I am reading some stuff about cognition research, how we actually think. And, it is so easy to see how religious ideas develop and catch on, based on how human brains work.
We like simple explanations for complex things. More importantly, we like explanations
. Human beings would rather have a wrong answer than no answer at all. Add in the fact that memory is not
like a video recording, but is a mechanism that helps us to make sense of the world.
More people who could possibly have witnessed an event will remember being there and seeing it happen, because they heard about it later and incorporated the story into their own memory.
So, no, "eyewitnesses" to a miraculous event are not good evidence for that event being true, especially as time passes. And especially as the event (Jesus rising from the dead) becomes incorporated into a larger narrative (other stories about Jesus, Jewish folklore, older pagan myths and stories).
It is extremely common. Most of us have childhood "memories" that are not our real memories, but are based on having heard adults tell stories about something that happened to us, or to other family memories. We can "remember" things that we think happened to us at age 3 or 4, but when we look back at the records, it actually happened to a sibling, or even to a character in a movie we saw at that age. Once an event becomes part of a person's memory, it is permanent and hard to dislodge. Even if it didn't really happen.
There is magical thinking in all of us, no matter how rational we try to be. It is evolutionary, because sometimes we had to make a very important decision based on too little information-- friend or foe, good or bad, poison or okay to eat? Where is the best place to leave this animal trap so we will catch some food?
So we learned to look for magical signs that would tell us what we needed to know to survive-- or at least made us think that we knew what we needed to know. Sometimes the magic worked and that reinforced all times it failed.
People who were too rational, and could not keep going in the face of disappointment probably did not survive as long.If I step onto the forest trail with my left foot first, there will be an animal in my trap when I get there.
Two times out of ten, there was an animal and I remember the left foot trick. And then there is the excellent ability of human beings to rationalize. Eight times, there was no animal in my trap, even though I stepped with my left foot. It had been there before, but it heard me and escaped. I must walk more quietly.
We also easily associate inanimate objects (sacred stones, magical water sources, grandmother willow, bibles, crosses, church buildings, relics of saints) with meaning beyond the object itself. That is why every religion has sacred objects, places, etc. Religions are capitalizing on this brain tendency.
But it does not have to be religious meaning. Most of the time it is not.
example from the book I am reading: hardly anyone here would want Hitler's sweater, no matter how nice it was, how cheap the price and how much it had been washed. Most of us would rather be cold than put it on. If someone gave it to us, we might even burn it. This is not rational--the sweater did not do anything evil. But we all recognize that the sweater has "evil cooties" because we associate the sweater with a person who did bad things.
If someone did want to wear it, it would again be because of the magical properties inherent in Hitler's sweater. A neo-Nazi might pay a lot of money to wear Hitler's sweater. Again, it is still just a sweater. There are not even any atoms of Hitler left in it. But the magic (good or bad) is in the object. Somehow.
Likewise it is hard to part with the favorite blankie or teddy bear from childhood, or that tattered copy of Goodnight Moon mom read to us. We hang onto an object that reminds us of some loved one who died. We avoid driving by the place where we broke up with the boy or girlfriend. We throw out their belongings. But we save the baby's first teeth and a lock of their hair. And we always go back to that same restaurant for the wedding anniversary. This is what we might call secular magical thinking.
Religious people don't much care for cognitive research. For one, the research shows that religions all function the same ways-- there is no sign to distinguish a false or true one based on how people's brains respond.
And for two, people in ancient times who created religions did not know much about how the human brain works, but they were good at working human brains over