[This post is a work in progress as part of the CAA Catechism.]
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Summary in 400 words or less:
The argument from undesigned coincidences (UC) counters the skeptic’s notion that “the Bible is only the claim” and offers no evidence within Itself for Its own truthfulness. Far from the fallacious argument of ad populum (which would claim that because every source states a detail, that detail must be true), the UC argument uses probability to show that significant evidence favors the reality that multiple sources commented on a historical fact. Unlike mere multiple attestation, the details given by the different human sources are not equivalent as it concerns the event or fact that is questioned, but rather, interlocking.
The Form of the Argument:
- At least two independent human sources give coherent, interlocking accounts of a possible event or a set of facts.
- If the possible event were an actual event, such interlocking accounts would be much more probable than if that possible event were not an actual event.
- The interlocking of the accounts in those sources is significant evidence that the event actually occurred. (Mutatis mutandis for the set of facts.)
Incidentally an argument from testimony can work even in cases where we *know* that the sources are more likely to tell a falsehood than to tell the truth — provided that they are sufficiently unlikely to tell the *same* falsehood. Here is an example — mathematical, I’m afraid, but that is the only way to make the point beyond dispute. I’ll put it in the form of a problem that you can work on if you like:
Ten unreliable knaves, each of whom is ten times as likely to tell a falsehood as to tell the truth, all spontaneously tell the same tale. The prior odds against this tale’s being true are 10 to 1. But if it is false, it is one of 100 false tales that each knave might have told, and each of these tales is as likely to be told as any of the others, if the knave who tells it is not speaking the truth. Assuming that the truth or falsehood of the tale screens off their statements from each other – assuming, that is, that their statements are independent given what really happened – what is the probability that the tale is true, given their combined testimony?
Scripture for YouVersion:
2 Timothy 2:15
McGrew, Timothy. Internal Evidence for the Truth of the Gospels. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wUcrwYocgM>
Three questions (1 fill-in-the-blank, 1 multiple choice, and one discussion question):
For which events in the Gospels do New Testament Undesigned Coincidences give particularly strong evidence for historicity?
A. Jesus betrayal by Judas and the Sermon on the Mount
B. The Feeding of the 5,000 and the Trial of Jesus before Pilate
C. Massacre of the Innocents and Jesus at the Temple at 12
D. The Feeding of the 4,000 and the Trial of Jesus before Herod
References for further reading:
Blunt, John J. Undesigned Coincidences in the Writings Both of the Old and New Testaments: An Argument of Their Veracity. New York City: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851. http://ia700307.us.archive.org/28/items/undesignedcoinci1851blun/undesignedcoinci1851blun.pdf. Accessed 9 Sept. 2013. (See https://archive.org/details/undesignedcoinci1851blun)
McGrew, Timothy. “Are There Internal Marks of Truth in Scripture?” Jan. 2011. http://www.fbckenner.org/audio/jan2011/010911A%20.mp3. Accessed 2015. Web.
McGrew, Timothy. “Undesigned Coincidences: Part 1.” Sept. 2013. http://www.christianapologeticsalliance.com/2013/09/01/undesigned-coincidences/. Accessed 2014. Web.
Paley, William. Horae Paulinae: The Truth of the Scripture History of St. Paul Evidenced. https://archive.org/details/horaepaulinae00pale. Accessed 2015. Web.
Handout: Undesigned Coincidences Among the Gospels (Tim McGrew)
Information has been taken from Dr. McGrew’s comments this year in the CAA forum, and adapted for use here. Sorry, the video selected is actually a long one.
Collaborators: Tim McGrew, Z.E. Kendall
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