To determine if we can accept inconsistencies in the bible, we must examine the reliability of eye-witness accounts. In addition to the six main criteria to examine historicity, historians, along with psychologists and lawyers, deal with human recollection in their work – here’s what they already know.
Inconsistencies in Memory
Perhaps the biggest factor in recollection is memory itself. We often think of our brain as a video recorder, constantly taking in the feed and storing it in the recesses of our mind until we bring it to the forefront to press play. But according to an article from Scientific America, this is not true. “On the contrary, psychologists have found that memories are reconstructed rather than played back each time we recall them. The act of remembering, says eminent memory researcher and psychologist Elizabeth F. Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, is ‘more akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording.’ ” Even with the best of intentions, we inadvertently say things that are inaccurate.
Telling a Story
Have you ever started telling a story in the same room with someone who was there? At some point, they probably interjected with a statement like, “That’s not how it happened!” or “That’s not how I remember it.” It is common for people to recount events differently, as each person has a unique point of view from which they view the world.
An article from the Standford Journal of Legal Studies explains this phenomenon. “Every act of telling and retelling is tailored to a particular listener; we would not expect someone to listen to every detail of our morning commute, so we edit out extraneous material. The act of telling a story adds another layer of distortion, which in turn affects the underlying memory of the event.” As we piece together events to make a comprehensive story, we either edit out or add details to make it more compelling and comprehensive.
If our memory is imperfect and we shape our stories from our point of view – can we rely on eye-witness accounts at all? Think back to the last story you told when someone else remembered it differently. Did that event really happen despite the inconsistencies? Of course it did. The details may vary, but the main events remain.
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Lindsay Rudegeair is Managing Editor of the Magis Center blog.