History Before Technology

smartypants
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History Before Technology

I have another question about anecdotal "evidence" and historical "facts."

And just to reiterate, I believe very little of the bible is likely true in any historical, factual sense. But just for the sake of argument:

Say 2000 people all heard and recounted their experience of a speech given by Abraham Lincoln and how he said a certain thing and scratched his nose at a certain point during the speech and then coughed and reached for his handkerchief (or some other important political detail not recorded by official government documents or relatively reliable press). Why is it that we can take that consensus of eyewitness accounts to be an almost certain indication of a historical fact, and yet the anecdotal evidence of millions of believers as a mass delusion?

The way I understand how historical data is collected and confirmed and cross-referenced, that seems a bit incongruous. Am I missing some important aspect of it?

Ryan


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To be a layman about it:It

To be a layman about it:

It wouldn't really change anything significant if Abe scratched his nose or coughed a bit... but something AS significant as Jesus's life would need much more sufficient evidence.  Also I can scratch my nose so I'd accept Abe doing that... I can not ressurrect myself *(yet)*.

I guess my point is that it is quite possible the insignificant bits of history are off a bit, but any significant claim should always be backed up with significant evidence.

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It depends

I guess it depends on the source and the other sources and the other sources. Certainly, I have to assume that Abe Lincoln was a former President of the United States, based on all my reading and what I've been taught. However, in this case, the documentation is more substantial and there is TONS of it.  All we can do is make our best judgment, REALLY.  After all, how can you prove anything historical? Which I guess is the whole point you're trying to make. 

 

I don't base any part of my life on whether or not Abe Lincoln was the President or if he scratched his nose or not.  If i was going to base my life, or an aspect of it, on something in history, it would have to be proved to my satisfaction. In the case of the bible, it is poor quality evidence. Very poor quality. I do believe Lincoln was POTUS.

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Actually there is a big

Actually there is a big problem with accurate Lincoln reporting. The problem is he became a kind of mythical figure after he was assassinated. Historians have a problem with getting an accurate picture of Lincoln because much of the reporting was biased by people's feelings and turning him into a legend. Washington's history had the same problem with the myths about chopping down the cherry tree and he can not tell a lie.

So the reporting on Lincoln was quite different depending on if the person was pro or anti-confederacy and if it was pre or post-assassination.

I think one should consider the source. Does the reporter have a motivation to lie or some emotional attachment to the subject. In the case of religious experience reporting, having the religious experience makes them feel better. Also, there is a lot of leader/peer pressure in religious communities. One would feel left out if everyone else experienced miracles and you didn't.

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EXC wrote:Actually there is

EXC wrote:

Actually there is a big problem with accurate Lincoln reporting. The problem is he became a kind of mythical figure after he was assassinated. Historians have a problem with getting an accurate picture of Lincoln because much of the reporting was biased by people's feelings and turning him into a legend. Washington's history had the same problem with the myths about chopping down the cherry tree and he can not tell a lie.

So the reporting on Lincoln was quite different depending on if the person was pro or anti-confederacy and if it was pre or post-assassination.

I think one should consider the source. Does the reporter have a motivation to lie or some emotional attachment to the subject. In the case of religious experience reporting, having the religious experience makes them feel better. Also, there is a lot of leader/peer pressure in religious communities. One would feel left out if everyone else experienced miracles and you didn't.

You make a good point on the one hand, but on the other, you're focusing too much on a hypothetical example. Lincoln, Washington, Typhoid Mary, Helen Keller, Churchill, Susie the seamstress on MacDougal Street: who it is is immaterial, I'm asking about the way history has been constructed.

R


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FreeHugMachine wrote:To be a

FreeHugMachine wrote:

To be a layman about it:

It wouldn't really change anything significant if Abe scratched his nose or coughed a bit... but something AS significant as Jesus's life would need much more sufficient evidence.  Also I can scratch my nose so I'd accept Abe doing that... I can not ressurrect myself *(yet)*.

I guess my point is that it is quite possible the insignificant bits of history are off a bit, but any significant claim should always be backed up with significant evidence.

But as I tried to qualify, I'm not talking about nose scratching, and I'm not talking about him being the president, either. I'm also not specifically asking about whether or not a man rose from the dead. The comparison I'm making is to millions of people testifying to having had a certain experience in terms of their faith over the past two thousand years, collectively, and why that becomes questionable historically when other things don't.

