Wednesday, July 05, 2017

By hook or crook

I've noticed something when reading conversations on discussion forums between Christians and critics of Christianity. There are two arguments critics make that seems to be at odds with each other.

When talking, for example, about the historical Jesus, some critics will say that unless we have contemporary eye-witness accounts about Jesus, we can't know about him. Everything else is second hand or "hear say," which is unreliable. And since neither Paul nor the authors of the gospels were contemporary eye-witnesses of Jesus, we have no reliable way of knowing anything about the historical Jesus if he even existed.

But then I've seen other conversations where the Christian will try to make the case that the gospels contain information that comes from eye-witnesses to Jesus. The critics will then go on to explain that eye witness testimony is "notoriously unreliable." They'll cite court cases where eye-witnesses contradict each other, where they remember things incorrectly and get details wrong, etc.

I don't know if I've ever seen the same critic use both of these approaches, so I can't accusing any individual of inconsistency, but from the point of view of somebody defending historical information about Jesus, it does seem like they face inconsistent criticism.

One could avoid the inconsistency by throwing up their hands and saying history is unknowable. Since eye witness testimony is unreliable, and hear say or circumstantial evidence is also unreliable, then history just can't be known. I haven't met many people who are generally skeptical about history, though. I've run into lots of people who set the bar pretty high when it comes to evidence about Jesus, but not as high when it comes to other questions of historicity.

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