Subject: Fallacies in historical thought (was: What criteria?) Summary: We do NOT have 500

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From: turpin@cs.utexas.edu (Russell Turpin) Newsgroups: talk.religion.misc Subject: Fallacies in historical thought (was: What criteria?) Summary: We do NOT have 500 witnesses. Message-ID: <12660@cs.utexas.edu> Date: 19 Sep 90 05:42:39 GMT ----- In article , roger@zuken.co.jp (Roger Meunier) writes: > ... If Christ did not rise from the dead, then there is no > resurrection and no eternal life. But the record of over > 500 witnesses to the bodily resurrection of Christ makes > this a moot point. Not at all. The above is one of the more common fallacies into which many people slip when making historical argument. We do NOT have a record of 500 witnesses. What we have is a record of one or two alleged witnesses claiming that there were 500 others. These are vastly different claims. Anyone making the former claim today would be asked minimally what interview process was used to determine the opinions of the alleged witnesses, and how this data was analyzed. One cannot blame the gospel author for not answering this question, his times and thought being what they were. But without the answer to these questions, the claim of 500 witnesses is close to meaningless. One *can* expect modern readers to show more perspecuity than those to whom the gospels were originally intended. Once I heard someone claim many witnesses to an alleged healing. What most struck me was that I had been part of the crowd when the alleged healing took place, and what I saw was nothing miraculous. Some around me had been impressed, despite the fact that many of them clearly were not paying attention or had been in no position to see in any event. The person claiming the miracle had not bothered to talk with the people that were there, to determine who saw what, whether their activity at the time and observational position had even given them the ability to witness anything, or even if they concured in his perceptions. Despite this, he glibly declared a crowd of affirming witnesses in talking about the event the next day. I can only imagine what he would claim if this became an important event in the start of a new religion. A healing would become a resurrection, and a room full of "witnesses", most of whom were busy praying, and some of whom would have contradicted his original story if asked, would become a crowd of astonished doctors who examined the body before and after. This kind of testimony, especially by someone who already believes, especially written down decades after the fact, means next to nothing. If we had a record of 500 witnesses, 500 people who independently wrote down their perceptions and thoughts at the time, and whose writings survived, then we would have vastly more evidence than we do now. But contrary to what Mr Meunier implies, we don't have such a record. ----- This is but one of many fallacies that David Hackett Fischer explores in "Historians' Fallacies". This book is a wonderful compedium of all the ways that historical argument can go deeply wrong. It is intended for the professional historian or serious historical reader. If someone had taught it to Josh, we might now have a few volumes less of silly apologetics. Russell

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