R


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smartypants wrote:I have

smartypants wrote:

I have another question about anecdotal "evidence" and historical "facts."

And just to reiterate, I believe very little of the bible is likely true in any historical, factual sense. But just for the sake of argument:

Say 2000 people all heard and recounted their experience of a speech given by Abraham Lincoln and how he said a certain thing and scratched his nose at a certain point during the speech and then coughed and reached for his handkerchief (or some other important political detail not recorded by official government documents or relatively reliable press). Why is it that we can take that consensus of eyewitness accounts to be an almost certain indication of a historical fact, and yet the anecdotal evidence of millions of believers as a mass delusion?

The way I understand how historical data is collected and confirmed and cross-referenced, that seems a bit incongruous. Am I missing some important aspect of it?

Ryan

 

Anecdotal evidence is often used as valid historical evidence, and is, in fact, charachterized as a "primary source."

However, Anectdotal evidence must always be cross-referenced with other evidence. Particularly, anectdotal evidence should be examined for bias by examing other works by the author making the claim. Research must be done into the specific accounts to see if they are not forgeries. Sometimes, physical evidence is needed to back up an account of a historical figure. Sometimes anectdotal evdience is cross-referenced with secondary sources like newspapers or historians.

When anectdotal evidence is thrown out of historical studies, it is usually because the source is not reliable, ie. we have reason to believe the source is biased, or a forgery, a myth, or that the person was simply mistaken. For instance, if a thousand people each reported that Lincoln scratched his nose, it doesn't mean Licoln scrathed his nose. Those thousand documents could have all be forged by the same hand, they could all be reporting the same rumor, or they could all have been mistaken. Historians wouldn't find any of these very likely, however, unless there were other reliable sources that failed to mention the event, or else contradicted it.

Anectdotal evidence, however, is never to be taken seriously as scientific evidence. Science relies on the reproducing of experiments or observations. If a scientists says they performed some experiment X and found Y, or they observed Z and found Q, then the only way to verify it is if many other people independently reproduce X and find Y, or observe Z and find Q.

 

EDIT: Oh, and on to the point. Lots of people testify to having seen certain things. Not all of them testify to the seeing the same thing at the same time, and very few of them have evidence to back it up. After all, many people report to have seen Elvis alive, or to have been abducted by little green men, or to be sick when they're not, or to have witnessed a crime when they didn't, etc. People are often mistaken. People often lie.

 


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Quote:I have another

Quote:

I have another question about anecdotal "evidence" and historical "facts."

And just to reiterate, I believe very little of the bible is likely true in any historical, factual sense. But just for the sake of argument:

Say 2000 people all heard and recounted their experience of a speech given by Abraham Lincoln and how he said a certain thing and scratched his nose at a certain point during the speech and then coughed and reached for his handkerchief (or some other important political detail not recorded by official government documents or relatively reliable press). Why is it that we can take that consensus of eyewitness accounts to be an almost certain indication of a historical fact, and yet the anecdotal evidence of millions of believers as a mass delusion?

The way I understand how historical data is collected and confirmed and cross-referenced, that seems a bit incongruous. Am I missing some important aspect of it?

Well, okay: just to look at your example first, the first thing a historian is likely to do is attach weight to the claim being made. Is it a really substantial claim (one that is either incredible or contradicts a long-standing well accepted view, or perhaps both), or is it a more superficial claim? Obviously, whether or not Abraham Lincoln scratched his nose during a speech has a pretty low historical weight, so corroborating testimony from eye-witnesses is pretty reasonable evidence.

Now, for a much more substantial claim - like that a human being was the mortal avatar of an immortal deity and transmuted water into wine and brought dead people back to life - anecdotes and testimony simply aren't enough. The proposed event just has too much wieght for that kind of evidence to be considered sufficient. Witnesses are too easily fooled, people too often exaggerate or mis-remember events, etc. We're talking about violations of the laws of physics, biology, etc; really extraordinary stuff. So we need to see some extraordinary evidence to back it up before we can consider it credible.

Quote:
"Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full."

- Leon Trotsky, Last Will & Testament
February 27, 1940