Monday, November 24, 2014
[Links to my books The Ghost in the Gospels and True Jew, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, are at the right.]
Last month, in the post immediately below this, I recounted an episode of It Takes A Thief from around 1970, which made a very good point about scientific method. This time, I will go back ten years earlier to circa 1959 for an episode of Fathers Knows Best that shared another great insight about the way science works.
Jim Anderson is an insurance salesman and he proudly announces one day to his family that he is going to be interviewed by a reporter for a feature article in the monthly insurance magazine. They are not particularly impressed. Not his wife, nor his children. The kids moreover are annoyed that they will have to stay home on Saturday to meet the reporter who wants to interview them all.
If I recall, when the reporter arrives, he explains to Jim that he has a theory that in order to be a good insurance salesman, the man must have a family that is very supportive and organized. As it turns out, everything soon goes south. The two older kids, Betty and Bud, have prior commitments and are running off to see their friends. Even wife Margaret who hardly ever leaves the house has to see a neighbor about something. Jim gets a call which reminds him that he had a golf date right now with a client. The reporter is left alone with little Kathy and soon she has to leave to take care of the cat.
Here is the part that gets me: The reporter returns to his hotel room and calls his editor. He tells him that the theory he was hoping to justify is all wrong. There is nothing organized, unified, or very supporting about this family. The editor says they will just have to cancel the article and tells the reporter to return to the office. Then the reporter says something like this: Wait a second. Not so fast. So my original theory is wrong. But what do we know? Let’s go back to the facts. We know Jim Anderson is a good salesman. There still might be something that will explain why he is so good, and if I go back and observe more carefully, I just might see it.
I did not put that in quotation marks because I would not swear those were the exact words, but that was certainly the gist of it. If the facts contradict a theory, then let’s go back to the drawing board. Let us more carefully observe what the facts are in this situation and see if we can formulate a new theory that will better account for the observations. (By the way, when the reporter does go back, he finds that, in a crisis, this family will all pitch in together to help out whoever is in a jam.)
That is good science. And a TV comedy was telling us this in 1959. If the facts do not support that there was a hostile judicial procedure against Jesus, then let’s go back to the drawing board. If the Gospel evidence does not clearly tell the story of Judas as a traitor (because almost all the clues are so ambiguous), then let’s drop that theory, pay careful attention to the ambiguities, and see if a better theory will respond to this evidence.
This is science. It’s not rocket science, but it is science and it’s not that hard to do—provided you can take the very first step which is to acknowledge that some very deep prejudices had us all fixated on inadequate theories; the only thing going for them was that they had been asserted for a very long time. Time cannot turn a falsehood, no matter how popular, into a truth. If something makes no sense, it makes no sense no matter how often it is repeated.
Or as the medical examiner says on this week’s episode of NCIS: New Orleans, “When the dead have something to say, not even time will shut them up.”
© 2014 Leon Zitzer