2012-04-21

Jerry Coyne’s (Why Evolution Is True) Comments on Carrier’s Review of Ehrman

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by Neil Godfrey

Jerry Coyne of Why Evolution Is True fame has posted on his blog his own comments on Richard Carrier’s review of Ehrman’s book.

Here is his conclusion:

In other words, Ehrman’s book is important to Americans only insofar as it can be taken to support the tenets of Christianity.  Since it doesn’t, even by Ehrman’s admission, I’m a bit baffled at the attention it gets. I conclude that all the kerfuffle rests on this: Christians conflate the existence of a historical Jesus with the existence of a divine Jesus.

And, of course, there are important questions about how one adjudicates ancient history.

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18 Comments

  • 2012-04-21 20:02:05 UTC - 20:02 | Permalink

    It seems to me that Professor Coyne is puzzled as to why rational atheist would care about truth, and be opposed to the dissemination of patently destructive frauds.
    I, for the life of me, cannot understand why a scientist would not “get” this basic fidelity.

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-04-21 23:32:02 UTC - 23:32 | Permalink

    ATHEISM, NOR JESUS MYTHICISM IS A MOVEMENT, OR A FELLOWSHIP

    Jerry Coyne is “a bit baffled at the attention Ehrman’s book gets” from various vocal deniers of Jesus’s existence, since they’re all atheists like Bart Ehrman. Where’s the fuss?
    Neil Godfrey expresses his lack of understanding: “why some atheists attack their fellow atheists who disbelieve in the historicity of Jesus is beyond me.”
    Dorothy Murdock similarly laments about the vicious attacks she has to suffer from “fellow” atheists and even “fellow” mythicists against her, poor defenseless female. Why, oh, God, why?

    Each one, producing voluble blogs, believes that his/her viewpoint is the dominant one and the only valid one.

    They simply forget that neither atheism, nor even mythicism is a movement or a sect that requires unity of purpose and action. Mythicists are simply individual thinkers who see no solid evidence of the historical existence of Jesus Christ and suspect the Christian Church of having concocted and maintained a theological fraud throughout history. A new myth that just got lucky in gaining the unexpected support of two Roman Emperors and the terrible power of eliminating all religious competition for more than one thousand years, at least in Europe and related countries. This myth was created as a fraud that was maintained and expanded by the global conspiracy of Christian priests.
    First, arrogating for themselves spiritual superiority thanks to their closely guarded holy texts and carefully highfalutin spiritual talk about God and the Father; and then able to carve an important place for themselves in the social fabric first of the Roman Empire, and later of Europe, America, and other non-European countries.

    Mythicists are not at war with Christian churches and its two billion adherents. How could they be? In the good old days, they were sent to the stakes or put in jail. Now they have the freedom of the press.
    Mythicists are only in intellectual disagreement with “historicists” and any related implicit religious hocus-pocus.
    “Jesus: Myth or History” was the name of this debate that raged from the end of the 19th century to about 1946. It has recently resurfaced with added recrudescence. Jerry Coyne misses the historical perspective of the debate.

    But mythicists, exactly like atheists, are as varied as individuals, they have no slogan, no doctrine, no creed, and they have no need of an association. They can violently disagree with one another, which keeps the main features of mythicism in constantly changing form, and, thank God, allows the continual selling of new books.
    “Mythicism” as such is an abstract fiction, as much as “atheism”. There are only mythicists, with each making his/her name by stressing new angles, writing new books or producing new, different, personal blogs to advertise their own individual opinions.
    Mythicists do not form any movement, they are independent advocates of the Christ Myth theory, with barely a sense of community, only sharing a common intellectual interest. There is no banner rallying them all.

    Murdock, for instance, known for her unrelenting self-promotion and marketing, sees the idea of a “mythicist movement” as a means of promoting her own social position and books, and becoming recognized as the cultish leader of some kind of new movement. It may happen within the circle of her students/devotees/followers, but not with established bona fide intellectual scholars.

    It is a vain effort to try to convince established scholars by arguing the line of the benefits of a conscious cooperation between all atheist or mythicist scholars in the struggle against religion (a kind of new “conspiracy”, but this time between mythicists!).
    But let’s make no mistake about that: Thomas L. Thompson, Richard Carrier, George Albert Wells, Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty, Bart Ehrman, Dorothy Murdock, John Loftus, etc… each one will remain his/her own self, and they won’t hesitate to show their continued independence from each other and from any effort at enlisting them in any so-called “movement”. “MYTHICISTS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!” is an illusion.

    • 2012-04-22 00:00:51 UTC - 00:00 | Permalink

      I’ve never seen atheism as a “movement” in the sense you describe here. A little while ago Tim O’Neill was pouring scorn on mythicism because, he said, it embarrassed him as an atheist to think there were other atheists who were mythicists.

      I don’t understand that thinking at all.

      I simply find it strange that some of the most visceral enemies of mythicism are atheists. I simply don’t understand their hangup.

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        2012-04-22 04:36:12 UTC - 04:36 | Permalink

        What I implied, but should have made more explicit, is that there’s no “movement”, not even as a vague community, among atheists, and that, hence, Jesus mythicists, as a fringe faction, cannot expect automatic solidarity or sympathy from all other atheists. There’s no moral obligation, nor a feeling of “brotherhood” (which Murdock loves to invoke) among atheists that would command any respect for Jesus mythicists.

        Atheism arose in Europe in the context of the Enlightenment battling for the primacy of “human nature” and “natural science, the rejection of the supernatural and the divinity of Jesus, and dismissing the Hebraic/Christian God for the sake of the rational God of Deism.
        Baron d’Holbach published “Ecce Homo! A Critical Inquiry Into the History of Jesus of Nazareth, being a Rational Analysis of the Gospels” in 1769, the first published critique of Jesus’s divinity in Europe. He went beyond Deism, and rejected the existence of any God, becoming the first infamous atheist. And, nonetheless, he never questioned the existence of Jesus as a cultural given.

        This battle against the divinity of Jesus was waged on a background of universal Christian beliefs. Western atheists mostly came from a Christian background, with the figure of Jesus well established as a primary cultural icon. Many remained faithful to this image, and never felt any need or motivation for demolishing this entrenched image of Western civilization, nor for applauding the mythicists who were appearing in the 19th century with their extremeist (“radical”) views.
        The denial of the existence of Jesus was a very late belief in the rejection of Christianity, and long considered as a fringe and somewhat lunatic view, unnecessarily gilding the lily. Many atheists felt that they had done enough with getting rid of all trace of divinity, and showed only a legitimate indifference or hostility towards the new radical skeptics whom they saw as trouble-makers only happy to rock the boat.
        This attitude seems, to us, perfectly comprehensible. Expecting something else is counting on a solidarity among atheists that never existed.

        Even Richard Carrier expressed his initial uncertainty over the existence of Jesus Christ, which only his vast study of history allowed him, armed with his famous Bayes’s theorem, to solve in favor of non-existence.

        • ROO BOOKAROO
          2012-04-22 04:45:35 UTC - 04:45 | Permalink

          And, of course, in all fairness, we must underline that this denial of the existence of Jesus came essentially off left field, as an offshoot of the newly-formed study of mythology and ancient religions by Charles-Francois Dupuis, Godfrey Higgins, and Robert Taylor who immediately sensed a solar myth in the character of Jesus.

          • ROO BOOKAROO
            2012-04-22 13:04:06 UTC - 13:04 | Permalink

            And totally unfair not to include Bruno Bauer in this list of the pioneers of mythicism.
            In the rarefied world of New Testament higher criticism, Bruno Bauer was certainly better acknowledged and more influential than the astrology-loaded theories of Dupuis, Higgins and Taylor. Interestingly all these mythicists started expounding their skeptical beliefs about the existence of Jesus Christ around nearly the same time: Dupuis:1795-1806; Higgins: 1833-36; Taylor: 1829-1832; Bauer: 1840.
            Still their influence remained limited, and it is only after Darwin that mythicism gained more adherents.

      • Bob Carlson
        2012-04-22 05:18:55 UTC - 05:18 | Permalink

        Perhaps the atheist enemies of mythicism are simply folks who assume that there is good evidence for the historical Jesus without even looking into the matter. If that is the case, of course, they might be inclined to view mythicism in much the same way they would view reports of near death experiences in which heaven and Jesus are witnessed. That view would, after all, be one of the goals of DJE, and with Ehrman claiming to be an agnostic with atheist leanings, he has more in common with them than with mythicists or even fence sitters.

