What authority do the manuscripts hold on the evaluation of the evidence?
There are a handful of arguments that are used by Christians, which refer to the biblical manuscripts as a whole. They usually contain information that is accurate, but the arguments themselves are often flawed, irrelevant, or misleading. For instance, Christians usually begin by pointing out the superiority of their manuscripts in both number and proximity compared to other ancient manuscripts, which are claiming to be historical events. They add to this by also claiming that the scribes tried to adhere to strict rules when making the copies of the biblical manuscripts. Every one of these claims are true. In fact, there are over 24,000 New Testament manuscripts in existence today, which dwarfs the amount of other ancient manuscripts. At this point, Christians will usually claim that their critics are being bias and hypocritical by doubting the validity if the Christian manuscripts, yet accepting secular manuscripts which are even further removed from their events.
This is a fallacious argument for a few reasons. First of all, it does not matter whether manuscripts are 100 years removed or 1,000 years removed from the events they are claiming or whether there are 24,000 manuscripts or just 2 of them, if they are far enough removed from the events alleged or if they come from an unknown source, they would all equally be deemed hearsay. Even if they dated to the exact date, they would still need to come from a known source and be supported by other outside sources.
Secondly, the argument that is used is not equivalent, which makes it a false analogy. The obvious difference is that secular manuscripts are not making claims of miracles or claiming to be the “word of God”. Of course, you can’t dismiss a claim simply because it includes a miracle, but to support a claim like that and expect someone to reasonably believe it, one would need to provide evidence at a level much higher than that of hearsay. If the secular manuscripts claimed miracles In them, I believe that they would also be doubted and their burden of proof would likewise raise to a much higher degree. It is also important to remember that copying manuscripts over many years (even to perfection) does absolutely nothing to help in determining whether the events within them are accurate history or not, which would make it irrelevant to our examination. I suspect that Christians know these arguments are invalid, but they are forced to use them when they are trying to convince both themselves and others to hold the illogical belief that hearsay is considered strong and convincing evidence.
The most common claim that is made by Christians is that the Bible was written by 40 men. Over 3500 years, and they state this as fact. Does the evidence support this? No. they can say they believe it was, but if we are having a discussion about evidence, speculation should not be included. The following is a compilation of the evidence I could find regarding the biblical manuscripts and which many Christian, as well as non-Christian scholars have agreed upon. If any statements are not accurate, please correct me and let me know where I can find the information. I’m always open to learning the latest discoveries and to reevaluate my position. In this section, I will only be referring to manuscript evidence and any other forms of evidence will be addressed in other sections.
To what extent does Bias play a part in having a conversation?
Bias is obviously not something that can determine whether something is true or not, but it can be considered as a negative influence when weighing evidence. All people (including scientists) can exhibit some type of bias in certain situations, but any attempt to argue that the methods of science are bias will be hard to support.
The standards and methods of science are specifically used to counter bias. That is why they must be controlled experiments. An individual scientist might let bias creep into their work, but their career and reputation is at stake and their work won’t be accepted if bias is used to support their findings. Science is objective, not subjective. If something can be shown to be scientific “fact”, it will be accepted whether the person presenting the evidence is Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, or an atheist. When evidence is not conclusive or can be interpretive, Christians sometime claim that critics are selfish and make statements such as “they just don’t want to abide by God’s standards.” These types of statements don’t seem to hold much weight after consideration.
Christians are promised an everlasting life of happiness for believing in Jesus. Critics of Christianity believe they have no such hope for themselves. Even if they spend their limited lives doing whatever they wanted to do, it certainly doesn’t compare to a life of happiness forever. Also, if a scientist could prove the existence of the God of the Bible and other Christian beliefs, he or she would be guaranteed world prestige, fame, and would probably be a lot wealthier thereafter. Another point to remember is that the benefits derived from science are given to all people no matter what they personally believe. Christianity on the other hand is not open to findings that disagree with what their religion says is true no matter how much convincing evidence is presented to them. It also demands belief in itself in order for a person to be given its’ so called benefits.
Where do most people put their trust, in science or in faith?
