Saturday, September 29, 2012

Was Jesus Married?

The New York Times, as well as many other media, recently reported the discovery of a purported fragment of Coptic text written on papyrus which is said to contain words indicating that Jesus had a wife.  The scholar who presented the data, Dr. Karen L. King, is the current Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard, the oldest endowed chair in the United States.  Dr. King is obviously no slouch!

The report of her finding went on to indicate the doubts that Dr. King had about the text's provenance and the steps she was taking to document its veracity.  She is awaiting analysis of the papyrus itself as well as determinants of the age of the ink that was used.  The fragment is tiny and incomplete.  Dr. King is, then, very aware of the science required to support the authenticity of the fragment and admits that until all the evidence is in, uncertainty must prevail.

But today the New York Times reports that the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, in an editorial, "dismissed the papyrus as an 'inept forgery'........'In any case, a fake.'"

The Vatican has undertaken a rush to judgment - not interested in awaiting evidence that Dr. King may present in the future - evidence that may either support or deny her finding.

Therein lies the vast abyss between the science of great scholars and the rushed, prejudicial conclusions of others.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Facts V. Rigid Views

Cass Sunstein in his New York Times Op-Ed article (September 18) argues that "hearing both sides of an argument doesn't soften those with rigid views."  The piece echoes surprise at that conclusion.  I am not at all surprised. 

In a room of rational thinkers, incontrovertible facts are undeniable.   If it is, in fact, incontrovertibly true that homosexuality is a result of a genetic difference among individuals, one cannot rationally argue otherwise.  This, of course, does not guarantee that the homophobic of the world will change its point of view - after all the opposition is most likely secondary to a a very deep-seated emotional, religious or "ethical" issue.  They would argue that many forms of behavior may have a genetic origin, but that does not make them acceptable to society.  For example, if child molesters were all found to have a gene that carries responsibility for this behavior, most of us would still view it as an aberration deserving some form of separation from society.  

If you believe that a fertilized egg contains the DNA that identifies it as a human being at the moment of conception, there is no argument, not matter how fact-filled, that will change your mind.  Once a product of conception is classified as a human being, equal in rights to a post-natal human being, then no incontrovertible facts, such as those representing rape, incest, maternal poverty, or the presence of significant pre-birth physical abnormalities, etc., will change your mind.  It is a deep-seated emotional,  religious or "ethical" view that cannot be altered with so-called "facts," as incontrovertible as they may be.  

One cannot argue with incontrovertible facts.  But certain such facts exist on another level. When I aver that 2+2=4, anyone arguing otherwise is irrational.  If one believes otherwise, stop trying to convince him of the facts - he exists in some other time and space and needs help.  When I aver that the Holocaust is a historical certainty, arguing otherwise is irrational.  If one believes otherwise, stop trying to convince him of the facts  - he exists in some other time and space and needs help. There are no emotional, religious, or "ethical" issues that may be regarded as acceptable given the veracity of these facts.

Incontrovertible facts must be accepted.  By definition, they cannot be denied.  They may not lead individuals to change their minds about deep-seated religious or "moral" feelings.  In divisive matters such as same-sex marriage, abortion, this can be understood.  

Individuals, on the other hand, that are in denial about the absolute evidence provided by mathematics or history, are delusional.