  • KevinC
    2012-04-22 00:15:28 UTC - 00:15 | Permalink

    I think you guys are missing Coyne’s point. He expresses his puzzlement thus:

    I have been a bit baffled about why this matter evokes such strong feelings, especially among atheists. Since we all admit that there’s no evidence that Jesus was the son of God, did miracles, was resurrected or born of a virgin, and died for our sins, does it really matter so much if he’s based on a historical person? Why does this evoke such strong feelings, and such acrimonious arguments, from atheists?

    (emphasis added)

    I don’t think he’s puzzled about why rational atheists would care about truth. It’s more about why passions run so hot and acrimonious over what would otherwise be a fairly obscure issue in the scholarly community. I.e., if you were from India and reading about this issue for the first time, then the question of whether “Jesus” was an insignificant, failed apocalyptic prophet or a channeled entity worshiped by a group of Hellenized Jewish mystics would not seem to be the sort of issue over which such heated animosity–much less the dissemination of patently destructive frauds–would seem likely to emerge.

    A couple of times in his post, Coyne states that he can’t really engage this issue because he lacks the requisite expertise. In that sense, he has no dog in the fight and can wait for the qualified scholars to sort it out amongst themselves. I can understand him being surprised that the fight is as heated and vicious as it is. If the debate over whether Pluto should be called a planet or not had degenerated to this level of acrimony and accusation (“Pluto planet deniers are just like Creationists and people who deny the Holocaust! It’s been the Mainstream Consensus(tm) for decades that the Solar System has nine planets!” “Pluto planeteers don’t even read the arguments of their opposition, they just farm it out to students, and write error-filled books full of patently destructive frauds!”) wouldn’t you have been surprised?

    He is also limiting his puzzlement to atheists, so believers like James McGrath wouldn’t be included in his question. Once the Jesus of Christianity (the one who was supposed to be historical and a God-man) has been disposed of, it wouldn’t seem (to Coyne) that atheists should have any passionate emotional stake in whether “Jesus” began as an obscure doomsayer or a channeled entity. It would be a fairly minor issue; worthy of study, discussion, and a concerted effort to try to find the most probable answer, but not the sort of thing heretic hunts ought to be organized over. It would seem (to Coyne) to be the sort of thing that scholars could debate in a civilized fashion, and maybe even work together to solve.

    Since a “best guess” is the most we’re ever likely to get on this issue due to the many problems with the available evidence, fidelity to truth can’t really be the core difference between historicists and mythicists. I understand Richard Carrier’s outrage at the (apparent) level of errancy and misrepresentation in Ehrman’s book. That is an issue of fidelity to truth. But I’m with Coyne in not quite getting why Ehrman would be so emotional on this issue that he’d write his book that way instead of producing the same level of scholarship we have become accustomed to receiving from him in the past, why the Price podcast kerfluffle happened the way it did, etc..

    Since the historicists hold all the high cards (they’ve got the consensus of experts on their side), I find it surprising that their champion, someone many of us, including Carrier had a great deal of respect for, could not just lay out a well-crafted, scholarly case for the historicity of Jesus. And if they can’t do this because of the limitations of the evidence or whatever, then I don’t know why atheist historicists can’t just say, “Well, OK, we think an historical Jesus is more likely, but mythicism is also a reasonable position given the paucity of reliable data we have to go on.”

  • Blood
    2012-04-22 01:28:00 UTC - 01:28 | Permalink

    “Christians conflate the existence of a historical Jesus with the existence of a divine Jesus.”

    Isn’t that obvious? In America, at least, the historical Jesus = miracle man Jesus. When a scholar gets on TV and affirms that Jesus was an historical figure, the average person just assumes that they mean the miracles and resurrection are historical. Bible scholars in America walk a fine line here. Many of them don’t believe in miracle man, but they can’t publicize that fact or their jobs would be in jeopardy. Instead, they make lame excuses like, “I teach about the historic Jesus, you’ll have to decide for yourselves if he was really God incarnate.”

