Tuesday, December 29, 2009

""Hero Savior of Vietnam""

(Richard Carrier)

"""Suppose I told you there was a soldier in the Vietnam War named "Hero Savior" who miraculously calmed storms, healed wounds, conjured food and water out of thin air, and then was blown up by artillery, but appeared again whole and alive three days later, giving instructions to his buddies before flying up into outer space right before their very eyes. Would you believe me? Certainly not. You would ask me to prove it.

So I would give you all the evidence I have. But all I have are some vague war letters by a guy who never really met Hero Savior in person, and a handful of stories written over thirty years later by some guys named Bill, Bob, Carl, and Joe. I don't know for sure who these guys are. I don't even know their last names. There are only unconfirmed rumors that they were or knew some of the war buddies of Hero Savior. They might have written earlier than we think, or later, but no one really knows. No one can find any earlier documentation to confirm their stories, either, or their service during the war, or even find these guys to interview them. So we don't know if they really are who others claim, and we're not even sure these are the guys who actually wrote the stories. You see, the undated pamphlets circulating under their names don't say "by Bill" or "by Bob," but "as told by Bill" and "as told by Bob." Besides all that, we also can't find any record of a Hero Savior serving in the war. He might have been a native guide whose name never made it into official records, but still, none of the historians of the war ever mention him, or his amazing deeds, or even the reports of them that surely would have spread far and wide.

Besides the dubious evidence of these late, uncorroborated, unsourced, and suspicious stories, the best thing I can give you is that war correspondence I mentioned, some letters by an army sergeant actually from the war, who claims he was a skeptic who changed his mind. But he never met or saw Hero in life, and never mentions any of the miracles that Bob, Bill, Carl, and Joe talk about. In fact, the only thing this sergeant ever mentions is "seeing" Hero after his death, though not "in flesh and blood," but in a "revelation." That's it.

This sergeant also claims the spirit of Hero Savior now enables him and some others to "speak in tongues" and "prophecy" and heal some illnesses, but none of this has been confirmed or observed by anyone else on record, and none of it sounds any different than what thousands of other cults and gurus have claimed. So, too, for some unconfirmed reports that some of these believers, even this army sergeant, endured persecution or even died for believing they "saw Hero in a revelation"--a fact no more incredible than the Buddhists who set themselves on fire to protest the Vietnam War, certain they would be reincarnated, or the hundreds of people who voluntarily killed themselves at Jonestown, certain their leader was sent by God.

Okay. I've given you all that evidence. Would you believe me then? Certainly not. No one trusts documents that come decades after the fact by unknown authors, and hardly anyone believes the hundreds of gurus today who claim to see and speak to the spirits of the dead, heal, and predict the future. Every reasonable person expects and requires extensive corroboration by contemporary documents and confirmed eyewitness accounts. Everyone would expect here at least as much evidence as I'd need to prove I owned a nuclear missile, yet the standard required is actually that of proving I own an interstellar spacecraft--for these are clearly very extraordinary claims, and as we saw above, such claims require extraordinary evidence, as much as would be needed, for example, to convince the United Nations that I had an interstellar spacecraft on my lawn. Yet what we have for this Hero Savior doesn't even count as ordinary evidence, much less the extraordinary evidence we really need.

To complete the analogy, many other things would rightly bother us. Little is remarkable about the stories told of Hero Savior, for similar stories apparently have been told of numerous Vietnamese sorcerers and heroes throughout history--and no one believes them, so why should we make an exception for Hero? The documents we have from Bob, Bill, Carl, and Joe have also been tampered with--we've found some cases of forgery and editing in each of their stories by parties unknown, and we aren't sure we've caught it all. Apparently, their stories were used by several different cults to support their causes, and these cults all squabble over the exact details of the right cause, and so tell different stories or interpret the stories differently to serve their own particular agenda. And the earliest version, the one told by Bob, which both Bill and Joe clearly copied, added to, and edited (which Carl might have done, too, perhaps by borrowing loosely from Joe), appears to have been almost entirely constructed out of passages from an ancient Vietnamese poem, arranged and altered to tell a story full of symbolic and moral meaning. These and many other problems plague the evidence, leaving it even more suspect than normal.

This Hero Savior analogy entirely parallels the situation for Jesus.[7] Every reason we would have not to believe these Hero Savior stories applies to the stories of Jesus with all the same force. So if you agree there would be no good reason to believe these Hero Savior stories, you must also agree there is insufficient reason to believe the Jesus Christ stories. Hence I am not a Christian because the evidence is not good enough. For it is no better than the evidence proposed for Hero Savior, and that falls far short of the burden that would have to be met to confirm the very extraordinary claims surrounding him."""

Hume would be proud. Carrier at least presents skepticism in an effective manner--(perhaps obvious--or annoying to some, but works as secular Praxis). And one could apply the Hero-savior scenario to any putative supernatural extortionist holy man--Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Cagliostros, Joseph Smith, etc. Of course, there are some who frown on evidentialism of any sort; some postmod sorts go so far as to claim that asking for proof is itself sort of....bourgeois, or part of secular "Enlightenment" thinking (do they mean to include say Voltaire, Diderot etc in that class? Voltaire was as aware of evidential issues in regards to scripture as Hume was , though a bit subtler...). And since the Aufklarung (german for "Enlightenment") has been declared ..Oppressive, evidentialism is too! That's how the postmod apparatchik argues. So...in effect the postmod claims scripture holds, whether it occurred historically or not.


Jazzbumpa said...

Carrier does a decent job, but omits one salient fact. The stories told by our chroniclers, Bob, Bill, Carl, and Joe were written not in their native English, but Greek.

That does seem a bit odd, and probably would to Hume as well.


J said...

Yes, you are correct JzB, that the translation issue--and reliability of translation --presents another challenge , at least to rationalists, though not to the usual biblethumping Bubba. Not too many believers bother with the Koine Greek, or vulgate in Latin, hebrew, etc. I can read a bit of the vulgate. Greek's another matter.

That said, we could--as Jefferson did--perhaps grant a person we now call Jesus Christ existed (I think that's probably likely. Nietzsche himself said Christ existed, but that much of NT was misleading). And he was wise, perhaps even holy in a sense, and was crucified, but the supposed miracles--even the Resurrection--were most likely mythological add-ons (but, like,we weren't there, either). The New Testament would still carry some ethical weight, however.

Hume, like Carrier (though in ways Carrier tends to rush to judgment) doesn't agree to that, however. He simply does not accept any text which speaks of the dead coming back to life, angels, virgin births, which are not in accordance with the uniformity of experience (Hume sounds fairly Newtonian at times). He does say, well, logically a miracle might be possible. But it's far more likely that reports were exaggerated, or distorted (or, even...a hoax).

So, via Hume's Fork, it's unlikely the biblical narrative is correct (both OT and NT)--in one fell swoop biblical inerrancy has been defeated, and thus theocracy overturned, at least inductively speaking (though Spinoza and others had suggested nearly as much). Yet the fundies have still not grasped that--I suspect Jefferson and his pals did. Darwin &Co. continues that destruction of dogma.

Humans might still believe really, but they should not mistake the biblical narrative for objective history (or science, logic, etc). On that Hume and Carrier agree.

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