by Neil Godfrey
Added more detail to my "advice" a the end of post: 21:11 pm -- 4 hours after original post.
I have left some corrections to Dr James McGrath’s recent post Overview of Part One of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (with Baloney Detection) on his site, and repeat them here along with a few other points. (A short response by Doherty is also found here on McGrath’s blog.) I conclude with some advice that McGrath has openly requested.
McGrath’s first point that needs several corrections is this:
3. Have the claims been verified by another source?
Neil Godfrey appeals frequently to a seemingly favorable statement by Stevan Davies, but elsewhere in the same discussion forum Davies indicates that he had not read Doherty’s book and describes it as equally nonsense viz-a-viz the dominant scholarly paradigm. And so the favorable statement is about what Davies had been told about Doherty’s stance, not about the actual articulation of it in detail in his book. While Doherty should not be blamed for what one of his supporters has done, this still serves as a cautionary reminder that quotes in favor of a fringe view sometimes are not what they initially appear to be.
I can only submit to the reader what I have been presenting in my blog series along with specific examples and illustrations: that I have been looking at Doherty’s claims closely and have found them wanting in the best of cases, in many others at best possible but unproven, and in still others patently false. So far there have been responses to my blog series which have nit-picked the tone and the wording of some of the posts, but have done nothing to salvage Doherty’s substantive points, as far as I can see. And it is not clear that other mainstream scholars who have looked at Doherty’s claims in detail speak in favor of the details, however much their words may have contained enough that is favorable to serve as a blurb.
As for my references to other scholars who have not seen the Christ myth idea in general, or Doherty’s arguments in particular, as “baloney” I have sought to cite scholars who are not themselves mythicists, but who nonetheless respect the idea and certain arguments (Doherty’s) made in its favour. Non-mythicist Albert Schweitzer wrote at some length a response to a range of mythicist arguments in his day with scholarly respect for many of them, and concluded that the church was on safer ground if it grounded itself on a metaphysic and not on a historical event.
Before I used Professor Stevan Davies’ words from Crosstalk I sought his permission and explained clearly the context in which I would be using them, and his agreement to my request is archived in my Permissions: Mine and Yours page. Davies’ statement was based on a series of exchanges with Earl Doherty over some time on the Crosstalk forum before Doherty’s book was published. His reference to not having read Doherty’s 250,000 words was a reference to Doherty’s full website. He was one of the academics on that discussion forum who did not respond with scorn and insult before even hearing the arguments — and he read many exchanges of Doherty with scholars on that discussion list. What he said in that Crosstalk post (and in the others McGrath links to) speaks for itself. I don’t think Davies would appreciate any innuendo that he wrote his words on mere heresay.
[Doherty] advocates a position that is well argued based on the evidence and even shows substantial knowledge of Greek.
McGrath overlooked Hector Avalos’s published view that Doherty’s argument was “plausible” — and Avalos indicated he had read Doherty’s first book.
McGrath says that the only criticisms of his posts on Doherty so far have managed to be nothing more than nitpicking complaints about their tone and choice of wording. Unfortunately in making this complaint McGrath demonstrates he has failed to grasp the real content of many of those criticisms (on his own blog, in response to Peter Kirby’s open letter, on my own blog). His interpretation of those criticisms as nitpicking over tone and wording should give all readers some idea of the way he can reduce the content of Doherty’s arguments to a few words of contemptuous dismissal. McGrath appears to have a habit of simply ignoring and dismissing what he does not seem to want to hear.
McGrath does say that he has been looking at Doherty’s claims closely. It is a shame he has kept the findings of his close study a secret from his readers.
I had expected in a Part 1 Overview post that McGrath would have summed up Doherty’s arguments and the specific reasons he finds them wanting. Unfortunately I don’t think there is a single criticism on McGrath’s overview that is not a repeat of what he has been declaiming against mythicism from the early days when he said he knew next to nothing about mythicist arguments.
I would like to see McGrath attempt a genuine summary presentation of any one of Doherty’s arguments, but he has indicated that he fears any fair treatment will only give comfort to mythicists, and that he must avoid at all costs.
On a couple of other blogs I’ve encountered some criticism of my supposedly not having adequately presented the full extent of Earl Doherty’s claims and arguments in his book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus. When someone offers a homeopathic remedy as a solution to an illness, I don’t see the need for a defender of mainstream medicine to point out that it is water and staying hydrated is a good thing, and can represent a positive effect of ingesting it. When someone defending mainstream science focuses on the flaws in a book promoting young-earth creationism or Intelligent Design, I won’t particularly mind if the one criticizing the work fails to highlight the occasional good point the author made.
and again in his Dealing Appropriately post:
I would love to be more polite, more objective, and if nothing else, give a better impression of myself in the process of reviewing Doherty’s book. But unless I find a way of making clear that the contents are altogether lacking in scholarly rigor, then my polite review will become fodder for mythicist quote-mining in support of their claims. And so I would truly value further input from you and other readers on how to navigate the waters between those two concerns.
Suggestion to Dr McGrath: Scientists can and do in many publications rebut creationism etc without any insult and simply be arguing the points, and addressing in full the arguments made by their opponents. They do not suppress or deny the arguments, but bring them out fully to show where they are wanting. I have several books on evolution taking this approach against creationism. It is not as hard as it seems. At least not for scientists. Summarize and explain Doherty’s arguments, as scientists explain and quote in full creationist arguments, and then show how your “science” rebuts them — if you can.
The Shermer questions for testing nonsense ill serve many of McGrath’s replies as most readers who take the time reading them can see for themselves.