“Creationist” slurs have no place in an honest mythicist-historicist debate

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by Neil Godfrey

Following is a silly post, one of the silliest I have ever written. Maybe the silliest. Its only point is to foolishly respond to baseless and ignorant slurs written and spoken by Associate Professor James McGrath against people who argue Jesus was a mythical or legendary figure, not a real historical one. I do not know why an associate professor would find it necessary to resort to insulting these people by comparing them with “creationists” (e.g. here, here and here). While admitting he has not read mythicist literature, he makes up for this lack by (in his own words) thinking about mythicist arguments a lot. And the more he thinks about them, the more he sees them having points in common with creationists. Maybe associate professors have acquired the ability to understand more about something by merely thinking about it without having to go to the trouble of reading the evidence for themselves.

It is a pity he and others like him could not take to heart the words of Albert Schweitzer who was able to discuss knowledgeably the mythicist arguments of his day and in a civil and professional manner.

The tone in which the debate about the existence or non-existence of Jesus has been conducted does little credit to the culture of the twentieth century.

Among McGrath’s false allegations are that mythicists do not engage the mainstream scholarly literature. This seems to me like almost wilful ignorance, but I am sure no associate professor would ever be wilfully ignorant. Earl Doherty’s website is well known and his very extensive reviews of notable scholarly publications (Funk, Wilson, Crossan, et al) are there for anyone to read. Anyone who reads mythicist arguments of the kind that belongs to a line going back through Doherty, Wells, Drews, Smith, Whittaker, Bauer — on back to the Enlightenment era with Volney, Dupuis, Reimarus — and others, will be rewarded with introductions to some of the best and current biblical scholarship of each generation.

McGrath challenged me to address the arguments of E.P. Sanders, and implied that his arguments for a historical Jesus were well enough established in the mainstream to be effectively indisputable. I have begun to take up this challenge in the post previous to this one — Why the Temple Act of Jesus is almost certainly not historical.

But for this post, I hope to avoid the charge that I am defining “creationism” tendentiously to suit my particular argument, so I have chosen to use a study of Creationism that many sceptics can acknowledge as hard-hitting, comprehensive and fair.

It would be helpful if associate professors took a similar approach with their uses of the term, too. This would enable them to avoid any suspicion of merely collating all the things they think they would like to see in common between “creationism” and that just as nasty “mythicism”. Granted, the more subjective approach does provide a rich store of material one can use to justify insults. Maybe some associate professors, like some of the rest of us, simply love to hoard junk.

So in order to attempt to expose how unfounded is the comparison between mythicists and creationists, I have chosen to use the points in a book by Michael Shermer (well known for debunking nonsense, e.g. Why People Believe Weird Things), Why Darwin Matters. Shermer is a wonderful example of how to tear down a false argument in a civil and polite and professional manner. He never once resorts to insult. . . . Continue reading ““Creationist” slurs have no place in an honest mythicist-historicist debate”