Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Let's get "real" about the Synoptic Poll

I must respond to Mark Goodacre's interpretation of the Synoptic Poll blog. He writes:

"Brandon's poll provides a nice snapshot of what some people think about the Synoptic Problem at the moment, and several comments on the poll provide interesting perspectives on some current thinking about the question...the poll reflects some movement away from the confidence in the Two-Source Theory that characterized previous generations of scholarship."
It does?

Let's get real about this poll. It is not a scientific poll. Any introduction to psychology or sociology book or class tells us that for a poll to mean anything it must be carefully controlled and executed.

Brandon's poll is neither.

The audience is who? What percent of people who took the poll even knew what all the different answers were? How many just guessed for the fun of it? What percent of people who took the poll were even in the Academy? How many people voted more than once? How many people who voted have taken a course in Biblical Studies, exposing them to all the alternatives? I could go on and on.

What external factors influenced voters? Perhaps Mark's comment at the beginning of the voting process that everyone should vote for the Farrer hypothesis influenced more than a few voters? Perhaps the fact that the voters could view the tallies before they voted influenced their votes - the bandwagon effect? Perhaps those who didn't know what Q is, but saw Augustine's name, thought, hey, I know he is saint, so he must have been right? Perhaps the ordering of the alternatives influenced voters? I could go on and on.

So I take back my earlier remark that this poll can tell us what bloggers think. This poll can't tell us anything because it was not done in a controlled environment with a specific audience and question in mind. If you want to know what the Academy thinks about this, you have to poll the Academy with a controlled poll. If you want to know what Bibliobloggers think, then you have to poll them and only them with a controlled poll. If you want to know what any bloggers think, then you have to poll only that group with a controlled poll.

So counter what Mark Goodacre says, this poll says nothing about advances in the Academy in terms of less confidence in the Q hypothesis. I reiterate that Q is still the reigning hypothesis in the Academy, and I don't see it going away any time soon.

Books questioning Q have been published since its postulation over a century ago, and recently again as a critique of the Q project and its enormous critical edition. But this doesn't suggest that Q is on the decline. It suggests only that scholars are continuing to work on the Synoptic Problem, as well we should.

Update 6-6-07
See Mark Goodacre's response
Jim West's reaction
Loren Rossen's view


Phil Snider said...

Well, it is a blogger poll, so, by nature, not scientific or indicative of anything else than the reaction of the bloggers who have written in. Given that bloggers have a wide range of knowledge, training etc, I wonder it it tells us anything but.

Yet, was this every intended as an indication of what the Academy thinks?


April DeConick said...


Not sure what the intent was, but all kinds of questionable conclusions are being drawn about the results on various websites.

Mark Goodacre said...


Thanks for that. Sorry to hear that questionable conclusions are being drawn about this on various websites. Although your current post targets some of my comments, I would want to make clear that I was commenting on two things, (1) the poll as a "snapshot" of what some people think; (2) your remarks about whether or not Q still "reigns" in the academy. I therefore largely agree with your comments in the current post, but would be inclined to be more optimistic than you about a fresh openness to reexamine the Q question in the academy, at least in the circles I've moved in. Thanks again for the interaction.

Jim Deardorff said...


When you say, "How many people who voted have taken a course in Biblical Studies, exposing them to all the alternatives?",

I see that as contradictory to your previously well stated
laments on the Academy's underlying current of theological commitment. My one college course on the Synoptics gave no hint of the most pertinent alternative, which takes a fair bit of research for the independent scholar to discover for her/himself.

If a subject is really embarrassing to both Christianity as a whole and to the Academy too, it is left unspoken. Students and seasoned scholars alike thus do not get exposed to all the potential answers.

Jim Deardorff

Loren Rosson III said...

I just blogged a bit about this, April. I'm somewhere between you and Mark. I think our blog-polls do often illustrate the academy's leanings, to a degree. (It seemed to be the case for the poll I did last year, anyway.) But I agree with you about the Augustinian hypothesis; the fact that it got so many votes makes me wonder about Brandon's readership.