Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Was Jesus a real person? - see what denialism looks like

Jerry Coyne wrote up something about the historical Jesus where he suggested that there wasn't much evidence for his existence: BBC poll: 40% of Brits don’t believe that “Jesus was a real person,” but BBC assumes he was!].

Here's what Jerry said,
Now I may be wrong, but the more I read this, the more I think that reader Ant was right in his interpretation. What’s more galling is that the BBC is taking what “many scholars believe” as the gospel truth—pardon the pun—despite the fact that close scrutiny gives virtually no extra-Biblical evidence for a historical Jesus. I’m still convinced that the judgement of scholars that “Jesus was a real man” comes not from evidence, but from their conviction that the Bible simply couldn’t be untruthful about that issue. But of course we know of cases where myths grew up that weren’t at bottom derived from a historical individual.
There's nothing particularly wrong with what Jerry says. As far as I know the evidence that Jesus actually existed is not strong and, even more importantly, there's no independent evidence that he rose from the dead or performed miracles.

You won't be surprised to learn that James McGrath is upset about Jerry's statement. He accuses Jerry Coyne of "denialism" [Further History-Denialism from Jerry Coyne]. I can't for the life of me figure out what McGrath means by "denialism" because he doesn't present any evidence that Jesus existed and he certainly doesn't present any evidence that Jesus did any of the things that are reported in the Bible.

Check out James McGrath's Facebook post on this subject: Further History-Denialism from Jerry Coyne. I thought I'd ask a question or two in order to find out more about the McGrath version of history.

Here's the exchange ...
Laurence A. Moran I'm not familiar with this field. Apart from what's written in the Bible, what is the best historical evidence of the existence of a man called "Jesus" who could perform miracles, rose from the dead, and was the son of god?

James McGrath That is a bizarre question. What is the best historical evidence for a Plato who is the son of Apollo? That isn't how history works.

Laurence A. Moran If there's no historical evidence that Plato is the son of Apollo are we justified in assuming that it's not true? That it's just a myth? Or am I still not understanding how history works?

James McGrath Historical study, like the natural sciences, ignores claims about divine entities and the miraculous and looks at things that can be assessed in terms of their probability in the everyday world of human agents and cultures.

Laurence A. Moran "Historical study, like the natural sciences, ignores claims about divine entities ..."

Science does not ignore claims about divine entities. Scientists investigate those claims to see if they are valid. (http://sandwalk.blogspot.ca/.../is-science-restricted-to...)

James McGrath I did see your blog post. But the point is not just whether one can in theory investigate particular claims using particular tools and methods, but whether it is meaningful to do so. If a religious text claims that God made the sun stand still at some point in the past, then historians can look and see whether there is mention of such an occurrence in texts from around the globe, and finding none, conclude that the claim is false. But in general, historians do not bother doing that, because historical study deals in probabilities, and so historical study is not going to find an improbable event to be probable anyway, and so it makes more sense to bracket out such claims rather than to waste time investigating them merely to confirm their improbability.

Laurence A. Moran James McGrath says, "But in general, historians do not bother doing that, because historical study deals in probabilities, and so historical study is not going to find an improbable event to be probable anyway, and so it makes more sense to bracket out such claims rather than to waste time investigating them merely to confirm their improbability."

You're actually serious, aren't you? According to historians, what is the probability that Wellington won the Battle of Waterloo? Is it a low probability so historians bracket out the claim of a Wellington victory and don't waste time investigating it?

James McGrath You seem not to understand. Do you think that the earth ceasing to rotate is comparable in terms of its improbability with the likelihood or unlikelihood of an individual military leader meeting with success or failure in a specific battle? But at any rate, if you think that historians and scientists could look at the claim that Apollo was of divine parentage, or that Jesus was miraculously conceived, feel free to explain to me the appropriate procedures to conduct such research.
I feel a little bit like how Alice might have felt when talking to Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass [Humpty Dumpty].
'And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'

'I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. 'They've a temper, some of them — particularly verbs: they're the proudest — adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs — however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

'Would you tell me please,' said Alice, 'what that means?'

'Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. 'I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'
What is "denialism"? Is it "denialism" to think that the Biblical Jesus—the one who performed miracles and rose from the dead— didn't exist because there's no scientific or historical evidence that such a man ever lived?

Or is it "denialism" to claim that neither scientists nor historians are interested in, nor capable of, finding out whether Jesus the miracle-worker existed; therefore, Jesus the Son of God did exist?


191 comments :

  1. I think your Waterloo analogy was a bad one. Comparing the possibility of a battle having occurred versus the earth stopping its rotation makes McGrath's following statement reasonable. The problem was that it allowed him to switch categories - from the comparing of old texts (your point seemed to be that it would be unlikely to find contemporary accounts from, say, China, or Pacific islanders's stories, mentioning it. That's a good point showing his stated method isn't all that good, but he weasel end out of it by missing your point.).

    Usually we don't have a particular problem with assuming a person mentioned actually existed. Some like Plato or Socrates, for example. But that's assuming we're basically just saying some guy said this or that, or some guy came up with calculus. But the person Jesus is a different kettle of fish, because a huge body of religious thought, and real world actions, are predicated on the claim that he was an actually existing real human God. That does need proof in a way that Socrates doesn't.

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  2. "Weaseled", not "weasel end". Auto"correct".

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  3. I think your Waterloo analogy was a bad one.

    I was trying to figure out what he meant when he said that, "historical study deals in probabilities, and so historical study is not going to find an improbable event to be probable anyway, ..." Lots of improbable events happen in history so what does he mean?

    I think he means that historian can't investigate miracles so we have to assume they exist as long as someone says so.

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    1. I think he means that historian can't investigate miracles so we have to assume they exist as long as someone says so.

      That seems to be what he is saying. But surely no one could be that stupid, could they?

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    2. "I think he means that historian can't investigate miracles so we have to assume they exist as long as someone says so."

      I think he means that although historians can sometimes investigate miracles (they can, for instance, investigate the claim "God made the sun stand still" by looking whether or not other text written at the time that was supposed to happen, mention strange phenomena indicating a delayed sun), it makes no sense to do so because (1) for all we know it is extremely improbable that a miracle happened, and (2) the claim of the scholars mentioned in the BBC program and criticized by Coyne is not 'Jesus performed miracles', but 'the stories in the New Testament are "at bottom derived from a historical individual" in the first thirty years CE, whose teachings formed the beginning of the Christianity'

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    3. What I meant (as I said explicitly but you chose not to quote when you decided to take part of a discussion on my Facebook wall and make it public without my permission) is that a historian can set aside miracles as so much nonsense because they are so very improbable by definition, that no amount of testimony by ancient literature will ever render those improbable events probable. And so it makes more sense for historians to get on with studying matters where there is some reason to think that a useful positive conclusion can be drawn.

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    4. Dr. McGrath, are you under the impression that your Facebook postings are private communications to which you own the rights? You should probably read the Facebook terms of service.

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    5. Facebook has the right to do what it wishes with the things I post. I signed away that right in the terms of service. I made no such agreement with Larry Moran. I would gladly have granted permission had he asked - but I would have suggested that, since he seemed to still not grasp the points being made about how academic study of history works, it might be better to continue the conversation there first. I am happy to have more people aware of this topic and talking about it, as there is a lot of misinformation related to it on the internet.

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    6. James McGrath says,

      a historian can set aside miracles as so much nonsense because they are so very improbable by definition, that no amount of testimony by ancient literature will ever render those improbable events probable. And so it makes more sense for historians to get on with studying matters where there is some reason to think that a useful positive conclusion can be drawn.

      The issue we're interested in is whether the Jesus of the Bible actually existed. You accuse Jerry Coyne of "denialism" because he thinks there no evidence that such a person exited.

      A key part of the issue is whether historians can enlighten us on this point. You seem to be saying "no" because historians think miracles are "so much nonsense" that they can be ignored.

      So you deny that the Biblical Jesus could have existed because miracles are nonsense but you aren't a denialist. Right?

      Please explain. Are you saying that historians have to avoid looking for any evidence that Jesus performed miracles because no useful "positive conclusion can be drawn"?

      It's really hard for me to see how you can be so upset with Jerry Coyne when your own position is so confused that you can't even explain it.

      Do you, or do you not, believe that a man named Jesus existed 2000 years ago and performed miracles? If you do believe that, then what evidence do you have that makes Jerry Coyne a "denialist"?

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    7. I see where the confusion arose. I was not discussing "the Jesus of the Bible" but the historical figure of Jesus. There is no credible evidence that anyone in history has done miracles. There is sufficient credible evidence that many individuals about whom miracle stories have been told were genuinely historical individuals.

      Denialism is the rejection of mainstream scholarship in some field - history, biology, climate science, etc.

      If my explanation has at any point been unclear and led to confusion, I sincerely apologize. Do you understand now?

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    8. It seems to me a lot of the disagreement here centres on what one considers to be an "historical" figure. Down below I give the example of Charles Foster Kane, the protagonist of Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane, who was based on the real-life figure Wm. Randolph Hearst. Does the fact that he was based on an historical figure mean Kane is, himself, an historical figure? What if Welles had named his character "William Randolph Hearst"? What if Welles had insisted that his movie accurately documented incidents that actually occurred exactly as depicted, even though there was no independent verification of any but the barest details?

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    9. Denialism is the rejection of mainstream scholarship in some field - history, biology, climate science, etc.

      I think that fails to distinguish between issues where the degree of evidence is so overwhelming that only crackpots or liars dissent, and issues on which there is a clear majority opinion in favour of one position, but for which a reasonable case can still be made for the opposing position by sincere and competent scholars.

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    10. James McGrath says,

      If my explanation has at any point been unclear and led to confusion, I sincerely apologize. Do you understand now?

      No, not really. You didn't answer my question.

      The "historical" figure of Jesus certainly includes far more than just the fact that someone of that name may have been executed by the Romans about 2000 years ago.

      But even that fact is disputed by reputable scholars. So, your biggest complaint about Jerry Coyne is that he's skeptical of any evidence for the existence of any man named Jesus who fits the description in the Bible even though you, yourself, seem to be admitting that there's no evidence at all for the only Jesus who really counts—the one who performed miracles and claims to be the son of a god.

      I still find that confusing.

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    11. Feel free to put together a "Dissent from Jesus' Historicity" list, and then I can make the equivalent of Project Steve featuring as many historians called Steve (or Larry, or Jerry, or whatever) who are convinced that Jesus' historicity is much more probable, with a greater number of such individuals than on the dissent list. If you look into it, you will find that this really is the kind of issue where, in terms of the kind of evidence it is reasonable to expect for a figure of this sort in this period in ancient history, the consensus view of mainstream scholars seems much more persuasive and probable than the fringe views that dissent from it.

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    12. James McGrath says,

      Facebook has the right to do what it wishes with the things I post. I signed away that right in the terms of service. I made no such agreement with Larry Moran. I would gladly have granted permission had he asked ...

      Just out of curiosity, do you get Jerry Coyne's permission to copy and paste a quotation from his blog?

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    13. Larry, the problem is that the Jesus who counts to you, and to conservative Christians, is not the Jesus that the historical evidence presents to us and that historical study reveals.

      As I would hope you know from your work in the natural sciences, what human observers think should "count" is not always what the available evidence, or the methods of academic inquiry, in fact supports.

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    14. A blog is in the public space. I can quote from anything that is so published provided I give credit where credit is due. Facebook is not public, and although I treat my posts on Facebook pretty much as though they were public, it is still common knowledge that one should ask permission before reposting things from someone's Facebook comments elsewhere on the internet. It is a matter of courtesy.

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    15. James McGrath writes,

      If you look into it, you will find that this really is the kind of issue where, in terms of the kind of evidence it is reasonable to expect for a figure of this sort in this period in ancient history, the consensus view of mainstream scholars seems much more persuasive and probable than the fringe views that dissent from it.

      Are you being serious? The "figure of this sort" we're talking about was born of a virgin, is a linear descendant of David, debated rabbis when he was twelve years old, was visited by three Magi when he was born, caused a bright start to form in the sky, performed many miracles in front of thousands or witnesses, was greeted by thousands of followers when he entered Jerusalem, created a major event when he carried his cross to his crucifixion, and rose from the dead.

      I think it's "reasonable" to expect a great deal of historical evidence that all these things actually happened, wouldn't you? This was no ordinary man, according to most Christians. Somebody must have noticed.

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    16. Are you being serious? The fact that one finds no reason to conclude that Muhammad spoke to the angel Gabriel or journeyed to heaven does not mean historians cannot investigate the historical Muhammad. The fact that the existence of Apollo is rejected does not mean that someone he supposedly called wise - Socrates - must be unhistorical.

      If you don't want to talk about the historical Jesus, the individual that historians discern behind the legends and theologizations, that is fine, but is there some reason you feel the need to object to and obfuscate those who do engage in mainstream historical investigation?