Trustworthiness is a quality most people concede as being important when relying on the information from a specific source. This is another inconsistency I find Christians making in their arguments against science. They understand that science is the most respected authority on accurate knowledge which is evidenced by the fact that its’ methods are used and followed throughout the world and it’s accomplishments have given humanity its greatest benefits such as health, transportation, technology, architecture, and the list goes on and on. When Christians go to the hospital for a doctor’s advice or to get a much needed surgery, they are trusting in science. When they drive their cars, brush their teeth, make calls on their phones, eat healthy foods, exercise, enjoy the shelter of their homes, get on the computer, and sleep in their beds, they are trusting in science. When they walk into a building, cruise in a ship, listen to or play a musical instrument, they are trusting In science. Then their lives and the lives of their loved ones can be saved by a paramedic’s procedures, they trust In science. They even trust in the things derived from science that don’t always benefit humanity such as the effectiveness of firearms and nuclear weapons. They trust in science every day, all day long, except when it disagrees with their religious beliefs, Has Christianity proven to be trustworthy? Hardly. There has been a consistent pattern shown over history where Christianity makes a statement of fact, which eventually is proven false by science. How many times has science made a statement of fact that was eventually proven false by Christianity?
If Christians truly believe that science is untrustworthy, why don’t they see how long they would survive without it? We don’t have to question whether Christians trust in science or not, their actions speak for themselves. They may have faith in their religion, but their trust is in science.
Who has the Burden of Proof?
Burden of Proof
When there is a dispute between two sides of an issue, the topic of “Burden of Proof” always comes to the forefront. Many times In their debates with their critics, Christians invalidly place themselves on the side of assumed truth. This is an obvious fallacy because one is placing the burden of proof, not on the assertion, but on it’s refutation. If this was a valid argument, Christians should have no problem with their critics and rival religions placing themselves on the side of assumed truth. A claim is not assumed to be true just because it has not yet been refuted.
It is also important to understand that the burden of proof always falls more heavily on the party that makes the positive claim (aliens exist) or the more extraordinary claim (miracles happened). This is also why one must provide a proposition of the evidence to even get a court case filed and why science also requires the same order to begin an examination. Neither of them have the time or funds to examine every claim that comes their way.
“A claim without any support is not one which merits rational belief. Thus, anyone making a claim which they consider rational and which they expect others to accept must provide some support. The methodology of skepticism, critical thinking, and logical argument is what allows us to separate sense from nonsense. When a person abandons that methodology, they abandon any pretense of trying to make sense or engage in a sensible discussion, If the person making an extraordinary claim cannot provide sufficient support for their claims, the default position of disbelief is justified.” (taken from about.com-atheism vs. theism who has the burden of proof?)
In any debate or discussion, Coherence is the key to a logical argument.
When weighing evidence, it is the explanation that explains all the facts in a logically consistent manner that is the strongest. Coherence is difficult to dispute as a criterion of truth since arguing against it is validating incoherence, which is inherently illogical. This is where I believe Christianity is lacking. Christians are very good at compiling possible evidence to support their beliefs, but many times they ignore or deny the evidence that does not support it.
Before any conversation dealing with evidence, we must determine what good evidence actually is…
There are many kinds of evidence as we all know and we instinctively know which ones are strong and which ones are weak. The strongest consists of physical things that can be confirmed beyond rationality (i.e. DNA, fingerprints, genetics, etc.). Other acceptable evidence can consist of oral and written testimony. Eyewitness testimony is actually considered the weakest form of evidence because different people observing an event commonly disagree on what it was they observed. Logically, in order to be considered an eyewitness, one must first be able to prove that the eyewitness actually existed. Accepting oral, written, and physical exhibits happens every day in courts of law, but if the evidence and witness cannot be confirmed to exist, they are considered speculation and hearsay and deemed inadmissible. Some evidence can be interpretive. If there are two or more interpretations of the evidence, one being reasonable and the other being unreasonable, you can reject the unreasonable interpretation. If there are two or more reasonable explanations of the evidence, either could be possible and further examination would be necessary to confirm the truth. These are not my standards, they are the standards of our courts of law.