Mythicism and Arguments from Authority

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by Neil Godfrey

History is not rocket science. It is easy to explain to the general audience the evidence for the existence and career-outline and various assessments of the significance of Julius Caesar. Historical argument is as “easy” as presenting

  • the “historical events/hypothesis”
  • the sources upon which the above scenario is based
  • the evidence for our understanding of the nature of those sources
  • the reasons we interpret those sources and their contents the way we do.

That sort of information can be explained in a good, educational TV documentary.

Take Socrates, for example.

  • Hypothesis/events: Socrates was executed for inspiring others to question the traditional views and values of society
  • Sources: Plato, Xenophon, Aristophanes, Thucydides . . . . some self-attested pupils of Socrates testifying to Socrates as a contrary figure and the general social situation
  • Nature: Genre and style compared with other texts established by primary (“in situ”) evidence . . . apparent independence of sources of a “truth-message/fact-narrative” style . . .
  • Reasons: Analogy of past configurations to their equivalents in today’s first-hand established understandings . . . .

Now that’s not as strong as the evidence for Augustus Caesar that could be linked (at point #2, Sources) to coins and first=person imperial monuments, but it does have a lot of “probabilities” built in there and that your average literate person could understand.

So I cannot help but be quite dismayed reading a post commended by Richard Carrier, an academically qualified ancient historian, that tells all readers to rely entirely upon the counsel of the intellectual elite, to trust the academics, when it comes to questions about the historicity of Jesus.

Carrier commends an article by Finke, saying Finke Is Right. . . . when Dan Finke writes (my bolding)

I [Dan Finke] personally want to take this chance to discourage my fellow atheists who are not historians from publicly making a big deal out of the historicity of Jesus, and especially when engaging with Christians. Why? Because the historical consensus is that there was a historical JesusResponsible, mainstream, qualified history scholars who judiciously disregard supernaturalistic claims about Jesus and have no agenda to promote Christianity nonetheless, as a matter of academic consensus, believe there was a historical Jesus. Could they be wrong? It’s possible. But if they are, that is for qualified historians to prove, not laypeople. And it is for the field of ancient history to be persuaded to change its consensus before laypeople go around making claims that Jesus did not exist.

I don’t recall ever having to assert that the historicity of any event is something that can only be established and preserved by an intellectual elite such that all others can do nothing more than defer to their asserted conclusions.

The first clause that needs to be stopped for questioning in the above quotation is this

the historical consensus is that there was a historical Jesus

Garbage. There has been no “historical consensus” on this. There have been theologians and biblical scholars writing from the assumption of an historical Jesus, but that is not the same as saying that “historians” themselves have established some sort of “consensus” on this question. For that to happen, “historians” (not “theologians”, most of whom, even the most liberal ones, have a personal interest in maintaining the belief in an “historical Jesus” of some kind) would need to come together in an effort to address that very question — “Was there an historical Jesus?” — as opposed to simply making passing references to him as a taken-for-granted figure of popular culture the same way they assume the earth orbits the sun. Have historians “come to a consensus” of astronomy through themselves addressing the physical arguments or simply deferred to popular understanding on this? Continue reading “Mythicism and Arguments from Authority”