely irrelevant to the point at hand.

While I am on the subject, as a math major, I can assure you that every statement you made above betrays a complete ignorance of everything relating to probability theory. Unless you understand a subject, please have the decency not to spout criticism of it. For the record, in probabilities, the domain (and range) for all functions is a subset of all numbers in the closed set from 0 to 1, and yes, the mathematical transformations Kenny used are functions in the proper mathematical definition. Indeed, I do not have the time review them at the moment, but I believe that they are even one-to-one. And, there are no singularities in either the domain or range of probabilistic functions- they are always in the closed range between 0 and 1. To risk stepping on your toes, I would recommend that you go study probability and them come back and speak intelligently.

3) He's arguing for the importance of inerrancy because YOU are arguing that it's irrelevant. You keep saying things like "Inerrancy *of the original, lost texts* actually doesn't matter at all, because we have no access to them"- in your comments to his other post. And since he disagreed with you there, he wrote an entire post in response to your statements there. So, if you think the question of inerrancy is sterile and not useful to address, then it was just as sterile for you to post about it on his previous post (that didn't even address the issue of inerrancy). You can't post an comment, and then when people disagree with you, criticize them for discussing a sterile issue, without being guilty of the same. And to answer your question: "What could be more sterile than this?"- at risk of stepping on your toes again, I would say trying to prevent someone from investigating and sharing that any part of Christianity is relevant is infinitely more sterile.

4) Furthermore, you criticize Kenny for arguing 'about putting a percentage on "how important biblical inerrancy is to him or to anyone else"'. If you understood anything about the mathematics, you would see that he is arguing that, for ANYONE that accepts Bayes's calculus as correct, Biblical inerrancy is a statistically important doctrine BECAUSE of the role it plays giving us certainty. NO WHERE does he put a SINGLE percentage on the importance of biblical inerrancy to anyone.

Your last comments to me indicate that you do understand this- in which case, you knowingly critizice Kenny for something you know is not the point of his argument- I hope this isn't that case.

5) Let me add a few more outcomes to your list. ("There are two outcomes for this kind of work. 1) Serious examination reinforces the widespread belief that one must be inept or stupid to be a Christian. 2) Someone accepts Kenny's premise based on meaningless analysis. Neither is acceptable.")
(3) Serious examination reinforces that Christians actually have well-founded basis for their beliefs. (This is the experience Kenny, myself, and many other Christians I know have had, far more than the number of people I know your #1 has happened to.)
(4) Someone accepts Kenny's CONCLUSION that the Bible is inerrant based on his REASONING, and thus believes in the Resurrection and other claims of Christ, and is saved.

Perhaps if you haven't had this experience, you should be sharing the gospel with a wider variety of people and respond to the struggles they have with coming to faith- not that I'm saying that you don't evangelize- I cannot know that- but that the fact that you do not recognize this possibility shows a lack of a certain type of experience, whic is related to your comment that it is "wrong" that this will help in debating with athiests. In fact you give reasons why it's unprofitable, presupposing that it is unprofitable. Maybe it is with the athiests you argue with- I don't know your experiences, but it could be that this will not be beneficial to you at all- but this doesn't mean that it won't be beneficial to ANYONE. This sort of argument has been profitable to me, at least, despite your claims to the contrary. And thus it is an acceptable post.

True, Kenny is not sharing the gospel here. But he is sharing tools that MIGHT POSSIBLY help people in sharing the gospel and responding to criticisms. I never said he was sharing the gospel, I said that he was doing something else that it is important to do. You seem to think that instead of doing this he should only be posting the gospel - in which case, who are you to critique what he decides to post about on his own blog? If you don't like the content, don't read it. You think that something else will bring him more joy (and if you think he neglects those things, you haven't been reading this blog for long), fine, say that without supportless babbling, and if he decides God is calling him to serve in this way, I'd suggest restricing yourself to well-thought out, reasoned and well-articulated criticism to his points.

Posted by: Lauren at August 22, 2006 10:57 PM

Kenny, the Catholic view is that the pope is infallible only in a very particular context, when he is speaking ex cathedra. They consider that to have happened only twice in history, both in the 20th century. One was with the assumption of Mary into heaven, and the other was with the immaculate conception of Mary. On nothing else do they consider the pope to be infallible. This is a small point and really irrelevant to what you're saying, but I've seen people say this about Catholics so often that I like to correct it whenever I see it.