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    17. You are conflating the two types of Jesus, Larry. Yes, the magical Jesus would be very noteworthy indeed. The yet-another Messiah claimant, not so much. We know of numerous similar people and probably dozens more have been lost to history.

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    18. You are conflating the two types of Jesus, Larry.

      Yes, this is surprisingly straightforward. James McGrath thinks that a human being was at the root of the Jesus cult. Jerry Coyne thinks that no such human being existed. That is the point of contention. But neither of them is discussing the miracle worker Jesus born to a virgin.

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    19. the historical Jesus, the individual that historians discern behind the legends and theologizations,

      The problem with that Jesus is that he is so reduced in significance that he almost makes the whole historicity debate irrelevant and a giant waste of time. Was there an apocalyptic preacher named Jeshua around that time? Almost certainly, just based on the limited number of Jewish first names in use and the large number of apocalyptic preachers in the region. He might well have been crucified but this was such an insignificant event at the time (probably took Pilate, who, BTW, is, in stark contrast, well attested historically, without being a really major player in history, no more than a couple minutes to sentence him) that nobody bothered to really notice.

      The subsequent evolution of the religion is so elaborate compared to the most likely historical reality of the crucified apocalyptic preacher named Jeshua that it may just as well not have been based on that historical person -- the "biography" provided in the gospels is almost entirely made up anyway.

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    20. Georgi Marinov,

      The problem with that Jesus is that he is so reduced in significance that he almost makes the whole historicity debate irrelevant and a giant waste of time.

      I also wonder why atheists like Richard Carrier and Jerry Coyne think it is such a big deal - once we are agreed that miracles are unlikely to have happened, the show is over.

      However, there are certainly modern Christians (sensu lato) who would not believe the virgin birth, resurrection etc., but who still venerate Jesus as a human who was an exemplary and innovative moral teacher and role model. Personally I think that reading the gospels at face value should quickly disabuse them of that view. But the point is, to them it probably still matters if there was such a moral teacher or if even that was all made up.

      Then again, one could retreat to a position equivalent to the Shakespeare authorship question: even if the conspiracy theorists are right and somebody else wrote all those plays, there was still an author who wrote the plays, and that author is commonly known as "Shakespeare" even if their true name was Edward de Vere or whatnot. Equivalently, there must have been somebody who originally said/wrote all those sayings and parables from the earliest sayings-gospels that were later incorporated into the canonical ones, and for all practical purposes that person would then be the "moral" teacher known as "Jesus", even if their true name was Samuel.

      (Unless it was a collection of sayings from twenty different people of course.)

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    21. I put James McGrath's comments in italics so that it's easier to differentiate his comments from my responses.

      "I was not discussing "the Jesus of the Bible" but the historical figure of Jesus."

      What "historical figure of Jesus"? And why would it matter if an "historical figure of Jesus" existed if that so-called "historical figure" wasn't "the Jesus of the Bible"?

      "There is no credible evidence that anyone in history has done miracles."

      That's true, just as there's no credible evidence that an "historical figure of Jesus" and/or "the Jesus of the Bible" existed.

      "There is sufficient credible evidence that many individuals about whom miracle stories have been told were genuinely historical individuals."

      So what? There's no credible evidence that "the historical figure of Jesus" was a "genuinely historical individual" and all that matters is whether "the Jesus of the Bible" existed, for which there is also no credible evidence.

      "Denialism is the rejection of mainstream scholarship in some field - history, biology, climate science, etc."

      "[M]ainstream scholarship"? "You've got to be joking. What sort of "scholarship" (whether allegedly "mainstream", or otherwise) is there in making shit up about made up shit?

      "Feel free to put together a "Dissent from Jesus' Historicity" list, and then I can make the equivalent of Project Steve featuring as many historians called Steve (or Larry, or Jerry, or whatever) who are convinced that Jesus' historicity is much more probable, with a greater number of such individuals than on the dissent list."

      What actual evidence (not an appeal to popularity or authority) can you or anyone else provide to support the claim that "Jesus' historicity is much more probable", what is it more probable than, why does it matter if some so-called "historians" are convinced, and why does it matter if "the historical figure of Jesus existed"?

      "If you look into it, you will find that this really is the kind of issue where, in terms of the kind of evidence it is reasonable to expect for a figure of this sort in this period in ancient history, the consensus view of mainstream scholars seems much more persuasive and probable than the fringe views that dissent from it."

      In other words, there is no credible evidence for "a figure of this sort" (a conveniently vague label for "Jesus"), you're also conveniently putting "this kind of issue" (the alleged existence of "the historical figure of Jesus") into a special, privileged category where the lack of evidence somehow becomes "reasonable" evidence, you're appealing to an alleged "consensus view of mainstream scholars" as though that alone is credible evidence, you're asserting the words "mainstream" and "consensus" as though they're a given, you're relying on really lame phrases like "seems much more persuasive and probable", and yet you are cocky enough to say that "views that dissent from it" are "fringe".

      See part two.

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    22. Part two.

      "Larry, the problem is that the Jesus who counts to you, and to conservative Christians, is not the Jesus that the historical evidence presents to us and that historical study reveals."

      "Jesus" "counts" to ALL christians, not just "conservative" christians, and the only "Jesus" that "counts" is the biblical one that is portrayed as a man and as 'God' or a part of 'God' or the son of 'God' or whatever christians feel like believing and asserting about their imaginary 'Lord and Savior'(like the stuff that Larry mentioned). What "historical evidence" is presented to "us" and what credible, historical evidence does "historical study" reveal that supports the existence of biblical "Jesus"?

      "As I would hope you know from your work in the natural sciences, what human observers think should "count" is not always what the available evidence, or the methods of academic inquiry, in fact supports."

      What "available evidence" and what "academic inquiry" "in fact supports" the existence of "the historical figure of Jesus" (i.e. "the Jesus of the Bible", 'God', part of 'God', son of 'God', 'Lord and Savior', etc.)? You do realize, don't you, that the bible is touted as THE inerrant 'Word of God' historical record of creation, "Jesus", and a whole bunch of other stuff, don't you?

      "If you don't want to talk about the historical Jesus, the individual that historians discern behind the legends and theologizations, that is fine, but is there some reason you feel the need to object to and obfuscate those who do engage in mainstream historical investigation?"

      Oh please, "the individual that historians discern behind the legends and theologizations"? In other words, the alleged "individual" that some so-called "historians" "discern" (imagine) so that they can get paid for making shit up while calling it "mainstream historical investigation"?

      By the way, was "Jesus" a name that existed two thousand years ago? Seems to me that an "historian" would use a name that actually existed at the time, especially when it's applied to an "historical figure" that allegedly existed.

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    23. It's more like hundreds of people

      While I am not an expert, I don't think that the oldest orally transmitted collections of sayings (whether there was a written Q or not) would have contained "hundreds" of parables and sayings but only a few dozen at most, so that seems unlikely.

      At any rate, how do you know how many people contributed to the original version of "judge not lest ye be judged" or "the lilies in the field"? Without a stylistic analysis to the contrary, it seems at least not implausible to me that there might have been one teacher behind them.

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    24. At any rate, how do you know how many people contributed to the original version of "judge not lest ye be judged" or "the lilies in the field"?

      I wasn't talking about individual sayings. But when you tally up all the sayings, which do run in the hundreds, and you consider how many years passed between the supposed life of Jesus and the gospels were written (note that the saying were not finalized in Q), I highly doubt the number of people who contributed was in the low tens. Also, many of the sayings probably date to before Jesus' time.

      Anyway, that's precisely the kind of discussion that's not very helpful -- of course I have no way of knowing, there is no way of knowing that stuff, I just made that comment to emphasize how much of a collective effort putting that text together was.

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    25. Alex SL: I also wonder why atheists like Richard Carrier and Jerry Coyne think it is such a big deal - once we are agreed that miracles are unlikely to have happened, the show is over.

      To quote Sherlock Holmes, "The idea of a vampire was to me absurd. Such things do not happen in criminal practice in England."

      Yes, I realise that Sherlock Holmes was not a real person, but since Arthur Conan Doyle's own opinion on the supernatural and the occult was far less sceptical, I have to quote the more sensible of the two of them.

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    26. By the way, was "Jesus" a name that existed two thousand years ago?

      I should think so. Quite a few different people called Yešuaʿ or Yehošuaʿ are mentioned in contemporaneous sources.

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    27. Are you being serious? The fact that one finds no reason to conclude that Muhammad spoke to the angel Gabriel or journeyed to heaven does not mean historians cannot investigate the historical Muhammad. The fact that the existence of Apollo is rejected does not mean that someone he supposedly called wise - Socrates - must be unhistorical.

      That's quite besides the point, Dr. McGrath. What prompted this debate is your calling Jerry Coyne a "denialist", lumping him in the same category as Holocaust deniers, climate change deniers and creationists. A pretty serious charge for someone in Coyne's position. On what basis do you make that charge? Does Coyne state categorically that he does not believe the character of Jesus in the NT could have been based in some respects on a person who actually lived? Honest question. I don't know the answer to that.

      Even if he does, are you saying that historians have the same degree of certainty regarding that as they do that the Holocaust occurred, or that scientists have regarding evolution or anthopogenic climate change?

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    28. You are conflating the two types of Jesus, Larry. Yes, the magical Jesus would be very noteworthy indeed. The yet-another Messiah claimant, not so much. We know of numerous similar people and probably dozens more have been lost to history.

      I think the argument is more over what it means to say someone is a "real historical figure." Was Charles Foster Kane a real historical figure? Is it "denialism" to say he isn't?

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    29. Piotr, but Yešuaʿ or Yehošuaʿ aren't spelled J e s u s or pronounced as Jēzus. And neither are Joshua, Jeshua, Yeshua, Yehoshua, Yahoshua, Yahushua, ישוע ,יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, Ἰησοῦς, Iesu, Jesu, etc.

      Here are many of the versions:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_(name)

      My point is that "historians" who claim to have credible evidence that "Jesus" existed should also have credible evidence of his actual name and that name (in the correct language, spelling, and pronunciation) is the one they should use. All christians should do so too.

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    30. lutesuite: It seems to me a lot of the disagreement here centres on what one considers to be an "historical" figure.

      Exactly. Was the legendary character of King Arthur based on a real historical figure? Perhaps, if you believe that "there is no smoke without fire", but with the following reservations:

      (1) His name is unlikely to have been Arthur.
      (2) He was not King of the Brits (nor a king of any sort).
      (3) He was not conceived at Tintagel.
      (4) He did not live at Camelot.
      (5) He did not own a magic sword called Excalibur (or Caledfwlch, or whatever).
      (6) He had no round table for his knights to sit at.
      (7) He did not send his retainers on a quest for the Holy Grail.

      The list could be continued ad libitum, but the pattern is clear: we can be pretty sure what he didn't do and what he was not. We have no positive knowledge of any facts from his life. He's just a personification of some motifs from the history of the British Celts about the middle of the first millennium, and their armed resistance against the Anglo-Saxon expansion. There were numerous local commanders, skirmishes and battles were fought, and memories of "famous victories" were fondly cherished by the Celts who survived the eventual fall of sub-Roman Britain. Later legend organised those loose themes into a literary narrative with a single central hero to keep it all together.

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    31. Piotr, but Yešuaʿ or Yehošuaʿ aren't spelled J e s u s or pronounced as Jēzus.

      No big deal. The name has reached us via Greek. If the original pronunciation in Palestinian Hebrew was [jeˈʃuəʕ] (more or less), New Testament Greek Ἰησοῦς [ieːˈsuːs] was a perfectly plausible approximation (note that the final -s is simply the Greek nom.sg. ending, not an effort to render a Hebrew pharyngeal fricative, which had no Greek counterpart at all). This isn't any stranger than Persian Dārayavahuš and Xšaya-ṛšā becoming Greek Δαρεῖος, Ξέρξης (Darius, Xerxes).

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    32. Georgi Marinov,

      Okay, now you are conflating "finalised" with "produced core teachings that were later expanded into a myth".

      But yes, we can't know, so it is a bit pointless to have a heated discussion. Just saying that I am leaning towards seeing a mundane person at the origin of it, partly for the reasons outlined by Aceofspades downthread. Two more are the bizarre claim of a fulfilled prophecy in Matthew 1:23 and Jesus' claim that the world will end within the lifetime of his audience. If you made that story up from whole cloth, wouldn't you have the sense to call your protagonist Emmanuel and to refrain from putting important prophecies into his mouth that have already been shown to have failed decades before the time when you are writing?

      But I am perfectly happy to accept that other people lean towards mythicism as long as they don't claim some ludicrous degree of certainty or conflate belief in the existence of a mundane doomsday cultist with belief in the existence the son of a virgin and a god, which was precisely the confusion going on here.

      Piotr Gąsiorowski,

      Sorry, but I have no idea how to read your response except as the kind of conflation I just mentioned. One could easily believe in Vlad the Impaler being a real human around whom the vampire myth grew without believing that he was a vampire. Those are two different beliefs.

