Lessons in Pseudoscholarly “Logic”: The Argument from Lack of Authority

The “argument from authority” is a well-known logical fallacy which involves citing an expert as though appeal to the opinion of any one such qualified individual could, on its own, settle the matter.

Mythicists, in my experience, are notorious for appealing to authority. as long as one can find a historian who penned a sentence which, taken out of context, seems to support mythicism, or a New Testament scholar who says something that mythicists agree with, they will be appealed to, even though mythicists reject their most central conclusions, not to mention the whole scholarly enterprise of which they are a part.

To make matters more ironic, however, mythicists will sometimes then go on to object to those who embrace mainstream scholarship, calling that, i.e. reference to the scholarly consensus, an appeal to authority!

It is not an appeal to authority to make reference to the work of other scholars, nor to take for granted a consensus unless one is offering a detailed scholarly challenge to it. Without such footnoting and building upon what has already been done, not only could scholarship not progress, but blog comments would have to be filled with endless citations going beyond the limits of fair use. Finding out what the consensus of experts is, and why it is what it is, is something to be encouraged. The consensus of experts can be wrong, but that doesn’t mean that they are more likely to be wrong than their internet critics.

I think those mythicists who do the things I mentioned above are simply confused. Lack of authority does not become a virtue simply because appeal to authority is a logical fallacy.

As I have explained before on more than one occasion, scholarship works by scholars seeking to discover and explain new things on the one hand, and the community of scholars critically examining and evaluating those new proposals on the other. If you find a scholar who has published something you agree with, congratulations: that means that someone with expertise has made a case for your viewpoint. But keep in mind that that does not mean that the case in question will bear close critical scrutiny and be found persuasive. In fact, given how academia works, keep in mind that it is possible the only reason the idea in question was floated at all was because of the quest for originality needed in order to get a PhD, or to publish rather than perish in the academy.

So, to recap: Lack of authority is not a virtue, just because being an authority doesn’t automatically make one right. A quote from Hobsbawm or Mack or anyone else does not prove that you (or he) is correct about a point, particularly if the quote does not reflect a scholarly consensus (or has been mined and taken out of context, for that matter). And if you’ve ever said “But what about [insert scholar's name here]?” then please have the courtesy to not hypocritically accuse your conversation partner of appealing to authority.

Appealing to the consensus of authorities is legitimate, in most circumstances, and the fact that someone without expertise thinks they have the most brilliant argument which demolishes the scholarly consensus does not mean that the consensus is wrong. Even scholars sometimes think they have a profound insight that will turn their field upside-down. Most of the times when we think this, we are wrong. How much more, then, are those who are not even working in academic research likely to be wrong, when they make such claims?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    And as so often happens in the blogosphere, here’s a related post at Biologos on denialism.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    And as so often happens in the blogosphere, here’s a related post at Biologos on denialism.

  • http://www.messianicmistakes.com/ Kenneth Greifer

    I think the problem isn’t pseudo-scholarship, but pseudo-scholarly subjects that can be understood many different ways like the New Testament. How do you know if it was written by a bunch of ancient crackpots and pseudo-scholars? Maybe in 2000 years real scholars will get PhD’s studying Earl Doherty’s ancient books? What you think isn’t worth scholarly study today might be a big scholarly subject in the future. I don’t personally care about Earl Doherty’s ideas or mythicism. I just get tired of hearing scholars talking about real scholarship compared to pseudo-scholarship when their subjects  themselves might be fake. Maybe you are a real scholar of a fake subject. Which is worse?

    Kenneth Greifer

  • http://www.messianicmistakes.com/ Kenneth Greifer

    I think the problem isn’t pseudo-scholarship, but pseudo-scholarly subjects that can be understood many different ways like the New Testament. How do you know if it was written by a bunch of ancient crackpots and pseudo-scholars? Maybe in 2000 years real scholars will get PhD’s studying Earl Doherty’s ancient books? What you think isn’t worth scholarly study today might be a big scholarly subject in the future. I don’t personally care about Earl Doherty’s ideas or mythicism. I just get tired of hearing scholars talking about real scholarship compared to pseudo-scholarship when their subjects  themselves might be fake. Maybe you are a real scholar of a fake subject. Which is worse?

    Kenneth Greifer

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @The reason why historians have developed the tools of historical-critical study is precisely to answer such questions, to the extent that it is possible. Our knowledge of the past is by definition uncertain and provisional, but seeking the best possible answer by means of critical study still seems a far better alternative to everyone just picking what to believe based on their own preferences, with no constraints of evidence or critical thinking.

