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Subject: Re: Pelagius
From: Raimund Karl <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.
Date:Sun, 24 Oct 2004 22:02:36 +0100

text/plain (206 lines)

Hi Searles,

> Ray knows full well that I'm away from home right now and working on a
> contract that demands much of my time right now. I've told him this
> he has insisted on belaboring me regrading sources and evidence that
> already said I'd provide both on the list and via email.

Well, then why don't you wait with restating your claims until you are
at your sources? I'd have no problem with that. 
All I said is that, so far, what you've argued for is unlikely, and that
the evidence you have provided as yet is not sufficient to substantiate
your theory. Also, it is unlikely that quoting more from medieval
manuscripts will make your argument more likely, because medieval
manuscripts cannot be seen as an accurate independent source for
pre-medieval conditions. 

> I can only take so many licks from anyone's paint brush before I get
> upset.

Well, I'm sorry, but why then do you simply wait with answering?

> Just because something was thought to be correct in the past is no
> to consider the thought invalid in the present.

Of course not, and I never said anything like that. However, the
opposite is equally true, because something was thought to be correct in
the past is no reason  to consider the though valid in the present. 

And, specifically where the validity of early medieval Irish texts as
material describing prechristian Ireland is concerned, scholarly opinion
has changed from embracing the medieval texts as "windows on the Iron
Age" until about the 1950ies (even though, of course, Kenneth Jackson's
book by that title was published as late as 1964), to considering them
as creative writer's fictions based on many different strains of
tradition, moulded into a completely new, if you want "original",
blended tradition. Now, that doesn't mean that the texts are completely
useless for interpreting prechristian Irish society, but they also can
no longer be taken at face value, as accurate descriptions of the Iron
Age just because the texts say so. Rather, if one wants to claim
something as a prechristian tradition, one has to find other,
independent confirmation that makes it likely or even unavoidable that
something already existed in prechristian times. 
Druids, as a matter of fact, are a good example for such a case: There
is independent confirmation that druids, which fulfilled approximately
the functions described in the medieval Irish texts, did exist well
before any Christian influence, and therefore are also likely to have
actually existed in prechristian Ireland. But that does not mean that we
can simply project everything claimed about druids in early medieval
texts onto later Iron Age druids, because we must calculate for the
possibility that the functions and precise teachings of the druids did
change in the almost 600 years between their last mention as a more or
less organised group in Roman and Greek literature in the 1st century
AD, and their reappearance in the early Irish literature of the 7th
century AD. Even religions with written traditions do change
significantly within a 600 year period. As such, even though we can
demonstrate that "druidism" is a prechristian tradition which with very
high probability did exist in prechristian Ireland, we cannot be equally
convinced about detailed teachings, where they are mentioned in early
medieval texts alone.

> Facts and correct logic can do that but not opinion nor bias. I'd
> for better. Now I know. 

Well, I don't know what you know, but so far, I have argued based on
facts and evidence. Whether my logic is correct is not for me to judge. 
You, on the other hand, have not responded to my criticism of the
sources you seem still intend to use to prove your point, even though
they are discredited as prima facie evidence for the prechristian
period, because the arguments of McCone, O'Corrain, Breatnach etc. still
stand unchallenged. You also have not taken the evidence I presented
into account, like the lack of archaeological evidence supporting, and
as a matter of fact directly contradicting parts of your theory, the
absence of structures required for an organised formal schooling system
in the Iron Age archaeological record, and so on. Now, I know that they
say that one should never ever let the evidence get in the way of a good
theory, but then, one can't simply correct the facts that don't fit with
the theory, just because the logic of the theory is correct. Because it
is the facts that our theories should explain, not explain away.

> I don't think the enirety of the Lebor Gabála, the Book of Leinster,
> Annals of the Four Masters, Keatings History of Ireland, the Seancas
> The Book of Ballymote for a few are disproven by modern scholars or
> Ray thinks.

