Are Mythicist Sceptics Hypocritical for Attacking Creationists?

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by Neil Godfrey

This is a small snippet from the latest blog post by David Fitzgerald, Flame War On . . .

Cameron rightly notes that skeptics like me freely attack creationists for denying scientific consensus. But when it comes to the Christ myth, he declares “snubbing the consensus is problematic,” and feels it’s blatantly hypocritical:

“They don’t hesitate to throw around the consensus argument in that context. But when it comes to biblical history, tossing aside the consensus point of view is acceptable, because (conveniently) the evidence is on their side.”

But Cameron has just answered his own dilemma: it’s precisely because Mythicists have evidence that we challenge the current majority opinion – just as the evidence for natural selection challenged the dominant paradigm in Darwin’s time. Creationism isn’t wrong simply because it’s in the minority, and Evolution isn’t true just because the overwhelming majority of scientists say so; it’s true because it’s multiply attested by strong and compelling lines of evidence and has withstood, and continues to withstand, all rival theories. By contrast, there is nothing in Biblical studies that stands confirmed on anywhere near the level of certainty we get in any other branch of science. . . . .

Of course there is one professor who asserts that to the extent that biblical studies does have a degree of certainty (even though only a fraction of anything in the sciences), to that extent mythicists should respectfully submit to this consensus just as creationists should be rational and accept the authority of scientists. That one discipline is the foundation of all our modern progress and the other is a Mickey Mouse course doesn’t matter. What matters is that the most honourable professors in each have certainties. One just happens to have greater certainties than the other, that’s all. Let’s not mention that one of these sets of esteemed professors is dominated by persons who reject the evolution taught by the other guild by believing somehow evolution is something that can be guided or initiated by a divine being, who believe in spirit entities they can communicate with, etc.

Of course the reality is that evolution and the sciences have gained their authority by their public demonstrations of their proofs. In the case of evolution people are persuaded by the evidence the scientists can and regularly do present to them. Few people are truly impressed by appeals to authority. (Though obviously God-fearers must be so impressed. Maybe that’s why it’s theologians who presumably communicate with spirits who are so touchy about demanding respect for the authority of their opinions merely on the grounds that they agree with each other.) Historical Jesus scholars have nothing but circularity and assumptions to fall back on — oh, and angry insults, too, for those who don’t take their consensus views of their assumptions (not evidence) with reverential gravitas. Good thing we’ve come out of the dark ages and relegated them to niches far from the seats of civil authority.

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10 thoughts on “Are Mythicist Sceptics Hypocritical for Attacking Creationists?”

  1. Well put. I’ve been saying the same for a long time now. To pretend that a consensus in the field of physics or biology (where every datum is measurable and rigorously verified) is analogous to a consensus in a field as arbitrary as New Testament studies or comparative religion studies, on the basis that there are university departments devoted to both the latter and the former is surely a vainglorious delusion on the part of professors in the latter. Their smug posturing is annoying as hell.

  2. The difference is pretty clear cut. When a creationist shows up and asks “where’s the evidence for evolution” to an evolutionary biologist, they are pointed at the relevant evidence to show why they are wrong and why the consensus is the way it is. There’s an entire blog – The Panda’s Thumb – that has article after article showing evidence and showing why creationist claims are dead wrong. It’s very convincing, and if you’re of an agnostic frame of mind on the evolution question, the evidence there will sway you pretty readily when you read it. On the other hand, when someone asking “where’s the evidence for a Historical Jesus” shows up, biblical scholars scream “the consensus is the way it is – we don’t have to show you evidence – shut up”.

    I’d have a lot more respect for biblical scholars and their belief in a historical Jesus if, instead of answering questions with snarky criticism and angry insults they did what evolutionary biologists do and provide their evidence. I am agnostic on the whole “mythical vs. historical” question when it comes to Jesus, and I didn’t used to be (I used to be firmly in the “historical” camp – I didn’t even realize there WERE camps about this). But I have to say that one thing that has made me more agnostic about it than I used to be is the response from biblical historians when the question gets raised. I never realized that there was such a vacuum of evidence for the historical man Jesus until I saw the kinds of blind knee-jerk reactions just asking the question raises in biblical historians. If they have evidence they should provide it, and if they DON’T have evidence they should stop pretending to be so damn authoritative about it and admit that agnosticism is a reasonable stance to take on the question.

