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A Convergence of Evidence: The Key to Historical Proof
Within all of these fallacies of thinking about both evolution and the Holocaust, there is an assumption by the creationists and the revisionists that if they can just find one tiny crack in the structure the entire edifice will come tumbling down. This is the fundamental flaw in their reasoning. The Holocaust is not a single event. The Holocaust was 10,000 events in 10,000 places, and is proved by 10,000 bits of data that converge on one conclusion. Neither evolution nor the Holocaust can be disproved by minor errors or inconsistencies here and there, for the simple reason that they were never proved by these lone bits of data in the first place. To understand why, we must consider the nature of proof in the science of history. How do we know anything happened in the past?
In 1840 the English philosopher of science, William Whewell, published his classic work on The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, in which he talked at length about inductions, or generalizations drawn from specific facts. But to prove a theory one must have more than just one generalization. And these multiple inductions must all point to a definite conclusion, building upon one another independently but in conjunction. Whewell said of these inductions that they “jumped together” to establish the veracity of a theory. A fond coiner of words (e.g., “scientist”), Whewell called this method of thinking a consilience of inductions. “Accordingly the cases in which inductions from classes of facts altogether different have thus jumped together, belong only to the best established theories which the history of science contains. And, as I shall have occasion to refer to this particular feature in their evidence, I will take the liberty of describing it by a particular phrase; and will term it the Consilience of Inductions” (p. 230).
A less cumbersome phrase might be a convergence of evidence. Evolution, for example, is proved by the convergence of evidence from geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, herpetology, entomology, biogeography, anatomy, physiology, and comparative anatomy. No one piece of evidence from these diverse fields says “evolution” on it. A fossil is a snapshot. But a fossil in a geological bed, with other fossils of the same and different species, compared to species in lower strata and upper strata, contrasted to modern similar organisms, juxtaposed with species in other parts of the world, past and present, and so on, turn that snapshot into a motion picture. Each set of inductions from each field jumps together to a grand conclusion–evolution. This is how narrative history becomes scientific history.
The process is no different in proving the Holocaust. How do we know about the Holocaust? We have:
- Written documents–hundreds of thousands of letters, memos, blueprints, orders, bills, speeches, articles, memoirs, and confessions.
- Eyewitness testimony–accounts from survivors, Kapos, Sonderkommandos, SS guards, commandants, local townspeople, and even upper-echelon Nazis who did not deny the Holocaust.
- Photographs–official military and press photographs, civilian photographs, secret photographs taken by survivors, aerial photographs, German and Allied film footage, etc.
- The camps themselves–many concentration camps, work camps, and death camps are still extant in varying degrees of originality and reconstruction.
- Negative evidence–if five to six million Jews were not killed, where did all those people go?
A Case Study in Convergence
Let us examine how this works as a case study in history as a science. We have an eyewitness account by a survivor who says he heard about gassing Jews while he was at Auschwitz. The revisionist says that survivors exaggerate and that their memories are unsound. Another survivor tells another story different in details but with the core similarity that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz. The revisionist claims that rumors were floating throughout the camps and many survivors incorporated them into their memories. An SS guard confesses after the war that he actually saw people being gassed and cremated. The revisionist claims that these confessions were forced out of the Nazis by the Allies. But now a Sonderkommando–a Jew who helped the Nazis load dead bodies out of the gas chambers and into the crematoria–says he not only heard about it, and not only saw it happening, he actually participated in the process. The revisionist explains this away by saying that the Sonderkommando accounts make no sense– their figures of numbers of bodies are exaggerated and their dates are incorrect. What about the camp commandant, who confessed after the war that he not only heard, saw, and participated in the process, but that he orchestrated it!? He was tortured, says the revisionist. But what about his autobiography written after his trial, conviction, and sentencing to death, when he had nothing to gain by lying? No one knows why people confess to ridiculous crimes, explains the revisionist, but they do.
