Historical Bias, Objectivity, and the Truth of Christianity
by J. Brian Huffling
“Historians are biased and choose what they report. As such, history can’t be known.” That’s a typical objection to the ability to know history. If such objections prove that we can’t know history, then we can’t know that Christianity is true since it is known through history and historical claims. In his prologue, Luke says,
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4; emphasis added).
The above passage demonstrates that Luke was writing as an historian. Words such as the ones underlined show his desire to write the truth of the events he wanted to convey. So, if history can’t be known, then we can’t know that Christianity is true. Let’s look at a typical objection.
Bias is probably the most popular objection to knowing history. It is claimed by some that historians are biased. It is not always clear what the objection is really getting at, but usually it is something like the historian holds certain views that in some way make his reporting subjective or unfair. For example, an historian may be writing about a religious issue and if he is part of that religion he is likely going to be accused of being biased. The disciples are often said to be biased regarding the events of the life of Jesus, particularly his resurrection. Since they knew him and had a vested interest they must have made up the claims of the resurrection.
Ironically, there are many assumptions (i.e. biases) about the nature of bias. It is more often than not used in a negative way and is equated with subjectivity and falsity. But why should this be the case? Why should the notion of either bias or subjectivity be equated with something being false? People could be biased because of evidence. If the disciples really did see Jesus alive after he was dead, then the reason they were biased was because of evidence and proof. But this bias would not be based on any subjectivity since their knowledge was based on objective and empirical evidence. Further, someone could have a subjective view of something and still be correct. There is nothing about being biased or subjective that guarantees that the belief is false. Such is an assumption in itself.
Consider this popular argument against objectivity…