David Aaronovitch debunks the evidential standard for pseudo-history (and perhaps that for biblical scholarship)

VoodooHistoriesCover

I highly recommend the book Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped Modern History by journalist for The Times and public commentator, David Aaronovitch.  Every chapter is a gem but I was particularly intrigued by Chapter 6, “Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Holy Shit”, which deconstructs the “scholarly” tract, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, that inspired Dan Brown’s international bestseller, The Da Vinci Code.  Aaronovitch quotes the authors’ extraordinary admission in the first chapter:

It was necessary for us to synthesise in a coherent pattern data extending from the . . . Gospels and Grail romances to accounts of current affairs in modern newspapers . . . For such an undertaking the techniques of academic scholarship were sorely inadequate.  To make the requisite connections between radically diverse bodies of subject matter we were obliged to adopt a more comprehensive approach, based on synthesis rather than conventional analysis.

Aaronovitch translates thus:

It is easy to miss the significance of these lines on a first reading . . . Look at it again . . . What do these sentences actually mean?  Why exactly would the techniques of scholarship be inadequate?  If the evidence was present to be able to make a decent hypothesis, then where was the problem?

The interesting word here . . . is ‘requisite’.  Presumably what made any particular connection ‘between radically diverse’ subjects ‘requisite’ can only have been the needs of the hypothesis; it was the authors’ theories that required links to be made that normal standards if analysis weren’t going to permit.  So to provide these hook-ups the authors abandoned scholarly methods of analysis, describing – with considerable chutzpah – their alternative method as ‘a more comprehensive approach’.  [London: Vintage, 2010, pp. 197 – 198]

In other words, the writers of Holy Blood, Holy Grail did not have any actual evidence to support their preconceived conclusions so they just made up a whole new standard of evidence to make their conspiratorial musings sound semi-plausible.

I believe that Aaronovitch’s remarks apply with equal facility to mainstream biblical “scholarship” and their inane ramblings about “context”, “criterion of embarrassment” and “who-first-started-to-believe-what-when”.  I have previously posted opinions on Christian theologian Andy Bannister against whom I debated on Premier Christian Radio’s debate show Unbelievable? in 2008, Unbelievable? stalwart Jay Smith and Richard Bauckham who appeared on the show in 2009 debating atheist scholar, James Crossley.

All three of these Christian apologists (and even Crossley to an extent) argue from within the “theological bubble” and invoke a standard of “evidence” that does even overcome the first huddle in The Real World and which they do not even use in their refutations of other religions.

If I ever debate biblical “scholarship” again, I will definitely refer to Aaronovitch’s analysis.

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