Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rom 1 reply, 43: Is history "bunk" or else little more than the propaganda of the victors, used to make their aggression seem justified? (Or, is such dismissiveness little more than an excuse for the march of folly? [And, is "bunk" all the Christian gospel is?])

It is said that the famed industrialist Henry Ford -- who, unfortunately, seems to have thought favourably of  [BETTER, ON CORRECTION: influenced*] Mein Kampf  (which, appallingly, is now racing to the top of ebook sales at Amazon and elsewhere . . . ) -- thought that History is "bunk."

And, altogether far too many ordinary people in our day tend to regard History as irrelevant, boring, suspect as an "academic" exercise, and so forth.

Among the post-modern, progressivist educated, there is a strong tendency to dismiss and "deconstruct" history as little more than the propaganda of the victors trying to legitimise their aggression and oppression.

I think, for cause, that such are ill-advised, dangerous and foolish trends, a march of folly, in Barbara Tuchmann's famous words.

I say that for a very simple reason:
History, well founded, diligently researched and well reported, sound and fair history, is a summary of the hard-bought lessons of the past, lessons that too often were paid in full for in blood. 

That is why good history is so powerful, and so costly: it was bought with the most precious of commodities.

And, therefore, as we reflect on the events of 1914, 100 years ago now, and those in the run-up to round two of that horrid war in 1939, that should give us sobering pause as we contemplate current events.

The ghosts of seventy or eighty millions who perished in those horrific wars, concur.

Only a piggish fool, then, would treat such hard-bought wisdom as pigs would treat pearls that -- as our Lord famously said on that mountain in Galilee -- were somehow tossed down in front of them. 

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of such fools, on the streets, in the classrooms, behind teacher's desks or lecturer's podiums, in Board Rooms, on the too often justly nicknamed idiot boxes in the corner of our living rooms that so many of us are addicted to watching for hours on end, all over the Internet, in legislatures, in Cabinets and -- God have mercy on us -- even in pulpits.

So, George Santayana's two pivotal lessons of history are very important, though quite soberingly sad. 

First, that those who refuse to learn from it are doomed to repeat its worst chapters, and second, that by and large we refuse to learn from it

Hence, the deep-set folly that no less a figure than Karl Marx summed up as to how history repeats itself twice, once as tragedy, the next time as farce. (And unfortunately, that sick farce "The March of Folly" has had a very long run with many revivals,  indeed.)

Nor, should we forget that sound journalism, rightly and diligently, courageously done, is "a first, rough draft of history."

And, when detectives, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges in courts of justice -- not "courts of injustice" --  act with integrity and diligent soundness, the processes of the courtroom are often in effect an exercise in historical investigation.

Which means that the issue with history and with historical writings is the quality of the investigation and integrity and soundness of what has been recorded. 

Sound history must be credible and authoritative.

I therefore wish to again bring to our attention some lessons from the well known jurisprudential thinker Simon Greenleaf, a founding father of the modern anglophone school of evidence.

First, his insightful opening remarks in the first chapter of his Treatise on Evidence:
Evidence, in legal acceptation, includes all the means by which any alleged matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to investigation, is established or disproved . . . None but mathematical truth is susceptible of that high degree of evidence, called demonstration, which excludes all possibility of error [--> Greenleaf wrote almost 100 years before Godel], and which, therefore, may reasonably be required in support of every mathematical deduction. 

Matters of fact are proved by moral evidence alone; by which is meant, not only that kind of evidence which is employed on subjects connected with moral conduct, but all the evidence which is not obtained either from intuition, or from demonstration. In the ordinary affairs of life, we do not require demonstrative evidence, because it is not consistent with the nature of the subject, and to insist upon it would be unreasonable and absurd. 

The most that can be affirmed of such things, is, that there is no reasonable doubt concerning them. 

The true question, therefore, in trials of fact, is not whether it is possible that the testimony may be false, but, whether there is sufficient probability of its truth; that is, whether the facts are shown by competent and satisfactory evidence. Things established by competent and satisfactory evidence are said to be proved.

By competent evidence, is meant that which the very-nature of the thing to be proved requires, as the fit and appropriate proof in the particular case, such as the production of a writing, where its contents are the subject of inquiry. By satisfactory evidence, which is sometimes called sufficient evidence, is intended that amount of proof, which ordinarily satisfies an unprejudiced mind, beyond reasonable doubt.

