Critical Analysis 101

I gave into temptation and scanned today’s headlines, only to see this API piece on MSNBC, Ancient scroll may yield religious secrets. “Experts” (a more specific version of they), are working on a high-tech digital analysis of the Derveni papyrus, a mid-4th century BC scroll, believed to be Europe’s oldest surviving book. It was, as are most API articles, poorly researched and written. However, it proves excellent material for a post on critical analysis.

The papyrus in question is described as “a philosophical treatise on ancient religion,” and focuses on Orpheus, a mythical master musician, who is blamed for many things, including inspiring various mystical cults, including one who apparently believed in one creator god.

According to the API, some archeologists believe this “may hold a key to understanding early monotheistic beliefs,” as they believe that this cult inspired or influenced “later” religions like Judaism, Islam & Christianity.

Greek philosophy expert Apostolos Pierris is quoted as saying, “In a way, it was a precursor of Christianity; Orphism believed that man’s salvation depended on his knowledge of the truth.” Archaeologist Polyxeni Veleni said that it “will help show the influence of Orphism on later monotheistic religions.”

Now, if you’re like most people, you will immediately be impressed by these statements, especially since “experts” and “archeologists” say they’re true. Anyone who’s read popular fiction knows that archeologists are incredibly sound logicians. And, no doubt thousands of Evangelicals are now worried about what this could mean to their faith, and Dan Brown is planning a new novel.

So, here’s a quick “Intro to Critical Thinking” lesson to help interpret this ground-breaking bit of journalism:

These people – experts, archeologists & journalists alike – are making one of the most obvious and basic errors in logic imaginable. They should, if there is any justice in the world, be held up for public ridicule for making such utterly stupic statements.

The logical fallacy is known as cum hoc ergo propter hoc or more simply, “false cause,” and is simply this: you cannot assume, just because two things appear related, that one causes the other. For that matter, you can’t even claim that there is a common cause. The fact that one writing predates another doesn’t mean anything (just ask Dan Brown).

Here’s an alternative theory: Presuming that Genesis presents a fairly accurate historical record (and archeology has confirmed or at least supports many of the Biblical stories), the story of the One God was not unique to Abraham and his followers. Others at the Tower of Babel left with the same history. Some lost it, but occasionally – as there are creator and flood stories in many cultures – it remained, to some extent. I tend to buy that one, being the presuppositionalist thinker that I am.

One can also bring up what is known as the ontological argument, which says essentially that man could not concieve of a being greater than himself; therefore, any concept of a creator-god must be based on truth. Or, you could believe Paul in Romans 1, where he says that “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.”

I buy that one, too.

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