Neal, please direct your responses to the person who made them. I am not Kenny. Also, Kenny is right that this is irrelevant to the issue. I just thought your statements were wildly inaccurate and ought therefore to be corrected. The fact that they are about sex (or nakedness, which is not about sex unless your fallen mind assumes it is) is not my doing. These were your examples, not mine. It's funny that you then use your examples as a means of pretending something about my motives (or rather about Kenny's, since you directed your response to him rather than me).

Now if you can show me some indication in the text of Genesis 38 that Tamar regularly engaged in the profession of prostitution rather than just seducing her father on this one occasion, then I will concede that she was a prostitute. As far as I can tell, she was wearing a prostitute's clothes in order to seduce her father. That is not prostitution. It is in fact masquerading as a prostitue.

As to the incest question, sex with one's father-in-law indeed counts. Check Leviticus 18:15. This exact relation was viewed as incest under the later Torah regulations, and there's no reason to think that it was only viewed as such after Moses.

With respect to your prom comments, I just have to conclude that you are an extremely bad reader. The alternative would be that you are just lying, and I think it's less bad to be a terrible reader than a liar. If I call something a sin, that means I think it's a sin. I have to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you somehow missed my calling it a sin, but the record speaks for itself. I did indeed call what she did a sin, and your whole rant about prom nights makes no sense in light of that.

As for Gomer, let's apply the same set of labels and corrections that you use in *every other situation in your life*. Otherwise you'd be a hypocrite, right? Let's imagine that your casual accquaintance has a girlfriend who cheats on him, and he calls her "that whore", "that hooker", or that "prostitute". Do you correct him? Do you tell your casual accquaintance that he is misusing a term and that she is actually "that tramp", "that slut" or "that doxy"?

I do indeed disapprove of that kind of language use. I'm not sure why you presume to know how I act in my daily life, but I have very little tolerance for misogyny. I don't use such vile language to define someone's identity by their sins even if I know for sure they have sinned in such a way and even if it is already publicly known. This is a sexist way to describe certain sins, because these are ways of reducing a woman or girl to her sins when there are no equivalent male terms for the same sins, with the same filthy connotations. So the mere use of them betrays a misgynist linguistic structure that I refuse to engage in. I will not use language in a way that in effect allows men to be adulterers or fornicators while shunning women who do the same thing, and I do express my disapproval of this sort of thing in ordinary conversations. Of course, it's rare that people I know would say such things, since it's incredibly impolite.

With Gomer, I have no problem with your main point. My problem is with your language and, ultimately, with the accuracy of the particular sin involved. Scholars dispute what the nature of her sin was. That was all I was mainly saying. Your choice of words was highly inappropriate in light of that.

I'm not saying that God doesn't expose certain things to make a point. At least something like that had to happen with Isaiah. I'm just saying that some scholars don't think Isaiah was naked, which is what you had claimed he was. John Oswalt, for instance, argues that he wore a loincloth, which now you seem to have gone back on your original statement to admit. Loincloths reveal much less than the G-strings worn on many beaches today. They include something like a more subnstantial G-string along with something hanging in front of it.

I've seen others argue that Isaiah would have retained his inner garment but not his loincloth and thus it would be more like wearing boxer shorts with no briefs under them. That makes some sense of the statement to remove the sackcloth from his loins along with the later implication that he was still wearing sackcloth in some way (because his nakedness and sackcloth should have mirrored the nakedness and sackcloth of the exiles). This is a disputed issue, and it's not clear to me that Isaiah would have been exposing his genitals to all who might see. The point seems to be that he would have been viewed as doing something culturally unacceptable, not that he would have been exposing his genitals in the way English translations often imply. You say that the fact of his bare butt would make your point. I have no trouble with any point that a bare butt would make. I'm just questioning whether it should accurately be translated as nakedness. You're acting as if I don't think Isaiah was doing something that would have been viewed as disgraceful, and I never suggested any such thing.

