Friday, April 18, 2008

It Wasn't Sandbagging--Just Distortion

It seems that I have worn out my welcome at Dan Wallace’s Parchment and Pen blog. This is somewhat disappointing as I find textual criticism interesting and I generally found Dr. Wallace to be fair-minded and intellectually honest in dealing with questions and challenges. However, he did not appreciate the comments I made in response to Ed Komoszewski’s account of Wallace’s debate with Bart Ehrman at the Greer-Heard conference on April 4, 2008. After listening to tapes of the debate, I apologized for suggesting that Ehrman was sandbagged by Wallace. I do think that a couple of Wallace’s points were slightly off-topic, but these were a very small part of his presentation. They may have been somewhat irrelevant, but not particularly unfair. However, Komoszewski claimed that these points had completely refuted Ehrman’s entire thesis, which led me to believe that they had been the main focus of Wallace’s arguments. My opinions of Komoszewski are what drew Wallace’s ire.

Is anyone else as sick as me of Christian apologists who think that acknowledging their biases gives them free rein to play fast and loose with the facts? The following comes from Komoszewski’s comments on the final Q&A session of the conference:
First a questioner asked Ehrman about his text-critical method, noting that Ehrman seemed to always find the least orthodox readings and argue that they were the original readings. What Ehrman said was, frankly, unbelievable. He basically said that he would find the reading that he liked, and then find the evidence to support it! This sure sounded as though he was starting from his conclusions rather than beginning with a question. Not surprisingly, some folks audibly gasped at this response.
Wow! Ehrman must be a real jerk, right? Maybe he would be if Komoszewski were telling the truth.

Here is the question that was actually asked:

One of your critiques or comments to Dr. Parker was in terms of probability and that just raised the question in my mind as far as ascribing to a particular theory or method of textual criticism and one of the most difficult things I have in reading some of your works is finding a consistent theory and I was just wondering if you ascribe to a particular theory such as reasoned eclecticism because I guess I just don’t see a consistency in how you were dealing with that
issue methodologically.

Ehrman responded: “Yeah, the reason you don’t see a consistency is because usually the way I argue is I figure out what I think is right and then I argue for it.” The response I heard on the tape was laughter, not gasps. Ehrman went on to say that he considered himself a reasoned eclectic and explained what reasoned eclecticism meant and why its application did not produce the kind of consistency that other approaches might. Ehrman said absolutely nothing to suggest that that he reached his conclusion first and only looked for evidence afterwards. It was only after Ehrman’s initial response that the questioner noted that Ehrman had reached conclusions that other reasoned eclectics had not agreed with. Unfortunately, the questioner seemed to have moved away from the microphone and it was very hard to tell exactly what he said. Ehrman’s response was quite audible and it got another big laugh: “They’re just not reasoned enough.” Ehrman went on to explain that he believed that he was applying the same basic method as his mentor, Bruce Metger, although he noted differences in the way he applied it.

Anyone who has heard Ehrman answer questions will note that he often responds with some sort of quip before going into a more detailed explanation. Other examples from the conference include his first response to Wallace, “I didn’t realize we were talking about the textual reliability of Bart Ehrman.,” and his response to Dr. Dale Martin’s presentation in which he criticized some of Ehrman’s conclusions, “Dale and I used to be friends.” If his initial remark draws a laugh, then the odds are pretty good that he intended it, at least in some part, to be humorous. So it was horseshit for Komoszewski to take the remark as an admission (which it wasn’t in any case) that Ehrman reaches conclusions before looking at the evidence when Ehrman followed it up with an explanation of how he evaluates the evidence.

When I expressed my opinion of Komoszewski's account, Wallace came to his defense:
I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to call into question Ed’s integrity in his report. All you can report is what you heard in the audio; you cannot report what was seen, or heard in parts of the auditorium, because you weren’t there. Ed was there and I was there. Further, you didn’t mention the question that led up to this particular question. Maybe it was muffled in the audio, but it is what prompted the questioner to ask what he did.

From where I was standing, here’s what I saw and heard: When the man asked that question, it was a follow-up question on some of the kinds of text-critical decisions that Ehrman had made. Indeed, Ehrman even doubted having gone in one direction on a certain passage (John 1.1), and the previous questioner and I both reminded him of what he said in his Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. Now, I do not doubt Ehrman’s integrity in the matter; he simply didn’t remember what he had written. But he was essentially saying that he was open to the reading of Codex L in John 1.1 (which, with only one other 7th-8th century manuscript, has ‘the’ before ‘God’ in John 1.1c). This is what prompted the question about Ehrman’s method. Ehrman’s response then showed that he was outside the bounds of normal reasoned eclecticism in this matter and was approaching rigorous eclecticism—-a method that virtually rejects the testimony of the most important manuscripts and works things out on the basis of what a scribe would be likely to do and what the author would have been likely to do.

The questioner did not ask a follow-up question because he was allowed to ask only one question. When he asked the question, he turned and headed back toward his seat. When Ehrman made his response, I was stunned, the questioner was stunned (he quickly turned around and looked shocked!), and several people in the audience were stunned. There was indeed an audible gasp from many people, but this was probably drowned out by the laughter.

I will freely admit that I don’t know whether Ehrman’s eclecticism is reasoned or rigorous or what the difference is, but there is something I learned in the days when I was practicing law: Never rely on your memory if there is a tape! The tape makes clear that the question on methodology was not a follow up to the question on John 1:1. The question on methodology was asked first. Wallace simply remembered things in the wrong order because it helped him rationalize Komoszewski’s twisting of Ehrman’s quip.

“Of course, we’re ALL biased!” wrote Wallace. Yes Dan, we are. However, one of the ways we can control for those biases is by being meticulous about our facts. I would like to think that readers of this blog can tell that I dislike being surprised by facts of which I am not aware. If am going to charge a noted scholar with making an embarrassing admission, I go to the tape or the transcript to make sure that he really did make that admission. I don’t use acknowledgement of bias as an excuse for taking liberties with the facts.

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