Stupid Atheist Meme of the Day

I’ve decided to do a new running feature here at Dispatches, in which I debunk and ridicule stupid memes I see being shared by my fellow atheists. I see them so often that I could make a whole blog out of just that idea. Here’s the first one:

atheistmeme1

All nonsense. Thomas Jefferson was not a “non-believer,” unless they’re using that term to mean “non-Christian,” and that’s really stupid because that would make adherents of every other religion non-believers. Thomas Jefferson absolutely believed in God. He wrote volumes on the subject, almost all of it in private letters to friends. Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins (drawing on Hitchens) have both suggested that Jefferson was secretly an atheist, but — now prepare to clutch those pearls, hero worshipers — they were completely full of shit. You will not find any historian who would accept such a claim, and for good reason.

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  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Doesn’t change the fact that “IN GOD WE TRUST” is compounded irony on a fiat currency.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    You will not find any historian who would accept such a claim, and for good reason.

    And yet you will find many historians who consider the evidence for a historical Jesus H. Christ to be adequate. Ironic.

  • StevoR

    For good reason which is .. ???

  • zenlike

    StevoR says

    For good reason which is .. ???

    That it is entirely bollocks, since not based on any piece of available evidence.

  • abb3w

    Jefferson would even have considered himself Christian. Contrariwise, since Jefferson didn’t believe in the divinity of Christ, modern Christians might dispute whether someone like that fits the label; and TJ also was a strict materialist, who termed the belief in an immaterial God (or soul) as “masked atheism” and “heresy” — which seems to leave a large question as to whether more modern scientific understandings about the universe might have pushed him further. Nohow, he didn’t live long enough, and it’s just as possible he might have balked and de-emphasized his acceptance of science instead, much as his egalitarian principles ebbed when he discovered how the economics of slavery impacted him personally at Monticello.

    If the meme instead used the term “portrait of a heretic”, that might stand up to scrutiny better — though Jefferson would have still insisted that he wasn’t a heretic, it was almost all the other “Christians” around him who were heretics against the true faith.

  • Nick Gotts

    StevoR@3,

    Ed Brayton already gave it: not only his public pronouncements, but his private letters say he believed in God. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, that’s quite suffiicent for historians to reject the claim that he was an atheist.

    I happen to know that Jefferson rejected the idea that species could become extinct. This was a current scientific controversy at the time, with the French paleontologist Georges Cuvier arguing that they could and had. The main argument made against this was that God’s creation was perfect, so nothing could disappear from it.

  • Donnie

    How about tagging them as ‘stupid atheist memes’ in order to provide a one-stop lookup of stupid atheist memes?

  • Nick Gotts

    And yet you will find many historians who consider the evidence for a historical Jesus H. Christ to be adequate. – Reginald Selkirk@2

    Yup. Just as many climate scientists consider the evidence for anthropogenic climate change to be adequate, and many biologists consider the evidence for evolution to be adequate.

  • Trebuchet

    How about “Liberty” next to a slave owner?

  • StevoR

    @zenlike : Okay.

    If true, I can’t and won’ t argue with that. (Right now, I have no reason to say that ain’t true so yah.. ok.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.vogel2 drewvogel

    In other words, unspecified arguments made by Dawkins and Hitchens are wrong for unspecified reasons. If I had to guess, I’d say you’re probably right. But that’s my point: I do have to guess.

    It’s a dumb meme quite apart from whether or not Jefferson was a non-believer anyway. I mean, what exactly is the point of it? Is there some expectation that the people depicted on coinage should endorse whatever else has been engraved on those coins? That’s a new one on me.

  • llewelly

    Nick Gotts:

    And yet you will find many historians who consider the evidence for a historical Jesus H. Christ to be adequate. – Reginald Selkirk@2

    Yup. Just as many climate scientists consider the evidence for anthropogenic climate change to be adequate, and many biologists consider the evidence for evolution to be adequate.

    A phenomenon supported by many thousands of measurements is not remotely comparable to a story attested to by the fading memories of a few people. Evolution and climate change don’t rely on eyewitness testimony for primary evidence; the historical case for Jesus does. Therefor there is an enormous difference, and your analogy is garbage.

  • comfychair

    So somebody with meme-ing skillz make up an accurate version that has nothing to do with Jefferson.

    “RECURSIVE: You can trust this totally made-up form of currency because it’s backed by the full faith and credit of GOD.”

  • Nick Gotts

    llewelly,

    No, my analogy is not garbage; you just haven’t understood it. The analogy is that the overwhelming majority of relevant experts* agree on a view. They could be wrong, but argument-free assertions that they have no good grounds for their view, like the one I responded to, are crankery and denialism, not scepticism.

    *And to anticipate an objection, in the case of the historicity of Jesus, that includes most of the non-Christian experts.

  • dingojack

    OT Alert… OT Alert… OT Alert…

    Marcus Ranum — “…a fiat currency”, as opposed to all those ‘non-fiat’ currencies such as …

    No wait, one will come to mind… eventually…

    @@

    Dingo

  • Nick Gotts

    a story attested to by the fading memories of a few people – llewelly@12

    This is a bizarre way of stating the case, and not one that is put forward by any mythicists I’m aware of. The relevant sources (the gospels and the letters of Paul) were mostly written within a few decades of Jesus’s supposed lifetime. AFAIK, no serious mythicist disputes that. Now, memories can certainly become distorted over that period, but are you saying they they can conjure up an individual who never existed? Mythicists like Carrier say, instead, that the writers of these sources knew very well there had never been a real person such as Jesus, the sources being of non-historical genres, and it was this that was later forgotten.

  • abb3w

    @11, drewvogel:

    In other words, unspecified arguments made by Dawkins and Hitchens are wrong for unspecified reasons.

    If you want more specific reasons, I’d suggest overviewing the letters between Jefferson and Adams (collected in Ye Will Say I Am No Christian by Braden); in particular, his letter to Adams of September 14, 1818:

    The love of God and his creation — delight, joy, triumph, exultation in my own existence — though but an atom, a molecule organique in the universe — are my religion.

    Unconventional, unitarian, materialist? All fair charges to lay against Jefferson. Atheist? No.

    Poking the web turns up this mention regarding Hitchens having suggested that it was at least arguable — though that piece is mostly devoted to detailing the counterarguments with evidence from Jefferson’s correspondence.

  • colnago80

    Re Nick Gotts and llewelly

    A better question is whether the man Yeshua bin Yusef of Nazareth as described in the Christian scriptures existed. There might very well have been an itinerant preacher of that name who attracted a not insignificant following but many scholars are convinced that his reputation was greatly enhanced by individuals like Paul after his demise.

  • colnago80

    Re abb3w @ #17

    Jefferson might best be described as an Arian.

  • dingojack

    “…but are you saying they they can conjure up an individual who never existed?”

    OMG Frodo the Nine-Fingered actually existed?!?

    @@

    Dingo

    ——–

    SLC – OT but what constitutes ‘an Arian’? Do you know of any creditable sources that outline their beliefs/practices? How do they relate to the Arians of the 4th Century? (Just curious, and you seem to have some knowledge on the subject))

  • Nick Gotts

    dingojack@20,

    That’s both stupid and dishonest, in the way you have truncated the sentence, which was:

    Now, memories can certainly become distorted over that period, but are you saying they they can conjure up an individual who never existed?

    – unless you were trying for comedy, in which case, don’t give up the day job. As I made clear in my #16, actual mythicists think precisely that Jesus was, like Frodo, a fictional character. It is llewelly who appears to think he was the figment of fading memories.

  • dingojack

    Clearly, people who never existed can indeed be made up, so your question is rather pointlessly leading, if you want to make a case make it. And it seems to me that saying ‘oh someone who has a degree in ‘Mythology’ says this, therefore your opinion simply can’t be so’, isn’t really an argument, more a melange of fallacies.

    Also, just a personal quirk perhaps, I can’t really take anyone who claims they are a ‘mythicist’ seriously. Comparative Religion types, Semiotic/Semantics yes, ‘mythicist’, no. It simply smacks of ‘woo’ trying hard to sound as if it’s some kind of serious endeavour.

    Dingo

  • Nick Gotts

    Oh FFS, dingojack@22, you’re just showing your ignorance. “Mythicist” means one who thinks Jesus was not a historical character, and at least some mythicists use the term of themselves.

    Clearly, people who never existed can indeed be made up, so your question is rather pointlessly leading, if you want to make a case make it.

    My question was about what fading memories can do, numpty. At least try to read for comprehension.

  • John Pieret

    Just to ramp up the irony a bit, Jefferson, who was doubtless a theist of some stripe said this, in a letter to Adams in 1823:

    I can never join Calvin in addressing _his god._ He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did.

    http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/thomas-jefferson/letters-of-thomas-jefferson/jefl271.php

    It seems the term is a slippery one.

  • colnago80

    Re dingojack @ #20

    I will have to plead guilty to being very much of a non-expert on what constitutes an Arian but it is my understanding that rejection of the Trinity and rejection of Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth as divine are among the bases of their beliefs. Thus Jefferson, who denied both concepts would seem to qualify. Issac Newton, who by the way was an ardent anti-Catholic, has also been accused of being an Arian.

    It is my information that Arianism is considered heresy by the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Churches, and most Protestant Churches.

    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/34124/Arianism

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    “…a fiat currency”, as opposed to all those ‘non-fiat’ currencies such as …

    No wait, one will come to mind… eventually…

    I wasn’t meaning to particularly disparage the one currency; they’re all just ways of encoding scarcity to preserve the power of those who take advantage of it. I’m not one of those goldbug nuts, in other words; I think the whole idea of money is kind of sad.

  • lofgren

    I have absolutely no problem believing that memories can become confused over a period of decades to the point that they conjure somebody who never existed. Hell, I’ll bet it could happen over a period of days, especially if you have a group of people all reinforcing the false memories. I’m not saying that is what happened in the case of Jesus, but it is certainly consistent with what we know about how memories are formed and recalled.

  • otrame

    It is true that the consensus among modern historians of the the period is that a man named Yeshua existed and had a following. A small minority are saying (if I am interpreting Carrier et al. correctly) that the Jesus myth started out as a series of spiritual metaphors, based loosely some of the spiritual ideas that were floating around in that part of the world, i. e. a syncretic blend of those ideas with Judaism. Later people either made up a more mundane version (which was copied by others) or simply believed that the story they were putting together was inspired (the gospels). Still later, everyone (e. g. the Romans) took it all at face value.

    When learning about something that you are not an expert on, you should go with the consensus. This is especially true if there is a lot of data. That is what the climate and/or evolution deniers, etc. fail to do. I am not an expert, so I accept the consensus, with some caveats, because there is not exactly a lot of unequivocal data. I think Carrier and others have some interesting points. I doubt we will ever know for sure.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Nick Gotts #6: I happen to know that Jefferson rejected the idea that species could become extinct.

    Interesting. The same claim showed up in Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, published in that era.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    otrame #28: It is true that the consensus among modern historians of the the period is that a man named Yeshua existed and had a following. …

    When learning about something that you are not an expert on, you should go with the consensus. This is especially true if there is a lot of data.

    In the case of Jesus H. Christ, the data are remarkably sparse. Most people do not realize how sparse the data are. Outside the books of the NT, there is literally nothing that should impress a historian. And the NT books are pious stories written down decades after the alleged events.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Now, memories can certainly become distorted over that period, but are you saying they they can conjure up an individual who never existed?

    There are multiple examples of just that. Would you like to discuss the historical King Arthur? Paul Bunyan? John Frum? Ned Ludd?

  • rabbitscribe

    If Jefferson had believed that tiny particles behave one way when we’re keeping an eye on them and quite another way when we go out for sushi and leave them to their own devices, I would think less of him, not more: he believed an unsupported and unlikely truth-claim, and so what if he got lucky and history vindicated him? I feel the same way about any true hard atheist before Darwin. Deism was the best hypothesis available to Jefferson and he should be credited for adopting it.

  • rabbitscribe

    #31 Reginald: who ever claimed to have remembered any of those people (especially Paul Bunyan?)

    By the way, it’s worth noting that “memory” may have paid a role in the earliest accounts of Jesus, be he mythical or mythicized. Carrier speculates that early church leaders may have had schizotypal personalities and hallucinated conversations with the risen Christ. It sounds far-fetched, but then he cites excellent scholarship demonstrating that such people would have adapted far better in the ancient world than in our time, and it’s entirely plausible they might have achieved respect and power. And… that’s Richard Carrier for you…

  • http://youtu.be/OQ8ERBr9yKI dysomniak is done finding common cause with neoliberal stooges

    That’s not Irony, it’s coppery plated with nickely.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Nick Gotts #14:No, my analogy is not garbage; you just haven’t understood it. The analogy is that the overwhelming majority of relevant experts* agree on a view. They could be wrong, but argument-free assertions that they have no good grounds for their view, like the one I responded to, are crankery and denialism, not scepticism.

    In the case of climate change or evolution, I could produce for you some portion of the mountains of evidence upon which scientists base their conclusions. In the case of a historical Jesus H. Christ, feel free to attempt the same. It will go something like this:

    The letters of Paul. Some of them are actually not fake. Paul freely admits that he never met Jesus H. Christ in the flesh, and provides almost nothing that would constitute biographical information about same. There are only a few suggestive lines, and it appears to come down to whether “brother of Christ” is meant literally and biologically, or is some term used to refer to any Christian (“brothers and sisters in Christ” is still a common address).

    The gospels: Pshaw. Pious tales written down decades after the alleged events. Not eyewitness accounts, and they don’t even claim to be. Not independent, and the different accounts copy from each other, sometimes verbatim. The original accounts are anonymous, and attribution to particular persons is down to “early church tradition.” Self-selected, as various church leaders and councils decided which ones they would accept. Most biographical details in the gospels were obviously made up to fulfill various OT prophecies. Contradictions between NT books (raided in Egypt? Raised in Nazareth?) abound, as do conflicts with known and dated historical events or non-events (who ruled palestine at various times, whether there was a census and its nature, the alleged slaughter of innocents). Reputable historians will reject the more outlandish miracle tales in the NT (earthquakes and zombies upon Jesus H. Christ’s death), but curiously consider the exact same sources to be reliable for lesser claims.

    Non-NT sources: Fat chance. The earliest is Josephus, who wasn’t even born until 37 A.D. Even if we accept (ad arguendum) that the mentions of Jesus H. Christ in the writings of Josephus were genuine, what kind of evidence do they constitute? Only that Christians held Jesus to be the Messiah, not that Jesus actually existed, or that Josephus knew anything about him that would qualify as anything more than hearsay.

  • lofgren

    The question shouldn’t be whether or not anybody remembers a person, but whether anybody has ever claimed to remember a person who didn’t exist. Whether or not the apostles actually remembered Jesus is neither here nor there.

    My understanding is that historians accept the existence of Jesus because they have more data pertaining to his existence than they do for a lot of other figures we regard as historical, many of whom we only have a single source for. Mythicists essentially argue that historians misunderstand the genre of the gospels, and that they should not be regarded as historical data at all. Frankly I don’t believe either side really has enough evidence to make a very strong case, but that’s most of ancient history for you.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    rabbitscribe #33: Carrier speculates that early church leaders may have had schizotypal personalities and hallucinated conversations with the risen Christ

    There are Christian leaders today who claim to have a “personal relationship with Jesus” and to converse with God on a daily basis, so Carrier’s claim does not sound so outlandish to me. You don’t have to dig any deeper than Lucian to understand that early Christians had a well-deserved reputation for gullibility.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    converse with God on a daily basis

    Oddly, god never answers.

    After all, if they actually had a bi-directional conversation with a supreme being, they could ask about, you know, the dark matter, and a few bits of WTF like that.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    My understanding is that historians accept the existence of Jesus because they have more data pertaining to his existence than they do for a lot of other figures we regard as historical, many of whom we only have a single source for.

    On that basis, The Amazing Spider-Man and Superman are real people.

  • Al Dente

    Marcus Ranum @9

    I think the whole idea of money is kind of sad.

    It beats the hell out of barter.

  • DonDueed

    Non-fiat currency?

    Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts.

  • lofgren

    Not at all, because none of the sources thqt attest to Superman and Spider-Man’s existence are historical.

    That’s what the debate comes down to. Are these histories or are they fiction? We already know that Superman and Spider-Man are fiction.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Nick Gotts

    The relevant sources (the gospels and the letters of Paul) were mostly written within a few decades of Jesus’s supposed lifetime. AFAIK, no serious mythicist disputes that.

    By “a few decades”, you mean 50 years or more? IIRC, the earliest Mark could have been written was 70 AD because it implicitly references the falling of the temple cult. And the other 3 canonical gospels are later than that. That’s a whole human lifetime at the time. This is mainstream consensus scholarship here.

    However, it is true that the letters of Paul are earlier than that.

    @Nick Gotts in 14

    Disclaimer: It is not an effective tactic when arguing with Christian to argue that Jesus didn’t exist. There are so many more effective tactics one could take.

    Having said that, I would suggest this:

    >On Evaluating Arguments from Consensus

    >Richard Carrer

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/5553

    For example, if one can find that a lot / most experts in a particular field on a particular subject are making brazenly illogical arguments, then it’s safe for a layperson to revoke the expert credentials in terms of their own personal acceptance. For example, I’m sure that natural philosophers used to be considered experts on matters of theology and god, but we no longer consider theologians to be experts on god because they frequently make blatantly illogical arguments.

    I suggest you read the above link.

    @dingojack

    I can’t really take anyone who claims they are a ‘mythicist’ seriously.

    Does that include Dr. Richard Carrier?

    @otrame in 28

    Regarding the position of Carrier. Loosely right.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Reginald Selkirk @ # 31: Would you like to discuss the historical King Arthur? Paul Bunyan? John Frum? Ned Ludd?

    Also William Tell. And Lycurgus of Sparta. And – per many scholars – Moses.

    Almost all secular historians of the period seem to agree that Yeshua bar Yusuf is a composite character; the debate has to do with whether one individual contributed enough to the story to be considered its core. I recommend Robert M. Price’s The Amazing Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition? for a clearly-written summary of this approach (spoiler: he points to a street preacher named Jesus (Yeshua) who performed no miracles and died when Jerusalem was destroyed in the uprising of the year 70 as the nucleus of the myth).

  • laurentweppe

    Frankly I don’t believe either side really has enough evidence to make a very strong case, but that’s most of ancient history for you.

    Perhaps, but the whole point was never about evidence: it was about doing a little triumphalist dance while singing “lalalalalala Jesus ain’t real, aren’t these moronic religious rubes just soooooooo stupid compared to We the Intellectual Übermenschkeit?

  • Lady Mondegreen

    What convinces me there was likely a historical Jesus (that is, a real person behind the highly mythologized figure of the NT) is the fact that the gospels–and in particular, the earliest, most “primitive” one, Mark–contain mundane biographical details that later writers found embarrassing. There is even textual evidence that some of those details got changed over the course of transmission (books were copied by hand in those days, remember) by redactors.

    For example, Mark 6:1-5. Jesus goes home, people scoff at him, and

    4Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.” 5And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.

    There’s textual evidence that the “He laid His hands on a few sick people…” bit is an interpolation; the “prophet without honor” expression was already familiar and was unlikely to have been the point of the story. Strip those away, and you’ve got a faith healer whose homies didn’t believe the hype, and his performance in his home town was a dud. Why share this story, unless the event was still remembered by people (including people who DIDN’T believe he was so great) and their hero’s failure had to be accounted for somehow? The later gospels softened the story, IIRC.

    There’s also a bit somewhere about his family calling him insane and wanting to put him in restraints.

    But taking a stand on the question is just a matter of “which hypothesis (myth or history at the core of the stories) seems more probable?” As lofgren points out, we can’t know for sure. There just isn’t enough evidence. Some of the evidence might have been destroyed–by Christians who didn’t like what the historical record really had to say.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Correction to my # 44: Robert M. Price’s book is titled The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man…, not The Amazing ~.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1360322113 aaronbaker

    Given how fragmentary our evidence from Greco-Roman antiquity is, we often encounter a person attested by just one source–one inscription, say, or one mention in one historical account. As far as classical historians are concerned, unless there’s some substantial reason to doubt the account in question, that account is “adequate,” or sufficient to establish the existence of the person mentioned.

    The existence of Jesus is more problematic than that of other figures, because everything that’s written about him has a theological ax to grind–in other words there are good reasons to doubt each account. Paul, who appears to have been roughly contemporaneous with Jesus, and who (at least on the traditional hypothesis) knew others who had known Jesus, is giving us in his letters anything but an unvarnished narrative of a charismatic preacher in Jerusalem.

    The Gospels are later (much later if produced in the early 2nd c. AD) and more obviously encrusted with myth. As a poster above pointed out, the apparently earliest gospel, Mark, contains many passages that don’t quite gibe with what later came to be commonplace dogma about Jesus. These may be survivals of historical fact; but it MIGHT be that, instead, they merely reflect one (mythicized, inaccurate) understanding of Jesus and his significance that lost out to other mythicized understandings later.

    For what it’s worth, I think a charismatic preacher did exist, because that’s the most convincing explanation of Paul’s reference to some of his contemporaries as “brothers of the Lord.” (I find Carrier’s efforts to explain this away to be unconvincing in the extreme).

  • Nick Gotts

    Reginald Selkirk@31, 35,

    Tell me, what is your expertise in this are? Have you studied the history of Roman Palestine at graduate level? Do you know Hebrew, Aramaic and koine Greek? Or are you just parroting what one knowledgeable but fringe figure (Richard Carrier) says? Because I can certainly find such figures with reference to evolution (Jonathan Wells, John Baumgardner) and climate change (Roy Spencer, Richard Lindzen).

    There are multiple examples of just that. Would you like to discuss the historical King Arthur? Paul Bunyan? John Frum? Ned Ludd?

    For which of these can you show that human memory conjured them up out of nothing to being believed in as real individuals within 2-4 decades? Arthur, Ludd and Frum may have been real people (and in Arthur’s case, may alternatively have been invented centuries after his supposed lifetime), while I know of no evidence that Bunyan was ever thought to be more than a fictional character.

    Paul freely admits that he never met Jesus H. Christ in the flesh

    It’s rather telling that you can’t even discuss the matter without the sneering “Jesus H. Christ”. What psychological function does that serve for you? More broadly, why did you feel the need to raise mythicism in this thread?

    Reputable historians will reject the more outlandish miracle tales in the NT (earthquakes and zombies upon Jesus H. Christ’s death), but curiously consider the exact same sources to be reliable for lesser claims.

    Yup, just as they do with regard to other ancient and medieval sources. And of course reputable historians agree that much of what is in the gospels is unreliable. The “consensus biography” of Jesus would go something like:

    There was a Jewish preacher and faith-healer from Galilee called Yeshua ben Yosef, who gained something of a local following, was probably baptised by John the Baptist, came to Jerusalem, and was crucified there during the governorship of Pontius Pilate.

    That’s quite as much as we know about many figures from ancient history whose existence is not questioned. Of course it’s logically possible there was no such person; the question is whether an account of how the evidence came to exist that is within reasonable distance of being as plausible as the consensus can be put forward – just as with evolution or anthropogenic climate change. The wider question is why, for some non-Christians without expert knowledge, it matters so much.

    By “a few decades”, you mean 50 years or more? IIRC, the earliest Mark could have been written was 70 AD because it implicitly references the falling of the temple cult. And the other 3 canonical gospels are later than that. That’s a whole human lifetime at the time. This is mainstream consensus scholarship here. – Enlightenment Liberal@43

    No it isn’t. If Mark was written around 70, then that’s around 40 years after those dates. Nor is it “a whole human lifetime at the time”. Sure, life expectancy was very low – I’ve seen estimates around 25 – but people could and did live into their 70s and 80s, so there would have been plenty of people around and in possession of their faculties when the gospel of Mark was written who were also around in Jesus’s lifetime (as fixed in that gospel by his death during Pilate’s time as governor). Moreover, I mentioned the letters of Paul, most of which (those considered genuine) consensus dates in the 50s – that is, around 20-25 years after the usual dates for Jesus’s death. Richard Carrier has to argue that Paul considered Jesus to have been a celestial being, not an actual flesh-and-blood person. I don’t find those arguments convincing, and nor do the vast majority of relevant experts (again, including non-Christians), but the point is that Carrier does not (and AFAIK, nor do other mythicist writers) rely on short lifespans or the frailties of human memory for their arguments.

    For example, if one can find that a lot / most experts in a particular field on a particular subject are making brazenly illogical arguments, then it’s safe for a layperson to revoke the expert credentials in terms of their own personal acceptance. – Enlightenment Liberal@43

    True enough in general. The question becomes whether one is in a position to judge the arguments as “brazenly illogical”. Relying on a fringe figure in the field to tell you this is not a reliable strategy, as they may not represent the arguments correctly, may cherry-pick weak arguments while ignoring strong ones, etc.

    For what it’s worth, I think a charismatic preacher did exist, because that’s the most convincing explanation of Paul’s reference to some of his contemporaries as “brothers of the Lord.” (I find Carrier’s efforts to explain this away to be unconvincing in the extreme). – aaronbaker@48

    Ditto. But again, the point I want to emphasise is the one laurentweppe@45 also makes:

    but the whole point was never about evidence: it was about doing a little triumphalist dance while singing “lalalalalala Jesus ain’t real, aren’t these moronic religious rubes just soooooooo stupid compared to We the Intellectual Übermenschkeit?“

    IOW, at least in the case of those who just repeat mythicist claims as if they were obviously true, it’s another “Stupid Atheist Meme”.

  • criticaldragon1177

    #1 Marcus Ranum,

    You wrote,

    “Doesn’t change the fact that “IN GOD WE TRUST” is compounded irony on a fiat currency.”

    What exactly do you mean by that?

  • criticaldragon1177

    #2 Reginald Selkirk,

    If someone has written volumes on the subject of the existence of God, and they come firmly down on the side that yes most likely God does exist, they are not an atheist. Thomas Jefferson was hardly Christian, but was also not an atheist, even if rejected the things like the resurrection. Unless you are yourself a historian, and you have carefully studied what the founding fathers wrote, you should be very careful when it comes to going against the historical consensus. The experts can be wrong, but they usually know more about the things they study, than us laymen. I think that’s what Brayton was getting at.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Nick Gotts #49: Reginald Selkirk@31, 35,

    Tell me, what is your expertise in this area? Have you studied the history of Roman Palestine at graduate level? Do you know Hebrew, Aramaic and koine Greek? Or are you just parroting what one knowledgeable but fringe figure (Richard Carrier) says? Because I can certainly find such figures with reference to evolution (Jonathan Wells, John Baumgardner) and climate change (Roy Spencer, Richard Lindzen).

    I will be more charitable than you deserve and merely give you a link to the ad hominem fallacy.

    … while I know of no evidence that Bunyan was ever thought to be more than a fictional character.

    Apparently you are less deep than Wikipedia, which gazed into more than their own navel to address the question.

    Paul Bunyan: Debated Authenticity

    … At the same time, several authors have come forward to propose alternative origins for Paul Bunyan. D. Laurence Rogers and others have suggested a possible connection between Paul Bunyan tales and the exploits of French-Canadian lumberjack Fabian Fournier (1845 – 1875). From 1865 to 1875, Fournier worked for the H. M. Loud Company in the Grayling, Michigan, area.[5] Another unverified claim, that Paul Bunyan was a soldier in the Papineau Rebellion named Paul Bon Jean, is first presented in writer James Stevens’s 1925 book, Paul Bunyan,[16] and occasionally repeated in other accounts. Stewart and Watt, while acknowledging that they have not yet succeeded in definitively finding out whether Bunyan actually lived or was wholly mythical, noted that some of the older lumberjacks they interviewed claimed to have known him or members of his crew, and in northern Minnesota, the supposed location of his grave was actually pointed out.[4] In this regard, it should be noted that Bunyan’s extreme gigantism was a later invention, and that early stories either do not mention it or, as in the Stewart and Watt paper, refer to him as being about seven feet tall. To the right is a comparison chart between early Paul Bunyan references, the Stewart and Watt paper, and the Laughead advertisement.

    Imagine how impressed I am right now with your scholarly ability.

    It’s rather telling that you can’t even discuss the matter without the sneering “Jesus H. Christ”. What psychological function does that serve for you? More broadly, why did you feel the need to raise mythicism in this thread?

    Not only are you a master scholar, you are a psychic who can discern my state of mind when I was writing that.

    1) You figured out unmabiguously to whom I was referring, didn’t you? Despite your obviously limited mental capabilities.

    2) Jesus (the Greek form of Yeshua, a version of Joshua) was a very popular name in that time and place. The writer Josephus for example, born after Jesus H. Christ’s alleged death and writing a generation later, mentioned at least twenty Jesuses in his writings. I wouldn’t want you to get confused about to whom I was referring.

    3) Technically, I didn’t raise mythicism. I just made a comment about an example of historians accepting something that is remarkably poorly-evidenced. You can see from the rest of the thread that no one has managed to adequately overcome the claim that Jesus’ historical existence is indeed poorly-evidenced. You for example state that a standard biography for Jesus H. Christ would include his crucifixion during the governorship of Pontius Pilate, despite a complete lack of verification by secular sources.

  • colnago80

    Re criticaldragon1177 @ #51

    This is a general rule that applies to a lot more subjects then history. For instance, the same argument applies to climate change, evolution, the origin of life, the origin of the universe, the causes of diseases, etc. If one is going to challenge the views of Michael Mann, Richard Dawkins, Neil Tyson, etc. one had jolly well better know at least as much about the subject matter as they do. There is no evidence that Ted Cruz, for instance, knows his ass from a hole in the ground about climate change.

  • dingojack

    Reginald – nope, asking about one’s expertise on a subject as a method of gauging the creditability of the argument one puts forward isn’t an ad hom.. Perhaps you should read your own link (carefully)*.

    Dingo

    ———

    * It could be an Appeal to Authority, on the other hand…

  • Saad

    Trebuchet, #9

    How about “Liberty” next to a slave owner?

    Bam. Thank you.

  • favog

    The problem with the whole “but experts! and consensus! Just like global warming and evolution!” mantra is that it’s applicable in cases where the issue at hand involves vast amounts of complex data and calls for expertise in at least some of it and some familiarity with a good portion beyond that. But there are cases when the data is sparse, simple to understand, and the error made by the consensus is simple for anyone to see once they take their blinders off and think for just a moment or two. The fact that Jesus cannot be reasonably counted on the List of Established Historical Figures is one of those times.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1360322113 aaronbaker

    @56:

    I respectfully disagree. Much of Carrier’s interpretation of “brother of the Lord” hinges on his interpretation of the Greek of 1st Corinthians 9. A good knowledge of Koine Greek makes it clear (IMHO) why this interpretation doesn’t work.

    I had an extensive back and forth with Carrier on this and other subjects, if you’d care to see where I was coming from (http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/749). I stand by those arguments now, even though I committed an error in basic logic which I now (rightly) find embarrassing (i.e. “nothing follows from false premises”).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1360322113 aaronbaker

    Nick Gotts:

    I do appreciate agreement from someone as intelligent as you obviously are. However, you were such a colossal dick towards me in another context, I find it difficult to thank you.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Nick Gotts

    but the point is that Carrier does not (and AFAIK, nor do other mythicist writers) rely on short lifespans or the frailties of human memory for their arguments.

    What? Yes he does.

    True enough in general. The question becomes whether one is in a position to judge the arguments as “brazenly illogical”. Relying on a fringe figure in the field to tell you this is not a reliable strategy, as they may not represent the arguments correctly, may cherry-pick weak arguments while ignoring strong ones, etc.

    As Carrier notes and gives citations – every peer reviewed paper which has looked at the methods of Jesus studies have concluded that they’re all bullshit. Not fringe – mainstream. I am sufficiently educated to know that there is is almost no consensus at all in Jesus studies. Everyone has their own pet Jesus theory. There is no convergence happening. If anything there is more divergence over time. This is a description of a field of study in serious crisis.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    For one spot where Carrier explicitly makes arguments relying on life expectancies, please see On The Historicity Of Jesus, chapter 4 Background Evidence, element 22.

    Example: (transcribed myself)

    Even in the best of times, no more than one in three people made it to 55 or above. Yet if anyone started in the apostolate at, for example, age 15 in the year 30, they would be 55 in the year 70. And it is far more likely the first apostles were in their 20s or 30s, not teenagers, which would make them around 65 or 75 in the year 70. Teenagers would have incredible difficulty earning the respect or deference of those in their 20s or 30s, much less of elder folk, and therefore would be ineffective as evangelists. So it is very unlikely the first apostles were of teen age. Indeed, such a thing would be so remarkable it could not have failed to have remarked upon in the sources we have. Yet only one in five teenagers would reach age 65, and barely one in twenty would make it to age 75 – and that’s without wars, famines, and persecutions reducing their survival rate. Factor those in, and we can expect that none of the original ‘twelve’ (if 1 Cor. 15.5 is to be trusted) will have made it much beyond the year 75 (to which age the chances of a 25 year-old surviving are one in eight in normal conditions). Combine these prior expectations with the lack of any reliable evidence of anyone so surviving, and the silence of evidence against it (such as the complete absence of letters or writings from, to, or about these or any other leaders composed in that period), and we must conclude that in all probability all the original leaders were dead by then.

    So, back to the original context:

    a story attested to by the fading memories of a few people – llewelly@12

    [Nick Gotts:] This is a bizarre way of stating the case, and not one that is put forward by any mythicists I’m aware of. The relevant sources (the gospels and the letters of Paul) were mostly written within a few decades of Jesus’s supposed lifetime. AFAIK, no serious mythicist disputes that.

    Carrier’s argument is that we only find clear testimony of a historical Jesus in the Gospels and not in the authentic letters of Paul. The Gospels at best are the accounts of fading memories of a few. (Definitely at best a few, see the above arguments of Carrier. After 40 years, fading is definitely an apt description too.) In actuality, the Gospels are not even eye witness testimonies because when they were written down, all of the original apostles are (very probably) dead.

    So, you are simply wrong or ignorant in the above quote when you say “not one that is put forward by any mythicists I’m aware of”. Perhaps you might be using the assumption that Paul talks about a historical Jesus, and then impugns this position Mythicists to conclude that no Mythicist would use that description, but that is a strawman of at least Carrier’s position because Carrier does not include Paul in the list of people who talk about a historical Jesus.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    PS:

    I agree that Carrier’s position “Jesus probably did not exist” is fringe. As Carrier himself states, this should not be used in arguments against Christians because it is fringe, and because there are so many better arguments to make. Further, I think it fair to say that one should not cite Carrier as authoritative or somehow conclusive when talking to anyone who is not fully versed in this matter.

    However, I still happen to find Carrier’s arguments decently convincing for myself – convincing enough that I personally lean towards mythicism being true. That is not in contradiction with anything in the above paragraph.

  • lofgren

    Well I think we can all agree that even if you might be right, you’re still wrong because only a few experts agree with you. And even if they’re right, you’re still wrong because you didn’t do all your own original research. And if you did all your own original research and you’re right, you’re still wrong because you’re right for the wrong reasons. So really the actual answer is moot because either way you are stupid for saying so.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins (drawing on Hitchens) have both suggested that Jefferson was secretly an atheist, but — now prepare to clutch those pearls, hero worshipers — they were completely full of shit.

    Pretty much any time someone argues about what a prominent figure “secretly” believes, they are full of shit. If there were any evidence of it, there would be no need to speculate about what was going on inside their heads completely invisible to the rest of us.