Have you not read the Kings account on Solomon? It most certainly reprimands him for his lack of complete devotion to YHWH, with the evidence of his many wives and concubines right at the top of the list. Deuteronomy 17 also says very clearly that the king should set an example to the people by reading the law every day, by not accumulating lots of horses, and by not taking many wives. Do you somehow think he could get around the spirit of the law by following it more technically and having many concubines instead? This all flies in the face of the two becoming one flesh in Genesis 2 anyway, which is indeed part of the Torah, as Jesus points out very clearly in the gospels.

Have you not read the Torah accounts of Abraham and Hagar? There's a clear implication in the text that Abraham sinned by going to Hagar to have a child. Every account of a multiple-wife situation in Genesis (and at the beginning of I Samuel while we're at it) has the same implication, demonstrating the consequences in fallen human relationships that competition among wives creates. With such a condemnation of polgeny with those who are actually called wives, I think a more hierarchical relationship of concubines is all the more ruled out.

Now since this is all completely irrelevant to the point of Kenny's post, I'm not sure it all needs to be pursued with respect to what he's saying. I just thought they were worth pointing out, since scholars do dispute several things you said, and then I thought I should have a chance to explain what I meant and respond to your misrepresentations. I'm not sure why you think any of this is at all relevant to Kenny's post, however.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at August 23, 2006 8:56 AM

As promised, regarding Bayes' theorem (although this is off topic, it may at least be helpful to have Bayes' theorem here since you didn't put it anywhere above):

Bayes' theorem is:

P(A|B):=Probability of A, given B
P(A): Probability of A (no information about B)
P(B): Probability of B (no information about A)

Viewed as a function of any single variable, it is both injective and bijective. For example, if you only allow P(A) to vary (thus treating P(A|B) as a function only of P(A)), then P(A1|B)=P(A2|B) implies P(A1)=P(A2), and P(A1)=P(A2) implies P(A1|B)=P(A2|B).

However, assuming that any two variables are set independently of one another, then it can also be viewed as a multivariable function- several "things" on the right side are allowed to vary. In which case, it is not injenctive, and therefore not bijective. Thus, for simplicity, let's say P(A) and P(B) are BOTH allowed to vary independently, but P(B|A) is not. Then, P(A1|B1)=P(A2|B2) does not imply that P(A1)=P(A2) and P(B1)=P(B2), and so it is not injective.

Now what about singularities? Well, we know that all probabilities MUST be between 0 and 1- but, one will criticize, there is a variable in the denominator. What if P(B)=0? The short answer is that the derivation of Bayes' theorem is invalid when P(B)=0.

Ok, so what about P(B) approaching 0? Doesn't the numerator necessarily approach infinity? No, because P(B|A)=P(B and A)/P(A), and substituting in gives us:
P(A|B)=P(B and A)/P(A)*P(A)/P(B)=P(B and A)/P(B).

If P(B) approaches 0, then P(B and A) also must approach 0, at least as fast. If they are independent, then P(A and B)=P(A)*P(B), in which case the P(B)'s cancel out and you get P(A|B)=P(A), within the [0,1]. Even if they are dependent, P(A and B)<P(B), and so they at least must approach 0 at the same rate. Thus, one must use L'Hopital's rule, and getting that as P(B) approaches 0, either P(A|B) approaches 0 or P(A) to a power, which since P(A)≤1, must also be ≤1. No singularities; everything is between 0 and 1.

Ok, I'm done being off topic now (sorry Kenny) but I wanted to address the mathematical issues Neal raised about singularities, since they could potentially cast doubt on the legitimacy of Bayes' theorem, if one thought one could get probabilities greater than 1.

Posted by: Lauren at August 23, 2006 12:15 PM

For some reason part of my comment got cutoff...Kenny, for some reason if I use the "less than" sign on my keyboard, your comment thing cuts off the rest of the sentence. I have no clue why. It does this on the preview thing too.

...Even if they are dependent, then P(A and B) still must be less than P(B), so as P(B) approaches 0, P(A and B) must approach 0 at least as fast. Thus, one must use L'Hopital's rule, and then one will get that P(A|B) approaches 0 or a power of P(A), which since P(A) is less than or equal to 1, P(A) to a power also must be less than or equal to one. No singularities, everything is in [0,1]- all is well.