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    33. I guess that all the people who have claimed divine status or had it claimed on their behalf never existed. Historians will thank Larry for this brilliant insight.

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    34. They'd have to thank someone other than Larry, since he hasn't said that.

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  4. That was a very strange exchange. In response to your request for historical evidence of Jesus-as-deity, he emphasizes that such evidence does not exist (a claim you surely agree with). How does this bolster his argument that historical evidence for Jesus-as-ordinary-human does exist?

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  5. I think as often in this discussion part of the confusion comes from a conflation of (1) the claim that Jesus the Son of God Divine Miracle Worker was a real person with (2) the claim that there was a real human but merely a mundane third rate failed doomsday cultist at the core of the legend.

    Jerry Coyne rejects both (1) and (2), while McGrath above seems to say, if I understand it correctly, that (2) is supported by historical science even as it cannot have an opinion on (1).

    This doesn't mean I agree with McGrath, but to me your exchange reads as if you were talking past each other.

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    1. I probably should have said "McGrath above seems to say, if I understand it correctly, that at least (2) is supported by historical science even as it cannot have an opinion on (1)", because he may really believe in (1) instead of (2).

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  6. I was trying to figure out what he meant when he said that, "historical study deals in probabilities I assume he means that to support a fact they weigh all the independent sources that verify it along with their reliability, vs the plausibility of the fact vs the importance of that fact. So when Thucydides tells us a particular Athenian general waited a day in Athens before joining his troops on the road to Corinth do we have reason to doubt him? ..and what is the penalty for guessing wrong?
    I'd bet my next paycheck that if you went back in time 2000 years you'd find that there was a guy who roughly corresponded to Jesus. Many of the anecdotes from Jesus' life would be true of him but many others would not. Rather, they'd be taken from the some of the others guys that were running around Palestine at the time, claiming to be special. Still other stories would have been taken from myths, religions and stories that were popular at the time. So the story of Jesus is a conglomeration of stories built around a guy who actually lived. I'm basing this on the bits and pieces I've picked up from biblical historians like Robert Price and S Callahan.

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    1. Your description is of a conglomeration of stories built around more than one person who actually lived, and some who didn't. In some such cases it may be that one of the real people involved stands out as the most dominant, in others it may not. It sounds like, even knowing the full truth, there may be zero agreement on whether you have won the bet.

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  7. McGrath's initial answer is a typical apologist's response: don't actually answer the question but do criticise it and do condescend to the questioner.

    Strip the academic language and pretense to rigour and he's no better than a Ham or a Comfort.


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    1. Except many non Christian historians would give you an answer along the same lines, unless they're trying to sell a book.

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  8. I don't know about a Plato who was the son of Apollo (I hope all historians agree the the Olympic deities are mythical). According to a number of ancient Greek biographers, the historical Plato's father was a mortal man called Aristo.

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    1. The important thing about Plato is that we have surviving writings that seem to have been produced by the same person.

      So that's very strong evidence that such a person existed. It actually does not matter much what he was called and where exactly he lived -- in this case the person is defined by the writings. So we can call him "Plato" and little changes if he was not in fact named so. But it does help that there are no glaring discrepancies with known history and that the conventional story of his life fits well with everything we can piece together about Ancient Greece at the time.

      Which is not the case with Jesus who left no writings (most likely because he was illiterate) and the great majority of his story is clear fabrication.

      We can also contrast Jesus with Paul -- there is very little external evidence that someone called Paul of Tarsus existed but we do have 7 epistles that seem to have been written by the same person and around that time (as opposed to the others that are clear forgeries in his name) so we may just as well call him "Paul" -- there isn't that much of importance that changes if that turns out to be not 100% historically correct.

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    2. So we can call him "Plato" and little changes if he was not in fact named so.

      By the way, Plato and Xenophon, whose historicity can be safely established on the basis of their own writings, can also serve as eye-witnesses for the historical existence of Socrates, who tutored them both for years. Although Plato's and Xenophon's accounts of Socrates are not mutually consistent in every respect, there's just as much consistency as could be expected from two students and friends reminiscing about their mentor -- emphasising different aspects of his life and teaching, ginning up the story with an occasional vivid anecdote, but generally not making it all up. All these biographies fit very well into the independently reconstructed political and cultural history of Athens in the 5th-4th centuries BC.

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    3. Yes, exactly -- it all fits together, and the sources are numerous and independent.

      In stark contrast with the Bible.

      Which brings me to a point I've raised before -- textual criticism only started to dismantle the Bible in the late 18th and 19th centuries. But people back then had essentially the same tools as people in the Middle Ages -- just the text. We've only had computers to aid the effort in the last few decades and that has not drastically changed our understanding of the situation.

      Yes, after the invention of printing there were more copies of the texts to work with, but the top scholars of the Middle Ages certainly had access to libraries with numerous manuscripts of the gospels too.

      So why is it that people realized the text was largely a forgery only so late in history? Surely formidable intellects like Aquinas and Scotus, who knew the whole thing by heart, should have been able to spot the problems. But they didn't...

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  9. On the historical evidence for the existence of a man named Jesus, I'm with Hitchens.

    The kinds of things that people have said about him seem to be more consistent with the idea that he was a real person whose significance was exaggerated.

    The bible talks about a census that was taken by governor Quirinius that required everyone to return to the home town of their ancestors to be counted. There is no record of such a census and it seems odd that a census would have such a requirement.

    It is most likely the case that there never was such a census. But why make up such a thing?

    Hitchens points to the fact that the Old Testament prophecies indicated that the Messiah would be born in the city of David (Bethlehem). However Jesus' parents were from Nazareth. If they had a child it probably would have been delivered there. Jesus was even known as Jesus of Nazareth.

    Therefore the census was likely fabricated as a justification for why Jesus (known to be from Nazareth) was born in Bethlehem.

    If the character of Jesus was fabricated out of whole cloth, there would have been no need to invent a census like this.

    Another piece of evidence is that Paul of Tarsus gets into arguments with Jesus' disciples (particularly James) over who Jesus was and what he preached.

    The last years of James' life were spent dispatching missionaries to Paul's congregations in order to correct what he viewed as Paul's mistakes.

    If Paul had completely fabricated the story of Jesus then why would there be people who claimed to know Jesus before the crucifixion arguing with Paul about what he was really like and what he preached?

    The simplest explanation here is that Jesus actually existed, that Paul took the story about Jesus and got carried away with some of the details which lead to disagreement about who was correct.

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    1. Interesting. I've long argued the same position as Hitchens, but the spur for it came from reading Robin Lane Fox's The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible instead.

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    2. Aceofspades,

      There is no indication that Paul had any interest in what Jesus was really like or what he said or did. Paul's interest and arguments are confined to the risen Christ who dwells in heaven.

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    3. A little known preacher who is ignominiously executed asking God why he's been forsaken, and who has predicted End Times that are well overdue even by the time of the Gospels is a damned hard person out of whom to make an all-powerful God and Savior. It seems to me if folks were making up out of whole cloth a character to deify, they would have started with someone who had fewer such inconveniences to explain away.

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    4. Your logic assumes one person made up the myth, which is almost certainly not true. That multiple attestations contradict one another and produce absurdities and discontinuities is not evidence of historicity. That part of the tale requires a non-existent census doesn't mean that story elements have been adjusted to not contradict one another.

      In other words, a fake census is perfectly consonant with a mythical Jesus too.

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  10. A short article by Phil Davies (Professor emeritus of biblical studies, University of Sheffield) gives a good summary of the "secular scholars" position on the historicity of Jesus.
    He says: "Am I inclined to accept that Jesus existed? Yes, I am. But I am unable to say with any conviction what he may have said and done, or what his words and deeds might tell us about who or what he thought he was. Even what his followers thought about him is highly coloured with hindsight, embellishment, rationalization and reflection. "

    Full article here:
    http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/dav368029.shtml


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    1. From that, it sounds to me that the Jesus of the Bible no more an historical figure than Charles Foster Kane (who was based on William Randolph Hearst.)

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    2. The Jesus of the bible certainly didn't exist. Bart Ehrman talks about one of the best known bible stories. A woman is about to be stoned for adultery (topical). Jesus intervenes and says: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.". This story is in John (last of the gospels to be written) but it's not present in the oldest copies of John. It only begins to appear in copies from the 3rd century onwards.

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  11. If Coyne wasn't a Jew, he would probably deny the holocaust too.

    Why does his selective and often perverted opinions make the front pages of newspapers?
    Seems the guy smoked up at 17 while listening to The Beatles and came the conclusion that there is no evidence for gods, so evolution must be true. Unfortunately, there is worst. Some people smoke up and believe they can fly and jump off the balconies.

    Coyne blames gods for making him loving cats and that his best proof for evolution?

    It must be, because nobody has seen any evidence for the mechanism for evolution by Coyne's beliefs.

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    1. Now there's a post worthy of the great Robert Byers. I salute you, sir.

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    2. Details please! Evidence please!
      I have mine. Done homework unlike you. Lol

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    3. Sheesh, Liesforthedevil, you construct arguments with the sophistication of a seven year old. Tell you what, when you reach the intellectual maturity of a 17 year old, smoke a joint, and then get back to us.

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    4. Here we go again. SRM is not happy with what I write but he doesn't point out what he doesn't like and why.

      I guess arguing evolution without any arguments is taking its toll. "Just deny it or show your are not happy with anything creationist say and maybe they will go away, one day".
      Congrats SRM! You have graduated!!!!

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    5. Hirschman,

      Did you read Coyne's last book? I did, very carefully...

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  12. I sense that UD now feels the need to counter Larry and Jerry with a Jesus was a real person article.

    Your lures were certainly well baited.

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    1. Interesting. What does it have to do with intelligent design?

      Don't you get the impression that the IDiots are feeling very threatened these days? Or is it just paranoia?

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    2. Larry asks: Interesting. What does it have to do with intelligent design?

      Whether Jesus was a real person or not has nothing scientific at all to do with "theory of intelligent design" but some in the "intelligent design" movement have religious reasons for caring about that sort of question.

      Don't you get the impression that the IDiots are feeling very threatened these days? Or is it just paranoia?

      I sense pressure to change caused by what the theory is becoming that is out of their control to change. But I have to let UD be free to become the BioLogos of ID theory. UD only has to make it clear on the top of the page that they discuss religious implications of scientific theory (that's getting around like mine) and other topics authors post for sake of argument/debate.

      BioLogos helped show that it is useful to have an outlet for religious discussions to go. I would be honored by what I have helping to lead to the same need at UD. It would be progress.

      I don't much care which way UD goes. What is important is how they go about it.

      They are not powerless enough to need to panic. You did though help rock their boat, in a way they likely feel threatened by. What happens next only adds to the ongoing melodrama that will none the less go on and on, without their getting wet stopping em....

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  13. On the one hand, the historical Jesus is a fiction. OTOH, an in depth study reveal some very interesting things. Whereas the myth of a dying and resurrecting god-man is as old as the Osiris - Bacchus myths, there are many references to be found in the Deas Sea Scrolls that point to a character that would match many of the characteristics attributed to Jesus.

    I know apologists will and do deny anything that may cast doubt on their faith. No evidence can change their mind on that. Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy wrote "The Jesus Mysteries" and "Jesus and the Lost Godess", and have of course been under heavy attack from apologetic quarters.

    They did a grat job in making the heavy stuff readable but the style may not sit well with the purists. But IMHO that is more than offset by the extensive notes section, with quotes and references to support their case. Church fathers, Pagan authors, Gnostics, scholars or apologetics all are represented. One apologetic made the case that the "four corners of the earth and four principal winds" is proof that there can only be four Gospels. As we know, there were and still are many more. The canon is another story.

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  14. Just for the record, here are Jerry Coyne's on words on the subject as of October 3, 2014:

    (T)he question is not whether Jesus was the son of God/part of God as Christianity alleges, but whether there was even a historical person around whom the Jesus myth accreted. While people like Bart Ehrman give an adamant “yes,” others, like Richard Carrier (and our own Ben Goren) are “mythicists,” claiming that there’s no convincing of any real person who could have been the model of the Jesus figure.

    I have to say that I’m coming down on the “mythicist” side, simply because I don’t see any convincing historical records for a Jesus person. Everything written about him was decades after his death, and, as far as I can see, there is no contemporaneous record of a Jesus-person’s existence (what “records” exist have been debunked as forgeries). Yet there should have been some evidence, especially if Jesus had done what the Bible said. But even if he was simply an apocalyptic preacher, as Ehrman insists, there should have been at least a few contemporaneous records. Based on their complete absence, I am for the time being simply a Jesus agnostic. But I don’t pretend to be a scholar in this area, or even to have read a lot of the relevant literature.


    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/10/03/once-again-was-there-a-historical-jesus/

    Does this constitute "denialism"? Discuss.

    (Passage quoted without permission. I wonder if Jerry would be all upset about that.)

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  15. But even if he was simply an apocalyptic preacher, as Ehrman insists...

    I've read several of Ehrman's books and tend to agree with his view, in part for some of the reasons mentioned by Aceofspades upthread.