  • 2012-04-22 01:59:46 UTC - 01:59 | Permalink

    “Mythicists are not at war with Christian churches and its two billion adherents. How could they be? In the good old days, they were sent to the stakes or put in jail. Now they have the freedom of the press.”

    This is what aggravates me about the atheists who question why the historicity of JC is an important issue. Obviously, the church thinks it is important, or it would not have put people to death over the issue. Nor would they spend the enormous sums of money they have spent over the centuries to produce and groom legions of Biblical scholars to institutionalize that claim of historicity. Nor would they have destroyed competing texts, authorized interpolations and outright forgeries, etc, etc to bolster – indeed flesh out – the historical character of the anointed savior.

    Because the church understands that, unlike the relatively sophisticated denizens of atheistic blogs, the true believers in the pews believe in the church because they believe that JC was a real man made Divine, who sacrificed his mortal life for their salvation. For this is what is promised to them every day they attend services, and their afterlife depends on this. Meanwhile, the concessions of erudite theologians, that the miracle-working JC of the Gospels did not exist, that he must have been a mere apocalyptic preacher of no renown are NEVER reported to the sheep in the flock. No, that omerta is practiced 24/7/365.

    So, for those atheists who wonder why this is an important question – the Church thanks you and wishes you well. For those who DO think this is an issue so critical that the very faith of the people in the pews might well be shattered if they were to learn of the truth of it, the Church, through its minions of Biblical scholars, kindly begs your indulgence to please STFU.

    • KevinC
      2012-04-22 08:38:19 UTC - 08:38 | Permalink

      The church (presumably the Roman Catholic Church, since you’re using the singular) spent enormous sums of money over centuries to prove that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic doomsayer, an ordinary man insignificant in his own time? Really? I have a hard time believing that you actually think this. To the contrary, what the RCC spent its resources on over centuries was the attempt to establish that not only was Jesus an historical man, he was also an historical God, incarnate in flesh, working grandiose miracles, who still lives today, and into whom their wizards can turn crackers and wine by means of Latin incantations.

      The Church (as well as the Protestant “reformers”) would have burned Bart Ehrman at the stake for his heresies as eagerly as Earl Doherty or Richard Carrier. Furthermore, the fact that they persecuted Gnostics does not necessarily mean that Gnosticism was the original Christianity. They also persecuted Ebionites, Jewish-Christians who taught that Jesus was only a man, “adoptionists” who thought Jesus was a man, who was made divine or semi-divine at some later point (his baptism, or his resurrection), people who thought Jesus’ body was only a simulation, etc., etc.. Does that mean all of those views are true? You’re arguing a non-sequitor.

      You, and the Christian persecutors of history both seriously underestimate the resilience of Christian belief and the will-to-believe of the people in the pews. The Church put Galileo under lifetime house arrest because they felt genuinely threatened by a scientific attack on the geocentric model of the Solar System. Yet, Christianity has conquered whole continents since then. Look at McGrath. People like him can be well aware, and admit openly, that there is no factual basis for any significant claim of Christianity, and still cling to Christianity.

      Let’s say that mythicism was established without a shadow of a doubt. Let’s say somebody finds a trap-door in the Talpiot tomb revealing a hidden cache of scrolls written in the Apostles’ own hands. The scrolls explain how they’d begun having revelatory visions of the Heavenly Christ Jesus, and how they’d created the tomb as a ritual center to enact rites celebrating his death, resurrection, and defeat of the Archons in the spiritual realms. Unimpeachable carbon dates, etc.. Complete open-and-shut case. Would that be the end of Christianity? Hardly. Here’s something you need to remember if you think an argument for mythicism is an argument for atheism:

      If the mythicist model is true, then it was the original Christianity.

      If mythicism were proven tomorrow with unimpeachable evidence, there would be two main reactions from Christians: the inflexible believers and institutions would just shrug it off, they way they shrugged off heliocentrism, the evidence for evolution, the evidence that the brain (rather than anything immaterial) is the seat of the “self,” the Nag Hammadi Library, and basically everything else science has discovered in the last 400 years or so. The ones who might be persuaded to change their beliefs by it would just go, “Yay! Now we have the real, true Real True Christianity(tm)!” and start worshiping Channeled Entity Jesus. Devotees of A Course in Miracles already do.