  • favog

    @57:

    I didn’t mention that argument in post 56, because my opinion is not based on any kind of interpretation of Corinthians. Or anything else by Carrier, for that matter. I was, in fact, of that opinion before I ever heard the name “Richard Carrier”. Although since discovering his work I’ve found it very interesting, obviously.

  • brucegorton

    I seem to remember reading Dawkins saying that Jefferson was a Deist, not an atheist.

  • billyeager

    dingojack says

    March 28, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    OT Alert… OT Alert… OT Alert…

    Marcus Ranum — “…a fiat currency”, as opposed to all those ‘non-fiat’ currencies such as …

    No wait, one will come to mind… eventually…

    *cough*

    Bitcoin

    *cough*

    “Vires in Numeris”

  • dingojack

    And how much is bitcoin worth? How much was it worth yesterday? Three years ago? And why are those values different?

    Dingo

  • billyeager

    @Dingo

    One Bitcoin is worth One Bitcoin. The same as it has ever been worth.

    One Bitcoin, however, when compared to fiat currencies, has had a variable exchange-rate, much in the same way as each fiat currency is worth variable amounts when compared to each other over time.

    Volatility of a new non-fiat currency does not change the fact that it is an example of a non-fiat currency, contrary to your original post implying that ALL currencies were fiat.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @billyeager

    Of course bitcoins are fiat currency. They’re currency. They have no intrinsic value – they cannot be eaten or worn. Their only value is that they can be bartered for other goods and services with intrinsic value, such as food and clothing. Thus bitcoin is fiat currency. That’s the definition of fiat currency. What the fuck are you talking about?

  • Michael Heath

    brucegorton writes:

    I seem to remember reading Dawkins saying that Jefferson was a Deist, not an atheist.

    I suggest using the “Look Inside” feature at Amazon for Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion. Type in the key word “Jefferson”.

    You’ll find that Mr. Dawkins falsely describes Thomas Jefferson as not a theist by disingenuously using the word deist; he also insinuates that Jefferson’ was perhaps an atheist. He cherry-picks his quotes to promote his false description of Jefferson.

    If we’re generous, Mr. Dawkins’ claim of deism for Jefferson suggests Dawkins is ignorant of the modern use of the term, where Jefferson doesn’t fit that use. The modern use being that a deism is the rejection of an intervening god while believing in a god(s) who created the universe (where there are hardly any people today fitting that definition).

    Thomas Jefferson repeatedly asserted belief in an intervening god and regularly worshipped that same god as an Episcopalian- though one with very unorthodox views since he rejected the trinity though he prayed to the same biblical god the Bible’s Jesus directed his prayers towards (the trinity has always been an incoherent belief system).

    At worst, Mr. Dawkin’s is dishonestly leveraging the evolution of the term deism to misinform his readers to a more convenient, and false premise that Jefferson was not a theist when in fact Jefferson was both a theist and a deist if we use the original meaning of the word deist. Originally, deism was the discovery of god by natural means through reason and observation while dispensing with dogma and claims of divine revelation. That is what Jefferson did, but at the end of the day he repeatedly asserted his belief in an intervening god and worshipped him as well.

    Jefferson called himself a Christian and fits the term then just like millions of Christians today do who worship god while not claiming Jesus as god. E.g., John Shelby Spong is an exemplar of a leader of this belief system where he also resides within the Episcopalian denomination just as Mr. Jefferson did.

  • Nick Gotts

    Reginald Selkirk@52,

    Well I concede that some people have thought Paul Bunyan might be real, but your own quotation shows that no-one is making a definitive claim – and at the same time, if we accept their view, we don’t know he wasn’t – so you are still without the example you need.

    As for the “Jesus H. Christ” stuff – pfft. All that’s needed for identification, in the vast majority of contexts including this one, is “Jesus”. If more is needed, then “Jesus of Galilee”.

    EL@60,

    Thanks for the correction about what Carrier proposes – it seems I was giving him too much credit. I noted myself that he has to claim that Paul thought Jesus was a celestial figure rather than a real person, which the vast majority of relevant experts don’t find credible (see aaronbaker@57 for one reason why). But I thought he must be interpreting the gospel of Mark, at least, as being knowingly written as fiction, because despite what you say, the claim that between the 50s (when Paul supposedly knew Jesus wasn’t a flesh-and-blood person) and around 70, this fact was forgotten and the writer of Mark believed he was such a person, stretches credulity to breaking point. Carrier says probably all the original leaders were dead. So what? Were they the only people who would have known Jesus, or the leaders themselves at the relevant time – or Paul in the 50s, who was writing letters to Christians in multiple cities? If the writer of Mark did believe in a historical Jesus, wouldn’t they have been talking to people who’d been around at the time or later, and had been evangelised (Carrier refers to the evangelising in your quote, so clearly he thinks that was real)? Wouldn’t those people have told him “No, Jesus wasn’t a flesh-and-blood person, all this stuff happened in the sky!”?

    After 40 years, fading is definitely an apt description too.

    Memories of youth tend to beome more vivid in old age. That doesn’t mean they are accurate of course, but “fading” is definitely not an apt description.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Nick Gotts

    Carrier argues both. He argues that anyone who met Jesus was very probably dead by the time the 4 canonical Gospels were written. He also argues that the 4 canonical Gospels are pure fiction, and that the whole contents of the 4 canonical Gospels all have clear allegorical or propagandistic intent. As such, it would be foolish to interpret them as history when the texts are clearly intended as allegorical and propagandistic, and not history.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    Actually: correction. Carrier argues that very probably the original apostles were dead, not “anyone who met Jesus”. My bad.

  • Nick Gotts

    Incidentally, EL, you and other Carrier fans might be interested in this article on the (mis)use of Bayes’ Theorem in historical research. There are good reasons why Carrier and William Lane Craig (now there’s an interesting pairing for you!) are practically alone in trying to use it.

  • Nick Gotts

    EL@72, 73

    To say something is “pure fiction” is very different from saying it has “allegorical and propagandistic” intent. I doubt you could find any relevant scholar who would deny that the gospels have the latter. So what is Carrier saying? That the writer of Mark (let’s stick to that, as it’s common ground that its’ probably the earliest gospel, and most scholars would say the least mythicised) knew Jesus wasn’t a flesh-and-blood person? Or that they didn’t? Or does he hedge his bets here?

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Nick Gotts

    Regarding that article. So, his complaint is that the input to Bayes theorem is arbitrary, that you cannot calculate P(H | E) for most nontrivial historical claims. I’ll channel my inner Bayesian and say: Yes. That is true. It is arbitrary and subjective to some extent. But this is no more true than any other reliable method of history. Every reliable method of history is going to contain at least this degree of arbitrary and subjective claims. At least Bayesian formalism allows us to identify and quantify the arbitrariness so that we know what we’re arguing over. Instead of arguing “Jesus exists” “no he didn’t” back and forth, we can break the “Jesus exists” claim down into many simpler claims, and in that way we can make progress. It’s like any formal deductive argument – the formal deductive argument relies on premises which are not proven by the argument, but at least one can make progress towards reaching a conclusion by presenting an argument, because then the arbitrariness and subjectiveness can be moved to smaller and hopefully easier problems.

    There is no better way, and thus I am unmoved.

  • dingojack

    billyeager – so a difference without distinction then. ‘fiat’ = ‘non-fiat’, therefore all ‘fiat’.

    Thanks for proving my point.

    Now — back onto topic…

    Dingo

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    PS: Carrier’s reply, where he makes some of the same points, and more:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/2616

    You could, if you wanted, build out the whole Bayesian chain (e.g. see endnote 11, page 301), all the way from raw data, but why should historians trouble themselves with that? They already have context-determined estimates of the global reliability of statements based on their experience. If they get into an argument over conflicting estimates there, then they can dig into the underlying assumptions and build out the whole Bayesian case from raw data, or at least from further down the chain of underlying assumptions. But it’s a massively inefficient waste of their time to ask them to do that all the time, or even a lot of the time.

    Ironically, as I noted before, Ian is committing the very mistake here that I warn against in the book: if we cannot estimate P(E|H), then historical knowledge is simply impossible. Because all historical conclusions implicitly rely on estimates of P(E|H) (and/or P(E|~H)), or their differential (using the “Odds Form” of BT: see “Bayes’ Theorem, odds form” in the index, p. 333). That’s all historical conclusions ever reached before now, and all that will ever be reached by anyone ever. Thus, if BT can’t solve this problem, no method can. And if Ian thinks otherwise, it’s his task to produce that method, a method by which (a) a historian can get a conclusion about history without (b) ever relying on any implicit assumption about any P(E|H) or P(E|~H); or, for that matter, P(H). Good luck with that. Because it can’t be done. If he’d tried it, he’d know.

    PS:

    Moreover, the difference between me and W.L. Craig is revealed by all of Ian’s qualifying remarks–like “coincidentally did not seem to result in incorrect conclusions,” a backhanded way to admit I’m actually using it correctly, unlike Craig, thus negating his analogy.

