2010-09-17

Why Evolution Is True: And Reflections on Historical Jesus Scholars

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by Neil Godfrey

Cover of "Why Evolution Is True"
Cover of Why Evolution Is True

Someone posted a link to a post on my blog on Jerry Coyne’s blog “Why Evolution Is True” (See his post: I get Christian email: more irreducible complexity)  — and wonderful, wonderful! I like reading books like his (I have referenced Coyne’s book twice here but never knew he also had a blog) — and I loved reading his summary explanation for the evolution of sex. He was giving a clearly reasoned, evidence-based response to a Creationist. I have read more detailed accounts of this topic, but what was refreshing was to see how real science, real argument, real logic, real evidence, really works. You don’t find arguments like that — or you certainly very rarely find them — when historical Jesus scholars respond to Jesus mythicist arguments. Actually that is misleading. Historical Jesus scholars very rarely in my experience ever respond to Christ myth arguments. They mostly pretend to, usually with a snicker or sneer, and demonstrate their ignorance or incomprehension of

  1. basic historical methodological ideals in nonbiblical studies,
  2. the arguments they think they are addressing,
  3. and the difference between logical fallacies and logical rigour.

Some time ago I started to garner many of James McGrath’s posts and comments supposedly attempting to explain how historical Jesus scholarship works, and why we should believe in an historical Jesus. My intention is to one day put them together and post them beneath his relatively recent claim that he has tried oh so hard so many times to explain the historical Jesus position or how historical Jesus studies work.

I should then place beneath the post Jerry Coyne’s response to creationists, along with the creationist arguments. It will be most instructive to see the difference in logical and evidence-based argument between how an evolutionary scientist responds to creationists, and how a historical Jesus scholar responds to mythicists. If I get the time to do this, I might like to colour code the respective portions of each response to demonstrate where facts, logic and evidence are cited against where one reads assumptions, logical fallacies and unsupported assertions. Till I get the time to do that, I can confidently claim now that the similar patterns of logic and evidence are to be found among evolutionary scientists and Jesus mythicists.

I think I know why I enjoy reading nonbiblical historians and evolutionary scientists so much: they are welcome fresh air when one spends too much time trying to pick the wheat from the chaff among HJ books.

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0 thoughts on “Why Evolution Is True: And Reflections on Historical Jesus Scholars”

  1. What I like about his response (and he is fairly representative – something I also love) is that he treats the question seriously and presents an answer dealing with the issues. No doubt he chose the question in part because it was interesting to him and no doubt if he provided an answer but kept getting the same question over and over he may grow more terse but he has made sure the answer is out there in a serious and respectful matter.

    What I love is this:

    Now we’re not sure if the different sexes of multicellular organisms really evolved in this sequence (though I suspect they did), but constructing such an adaptive scenario immediately disposes of the “irreducible complexity” argument. If you posit that the lack of a plausible Darwinian pathway proves Jesus, the best answer is that there are plausible pathways.

    This is something which always impresses me – stating your case strongly, backing it up with evidence and reason, but not overstating it. Coyne never says this absolutely how it happens, he never says it’s obvious and he states the current state of knowledge and when there are unknowns he states them.

    When someone shows these virtues, they’re 80% of the way towards convincing me.

  2. And the evidence for evolution of sex is sufficient to accept that sexual differentiation evolved despite not fully understanding exactly how it happened at this point:

    These are early days in studies of the evolution of sex, but so far there’s no insuperable problem in explaining it. I fully expect that we’ll understand it much better in a few decades.

    Similarly the evidence for Jesus being of mythical origins is sufficient to accept Jesus mythicism despite our current uncertainty about the exact details of the processes by which this happened. HJ scholars are known to reject all the evidence on the grounds that no single hypothesis for the details of how the myth emerged yet exists.

  3. Just imagine this scenario: a creatonist criticizes the theory of evolution and in response the evolutionary scientist does not address the arguments of the creationist but says “oh, you creationists, you don’t take mainstream science seriously. My position is a consensus view, you are just amateurs on the fringe. You remind me a lot of those fringe Jesus mythicists. Let me point out the similarities between you and those fringe Jesus mythicists so that you can see the errors in your methods. After all, we know the Jesus mythicists are wrong, so this implies that you creationists are wong as well.”

    1. I was about to suggest you send this to a few HJ scholars, but then I remembered at least one of them insists he has gone to ever such painful lengths to take so many laborious hours to explain historical methods of the scholarly guild so many times already to pointy-headed mythicists, . . . . — so the point of the post would be totally lost on such. :-/

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