Posted: Apr 23, 2017 7:13 pm
by PensivePenny
John Platko wrote:
PensivePenny wrote:John, the itemized response is appreciated. I think you've given me a fair grasp of your position. I won't respond in like kind for brevity and only because I accept most everything you've written. Nothing unreasonable.

I will however respond to a few of the points. If I fail to respond to something in you're particularly interested in hearing, let me know.

Alright, so we can agree that "something" can be learned from human behavior based on how people react to a story. For that matter, we can add to a "story", a sneeze, a crying infant, a Mormon evangelist knocking on the door, or the pizza delivery arriving late. All those are opportunities to learn about human behavior.


Yes, one can learn from all of those situations. The crying infant is an interesting case. But that's perhaps another story for another day.


Personally, I don't see much to be learned from it that can't be learned in about a minute. That is an exaggeration. Some might find it more interesting topic than others, but I seriously doubt there is much value to be gained. But, say I'm wrong. For example, tell me what you think the lesson is that people believe in a virgin birth?


I think just about every kind of human interaction one could have is to be found in the four gospels and the way people deal with them. And it's helpful that there are four versions of the same story. The virgin birth wouldn't be my choice of where to start sussing out what we can from the story but, since you've been so polite in your responses I will honor your request.

You've given me no reason to be impolite. We obviously have differing opinions and views. That doesn't mean we can't benefit from a conversation. If anything, there's little to gain from a conversation where there is little disagreement.

The bullet points of the virgin birth story are:

Mary, a young girl, was engaged to Joseph
Before the wedding Mary was found to be pregnant
Joseph didn't want to disgrace her so he decided to quietly remove himself from the situation
But Joe had a dream where an angel appeared to him and the angel told him no need for that the baby is holy.
When he woke up he followed the message from his dream and took Mary as his wife and accepted the baby as his own.

There's a bit more to the story but lets just see what we might learn from that part - which is plenty to chew on.

So we have an unwed mother - and the fiancé doesn't seem to think he's responsible. :no:
He's a good guy, he doesn't want to get her in more trouble, he's thinking, "I'll quietly slip out the back door". - like a lot of us might.
But then he has a dream - now that's interesting. But can we learn anything from a dream? Some say :no: some say obviously :nod:, dreams give us a window into our unconscious processes - albeit an imperfect and often irrational window. And what does Joe learn from the dream? He learns that Mary and her baby aren't tainted, they're holy - there's no reason from him to abandon her. That's not what the God of Joseph's unconscious imagination (the part of Joe that created the dream) thought was right.
And Joe had the courage and wisdom to follow up on these ideas that were created deep within himself - with high expectations of who this child could grow up to be, what he could accomplish - in spite of what others might say about these "questionable" circumstances.

Which I could say more about but perhaps that's enough for now. From this story we can learn something we're talking a lot about in a thread on free will - why we should be more compassionate and loving to others because they are not in control of all that they do and that happens to them. :no: And Joseph modeled that behavior because he was trying, as much as he could, to be the best person he could be.

Again, there's more to be learned from this story but that's a start. For example how people deal with the "questionable' birth circumstances. It's almost like they had their very own Sean Spicer shouting out: "Joseph believed she was a holy virgin - period.
Why does that sort of thing happen? What can we learn from that?

Okay... trying to think how I might approach this. I hope you'll grant me a tiny bit of latitude.

I accept your "bullet points" of the story of the virgin birth as hitting most of the important points. Your summation that follows it is very close to an objective accounting (of the story). Obviously where many would disagree with you (and why I say your account is "objective), again no surprise to you, is that the angel was real and the dream was induced directly by God the Creator through that angel. Well, that is one of many possible interpretations. Point is, you are doing a bit of interpreting. Nothing wrong with that, I'm only pointing out that subjectivity is required. Once that happens, all manner of divergent interpretations emerge, nearly unique to the number of believers. IF, big IF, the interpretation is an accurate account, then what derives from that can be no more accurate. In other words, your interpretation is only true, if it's true. What might be learned from that story about human nature is only possible if it IS true. Otherwise, it is fiction and may not be human nature at all, rather only the musings of an author with an imagination. I can't accept that a story tells us ANYTHING about human nature if humans never behaved that way. It isn't evidence to me.

However, my question wasn't what the story told us about human behavior. I took your previous posts to mean we could learn about human behavior by witnessing, with our own eyes, how people reacted to the story. I grant you there is much to learn in such a case. I was just curious what YOU thought could be learned by those personal observations. If I didn't make that clear earlier, I apologize.



"Flimsy" was a poor word choice. My comparison of Hamlet and the bible was merely to suggest that any value gained in learning human behavior would be more or less equal, of only modest value, and in the end so subjective as to further reduce it's value. The "flimsy" was just meant to say that if one wants to learn about human behavior there are far better ways that are more scientifically valuable and more objective.


Such as? I find our knowledge of human behavior in 2017 to be pretty flimsy. I know of no psychological system that can really sus out what's afoot at the psychological extremes. There's a reason they call psychology, and anthropology soft sciences.



