|David Noel Freedman. Lowering the Standards.|
A couple of years ago I wrote a blog on The God of Low Standards in which I argued that belief in gods always involves people lowering their standards of evidence way below that required to believe in fairies, to believe in other gods and even to believe that an empty road is safe to cross. In other words that religion in general and their god in particular requires a much lower standard of evidence, logic and reasoning than is used for normal, everyday life. (See for example, The Milk Bottle Delusion - Why Prayers Always Work, for the standard Christian 'proof' that God always answers prayers.)
So it's good to see a leading Christian apologist and Bible scholar, the late David Noel Freedman, as quoted by Raphael Lataster, confirming that Bible scholars need to lower their standards way below that normally required to substantiate a claim with:
We have to accept somewhat looser standards. In the legal profession, to convict the defendant of a crime , you need proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, a preponderance of the evidence is sufficient. When dealing with the Bible or any ancient source, we have to loosen up a little; otherwise, we can't really say anything.
Hershel Shanks, "How the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament Differ: An Interview with David Noel Freedman - Part 1", Bible Review 9, no. 6 (1993): 34.
So there we are. Even Bible scholars know the evidence to support their desired view isn't really good enough to stand up in court and so they have to lower their standards of evidence way below even the preponderance of evidence (for that read balance of probabilities) required in Civil Law.
Now, like me you may be wondering what standard of evidence comes below that of a mere preponderance of evidence. A paucity of evidence? An unlikelihood, maybe? It looks suspiciously like 'possibilities' are elevated to 'probabilities' and then again to 'certainties', as Raphael Lataster says. It's 'possible' that Jesus existed, therefore it's 'probable' that Jesus existed, therefore Jesus existed without a doubt.
You'll see this form of argument all the time on Twitter and Facebook and increasingly in Blogger where religious fundamentalists seem incapable of thinking with sufficient precision to realise those are very different things - that just because a thing is remotely possible doesn't mean it definitely happened. But it seems this is common not just to fundamentalists but to theologians and religious apologists in general. It would be astonishing if this were confined to Christian apologists too. Try debating with a Muslim or a Mormon concerning the origins of their holy books.
Can you imagine any self-respecting scientist arguing that, because there was such poor evidence to support a hypothesis, it would be legitimate to lower the standards of evidence to get the hypothesis accepted because they just knew it was true anyway, even without the evidence?
No real evidence for Jesus or God? Don't worry! A committed Christian Bible scholar, especially one whose income depends on him retaining his reputation for 'proving the Bible is true' and selling books, doing lecture tours and appearing on religious TV shows for money, can be relied upon to lower the standard far enough to 'prove' whatever his audience wants proved. The skill is never finding your audience's lowest level of incredulity. Just keep confirming their biases for them and you're home and dry.
No standards are too low for a dedicated follower of the God of Low Standards.