Well, I don't think that all these books are "disproven" at all. Only
their use as a "direct access" evidence describing Iron Age Ireland has
been disproven. All the original texts you mention are still very much
useable, but it has been proven that they <emphasis> do not accurately
depict prechristian Irish history, society, immaterial or material
culture, and geneaology <end emphasis>. 
What this means is that arguments saying "but the Táin states" or "but
it is written in the Annals of the Four Masters" or "as stated in the
Senchas Már" followed by a direct quote from the respective text, to
prove a point about prechristian Ireland, are no longer valid as an
argument. One can still use these texts, and much contained in them
actually is useful for interpreting prechristian Ireland, but arguments
now must <emphasis> interpret the early medieval texts in an explanatory
context <end emphasis>, rather than been taken at face value. 
This is very much like one can't argue in academic discussions about
earth's history that the earth was created by god 6500 or so years ago
because the bible says so, and with this assume to have proven one's
point. Now, that doesn't mean that the bible has been proven wrong in
all it says, it only means that you can't use the fact that "the bible
says so" as a valid academic argument. If you want to argue that the
earth was created some 6500 or so years ago by god in an academic debate
nowadays, you will have to present some other form of independent proof
that makes your theory likely, like actual geological facts,
palaeontological facts, you would have to show why 14C and other forms
of absolute dating are wrong, and so on. Unless you do, the argument "it
is this way because the bible says so" is something you can believe in
as a religion, but it is not an academically established, scholarly
Very much the same applies for much of the texts you mention. Whatever
they state, that they state something as "fact" does not, in itself,
prove that the statement is actually true and accurate (in other words,
does not in itself prove that the fact is actually a fact, not just
fiction pretending to be fact).

> I also don't think that much of what has been presented here has
> considered all of the evidence, much less the possibilities.

Well, at least it has considered more evidence than just the statements
of medieval texts. Where my argument is concerned, I did consider
linguistic evidence, historical evidence, archaeological evidence and
the literary tradition you want to accept at face value. This is a
reasonably broad approach to the matter, and by any means a lot broader
than yours, at least so far. Also, the range of textual evidence I
considered so far is much wider than yours.
Which leaves us with the possibilities. I absolutely agree that I may
not have considered all possibilities. But we are still talking about
the evidence, don't we? Not about what could have been if we would have
different evidence that would show something different from what the
evidence currently available to us does, or don't we? At least, we are
not going to pass off such possibilities, that could be true if we only
had different evidence, as fact, as proof for the existence of something
that we actually have no evidence to proof.

> Modern scholarship is not foreign to me even when it is being biased.

All scholarship is necessarily biased. That goes for modern as well as
all other scholarship, because scholars are humans, and humans are
biased. Necessarily, everyone is, because every human is a subject with
different experiences, different education, different life histories,
different fears and wishes, and his or her very own agenda. Which is why
scholarship usually tries to stay as close as anyhow possible to the
available evidence.

> I read a lot and am very involved in such things. This doesn't mean I
> throw the baby out with the bath water, especially when there is a new
> or trend in the streams and waves of academia.

But the scholarship of the past 50 years or so hardly is a new fad, or
just a short-time trend in academia, which will go away and everything
will return to what has been before. The past 50 years of scholarship
have profoundly changed our views of the past as we perceive it and can
reconstruct it, and that in a way that will only go away if it is lost
due to ignorance. As a matter of fact, it will only go away if belief is
going to replace inquisition in academia. Which is unlikely to happen
any time soon, and unlikely to produce anything that is better than
medieval dogmatism. But that, then, would be theology again, rather than
science, belief rather than knowledge.

> The isolated points of view of the particular discussion in question
> present the opportunity for a fair and fruitfull discussion of the
> IMO.

Well, you are entitled to your opinion, but I fail to see where
questioning the validity of your sources and arguments and pointing out
where your theory fails to explain the evidence is unfair and prohibits
fruitful discussion. Quite on the contrary does exactly this approach
allow for fair and fruitful discussion, by removing the incomplete or
unsatisfactory theories and leaving those that are able to explain the
full set of evidence.

> I'll most probably just put my thoughts., ideas, theories, points,
> and information into a paper on the subject which I'll post on my

Well, that is always a possibility, and please, by all means, make use
of that opportunity. But don't think that by avoiding to face up to the
actual holes in your theory by evading scrutiny by no longer discussing
it here will make your theory better, will not allow you to improve your
knowledge, only keep your beliefs intact. If that is what you want,
please, go ahead!

All the best,


Mag.Dr. Raimund KARL (MIFA)
University of Wales Bangor, Dept. of History and Welsh History
Ogwen Building, Siliwen Road, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DG
Email: [log in to unmask] or [log in to unmask]
Mobile: (+44 7970) 993891
Tel/AM/Fax: (+44 1248) 353138

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