Scholars Assembling Puzzles: Illustrating Differences Between Scholarly Research and Mythicist Blog Conversations

When scholars investigate a question – whether a question about historical events, or the interpretation of a text or other sort of data – they do not work in isolation. In every case, there is some dependence on other scholars who have worked on other aspects of the question, or on other texts or historical matters about which our own expertise is limited, but about which we need to have some understanding to work on the particular problem we are investigating, because it relates to it in some way.

No one individual covers every aspect of every potentially related topic at the same level of detail. And so when we work on assembling the pieces of the puzzle in our own particular area, we must check from time to time to see whether and to what extent our work correlates with that of others. If it doesn’t, then there is a problem.

The importance of this was illustrated in a recent exchange with a mythicist on my blog. The question was posed as to why Paul uses the verb γινομαι in Romans 1:3 and Galatians 4:4 in reference to (the birth of) Jesus, when he uses γενναω in other passages that refer to birth. While I stressed that the precise choice of different words is not always significant, in this case, we happen to be dealing with two texts that are thought to represent Paul’s quotation of already-existing Christian slogans or creedal statements. And so the difference of wording might also reflect the formulation not being Paul’s own creation.

To one of the commentators who is not particularly well informed about academic New Testament study, this seemed like me simply pulling random possibilities out of nowhere to support my viewpoint. But of course, anyone who has studied Romans or Galatians will know that I was not suggesting something new or original, but referring to a viewpoint that is discussed (even if not always embraced) in every modern commentary and book on these particular passages.

And here we see the biggest methodological problem that confronts creationists, mythicists, and other such points of view that ignore scholarship, choosing instead to attempt to figure things out on their own (or with the help of some likeminded conversation partners), in conformity with their own convictions, without concern for scholarship or research, and no need for labs or excavations or knowledge of ancient languages. Whether we are talking about the question of biological evolution, or the question of whether a historical figure of Jesus existed, these are questions for which particular pieces of evidence may be important, but ultimately the decisive consideration is that large numbers of scholars working on different specific areas related to these questions independently produce results that correlate with one another and cohere with the theory. If one piece of evidence pointed to Jesus having existed, or evolution having occurred, while many others pointed in the opposite direction, then there would not be the widespread consensus that exists among biologists and historians.

And that brings us back to the topic with which I started. No one scholar has done doctoral-type research on every aspect of historical Jesus studies, and no one scientist has sequenced every genome and excavated every type of fossil for themselves. It is a collaborative effort, which involves each of us doing focused research in one area, reading what others have done in a similar fashion in related areas, publishing our results and explaning how we think they correlate, and in many other ways collaborating to get a sense of the big picture in a way that no one of us could on our own – or could if we were a handful of untrained skeptics of mainstream scholarship having discussions on the internet, for that matter.

When one studies a subject at university, one begins to get at least a broad sense of the field, and thus has a sense of what research has been done, what live debates are currently taking place, and can start to think about the big picture. Without that broad knowledge, one will be prone to interpret individual pieces of data in ways that don’t make sense in relation to other things we know. 

That’s what happens in the case of creationists. It is what happens in the case of mythicists. And what differentiates a successful and persuasive scholar is that, instead of plowing ahead insisting that our assumptions and pet theories must be correct, we continued learning, even though it often meant admitting that conclusions we initially drew are incompatible with evidence that further learning brought to bear on our views.

Both creationists and mythicists are prone as well to ask for someone to offer them a knock-down argument in favor of mainstream scholarship in the area of which they are skeptical. And both regularly walk away from such discussions unpersuaded by the arguments that were presented to them, convinced that this goes to show that mainstream scholarship in the field is unpersuasive bunk.

But the problem with their drawing this conclusion is that the strongest argument in favor of all major scholarly theories are not single details, but the large scale correlation of results from a range of studies focused on different specific texts, details, questions, and pieces of evidence.

It doesn’t necessarily have to take going to university to study a subject in a formal way in order to get to that point of understanding. But it does at the very least take time and effort invested in reading, studying, and comprehending why consensus exists where it does.

Because that is how scholarship works, whether in the humanities or the natural sciences. It is not any one scholar, but the scholarly enterprise as a whole, that helps us to understand the big picture. And complaining that you are not convinced when you haven’t taken the time to study the subject in a serious way simply illustrates that you have done something far worse than simply ignoring experts’ conclusions or finding them unpersuasive. You’ve failed to understand how expertise is achieved in relation to questions that no one scientist or historian can master alone. And as a result, you’ve left yourself open to being misled, whether by others or by yourself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    When creationists criticize biologists, biologists respond by showing them data and evidence, not twelve paragraphs of argument from authority. But you, Dr. McGrath, you have a different technique.When I tried to get you to explain how Galatians 4:4 had to refer to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, and not to the mythical story depicted in Revelation you argued that the author of Galatians couldn't have known the book of Revelation since it was written after the epistle. Yet you would also have to concur that by that argument he couldn't have known the book of Mark either. Which means both references are pickled in the same brine. Which one does one choose? Do you have data and evidence that more clearly link Galatians 4:4 with the gospel story than the Revelation story? I have yet to see it.You then criticized Harvard PhD Elaine Pagels' gnostic reading of the Pauline epistles by saying that the gnostic controversy took place in the second century, well after Galatians was written. Yet I know of no first century reference to the epistle of Galatians. It comes on the scene as a text brought in by Marcion of Sinope. Is Pagels not mainstream? Is Pagels' interpretation of Galatians 4:4 as a gnostic text wrong? If so, why? What evidence does she ignore that you find compelling?I then brought up Harvard PhD Dennis McDonald's books regarding the genre of Mark. Dr. McDonald sees Mark as a consciously written homage to the Homeric epics. This would mean they belong to the epic genre and ancient epics are pieces of fiction. Is Dr. McDonald mainstream? Is his interpretation of Mark as epic fiction wrong? What data is he ignoring that you don't?

  • Anonymous

    Well this looks like fun…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16947798364523082547 Rich Griese

    Dear Evan,Do you also have a blog or a twitter account? When I follow the link to any of your comments, just get a blogger page with nothing. If you have either, please feel free to email me a link.Cheers! RichGriese.NET / RichGriese@gmail.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    No Evan, I didn't criticize Pagel's reading, I explained to you how you had misunderstood her book. And I didn't offer an argument from authority, I explained why those who don't familiarize themselves with the big picture of a field are very likely to misunderstand the details.As for your question about which individuals had mythologized birth stories about their mothers having dragons between their legs when they gave birth, it was breathtakingly inane, but let me see if I can help you understand why. First, it is a silly challenge asking for such specificity of detail that I doubt you'll be able to find a precise mythological parallel, to say nothing of one that is based on a historical figure. Second, it ignores everything we understand about apocalyptic literature. It discusses the Roman emperor in terms of a beast, and so why a depiction of Jesus' birth in mythological language would have any bearing on his historicity is something you never clarify. Third, you assume that the woman in Revelation is Jesus' mother, suggesting that you've never cracked open a commentary. It might be, but assuming it is suggests a lack of awareness of scholarship – an issue that arises every single time you comment.But finally, I think that for anyone who studies this broad period in ancient history, one story that comes to mind is at about Alexander the Great's conception. If features a snake between his mother's legs (although doing something rather different, admittedly) and is formulated within a shorter time frame than the one you specified, if I'm not mistaken.And so my point is that, where you think you're receiving answers that don't persuade you, what you're actually receiving but not comprehending are repeated complaints that you don't seem to know anything about this field, and yet persist in wanting to waste the time of those who are involved in searious research. Perhaps that is your aim – maybe mythicists and creationists simply fein a failure to understand so as to try to impede research. I don't know. But either way, before the point of my post is that you are currently in the precise situation of a creationist or proponent of intelligent design. When you are presented with arguments, you will find them unpersuasive and leave discussions thinking the evidence in the field is weak or dubious, because you clearly don't know enough about the topic in order to understand discussions of relevant evidence, weighing a case for historicity, genre of ancient literature, exegesis of texts or anything else relevant to drawing conclusions in this field. And so, like the creationist who holds up a banana and says it is the atheists' nightmare, there is no way to have a meaningful conversation with you. All I can do is show you a pineapple or coconut and hope that at some point, sooner or later, you'll realize that in your public displays of your ignorance you aren't embarrassing anyone but yourself.[to be continued]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    [continued]But let me not leave one last point unanswered. The issue is not bringing Revelation or the Gospels into a discussion of Galatians. It is about paying attention to what Paul actually wrote. He is talking of Jesus having been born of a woman, and born under the Law. Born as a human being and as a Jew, to redeem Jews and bring adoption to all humanity. The issue is that you are treating the text as a Christian fundamentalist might, trying to preach a mythicist sermon on a short phrase without any attention to the context and the meaning of the phrase in that context. That is rule number one in studying literature – any literature. And as for bringing the Gospels into the study of Paul's letters, one reason it is done is because when Paul mentions things he had previously told churches – the account of the last supper (1 Corinthians 11), Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, and appearances (1 Corinthians 15), they are things that later turn up in the Gospels, which is proof beyond reasonable doubt that material later included in Gospels existed before Paul wrote to the Galatians. It doesn't prove these details historical, obviously, but it does provide a rational reason to think that it is not only appropriate but important to bring the Gospels into the picture. It is a matter of paying attention to the evidence, and it is something you will need to start doing if you want me to feel that having conversations with you is anything other than a waste of time. Because at the moment you are a classic crackpot, presenting half-baked arguments and yet surprised that they don't seem persuasive to anyone who actually knows anything about the topic. The reason is not your genius and scholars' stupidity. The reason is that your "arguments" are hard to take seriously since they are filled with misunderstandings of scholarship when they mention scholarship at all, and the rest of the time resemble fundamentalist proof-texting. I'm sure you don't think you're a crackpot. But that's the point, isn't it? When do crackpots ever?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath, first let's dispense with Alexander the Great. There was no snake present at his birth, which is universally reputed to have been a mundane birth in Macedonia. His mother, Olympias, was a follower of the cult of Dionysus. Here is Plutarch, who I assume you are referring to:Philip, after this vision, sent Chaeron of Megalopolis to consult the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, by which he was commanded to perform sacrifice, and henceforth pay particular honour, above all other gods, to Ammon; and was told he should one day lose that eye with which he presumed to peep through that chink of the door, when he saw the god, under the form of a serpent, in the company of his wife. Eratosthenes says that Olympias, when she attended Alexander on his way to the army in his first expedition, told him the secret of his birth, and bade him behave himself with courage suitable to his divine extraction. Others again affirm that she wholly disclaimed any pretensions of the kind, and was wont to say, "When will Alexander leave off slandering me to Juno?"Alexander was born the sixth of Hecatombaeon, which month the Macedonians call Lous, the same day that the temple of Diana at Ephesus was burnt; which Hegesias of Magnesia makes the occasion of a conceit, frigid enough to have stopped the conflagration. The temple, he says, took fire and was burnt while its mistress was absent, assisting at the birth of Alexander. And all the Eastern soothsayers who happened to be then at Ephesus, looking upon the ruin of this temple to be the forerunner of some other calamity, ran about the town, beating their faces, and crying that this day had brought forth something that would prove fatal and destructive to all Asia.No heaven, no astronomical garments, no dragon, just a priestess of Ephesus present at his birth. The snake was likely part of a Dionysian ritual with a known follower of that pagan rite. Pretty de rigeur for an ancient biography. I let the reader judge the comparison to Revelation.Also, there's a curious lacuna in your writing here. You continue to ignore Dr. MacDonald's work. He is a mainstream Harvard-educated PhD. His argument through several books is that the book of Mark is a conscious re-telling of the Homeric epics. His thesis explains several things:"…Mark’s dependence on the Odyssey suggests elegant solutions to some of the most enigmatic and disputed aspects of the Gospel: its depiction of the disciples as inept, greedy, cowardly, and treacherous; its interests in the sea, meals, and secrecy; and even its mysterious reference to the unnamed young man who fled naked at Jesus’ arrest."Is he a crackpot?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    [continued]You claim that I misunderstand Pagels' book. How do I?Is Elaine Pagels a crackpot for thinking Paul had some ideas that were clearly more closely related to gnosticism than to proto-orthodoxy? She translates Galatians 4:4thusly:When the pleroma of time came, God sent his son, having come into being from a woman, under law, so that he might redeem those held under law, so that we might receive adoption.There is nothing in this text that requires him to be a human being recently born on earth, much less to be a peasant from Galilee. So there is no clear connection between this phrase and the gospels. So explain what the misunderstanding is?You keep going back to specialized knowledge that experts have. Well, when biologists are questioned by creationists, they don't do that. They clearly explain the parts that the creationist has wrong. I once believed in creationism as you once did. Biology cured me of that. I once believed in the historical Jesus as you do. Using the same tools that I used to investigate creationism, I found that I could not justify believing in a historical Jesus. I am sure there were Galilean peasants named Jesus. Josephus lists many people with that name, but there is no evidence for anyone with a career like that depicted in the gospels, thus, until further evidence is adduced, we should regard them as fictional in the same way we regard the Aeneid or the Odyssey.Creationists love to create straw-men who must believe x and y if they don't believe in creationism. You seem to be doing the same thing.My argument is primarily with your interpretation of Galatians 4:4 and the genre of the gospels. I'd be happy to keep the discussion to those points.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Evan, what happens in discussions with creationists is exactly what is happening in my attempt to discuss with you. The person with expertise tries to explain why all the experts are pretty much unanimous about something, and then the creationist keeps saying "But what about…?" and "Is that the best you can come up with…?" and a variety of expressions of arrogant sarcasm.Pagels is anything but a crackpot. Her book offers an excellent overview of how Gnostics in a later period interpreted Paul to fit their beliefs. What makes you a crackpot is your belief that the book intends to offer a commentary of the sort that seeks to explain what Paul meant in his time and context.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06027175818036574255 Smithy

    Super post! I will be teaching a course to undergraduate History majors next term on methodology.. and will link this for them to readTed Smith

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Glad you found the post useful, Ted! If you share it with students, I'd love to hear back about how that goes.Evan, try reading pp.161 and following of Pagels' book and see if that helps you understand what the book is about and what her conclusions are – assuming you're interested in understanding the topic and not merely prooftexting from a credible scholar's words taken out of context.

  • jj

    I'm pretty sure that I'm not qualified to enter into the fray, but I'll do it anyway. I have my doubts as to whether or not the "tools" (refering to an earlier comment) used to investigate creationism (e.g. evidence for evolution vs evidence for creationism) would be valid tools to thoughtfully investigate the historical Jesus. One can use the scientific method to establish robust evidence for evolution and demonstrate that a literal 6-day creation doesn't live up to the same standard (getting people to accept it is another story, but nonetheless it is easily done). However, though my understanding of methodologies for historical study and/or analysis is poor (at best), what little I am aware of leads me to conclude that they are different ball games altogether (although they may share some overlap). Otherwise, one is trying to determine a historical Jesus using the same criteria used to debunk the claims of a historical 6 day creation. Creation "theory" attempts to overturn established scientific theory, and thus scientific theory can be used to show how a literal 6 day creation is incompatible with reality given everything we know about nature. Sure, there are miraculous claims with regards to Jesus that don't totally fit with our understanding of nature (which science can't do much with, quite frankly), but the historical Jesus didn't try to upend our scientific understanding of the world as we know it (any claims of divinity, etc., are outside the realm of scientific investigation, but they don't change our scientific understanding of nature). Thus, it seems to me we are dealing with a different tool kit altogether with regards to investigation of the claims of creation (well, claims of creationists, really) and the historical Jesus. If I'm wrong on that point, I'm very open to correction and instruction from people more qualified than I.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    jj, you are absolutely correct. I have said time and time again that my point in comparing mythicism and creationism is not that historical study and biology use the same methods or deliver results that offer comparable degrees of certainty. My point is that in both cases there are individuals/groups who reject mainstream scholarship's conclusions and the relative degree of certainty it offers, and proffer their own alternative views which reflect a misunderstanding of important methods and evidence. And the reason I highlight the similarity is because of the irony that each of those groups would gladly mock the other and say how different they are from each other.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Here is something biologists responding to creationists typically don't do. They don't leave significant challenges to their theory by mainstream scholars in their field unchallenged. When David S Wilson and Richard Dawkins argue about group selection, neither of them tries shifting the topic with vague references to island biogeography. That would be a sign they had a weak argument.Creationists are masters of this technique however. You can go on about how endogenous retroviruses show common descent and they ignore it and focus on some irrelevancy like thermodynamics or information theory.You continue to act like the latter, engaging in namecalling and appeals to authority. You do very little explanation of what is wrong with alternate interpretations of Galatians 4:4. You also completely ignore Dr. MacDonald.I'll repeat. A major scholar who is not a mythicist has published several books about what the genre of the Gospel of Mark is.His conclusion is that it is a conscious imitation of the Homeric epics, specifically the Odyssey.This is an important piece of data and you are ignoring it repeatedly.As to your page 161 of Gnostic Paul by Pagels, I've read the book and reviewed page 161 again. I fail to see what section you are referring to, unless it is to the section regarding Irenaeus. But Irenaeus is simply retrojecting orthodox beliefs back onto the epistles. He is not a first century figure discussing the original meaning of the text of the epistles. I keep waiting for you to mention those first century exegeses.Perhaps we have different editions. There is nothing on page 160, 161 or 162 of my edition that suggests any alternate reading of Galatians 4:4 as a more correct reading than her earlier discussion on page 107. Indeed, she states on page 96 that Sophia was exiled by falling from the pleroma in gnostic mythology. Since falling is a possible resonance meaning in ginomai what assures you that Gal 4:4 is related to a description of any gospel?Pagels on page 162 is actually germane here again:"Certainly it is not impossible, as proponents on both sides of the argument assume, that extant written materials which date from the second century may represent tradition know to the apostle himself some sixty to eighty years earlier (whether one argues that Paul endorsed or condemned it)."This is all I am arguing. You seem to think Galatians 4:4 refers to the Gospels. I am arguing that your dogmatism on this issue is unwarranted, as it could very easily be a reference to the banishment of Sophia from the Pleroma and her twinning with a male Aeon, the Logos. It may also be a reference to the mythical story in Revelation. We simply don't know enough about the author's intent to be sure, and we certainly don't have an obvious connection to the gospel story here.

  • Anonymous

    McGrath, I find your condescending attitude and broad-brush dismissal of creationists/IDers to be unprofessional and un-Christlike. You also seem to be ignorant of the fact that many highly credentialed scholars accept YEC/ID (and please don't throw the common "they're not real scientists" charge), and that many of them also take the Bible per the literal/historical view. There are also testimonies of many whose study of biology, history, archaeology etc. led them in the opposite direction: from evo to YEC, from the Gnostic/allegorical approach to the literal/historical, etc. So your argument that education is the "cure" for such abominal "diseases" as YEC and lit/hist is fallacious.Can you tell I've had my fill of elitism? ;-)Not here to change any minds of course, being a diseased and backward hick who believes in a literal Jesus and YEC, but only to voice my objection to your condescension and logical fallacies. Have a nice day.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Anonymous, thank you for illustrating the point I needed to make to Evan. Anyone can cite a scholar, perhaps even a few, in favor of their viewpoint. But picking and choosing a few fringe individuals doesn't justify the problematic practice of choosing scholars that say what you want to hear, tickle your ears, as the New Testament warns about, instead of taking seriously that the majority of experts have been persuaded by the evidence to reach a different opinion.Evan, I ignores your references to MacDonald because of the above, but also because it is irrelevant. If we take what may be an even closer parallel genre, the Acts that were written about apostles, we have works such as the Acts of Paul which are probably complete fiction, but feature a main character that was in fact a historical individual. And so even if MacDonald were to be found persuasive on the genre of the Gospels, then it would still not demonstrate mythicism. But the truth is you have sought out MacDonald because he says what you want some expert to say, or be capable of being interpreted to say, and not because you have investigated other scholarly works (such as Richard Burridge, who sees the Greek Bioi as the closest parallel genre to that of the Gospels) and found them wanting. And you still don't seem to have understood Pagels. But I'm glad you're starting to actually read the book, even if only a couple of pages at a time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    And for those who are interested in a critical evaluation of MacDonald's thesis by another scholar in the field, here's an article on the subject in JBL.

  • jj

    As a biologist (full discloser, I'm published but I'm not sure I'd call myself highly credentialed and I don't have a PhD, but I have been working in academia and biotechnology for over 17 years and do understand a bit about scientific theory–I am also a former YEC and continue to be a Christian), I feel I need to respond to the above post by "anonymous." First, I'll make the appeal in asking you to take a close look at the biologos website. Secondly, I would align myself with Dr. McGrath in that YEC and ID are way, way outside the mainstream in academic circles. YEC is, quite frankly, beyond ridiculous. I know there are some biology PhD's who identify themselves with YEC, but I'm still not sure how or why. Let's be frank, biology is absolutely 100% the study of evolution, and to separate the two is ridiculous in the highest sense of the word. Biology as an academic pursuit becomes nonsensical upon the denial of evolution. Think about it, when you turn on your radio, you hear sound. When you put gasoline in your car, it burns and makes your car go. The physical and chemical realities of this world are well established and known and can be exploited to the benefit (or detriment) of humankind. Yet, when the biologist applies those same principles to explain the existence of life on this planet, apparently everything we know about our physical reality breaks down. Is it that simple? Scientists are right about this and this and this and this, but evolution, oh, know way, not that! Really? Evolution is built on the back of all those other scientific disciplines that people accept without hesitation. I would suggest that next time a YEC believer goes to the Doctor, they should think twice about taking any drug that the doctor prescribes; because if you really believe what you believe, then everything used to establish the validity and efficacy of the drug you've been prescribed is total bullocks (in your opinion, whether you know it or not). With regards to ID, I'll keep it short. If one has already submitted to the fact that the 6-day creation is no longer literal, then why does one need to fabricate a mechanism of how God could still do bursts of spontaneous molecular creation? I don't mind saying God created all that we know and have, and I don't mind saying that I have no idea if he may have manipulated the process here and there (using the laws of nature), these are questions outside of scientific debate, but evolution is sufficient (though not exhaustive…yet) in its explanation for the origin and state of life on earth and irrefutable in its evidence. If condescension and dismissal comes across in Dr. McGrath's posts, it is probably because he (like me) is exhausted from YEC'ers dismissing the vast amount of evidence right in front of their face. For me personally, I believe YEC has done an incredible amount of damage to the integrity of Christianity. If the point of the Christian is to "reach" the world that doesn't believe in Christ; insisting on the veracity of a 6-day creation is a really, really dumb way to go about it. Thus, a little righteous anger (and condescension) may be due…delivered with utmost love, of course. :-)

  • Anonymous

    @McGrath: You said, "Anyone can cite a scholar, perhaps even a few, in favor of their viewpoint. But picking and choosing a few fringe individuals doesn't justify the problematic practice of choosing scholars that say what you want to hear, tickle your ears, as the New Testament warns about, instead of taking seriously that the majority of experts have been persuaded by the evidence to reach a different opinion."So fact/truth are determined by majority vote now? How many is enough? And can we disgard historical lessons of the majority being wrong, sometimes for extended periods of time? And can you again lightly dismiss all who disagree with you as "fringe", even after I asked you not to brush them off as not real scientists? Who is it that really has itching ears, if not the elitists with reputations and careers to defend at all costs? @JJ: I'm no newbie to the biological issues, and neither you nor McGrath can just brush off all the qualified, credentialed scientists who reject evo. But the important issue is sound reasoning and the inclusion of ALL facts. There have been efforts by evos to use the courts to demand that all data not supportive of evo be excluded from science curricula. Does that sound like science— or politics? Even religious zeal? Again, painting all YECs with the same broad brush is the sort of rhetoric and unscientific dogma I've come to expect from evos.continued below…

  • Anonymous

    The "think about it" issues are EMPIRICAL science, not theoretical or philosophical as evo is. Nobody disputes the laws of physics or genetics— except the theory of evo when it employes the fallacy of "special pleading" for its numerous patches. The biologist does NOT require evo theory to do research, but only an understanding of what PRESENTLY is. Evo is a religious philosophy, not an empiricle science, and it is high time that elitists come to grips with that distinction. Evo cannot be observed or repeated in the lab; please note that in thousands of generations of fruit fly mutations they remained fruit flies to the end.Evo is not empirical science, and is thus not irrefutable. It is ONE interpretation of what might be or have been; the true scientist would not say otherwise. And it cannot be falsified, because every new discovery (such as dino blood cells) is explained away and a few zeros added or removed from the old dates, whereas a real scientific theory would take such facts as having disproved the theory and a new theory would be proposed. But not so with evo; it is held to be true with great blind faith that future discoveries will solve today's mysteries. And any real scientist will admit, at least in hushed tones so as not to be blacklisted by those who dare to "come out", that an unfalsifiable theory is not scientific.I too am exhausted with such sophomoric and fallacious excuses for a religious philosophy masquerading as science, thus my intolerance for evo condescension.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Anonymous (I cannot tell if there is more than one person who so identified themselves, sorry), I recently addressed the issue of changing consensus and approaching truth. Here is a link.Can experts be wrong? Certainly. Is some random person who really wants them to be and so dissents more likely to be correct? Obviously not. And so unless one is actually a scientist engaged in research oneself, the best one can do is go with the consensus. Not surprisingly, most Christians are perfectly happy to point to a consensus when we like what the consensus view is.

  • jj

    Sigh. Anonymous, I don't think it is my rightful place to Usurp Dr. McGrath's blog, so I'll end it with this comment. First, I would again recommend the Biologos website to address specifics. With regards to evolution, it is a theory in the exact same context that gravity is a theory, namely in that it is "a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena." Yes, it really is as well accepted and established as gravity (in the mainstream, at least, and that includes the vast majority of biologists who are also Christians). The results of our experiments make sense in the context of evolution. I also would be very hesitant to say that evolution cannot be observed in the lab, that may depend on what your calling evolution. You're not going to see a fruit fly change into another type of bug in the lab in our lifetime, but mechanisms which lead one to predict that a fly could change into another species have been observed. I might agree more with the statement that speciation hasn't been observed in the lab, but even that may be wrong; and certainly modern genetics strongly supports macroevolution (if you haven't done so, please read "The Language of God" by Francis Collins). Evolution as a theory is most certianly falsifiable. When somebody does a repeatable experiment that confirms evolution could not have happened then evolution will be dropped from your kids textbook, I assure you. This has yet to occur, and in fact the opposite so far is the case (its not to say that our understanding of it doesn't change with time, certainly ideas of evolutionary mechanisms are always being debated). Additionally, evolutionary theory forms a very clear basis for the formation of experimental hypotheses (when saying we don't require evo theory–without it we could waste a lot more time doing unnecessary experiments). —continued—

  • jj

    continued:Third, don't be too persuaded by Ken Hamm, etc., in thinking that evolution is a religious philosophy. There may be some who try to use it as such (and the YEC crowd loves to claim as much). However, to invoke it as religion is to ascribe evolution as having a purpose or providing a world view, which would make a thoughtful scientist bristle. The YEC crowd preaches evolution as a religion because they don't seem to understand it (and frightenly, some of these people earn a healthy income by their propping up YEC…good God, this is money that could be used to feed the poor!). Even Darwin warned against social interpretations of Evolution (its not to say evolution hasn't shaped culture or behavior, it has, but it should not be used as an excuse to behave in one way or another). Evolution merely explains the patterns we see in nature, and do you know what the main pattern is…we're all going to die, and some of us more miserably than others! Evolution is amoral and ruthless; and uses death as it's primary modus operandi (alas, the major extent of my Latin is spent). Thankfully, as a Christian, I believe there is Light at the end of the tunnel. There is an escape from evolution, and an escape from my pride.Lastly, I found your earlier comment of having your fill of elitism especially ironic. There are literally millions upon millions of pages of scientific data from virtually every scientific field that collectively support the theory of evolution (keep in mind the correct definition of the word "theory"). The YEC devotee is in effect saying, without so much as looking at more than a few pages of that data (in most cases), "sorry, you're wrong." With a vast sweep of a mere opinion they singlehandedly wipe out thousands upon thousands of careers of people who have spent a good part of their lives in a field of scientific study, only to be told by a YEC that, in effect, "you wasted your time, you have no idea what you're talking about." Who is elitist? I would hope that whatever your career choice is, I would respect the fact that your more of an expert in your field than I am. In any case, I'll end this discussion here. When you can give me a testable hypothesis in support of creation "science", that would be noteworthy enough to maybe revisit this topic on Dr. McGrath's blog. Until then, I desist.

  • Anonymous

    Hey James, I have been following your blog for a few months now and enjoy reading your posts. Also, I commend you on what seems to be an honest and critical evaluation of the historical Jesus; a topic which far too often results in defensive shouting matches within an ultra conservative religious framework. I was wondering if you could recommend a couple of books on the historical Jesus which you find most intellectually rewarding for a layman like myself. I have read a couple of books regarding this topic and would like to continue to learn more. Perhaps two books you find accurate and insightful, yet with slightly different conclusions regarding the historical evidence we have available regarding the "true" nature of what Jesus may have been like. Thanks!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    jj, defending reputable science in the face of misinformed detractors is something central to this blog and so you are welcome to do so any time you feel like it. It won't bu usurpation but support, and will be much appreciated, since repeating the same points in response to claims that have been answered and debunked countless times before gets tiring, and so I'll take all the help I can get to share the workload! :-)Anonymous, a lot depends on what you've read before, as far as recommendations go. But Dale Allison's new book is definitely a good one, at the cutting edge of current discussions. For something that takes a different approach to his you might try Marcus Borg, or perhaps the book in which Borg and Wright engage one another in friendly conversation and explain their differences from one another, which would give you a total of 3 viewpoints. But again, a lot depends on whether you want more focus on how to study Jesus as a historical figure or more focus on details and conclusions, etc. So feel free to share more about your interests if the few that I have suggested don't sound like what you are looking for.(There's also a recent IVP volume which presents multiple views and conversation between their proponents).

  • Anonymous

    James, thanks for the quick reply. I am really excited about the recommendations you gave me; they pretty much cover all of what I am looking for right now. I was once a conservative and quite sheltered Christian, but would consider myself an agnostic I guess right now. A lot of doubts accumulated for me over time over various issues. More specifically, I am trying to figure out how one should view the law/works in order to attain salvation in addition to the doctrine of the trinity within in a Christian worldview. I don't really know if I could ever accept Christianity again but we'll see! However, I still thoroughly enjoy the pursuit of knowledge even if I can't come to any conclusions. Thanks again, and go Hoosiers! (I attend IU right now, not too far to the south of you in Butler country)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Anonymous, maybe you can make it to Butler on February 3rd. We're going to be having Chris Keith to campus to talk about whether Jesus is likely to have been literate, which should be interesting! More details will follow here between now and then.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10666074795187377455 JoeWallack

    JM:"But the truth is you have sought out MacDonald because he says what you want some expert to say, or be capable of being interpreted to say, and not because you have investigated other scholarly works (such as Richard Burridge, who sees the Greek Bioi as the closest parallel genre to that of the Gospels) and found them wanting."JW:I've demonstrated here:http://www.amazon.com/What-Are-Gospels-Comparison-Graeco-Roman/product-reviews/0802809715/ref=cm_cr_pr_hist_1?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints;=0&filterBy;=addOneStarthat Burridge is guilty of the same pseudo-science that you keep accusing MJ of.I sympathize with your detailed analysis of MJ which you have been goaded into. I will now attempt to prophesy, which if correct, will give me one more correct prophesy, than John the Baptist, whom "Mark's" Jesus described was the greatest prophet of all time, had in his entire career:1) In response to begging/whining, you will give a response to MJ.2) MJ will respond that you did not give a detailed response.3) You will give a detailed response.4) MJ will respond that you did not give it proper attention.5) You will give it proper attention.6) MJ will respond that you were not objective.7) …Once you have gotten this out of your system how about doing something useful like reviewing "What Are The Gospels?" yourself (you can start out by saying I did not give it proper attention).Based on your recent posts I have Faith that per "Mark's" Jesus, you are not afraid. If you want to posture that "Mark" has some witness source you need to champion that it has some/alot/all Greco-Roman Biography genre. Instead of just throwing it out there as something for others to hurdle you should be the one evaluating it since you are the one getting paid to do it.Joseph

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