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  16. Jonathan Badger says,

    You are conflating the two types of Jesus, Larry.

    No I'm not.

    I'm trying to argue multiple issues and some of you have a hard time following a complicated train of thought.

    That may be my fault so let me try and be as clear as possible.

    1. Some historians think there's evidence outside of the Bible for the existence of someone named Jesus who lived around 30 AD in Palestine. Other historians disagree. As far as I know there's no universal agreement although I'm told that the majority favor evidence for a real person and a minority are skeptical of the evidence. Jerry Coyne prefers to side with the minority view. Does tha make him a "denialist"?

    2. As far as I know, all historians agree that there's no independent evidence of a Jesus who is anything like the Jesus described in the Bible. I'm not sure why they connect the other Jesus in #1 to the Biblical Jesus but presumably they have a reason. This point needs to be emphasized—no evidence for the existence of a son of god who visited Palestine for a few decades about two thousand years ago.

    3. In addition to addressing the charge of "denialism" I'm raising a question about whether it's meaningful to talk abut a "historical Jesus" who has none of the attributes of the Jesus that Christians worship. In other words, while I recognize that people like James McGrath want to argue for the existence of Jesus based on the evidence in #1, I argue that this is disingenuous. It provides no support whatsoever for the Jesus that really counts. I strongly suspect that religious scholars use the possible evidence for Jesus #1 to support the reality of Jesus #2.

    4. I emphasize that as far as I know you cannot even assume that the existence of the wishy-washy Jesus has been confirmed.

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    1. Very good points, Larry.

      It's interesting to note that, AFAIK, no one is called a "denialist" if he says he believes King Arthur was a completely mythical figure. Maybe that's because no one has a strong emotional investment in the belief that a King Arthur actually existed. I doubt it's because the evidence for Arthur's existence is so much less than for that of Jesus.

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    2. If the consensus of historians was that there was a historical Arthur, then one would indeed be a denialist in that case. What you doubt to be the case, you have clearly not taken the time to inform yourself about.

      The point is that individuals like Larry Moran care whether or not Jesus existed. And they decide in advance what kind of Jesus "counts" and ignore the historical evidence, much as their religious fundamentalist counterparts do. No one engages in this kind of pontificating about Arthur, without ever having learned about him one way or the other from historians, for precisely this reason. And dismissing scholarship in another field, while complaining about the dismissal of scholarship in one's own, is not only disturbing, but frankly rather inconsiderate.

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    3. David Dumville's brilliant term, the "no smoke without fire" school of thought (used by him with regard to the Arthurian debate), also applies here. The usual argument is like this: some piece of pseudo-history has been accepted for so long that it's become part of our shared tradition, just like the documented past. Let's intergrate it into real history by agreeing that it must be a garbled account of real acts of real people, bacause -- you know -- because it stands to reason that there's no smoke without fire. The destruction of Atlantis, the Noachian Flood, Joseph in Egypt, Moses and the Exodus, the Trojan War, etc. -- a great story like these must have a historical kernel. They are too important to be 100% fictitious (99% is OK; 1% is a straw one can grasp at).

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    4. If the consensus of historians was that there was a historical Arthur, then one would indeed be a denialist in that case. What you doubt to be the case, you have clearly not taken the time to inform yourself about.

      Seriously? So on every historical question on which there is not absolute unanimity, those who hold the minority position deserve to be called "denialists"?

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    5. Not even close to what I said. Would you call the few fringe mythicists a "minority position" in this academic field? Does Michael Behe and friends deserve to be upgraded to a "minority position" in molecular biology? I certainly do't think so.

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    6. James McGrath says,

      If the consensus of historians was that there was a historical Arthur, then one would indeed be a denialist in that case.

      Interesting. Does that mean that any scholar who disagrees with the consensus view is a denialist even if they make a scholarly case for their dissent from the majority view?

      What you doubt to be the case, you have clearly not taken the time to inform yourself about.

      I admit that I'm not an expert nor am I particularly knowledgeable about this field. However, you yourself admit (above) that there are some scholars who are skeptical of the evidence for a "historical" Jesus. Are you saying that they are denialists? Or are you saying that they represent a fringe group who don't know what they are talking about and that's why they are denialists?

      The word "denialist" has implications.

      The point is that individuals like Larry Moran care whether or not Jesus existed.

      Of course I do, Don't you?

      I also care whether Santa Claus exists and I'm aware of the historical evidence for Saint Nicholas who lived around 330 AD and was supposed to have performed miracles. There's no evidence of flying reindeer or workshops at the North Pole. I'm happy to say that Santa Claus doesn't exist even if there was a Nicholas. It gets more complicated if we refer to Santa Claus as "St. Nick" but the bottom line is the same. The Christmas version of St. Nick doesn't exist and, really, it's irrelevant whether there was a fourth century man called Nicholas.

      And they decide in advance what kind of Jesus "counts" and ignore the historical evidence, much as their religious fundamentalist counterparts do.

      You're being ridiculous. If the only Jesus that anyone ever knew about is some guy who may have been executed by the Romans in 33 AD., there wouldn't be any Christianity. It's not the wishy-washy "historical" Jesus that counts in any of these discussions and you know that very well.

      And dismissing scholarship in another field, ...

      I've been told that this passage written by Josephus is the very best evidence supporting the idea that Jesus actually existed. Is this correct?

      I'm told that the writings of Tacitus on Christ, written about 116 AD, may be just him repeating what the Christians at the time actually believed? Is this true?

      I'm relying on you to tell me the true scholarly opinion on these matters.

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    7. "I'm raising a question about whether it's meaningful to talk abut a 'historical Jesus' who has none of the attributes of the Jesus that Christians worship."

      If by "meaningful", you mean "not nonsense", then of course it is meaningful to talk about someone named Jesus who, sometime around 30 C.E. was an itinerant preacher who gathered a following that evolved into the Christian church after he was crucified. Whether you find said talk interesting is up to you, of course, but "interesting" and "meaningful" are two entirely different things.

      Now as to why a non-theist would believe such a Jesus existed, rather than go with the notion that there was no Jesus at all, let me offer an analogy. Now I have no love for George W. Bush's administration and certainly think that he exploited the 9/11 attacks for his and Cheney's own agenda, so why not go so far as to buy into the idea that he engineered the 9/11 attacks? Well, because the arguments that the 9/11 "truthers" have to offer are B.S., and that overrides any political sympathies I might have for them. I have the same attitude toward the mythicists. What they offer are unparsimonius kludges at best, and pseudohistorical claptrap at worst, and that overrides whatever sympathies I might have for them as a fellow atheist.

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    8. James McGrath says,

      Does Michael Behe and friends deserve to be upgraded to a "minority position" in molecular biology?

      Yes. It's a small minority but it's a minority opinion nevertheless. I would never call Micheal Behe a denialist in spite of the fact I think he is wrong. He is doing his best to make a cogent argument for guided evolution in the context of common descent.

      Young Earth Creationists are more like genuine denialists. I hardly think Jerry Coyne falls into that category of denialism but, apparently, you do.

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    9. When referring to a historical Jesus, historians are referring to someone who, like Nicholas of Myra, you think they ought to have no interest in. That seems odd to me, since it is historical investigation of Jesus that has done the most to challenge the veracity of traditional Christian dogmas and myths about Jesus. If there were people not merely making claims about St. Nick that are at odds with the historical evidence, but worshiping him and stirring up trouble in a variety of ways in society, that would, I would have thought, made the discrepancy between their mythologized St. Nick and the historical Nicholas of Myra MORE interesting, not less.

      It is hard to talk about the "best evidence" because, as in the case of evolution, our understanding is based not on one piece of evidence but the convergence of many pieces which point in a single direction. Paul having met Jesus' brother, and having been aware of the developing movement around Jesus within at most a few years of Jesus' death, about which he writes in first-hand accounts in his letters, is important evidence. The likely original form of the mention in Josephus is important, too, but less so since Josephus wrote decades later. Tacitus takes a rather dim view of Christianity, and so even if he was repeating what Christians had to say, it is likely that it was something that he had good reason to think was correct.

      In favor of mythicism the biggest proponents are Richard Carrier, who works outside the academy, Robert M. Price who has taught for many years at an unaccredited theological school, and Thomas Brodie, who has only articulated his mythicist views in a memoir. I do not think any of them are denialists, just as I don't think Michael Behe is, to the extent that he tries to persuade his peers and follows appropriate academic procedures in doing so. I used "denialist" to refer to those outside of the field who latch on to a fringe view and use it to dismiss an overwhelming consensus. If someone does a scientific investigation of climate change and draws a conclusion at odds with the consensus, I wouldn't call them a denialist - but I would use that label for those outside of the field who point to that single study as though it justifies ignoring the fact that 99% of climate scientists are unpersuaded by it.

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    10. Not even close to what I said. Would you call the few fringe mythicists a "minority position" in this academic field? Does Michael Behe and friends deserve to be upgraded to a "minority position" in molecular biology? I certainly do't think so.

      Part of your problem is that you seem to see this strictly in terms of the number of people who hold a position, and ignore the degree of conviction in that position that can be justified by the evidence. If 95% of scholars believe Jesus existed, but are only 60% certain that this is the case, the opinion of the other 5% is not an unreasonable one to hold, and it is unfair to label any lay people who find their arguments convincing as "denialists."

      My area of expertise is schizophrenia, and one of the leading researchers in the field, E. Fuller Torrey, is actively investigating the hypothesis that the disease is caused by an infectious agent. This puts him at odds with the consensus that schizophrenia is a neurodevelopmental disorder. However, his hypothesis is not an unreasonable one to pursue, especially since the evidence in support of the neurodevelopmental hypothesis is far from conclusive. I would never think of labelling as a "denialist" a layperson who found Torrey's arguments persuasive. Whereas I would use the label for someone who was convinced schizophrenia was the result of CIA mind control experiments.

      You, OTOH, would call both people "denialists". Which comes back to the point I made early in this discussion: The main issue is your (mis)use of the term "denialist." You would use it to lump people who hold a reasonable and informed, albeit minority, position in the same group as people who are crackpots, charlatans, and con men. I think you should seriously reconsider that.

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    11. The term is used in relation to climate change denialists, where there is a comparable percentage to the one you cite, supposedly: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-determine-the-scientific-consensus-on-global-warming/

      The agreement about Jesus would seem to be much greater among historians and other scholars in relevant fields. But I am honestly not weded to the term. The issue is the dismissal of a whole field of scholarly inquiry in favor of unpersuasive fringe views, which is problematic at the best of times, but particularly troubling when done by someone who is simultaneously trying to defend his own field of study from people who treat it in precisely the same way.

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    12. No I'm not [conflating the two types of Jesus].
      Your argument was that a historical Jesus, if one existed, would be very noteworthy for his virgin birth, miracle working, etc. That is what exactly conflating the two types *means*, as a historical Jesus wouldn't have those properties and would not be particularly noteworthy.

      The danger with dismissing the historical basis of myths as an attempt to attack the myth is that the plausible parts of myths have a tendency to get confirmed eventually. People thought Troy and Uruk were mythological cities before their ruins were found. That doesn't mean that the events of the Iliad or Epic of Gilgamesh really happened or their deities depicted in them were real, of course, but if the argument against them was that the cities were mythological, then the discovery of the cities could be used by supporters of the deities (if any still existed). Separating the historical from the mythological cuts that argument at the bud.

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    13. The issue is the dismissal of a whole field of scholarly inquiry in favor of unpersuasive fringe views, which is problematic at the best of times, but particularly troubling when done by someone who is simultaneously trying to defend his own field of study from people who treat it in precisely the same way.

      No. The problem is your dismissal of those in your field with whom you disagree as holding "unpersuasive fringe views."

      Another example from my profession: In the 1980's a couple of researchers, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, began promoting the idea that gastric ulcers were caused by H. pylori bacteria. This idea was rejected by the large majority of the medical profession. However, their hypothesis proved to be correct and they eventually received a Nobel Prize for it.

      If a non-MD was aware of their early work and thought the argument persuasive, would it be correct to call this view "fringe" or "denialist"? By the criteria you are employing, it would be. But how can it be "denialism" to hold a position that is actually true?

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    14. You seem not to be aware just how few people that can even just barely be considered to be "in the field" hold this view, and that they include someone who does not work as a professor, another who has taught for many years at an unaccredited seminary, and another who has never made the case for mythicism but only expressed that it is his viewpoint in his memoir,

      But as I said, I do not consider any of these individuals denialists, just as I would not use that term for someone who tries to make a case against the consensus on climate change in a scientific journal. Denialism is when members of the public misunderstand that that is how scholarship works, and adopt a view that the majority of scholars find unpersuasive simply because some academics hold it, and dismiss the consensus as due to bias and/or conspiracy.

