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?Humpty Dumpty].
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.
'And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'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?
'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.'
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?