"Such as?" First, I agree with the soft science remark. It is highly subjective, even under the best circumstances, in clinical settings, studying human behavior in the most stringent double blind studies. How the data is interpreted can lead to all kinds of inaccurate thinking. I hardly think there is an equivalency in analyzable data in a story written two millennia ago, which may or may not be fictional, chock full of all manner of incredulous disregard of the laws of physics. Is there something the bible can tell us about human nature? Okay, some modest bits, perhaps... highly subjective. Nothing on the order of Prison Simulation Experiment for example.

I don't understand why you'd think anything I said in the post you referenced was "unfair." I think I was perfectly fair and reasonable, but will entertain your opposition. Is it because I (paraphrased) said the bible is fiction?


I don't have a problem with parts of the Bible being called works of fiction - for many parts that's a perfectly reasonable description.

Ah. But, which parts!? This is where the disagreement really begins in "interpretation." One has to decide what is real, fiction, or parable based pretty much solely on other parts of the bible which are likewise subject to real, fiction or parable. Uncertainty supported by uncertainty. At some point, some basic interpretations MUST be assumed because there is no concrete objective truth on which to build.

But given that the majority of scholars assess Jesus to have been a historical figure, it's unfair to evaluate that story as a work of fiction- I think calling it a noisy (heavily corrupted) historical account is closer to the truth - at least that's how I approach it. And I give that sort of thing a little more weight than a work of fiction, especially one produced by a single author. But in the end, it's the explanatory value of either story that matters to us today. But I feel more sympathy for an actual person who actually lived who was a good guy unjustly killed than I do for a fictitious character.



I can appreciate that. When I watch or read a story, I want to know how closely it aligns with reality. It is far easier to relate to the characters if they actually existed.

I'm not one of those people who think the bible must be ALL true or ALL false. Whether Jesus lived or not is of little relevance, imo. However, the evidence is equally compelling that Jesus didn't live as it is that he did.


That's not the general assessment of the scholarly community.



When I said "compelling evidence," I meant compelling to me. I am no scholar, biblical or otherwise.

That being said, one of my favorite shows on TV right now is Black Sails. If you aren't familiar with it, it's a period piece from the 17th century about the waning years of the golden age of piracy in the Caribbean and Bahama region. It is chock full of historical figures. A fair accounting of them is done. BUT, there are also several fictional characters stolen from other works of fiction like Treasure Island. Once these elements are introduced into a story, it becomes fiction. When a fictional character and a non-fiction character interact, what exactly is that supposed to achieve? Besides entertainment? This kind of fiction is commonplace and has been probably since the beginning of the written alphabet... it is a genre all unto itself, known as "Historical Fiction." The bible falls into that genre. I do hope you agree with that. Whether this or that character actually existed is irrelevant. We already agree that at least some parts are fictional (supernatural stuff, you said), so the source (the bible) is a discredited witness. That doesn't mean that it is all fabricated, but enough is known to be fabricated that it ALL must be suspect.

<ETA: So much for "brevity." Sorry about that.>


Knowing actual history is difficult. My wife and I often disagree about what happened the day before. Once in a while I'm even shown to be wrong about what I think happened. ;) We don't have to have a perfect account of what happened to learn important things form history.

We're in agreement on the first part. While I can partially agree in principle with the last sentence, it does get pretty complicated. What are we calling "history?" Is it the stories we tell our children? Or the reality? If some unnamed drunkard penned the US Declaration of Independence on the purloined apron of some bar wench an hour before last call and the whole story about Adams and Jefferson and the Continental Congress is a fabrication, then "history" is just a fabrication. Are we really learning anything? Or are we just fueling some feeling, satisfying some missing emotional need? If a drunk nobody wrote the Declaration, the reality would fill us with disappointment. The lie would fill us with joy, pride, patriotism... To me, what I would learn about human nature wouldn't come from the story, rather the willingness of human nature to satisfy emotions at the expense of reality. Choosing fantasy over reality really does tell us a great deal about human nature. I'm just not sure what it tells us or how useful it really is. The scorpion stings the frog. Quelle suprise.
The fact that the Jesus story had such legs through history is something that I think needs explaining. Why? What is it about that story? I think it reaches something deep inside of people and even though they might not be able to articulate why, they feel there's something important there. To me, it's a revelation of human dynamics and psychological processes. Maybe someday neurology will have better explanations and ways of explaining human behavior - but not today.

We don't need to go back 2000 years for this. There are plenty of examples of it today, happening in real time. How did trump get elected? What has compelled so many to follow him? He's created a movement that defies logic. I don't get it. Does it tell us anything about human nature? Sure. I'm not sure what exactly. Lots of people try to explain how he was elected and none of them have the definitive explanation... and we don't have the handicap of having to go back to a time when relatively little of history was being documented, whereby to collect anywhere near the data we can on the trump election. I don't disagree we can learn something from history. But I think in the end, we learn less about human nature from history, and significantly more about our own personal nature in our own response to it.