RE: Improbable Probability Statements

From: Clayton Bartholomew (
Date: Fri May 23 1997 - 08:50:52 EDT

RE: Improbable Probability Statements

Jim Beale's response is very lucid and shows the workings of a well
trained and orderly mind. However, the underlying theme of his
position is one which I think has problems. A single sentence will
suffice to illustrate:

Jim wrote:
Surface irregularities do not negate the existence of a perfectly
orderly, rational, deep structure.

Are natural languages *perfectly orderly, rational?* This sounds to me
like 19th century science, which was convinced that under all the
apparent complexity is a *perfectly orderly, rational* world which
requires nothing but cautious observation to explain. I have
reservations about this.

I am not arguing for chaos. In fact I think the term *Chaos* as it is
currently used by the Chaos Cult is a loaded word. The class of
phenomena which are being called *Chaos* are really *complex systems.*
There is order there, but order of a complexity that it does not
appear to the casual empiricist.

I am suggesting that NT Greek and all natural languages are like
*complex systems.* Complex systems are difficult to model. They behave
according to rules, but all the rules are not currently understood.
*Complex Systems* are modeled with high level mathematics (certainly
not my forte). But for those who cannot do this kind of work, models
can be built using metaphors to help us guess more accurately at what
is taking place.

Now I am assuming that when Jim says * a perfectly orderly, rational,
deep structure* this is not the kind of thing he is talking about. I
am assuming that Jim thinks that the *perfectly orderly, rational*
aspect of language is observable using traditional methods of
empiricism. This notion is what I think has serious problems.

For the purpose of translation and exegesis of biblical Greek, I think
that a certain tolerance of indeterminacy needs to be cultivated. One
analogy I use to help me with this is borrowed from electronics.
Analog circuits have signals and they have noise. If the signal to
noise ratio is high enough there is no problem in understanding the
signal. Indeterminacy in language is *like* (not equal to, but like)
noise. We can read and understand the NT and LXX because the signal is
strong and the noise is weak.

Now the *Complex Systems/Chaos* people have come along and told us
that noise has structure, meaningful structure, if we can only decode
it. This kind of thinking may be fruitful in building a better
language model but it is going to be a technical business and few of
us liberal arts types will be competent to participate.

Clay Bartholomew
Three Tree Point

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