    • Geoff Hudson

      “seeking the best possible answer by means of critical study still seems a far better alternative to everyone just picking what to believe based on their own preferences, with no constraints of evidence or critical thinking.”

      Don’t we all in the end fall back on our own preferances.  One person’s critical thinking is lack of logic to another.  And what do we take as evidence?  Even archaeological artifacts can be misinterpreted. Texts are worse.  Finds such as the ‘dead sea’ scrolls’ are invaluable, but what a fine mess the scholars have made of those. As for scholars thinking ‘outside the box’ I find very little of that.   

      • Geoff Hudson

        I include “Vridar” among those who cannot or refuse to think ‘outside the box’.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @The reason why historians have developed the tools of historical-critical study is precisely to answer such questions, to the extent that it is possible. Our knowledge of the past is by definition uncertain and provisional, but seeking the best possible answer by means of critical study still seems a far better alternative to everyone just picking what to believe based on their own preferences, with no constraints of evidence or critical thinking.

    • Geoff Hudson

      “seeking the best possible answer by means of critical study still seems a far better alternative to everyone just picking what to believe based on their own preferences, with no constraints of evidence or critical thinking.”

      Don’t we all in the end fall back on our own preferances.  One person’s critical thinking is lack of logic to another.  And what do we take as evidence?  Even archaeological artifacts can be misinterpreted. Texts are worse.  Finds such as the ‘dead sea’ scrolls’ are invaluable, but what a fine mess the scholars have made of those. As for scholars thinking ‘outside the box’ I find very little of that.   

      • Geoff Hudson

        I include “Vridar” among those who cannot or refuse to think ‘outside the box’.

  • Anonymous

    I think this post goes wide of the mark, but it does make some points that I find critically important and that I wish to endorse.

    First, the argument from authority is clearly a fallacy and, as such, is not really an argument at all. From your link I see that:

    “But it is still possible for highly educated individuals, and a broad
    consensus to be wrong – speaking from authority does not make a claim
    true.”

    So you mis-state the essence of the fallacy when you state that it “involves citing an expert as though appeal to the opinion of any one
    such qualified individual could, on its own, settle the matter.

    So to be clear, from your reference the argument from authority can certainly be to the consensus of scholars as much as it is to one authority, I would think.

    Since the argument from authority as it regards the consensus of scholars is a fallacy, then the argument from lack of consensus and lack of authority would also be a fallacy.

    The whole purpose of identifying fallacies is to get scholars and educated people to stop using them.

    However, there is a difference when one is making an argument. It is certainly possible to make a new argument that has not been argued before, but if one does so, one will be scolded if one doesn’t support that argument with the opinions of others who have previously thought deeply on a given subject.

    Of course it is possible to give a precis of Newtonian mechanics without discussing Newton or to give a bullet point description of gene flow without discussing Darwin, but the correct scholarly courtesy is to give credit to ideas as they develop from the first to put them forth, and to quote those people’s best work in support of it.

    So when D.F. Strauss in Das Leben Jesu says,

    Origen classes together, and in no ambiguous language, the partially fabulous stories of profane history, and of heathen mythology, with the gospel narratives. He expresses himself as follows: “In almost every history it is a difficult task, and not unfrequently an impossible one, to demonstrate the reality of the events recorded, however true they may in fact be. Let us suppose some individual to deny the account of the Trojan war on account of the incredibilities mixed up with the history; as, for example, the birth of Achilles from a goddess of the sea. How could we substantiate the fact, encumbered as it is with the numerous and undeniable poetical fictions which have, in some unascertainable manner, become interwoven with the generally admitted account of the war between the Greeks and the Trojans? There is no alternative: he who would study history with some understanding, and not suffer himself deluded, must weigh each separate detail and consider what is worthy of credit and may be believed without further evidence; what, on the contrary, must be regarded as merely figurative; always bearing in mind the aim of the narrator, — and what must be wholly mistrusted as being written with intent to please certain individuals.”

    Now Strauss is certainly quoting an authority here. But he is giving a lengthy excerpt that certainly conveys the gist of what Origen’s idea was in toto so it would be hard to say he was quote-mining.

    Therefore it must be possible to cite a scholar without committing a fallacy and that would happen when the author of whatever work is being written quotes a scholar’s main idea and then enlarges on it, or builds on it to allow greater understanding, or uses the idea contained therein to help create an idea that may not inhere to the original quote, or simply use the quote as a capsule summary of a well-understood idea.

    In any of the above situations, I would say that the complaints raised ahove would be invalid.

  • beallen0417

    I think this post goes wide of the mark, but it does make some points that I find critically important and that I wish to endorse.

    First, the argument from authority is clearly a fallacy and, as such, is not really an argument at all. From your link I see that:

    “But it is still possible for highly educated individuals, and a broad
    consensus to be wrong – speaking from authority does not make a claim
    true.”

    So you mis-state the essence of the fallacy when you state that it “involves citing an expert as though appeal to the opinion of any one
    such qualified individual could, on its own, settle the matter.

    So to be clear, from your reference the argument from authority can certainly be to the consensus of scholars as much as it is to one authority, I would think.

    Since the argument from authority as it regards the consensus of scholars is a fallacy, then the argument from lack of consensus and lack of authority would also be a fallacy.

    The whole purpose of identifying fallacies is to get scholars and educated people to stop using them.

    However, there is a difference when one is making an argument. It is certainly possible to make a new argument that has not been argued before, but if one does so, one will be scolded if one doesn’t support that argument with the opinions of others who have previously thought deeply on a given subject.

    Of course it is possible to give a precis of Newtonian mechanics without discussing Newton or to give a bullet point description of gene flow without discussing Darwin, but the correct scholarly courtesy is to give credit to ideas as they develop from the first to put them forth, and to quote those people’s best work in support of it.

    So when D.F. Strauss in Das Leben Jesu says,

    Origen classes together, and in no ambiguous language, the partially fabulous stories of profane history, and of heathen mythology, with the gospel narratives. He expresses himself as follows: “In almost every history it is a difficult task, and not unfrequently an impossible one, to demonstrate the reality of the events recorded, however true they may in fact be. Let us suppose some individual to deny the account of the Trojan war on account of the incredibilities mixed up with the history; as, for example, the birth of Achilles from a goddess of the sea. How could we substantiate the fact, encumbered as it is with the numerous and undeniable poetical fictions which have, in some unascertainable manner, become interwoven with the generally admitted account of the war between the Greeks and the Trojans? There is no alternative: he who would study history with some understanding, and not suffer himself deluded, must weigh each separate detail and consider what is worthy of credit and may be believed without further evidence; what, on the contrary, must be regarded as merely figurative; always bearing in mind the aim of the narrator, — and what must be wholly mistrusted as being written with intent to please certain individuals.”

    Now Strauss is certainly quoting an authority here. But he is giving a lengthy excerpt that certainly conveys the gist of what Origen’s idea was in toto so it would be hard to say he was quote-mining.

    Therefore it must be possible to cite a scholar without committing a fallacy and that would happen when the author of whatever work is being written quotes a scholar’s main idea and then enlarges on it, or builds on it to allow greater understanding, or uses the idea contained therein to help create an idea that may not inhere to the original quote, or simply uses the quote as a capsule summary of a well-understood idea.

    In any of the above situations, I would say that the complaints raised ahove would be invalid.

  • Guest

    Wot?

  • Guest

    Wot?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Geoff Hudson, in critical scholarship, time and time again you will see people change their minds in light of amassing evidence or convincing arguments. It is incredibly encouraging when compared to the dogmatism to which we as human beings a so prone.

    • Geoff Hudson

      James, I see little hope of a scholar like Barbara Levick changing her mind.  She is an Oxford scholar who wrote a book on Vespasian (Routledge, 1999).  She pretended to cover her back in her high-minded Introduction. 

      “Last, the problem of disentangling the ‘story’ from the stories. (sounds familiar!) We may put theoretical scruples aside and claim that we manage even our daily lives under the same dependence on others’ representations, though they do not involve the cultural gulfs created by the lapse of two thousand years, to be bridged only by strenuous efforts of the imagination; but there is a thick layer of propaganda that obscures the truth about the Jewish War, the Year of the Four Emporers, and the entire reign.  Contemporary information concerning the War and the Flavian coup comes from Josephus, a disingenuous source …”

      Now having made the reader aware of the problem you would have thought  that she would have followed this with a critique of the writings attributed to “Josephus” wherever she sees fit to quote him.  Not a bit of it. She proceeds to quote those writings literally with very little in the way of comment, throughout her book. Can you see the problem? We appear to be stuck with a history which is patently not true.    

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Geoff Hudson, in critical scholarship, time and time again you will see people change their minds in light of amassing evidence or convincing arguments. It is incredibly encouraging when compared to the dogmatism to which we as human beings a so prone.

    • Geoff Hudson

      James, I see little hope of a scholar like Barbara Levick changing her mind.  She is an Oxford scholar who wrote a book on Vespasian (Routledge, 1999).  She pretended to cover her back in her high-minded Introduction. 

      “Last, the problem of disentangling the ‘story’ from the stories. (sounds familiar!) We may put theoretical scruples aside and claim that we manage even our daily lives under the same dependence on others’ representations, though they do not involve the cultural gulfs created by the lapse of two thousand years, to be bridged only by strenuous efforts of the imagination; but there is a thick layer of propaganda that obscures the truth about the Jewish War, the Year of the Four Emporers, and the entire reign.  Contemporary information concerning the War and the Flavian coup comes from Josephus, a disingenuous source …”

      Now having made the reader aware of the problem you would have thought  that she would have followed this with a critique of the writings attributed to “Josephus” wherever she sees fit to quote him.  Not a bit of it. She proceeds to quote those writings literally with very little in the way of comment, throughout her book. Can you see the problem? We appear to be stuck with a history which is patently not true.    

  • Kris

    Here is a link with a better understand of what the fallacy of arguing from authority means- http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-authority.html

    It is perfectly acceptable to quote true experts in a field to make a point. 

    It is unacceptable to quote an expert outside his field though.  For example quoting Richard Dawkins on history.

  • Kris

    Here is a link with a better understand of what the fallacy of arguing from authority means- http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-authority.html

    It is perfectly acceptable to quote true experts in a field to make a point. 

    It is unacceptable to quote an expert outside his field though.  For example quoting Richard Dawkins on history.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    Oh you are a classic, McGrath. I won’t ask you to demonstrate how, for example, Doherty or anyone else you are thinking of in particular does indeed attempt to make their case by appealing to authority, as opposed to referencing an authority to demonstrate a wider support for a particular point in their argument, because I know you will simply not be able to do so. You fail to recognize you are discussing something that in your books should really be called an irregular verb:

    I make reference to a scholar’s work in order to demonstrate some broader support or a particular point I am making as part of my larger case;

    but . . . .

    You appeal to authority to prove your case.

    Which reminds me — Doherty posted a detailed argument not too long ago in response to you, and you appealed to the opinion of your peers (not their arguments) to reject his logic. No attempt on your part to refute his logic except by appeal to the authority of your guild.

    I have quoted several scholars who make a point that I have argued by logic, over several posts, paragraph by paragraph. I conclude with a shorthand reference to the conclusions I demonstrate and argue logically by quoting Hobsbawm and Schweitzer et al — not because I am appealing to their authority, but to show you I am not alone in my reasoning and arguments.

    Your response? To excuse yourself from addressing my arguments by mis-claiming I am appealing to authority.

    Let’s see you take on the real arguments for a change. Even in your “reviews” of Doherty — you know, really address what he actually says. Use the debating technique of restating your opponents arguments in the strongest manner possible and then show how you can demolish it with logic and evidence (not appeals to authority).

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    Oh you are a classic, McGrath. I won’t ask you to demonstrate how, for example, Doherty or anyone else you are thinking of in particular does indeed attempt to make their case by appealing to authority, as opposed to referencing an authority to demonstrate a wider support for a particular point in their argument, because I know you will simply not be able to do so. You fail to recognize you are discussing something that in your books should really be called an irregular verb:

    I make reference to a scholar’s work in order to demonstrate some broader support or a particular point I am making as part of my larger case;

    but . . . .

    You appeal to authority to prove your case.

    Which reminds me — Doherty posted a detailed argument not too long ago in response to you, and you appealed to the opinion of your peers (not their arguments) to reject his logic. No attempt on your part to refute his logic except by appeal to the authority of your guild.

    I have quoted several scholars who make a point that I have argued by logic, over several posts, paragraph by paragraph. I conclude with a shorthand reference to the conclusions I demonstrate and argue logically by quoting Hobsbawm and Schweitzer et al — not because I am appealing to their authority, but to show you I am not alone in my reasoning and arguments.

    Your response? To excuse yourself from addressing my arguments by mis-claiming I am appealing to authority.

    Let’s see you take on the real arguments for a change. Even in your “reviews” of Doherty — you know, really address what he actually says. Use the debating technique of restating your opponents arguments in the strongest manner possible and then show how you can demolish it with logic and evidence (not appeals to authority).

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Neil, just look at the comments on one of the recent posts about mythicism, and you can see who brought this up.

    In the past, you have done things like quote a sentence from Hobsbawm’s book but ignore the overall thrust of it, or quote a positive assessment of Doherty’s case from someone who had not read his web site, much less his books that were not out yet. If your point is that you quote mine while Evan is more the one who appeals to authority, that’s between the two of you. But I don’t think that the post is entirely irrelevant even in your case.

    In my review of Doherty’s book I have been focusing on what he actually wrote, and if you think I ought to put more forgiving of his unpersuasive arguments and dubious claims, I can only ask “Why?”

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      No McGrath, I quoted from Hobsbawm because the context was exactly a propos to the argument I had presented — and you totally missed the point of my use of the quotation by trying to twist it to address a point I never made at all. What Hobsbawm said about external controls was exactly my point and it was you who insisted I was saying something I never said. You never did respond to my request that you support your absurd straw men attacks against me by quoting my words.

      As for Stevan Davies — he said he had not read ALL of the 250,000 words and it was you who took his passage out of context because, unlike you, I had been following that Crosstalk discussion from its beginning, and Davies clearly did know much of Doherty’s argument from that discussion list and sections of the website — and if your implication that he had not read Doherty’s arguments was true then you are suggesting Davies is an outright fraud when he said what he did say about Doherty’s arguments.

      If I have misrepresented anything by quoting Hobsbawm or Davies then I demand you cite the proof — the quotations — or retract your falsehoods.

      • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

        I first raised the quotation of Hobsbawm in response to James Crossley’s use of Hobsbawm in his study of Christian origins. http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/contrasting-methods-of-nonbiblical-historians-with-jesus-historians/

        I questioned the applicability of Hobsbawms social-economic model in Crossley’s case, but went on to point to Hobsbawm’s very different approach to evidence from Crossley’s and others’. McGrath and Crossley et al believe that historical method is a matter of “digging beneath” the narrative of texts to find the historical core, if any. That is really only a particular form of literary analysis and not historical inquiry. If the source (text or oral) is all we have — even if it claims to be by an eyewitness (so say Slatta and Hobsbawm) — and if we have no external controls to appeal to, then we cannot have any certainty that it is historical at all, or that anything in the narrative has a historical basis.

        That is even used in courtrooms. A sole witness whose testimony cannot at any point by corroborated by external controls has no weight at all.

        Only in biblical studies is it a valid method.

        As for your nonsense about Stevan Davies not knowing what he was talking about when he said some very positive things about Doherty, I have replied to that elsewhere and one only has to read what Davies himself said, or even contact him and ask him. http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/correcting-some-misunderstandings-of-james-mcgrath/

        The possibility of Jesus being an apocryphal figure is not looney, unless McGrath is calling Thomas L. Thompson, Hector Avalos, Stevan Davies, and several presenters at the 2008 Amherst conference loonies. No, I am not saying they all believe Jesus was apocryphal, but they are prepared to discuss the possibility seriously.
        http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/scholars-addressing-jesus-myth-studies-richard-carriers-reviews/

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Neil, just look at the comments on one of the recent posts about mythicism, and you can see who brought this up.

    In the past, you have done things like quote a sentence from Hobsbawm’s book but ignore the overall thrust of it, or quote a positive assessment of Doherty’s case from someone who had not read his web site, much less his books that were not out yet. If your point is that you quote mine while Evan is more the one who appeals to authority, that’s between the two of you. But I don’t think that the post is entirely irrelevant even in your case.

    In my review of Doherty’s book I have been focusing on what he actually wrote, and if you think I ought to put more forgiving of his unpersuasive arguments and dubious claims, I can only ask “Why?”

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      No McGrath, I quoted from Hobsbawm because the context was exactly a propos to the argument I had presented — and you totally missed the point of my use of the quotation by trying to twist it to address a point I never made at all. What Hobsbawm said about external controls was exactly my point and it was you who insisted I was saying something I never said. You never did respond to my request that you support your absurd straw men attacks against me by quoting my words.

      As for Stevan Davies — he said he had not read ALL of the 250,000 words and it was you who took his passage out of context because, unlike you, I had been following that Crosstalk discussion from its beginning, and Davies clearly did know much of Doherty’s argument from that discussion list and sections of the website — and if your implication that he had not read Doherty’s arguments was true then you are suggesting Davies is an outright fraud when he said what he did say about Doherty’s arguments.

      If I have misrepresented anything by quoting Hobsbawm or Davies then I demand you cite the proof — the quotations — or retract your falsehoods.

      • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

        I first raised the quotation of Hobsbawm in response to James Crossley’s use of Hobsbawm in his study of Christian origins. http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/contrasting-methods-of-nonbiblical-historians-with-jesus-historians/

        I questioned the applicability of Hobsbawms social-economic model in Crossley’s case, but went on to point to Hobsbawm’s very different approach to evidence from Crossley’s and others’. McGrath and Crossley et al believe that historical method is a matter of “digging beneath” the narrative of texts to find the historical core, if any. That is really only a particular form of literary analysis and not historical inquiry. If the source (text or oral) is all we have — even if it claims to be by an eyewitness (so say Slatta and Hobsbawm) — and if we have no external controls to appeal to, then we cannot have any certainty that it is historical at all, or that anything in the narrative has a historical basis.

        That is even used in courtrooms. A sole witness whose testimony cannot at any point by corroborated by external controls has no weight at all.

        Only in biblical studies is it a valid method.

        As for your nonsense about Stevan Davies not knowing what he was talking about when he said some very positive things about Doherty, I have replied to that elsewhere and one only has to read what Davies himself said, or even contact him and ask him. http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/correcting-some-misunderstandings-of-james-mcgrath/

        The possibility of Jesus being an apocryphal figure is not looney, unless McGrath is calling Thomas L. Thompson, Hector Avalos, Stevan Davies, and several presenters at the 2008 Amherst conference loonies. No, I am not saying they all believe Jesus was apocryphal, but they are prepared to discuss the possibility seriously.
        http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/scholars-addressing-jesus-myth-studies-richard-carriers-reviews/

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @f3a85ef3587d266dd38f72f6413e00d6:disqus  Rather than discuss specific cases where I am not sufficiently familiar with a scholar and their work to do so, let me just say that it is certainly true that scholars are prone to bias, just like every other human being. That’s the whole reason why one should look to see what the consensus is, if there is one, and not just go with a lone voice. It may in time be shown that the lone voice was right and the majority was wrong, but that tends to be the exception rather than the rule.

    The quote from Levick seems to me to reflect a viewpoint that historians on the whole are shifting towards: we need to note the biases of our sources, but we cannot either do without them or somehow see events that they report other than through their biased eyes.

    The recognition of this is reflected in the realm of historical Jesus studies in some of the recent publications of Dale Allison, Anthony Le Donne, Chris Keith and others.

    On my old blog site, I actually had a discussion of this, and emphasized that, as important as the aforementioned insight is, if we stop making the effort to critically sift through a source’s details and assess their authenticity, we’ve ceased to do critical history.

    Not having read Levick’s book, I can’t comment on specifics. But the overall tone of the quote seems to fit with the trend in historical study that I mentioned. I think it both has an important insight and some serious potential pitfalls.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @f3a85ef3587d266dd38f72f6413e00d6:disqus  Rather than discuss specific cases where I am not sufficiently familiar with a scholar and their work to do so, let me just say that it is certainly true that scholars are prone to bias, just like every other human being. That’s the whole reason why one should look to see what the consensus is, if there is one, and not just go with a lone voice. It may in time be shown that the lone voice was right and the majority was wrong, but that tends to be the exception rather than the rule.

    The quote from Levick seems to me to reflect a viewpoint that historians on the whole are shifting towards: we need to note the biases of our sources, but we cannot either do without them or somehow see events that they report other than through their biased eyes.

    The recognition of this is reflected in the realm of historical Jesus studies in some of the recent publications of Dale Allison, Anthony Le Donne, Chris Keith and others.

    On my old blog site, I actually had a discussion of this, and emphasized that, as important as the aforementioned insight is, if we stop making the effort to critically sift through a source’s details and assess their authenticity, we’ve ceased to do critical history.

    Not having read Levick’s book, I can’t comment on specifics. But the overall tone of the quote seems to fit with the trend in historical study that I mentioned. I think it both has an important insight and some serious potential pitfalls.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath
  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath
  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Neil, so your point is that those who deny that Jesus existed are loony, and the difference among scholars amounts to how it is appropriate to interact with those who are loony? If not, then I do not see how citing scholars who do not find mythicism persuasive, and scholars who consider it but whose field is not even early Christianity or the period in which it emerged, makes any point that is favorable to mythicism’s scholarly merit.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Neil, so your point is that those who deny that Jesus existed are loony, and the difference among scholars amounts to how it is appropriate to interact with those who are loony? If not, then I do not see how citing scholars who do not find mythicism persuasive, and scholars who consider it but whose field is not even early Christianity or the period in which it emerged, makes any point that is favorable to mythicism’s scholarly merit.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Neil, if that is the first time you quoted Hobsbawm, and you derived the quote from Slatta’s article, that might explain why you misunderstood him. Perhaps if you read the rest of his book, it will help you understand why I don’t think what he wrote supports your case.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Neil, if that is the first time you quoted Hobsbawm, and you derived the quote from Slatta’s article, that might explain why you misunderstood him. Perhaps if you read the rest of his book, it will help you understand why I don’t think what he wrote supports your case.

  • Kris

    Neil

    If you want people to take the Jesus Myth seriously do the following:

    1.) Decide among yourselves how the argument will work. 

    So far We have been told the following:

    a.) Jesus was Emperor Titus

    b.) Jesus was Julius Caesar

    c.) Jesus was a copy of a Pagan deity 

    d.) Jesus was a giant Midrash

    e.) Maybe a new breathtaking possibility.

    Because those tend to be mutual contradictory and outsiders might conclude, bullshit. It also means your side acts like a bunch of rats in a cage.

    Now once your side has determined which version is the one true Christless Christianity you will publish your articles in reputable sources.

    The following are not reputable sources.

    a.) Your own journals that just incestuously quote each other

    b.) Online is not considered a journal

    c.) Atheist Press and Prometheus Press   are not considered reputable book publishing companies. Try Yale.

    d.) The National Enquirer is not a reputable publishing firm since Weekly World News went out of business.

    Once your have published your ideas in reputable forums you will accept academic criticism instead of claiming that there is a vast Christian conspiracy to destroy your ideas. You will quit insisting non Christians  who oppose you are secretly part of a cabal of Christians are simply being intimated by the Vatican.

    The following is advised.

    1.) Stop associating with Christ Mythers who are also Holocaust Deniers. It just makes your side look even more silly.

    2.) Explaining to outsides why your methods are different then those of the birthers, truthers, holocaust deniers etc who academia also does not have a lot of scholarly patience for .

    Pigs will fly before Neil and his ilk does this.

  • Kris

    Neil

    If you want people to take the Jesus Myth seriously do the following:

    1.) Decide among yourselves how the argument will work. 

    So far We have been told the following:

    a.) Jesus was Emperor Titus

    b.) Jesus was Julius Caesar

    c.) Jesus was a copy of a Pagan deity 

    d.) Jesus was a giant Midrash

    e.) Maybe a new breathtaking possibility.

    Because those tend to be mutual contradictory and outsiders might conclude, bullshit. It also means your side acts like a bunch of rats in a cage.

    Now once your side has determined which version is the one true Christless Christianity you will publish your articles in reputable sources.

    The following are not reputable sources.

    a.) Your own journals that just incestuously quote each other

    b.) Online is not considered a journal

    c.) Atheist Press and Prometheus Press   are not considered reputable book publishing companies. Try Yale.

    d.) The National Enquirer is not a reputable publishing firm since Weekly World News went out of business.

    Once your have published your ideas in reputable forums you will accept academic criticism instead of claiming that there is a vast Christian conspiracy to destroy your ideas. You will quit insisting non Christians  who oppose you are secretly part of a cabal of Christians are simply being intimated by the Vatican.

    The following is advised.

    1.) Stop associating with Christ Mythers who are also Holocaust Deniers. It just makes your side look even more silly.

    2.) Explaining to outsides why your methods are different then those of the birthers, truthers, holocaust deniers etc who academia also does not have a lot of scholarly patience for .

    Pigs will fly before Neil and his ilk does this.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    For those who are interested, I just posted my blog entry about chapter 7 of Doherty’s book.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    For those who are interested, I just posted my blog entry about chapter 7 of Doherty’s book.

  • beallen0417

    Dr. McGrath, it strikes me you have found a comfortable position here. If someone doubts the historicity of Jesus on general grounds, without interacting with the historical scholarship, you can accuse them of dilettantism and ignorance. This was your position for a while, I can recall it.

    However, if someone interacts with, quotes and analyzes historical scholarship but comes to conclusions different from yours, you can now accuse them of quote-mining.

    Several studies have shown that in certain circumstances groups are worse than individuals at finding facts, especially when there are multiple possible outcomes for a given question, and clearly the consensus of experts can at times be flawed. 

    So I disagree with the main thrust of this post which is that it is not a fallacy to argue from the consensus of experts. Do you have any data to back up your claim?

    So what evidence could show that the gospels are fictional documents? What arguments could be made for someone who doubts Jesus’ historicity that would be valid?

    If there are none — you lack a scientific hypothesis.

    • Matt Brown

      You can’t use the scientific method in light of the historical method

  • Anonymous

    Dr. McGrath, it strikes me you have found a comfortable position here. If someone doubts the historicity of Jesus on general grounds, without interacting with the historical scholarship, you can accuse them of dilettantism and ignorance. This was your position for a while, I can recall it.

    However, if someone interacts with, quotes and analyzes historical scholarship but comes to conclusions different from yours, you can now accuse them of quote-mining.

    Several studies have shown that in certain circumstances groups are worse than individuals at finding facts, especially when there are multiple possible outcomes for a given question, and clearly the consensus of experts can at times be flawed. 

    So I disagree with the main thrust of this post which is that it is not a fallacy to argue from the consensus of experts. Do you have any data to back up your claim?

    So what evidence could show that the gospels are fictional documents? What arguments could be made for someone who doubts Jesus’ historicity that would be valid?

    If there are none — you lack a scientific hypothesis.

  • Kris

    Beallen of course he lacks a scientific hypothesis, in case you forgot we are discussing history.

    You have still not told us what other alternative views in history you think academia is also suppressing.

    Read my link from Nizkor  that I posted earlier and it will explain who you abusing the fallacy from authority argument.

    It is okay to use authority that is relevant to the subject at hand. For example asking a dentist a question about cavities. However though that dentist is an authority on teeth, he is not necessarily an expert on say history so using him to argue a historical position would be the misuse of authority.

  • Kris

    Beallen of course he lacks a scientific hypothesis, in case you forgot we are discussing history.

    You have still not told us what other alternative views in history you think academia is also suppressing.

    Read my link from Nizkor  that I posted earlier and it will explain who you abusing the fallacy from authority argument.

    It is okay to use authority that is relevant to the subject at hand. For example asking a dentist a question about cavities. However though that dentist is an authority on teeth, he is not necessarily an expert on say history so using him to argue a historical position would be the misuse of authority.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Evan, there is always evidence that could force one to change their mind. An actual historical document by someone in the first century who describes how they invented Jesus might be the most clear cut. But there is also evidence which, at the very least, would make mythicism plausible. Evidence from newly-discovered early Christian texts that “brother(s) of the Lord” was a metaphorical term for Christian leader(s).

    I have never said that mythicism is inherently impossible. I have said that it only lacks evidence and logical arguments. Those are obviously important things, but if mythicists had them as support for their views, that would change the situation dramatically.

    History is by definition open to changing it’s conclusions in light of new evidence. The problem with mythicism has never been that it could not possibly be true even if we had different evidence. The problem with mythicism is that it doesn’t fit the evidence we have, and it’s proponents seem not to care.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Evan, there is always evidence that could force one to change their mind. An actual historical document by someone in the first century who describes how they invented Jesus might be the most clear cut. But there is also evidence which, at the very least, would make mythicism plausible. Evidence from newly-discovered early Christian texts that “brother(s) of the Lord” was a metaphorical term for Christian leader(s).

    I have never said that mythicism is inherently impossible. I have said that it only lacks evidence and logical arguments. Those are obviously important things, but if mythicists had them as support for their views, that would change the situation dramatically.

    History is by definition open to changing it’s conclusions in light of new evidence. The problem with mythicism has never been that it could not possibly be true even if we had different evidence. The problem with mythicism is that it doesn’t fit the evidence we have, and it’s proponents seem not to care.

  • newenglandsun

    That’s kind of like David Lataster citing Bart Ehrman. Or…this TorahofMessiah website I found defending adoptionism recommends James Dunn’s works even though he actually does believe in the Trinity. Go figure.


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