In an attempt to counteract my brain’s powerful cognitive biases, I’ve made a habit of tracking all the things I’ve been wrong about, and all the intellectual mistakes I’ve made. I’d like to share some recent ones with you, so that I can correct some mistaken things I’ve written on this blog.
One. In my interview for the Oklahoma Atheists Godcast, I said that Daniel Dennett attacked a straw man by critiquing a version of the cosmological argument that no theologian I know of has ever defended. Now I think it’s better to say that Dennett was really presenting an argument as it often occurs over dinner between non-scholars, and showing that everyday religious arguments can quickly raise obscure issues about which none of us should be confident. So I no longer think it’s fair to say Dennett attacked a straw man in his one-paragraph discussion of the cosmological argument in Breaking the Spell. Thanks to John D for pointing this out.
Two. In the same interview, I said that Bart Ehrman in Misquoting Jesus badly misrepresented the level of confidence we can have in the text of the new testament, because he did not explain that the number of manuscripts we have is a blessing not a curse. The only reason we can reconstruct the New Testament so accurately is because we have so many variants, and we can track the corruptions as they occurred. Since then, someone pointed me to a paragraph on page 87 of Misquoting Jesus, where Ehrman writes:
…one would expect to find a multitude of textual variants whenever one uncovers a large number of manuscripts. If there were only one manuscript of a work, there would be no textual variants. Once a second manuscript is located, however, it will differ from the first in a number of places. This is not a bad thing, however, as a number of these variant readings will show where the first manuscript has preserved an error. Add a third manuscript, and you will find additional variant readings, but also additional places, as a result, where the original text is preserved (i.e., where the first two manuscripts agree in an error). And so it goes—the more manuscripts one discovers, the more the variant readings; but also the more the likelihood that somewhere among those variant readings one will be able to uncover the original text. Therefore, the thirty thousand variants uncovered by [John] Mill do not detract from the integrity of the New Testament; they simply provide the data that scholars need to work on to establish the text, a text that is more amply documented than any other from the ancient world.
So I was wrong about that, because Ehrman does make this point right here on page 87. My greater complaints about Ehrman’s conclusions in his final chapter, though, remain standing.
Three. In that same interview, I said that Erik Wielenberg had shown that Richard Dawkins’ main argument against God failed to attack the God of classical theism because God was defined as necessary. Though this may be a valid complaint, Wielenberg’s actual point was that Dawkins seemed to argue against a God who came into existence, but of course God is not thought of as a being that came into existence – whether because he is necessary or merely eternal. So I slightly misrepresented Wielenberg’s argument. Thanks to reader TaiChi for pointing this out.
That’s all for now.
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