Thursday, November 10, 2011

Anonymous sources


But you keep drawing conclusions about Cain's critics without waiting for evidence from a trial. Why would we need such evidence? Do you apply the same reasoning to other areas of life, like Jesus' resurrection?
Are you aware that some of the arguments you and others are using against Cain's critics are highly similar to arguments that are often brought against Christianity (e.g., the anonymity of early Christian sources, the possibility that early Christian sources are wrong, the notion that the evidence for Christianity doesn't meet modern legal standards)?

This is Jason’s most significant objection–significant because it raises a serious issue over and above the ephemeral Cain controversy. So I’ll address it separately.

This is a comment that Jason directed at Wintery Knight rather than me, but it’s worth discussing in its own right.

i) It’s hard to address Jason’s comparison in general, for the validity or invalidity of the comparison will necessarily turn on the specifics in any given case.

ii) I don’t think anonymous sources are inherently suspect. Whether or not anonymity is suspect is contingent on more specific or topical considerations.

iii) Except for Hebrews, I don’t think the NT is anonymous. So I don’t grant the premise of the critics.

iv) But perhaps Jason means that even if the four gospels, or Acts, or 1 Corinthians, is not anonymous, these documents incorporate anonymous sources.

Whether or not that’s suspect depends on the motivation.

a) For instance, scribes are typically anonymous. That’s not suspect, for there’s no expectation that scribes would sign their work. That’s not a part of scribal culture. They were hirelings. The author, who dictated the material, got the credit.

b) Likewise, one reason (maybe the primary reason) a historian like Luke won’t name his sources is that Luke isn’t simply writing history, but narrative history. He’s telling the reader a story. To interrupt the story by naming his sources would take the reader out the narrative. Break the narrative flow. Disrupt the continuity of the story.

c) Another potential reason for anonymity is if the document is circulated to a close-knit community where everyone knows everyone else–like a small town. In-house literature. That’s perfectly innocent.

d) Yet another potential motivation for anonymity is fear of retribution. That motivation can be honest or dishonest–depending on the circumstances.

On the one hand you may have the whistleblower or undercover informant who is doing a good thing by exposing crime or corruption, but also has good reason for fear for his safety if he goes public.

On the other hand, you may have an unscrupulous accuser who wishes to retain anonymity because his allegation wouldn’t survive scrutiny if it were traceable.

e) This also goes to testimonial evidence generally. What does the witness have to gain or lose by telling the truth? What does the witness have to gain or lose by lying?

iv) I assume Jason is alluding to Bauckham’s thesis that NT writer sometime use anonymous sources to protect their sources at a time when Christians were subject to persecution. That’s an innocent motivation.

v) To what extent the Cain controversy is analogous to these considerations is something one would have to argue for (or against) piece-by-piece.

vi) There’s a prima facie presumption that the more accusers who come forward, the more likely it is that basic allegation is true. That establishes a pattern. The accused has a modus operandi.

vii) But that has to be counterbalanced against other considerations.

Are accusers coming forward? Or do we have spokesmen for accusers coming forward? It’s not the accuser, but the spokesman, who’s coming forward.

In principle, an accuser can have a valid reason to shield his or her identity. But by the same token, we’re not really dealing with the accuser. That doesn’t count as another accuser.

Rather, we’re dealing with a spokesman (e.g. lawyer, reporter) who presumes to speak for the accuser. The spokesman attributes statements to the accuser, who attributes statements to the accused.

Allegations are leveled against the accused. But by the same token, if the accuser is anonymous, then it’s really an allegation by an alleged accuser.

That doesn’t mean the allegations are false. But between the anonymous accuser and me is a filter. All I have to go by is the filter. The spokesman.

viii) If the accuser actually comes forward, then we have to assess the credibility of the accuser. And, of course, we must also assess the credibility of the accused.

ix) Are the accusers coming forward spontaneously? Or is this orchestrated? Are they, in a sense, recruited? Or did they take the initiative? If it’s spontaneous, that carries more prima facie weight.

x) Cain could well be guilty. Some men in positions of power exploit their position for sexual gain. Examples are endless. That's as old as dirt. So that’s a plausible scenario.

xi) But there are other plausible scenarios. The base of the Democrat party consists of core constituents and special-interest groups, viz. blacks, women, latinos, unions, trial lawyers. It’s a threat to the political viability of the Democrat party and the liberal establishment if the conservative movement can produce rivals. That’s why the liberal establishment tried to destroy Clarence Thomas and Sarah Palin. That’s why Congressional Democrats refused to put Miguel Estrada’s nomination up for a vote.

(BTW, I have no opinion on who was telling the truth in the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill imbroglio.)

There’s a vested interest in destroying a black conservative like Cain by any means necessary.

That doesn’t mean he’s innocent. But that’s one of the factors you have to take into account when you access the credibility of anonymous accusers or even named accusers and their handlers. Are they just being put up to this? What, if anything, do they get in return?

xii) Likewise, the liberal establishment is trying to redefine manhood and womanhood. Sexual harassment suits can be a political tool to intimate. To coerce social change. You have power politics in academia and the workforce as well as the campaign trail. So that’s another factor we need to consider. That may dovetail with other factors. 


  1. Then again, who cares about all this when it is clear that Cain is ill-prepared to be President to begin with?

    Cain is just the Republican version of Obama; his 9-9-9 is just an empty slogan like Obama's hope and change.