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    15. 3. ...I'm raising a question about whether it's meaningful to talk abut a "historical Jesus" who has none of the attributes of the Jesus that Christians worship. In other words, while I recognize that people like James McGrath want to argue for the existence of Jesus based on the evidence in #1, I argue that this is disingenuous. It provides no support whatsoever for the Jesus that really counts. I strongly suspect that religious scholars use the possible evidence for Jesus #1 to support the reality of Jesus #2.

      The historical scholarship about Jesus with which I am familiar stands in contrast to your suspicion about the religious scholarship: that is, items that represent inconveniences or worse for the idea of Jesus as God and Savior are some of those brought forward most strongly as evidence for the existence of an ordinary human being around whom the Jesus myth grew.

      For example, someone who cries out in death "My God, why have you forsaken me?" creates a lot of inconvenience for people who want to say this person is God (thus talking to himself) and the death is all part of a master plan (thus why the question about forsaking if you supposedly know this is exactly what you/God want to happen). The motivation of believers would presumably have been not to have made up such a thing, so it is treated by historical scholars of Jesus and the Bible as having some likelihood of being true.

      These sorts of inconvenient details, if online comments about the books presenting them (e.g., Ehrman's) are any indication, make believers quite cross, precisely the opposite of bolstering belief in Jesus as God.

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    16. You seem not to be aware just how few people that can even just barely be considered to be "in the field" hold this view,

      Marshall and Warren were only two people in the entire field of medicine which, I suspect, includes a rather larger number of people than Jesus scholarship. But they turned out to be correct.

      You keep citing the number of scholars who believe in Historical Jesus, as if this is the best indicator of how conclusive the evidence is in his favour. As I suggested earlier, if 100% scholars are 55% certain that HJ existed, that still means the odds against his existence are a very significant 45%

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    17. Perhaps instead of making up numbers, it would be a good idea to read what historians and scholars have to say, before assigning percentages to our level of confidence?

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    18. lutesuite: "Another example from my profession: In the 1980's a couple of researchers, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, began promoting the idea that gastric ulcers were caused by H. pylori bacteria. This idea was rejected by the large majority of the medical profession. However, their hypothesis proved to be correct and they eventually received a Nobel Prize for it."

      Here's the difference between Marshall and Warren and Jesus mythicists: Marshall and Warren had good evidence. What mythicists have had on offer has ranged from unparsimonious speculation to outright pseudohistory. (See a link in my earlier post for a discussion of what mythicists have offered.) Worse, we see a lot of bad arguments recycled, such as the claim that "brother of the Lord" was a fancy way of saying "Christian," even though the contexts in which the phrase appears make that highly unlikely.

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    19. Here's the difference between Marshall and Warren and Jesus mythicists: Marshall and Warren had good evidence. What mythicists have had on offer has ranged from unparsimonious speculation to outright pseudohistory.

      That's irrelevant to my point. The relevant comparison would be between the evidence in support of Historical Jesus and in support of the position that gastric ulcers are caused by hypersecretion of acid.

      I'm not talking about the strength of the mythicist position, but about how strong the evidence is in favour of HJ. That question remains even if no one is making a positive case for mythicism.

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    20. Perhaps instead of making up numbers, it would be a good idea to read what historians and scholars have to say, before assigning percentages to our level of confidence?

      Well, since you're here discussing with me, maybe you could give me a rough idea. How strong is the evidence in favour of Historical Jesus compared to that for the existence of, say, Louis XIV? Or Charlemagne? Alexander the Great? Julius Caesar? Or, hell, how about Pontius Pilate? What about Socrates? The Buddha? Or King Arthur, or Robin Hood? Where does Historical Jesus fall on that scale?

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    21. Comparable to Socrates (better in some ways but arguably not as good in some others). Better than for Buddha, Hillel, John the Baptist and others of that sort. Not as good as for kings and other such wealthy elite people who left inscriptions and did things of that sort, but no historian is expecting an itinerant teacher/exorcist/failed messianic claimant to mint coins.

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    22. Comparable to Socrates

      That's exactly what I thought. Thanks for saving me a lot of reading.

      Do you get this worked up when people suggest Socrates might not have actually existed?

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    23. I have no objection to anyone investigating the case in appropriate academic ways. And I have no objection to anyone saying that Jesus or Socrates might not have existed, as long as they acknowledge that the balance of probability leans in the other direction. But even though Socrates is not my field, I would indeed get upset if someone who is an academic were to dismiss as conspiracists or fools my colleagues who consider it far more probable that there was a historical Socrates than that there wasn't.

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    24. I would indeed get upset if someone who is an academic were to dismiss as conspiracists or fools my colleagues who consider it far more probable that there was a historical Socrates than that there wasn't.

      I wouldn't blame you. It's a good thing no one is doing that to you, isn't it?

      All I see are people saying that, in their opinion. you have yet to demonstrate that the existence of Jesus is a fact in the way that the existence of Louis XIV is a fact. That's what I'm saying, anyway. And you've just agreed with me.

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    25. I do not agree that only the existence of elite privileged individuals can be "facts" in a meaningful sense. And no one can demonstrate the historicity of an ancient non-elite person with the same kinds of evidence as an elite person in more recent times. Just because we cannot examine Tiktaalik in as many exemplars or details as organisms that lived more recently does not downgrade the importance of Tiktaalik or the evidence that it existed.

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    26. So you believe the evidence in favor of the existence of Jesus and Socrates is as strong as that for the existence of Tiktaalik.

      If you want be taken seriously as a scholar, you'd better stop saying ridiculous things like that.

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    27. That wasn't what I said, and I suspect that you know that full well. My point, as was clear, was to point out that we often have less information about the distant past than about more recent times, and that is not an argument against the conclusions drawn either in science or in history. The fields are different, and provide different kinds and degrees of certainty. But denialist tactics in relation to both are strikingly similar.

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    28. That wasn't what I said, and I suspect that you know that full well. My point, as was clear, was to point out that we often have less information about the distant past than about more recent times, and that is not an argument against the conclusions drawn either in science or in history.

      Yes. The evidence available to assess the validity some propositions may not be as abundant as that to assess the validity of others. Thanks for taking the time to explain the obvious to us.

      So we can be certain that Tiktaalik existed because we found fossils.
      What about another putative species that might have existed much earlier, that had a soft body so no fossils of it exist. Suppose I draw a picture of this species as I imagine it might have looked, based on no other evidence. Can we then say its existence is a "fact in a meaningful sense,"
      just not the same sort of "fact" as the existence of Tiktaalik or of giraffes? Or would it be more accurate to say that, at a certain point, the evidence becomes so scanty that we can't say much, if anything, is a fact about any particular species' existence?

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    29. To be clearer, hopefully: You attempt to draw an analogy between Tiktaalik and Jesus. I think Tiktaalik might be more analogous to Julius Caesar. We may not know as much about him as, say, Napoleon, but we know for a fact he existed. So your analogy tells us nothing about the status of Jesus' existence. Jesus' existence may be more analogous to that of a putative common ancestor between two organisms, the nature of whose taxonomic relationship remains in dispute, such that that particular ancestor might not even exist.

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    30. I did not do that. I made an analogy between earlier and later evidence in two different fields. If we find a tiny piece of evidence, we may not know much about an ancient organism, but we will know it existed.

      I am only explaining the obvious because the obvious has been treatd with such disdain, and met with such resistance, on this blog.

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    31. If we find a tiny piece of evidence, we may not know much about an ancient organism, but we will know it existed.

      And, for some organisms, there is only enough evidence to show it may have existed, not that it definitely did. The question is whether Jesus is one such organism.

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    32. lutesuite: "I'm not talking about the strength of the mythicist position, but about how strong the evidence is in favour of HJ."

      And those two things are quite entwined. The fact that mythicists, in spite of having had at least a hundred years to build solid cases, have yet to come up with anything better than clumsy speculation highlights just how difficult it is to parsimoniously make sense of the current evidence without an HJ.

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  17. My personal take on Jesus's historical reality, probably of no importance to anyone by me.

    1. Apocalyptic preachers were common in Judea about the time Jesus supposedly lived, and the Aramaic name corresponding to Jesus or Joshua was common. Therefore, it's more likely than not that there was at least one apocalyptic preacher with that name.

    2. Stories of amazing healing and other miracles accumulated around the names of other people besides Jesus, before and much later than 2000 years ago. Therefore, such stories would accumulate around any apocalyptic preacher who gained popularity.

    3. Any popular preacher would be popular in part because he said wise things, and there was a broad store of wise sayings composed by others that he could have drawn on. The Gospel of Thomas has a large collection of Jesus's sayings, some of which were first written long before 2000 years ago. Which doesn't mean he (if there was such a person) didn't say them, of course. However, these sayings would be associated with him because he "should" have said them, whether he ever did or not.

    4. The myth of Isis and Osiris was popular in ancient Rome, but a religion that provided a hope of resurrection in a recent historical context would be much more appealing to many Romans.

    My conclusion: There likely was at least one (maybe more) popular apocalyptic preacher with a name somewhat like Jesus 2000 years ago. This real person (people) may have been the core of the gospel stories, in the way a bit of dust may be the core of a pearl. However, the elements of the gospel stories were circulating and society was ready to put them together, so the stories might have crystallized like salt in a supersaturated solution. I don't think we'll ever know. I'm happy to debate the question (taking the opposite side from my opponent, whatever side that is), but really it doesn't matter. The Jesus we think we know from reading the gospels never existed. We can usefully learn from and debate the things he is supposed to have said, and from what many, many other people said both before and after his life.

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    1. There likely was at least one (maybe more) popular apocalyptic preacher with a name somewhat like Jesus 2000 years ago.

      Here's one example of a man meeting this description:

      Jesus ben Ananias (Yeshua ben Ananiah)

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    2. Interesting! Jesus ben Ananias certainly looks like someone who could have contributed to the Biblical Jesus story.

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  18. History for Atheists sends its regards:

    http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com.au/2015/11/scientists-and-rationalists-getting.html

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    1. See, now that's useful: Summarize the evidence in favour of a historical Jesus so people can see for themselves. I wonder why John McGrath didn't do that, rather than make unsound arguments about how laypeople are obliged to side with the majority opinion of experts on any topic.

      To be clear: The main issue here, at least as far as I"m concerned, is not so much whether Jesus existed, as McGrath's position equating a lay person taking a position that is probably wrong with "denialism," as well as whether McGrath is truly oblivious to the connotations of that term.

      (BTW, you're much missed at RationalSkepticism.)

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    2. lutesuite: "I wonder why John McGrath didn't do that, rather than make unsound arguments about how laypeople are obliged to side with the majority opinion of experts on any topic."

      That's a misleading description of what McGrath said. Notice that in his posts, he didn't just speak of a majority view, but a consensus, which implies an overwhelming agreement. He even differentiates between a mere "minority position" and the "fringe." In other words, he's describing a situation where expert opinion is grossly lopsidedly in favor of a particular position. In such a case, yes, a layperson is far more likely in practice to be wrong when disagreeing with expert consensus.

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    3. See, now that's useful: Summarize the evidence in favour of a historical Jesus so people can see for themselves.

      That would indeed be useful, but I don't see any of that in the link Tim posted. All he really tells us is that if Jesus really existed, we wouldn't expect to find any more evidence than we have. But would we expect to find any less evidence if he hadn't existed? One must examine both questions. And maybe the answer is that we have no way of deciding.

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    4. That would indeed be useful, but I don't see any of that in the link Tim posted.

      As Tim notes below, it's included in the link within the link.

      In other words, he's describing a situation where expert opinion is grossly lopsidedly in favor of a particular position. In such a case, yes, a layperson is far more likely in practice to be wrong when disagreeing with expert consensus.

      That's not the point. The point, as I see it, whether this would warrant calling someone a "denialist", with all that connotes, as opposed to calling him merely mistaken.

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  19. "I don't see any of that in the link Tim posted."

    I link to my longer summary of the evidence and why the Myther alternative is not parsimonious at the end of my post.

    "But would we expect to find any less evidence if he hadn't existed? "

    Yes. And we would also expect to find other evidence. If, as the most prominent Mythers claim, the idea of a historical Jesus arose out of an earlier proto-Christianity that only believed in a purely mythic, celestial or allegorical Jesus, then we'd expect to find evidence of this earlier sect. But there is none. This is another flaw in the Myther thesis.

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    1. From Tim O'neill's massively arrogant sermon on his blog:

      "McGrath doesn't actually need to present any evidence Jesus existed to note that Coyne is someone "outside of the field who latch[es] on to a fringe view and use[s] it to dismiss an overwhelming consensus" - because that is just a fact. Moran may agree with his fellow non-historian's denialism, but denialism it remains."

      So, no presentation of evidence is necessary and all that matters is that McGrath or someone "of the field" says so, and scientists like Larry aren't qualified to analyze evidence just because (the lack of) it applies to "Jesus", eh? You sound a lot like an IDiot-creationist/bible thumper, or 'sophisticated theologian' (a term that Coyne often uses).