    The act of merely noting a similarity to WLC – in this context, isn’t that a form of ad hominem?

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    Nick Gotts

    You may want to read the back and forth between Richard and Ian in the comments in Richard’s blog post (link above).

  • colnago80

    Re Michael Heath @ #70

    Thomas Jefferson repeatedly asserted belief in an intervening god and regularly worshiped that same god as an Episcopalian- though one with very unorthodox views since he rejected the trinity though he prayed to the same biblical god the Bible’s Jesus directed his prayers towards (the trinity has always been an incoherent belief system)

    Jefferson did more then reject the Trinity. He also rejected the Virgin Birth, the divinity of Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth, the Resurrection, and the miracle tales in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Like Martin Gardner in his dotage, he was a non-Christian theistic rationalist (Gardner’s self description), as characterized by our distinguished host. In no way, shape, form, or regard was he a believing Christian, no matter how many times he attended Sunday services or how many churches he belonged to. Jefferson’s view of Yeshua was far closer to that of Islam then it was to Christianity.

  • Nick Gotts

    EL@79,

    Thanks, I skimmed it – no time to read it all at present. At one point, Ian says:

    I think using BT and all this messing around with numbers is at best unnecessary, and at worst tendentious.

    That would be my view: that it gives a misleading appearance of numerical precision which isn’t really there. I’m mostly familiar with Bayesian reasoning in the area of medical or engineering diagnosis, where it is used when the evidence is readily specified (yes/no or a single number for example), reference classes are clear, and you can get good values for – say – the sensitivity of a test, and its rate of false positives (E|H and E|~H respectively). In cases where these conditions are far from being met, I think it’s too easy to get out of it the result you wanted (e.g. by choice of reference class), while fooling yourself you’re being objective.

  • Nick Gotts

    aaronbaker@58,

    I’ve no memory of that, so I don’t know whether I’d consider an apology appropriate or not. Point me to the incident if you want, and I’ll take a look.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1360322113 aaronbaker

    @82:

    Don’t worry about it Nick; just some of that hard pharyngula frankness that I tended to be hyper-sensitive about. Part of trying NOT to be hyper-sensitive is NOT dwelling on such things–a lesson i understand without always being able to apply it. My apologies for having appropriately moved on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1360322113 aaronbaker

    “for not having appropriately moved on.”

  • lofgren

    I can’t see hinging the question of historicity on the particular use of a certain word or passage in the NT. Words change over time, and not just in their general use. They have very specific meanings to specific groups of people. A new cult attempting to revolutionize their parent religion would be expected to come up with new uses for existing words. This kind of analysis is not useless, but it’s not going to settle the question one way or the other and certainly cannot be called strong evidence of anything.

    To me the debate always ends up sounding much like the debate over other mythical characters. There WAS a real King Arthur, but he didn’t live in Camelot, and he didn’t have a magic sword, and he didn’t unite all of England, and he probably lived at least a century before the stories actually take place, and he wasn’t named Arthur, and there was no round table, nor any of the other Knights, and all the stuff about Guinevere and Lancelot is later addition… At a certain point, what are you actually arguing for? That there was a warlord who might have been powerful and renowned enough to contribute in some small way to the King Arthur myths? Sure, whatever. That’s not an argument for historicity, that’s just noting that the artistic process does not take place in a vacuum.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Nick Gotts in 81

    In one sense, I can agree. In another sense, I disagree. I don’t think Carrier is saying that he wants historians to always use actual numbers. However, he is saying that all correct historical reasoning is Bayesian (or equivalent to Bayesian), and thus can be modeled with Bayes equation. So, you are right that it can give a false sense of security when you start throwing around concrete numbers. That’s definitely something one should be wary of. Carrier warns of it IIRC. I think Carrier is much more for historians to understand the principles and effects of Bayes equation so whatever criteria they use, they will use it correctly, and they will understand why it’s correct.

    In cases where these conditions are far from being met, I think it’s too easy to get out of it the result you wanted (e.g. by choice of reference class), while fooling yourself you’re being objective.

    But again, no worse than any other method of history. Historians already are doing exactly that kind of fallacious reasoning. At least thinking like a Bayesian and writing more like a Bayesian can make this kind of reasoning more evident to the reasoner and to the reader. It’s not a magic bullet. It’s just an improvement.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Nick Gotts in 75

    To say something is “pure fiction” is very different from saying it has “allegorical and propagandistic” intent. I doubt you could find any relevant scholar who would deny that the gospels have the latter. So what is Carrier saying? That the writer of Mark (let’s stick to that, as it’s common ground that its’ probably the earliest gospel, and most scholars would say the least mythicised) knew Jesus wasn’t a flesh-and-blood person? Or that they didn’t? Or does he hedge his bets here?

    He probably hedges his bets. According to his actual argument, he doesn’t need to assume either way. I’m not sure what he would think offhand – I’d have to review the relevant passages from On The Historicity Of Jesus. I suspect it would go something like this: Every single passage in Mark was written with allegorical or propagandistic intent. We can make that claim as probably true based on the available evidence, even if we might not understand the allegorical or propagandistic intent of every passage. Some of that information was lost to time. It’s definitely the only way that some of the passages make any sense whatsoever.

    For example, the passage in Mark concerning the fig tree. We have here a common literary structure of the time, called a “sandwich”. From a literalistic reading, Jesus curses a fig tree for no good reason, specifically because it’s not bearing fruit, even when he admits its not the season for bearing fig tree fruit. On this literalistic reading, Jesus is acting blatantly irrationally. However, the fig tree is sandwiched around Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple square. Jesus curses fig tree –> Jesus throws out money changers –> Jesus walks by the cursed fig tree and comments on it. We know that fig trees were symbolic of the temple cult, and that completely changes the meaning of the passage. Rather than acting irrationally, Jesus is saying that it is no longer time for the temple cult to “bear fruit”, and he curses the temple cult and it withers and dies. The symbolic description with the fig tree is sandwiched around a description of Jesus throwing out the money changers. (PS: Also, throwing out the money changers is something else which didn’t happen. Many people forget that the temple square was many acres in size, and there was IIRC a thousand Roman troops on station to prevent exactly this sort of shenanigan from happening. Either Jesus came in as a one-man Kung-fu army, or he brought an actual army, neither of which actually happened.)

    For example, the incident where Jesus returns to his home in Mark, and is unable or barely able to do miracles. Carrier argues that this is an allegory to help real-world evangelists and faith healers. When faith healers are unable to heal people in their own town or family, they can look to the story of Jesus in Mark who was similarly unable to heal people in his own town. The story provides an excuse “they did not have faith”. The faith healer can use this excuse themselves. It’s a model for missionary work. The meaning of the passage is absolutely unrelated to whether there was a Jesus to failed to heal people in his home town – that kind of reading completely misses the actual point of the text.

    And so on. Those are my two favorites which I remember offhand. IIRC, Carrier does provide some citations of other scholarly work to support this allegorical reading of Mark.

    IIRC, later gospels rewrote Mark to show an actual historical Jesus. For example I forget offhand if it was Matthew or Luke, but one of them slightly tweaked the story where Jesus went home and changed it into a huge success where Jesus healed everyone or some such. That’s great for a historical Jesus with magic powers, but it completely changes and erases the original allegorical meaning in Mark. Of course, this particular change is itself no more indicative of historicity than Mark itself. The new changed text, where Jesus heals everyone, obviously was motivated by a desire to create a historicity narrative – facts be damned. The later Gospels took the story and just made shit up to suit their purpose. It’s stuff like this which lets us know that all of the Gospel writers made shit up as often as it suited them, and for that reason it’s basically impossible to extract any evidence of historicity from the texts one way or the other (except for the Rank-Raglan reference class).

  • Nick Gotts

    lofgren@85,

    Everything you’re saying about Arthur is from Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing in the 12th century; as if the gospels (the rough equivalent as the source of the best-known stories about the character) were from around the 6th century; so the parallel isn’t a particularly good one (although there are earlier sources for Arthur, but none likely to be within less than a couple of centuries of his life, assuming he had one). But there’s no argument – except from fundy or near-fundy Christians – that the gospels are heavily mythologised*. That’s not what mythicists are arguing, nor what the consensus opposes; but that the earliest Christian sources – the letters of Paul, gospels, Acts – have been fundamentally misinterpreted as referring to a flesh-and-blood Jesus, when they were actually about events in a celestial realm (Carrier’s proposal), or magic mushrooms, or were parodies of the Iliad, etc.

    *And it’s a widespread if not consensus view that Mark is both the earliest and the least mythologised (e.g., no obviously-retconned birth narratives, no post-resurrection appearances if you remove what’s widely considered a later addition at the very end, no assertions that Jesus was actually divine).

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Nick Gotts #71: All that’s needed for identification, in the vast majority of contexts including this one, is “Jesus”.

    Nick Gotts is a raging bigot who has no Mexican friends.

    If more is needed, then “Jesus of Galilee”.

    Jesus of Galilee? Is that any relation to Jesus of Nazareth?