    1. Hmmm . . . What would happen if scientists responded to questions the way HJ Scholars do?

      Tommy: “How do we know evolution is true, Dr. Wizard?”

      Dr. Wizard: “Well, Tommy, because most scientists think so.”

      Tommy: “Is that really a good enough reason for me to believe it?”

      Dr. Wizard: “It’s very, very complicated.”

      Tommy: “I’m pretty smart. If you explain it, I’ll try really hard to understand.”

      Dr. Wizard: “Look, kid, we have just as much evidence for gravity as we do for evolution. So unless you want us all to go flying off into space where we’ll die in the icy vacuum, clutching at our throats . . .”

      Tommy: “Whoa! I was just asking a question. You don’t have to . . .”

      Dr. Wizard: “If you deny evolution, you’re no better than a Holocaust Denier. Do you hate the Jews, Tommy?”

      Tommy: “What? How did the . . .?”

      Dr. Wizard: “Get him out of here! I can’t teach somebody who refuses to understand simple evidence.”

  3. Jer:

    I didn’t even realize there WERE camps about this). But I have to say that one thing that has made me more agnostic about it than I used to be is the response from biblical historians when the question gets raised. I never realized that there was such a vacuum of evidence for the historical man Jesus until I saw the kinds of blind knee-jerk reactions just asking the question raises in biblical historians.

    My experience exactly!

  4. There are two problems with the historical Jesus ‘consensus.’ The first is that the best evidence is still ambiguous, at best. The second is that there isn’t really a consensus. While most NT scholars agree that there ‘must have been’ an historical Jesus, they can’t agree on a single thing about him beyond his being a Jewish man. Come to think of it, some suggest he was a Cynic philosopher, which means he need not have even been Jewish! The evidence one scholar finds compelling and suggestive, the other rejects as being inauthentic. There is no consensus, even, on which parts of the evidence are reliable!

    There’s a weird parallel to atheism. Atheists often observe that believers are atheists toward all of the gods but one–and that the atheist just believes in one god fewer. Historical Jesus scholars each have their own reconstruction–and find implausible the reconstructions of all the others. Mythicists just find plausible one Jesus fewer!

  5. In the field of economics, there are a number of well funded think tanks whose scholars produce research that is calculated to promote conservative economic policies. In historical Jesus, many scholars work for institutions whose stated purpose is to promote views of the gospels as historically inerrant. I think that one can have respect for principle of peer reviewed scholarship and still recognize that in some fields, the consensus is more likely to be be skewed by ideologically driven research than in others.

  6. Appealing to an authority or a consensus is intellectually lazy, but for laymen who don’t have the time or patience to dig into the evidence it’s a quick way of having a high probability of being correct. But once someone starts demanding evidence for some position, appealing to authority/consensus isn’t a form of evidence that should have a lot of weight in the argument. The consensus has to exist for a reason, and the underlying evidence — that the person is intimating that they’re asking for — is what should be the thing that created the consensus in the first place.

    You can’t answer the question “why is there a consensus?” (which is the underlying question behind all of those who are agnostic or deny the existence of Jesus, and anyone else who has a non-mainstream opinion) with “just agree with the consensus”.

    In the many debates I’ve had with Creationists, I don’t think I’ve ever used the consensus of biologists as an opening salvo. I always list all of the evidence and the logic behind the evidence first and then explained that all of this evidence is the reason for the consensus in biology. No one who wants a more meaty answer would ever accept an appeal to authority as a satisfactory answer; as a matter of fact, by doing that you’re probably telling them something they already know.

    The consensus in historical Jesus research seems to be “we know Jesus existed, we just don’t know much about him”. If HJ research were really analogous to biology (implied by the association that mythicists are creationists) then we would expect a similar answer in biology: “we know evolution happened, we just don’t know much about it”. Creationists would have a field day with such an answer, and a lot more people would be sympathetic to their cause.

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