      Christianity is incredibly resilient and flexible. Consider: what began as a movement of mystical ascetic outcasts from society became a primary prop and institution of power in the Roman Empire it once decried as “Mystery Babylon the Great.” With the fall of the Empire, it became even more powerful, towering like a colossus over the feudal era. When gunpowder and the printing press blew that apart, Christianity split into multiple sects upholding the Divine Right of Kings against nobles and remnant feudal institutions, supporting the rise of the modern State. After the French and American revolutions, it adapted to uphold “No King but King Jesus” (a slogan of the American Revolutionary War era). In the wake of the Industrial Revolution and the abundance created by fossil fuel energy, a large segment of it adapted to become a Prosperity/Self-Help cult, and since the 1980’s, an adjunct of the Republican Party with Ayn Randian views on everything but epistemology and sex–about as opposite from the teachings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels as it’s possible to get.

      Christianity would assimilate proof of mythicism without breaking a sweat, especially if mythicism is true. Guys like Pat Robertson and Benny Hinn could still claim to receive “words of knowledge” from the Lord, just like Paul, James, Cephas and the rest did according to the mythicist model. The Catholics would probably have to hold a Council or something, but they’d be fine after awhile. Or they could just ignore it for 400 years and apologize to Earl Doherty afterward. They get away with institutionalized child rape for crying out loud.

      Unfortunately, neither mysticism nor historicism is likely to receive any kind of ironclad confirmation. We’re pretty much stuck with arguing over interpretations of “James, the brother of the Lord” and “For if he had been on Earth, he could not have been a priest.” It’s a fascinating debate (for me, at least), but it’s not going to win any battles for atheism one way or the other.

      If you’re worried about anything involving this debate helping Christianity at all, then worry about the acrimony. Watching us fight each other like cats and dogs, they can just sit back and laugh (and crib research from both sides). “The mythicists think Jesus was originally worshiped as God, eternally pre-existent in Heaven. The historicists think Jesus was originally a man who lived in Galilee. Look at them fight each other, haha! But we know they’re both right!” *end-zone dance*

      Christian apologists can use the arguments of historicists against mythicists (“Jews would never have just made up a crucified Messiah! They would never have adopted ideas from the Mystery Schools!”) and mythicist arguments against historicists (“Jews would never have worshiped a crucified criminal as God! What are the odds that James would have believed his brother created the Universe?”) and finish up with “…unless Jesus really was both God and man, and convinced these Jews because of His miracles!”

      As far as making the case for atheism is concerned, that’s going to have to be done by, oh, I dunno, making the case for atheism. The scholarly debate over Christian origins (having already disposed of magic-Jesus as untenable and the Biblical texts as quite fallible and often fraudulent) is not going to impact the case for atheism regardless of which position “wins.” If anything, the historicist position as represented by Ehrman (You know that crazy homeless guy on the street corner with the cardboard sign saying ‘The End is Nigh’ who thinks mall shoppers are demon-possessed? Yeah. Jesus was like that.) is worse for Christianity than the mythicist spiritual Jesus who reveals himself through mystical interpretations of Scripture and visionary channeled revelations.

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        2012-04-23 05:05:37 UTC - 05:05 | Permalink

        KevinC: You claim that students “seriously underestimate the resilience of Christian belief and the will-to-believe of the people in the pews”
        You then give us a brief picture of the invincible success of Christianity, whatever may come in its path, like an Indian juggernaut. This description of Christianity, all-devouring “colossus” destroying anything thrown at it, reminded me of the monster in the movie “Aliens” from which no escape was possible.

        However, this picture is not completely true. There are pockets of Christianity in decline. France got rid of the monopoly of the Catholic Church with its famous Revolution. In Britain, the Church of England is sounding the alarm that most churches are remaining empty and losing worshippers. Over all of Europe, Christianity is registering a definite decline. The big increase is mostly in third-world countries, economically and politically deprived.
        There also are islands of strong resistance: India, China, a large part of Russia.