  • lofgren

    Nick Gotts,

    The length of time between the accounts is completely irrelevent to my point. You actually concede my point right there in your own comment. Historicists and mythicists agree that Jesus, if he existed, did not perform any miracles, that few and most likely none of the quotes attributed to him or details about his life are reliable, and that the timeline of his existence is questionable.

    It’s like arguing over whether or not there was a real Jed Bartlett because some of the events of his presidency were loosely based on Bill Clinton’s. (That’s a timeline of less than one year. Is that a short enough difference for you?)

  • Nick Gotts

    Reginald Selkirk@89,

    I understand Mexicans have surnames – although living as I do in the UK, I don’t meet many (I did have a Mexican colleague until 2012, but he was, astonishingly, not called Jesus). In any case, in most contexts it is quite clear whether one is discussing Jesus of Galilee/Nazareth (yes, either will do perfectly well), or a Mexican friend.

    I see you still haven’t answered my question: why the “Jesus H. Christ” sneer? My guess is that it’s a superstitious fear of the power of names, rather like colnago80 with his Frankenberger/Hister.

  • Nick Gotts

    It’s like arguing over whether or not there was a real Jed Bartlett because some of the events of his presidency were loosely based on Bill Clinton’s. – lofgren@90

    No, it really isn’t. As I already said, the argument is over whether the source documents have been completely misinterpreted. You might have noticed that no-one actually does argue about whether there was a real Jed Bartlett, while Richard Carrier devotes whole books to arguing that the documents have been completely misinterpreted, and there wasn’t a historical Jesus.

  • Nick Gotts

    Further to #92,

    I agree with lofgren that the dispute does not have the kind of religious significance a lot of atheists seem to think it has – judging by their attachment to mythicism (and have already said as much @49. But it is a matter of considerable historical interest. The origins of Christianity are of great interest, considering how important the religion has been; and as far as I can think of, we don’t have any clear cases of the central human figure of a religion being entirely mythical.

  • colnago80

    Re Nick Gotts @ #91

    My guess is that it’s a superstitious fear of the power of names, rather like colnago80 with his Frankenberger/Hister

    Absolutely incorrect and inaccurate. It’s a sign of the contempt I have for this putz.

  • colnago80

    Actually, there is a parallel between the stories of Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth/Galilee and King Arthur. They might both have been real persons but the Yeshua described in the Christian scriptures probably never existed while the Arthur described in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King certainly never existed.

  • lofgren

    No, it really isn’t. As I already said, the argument is over whether the source documents have been completely misinterpreted.

    There are two arguments going on here. If you scroll up, you will see that there is an argument over:

    1. Whether or not an actual person actually existed who actually served as the basis for Jesus.

    2. Whether or not the original intent (or what I called “genre” above) of the New Testament, or at least the earliest parts of it, started as a story that everybody at the time would have understood to be about a mythical figure.

    BOTH of these debates have been occurring in this thread. I agree that the second is of great historical interest. It is the first that I am ridiculing.

    And once again you seem to have misunderstood my analogy. Nobody believes that Jed Bartlett was real, just as nobody in this thread believes that the Jesus of the scriptures who turned water into wine and rose on the third day was real. The debate is over whether or not Bill Clinton existed and, if so, whether or not that means that there was ever a “real” Jed Bartlett. The King Arthur analogy and the Paul Bunyan analogies are also sound. Even if there was once some guy who served as the kernel of inspiration for these stories, the stories are so fantastical that calling that person the “real” Arthur/Bunyan is misleading at best.

  • Nick Gotts

    However, he is saying that all correct historical reasoning is Bayesian (or equivalent to Bayesian), and thus can be modeled with Bayes equation. – EL@86

    I’m not convinced of that, but I guess I should read Carrier before arguing about it – and I’m afraid I’m not likely to do that in the near future. Too many books on the reading list.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Nick Gotts

    Just to be clear:

    No, it really isn’t. As I already said, the argument is over whether the source documents have been completely misinterpreted. You might have noticed that no-one actually does argue about whether there was a real Jed Bartlett, while Richard Carrier devotes whole books to arguing that the documents have been completely misinterpreted, and there wasn’t a historical Jesus.

    Note that Carrier was effectively paid IIRC $ 20,000 by his fans to write those books without prompting. In fact, his fans prompted him.

    Carrier has also been very upfront that arguing “Jesus does not exist” does not have a place in modern religion vs atheism discussions. Also, Carrier has said numerous times that this particular question “did a historical Jesus exist?” does not matter for his atheism. His atheism is fine without a historical Jesus, and it’s also fine with the standard secular version of a non-magical overblown historical Jesus. I suppose Carrier could stress this more, but he does regularly take effort to stress this position to his fans.

  • Nick Gotts

    Absolutely incorrect and inaccurate. – colnago80@95

    Self-knowledge is not your strong point. Come to think of it, I can’t think that you have one.

  • Nick Gotts

    He probably hedges his bets. According to his actual argument, he doesn’t need to assume either way. I’m not sure what he would think offhand – I’d have to review the relevant passages from On The Historicity Of Jesus. I suspect it would go something like this: Every single passage in Mark was written with allegorical or propagandistic intent. We can make that claim as probably true based on the available evidence, even if we might not understand the allegorical or propagandistic intent of every passage. Some of that information was lost to time. It’s definitely the only way that some of the passages make any sense whatsoever.

    For example, the passage in Mark concerning the fig tree. – EL@87

    I’m sure you’re aware that the presence of allegorical and propagandistic intent is not disputed, and specifically that the fig tree incident would not be assigned veridical status except by near-fundies. But your first two sentences maybe get to the heart of why I’m not persuaded that all (good) historical reasoning is Bayesian. I think Carrier has an intellectual responsibility, in putting forth a case for mythicism, either to identify aspects of the evidence that are impossible to account for on the hypothesis of a historical Jesus*, or to put forward a coherent account of how the evidence could have been produced on the hypothesis of no historical Jesus (preferably, both) – and such a coherent account would necessarily involve specifying the intent of the author of Mark (and the other gospel authors): when and how was it forgotten that Jesus had not been a real flesh-and-blood person? Only by trying to fit all the evidence into a coherent account can a hypothesis in history (or historical science) guide further research: tell you what else should be true (so you can look for new evidence, or for overlooked or misinterpreted aspects of what we have), and what cannot be true. Of course the refutation of one such account, or the failure to produce one, does not prove there was a historical Jesus – but in the absence of a “killer fact” showing there could not have been, that would remain the best hypothesis we have.

    IIRC, later gospels rewrote Mark to show an actual historical Jesus. For example I forget offhand if it was Matthew or Luke, but one of them slightly tweaked the story where Jesus went home and changed it into a huge success where Jesus healed everyone or some such. That’s great for a historical Jesus with magic powers

    Er, what? Which of them is more plausible as an account of what actually happened if there was a historical Jesus? The consensus opinion is that the later gospels are more mythologised – the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, the portrayal of Jesus as a self-aware divine figure in John – and the switch to total success in his healing endeavours fits that view. And you might be interested in this paper (by a Christian) about how the signs that Jesus was given a “shameful burial” are successively removed from later gospels. (It also, in my view, provides a plausible explanation of the “empty tomb” stories: those who went to the tomb went to the wrong one – it was empty because no-one had been put there, while Jesus was quietly rotting elsewhere.)

    Virtually all studies agree that as the tradition develops, every detail in the story is enhanced and improved upon. Mark begins the written tradition by saying that on Friday evening, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, requested the body of Jesus from Pilate, wrapped it in linen and sealed it in a rock-cut tomb. Never again would the story be told so simply. Joseph of Arimathea becomes a “good and righteous man” who did not consent to the action against Jesus (Luke 23:51), and then evolves into a secret disciple of Jesus (Matt 27:57; John 19:38). The “rock-cut” tomb in Mark becomes a “new” tomb (Matt 27:60), “where no one had yet been laid” (Luke 23:53). John not only combines those descriptions–the tomb is both “new” and “where no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41)–but also adds that the tomb was located in a garden. In Mark Joseph wraps the body in linen–nothing more–but subsequent Gospels describe the linen as “clean” (Matt 27:59) and claim that the body was bathed in vast quantities of perfume (John 19:39). By the time of the Gospel of Peter, during the mid-second century CE, Christians were going so far as to assert that Jesus had been sumptuously buried in the family tomb of one of Jerusalem’s most powerful and wealthy families.

    *If he does so, would you please identify them?

  • lofgren

    Of course the refutation of one such account, or the failure to produce one, does not prove there was a historical Jesus – but in the absence of a “killer fact” showing there could not have been, that would remain the best hypothesis we have.

    That seems like the wrong approach to me. Obviously I am not a historian, but to me it seems that we don’t have enough reliable information to treat either position as the default. It seems like if you do so, then you’re basically giving the historicists infinite wiggle room while requiring a silver bullet that will almost certainly never materialize from the mythicists.

    In even recent history, we have seen both the exaggeration of real people into epic legends and the invention of mythic characters from almost whole cloth. We have seen plenty of examples of outright fictional characters inspiring people to live by example. Basically, both explanations seem plausible to me, too plausible to declare either position the most true one. Especially considering that anything we have been told about the “real” Jesus is so suspect that really the only thing that is being debated is whether or not the author of Paul’s letters and the author of Mark knew they were writing about a fictional person or thought they were just exaggerating the qualities of a real person. (Since as I said above the debate over whether or not Jesus was inspired by a real person is basically pointless. I have little doubt the character from the NT was inspired by several real people, in exactly the manner that stories are still written today.)

  • Lady Mondegreen

    There are a lot of embarrassing details in Mark; I gave only one example, in my comment above. They just don’t sound like biographical details of the life of a godman.

    Some of the embarrassing details got dropped, tweaked, or given mythological “explanations” as the various traditions progressed. Some of the embarrassments (he was illegitimate, he died a shameful death) got mythologized in more-or-less Greek fashion (his mother was a virgin and the father was a god; he rose from the dead). But the “explanations” were never coherent.

  • lofgren

    But it’s not implausible or even unlikely that stories that seem embarrassing to us could be embellishments. The Crucifixion itself was considered embarrassing by those outside the faith, but embraced by those within the faith as the greatest proof of Jesus’ sacrifice. The character could have acquired slightly embarrassing stories regardless of whether he started out mythical or historical.

    Barring some earlier document coming to light that shows that one or the other of these theories is impossible, I’m comfortable sitting on the fence on this one for the indefinite future.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Nick Gotts in 100

    But your first two sentences maybe get to the heart of why I’m not persuaded that all (good) historical reasoning is Bayesian. I think Carrier has an intellectual responsibility, in putting forth a case for mythicism, either to identify aspects of the evidence that are impossible to account for on the hypothesis of a historical Jesus*, or to put forward a coherent account of how the evidence could have been produced on the hypothesis of no historical Jesus (preferably, both) – and such a coherent account would necessarily involve specifying the intent of the author of Mark (and the other gospel authors): when and how was it forgotten that Jesus had not been a real flesh-and-blood person?

    As lofgren says, that looks like a double standard. I doubt you hold secular historicists to the same standard.

    Also, history isn’t exact. I think Ian from Irreducible Complexity has the same problem w.r.t. historical methods.

    However, Ian does get this right: Historical hypotheses are not exact step-by-step descriptions of a single, specific, wholly specified historical account. Instead, they are collections of possible histories. Every single historical account is a collection of possible histories. What historians do is identify collections of histories related in some ways, and group them together under a single umbrella or hypothesis, like “Jesus existed” and “Jesus did not exist”. (By the way, Carrier spends 2 chapters of his book merely defining what he means by these two hypotheses in great detail.) It’s not reasonable to demand a historian to produce a full step-by-step historical account, either for historicity or mythicism.

    However, perhaps you meant that it’s Carrier’s responsibility to respond to any challenging evidence – Let me explain. For example, suppose the evidence concerning the authorship and intentions of Mark were incompatible with Carrier’s hypothesis of mythicism. Then it is Carrier’s responsibility to address that evidence. However, Carrier is not limited in offering exactly 1 alternative. He can identify more than one plausible scenario which can explain away contradictory evidence. (I’m not saying Mark is contradictory – I’m using it as a hypothetical example.) We hold defenders of historicity to the same standard. We don’t demand that any particular defender of historicity pick a particular date when Jesus was crucified, or whether he was crucified. We don’t need to establish the particulars of whether he was crucified and on what day and year in order to establish historicity. Similarly, we don’t have to determine if “Mark” thought there was a real Earthly Jesus when he wrote his parables about Jesus, when he wrote the Gospel according to Mark.

    So, Carrier does take 2 chapters to clearly lay out two hypotheses: secular historicity and his version of mythicism. (He takes a small moment to informally argues that these are the two most probable by far compared to any other alternative, such as Jesus was a guy on Earth who did miracles and shit.) He then looks at the available evidence, and sees which hypothesis is a better “fit”, and he takes into account any other related evidence, which he calls his “priors”, for example the Rank-Raglan data.

    What any honest person should do is simply proportion their belief in accordance with the evidence, which is exactly what Bayesian reasoning is, plus the simple (indisputable) laws of probability theory reinterpreted as epistemic confidence.

    Er, what? Which of them is more plausible as an account of what actually happened if there was a historical Jesus? The consensus opinion is that the later gospels are more mythologised – the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, the portrayal of Jesus as a self-aware divine figure in John – and the switch to total success in his healing endeavours fits that view.

    I’m sorry. I’m trying to communicate better, and I know this is a common misunderstanding, but I didn’t do well enough. Let me try again.

    Carrier’s argument is that the first gospel according to Mark was an extended meta-parable. If you take the text literally, it was talking about a real guy named Jesus, but the actual intended meaning was allegory, and this is quite evident from the available evidence. The intention of the author is not talking about a historical Jesus. In fact, it’s very clear that more or less the entire content of Mark is parables – fictional stories that never happened, and which Mark does not believe happened. The point of Mark is to spread the teachings of Christianity via this collection of parables. It was a common style at the time – mystery cults were rather common. Outsiders were told one thing, and insiders were told another. IIRC, Mark even warns in the text that you need to be careful with your reading or you’ll miss the point.

    Matthew is a response to Mark from a Jewish sect of Christianity, objecting to Mark’s gentile Christianity. Matthew takes Mark and rewrites it to suit his own values.

    Luke is a response to both of them, taking bits of both, and trying to argue that the two sides can get along – but that the gentile side is actually right. Luke also purports to be a historian.

    The first gospel, Mark, was pure parable, pure fiction, and the originally intended reading was not a history. That’s what parable is. Later, the historicity trend later developed, and we see later gospels changing stories from Mark because they are reinterpreting it as literal history and not allegory. Again, for example, Mark writes that Jesus was unable to miracle heal sick people in his home town because the people did not have enough faith, and again the intended reading was that it was a useful model for actual Christians in their own ministry. However, with the later historicity trend, later gospel writers took this allegory, reinterpreted it as history, and found that it was a horrible literal-history of a god-man, and so changed the story so Jesus did heal everyone in the town and got rid of the bit about his magic powers not working if the people didn’t have enough faith. Yes, this story became more fantastic and magical in the later gospel writers, e.g. less likely to be true as a secular history, but over time the story also became more historically literal.

    tl;dr Your confusion is between “intended and written as a literal history” and “plausible as a secular historical account”. The two are not the same thing. The first gospel according to Mark was not intended and written as literal histories. Mark was written as an extended meta-parable, not history. It was not required for Jesus to match their preconceived notions of a fully powerful magic god-man in the parables. Again, that’s not what a parable is. Whereas, the later gospels were much more written as and intended to be read as literal histories. much more like literal histories and less like meta-parables. They abandoned the allegorical reading and embraced a literal historical reading, and thus they wrote Jesus to be even more magic and powerful to match their god-man ideal.

    Again, we don’t need to answer if the authors knew that Jesus was real or not. We don’t have access to that. What we do have access to is the text and some of the surrounding culture, which is enough to conclude about the intent and intended reading of the texts, and I gave a brief outline of that above. Because the intent of the writers is anything but actual history, the gospels count for very little, almost nothing, in the debate over the historicity of Jesus, either way. The gospels count for almost nothing in favor of historicity, and the gospels count for almost nothing in favor of mythicism.

    Again, or so Carrier argues. Or so I understand what Carrier argues.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Lady Mondegreen

    The criterion of embarrassment is overrated. Plenty of other religions of the time had embarrassing details. I suggest Proving History and On The Historicity Of Jesus by Carrier for examples. Sorry, I’m away from books right now, and I don’t feel competent to try it off the cuff.

  • Lady Mondegreen

    @EnlightenmentLiberal, I read some of Carrier’s posts on the subject when he started blogging here.

    To be clear, my opinion isn’t based solely on the fact that some details later embarrassed JC’s fans. It’s the nature of those particular details, and the fact that, when separated from the mythological redactions, they offer a coherent picture of a low-class Palestinian travelling faith healer–and not of the sort of messiah or demigod people back then would have imagined. He just wasn’t very godlike at all. And, anticipating objections, I’m not referring to the later, abstract, perfect, omnipowerful God, but to other gods floating around the Mediterranean at the time.

    –Or so it seems to me at this point. Maybe someday I’ll give Carrier another try. So many books…

    It’s an intriguing question, all right. I’ll leave it at that.

  • Lady Mondegreen

    Oh, NOW I read your reply to Nick Gotts, EL.

    Well, OK. I guess now I have to try and tackle Carrier–to see if he can convince me.

    (Convince me to be slightly less on the side I’m slightly on in this question nobody can be sure about!)

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Lady Mondegreen

    No idea if you would find it interesting or compelling. I’m swayed by it, but not that strongly. I just find it fascinating from a purely academic point. As I wrote above, whether I’m right or wrong on this point has nothing to do with my atheism. The secular historicity hypothesis of Jesus could be right, and it wouldn’t affect my atheism.