Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Disinterested Testimony

The following is from the Errancy Discussion list from
1-13-98. Farrell Till explains the term, "disinterested". 
Till convincingly argues that this is the type of 
testimony that is needed in order to give us sufficient 
reason to believe that the apostles and Jesus Christ 
actually existed. But, sadly, this type of testimony 
is conspicuously missing (please excuse the transcription 

Sayeedul Islam wrote:

I wanted to know exactly what you meant by 
"disinterested source"? I don't really know 
if you mean a source that has no inclination 
towards either side of a discussion or if 
you mean something else. I personally don't 
believe there is any historical writing that 
has ever been written without some sort of a 
bias or perspective. Please clarify. 

In English the word "disinterested" means "free of 
bias and self-interest, impartial, or indifferent."  
You are undoubtedly right when you say that probably 
no historical writing has ever been written without 
some sort of a bias or perspective, but relatively 
speaking, one can evaluate records to determine if 
they are fundamentally free of bias.  Let's take, 
for example,the testimony of the 11 Mormon witnesses, 
who signed affidavits swearing that they either 
saw the angel Moroni deliver golden plates to Joseph 
Smith or else saw and handled the plates.  However, 
these witnesses were known to be leaders and adherents 
of the newly proclaimed Mormon faith.  Even when we
look at their names, we can immediately see reasons 
to be suspicious of their testimony. Five of the eleven, 
for example, had the surname Whitmer, an indication 
that they were probably all related to David Whitmer, 
another one of the witnesses and a leader in the 
Mormon movement. Three of them had the surname Smith, 
one of whom was Joseph Smith, Sr., the father of the 
man who allegedly received the special revelation 
from God. These facts about the witnesses exclude 
them from all possibility of being considered 
disinterested witnesses.

When we examine religious literature as a whole, we
see very little indication that these writings were 
produced by disinterested parties. The writers of 
the NT, for example, were obviously adherents of the 
Christian faith, and their intention in writing was 
not to produce accurate historical records of  what 
they wrote about. They wanted to further the cause of
Christianity, and the writer of John's gospel came 
right out and admitted that this was his purpose: 
"Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence 
of his disciples, which are not written in this book, 
but these are written that you may believe that Jesus 
is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you 
may have life in his name" (20:30-31). Such writings as
this cannot by any stretch of imagination be considered 
"disinterested testimony."

Goodguy has sarcastically compared my questioning the 
historicity of the apostles to questioning the 
historicity of Napoleon, but the two are not comparable. 
There are disinterested records of Napoleon. If documents 
produced in a country that was hostile to Napoleon 
referred to him, then it would be safe to assume that 
the authors of the documents were not trying to further 
any of Napoleon's political causes. Hence, we can 
consider this disinterested testimony to Napoleon's 
existence.  In calling disinterested testimony basically 
reliable, I am not establishing any standards that I 
am not willing to apply to the Bible.  The Babylonian 
Chronicle refers independently of the Bible to 
Nebuchadnezzar and details some events that are 
recorded in the books of Kings and Chronicles about 
this Babylonian king; hence, it becomes reasonable 
to accept the historicity of Nebuchadnezzar because 
independent confirmation of the biblical record is 
known to exist.  The Bible tells the story of Jehu, 
a king of Israel, in 2 Kings 9-10 and 2 
Chronicles 22. Jehu's historical existence can be 
reasonably accepted, because the archaeological 
discovery of the Black Obelisk of Assyria provides 
independent confirmation of Jehu's reign.  The
Obelisk pictures a king bearing tribute to 
Shalmaneser III, and an inscription says that this 
was "the tribute of Jehu, son of Omri." The Bible 
mentions King Mesha of Moab in 2 Kings 3, and the 
discovery of the Moabite Stone revealed a narrative 
attributed to King Mesha; hence, this would 
constitute confirmation independent of the Bible record.  
There are other examples that I could cite, but these 
should be sufficent to show the difference between
disinterested, independent confirmation of biblical
records and just the blind acceptance of anything the 
Bible says simply because it is in the Bible. This is 
the problem that confronts Goodguy in the present 
controversy over the apostles. He has no disinterested 
confirmation of his claim that the apostles died for 
their belief in the resurrection. All that he can do 
is cite what is said in biased records left by avowed 
Christian writers and highly improbable traditions.

Farrell Till

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