        But your major point remains: scholarly debates will not achieve much change in public attitudes. For ordinary people, faith is more immediate and emotionally satisfying than rational elucubrations.
        No need to imagine mythicism gaining the upper hand in your demonstration. Jesus mythicism remains a marginal, fringe theory. The major battering ram for demolishing Christian beliefs has historically been “historicism”, understood as the denial of Jesus divinity, with an accessory discarding of beliefs in God. But atheism has never been the major and stronger point.
        We need to remember that the splash from the idea of a “historical Jesus” has been already made. Baron d’Holbach in Paris with his “Ecce Homo’ (1769) was the first. But the most influential scholar remained David Friedrich Strauss with his “Life of Jesus” (1835), which resonated all through Europe and changed for ever the character and directions of biblical studies.

        And what impact have these revolutionary ideas had on practicing Christians? Very little, if not practically any. Most Christians have never heard of d’Holbach or David Strauss, barely of Albert Schweitzer, and for different reasons. Let’s forget about the fancy of any believer ever reading and being influenced by Gerza Vermes, Gerd Lüdemann, E.P. Sanders, Rudolf Bultmann, let alone G.A. Wells, or Earl Doherty.
        So, no contest, the epoch-making investigations of historicists, and much less those of Jesus mythicists, have never percolated down to the general public, and have little relevance to ordinary church-goers and praying worshippers.

        Still, they those books must have some kind of little marginal effect which can eventually snowball. And the arrival of the Internet as a new means of communication and diffusion of ideas and facts will have an impact that we cannot yet predict.
        In addition, the looming confrontation of the two “colossi”, Islam versus Christianity, may also change the deal of the cards. So this story is far from over, and there’s no way to make a dogmatic prediction of how it will all end.
        Christianity, in spite of its beliefs, has no supernatural guarantee of terrestrial immortality. It is in some sort of crossroads, and in a state of crisis in many areas of the world. Instead of the Kingdom of God, it’s the Church that has come, but it could also disappear in time. So, no the game is not over.

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-04-22 03:03:46 UTC - 03:03 | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree more with Roger Lambert.
    Rational bloggers live in a microcosm of pure rationality that is enclosed in a tiny bubble of clear thinking and access to huge libraries. Which is why the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens have done such immensely valuable work by standing up and trying to bring the message to billions still brainwashed by religious priests.

    And this is also why we may sympathize with Jerry Coyne and KevinC, who innocently declare: “I don’t know why atheist historicists can’t just say, “Well, OK, we think an historical Jesus is more likely, but mythicism is also a reasonable position given the paucity of reliable data we have to go on.”

    There’s an obvious reason to their mild amazement and incomprehension: These atheists who disregard the importance of the debate questioning historicity unconsciously place themselves in a “reasonable position” where debates are among modern academics bathing in a universe of rationalism where arguments are supposed to lead to the light of truth, totally unaware that universities were until recently temples of theology and divinity.

    This current debate has to be replaced in its historical contest. There’s no way to forget the historic dimension of the battle between rationalism and faith. Faith has always come before reason, from the very prehistoric beginnings of mankind, and has always had absolute priority in the history of human cultures, and the biography of individual lives. The rationality that they assume as a given, was never a given.

    As soon as it developed in Ancient Greece, it came into conflict with the existing Greek and Roman Gods. And there’s no way to forget that it is the emergence of Christianity that resulted into imposing global illiteracy and superstition on the masses, mercilessly crushing “reason” and rationalism out of existence for a good thousand years.

    There’s no way to forget that the Enlightenment had to wage a constant guerilla war against Christian churches from the 18th century up to now to regain some of the lost ground and push the Christian Church out of universities, an effort only partially successful.

    And this fight is far from being won among the masses of the populations of the world. There are two billions of Christians, and billions more of Muslims. How can you believe that a simple “rational position” can swing such immense crowds?

    The fundamental fact of human nature is, “reason” is not an instinctive propensity of the human mind. Faith always has beeen, and still is. This is exactly what psychologist Daniel Kahneman demonstrated in his famous work, “Thinking fast and slow” (2011). Rationality always comes in second, never first, and only after a long and a slow struggle. It took 2,500 years between Socrates and Aristotle planting the seeds of “reason” and critical thinking and Kaheman getting his Nobel Prize in recognition.

