I’m not sure that I’ve ever actually played the game “two truths and a lie.” I think I have. Then again, maybe I know I have and am lying. Either way, I found myself thinking about the game for some reason as I was reminded of the problematic case that Richard Carrier has made for incorporating mathematical probability (and more specifically a Bayesian approach) into historical methods.
I think that the game helps illustrate the problem.
If one followed Carrier’s logic, each bit of evidence of untruth would diminish the evidence for truth, and each bit of evidence that is compatible with the non-historicity of Jesus diminishes the case for his historicity.
But in history as historians practice it, each claim, each piece of evidence, stands or falls on its own merits. The non-historicity of the cherry tree incident in no way dilutes the case for the historicity of George Washington. There is no need to go back over the evidence and do a recalculation of the case for historicity. That is not just because the impact of that non-historical story is infinitesimally small in comparison with other evidence. It is that the case for historicity is based on the evidence which supports it, and is not diminished by the fact that all famous people also have non-historical claims made about them.
That’s where the analogy of the game seemed to me as though it might be helpful.
The truthfulness of the two truths is not diminished by the one lie, nor is the truthfulness of the one lie improved by the two truths. The two truths are true (if you follow the rules and play the game correctly) and the one lie is a lie, and each stands on its own merits to be evaluated on its own terms.
History works in the same way. And for that reason, all we need for the case for the historicity of Jesus to be solid is some evidence that weighs strongly in favor of his historicity. And we have it, and so in theory, mythicism should simply vanish. But as with all forms of denialism, it will persist regardless of the evidence.
Since I brought it up, why don’t we play “Two Truths and a Lie” here on the blog? I’ll start (no Googling!):
- I have been interviewed by E! Online
- I have cycled from Dublin to Waterford in Ireland
- I speak fluent Albanian
Which is the lie?
A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus by John Dickson: