2016-01-31

Still troubled by mythicism

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

It’s been a long time since I’ve addressed any of James McGrath’s regular little swipes at mythicism but it’s a dreary rainy Sunday morning and I’m in a mood for nostalgia.

The following has just popped up on my rss feed: The Real Difference Between Creationism and Mythicism. The point McGrath drives home is set out twice, once in a colourful box illustrated with a silly creationist trope of a man with his pet dinosaur:

Creationists can find 3,000 academics who will sign a statement against evolution. That’s not 3,000 academics in relevant fields, just 3,000 academics, including retired ones. I’ve yet to see mythicism show any sign of even coming close to that. And yet supposedly we are to believe that creationism’s 3,000 are irrelevant, but the 10 or so mythicist sympathizers show that the historicity of Jesus is “a theory in crisis”?

The point is to denigrate the very idea of mythicism in order to exclude its actual arguments a priori from any serious consideration. The idea is to associate mythicism with anti-intellectualism and an ideologically driven agenda. The comments to the post sing the chorus: a few ignorant atheists are misguidedly pushing an anti-Christian agenda.

There is no quotation from a mythicist (not even a decontextualised one) so what mythicists think and argue is entirely found in both the context and words set out by McGrath himself.

And here is the rebuttal:

Unless, of course, the evidence for that conclusion is considered so strong, and the alternative interpretations of the evidence so implausible, that there aren’t that many academics who would be willing to put their name on something that is, in the end, every bit as ridiculous as rejecting evolution, however different the fields in question may be.

Are we really to believe that as “many academics” who admit to being sympathetic to creationism have actually bothered to seek out and analyse the evidence for the existence of Jesus? Why would they? Is Jesus really so important to the non-religious? I hear that belief in Christianity is much more important in the U.S. than it is in other countries so I can understand the importance of fundamentalist types putting up their hands to declare support for certain beliefs there. I hear that in the U.S. it is even problematic in many regions to declare oneself an atheist!

And as long as Christian scholars like McGrath continue to accuse mythicists of being intellectually deficient then one can sense a climate that makes public discussion of Jesus’ historicity somewhat problematic for some academics who might otherwise be curious.

There are too many faulty assumptions and fault-lines in the reasoning leading to McGrath’s conclusion to address here. Besides, I don’t believe anything said to the contrary will make any difference to the anti-mythicist camp. There really is some truth to the proverb that says the accuser is in fact the guilty one.

The point is that the post is not an argument; it is a put-down, a dismissal. And that is what it is meant to be. There is no room for serious argument. There never has been. I think Raphael Lataster is right.

 

 

8 Comments

  • Pofarmer
    2016-01-31 05:09:49 UTC - 05:09 | Permalink

    “The idea is to associate mythicism with anti-intellectualism and an ideologically driven agenda. ”

    Sounds like projection to me.

  • 2016-01-31 19:23:16 UTC - 19:23 | Permalink

    Why is McGrath still comparing the scholarly consensus in a hard science with the scholarly consensus in Biblical studies? That’s bizarre.

    And the reason that comparison is faulty: I’m pretty sure we can find over 3,000 scholars in his own field who would sign a document supporting Creationism.

    I’m pretty sure there’s something about motes and beams in this situation somewhere…

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-01-31 23:08:09 UTC - 23:08 | Permalink

      Why is McGrath still comparing the scholarly consensus in a hard science with the scholarly consensus in Biblical studies? That’s bizarre.

      Ah ha! McG has the answer to that!

      Mythicists often object to the comparison between mythicism and creationism, pointing out that the conclusions of the natural sciences are much more certain than those of historians. That is true – but it is not an argument in favor of mythicism. On the contrary, if there is greater room for interpretation and subjectivity in history than in biology, then it ought to be easier to find 3,000 or more academics who will dispute a historical conclusion.

      Without realizing it McG is here implying that the historicity of Jesus is a conclusion grounded in subjectivity and debatable interpretation! Which is quite true, of course.

      How much subjectivity is needed to know that Churchill or Seneca existed?

  • MrHorse
    2016-01-31 23:01:45 UTC - 23:01 | Permalink

    “Creationists can find 3,000 academics who will sign a statement against evolution. That’s not 3,000 academics in relevant fields, just 3,000 academics, including retired ones. I’ve yet to see mythicism show any sign of even coming close to that. And yet supposedly we are to believe that creationism’s 3,000 are irrelevant, but the 10 or so mythicist sympathizers show that the historicity of Jesus is ‘a theory in crisis’?”