    There’s no wonder that anybody raised in a Christian faith or environment would take the existence of Christ as a given, even if they have abandoned the belief in Jesus Christ’s divinity. It is perfectly comprehensible that Ehrman, educated as a Christian, as well as many other non-believer theologians, would still cling to a natural belief in the existence of Jesus. They proceeded from an initial Christian platform, and from babyhood, were bathed in the enchanted tales of baby Jesus.

    Doubt works very slowly, mostly as an emotional force, rather than as a logical argument. Even Voltaire, with his passionate crusade against the irrationality and inhumanity of the Christian Church, rejected as nonsense the non-existence of Jesus preached by early English mythicists.

    The emotions involved in those disputes between existence of Jesus and non-existence are perfectly legitimate, because they are anchored in a long historical conflict between primal faith and “Johnny-come-lately” reason. Faith will not give ground only to the force of “logical” arguments. The finest arguments of Neil Godfrey will never convince James MacGrath or J.P. Holding. It is an illusion to believe so, because it assumes that already reason has won, which it has not.

    So the debate about Ehrman’s book and the reactions it incites are a good example of the tapped emotional energy.
    Which is why I believe that Richard Carrier has an advantage of “position”, not just because of his clear-thinking logical arguments, but because of his wide historical background, which allows him to place the conflict in its historical perspective.

    The conflict between faith and reason is not just waged at our micro-level of writers and professors, but it is waged in a historical dimension, as a product of cultural wars, where religious faith has mostly had the upper hand with no prediction of how the confrontation will end. Rationality is a fragile mindset, its gains not secure, and it could well disappear again if religious forces regain the upper hand and succeed in restricting again the freedom of universities and freedom of press.

    • KevinC
      2012-04-22 08:56:52 UTC - 08:56 | Permalink

      Please read my reply to Roger Lambert above. If the mythicist model is true, then it was the original Christianity. Ironclad validation of the mythicist model (which we’re unlikely to get due to the dodgy nature of the available evidence) would not actually harm Christianity. Instead, it would place the Christian beliefs that actually matter to believers (atonement, a Jesus who is also God, a Jesus they “feel in their heart,” a blissful afterlife, etc.) in a non-debunkable “spiritual realm.” IIRC, Neil pointed this out on a post here awhile ago. Neo-spiritualist (i.e. “mythicist”) Christians could shrug off any conceivable Biblical error, falsehood, or atrocity as an allegory and conjure new, warm and fuzzy “revelations of Jesus” at will.

      Whether mythicism is the best model for Christian origins or not is well worth discovering, but don’t expect it to be a bucket of water on the Wicked Witch of Christianity.

  • vorpal
    2012-04-22 04:43:30 UTC - 04:43 | Permalink

    I’m with Roger Lambert. Please read his comment above.

  • Pingback: Jerry Coyne’s (Why Evolution Is True) Comments on Carrier’s Review of Ehrman « Geoff's Blog

  • yesmyliege
    2012-04-23 03:14:58 UTC - 03:14 | Permalink

    “The church (presumably the Roman Catholic Church, since you’re using the singular) spent enormous sums of money over centuries to prove that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic doomsayer, an ordinary man insignificant in his own time? Really? I have a hard time believing that you actually think this….”

    I have a hard time believing that I actually think this too… since I don’t think that! 😀

    “The Church (as well as the Protestant “reformers”) would have burned Bart Ehrman at the stake for his heresies as eagerly as Earl Doherty or Richard Carrier…”

    This is a great point. I know it is a great point, since I have had the same idea myself. 😀 What you have pointed out about this dramatic schizophrenia of apologetic argument is what gives me optimism, though, that eventually this whole house of cards will eventually come tumbling down.

    I really enjoyed your own, and ROO BOOKAROO’s posts. 🙂

    I admit to being one of those ‘militant’ atheists who follow this debate because I do have hopes it will be instrumental in the downfall of institutional Christianity. However, I am interested in finding out the truth of the matter for its own sake, wherever that may lead. Contrary to the accusations of Ehrman and McGrath, just because my motivations are biased doesn’t mean that my ability to objectively examine evidence is wholly compromised.

  • yesmyliege
    2012-04-23 03:16:18 UTC - 03:16 | Permalink

    Whoops – yesmyliege = Roger Lambert = Gingerbaker. Sigh.

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