The circumstances which will amount to this degree of proof can never be previously defined; the only legal test of which they are susceptible, is their sufficiency to satisfy the mind and conscience of a common man; and so to convince him, that he would venture to act upon that conviction, in matters of the highest concern and importance to his own interest. [A Treatise on Evidence, Vol I, 11th edn. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1888) ch 1., sections 1 and 2. Shorter paragraphs added. (NB: Greenleaf was a founder of the modern Harvard Law School and is regarded as a founding father of the modern Anglophone school of thought on evidence, in large part on the strength of this classic work.)]
Similarly, in noting on Christian foundations he remarks, in Testimony of the Evangelists:
 [26] . . . It should be observed that the subject of inquiry [i.e. evidence relating to the credibility of the New Testament accounts] is a matter of fact, and not of abstract mathematical proof. The latter alone is susceptible of that high degree of proof, usually termed demonstration, which excludes the possibility of error . . . The error of the skeptic consists in pretending or supposing that there is a difference in the nature of things to be proved; and in demanding demonstrative evidence concerning things which are not susceptible of any other than moral evidence alone, and of which the utmost that can be said is, that there is no reasonable doubt about their truth . . . . 
If, therefore, the subject [were] a problem in mathematics, its truth [would] be shown by the certainty of demonstrative evidence. But if it is a question of fact in human affairs, nothing more than moral evidence can be required, for this is the best evidence which, from the nature of the case, is attainable. Now as the facts, stated in Scripture History, are not of the former kind, but are cognizable by the senses, they may be said to be proved when they are established by that kind and degree of evidence which, as we have just observed, would, in the affairs of human life, satisfy the mind and conscience of a common man. [Testimony, Sections 26, 27, emphases added.]
Likewise, from this work and similar sources we may highlight some well tested rules for the road that will guide us well (page references are to the 1995 Kregel reprint of this classic work that dates to 1851):
1] THE ANCIENT DOCUMENTS RULE: Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise. [p.16.]
2] Conversance: In matters of public and general interest, all persons must be presumed to be conversant, on the principle that individuals are presumed to be conversant with their own affairs. [p. 17.]
3] On Inquiries and Reports: If [a report] were "the result of inquiries, made under competent public authority, concerning matters in which the public are concerned" it would . . . be legally admissible . . . To entitle such results, however, to our full confidence, it is not necessary that they be obtained under a legal commission; it is sufficient if the inquiry is gravely undertaken and pursued, by a person of competent intelligence, sagacity and integrity. The request of a person in authority, or a desire to serve the public, are, to all moral intents, as sufficient a motive as a legal commission. [p. 25.]
4] Probability of Truthfulness: In trials of fact, by oral testimony, the proper inquiry is not whether it is possible that the testimony may be false, but whether there is a sufficient probability that it is true. [p. 28.]
5] Criteria of Proof: A proposition of fact is proved, when its truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence. By competent evidence is meant such as the nature of the thing to be proved requires; and by satisfactory evidence is meant that amount of proof, which ordinarily satisfies an unprejudiced mind, beyond any reasonable doubt. [pp. 28 - 9.]
6] Credibility of Witnesses: In the absence of circumstances which generate suspicion, every witness is to be presumed credible, until the contrary is shown; the burden of impeaching his credibility lying on the objector. [p. 29]
7] Credit due to testimony: The credit due to the testimony of witnesses depends upon, firstly, their honesty; secondly, their ability; thirdly, their number and the consistency of their testimony; fourthly, the conformity of their testimony with experience; and fifthly, the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances. [p.31.]
8] Ability of a Witness to speak truth: the ability of a witness to speak the truth depends on the opportunities which he has had for observing the facts, the accuracy of his powers of discerning, and the faithfulness of his memory in retaining the facts, once observed and known . . . It is always to be presumed that men are honest, and of sound mind, and of the average and ordinary degree of intelligence . . . Whenever an objection is raised in opposition to ordinary presumptions of law, or to the ordinary experience of mankind, the burden of proof is devolved on the objector. [pp. 33 - 4.]
9] Internal coherence and external corroboration: Every event which actually transpires has its appropriate relation and place in the vast complication of circumstances, of which the affairs of men consist; it owes its origin to the events which have preceded it, it is intimately connected with all others which occur at the same time and place, and often with those of remote regions, and in its turn gives birth to numberless others which succeed. In all this almost inconceivable contexture, and seeming discord, there is perfect harmony; and while the fact, which really happened, tallies exactly with every other contemporaneous incident, related to it in the remotest degree, it is not possible for the wit of man to invent a story, which, if closely compared with the actual occurrences of the same time and place, may not be shown to be false. [p. 39.]