      I don't even like Coyne and I don't always agree with Larry but your gargantuan air of superiority, and that of McGrath, are not only 'staggering' but sickening. You, McGrath, and others need to realize that it doesn't require (self-proclaimed) "mainstream historians", "historical scholars", and members of "the academy" to analyze the so-called "evidence" in order to see that there isn't any credible evidence that supports the existence of the so-called "historical figure of Jesus". And again, ALL that really matters is whether "the Jesus of the Bible" existed/exists, and that is impossible.

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    2. Why does it seem acceptable to you to suggest that a biologist with no acquaintance with the relevant ancient sources, languages, cultural context, and so on, can make a judgment that is more likely to be correct about a matter of history than the overwhelming consensus of historians and scholars who specialize in the relevant fields? It would not reflect a gargantuan air of superiority for Larry or Jerry to tell a historian who rejected mainstream biology that he does not have reasonable or justifiable grounds for doing so. Is your assumption that science takes expertise but anyone can do history?

      What defenders of mainstream historical scholarship have been doing is the opposite of what the ID proponents of pseudoscience do. They dismiss an entire field by pointing to fringe individuals who say what they want to hear; I and others have been saying the opposite, that a few oddballs in history should not be chosen over the overwhelming consensus of experts.

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    3. Why does it seem acceptable to you to suggest that a biologist with no acquaintance with the relevant ancient sources, languages, cultural context, and so on, can make a judgment that is more likely to be correct about a matter of history than the overwhelming consensus of historians and scholars who specialize in the relevant fields?

      You're still strawmanning. More specifically, you are confusing the position: "The Jesus mythicists are correct. It has been conclusively demonstrated that Jesus was not a historical figure" with the position "There is not sufficient evidence to state conclusively that Jesus was a historical figure." The latter position is still compatible with holding that Jesus most likely existed.

      You keep talking about the small number of scholars who believe Jesus could not have existed. I don't dispute that. What I dispute is your implication that this means that every other scholar in the field takes the position that it has been demonstrated to be a fact that Jesus existed, to the same degree it has been demonstrated that Louis XIV or Julius Caesar or Tiktaalik existed.

      You are seeing this as a binary either/or question, and completely neglecting the middle position.

      Another thing I'd like you to clarify. Above you say you would not call Richard Carrier a "denialist" because he is a scholar who has investigated the evidence in favour of Jesus' existence. Yet you do not hesitate to level the term at Jerry Coyne. I don't see how that makes sense. If Richard Carrier is not a denialist, then how can a layperson who thoroughly reads Carrier's writing and understands his every point be one? He is basing his position on exactly the same evidence that Carrier is. If they are both wrong then, if anything, you should be using the more derogatory term for Richard Carrier since, as a professional, he should know better.

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    4. Tim O'Neill,

      I read some of the things you wrote on your own blog, and would like to say thanks. Obviously I am unable to really check what is in the original Greek gospels or Tacitus or whatever, so when Mythicists claim that Jesus was never mentioned anywhere in the first century and suchlike my ability to evaluate them is limited. Your posts were a useful resource in this regard.

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  20. James, you have my greatest respect for your tenacity in this discussion - I would have given up long ago. Also for you ability to maintain a calm tone, and to put your point clearly and succinctly.

    I find it quite fascinating to see "rationalists" like Jerry and Larry making the same sort of errors that creationists and climate denialists make - and their inability to see their error even when it is so clearly pointed out to them. I think it says something quite powerful about our thought processes, and how easy it is for humans to believe something we want to believe....

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    1. So, Robert, are you claiming the evidence in favour of the existence of Jesus is as strong as that for the fact that evolution occurred, or that anthropogenic climate change is occurring? If so, you need to substantiate that position. If not, then you are being most unfair in your assessment of Jerry Coyne and Larry Moran.

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    2. Robert-
      It is fascinating to see rationalists acting like denialists.
      Makes me think I must act like that too from time to time.
      I get the impression denials looks like the face in the mirror.

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  21. lutesuite: No, that's not what I'm saying. But I don't agree that it's unfair: What I think is unfair is comparing a scientific consensus to a historical consensus position.

    Yes, there is a lot more evidence in favor of evolution than there is in favor of a historical Jesus, but that's not a relevant comparison. (Maybe that's why so many scientists end up in the mythicist camp - they are expecting a comparable level of evidence to the evidence for a scientific theory?) The relevant question is: How does the evidence for Jesus compare to the evidence for a historical Muhammed? or Plato? or Cleopatra? (This, you will note, is exactly the point already made by James.)

    What I'm trying to say is that "you should know the basics of a theory before you attack it." If you haven't understood the methods of the field and the arguments for and against a conclusion, then you have no business criticizing that conclusion. To do so puts you in the uncomfortable company of Barry Arrington, Duane Gish, and Ken Ham.

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    1. What I'm trying to say is that "you should know the basics of a theory before you attack it." If you haven't understood the methods of the field and the arguments for and against a conclusion, then you have no business criticizing that conclusion.

      I really don't understand where this defensiveness is coming from. Who is attacking the field?

      As mentioned above, I am a psychiatrist specializing in schizophrenia. The majority opinion in the field is that schizophrenia is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused primarily by genetic factors. But no one knows for sure, and there is a a number of opinions held by minority groups of researchers. Some people, for example, think it was somehow related to the domestication of the cat. If a layperson has read the literature on that hypothesis and has come to the conclusion that it is likely true, I don't feel like he is attacking my profession.

      OTOH, someone who says mental illness does not exist and is instead caused by possession by evil spirits is attacking the profession, and could justifiably be called a "denialist" IMHO.

      Do you not see the difference?

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    2. More to the point: The issue in question is whether the conclusions that can possibly drawn on the issue of Jesus' existence are of such a strength that by not accepting them one deserves to be called a "denialist." By conceding that the evidence on this is not the equivalent to that in favour of e.g. evolution, you are admitting that the accusation of "denialism" is unjustified.

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    3. lutesuite, as long as buying into Jesus mythicism entails buying into claptrap, Jesus mythicism remains a form of denialism.

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    4. lutesuite, as long as buying into Jesus mythicism entails buying into claptrap, Jesus mythicism remains a form of denialism.

      Who do you consider a "Jesus mythicist"? Jerry Coyne? Larry Moran? My personal position is that Jesus probably existed, but I really don't know enough to hold a definite position, and from what I do know (and the information provided by more informed people in the course of this discussion supports this) there is simply not enough evidence to conclusively support either position. Does that make me a Jesus historicist?

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    5. lutesuite: "Who do you consider a 'Jesus mythicist'?"

      Anyone who insists that a historical Jesus did not exist.

      lutesuite: " I really don't know enough to hold a definite position, and from what I do know ... there is simply not enough evidence to conclusively support either position. Does that make me a Jesus historicist?"

      No, it makes you agnostic with regard to whether Jesus existed. (Note that this should not be confused with being agnostic with regard to deities.) A historicist believes that it is more likely than not that Jesus existed.

      As for why I'm a historicist and not an agnostic? In my opinion, an agnostic viewpoint is justified if the evidence supports existence or non-existence about equally parsimoniously. For example, I'm largely agnostic as to whether there was a historical Moses. Whatever texts we have that pertain to him are at least hundreds of years after the fact, and it's not as if there are, say, texts from near Moses' time period that have offhand mentions of him, which would anchor him more securely as a figure of the past. Jesus, on the other hand, has a couple anchors: an offhand mention from Paul of "James, brother of the Lord," which in the light of the Gospels seems to be most simply explained as a reference to Jesus' brother; and an offhand mention from Josephus outright mentioning a brother of Jesus. The latter anchor is further solidified by Origen quoting the relevant reference to Josephus' text -- and bear in mind that Origen is writing before Christians have control of manuscripts of Josephus' work.

      Now, do mythicists have explanations of those anchors? Yes, but that is not enough. For the mythicists' explanations to have traction, they need to be at least as parsimonious as what the historicists have on offer. Instead, I see, for example, claims that "brother of the Lord" was a fancy way of saying "Christian," despite this being a poor fit to the contexts where that phrase is used. I see claims that "brother of the Lord" refers to some special group of Christians, despite the lack of attestation for such a group. With regard to Josephus, the argument for interpolation of the passage that I mentioned entails Ananus killing the brother of Jesus son of Damneus and then giving him gifts, without any indication of either Jesus saying f-k you to Ananus or shock that such gifts were accepted. This looks suspiciously like an attempt to tendentiously explain away evidence, rather than a natural interpretation of the text. This is also just the tip of the iceberg of mythicist claptrap.

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    6. No, it makes you agnostic with regard to whether Jesus existed.

      Interestingly, that's the same term Jerry Coyne uses to describe himself, as quoted elsewhere on the page.

      You make a pretty good case for why it is more parsimonious to hold that Jesus existed than that he didn't. That still does not elevate the position to being a "fact", nor IMHO does it justify referring someone who views the matter differently as a "denialist".

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  22. Sorry if I was unclear: by "you" I meant the generic "someone", not you personally.

    I wasn't talking about attacking the "field", rather the attack on the "theory", i.e. the historical Jesus thesis.

    As far as the term "denialist", I didn't use it in my comment at all (other than the reference to climate change deniers), so I'm not sure why you're bringing it in to the discussion here. James made it quite clear how he was using it: not to refer to someone in the field holding a minority view, but to refer to someone OUTSIDE the field who (without examining the evidence for themselves) latches onto a minority view because it supports some agenda of their own. You can argue whether this is an appropriate use of the term, but, in fact, your own use in the mental illness example seems to be pretty close to James's.

    Larry seems to have come into the discussion fairly recently, and my impression is that he hasn't looked very closely at the arguments that are out there. I could of course be wrong about this. Jerry has been discussing the issue for some time, and (again my impression) is that he has at least read some of the relevant work on the topic. Still, I don't think he should be considered an expert on the history of early Christianity, or biblical scholarship. And he is unquestionably latching onto an extremely minority opinion. Whether this is because of an ideological agenda is, of course, debatable.

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    1. I wasn't talking about attacking the "field", rather the attack on the "theory", i.e. the historical Jesus thesis.

      Fine. My argument works just as well if we are talking about someone who does not accept that schizophrenia is primarily caused by genetics, and believes it was likely caused by cats. I would not call such a person a "denialist", because I would then be including some of my most respected colleagues. I fail to see how McGrath justifies his distinction between people in the field and those outside it. The evidence is the evidence, regardless of who is assessing it.

      As far as the term "denialist", I didn't use it in my comment at all (other than the reference to climate change deniers), so I'm not sure why you're bringing it in to the discussion here.

      Because this entire discussion is about McGrath's use of the term "denialism." Look at the title.

      James made it quite clear how he was using it: not to refer to someone in the field holding a minority view, but to refer to someone OUTSIDE the field who (without examining the evidence for themselves) latches onto a minority view because it supports some agenda of their own.

      Yes. That is the position against which I am arguing. As I said above, it makes no sense to call someone a denialist because he has read Richard Carrier's arguments thoroughly, and has understood and accepted them, but then refuse to call Richard Carrier, himself, a denialist.

      You can argue whether this is an appropriate use of the term, but, in fact, your own use in the mental illness example seems to be pretty close to James's.

      Really? So you believe that the existence of Jesus is established with the same degree of certainty as the position that mental disorders are not caused by possession by evil spirits? You need to show your work on that one.

      Jerry has been discussing the issue for some time, and (again my impression) is that he has at least read some of the relevant work on the topic. Still, I don't think he should be considered an expert on the history of early Christianity, or biblical scholarship. And he is unquestionably latching onto an extremely minority opinion.

      Again, you are making the mistake of equating lack of acceptance of the position that Jesus actually existed with acceptance of the position that he has definitely been shown to be a myth. This is similar to the tactic of many religious apologists, who confuse atheism with the positive position that God does not exist. I expect clearer thinking from historians.

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    2. Lest my mistakes be attributed to James and his colleagues, I should point out that I am not a historian or a biblical scholar. (I am, in fact, a physicist, if that matters to anyone, tho I don't see why it should.)

      "As I said above, it makes no sense to call someone a denialist because he has read Richard Carrier's arguments thoroughly, and has understood and accepted them, but then refuse to call Richard Carrier, himself, a denialist. "

      Does it make sense to call someone a denialist, if they have read Behe's books thoroughly, and has understood and accepted the ID thesis? I think the answer depends on whether that person has ALSO read enough mainstream biology to understand the state of the discussion among biologists, the methods and criteria that are normal and generally accepted, and to know and understand the responses to Behe and the opinions of those who oppose his view. Someone who meets those criteria (presumably including Behe himself) I would not call a denialist. Someone who has ONLY read Behe, who thinks they understand his arguments, but who has not understood the mainstream position or investigated the arguments opposing him, would, according to James's definition, deserve the "denialist" label.

      But if the entire discussion is about what's the "correct" definition of "denialism," then it's pretty boring and pointless. IMO, anyone can use a term however they like, as long as they are clear about how they are using it, and James was quite clear how he was using the term "denialism." (There's glory for you!)

