That leads me, then, to my first major contention, namely: There are four historical facts which must be explained by any adequate historical hypothesis: Jesus’ burial; the discovery of his empty tomb; his post-mortem appearances; the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection. Now, let’s look at that first contention more closely. I want to share four facts which are widely accepted by historians today.
William Lane Craig (from his 2006 Debate with Bart Ehrman).
Is this really the way history works? Is there any intellectual legitimacy in picking out a handful of facts that support a predetermined conclusion and insisting that a conclusion be reached solely on that handful of facts? Isn’t this what crackpot conspiracy theorists do? The 911 nuts find a couple of clips that make it look like there were explosions at lower levels of the buildings. They find a couple of witnesses who report hearing explosions or report seeing flashes. Then they triumphantly claim that only their theory of a controlled demolition explains those clips and quotes. They see no need to consider the overwhelming mountain of evidence that establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Twin Towers fell because terrorist hijackers flew airplanes into the buildings.
Of course, we know that conservative Christians think that medicine works that way, too. Who can forget the carefully edited video of Terri Schiavo that seemed to show her responding to the people in her hospital room? Would any sane person think that her condition could be diagnosed solely on that video? Republican Senator Bill Frist did! After looking at the video for an hour, he declared on the Senate floor, “There just seems to be insufficient information to conclude that Terri Schiavo is [in a] persistent vegetative state.” Bill was quite right. The video did not contain the information that was available to the doctors who had examined and treated Schiavo over the fifteen years since her accident.
Real historians do history by weighing all the facts and evidence in order to reach a conclusion. Crackpots do history by cherry-picking the evidence.