Posted by: Lauren at August 23, 2006 12:27 PM

This is an HTML page, so the use of the greater then and less then signs are invalid, since that's how you make HTML tags. In order to use greater than and less than you have to use character references, which look like "&lt;" (that is, & followed by the character code, followed by ;). lt is the code for 'less than.' le will give you the less than or equal to sign: ≤. The complete list of valid character entity references is here. I'll fix your comment to use the valid character entity references.

Posted by: Kenny at August 23, 2006 1:28 PM

Kenny, someone just left an interesting comment on the Prosblogion post linking to this post. It's not about the Bayesian stuff, but it makes an interesting point.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at September 4, 2006 12:46 PM

What an ingenious application of Bayes' Theorem!

Another fine example of Bayesian thinking in a theological context is The Probability of God by Stephen Unwin.

Posted by: Glen Davis at September 17, 2006 5:23 PM

Hey Guys...Blessings

I have been trained that all canonised books of the Protestant Bible are all in inerrent and are the words of the Living God...nothing added or nothing less.However two verses recording seemingly the same accounts has two completely different ideas.

FIRST...2Sam 24:1.."Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Isreal ,and He moved David against them to say,Go number Israel and Judah."

SECOND...1Chron 21:8..."Now Satan stood against Israel,and moved David to number Israel.

I being a form of a biblical conservative would like to argue that it only means God allowed the devil to tempt in Job...but this isnt like in Job where I get the sense the devil/Satan/Accuser was the instigator....It says God's anger burned against Israel...That tells me God was the instigater according to the reading in the NKJV.However this goes against the word that states that God tempts no one....also the teaching that God will not partake in what He hates.

I am no great teacher or even student of a sort by just a christian that wants to interpret the Bible properly in an unbiased fashion .I have however heard that since the second writing (Chronicles) was done after that of Samuel and was done in a time when the Jews were very oppressed and were in a way forced to reconcile that their righteous God would not opress them himself but it had to be an evil adversary.Hence the more widespread doctrine of Satan was revealed and accepted.I refuse to think this came soley from Zoroastrian influence since there has been the idea of an Adversary in older Jewish writings.It however leads me to think ....If God inspired both writers and they obediently committed what God revealed without their reasonings...Why are the ideas so polarized and leaves us to summize?..Why is it that other instances before Babylonian captivity instances simular to this God was recorded as the one that directly placed evil spirit,harded hearts...etc to even go against himself and mention of him using the Accuser(satan)?.....omitting Job

I am not trying make a point but want to hear some views.

I believe that God did breathe on these words but I think its possible that just as how a prophet if not careful can filter the Word from the Lord through his own humanity and reasoning thus can a chronicler interpret God according to the ideas of his days.Or even that pre-revelation of the actual work of Satan writers would attribute all supernatural/metaphysical doing to God and not knowing that God is above all gods...and powers but might not be directly involved as stated.I may allow someone to strike me but it doesnt mean I orchastrated it.

This wouldnt mean that the bible isnt inerrent but rather need to be even more carefull about formulatting our ideas and doctrine from reading one part of writings and say "thus says the bible".This is done so much and folks are dogmatic because they say every single letter of the bible is inspired...Yeah even the poor English

If anyone can shed some light ..I would like to partake...Hey Kenny I guess you can see my email so you can send me some info....No spam doubt you would any way


Posted by: Dwayne at March 24, 2007 2:36 AM

Dwayne - I believe that these differences (cultural circumstances, opinions of the others, differing perspectives) are among the tools that God has used to reveal his word to us, and this is why we have differing accounts (the overlap between the Samuel/Kings sequence and Chronicles, the four Gospels). We are supposed to see these things from multiple perspectives. As far as this particular example, there are a number of OT verses about God sending an evil spirit, and Paul also says in 2 Corinthians that God sent him a "messenger of Satan" (2 Cor. 12:7). God also sent the Babylonians against Israel. So the two explanations don't seem to be contradictory, according to Scripture.

Posted by: Kenny at March 24, 2007 11:47 AM

Hey thanks Kenny...sorry for replying so late...What you explained opened a door of thinking to me which I notice many churches dont teach today.....We need to really pray that we dont accuse the Devil when its really the will of God to have something happen.


Posted by: Dwayne at June 19, 2007 12:05 PM

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