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  23. Without quibbling over semantical differences between "agnostic" & "atheist": Professor Bart D. Ehrman, a research scholar (in the field of on textual criticism of the New Testament, the historical Jesus, and the development of early Christianity) is an "atheist" in the same sense that Laurence Moran identifies himself as an atheist.

    For all intents, Laurence Moran's arguments on Jesus' historicity constitute dilettante "straw man" arguments.

    For more:
    http://tinyurl.com/qb3nz8x

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    1. Hmmm ....

      For the record, I think it's silly to deny that there was once a man named Jesus (or something similar in the language of the day) who preached in Palestine and had a small local following. He was probably executed by the Romans around 33 AD.

      I don't agree with Jerry Coyne on this issue.

      However, I also think it's silly to call Jerry Coyne a "denialist" for not buying the evidence as proof that the Jesus of the Bible actually existed. And I think it's silly to make such a big deal out the historical Jesus when the only person we're really interested in is not some minor figure in Roman Palestine but the Jesus of the Bible.

      There may also have been an historical Barabbas but who cares? Nobody writes books proving that Barabbas was a real thief.

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    2. That's quite aspergy of you, Larry. Of what historical, cultural, or societal significance is/was Barabbas? On the other hand, well, I think we know the answer as to Jesus, whether or not you're talking the obscure preacher or the Jesus of the Bible (as portrayed therein, which, of course, is what affected western culture on such a grand scale).

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    3. That's kind of the point, DiverCity. The "historical, cultural, or societal significance" of the actual Barabbas is no more nor less than that of the actual Jesus. The significances of the Biblical characters based on them, of course, are very different from one another.

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    4. @ Larry

      For the record, I think it's silly to deny that there was once a man named Jesus (or something similar in the language of the day) who preached in Palestine and had a small local following. He was probably executed by the Romans around 33 AD.

      I don't agree with Jerry Coyne on this issue.


      I feel it necessary to quote Jerry Coyne's own views on this issue, at least as of a few months ago, as quoted at greater length elsewhere in this thread:

      Yet there should have been some evidence, especially if Jesus had done what the Bible said. But even if he was simply an apocalyptic preacher, as Ehrman insists, there should have been at least a few contemporaneous records. Based on their complete absence, I am for the time being simply a Jesus agnostic. But I don’t pretend to be a scholar in this area, or even to have read a lot of the relevant literature.

      That seems not so far removed from your own position (nor mine), Larry. And certainly not sufficient justification to label him a "denialist" IMHO.

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  24. Professor Moran

    Regarding: “You should know the basics of a theory before you attack it” & “Turn off your irony meters.”

    I respectfully suggest that you follow your own advice.

    So-called “critical historical methods” employed to determine the "historical Jesus" as opposed to the “the dogmatic Christ” of the Gospels are no less “empirical” than the scientific methodology you and I both teach our students in Biochemistry (actually in my case Genetics) classes in university.

    That would explain Professor James McGrath’s bewilderment with your fixation on the “dogmatic Christ” when posing your questions.

    I am delighted that you have managed to distance yourself from Gerry Coyne’s misinformed opinion since the penning of your original blogpost.

    I recommend a great read: How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

    http://goo.gl/4iTtdw

    I find your argument above unnecessarily contentious;

    “And I think it's silly to make such a big deal out the historical Jesus when the only person we're really interested in is not some minor figure in Roman Palestine but the Jesus of the Bible.”

    A great many would disagree! Given the impact that Christianity, as defined by the “dogmatic Christ”, has clearly had on history, historians would of course be interested in the intriguing question of how Jesus really saw himself, if not the junior partner in some specious “trinity” of the godhead. Another interesting question would be how his immediate followers interpreted Jesus’ teaching before his death and how they reinterpreted his teaching after his death. Another interesting question would be how those reinterpretations were further reinterpreted by the authors of the Gospels almost a generation later. Turning back on our “irony-meters”: the word “evolution” jumps again to the forefront.

    In any case, those questions you asked Professor James McGrath regarding historical methodology were rigorously answered in Ehrman’s book I cited.

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    Replies
    1. Just speaking for myself, I have every respect for the historical method, and have appreciated the input from those better acquainted with that method and its results. That input has confirmed to me that McGrath is unjustified in calling Moran and, Coyne, not to mention myself, "denialists."

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    2. Sorry Tages Haruspex, my skeptical self can't read the book because it isn't a historical study. The book addresses lots of questions about the divine status of the Jewish preacher from Galilee but that's out-of-bounds for true historians. James McGrath made that very clear to me when he said,

      I did see your blog post. But the point is not just whether one can in theory investigate particular claims using particular tools and methods, but whether it is meaningful to do so. If a religious text claims that God made the sun stand still at some point in the past, then historians can look and see whether there is mention of such an occurrence in texts from around the globe, and finding none, conclude that the claim is false. But in general, historians do not bother doing that, because historical study deals in probabilities, and so historical study is not going to find an improbable event to be probable anyway, and so it makes more sense to bracket out such claims rather than to waste time investigating them merely to confirm their improbability.

      Bart D. Ehrman obviously disagrees with McGrath. Ehman seems to be building a case against the divinity of Jesus based on historical records.

      I have to assume, based on what James McGath told me, that this is a minority view among historians. If I were to accept what Erhman says I might be accused of denialism or something similar.

      But between you and me—let's not tell James McGrath—Ehrman seems to be saying exactly what a lot of rational people expect; namely, there's historical evidence that Jesus did not think of himself as the son of God and there's no evidence that he rose from the dead. From the abstract, it looks like Ehrman is saying that all the myths about Jesus arose years after his death.

      I can accept that. I'd like to think that this is the business of true historians/scientists. They have to address the myths and the legends and not just be content with demonstrating that a "preacher form Galilee" actually existed.

      So, the conclusions seems to be that Jesus the Son of God did not actually exist but was invented by others. Am I a denialist if I agree to that conclusion from a noted scholar?

      I'll put your book on my list of books about legends that aren't true. It's a pretty long list so I don't know if I'll ever get to it.

      Should I be reading about Gautama Buddha first? His life seems to be much closer to the legends. What about Confucius? He also seems to be much more interesting as a real historical figure.

      Of course none of those guys compare to Santa Claus as far as important figures in MY life. (I have a five year old granddaughter and a three-year-old grandson.) Maybe I should be reading up on St. Nicholas before tackling your recommendation about a person who is of no significance to me. (Unless there's historical evidence that he performed miracles.)

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    3. @ lutesuite

      No arguments from me!

      BTW, your insights are greatly appreciated. I enjoy reading your posts whenever I drop by to "lurk".

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    4. I think you misunderstood me. While I don't know that there are any historical methods that could demonstrate one way or the other that an ancient figure was or was not secretly a divine incarnation of a pre-existent being, I do think the historical evidence can demonstrate that neither Jesus nor his earliest followers thought of him in those terms.

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    5. @ James McGrath

      Ehrman eloquently discussed the various "meanings" of the word "divine", where equivocation can result in serious misinterpretation.

      In broad strokes, would you agree with all of Bart Ehrman's conclusions in his book "How Jesus Became God"?

      If so, I agree with you that a major misunderstanding has occurred.

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    6. The one thing that Ehrman and I disagree about is that I am less convinced than he is that Paul thought of Jesus as a pre-existent divine being. We had an interesting discussion of this in a review panel about his book at SBL.

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    7. @ James McGrath

      Interesting - It would appear I owe you an apology! I took lutesuite and Professor Moran at their word when they suggested you were labeling them as some species of "Denialist". I could not be bothered to winnow detail from all the postings above.

      It seems they may have broken the Ninth (respectively the Eighth according to the Catholic and Lutheran count) Commandment. ;-)

      Or, perhaps there is some esoteric meaning to the word "Denialist" that escapes me.

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    8. @ James McGrath

      I found Ehrman's thesis on Paul quite convincing. Could you direct me to a link that you consider a decent rebuttal?

      Thank you.

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    9. I am prone at times to use "denialist" and other such terms as a way of getting the attention of those who fight against denialism in the natural sciences, only to turn around and speak favorably about the equivalents thereof in history.

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    10. @ James McGrath

      LOL - my "irony meter" just red-lined!

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    11. I find James D. G. Dunn more convincing on a lot of points about early Christology. I am still not sure whether I think Paul imagined Jesus as in any sense literally pre-existent, but if so, I think it was as the pre-existent Messiah, not as an angel. I think Ehrman makes too much of a text in which Paul's meaning could be that he had been received "as a messenger of God, as Christ Jesus himself."

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    12. James McGrath says,

      I am prone at times to use "denialist" and other such terms as a way of getting the attention of those who fight against denialism in the natural sciences, only to turn around and speak favorably about the equivalents thereof in history.

      I don't think I've ever used the word "denialist" to describe someone who disagrees with me about evolution even if they may be an IDiot. When I engage such people I usually try to present the evidence in support of my position to convince them. In most cases I attribute their position more to ignorance than to knowledge that they know about and reject.

      I actually hold to several positions that are minority positions in biochemistry and evolution so I'm not in much of a position to be tossing out the word "denialist."

      Anyway, James McGrath declares that the field is almost united behind the idea that someone named Jesus existed but that there's no evidence that he was anything like the Jesus described in the Bible. I have no problem with that. I don't give a damn about such a historical person.

      I'm quite comfortable saying that there's no evidence for the existence of the Jesus that Christians revere and/or worship. Call me a "denialist" if you wish.

      I also don't see any evidence for the existence of gods. Most Christians do see evidence so they probably think I'm a denialist about gods as well.

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    13. I am prone at times to use "denialist" and other such terms as a way of getting the attention of those who fight against denialism in the natural sciences, only to turn around and speak favorably about the equivalents thereof in history.

      "The equivalents"? So, sorry, are you back to saying that the existence of Jesus is a "fact" of the same order as evolution or climate chance or the existence Tiktaalik and Louis XIV are facts? I thought we had just established it was not. Or is "equivalent" another word you enjoy employing inappropriately just to get a rise from people, as you do with "denialist"? Is that sort of thing standard practice with historians? Or is it just your own personal quirk? For the sake of your profession, I hope it is the latter.

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    14. Yes, these are very similar. We don't have Tiktaalik, we have fossil remains which demonstrate that such an organism once existed, with sufficient clarity that we can treat not just the fossil but the organism for which it provides evidence as itself a piece of data. A king, especially one who lived more recently, will leave more "fossils" than a stone mason's son. But to the extent that the evidence for both exists and is relatively uncontroversial, the existence of both could equally be considered facts, the different amounts and kinds of evidence for each notwithstanding.

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    15. @ Lutesuite

      I highly recommend a quick read of the first few chapters of the Ehrman book which provides a somewhat more in depth explanation of what Professor McGrath meant when he deployed his "fossil" metaphor.

      Actually, that was quite a cute metaphor, given the context of those first few chapters.

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    16. But to the extent that the evidence for both exists and is relatively uncontroversial, the existence of both could equally be considered facts, the different amounts and kinds of evidence for each notwithstanding.

      You're contradicting yourself again. Earlier you wrote that the degree of certainty you have regarding the existence of Jesus was only comparable to that regarding the existence of Socrates, and less than that for people who were major political forces in their own lifetime, like Alexander the Great.

      Are you under the impression that there is greater certainty regarding the existence of Alexander than of Tiktaalik? Or are you still struggling with the correct meaning of the term "fact"? You still seem to think a "fact" is merely something on which the opinions of a majority of scholars agree. That is incorrect.

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    17. @ James McGrath:

      While I don't know that there are any historical methods that could demonstrate one way or the other that an ancient figure was or was not secretly a divine incarnation of a pre-existent being,

      Well, if you're correct, historians are a bunch of blithering idiots. Thankfully, I think it is most likely the case that you are incorrect.

      If a historian proposed a hypothesis that Julius Caesar was actually an alien invader from a distant galaxy, would the opinion of his colleagues be "Well, it could be true. We can't say. Interesting possibility."?

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    18. I do not agree that my colleagues are blithering idiots because they do not actively consider, to use a more relevant example, the suggestion that aliens were involved in the building of the pyramids. Am I not correct that most simply set that hypothesis aside, not because it can be disproved to the satisfaction of Giorgio Tsoukalas, but because it posits something extraordinarily unlikely which is unnecessary to explain the evidence?

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    19. I guess that's depends on what you mean by "set(ting) that hypothesis aside." In the case of aliens building the pyramids, I would see it as considering the hypothesis too ridiculous to even consider. That's not quite the same thing as diplomatically and vaguely stating that the divinity of Jesus is an issue beyond the remit of history, in deference to the fact that a large number of people would be greatly offended if you pointed out how ridiculous it is. People in my profession spend a lot more time pointing out how ridiculous it is to believe that vaccines cause autism, compared to the time the spend arguing that cancer is not caused by evil spirits, for the very reason that the former belief is more pervasive and influential.

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    20. And, I will add, that if the belief that cancer was caused by evil spirits became widespread, the medical profession would loudly and persistently argue against it, despite the fact that the existence of evil spirits might be considered beyond the remit of medical science.