No single testimony says “Holocaust” on it. But taking many together the story begins to unfold. And now the revisionist’s defense is beginning to unravel. Instead of the historian having to present “just one proof,” the revisionist must now disprove five pieces of historical data, with five different methods of disproof. But there is more. We have the blueprints for both the gas chambers and the crematoria–huge structures built for processing large numbers of bodies. Those were used strictly for delousing, claims the revisionist, and thanks to the Allies’ war against Germany, the Germans were never given the opportunity to deport the Jews to their own homeland, and instead had to put them into overcrowded camps where disease and lice were rampant. What about the huge orders of Zyklon-B gas? It was strictly used for delousing all those diseased inmates. What about those speeches by Hitler, Himmler, Frank, and Goebbels talking about the “extermination” of the Jews? Oh, they really meant “rooting out,” as in deporting them out of the Reich. What about Eichmann’s confession at his trial? He was coerced. Hasn’t the German government confessed that the Nazis attempted to exterminate European Jewry? Yes, but they lied so they could rejoin the family of nations.
Now the revisionist must rationalize no less than 14 different bits of evidence that “jump together” to a specific conclusion. But our convergence continues. If six million Jews did not die, where did they go? They are in Russia, and America, and Israel, and scattered throughout the world. But why can’t they find each other? They do– haven’t you heard the occasional stories of long-lost siblings making contact with each other after many decades? What about those photos and newsreels of the liberation of the camps with all those dead bodies and starving/dying inmates? Those people were well taken care of until the end of the war when the Allies were mercilessly bombing German cities, factories, and supply lines that were feeding those camps–the Nazis tried valiantly to save their prisoners but the combined strength of the Allies was too much. But what about all those accounts by prisoners of the brutality of the Nazis–the random shootings and beatings, the deplorable conditions, the freezing temperatures, the overwork, etc.? This is war. The Americans put Japanese in camps. The Japanese imprisoned Chinese. The Russians tortured Poles and Germans. War is hell. The Nazis are no different from anyone else.
Post Hoc Rationalization. We are now up to 18 proofs all converging toward one conclusion. The revisionist is desperately swinging away at them all, steadfastly determined not to give up his belief system. He is relying on what might be called post hoc rationalization–an after-the- fact reasoning to justify contrary evidence. In addition, the revisionist then shifts the burden of disproving all this evidence to the historian by mistakenly demanding that each one of these pieces of evidence independently prove the Holocaust.
Am I making all this up? No. This is not a hypothetical case study. Every one of these examples, and 10,000 more, are readily available in the various sources cited in this essay, as well as Danuta Czech’s Auschwitz Chronicle (1990), Henry Friedlander and Sybil Milton’s The Holocaust: Ideology, Bureaucracy, and Genocide (1980), Alex Grobman’s Genocide (1983), Michael Marrus’s edited nine-volume collection of articles on The Nazi Holocaust (1989), and Leni Yahil’s The Holocaust (1990). See Bibliography for full citations, as well as for the revisionists’ responses to these works, which include (with those already cited): Austin App’s The Six Million Swindle (1973), Arthur Butz’s The Hoax of the Twentieth Century (1976), Friedrich and Thomson’s The Hitler We Loved and Why (1977), Richard Harwood’s Did Six Million Really Die? (1992), David Irving’s Hitler’s War (1977), and Fred Leuchter’s numerous Leuchter Reports on Auschwitz, Dachau, Mauthausen, Hartheim, and the Mississippi Execution Gas Chamber. Publications about the revisionists include Shelly Shapiro’s Truth Prevails (1990), Pierre Vidal-Naquet’s Assassins of Memory (1993), Deborah Lipstadt’s Denying the Holocaust (1993), the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s The Neo-Nazi Movement in Germany (1993), and the ADL’s Hitler’s Apologists (1993).
Since it is not possible in a magazine-length article to adequately cover all of the points made above, I will focus in depth on two major points of contention by the revisionists: (1) the intentionality issue– whether Hitler and/or the other major Nazis ordered the Holocaust; and (2) the gas chamber/crematoria accounts. For each we will examine the convergence of evidence, documenting each step along the way.
Shermer, Michael. “Proving the Holocaust: The Refutation of Revisionism & the Restoration of History,” Skeptic, Vol. 2, No. 4, Altadena, California, June, 1994. Published by the Skeptics Society, 2761 N. Marengo Ave., Altadena, CA 91001, (818) 794-3119.