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A-Week: Testimony of the Evangelists: Extraordinary Claims: Part 3

Continuing my posts about The Testimony of the Evangelists by Simon Greenleaf...

Before I move on to Greenleaf's further attempts to submit the Gospels as evidence in a courtroom, I want to revisit these three quotes from the previous posts. I wanted my previous post to remain on a certain topic and it was already getting too long, so I'm giving this topic a post of its own.

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. pg 16

The persons ... who multiplied these copies, may be regarded ... as the agents of the Christian public ...; and on the ground of the credit due to such agents ... the copies thus made are entitled to an extraordinary degree of confidence, and ... it is not neccessary that they should be confirmed and sanctioned by the ordinary tests of truth. pg 17 (emphasis mine)

... it is quite erroneous to suppose that the Christian is bound to offer any further proof of their genuineness or authenticity. It is for the objector to show them spurious; for on him, by plainest rules of law, lies the burden of proof. pg 18

Let us assume that the above is a perfectly valid legal argument and that the burden of proof would normally rest on the objector. Beyond the fact that I did provide proof in the previous post, these rules of law are based on natural occurance.

As examples of the above rules, Greenleaf refers to several ancient legal documents like the Domesday Book and the Ancient Statues of Wales. He says that since they don't appear to be forged and these documents were kept in places you'd expect to find them, etc. that the burden of proof is on the objector.

For documents like that? Sure, I have no problem with that.

Let's say we're in court 2000 years from now and my diary is being submitted as evidence of something. (Let's also say I have a diary *smirk*) If the diary says something mundane like:

  • I went to the grocery store.
  • My girlfriend and I went out dancing.
  • I was a small-business owner.

Then it seems reasonable to me, assuming Greenleaf's assertions about the legal rules of evidence are correct, that my diary would be accepted as some kind of evidence and that the claims within the diary would generally be regarded as true. That's because all of the things in the diary ARE reasonable! They are commonplace things that we all experience. They are ordinary claims.

However, if my diary said something like:

  • I walked across the surface of a stormy sea to get to the grocery store.
  • My girlfriend was dead for 4 days, but I told her to be alive again and she was instantly ressurected.
  • I am the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present Creator of the universe.

Well... THOSE claims aren't ordinary and cannot be accepted without evidence. I don't know of any court which would simply accept such claims as truth.

As Carl Sagan once said:

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Continue to Part 4...

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