I saw this on social media today. This is good example of misleading argument:
My favorite part of the Kavanaugh controversy is how people who are absolutely convinced they know exactly what happened in Judea 2,000 years ago have gaslit many Americans into believing it is literally impossible to know what happened at an event in 1983.
Here, our correspondent has misstated both the Christian position on the resurrection and the argument respecting an alleged event involving Judge Kavanaugh.
It is inaccurate to say that anyone is certain of everything which happened in Judea during the life of Jesus. No one claims to have comprehensive knowledge of the time and place. In terms of total facts, far more is unknown than known. The Christian position is that the facts which are known are sufficient to draw certain factual conclusions (such as the Resurrection).
The circumstance involving Judge Kavanaugh differs on the facts available at this time. If the only two facts are one person asserting X and another asserting not-X and there are no other facts, then drawing a conclusion is impossible on that basis alone. The difficulty with Kavanaugh’s case is a lack of a sufficiently detailed allegation (the X, and not-X are not even sufficiently defined) and a lack of evidence beyond the ultimate conclusion.
There are a number of facts which could easily lead to a definite conclusion. For instance, there were a definite statement of date, time and place, one could conclude that the event was more or less probable.
Thus, if the alleged event (again, I have no idea as to the truth, because I do not have a sufficient number of facts from which to draw a conclusion. Anyone who has had access to the publicly available statements “knows” anything is simply wrong.) took place on Date 1 and Kavanaugh was in another Michigan on that date, it is not likely that he took a jet home for this bad act and then returned without notice.
We can look to other corroborating facts: It is reported (goodness knows what has actually been said, this whole story is awash in false statements and nonsense). Are there witnesses? What do they say? Have the witnesses or alleged actors given consistent or inconsistent statements? Etc.
The Resurrection is quite different: it is a conclusion based upon a very definite statement and supported by substantial supporting evidence.
Indeed, the fundamental reason to question the Resurrection is not the evidence but the strangeness of the event. If the Resurrection were a normal historical event, it would be unquestioned.
But what about the passage of years?
As we move further from an event, the number of facts recoverable will lessen. If there are witnesses, the memory of witnesses will fade [I will make a note on eyewitness testimony below.] Witnesses will also become unavailable over the course of time (either through death or becoming lost to interview by moving or whatnot).
Physical facts will also diminish over time (duration will depend upon the nature of the artifact).
How does this not adversely affect the Christian claim?
Christians are not trying to recover facts from 2,000 years. The facts were established and recorded at that time. We are not trying to establish that information today for the first time. The 2,000 years misstates the salient fact of time.
Let’s consider an example: Imagine we have access to a trial transcript from 1940. The events underlying the trial took place one year earlier. If we were to speak of what happened in 1939, the time period between fact and conclusion is 1 year – not 78 years.
In Kavanaugh’s case we are trying to recover facts for the first time 35 years after the event (the 2012 notes are problematic at best. Even the accuser says the notes are wrong).
What about eyewitness testimony? Isn’t it unreliable?
Yes, and no. Eyewitness testimony about stressful events which took place at one time and over a short period of time are very often wrong – often wildly wrong. Crime victims routinely give flawed testimony about the criminal event: they are stressed, confused; their attention is misdirected; they try to reconstruct the event and make numerous errors in the recreation.
The Kavanaugh event concerns eyewitness testimony about an extremely stressful event. An important fact, which may weigh in favor of the accuser is whether she knew Kavanaugh prior to the event. If this was their first (alleged) interaction, she would more easily misidentify him. If they had been friends for years, she does not need to describe his appearance for the first time.
Compare that to testimony about normal events. You know would likely give excellent testimony about the color of your car, the number windows in your bedroom, the number of drawers in your dresser, how often you get paid for work, et cetera. Routine, repeated, normal events are fundamentally different than trying to remember what it was like to be robbed.
On this point, we should note that information obtained in therapy of a long unexpressed painful event which (supposedly) is causing significant bad effects in the present has a reputation for uncovering things which never occurred. Moreover, patients routinely lie to therapists and clients lie to lawyers (I’m not saying always; but it happens enough that it is not a strange thing).
Christianity is based upon claims from multiple witnesses about an event with corroborating physical evidence. For instance, if anyone had been able to produce Jesus’ body in Jerusalem, it would have stopped Christianity at its birth (Crossan’s claim that it was eaten by dogs is silly. Someone could have just said, we say dogs eat it. No one made that claim until Crossan – which a claim which suffers from the 2,000 year distance).
What about prejudice?
The Kavanaugh accusation is a great example of the policy behind Evidence Code section 352. The code essentially forbids the introduction of evidence which would prejudice a juror more than it would inform a juror. For example, let us say the defendant is a gang member charged with a particular crime. In most instances, the jury would never hear about the gang membership. If they heard he was a gang member, they would be more likely to find him guilty because he was in a gang than because he engaged in this particular bad act.
The people who speak confidently about what happened in the Kavanaugh case typically betray a personal prejudice (I was assaulted, therefore, she was telling the truth; I was falsely accused, therefore, she is lying; I hate/adhere to Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy, therefore, ….).
Most of the people providing their opinion of the event have voiced personal prejudice: their opinion is worthless as to the truth of the accusation.
Well, weren’t the Apostles prejudiced in favor of Jesus? That misstates the issue. They were seriously prejudiced against the possibility of Jesus being resurrected from the dead in the manner in which he did (N.T. Wright’s Resurrection covers the evidence here exhaustively). Their prejudice makes it unlikely they would mistakenly believe Jesus had been resurrected.
What about reputation and motivation?
This does have some bearing. One who has a history of lying, might lie more easily than others. But no amount of lying before proves one is lying as to the instant assertion. No amount of prior conduct proves anything about conduct on one particular instance.
With Kavanaugh, the parties both have strong reasons to tell the truth; and they both have significant motive to lie. In fact, the pressure of examination is likely to cause each party to dig in their heels to insist upon their position (recanting has become more costly than the alternative – especially since the possibility of suffering penalty is minimal in this event). (There are event plausible scenarios under both believe that they are each telling the truth.)
This is a point which weighs very heavily in favor of the apostolic witness. They all suffered greatly (most often to death) for their testimony.
But don’t people die for false believes all the time?Yes, but that isn’t the case here.
Consider three scenarios:
1) Alleged Historical Event Z – never happened.
2) P1 who relates Z to P2.
3) P1 has lied to P2.
4) P2 believes P1
5) P2 dies based upon the false belief related by P1.
1) Historical Event Z.
2) Witnessed by P1.
3) P1 knows, based upon personal experience that Z took place.
4) P1 dies for Z.
1) Alleged Historical Event Z.
2) P1 knows it never happened.
3) P1 claims that Z happened.
4) P1 is challenged with death over Z.
5) P1 personally knows that Z is false.
6) P1 recants to stay alive.
People will recant things they believe to be true to save their life. It would be a remarkable day indeed for someone to go to death for a fact which they personally knew was false.
In conclusion, an analogy between Judge Kavanaugh’s circumstance and the Resurrection is poorly drawn.
As for the Judge and his accuser. I honestly have no definite idea what happened. I am not even certain what facts and accusation have been established. I have read any number of assertions made confidentially by people who are in no position to know any more than I do. I have seen a great deal of gossip, slander and vicious stupidity. (Apparently, there have been significant death threats made against almost everyone involved.)
I have seen that bias and prejudice have more importance than any consideration of evidence (not to say burden of proof — which is critical in this instance).
This political tempest is very sad; it has often been wicked; and I fear no matter how it ends, the result will be a further deterioration of our social fabric.