As I slowly make my way through agnostic Bart Ehrman’s latest book, Did Jesus Exist?, I can’t help but to notice the logical fallacies. For instance, about a week ago I posted on Bart Ehrman’s straw man and contradiction against the fundamentalists. Three weeks ago I posted on his fallacy of a false dilemma.
Today’s post will focus on the fallacy of argument from silence.
Ehrman knows that an argument from silence is a fallacy. That’s because he’s able to identify it as a fallacy when others commit it. For instance, in talking about Rene Salm, who denies the historical existence of the town of Nazareth, Ehrman writes
The most recent critic to dispute the existence of Nazareth is Rene Salm, who has devoted an entire book to the question, called The Myth of Nazereth…Like so many mythicists before him, Salm emphasizes what scholars have long known: Nazareth is never mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, in the writings of Josephus, or in the Talmud. It first shows up in the Gospels. Salm is also impressed by the fact that the early generations of Christians did not seek out the place but rather ignored it and seem not to know where it was (this is actually hard to show; how would we know this about ‘every’ early Christian, unless all of them left us writings and told us everything they knew and did?).” (Page 193)
A Slam Dunk on Salm. After all, silence only proves…silence. And don’t forget the difficulty of proving a universal negative. Note how Ehrman calls out Salm that he does not know what every early Christian have done in their lives and therefore Salm can not establish his premise that no early Christians ever looked for Nazareth.
Does Ehrman commit the same fallacy?
Here’s an example of Bart Ehrman’s argument from silence in Did Jesus Exists? :
Before the Christian movement, there were no Jews who thought the messiah was going to suffer.” (Page 173; emphasis not in original)
No Jews? To apply Ehrman’s own refutation quoted earlier against himself: “this is actually hard to show; how would we know…” “unless all of them left us writings and told us everything they knew and did?” (Page 193).
The same problem applies to the following:
According to Luke’s story, a tax was imposed on ‘all the world’ by Caesar Augustus, and everyone had to register for a census. Since Joseph’s distant ancestor David was born in Bethlehem, that is where he had to register. While he was there his betrothed, Mary, gave birth. There is no way this can be historically correct. There was no worldwide (or even empire-wide) census in the days of Augustus…” (Page 184; emphasis not in original)
So too it is completely implausible that when Jesus was put on trial at the end of his life, Pilate offered to release one of his two chief prisoners Barabbas or Jesus, as was allegedly his custom at Passover (see Mark 15:6-15). We have no historical record of any such custom being carried out by Pilate or anyone else.” (Page 184)
Again, an argument from silence to prove a claim. Ehrman should realize the difficulty of his position with the realities that he admitted earlier in the book that the Romans did not keep a detailed complete record of everything they did and that we should not interpret that to mean that something couldn’t have been historical if it’s cited elsewhere (see pages 44 through 46). Keep in mind that an argument from silence here is further problematic when one consider the fact that the majority of the Roman imperial record did not survive the passage of time.
Can you spot other arguments from silence in Ehrman’s book?
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