  2. From a purely worldly set of standards, that was a critical eye, spot on, this article, "Anonymous sources".

    From a purely Christ centered set of standards, Christ justifies the guilty declaring them acquitted of their failure, (their guilt) based on the failure of just one man whether or not we are innocent or guilty of any accusations that come from fallen angels or any man.

    Where I am straining with this is within the Christ centered process we, the Elect, have, in our fellowship with a very "Ever-Present" Ever-living source who confirms the veracity of any and all charges made against us, and, of course, in this case, the charges being considered here are the ones being made against Mr. Cain by both anonymous and revealed sources.

    We have verses like these that cause pause in making any rash and hasty conclusions for or against the one being accused and the ones who are the accusers, or their spokesmen, if that person being accused is indeed born-again:

    Job 9:1 Then Job answered and said:
    Job 9:2 "Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God?
    Job 9:3 If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.
    Job 9:4 He is wise in heart and mighty in strength --who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?--


    Job 9:14 How then can I answer him, choosing my words with him?
    Job 9:15 Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.

    I would say we, the Elect, are then left with Gospel Faith to survive any false or true accusations made against our person, our acts, our words or our thoughts:

    1Co 15:56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
    1Co 15:57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
    1Co 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

    All of us are guilty. Not all of us have received the gift of "victory" from Our Heavenly Father through the equitable deeds of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

    To those who have received the victory, one would suspect the accused would keep on keeping on steadfast, immovable and abounding not in vain in the face of it.

    I would think the same holds true for the non-elect that are bold and of a strong countenance and character during their period of public accusation?

    What is it then with those who have not received the victory but an affair of this world. It is not the same as those who are born again.

    Rev 18:4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues;
    Rev 18:5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.

    Here's where I strain at this article. It is whether or not I should give any place to contemplating Mr. Cain's guilt or innocence? It is this affair of both the accuser and the accused, anonymous or not that brings about such strains!

    I did read today Mr. Cain said to someone who asked him "how will you beat President Obama", "beat him with a Cain"?

    Seems like he is steadfastly moving on to win the Republican nomination?


    "Then again, who cares about all this when it is clear that Cain is ill-prepared to be President to begin with?"

    For one thing, if this is successful, then the liberal establishment may use the same tactics on whoever the GOP nominee is. You don't need to prove anything, just raise doubt. Make the nominee damaged goods.

  4. "For one thing, if this is successful, then the liberal establishment may use the same tactics on whoever the GOP nominee is"

    Since the liberal establishment has used this tactic before on Clarence Thomas the public is aware of these superficial tactics which is probably why his poll numbers have remained steady.

    And thanks to Bill Clinton these sorts of charges no longer carry the stigma they once did.

    So this sort of ammunition no longer carries the firepower it once had.

    OTOH, they may have thought that Republicans are, at a core level, racists and a story about a black man groping a white woman would send his poll numbers plummeting. If that was their motivation even that tactic seems to have failed.

  5. When I referred to anonymous sources in ancient Christianity, I had more than one thing in mind. The group of more than five hundred resurrection witnesses in 1 Corinthians 15 is often criticized for its anonymity, as are Luke's sources, for example. Some of the books of the Bible are anonymous. The same is true of some of the patristic literature. And there's the issue of what we're to make of documents like the gospels and First Clement if we reject their traditional authorship attributions (in actuality or for the sake of argument).

    In cases like the ones I've mentioned above, anonymous sources can derive credibility from known sources they're associated with. The resurrection witnesses of 1 Corinthians 15 are treated as credible by sources like Paul and the early Corinthian church, so the credibility of the latter increases the credibility of the former. Even if the gospels were anonymous, they would derive some credibility from their acceptance by so many early sources. Etc. The same principles apply to the modern media. When CBS, NPR, Politico, PJ Media, or some other media outlet claims to have spoken to some unnamed sources at the National Restaurant Association, for example, does the anonymity of the sources prevent us from assigning any significance to them? No, since we'd also take into consideration factors like the general credibility of the media outlet in question and the likelihood that the reporter in question would be lying or honestly mistaken about his source. We can also compare one media account to another to see if there's agreement among them. Before Karen Kraushaar's name was revealed, a lot was said about her that's since been confirmed. Anybody who dismissed the earlier stories related to her, just because she and other sources discussing her were anonymous at the time, would have been unwise.

    Cain's defenders have often relied on anonymous sources. It's inconsistent for them to keep dismissing anti-Cain stories on the basis of anonymous sources while they keep citing stories that depend on sources who are anonymous. Cain's supporters, as well as Cain himself, need to stop being so dismissive of anonymity when anonymous sources are working against them.

    I agree with you that we have to make case-by-case judgments. I also agree that we have to distinguish between what we're hearing from a spokesperson for an alleged accuser and what we're hearing from the accuser himself. I have been making such distinctions. I've cited articles that go into such details when they cite anonymous sources. They'll identify their source as somebody who worked at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, somebody with direct knowledge of Karen Kraushaar's sexual harassment complaint, etc. If a credible journalist claims to have information from such a source, it's not enough for people to object that the source is anonymous. Yes, the anonymity diminishes the significance of the report. But it doesn't eliminate its significance.

    I agree with you about the general principle that something like a sexual harassment accusation could be fabricated or misrepresented by a source like the Democratic party or the media. But I want to remind the readers that you're just addressing this subject at a theoretical level. We have to go beyond the theoretical realm when judging the Cain case. When we do that, it doesn't look good for Cain.

    For those who are interested in the context of my comments that Steve quoted, see the thread here.