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Reasonable Faith 5: The Problem of Historical Knowledge


Chapter 5 critiques historical relativism. It seems that apologists and skeptics both have a common enemy in relativists of all kinds. Craig critiques many forms of historical relativism, usually by way of reductio ad absurdum, showing that if we accept the claims of relativists, we must deny certain well accepted historical occurrences, like Lincoln’s assassination, world war II, etc. He does lay out some of the standards by which we can know history, but does not show why they are worthwhile. Of course, that’s not really the scope of the chapter or book, but it certainly would be useful to have a good understanding of historical practice before evaluating claims, with an emphasis on finding truth, before knowing how things will turn out upon examining specific claims. That way we can avoid bias and resign ourselves to accepting the conclusions of history, even if we disagreed beforehand.

Kindle Notes:

If a historical apologetic for the Christian faith is to be successful, the objections of historical relativism need to be overcome (3790).

Note: Skeptics and believers alike have a common enemy in relativists.

It seems to me that the historian’s hypotheses are to be tested like anyone else’s: by their logical consistency and their ability to explain the evidence (4064).

Note: History is inherently an inference to the best explanation. I would add that it must take into account current scientific and psychological understandings of the world.

In his book Justifying Historical Descriptions,275 C. Behan McCullagh lists the factors which historians typically weigh in testing a historical hypothesis: 1) The hypothesis, together with other true statements, must imply further statements describing present, observable data. 2) The hypothesis must have greater explanatory scope (that is, imply a greater variety of observable data) than rival hypotheses. 3) The hypothesis must have greater explanatory power (that is, make the observable data more probable) than rival hypotheses. 4) The hypothesis must be more plausible (that is, be implied by a greater variety of accepted truths, and its negation implied by fewer accepted truths) than rival hypotheses. 5) The hypothesis must be less ad hoc (that is, include fewer new suppositions about the past not already implied by existing knowledge) than rival hypotheses. 6) The hypothesis must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs (that is, when conjoined with accepted truths, imply fewer false statements) than rival hypotheses. 7) The hypothesis must so exceed its rivals in fulfilling conditions (2)-(6) that there is little chance of a rival hypothesis, after further investigation, exceeding it in meeting these conditions (4081).

But in passing we may agree that our background knowledge makes the hypothesis of the natural revivification of Jesus from the dead enormously implausible, in that the causal powers of nature are insufficient to return a corpse to life; but such considerations are simply irrelevant to assessing the implausibility of the hypothesis of the resurrection of Jesus, since according to that hypothesis God raised Jesus from the dead. I should say that the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead has about zero implausibility with respect to our background knowledge (4207).

Note: This seems to be a weak link in the argumentation.

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