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    21. You will note that some scientists would say ID is simply not science, while others think it is science but outmoded and unpersuasive science. But both agree that its conclusions ought not to be accepted. Similarly, you can find some who will claim that allegations about miracles simply are not history, and some who will claim that they can be shown to be unhistorical using historical tools. But both agree that the historical evidence does not support belief that miracles occured in the past.

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    22. Yes, James. And, to take the analogy further, both groups of scientists will strongly, ceaselessly, and unambiguously criticize and renounce ID. They don't just shrug their shoulders and say "Meh, not my problem."

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    23. There are indeed plenty of research scientists and professors who simply ignore these matters, whatever their personal feelings might be. And there are some who try to tackle these things directly in their teaching and/or writing, while others will think ID does not even deserve a mention in a scientific lecture or book. It seems the situations are very similar.

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    24. Sure. People have to pick their battles and might decide that arguing against creationism is not worth their time. But I never hear biologists saying that the validity of creationism is a question beyond the remit of their discipline, and should be left up to theologians or someone else to debate.

      I somehow doubt that, if the idea that Julius Caesar was a space alien began to vitiate society to the point that it was accepted as an historical fact by a major proportion of the population, historians would respond with indifference and just say "Not my circus; not my monkeys." But perhaps I simply have a higher opinion of historians than you do.

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    25. If you are going to misrepresent what I have to say, then presumably there is no point in continuing this conversation? Plenty of scientists deal with yung-earth creationism and ID precisely by adopting the attitude "not my circus, not my monkeys," because they have no direct connection with the traditions that foster such views, and think such wackiness not worthy of their time and attention. Those who have engaged pseudoscience and pseudoscholarship know that ignoring it or engaging it each has its pitfalls and can seem to leng legitimacy to the groups in question as they spin the refusal to debate, or agreement to debate, in their own favor.

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    26. I fail to see where I have misrepresented what you wrote.

      Did you not say that the question of whether Jesus was the Son of God and performed miracles was not one with which historians should concern themselves? That's quite different than saying it's one that they could engage with, if they wished, but which they could also ignore if they prefer.

      Whereas, even if particular biologists do not directly address creationism, I'm sure for the most part they do not believe that their colleagues who choose to do so are stepping outside the bounds of their profession.

      Does it not concern you that such a large percentage of the population believes it is an historical fact that Jesus was the son of God, performed miracles, and was resurrected after he died? Don't you think your profession, as a whole (though not necessarily each as individuals) has an obligation to correct this misperception? That's the question I'm trying to raise here. Sorry if I have not been clear.

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    27. And we continue to do so, even though these points have been made for multiple generations. Yet nowadays sometimes what we meet with is dismissal not just from religious fundamentalists, but from atheists who claim to be freethinkers and yet speak about historical scholarship in much the same way that creationists talk about the natural sciences. And it is extremely frustrating.

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    28. And we continue to do so, even though these points have been made for multiple generations.

      Can you give some examples? For instance, is there a post where you call the Pope a "denialist"?

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  25. @ Professor Moran,

    I think (yet again) you missed the point.

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    1. Professor Moran

      Very interesting. Technically you are correct, you did not miss "the" point. In fact, you missed several.

      Where to begin? Let us begin by citing a brief passage from one of your posts above:

      "Bart D. Ehrman obviously disagrees with McGrath. [sic] Ehman seems to be building a case against the divinity of Jesus based on historical records.[OK, this statement is correct]

      I have to assume, based on what James McGath told me, that this is a minority view among historians.[sic] If I were to accept what Erhman says I might be accused of denialism or something similar."[sic]

      Which brings us back to my favorite quotes of the day:

      “You should know the basics of a theory before you attack it” & “Turn off your irony meters.”


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    2. So are you saying that the majority of historians are attempting to debunk the divinity of Jesus by demonstrating his historicity? These seems to go against McGrath's claim that the question of Jesus' divinity is not part of history's remit.

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    3. Tages Haruspex

      I think you're confused about the difference between "missing the point" and disagreeing with the point.

      Just because I don't agree with you doesn't mean I don't understand the flawed point you're trying to make.

      You may also be a bit irony deficient so I'll be sure to add smilies the next time.

      Also, I'm not sure what "sic" means. Can you explain?

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    4. sic erat scriptum, ("thus was it written") indicates that your quotation has been reproduced exactly as you posted, pinpointing your error exactly as indicated. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sic

      1 - Professor Moran stated: “Bart D. Ehrman obviously disagrees with McGrath.” [sic] That statement is patently false (excepting perhaps a fine and subtle difference in interpreting one passage by Paul)

      2 - Professor Moran stated: “I have to assume, based on what James McGath told me, that this [i.e. Ehrman’s thesis] is a minority view among historians." [sic] Again patently false! The Continental and British-American schools of Higher Criticism would represent the majority and not the minority view of scholars employing the so-called “historical method”.

      3 - Professor Moran stated: “ If I were to accept what Erhman says I might be accused of denialism or something similar." [sic] Again patently false. If you would take a moment to reread Professor McGrath’s explanation of what he meant by “denialism” you would understand that acceptance of Ehrman’s thesis would represent the antithesis of “denialism”.

      I needed to dial down the intensity setting on my Irony-Meter. The counts per minute were becoming overwhelming!

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    5. @ lutesuite

      You write above: "So are you saying that the majority of historians are attempting to debunk the divinity of Jesus by demonstrating his historicity? These seems to go against McGrath's claim that the question of Jesus' divinity is not part of history's remit."

      McGrath's embrace of historical-critical method is little different than the scientific method which eschews supernatural explanation of empirical observation (in McGrath's & Ehrman's case historical data).

      Kepler posited the intervention of angels when explaining the orbits of planets. Newton thought otherwise. Modern televangelists would be the theological equivalent of Kepler. The majority of New Testament Scholars are equivalent to Newton.

      OK, there are "scholars" who also call themselves Higher Critics but are NOT anti-supernaturalists. Neither Ehrman nor McGrath belong to this minority camp.

      I think the confusion here is that Jesus' heirs believed in his "divinity" (equivocation alert). The historical implications of how this belief system evolved are staggering. That all said, even though the "evolving belief system" can be the subject of historical scrutiny, the supernatural codicils of that belief system are themselves not amenable to empirical or historical verification (for lack of a better word) according to both McGrath and Ehrman.

      Again I strongly suggest you check out Ehrman's book on How Jesus became God which explains all this far better than I.

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    6. @Tages Haruspex

      That's a very strange way to use " sic," Do you just put it after quotations you disagree with?

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    7. I think the confusion here is that Jesus' heirs believed in his "divinity" (equivocation alert). The historical implications of how this belief system evolved are staggering.

      Could you be a bit more specific? What are these staggering historical implications?

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    8. BTW, I'm not sure that confusion you're talkng about. It's blazingly obvious that, at some point, Jesus' "heirs" came to believe in his divinity. And it's perfectly understandable that some historians would be interested in determining, as best as they can, how this occurred.

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    9. @Tages Haruspex

      Just so you know.

      I don't believe there's any such thing as a "scientifuc method."

      I don't believe that using science as a way of knowing requires one to "eschew supernatural explanation of empirical observation." I believe that if you as using the scientific approach to knowledge you should examine all claims to see if there's any evidence to support them.

      I believe that all legitimate attempts to seek knowledga should use the scientific approach and this includes the work of historians.

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    10. Tages,

      The use of "sic" would be legitimate here:

      Professor Moran stated: “I have to assume, based on what James McGath [sic] told me"

      and not wherever you disagree with Professor Moran's opinion. "Sic" means simply, "The error/blunder is in the original, which I am quoting verbatim, lest anyone should think it's an artifact of my sloppy transcription."

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    11. @ Professor McGrath,

      I understand and share your bewildered sense of frustration. The issue here is not that you are in any fundamental disagreement with your detractors. The real issue is that you do not share their zealotry (in the full Hebrew Testament meaning of that term) for the promulgation of atheism.

      Your apparent indifference to other’s religious faith is a provocation which can be neither ignored nor neglected; which would explain one reason why lurk-mode is my default setting here. Your bewilderment mirrors that of Bart Ehrman’s upon his receiving the Religious Liberty Award at the American Humanist Association’s 70th annual conference. He was also bemused by his hosts’ single-minded fanaticism for atheistic evangelism. Next time you chat with Professor Ehrman, you two should compare notes.

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    12. @ Professor Moran

      Really?! That is the best you can manage?

      Let us recap:

      I politely suggest you “missed the point”.

      Your reply in the negative suggesting that in fact I somehow missed the point.

      I respond by pointing out THREE egregious errors on your part.

      You attempt a puerile distraction by calling into question my usage of Latin acronyms disregarding entirely the salient fact that you completely misrepresented McGrath on three counts. It matters not a jot whether or not you happen to agree or disagree with Professor McGrath: the point at issue here is whether or not you totally misrepresented what in fact Professor McGrath said (which you did).

      But, if you want to play that game, please permit me to call you out on your incorrect usage of the word “irony”, when in fact you should be employing the word “incongruous”. On second thought. Let’s not. Your zeal to score points becomes wearisome. Your sophistry on “the” scientific approach in your later post defies politeness. You and I were both referring to “a method of inquiry commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning”; a method of inquiry I may add, we both share with Professor McGrath.

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    13. @ Piotr Gąsiorowski

      Of course, I realize that “sic” is commonly employed to highlight a second party’s error in spelling, grammar, or syntax within a quote. On our campus, we defer to the 7th edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers where we use sic in square brackets if it appears within the quote or in parentheses if it appears after the quote. I missed the distinction between square and parentheses and I thank you for drawing my attention to my error above.

      This still leaves unresolved, the lingering question how “sic” can be employed at the end of a quote. Deferring to “on campus” authority greater than mine on the subject, I am assured that the employ of “sic” can be used to identify some sort of “surprising assertion”, justifying one use of “sic” after an entire quotation. Such usage often connotes condescension; which in fact, was my intent. I almost never need to use that particular Latin acronym and I am grateful for the opportunity for clarification.

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    14. Tages Haruspex,

      Since you are still lurking about the blog, I am still interested in hearing what the staggering historical implications of Jesus' existence would be.

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  26. Lutesuite asks: “I am still interested in hearing what the staggering historical implications of Jesus' existence would be.”

    Quick answer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Role_of_the_Christian_Church_in_civilization

    Another salient quote for the day occurs when lutesuite above says, "It's blazingly obvious that, at some point, Jesus' "heirs" came to believe in his divinity. And it's perfectly understandable that some historians would be interested in determining, as best as they can, how this occurred."

    Really? Why would that be? You are guilty of egregious inconsistency. There existed a plethora of apocalyptic prophets who remain forgotten footnotes of history. Of course Jesus was different and that makes his story interesting.

    The interesting follow-up (as you yourself point out) then becomes; “what is his "real" story” and “how can we find out his real story”? I am no expert in that field, so perhaps you should redirect your inquiry to Professor McGrath given your obvious obsession regarding the matter. Failing that, I still recommend Professor Bart Ehrman’s book.

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    1. Perhaps you misunderstood my question. I am quite aware of the significance of the Christian Church and how great its effect has been on world history.

      I still fail to see how that fact is altered in any "staggering" way if we know Jesus actually existed.

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    2. Have it your way. I still consider “Jesus” as an exquisite example of Edward Lorenz’s “Butterfly Effect” where seemingly trivial random events in Galilee unleashed a metaphorical “hurricane” that changed the course of history.

      "Staggering"? I think so! Why not?!

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    3. Yes, it's "staggering". And equally "staggering" regardless of whether Jesus was entirely a mythical figure or just mostly a mythical one.

      So you got nothing. I wish you'd made that clear form the outset.

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  27. Prosser et al., 1996; Thomsen et al. 1998; Snibbe et al., 1989; Deary et al., 1996; Guthrie et al.,1999: for starters.

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    1. Starters for what? And how is anyone supposed to find your sources based on such incomplete citations?

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    2. Continuing with some more "incomplete" citations:

      Mark 11:24 Matthew 7:7 Luke 11:9

      Now that, ladies and gentlemen; would be "irony"

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    3. I hope you don't think you're providing an example of what passes for "scholarship" among historians of early Christianity, Tages Haruspex. Members of that field would be most upset.

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    4. No, the second batch were complete. You can actually find them. But they don't help find the initial batch; you're just being an asshole there. Meanwhile, what are you talking about and what are the actual citations for the publications you mentioned (apparently for no reason) in the first post?

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    5. I`m presuming the first batch of citations (sic) were in response to my previous post, where I expressed disappointment that he had failed to actually reveal what the "staggering historical implications" of Jesus' existence would be. Perhaps these staggering implications are concealed within the articles, the precise location of which he only sees fit to reveal tantalizing hints. I guess we'll never know.

      In another thread he says "I am hoping for a civil exchange, this time." As if that is up to anyone besides himself.

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