Monday, November 13, 2006

Historical evidence for Christianity

Can any other religion claim the kind of historical support that Christianity can claim? Or even come close? Even though it doesn't follow from the fact that some parts of the NT are confirmed by historical evidence that the miraculous part of the NT is so supported, nevetheless to me the historical support for the NT seems remarkable.

In particular, there's nothing like it for Mormonism, or for Scientology, or Islam. People who are trying to argue that Christianity is no better off than Mormonism have some things to think about.


Steven Carr said...

The Koran certainly deals with real towns , such as Mecca and Medinah, just as the New Testament deals with real places like Malta and Corinth.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

And every copy of the Book of the Mormon contains copies of the affidavits attesting to its supernatural origin. And the writings of UFO nuts contain lots of verifiable historical facts. I've actually exchanged e-mails with a person who played a bit role in Whitley Strieber's book Communion.

Clark Goble said...

Saying that the NT contains actual places means nothing since it was written about such places. i.e. it establishes nothing. I could write a story about New York City that was religious yet because those were established places it establishes nothing.

The OT is, of course a different matter, with much of the ancient history being unestablished. So that's more on par.

The affidavits don't obvious establish the truth of the Book of Mormon. I don't think any Mormon would argue otherwise - thus they feel the need for personal revelation on the matter by the individual.

Jason Pratt said...

Did he have a part in Strieber's novel Warday, too? {g} (A brilliant if often disturbing--and possibly disturbed--writer; I greatly admire his Wolfen and admire The Wild almost as much. But writing an avowedly fictional novel featuring himself and his friends as the main characters in the story, wasn't exactly the smartest way for him to generate reassurance that at least he himself believes what he's writing in the Communion series.)

I agree, btw, that pooting on the Koran's historicity is not necessarily a good idea. As far as I've ever gathered, the portions contemporaneous with its composition are generally accepted by scholars as being reasonably reliable data. It's the deviations on Old Time stuff compared to the OT that don't hold up quite as well.

Victor Reppert said...

The Qu'ran doesn't have historical problems that I know of--its primary miracle claim, though is the giving of a the Qur'an by God to Muhammad, something that happened in a cave when no one was looking. Islamic philosophy in fact developed something along the lines of a Hume-style argument against miracles, making an exception for the self-authenticating miracle of the gift of the Qur'an.

Edwardtbabinski said...

There is historical evidence that Homer knew what he was talking about concerning the long lost city of Troy. Apparently even some incidental details as described by Homer concerning Troy have been verified. Does that mean the descriptions of the miracles and the gods in Homer's books are also true?

Edwardtbabinski said...

It wasn't Christianity's "historicity" that converted people, it was its promises of personal immortality and eternal peace. Islam and Mormonism make similar promises regarding personal individual immortality, and that's probably why Christianity and Islam grew to become the world's two biggest religions.

Jason Pratt said...

I think it has already been well-established by local pro-Christian disputants (including Victor--and me, fwiw), that the argument from historical accuracy to theological accuracy is invalid. We aren't trying to appeal to that. (Some apologists do, which is annoying, but that isn't what _we_ are doing.)

Large (or even merely significant) amounts of reasonably accurate historical detail, though, _does_ make a proportionate difference in deducting away certain kinds of explanation for what is going on in the writing; and the implications aren't always obvious at a first glance. The same goes in reverse as well--as contra-Christian sceptics ought to know very well, or else they wouldn't be so hot to pick on every little possible flaw they can find in a report.

In this case, the context is not on whether Mormon metaphysical claims are true based on whether or not their historical claims hold up to scrutiny. Those can be debated entirely on their own terms. It's on whether Joseph Smith's claims are true about how he came up with the report. Mormon metaphysical propositions might still be true even if the historical chain is bogus; whereas on the other hand I expect (for the most part) that just like other stories featuring a metaphysical background, the background might be wrong (even if honestly arrived at and believed for various reasons) even if the historical accuracy is decent to whatever degree.

In the end, every case is its own case, and ought to be judged on its own merits.

Clark Goble said...

Jason, it seems like you are arguing something strong than that. At least with respect to Mormonism.

The claim that there is no historical evidence for the Book of Mormon and reasons to doubt its historicity is more analogous to the state of most Evangelical beliefs regarding Genesis.

The NT really is largely beside the point simply because there aren't commensurate issues at stake.

Can one attack Mormonism via attacking the Book of Mormon? Of course. It's a logic approach to take and most critics do this both on the theist and atheist/skeptical side. However I'm not sure conservative Christians, especially of the sort one typically finds in the Evangelical community, can do this in a fashion that doesn't introduce double standards.

Jason Pratt said...

{{Jason, it seems like you are arguing something strong[er] than that. At least with respect to Mormonism. }}

Actually, I personally am not. I meant exactly what I said in regard to the links between historical and theological claims, and I am very careful to apply the same standard to Biblical studies. This includes granting charitable concessions to sceptics (at least from their perspectives), wherever they allow me room to actually do that. (Sometimes, paradoxically, they're so busy being hostile at all costs that I have to be proportionately less lenient in what I can fairly allow them. You may have had similar experiences. {g})

That being said: _to the extent_ that Mormon theological accuracy is held, by a Mormon, to depend on what amounts to the witness of Joseph Smith, then _if_ his witness turns out to be seriously faulty, _then_ either the theological portions will have to be established by another route, or else at best there is no good evidence (aside from emotional reactions perhaps) to accept those claims as being true (in a Mormon-specific fashion).

I don't personally have to make that argument, though. My rejection of Mormon metaphysics does not depend on demonstrating that Joseph Smith (or some source he may have been working from) was inventing his claims apart from what actually happened historically. And I don't personally know enough about Mormon historical claims to render much of an opinion about them per se. (Though I think I've been quite lenient in making allowances concerning the small amount that has been discussed recently here.) Serious levels of accuracy in his account, if those can be established, would not affect my opinion of the metaphysical claims being also propounded. Consequently, I have no reason (at this time) not to accept historical details, insofar as they can be legitimately established.

Why is it, then, that I get the impression that there is actually more cultural evidence of dinosaurs having lived into almost modern times (if not later), than there is cultural evidence left over that the Mormon events happened?