10] Marks of false vs true testimony: a false witness will not willingly detail any circumstances in which his testimony will be open to contradiction, nor multiply them where there is a danger of his being detected by a comparison of them with other accounts, equally circumstantial . . . Therefore, it is, that variety and minuteness of detail are usually regarded as certain test[s] of sincerity, if the story, in the circumstances related, is of a nature capable of easy refutation, if it were false . . . . [False witnesses] are often copious and even profuse in their statements, as far as these may have been previously fabricated, and in relation to the principal matter; but beyond this, all will be reserved and meagre, from fear of detection . . . in the testimony of the true witness there is a visible and striking naturalness of manner, and an unaffected readiness and copiousness in the detail of circumstances, as well in one part of the narrative as another, and evidently without the least regard to the facility or difficulty of verification or detection . . . the increased number of witnesses to circumstances, and the increased number of circumstances themselves, all tend to increase the probability of detection if the witnesses are false . . . Thus the force of circumstantial evidence is found to depend on the number of particulars involved in the narrative; the difficulty of fabricating them all, if false, and the great facility of detection; the nature of the circumstances to be compared, and from which the dates and other facts to are be collected; the intricacy of the comparison; the number of intermediate steps in the process of deduction; and the circuity of the investigation. The more largely the narrative partake[s] of these characteristics, the further it will be found removed from all suspicion of contrivance or design, and the more profoundly the mind will rest in the conviction of its truth. [pp. 39 - 40.]
11] Procedure: let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with surrounding facts and circumstances.[p. 42.]
Here, we supplement: J W Montgomery observes of the NT accounts -- and following the McCloskey and Schoenberg framework for detecting perjury -- that the modern approach to assessing quality of such testimony focusses on identifying internal and external defects in the testimony and the witness:
(a) Internal defects in the witness himself refer to any personal characteristics or past history tending to show that the "witness is inherently untrustworthy, unreliable, or undependable."
(b) But perhaps the apostolic witnesses suffered from external defects, that is, "motives to falsify"?
(c) Turning now to the testimony itself, we must ask if the New Testament writings are internally inconsistent or self-contradictory.
(d) Finally, what about external defects in the testimony itself, i.e., inconsistencies between the New Testament accounts and what we know to be the case from archaeology or extra-biblical historical records?
--> In each case, the answer is in favour of the quality of the NT, as can be observed here.
12] The degree of coherence expected of true witnesses: substantial truth, under circumstantial variety. There is enough of discrepancy to show that there could have been no previous concert among them, and at the same time such substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction, as the events actually occurred. [p.34. All cites from The Testimony of the Evangelists (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1995). The First Easter's timeline gives a good case in point. You may find it profitable to also examine Edwin Yamauchi's review and W L Craig's remarks on the resurrection vs the current version of the hallucination hypothesis. Craig's critical assessment of the Jesus Seminar is also well worth the time to read it.]
With these in mind, we would be wise to pay heed again to Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ, as addressing perhaps the single most precious lesson of history of all, and the one that -- freighted with the weight of our souls -- is the most important one to be heeded:

But that is not all, the issues of heeding the lessons of history are of quite broad relevance, not least as we run up to general elections and ponder our duties, responsibilities and privileges as citizens.

So, will we now treat history soberly or in a trivially dismissive or else a naive way? 

Even, with our souls in the stakes?

The choices, the duties of care -- and the consequences of wisdom or folly -- are ours. END


*F/N: Sober lessons dept. First, I conflated in my mind/memory two or three things -- hence the correction, and should note that the book Ford specifically promoted was Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Also, from perhaps 1915 on Henry Ford was one of the most prominent anti-semites of the early C20, eventually publishing a book, The International Jew, that Hitler apparently read in Landsberg prison and which has clear influences on Mein Kampf. Indeed, Ford is apparently the only American named in that book. (Cf summaries here and here.) However, praise for "Fordism," mass production and associated "scientific" management, was widespread in the 1920's and 30's, and should not be taken to be equal to wholesale acceptance of Nazism or Communism etc.