    That’s ‘argument ad numerum’ & ‘argumentum ad populum’ (both fallacies) used as ‘poisoning-the-well’ – another fallacy.

    He also uses a false equivalence fallacy.

  • Greg
    2016-02-01 01:57:11 UTC - 01:57 | Permalink

    Are we really to believe that as “many academics” who admit to being sympathetic to creationism have actually bothered to seek out and analyse the evidence for the existence of Jesus? Why would they? Is Jesus really so important to the non-religious? I hear that belief in Christianity is much more important in the U.S. than it is in other countries so I can understand the importance of fundamentalist types putting up their hands to declare support for certain beliefs there. I hear that in the U.S. it is even problematic in many regions to declare oneself an atheist!

    This really hits the nail on the head on just why McGrath’s “parallel” is so downright silly. Especially in countries like the US you can see the substantial interest behind creationism as a strategy to influence public policy a particular way. What major interests does McGrath think are going to benefit from pushing mythicism as aggressively that would warrant the same zeal and support, a minority of anti-theistic atheists spreading awareness of the fact that they exist?

  • pete
    2016-02-01 03:35:05 UTC - 03:35 | Permalink

    My apostasy is affirmed by recognition of my actual “yearnings”: I don’t want to be saved by Jesus Christ and I don’t want eternal life. Such a liberation of the mind after a lifetime in Western Christian culture causes me to evaluate Christians like I have never met one.

    Watching McGrath speak on youtube, I see how trapped he is in a well constructed persona. Christian’s are known for passive-aggressive interactions, using false humility to suppress their real desires, twisting themselves into knots so that their personal “Imago Dei” is appeased.

    J.P. Holding is especially interesting in how one of his side projects is a detailed fantasy world. Yes, he can draw cartoons, write, and generally focus his imagination, but he reveals his actual desires. How can they not see their idols? Jimmy Akin is another one who seems to have a divided mind. I have never met an actual Christian who has been regenerated by the “Spirit”.

    I doubt that any “real” Christians existed after the Bar Kochba revolt.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2016-02-01 04:32:23 UTC - 04:32 | Permalink

    The good professor is on a roll. He has just posted another: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/01/mythicist-defenders-of-christian-orthodoxy.html

    Still no evidence for any of his surmises. He speaks of engaging with mythicists online but doesn’t say who in particular; and once again infers that mythicism is a switch from fundamentalist religion to fundamentalist atheism — without any evidence, of course. He should have a quick look-see at how a quick read of Casey’s book alone (Casey being the one to make the accusation despite all the evidence he supplied contradicting it) — http://vridar.org/whos-who-among-mythicists-and-mythicist-agnostics/ Not to speak about even attempting to learn the first thing about how a person is attracted to a fundamentalist cult and what happens when they leave — scholarly research is nowhere in sight given the towering walls of ignorance and the desire to denigrate.

    But of course it is clear that the game is not about facts or evidence. It’s about excluding the very idea from any thought of discussion at all among his peers.

  • Tal
    2016-02-02 14:45:09 UTC - 14:45 | Permalink

    *Facepalm*
    So I guess that makes Bart Ehrman, Tim O’Neill and McGrath himself defenders of the claims of the “Da Vinci code” since they all agree that it gets the facts right (Jesus and Mary Magdalene were historical figures, Jesus was crucified, Jesus had disciples, emperor Constantine and Da Vinci were historical figures, Council of Nicaea was an historical event…)

    And it seems to me that non-Christians defenders of Jesus historicity have a lot more in common with Christian orthodoxy than mythicists do. Both insist that Jesus was historical, that he lived in Nazareth, was baptised in the Jordan river by John the Baptist, was crucified in Jerusalem by Pontius Pilate.
    Both insist that the Pauline epistles speak of a historical Jesus not a celestial one, that Paul believed that Jesus lived on earth and was crucified in Jerusalem and not just under the moon.
    Both insist that Galatians 4:4 is talking about a real flesh and blood Mary and not some allegorical woman. That 1 corinthians 11 is referring to a last supper that took place on earth and not in heaven. That Romans 1:3 showes that Paul thought Jesus was historical and so on…

    Are you certain that McGarth is a Christian? all that blood sweat and tears he sheds battling mythicism just to sadly settle for the bread crumbs of converting atheist mythicists to atheists who think Jesus was a 100% compatible with atheism just a regular guy historical person?
    It seems ode to me that a Christian would settle for that.
    Or does he think that atheist defenders of Jesus historicity are more likely to convert to Christianity?

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *