The Danger of Backfiring Skepticism

Skepticism ought to be about critical thinking. But it often ends up being something else, which is illustrated nicely in the latest cartoon by David Hayward:

It is a bit like the point made in Richard Beck’s recent blog post about scapegoating. Going against the flow, once looked down upon, is now highly appreciated in certain circles – so much so, that those who value skepticism may assume that they are being appropriately skeptical when they are not, or may jump on a fringe bandwagon just because that movement disagrees with the majority viewpoint.

But should true skepticism be what Don McLeroy calls “standing up to experts”? Clearly there are groups that go against the flow in all sorts of ways that seem to be the very antithesis of skepticism to those who have not bought into the fringe views in question: young-earth creationism and other forms of antievolutionism, the anti-vaccination movement, Holocaust denial, Jesus-mythicism, and the list could go on and on. These folks could certainly describe themselves accurately as “evolution skeptics” or “climate change skeptics” or whatever else. But the skepticism in question is not about the rigorous critical analysis of the evidence, but a choice to reject conclusions which are by no means sacrosanct, but are widely accepted precisely because they have been subjected to rigorous investigation and debate by those with the most relevant qualifications and experience, and despite the desire of all such scholars to draw distinctive conclusions, consensus has emerged because the evidence and logic point in a particular direction.

And so the danger inherent in skepticism is that when we value going against the flow more than the careful, critical investigation of evidence first and foremost by a community of people who dedicate their lives to the study of that area, we may end up badmouthing those whose work is in fact held to the highest standard with respect to needing to argue logically and provide evidence for conclusions, and opting instead for views whose logic and treatment of evidence does not even come close to that rigorous standard.

None of us has the time to investigate all matters as fully as we might like or ideally be able to. And so it is easy for someone to get a tiny bit of information about science, medicine, or history, and set themselves up in judgment over those whose professional pursuits have allowed them to devote years to studying the evidence and seeing the bigger picture. That wider spectrum of evidence and broader context may be crucial to drawing the right conclusion. And so, while some so-called skeptics may love to claim that it is a mere “argument from authority” when one points to the consensus of scientists or historians or other experts, in fact this fallaciously misconstrues what that logical fallacy is. And more than a century ago, William Clifford already addressed this aspect of evidentialism in his famous essay “The Ethics of Belief,” in which he wrote:

If a chemist tells me, who am no chemist, that a certain substance can be made by putting together other substances in certain proportions and subjecting them to a known process, I am quite justified in believing this upon his authority, unless I know anything against his character or his judgment. For his professional training is one which tends to encourage veracity and the honest pursuit of truth, and to produce a dislike of hasty conclusions and slovenly investigation. And I have reasonable ground for supposing that he knows the truth of what he is saying, for although I am no chemist, I can be made to understand so much of the methods and processes of the science as makes it conceivable to me that, without ceasing to be man, I might verify the statement. I may never actually verify it, or even see any experiment which goes towards verifying it; but still I have quite reason enough to justify me in believing that the verification is within the reach of human appliances and powers, and in particular that it has been actually performed by my informant. His result, the belief to which he has been led by his inquiries, is valid not only for himself but for others; it is watched and tested by those who are working in the same ground, and who know that no greater service can be rendered to science than the purification of accepted results from the errors which may have crept into them. It is in this way that the result becomes common property, a right object of belief, which is a social affair and matter of public business. Thus it is to be observed that his authority is valid because there are those who question it and verify it; that it is precisely this process of examining and purifying that keeps alive among investigators the love of that which shall stand all possible tests, the sense of public responsibility as of those whose work, if well done, shall remain as the enduring heritage of mankind.

Those who have relevant expertise can make mistakes. But they are less likely to than someone without relevant qualifications and whose time is not as fully devoted to research in the area. And when a consensus emerges among experts, that needs to be taken seriously.

If you are someone from outside a given field, and you are thoroughly convinced that you have seen matters more clearly than the thousands of academics who work in that field for a living, you might just possibly be a unique genius. But if you do not realize that the far more likely explanation for this state of affairs is that your skepticism has backfired, then you simply aren’t thinking skeptically about the matter.


  • spinkham

    Most skeptics use the word “denialist” for these views to seperate it from skepticism.

    I do feel some sympathy for denialists, but almost always find them epistemologically naive. The sympathy I feel comes from the fact that it is true that some fields are biased because certain people are drawn to them or by the questions they are asking. Thomists and reformed theologians sort of demonstrate this for me. They are systems of philosophy that have their own ways of knowing and are built on things that most people reject.

    Once you accept teleology(Thomism) or Total Depravity(reformed), the rest of the systems are mostly coherent, but IMHO, there’s no good reason to accept, and lots of reasons to reject, both those positions.

    Conservatives think they see the same bias in archeology, biblical studies and evolution. The concern is these people have accepted naturalism and rewritten reality around that assumption.

    The difference is archeology, biblical studies, and evolution have all changed their views in response to an increase in available evidence which has driven the change in these fields. Very, very few people (if any) in these fields would argue, “well, metaphysical naturalism is true, and therefore…”

    Now, knowing your history I’m guessing you’re also aiming this at “Jesus Mythicists”, and with good reason. The relevant question to answer here for me is “Is belief in a historical Jesus undergirded by evidence or by presuppositional motivated reasoning?:

    The only arguments that seem worth being taken at all seriously are the ones that say the methodology of Jesus studies are not good historical methods, and there’s bias in the methods themselves. I’ve heard a number of people make this argument, and it may or may not be true. I don’t think this concern is true in the same way I think Thomism is dependent on its unevidenced propositions, but I’m also not sure it’s untrue in the way it is when raised against evolution. I’m not qualified to partake in that discussion, but at least to an outsider it seems like a discussion worth having and I’d hate to see that debate squelched by a mere turning up of the nose at mythicism.

    FWIW, I’m personally a historical Jesus “agnostic historicist”, which means I think there probably was someone at the core of the myths mostly because of the scholars who say so, but I’m not sure enough to call it knowledge. It also just seems more likely to me that Christianity came from the sorrow of the loss of a empathic and dynamic leader of a small group than a group of people cooking such a tale up whole cloth either intentionally or unintentionally through a sort of telephone game of stories. I don’t think the historicists have put forth a great case to the public, but the mythicist stories seem worse.

    Aslo, it seems to me Thom Stark keeps making mincemeat out of Carrier like he did Paul Copan. It’s hard for me not to love an equal opportunity debunker. ;-)

  • chaz

    Problem with what you’re saying is that there are experts who disagree with each other…trusting the experts may be better than leaning on ignorance but it’s no guarantee that what the expert consensus is at any given time is actually true.

    • James F. McGrath

      This is something that pseudoskeptics often point out. And when there is genuine significant disagreement among experts, it does indeed strongly suggest that the evidence does not decisively support one conclusion or the other.

      But that does not mean that the evidence is compatible with any conclusion, and so one may simply think whatever one wishes and have a strong likelihood of being correct.

      Nor does the fact that even a consensus of experts can be wrong make it likely that they are wrong while someone with no relevant expertise is correct.

      If you are looking for guarantees, then you’ve misunderstood the provisional nature of science, history, and the various other academic modes of seeking knowledge. But if you consider their provisional nature to be a reason for preferring pseudo-knowledge of your own concoction, then I hope you won’t mind my suggesting that your skepticism may have backfired.

      • Tom Verenna

        Speaking of not fully understanding logical fallacies, you’re committing one right here. It is called the Fallacy fallacy.

        Just because pseudoscholars or denialists use an argument to prove a point they are wrong about does not necessarily make the argument false. For example, a Zeitgeist follower may argue that because many mythical demigods were believed to have born of a virgin in antiquity therefore Jesus is a myth. But while this argument is fallacious, their point (that many believed in a variety of demigods born of a virgin in antiquity) is correct.

        The same can be said about consensus. And we’ve talked about this before James. At one time there had been a consensus about the historicity of the patriarchal narratives, about the exodus story (mere decades ago it was accepted as historically plausible!), even certain portrayals of events in the Gospels were believed historically valid which are not usually dismissed as theological rather than historical information. Consensus takes a long time to change. It takes a good year for a new monograph to circulate reviews, let alone reach the corners of the academic community (usually that takes another few years–if not longer, depending on the obscurity of the subject and the availability of the printed matter).

        So just because you believe in the strength of consensus doesn’t mean that the consensus is going to eagerly accept new ideas and change right away. People still believe Q is a real thing, and while you may be one of them, I believe support is gaining for alternate theories which argue that Q was not necessary and indeed irrelevant. And in some years from now, when new works get published on it, the consensus may shift against Q. Just because Q has been around for 112 years does not make it unassailable and a consensus’ length of existence is not an argument unto itself.

        Times they are a changing. This is why I have taken an agnostic stance on the subject of Jesus’ historicity. The problem does not rest with skepticism, James, but with those too myopic to see the value of it–those who are far too entrenched in certainty–and those who would seek to ridicule new ideas, even if they fall into what one might call fringe; those who can’t be bothered to read what people actually say. I don’t think you’re one of these people, so I hold out hope for you, that you’ll join me one day in the agnostic camp.

        But I will be frank, James. What bothers me most about our conversations is that you keep repeating the same errors that have been pointed out to you over and over again. This is not the only time I have criticized your use of the fallacy fallacy. I know I am your junior in the field, so don’t mistake my criticism for obnoxiousness. Even veteran scholars like you could perhaps take in some friendly and well-meaning advice from someone like me from time to time. Could you please, then, stop using this fallacy?

        • James F. McGrath

          Tom, I think you have just comitted the fallacy fallacy fallacy, in which you fail to realize that just because you believe that someone has committed the “fallacy fallacy” does not necessarily make them incorrect regarding their more substantive point…

          • Michael Wilson

            James, I don’t see you article as attaking the idea of challenging the consensus. Instead you say that one should only challenge it if one has some relevent expertice on the case. Assuming that an engineer that thinks the planes alone could not have brought down the the twin towers based on your beleif that the goverment engages in massive conspiricies is not a good reason to accept poorly recieved information in engineering. Neithier is accepting poorly recieved opinions on the genre of Mark as conclusive when you don’t have a good understanding of ancient literary genres. To many amature history buffs seem that they can claim radical ideas as authoritative even when they don’t fully understand them. They are authoritative when most people agree, when ever you base an argument on ideas that most readers will disagree with, your weakening the argument.

          • Bretton Garcia

            I think I’d agree that there is lots of sloppy thinking out there among amateur theologians. But on the other hand? The field of Religious “Study” has always been notorious among academics, for being so biased. So notorious that quite often, Theology programs and Seminaries were not allowed on campus; they had a small building outside the campus boundaries, at best. While religion classes often could not be taken for credit.
            Today, Religious Studies departments have progressed; and many professors regard themselves as openminded, even agnostic or atheistic. At the same time however, the field has such a record of bias, and has so many lingering ties to a Wellhausian concern for popular opinion, that it is always useful to raise the question of classic pro-Christian bias, in even the most “objective” “Historical” studies in this field.
            Especially we might be suspicious of “objective” study that coincidentally reaffirms basic elements of traditional belief. Like say, the “real historical existence of Jesus.”
            Will the new bibliobloggers at times make mistakes? Could they at times use some correction from professionals in the field? No doubt. But for anyone in the field of Religious Studies to assume that their own professionalism is immune to error, or that their field offers any “certain” and “indubitable” findings or “consensus,” is, in biblical terms, the sin of Vanity. And inability to see one’s own extreme bias.
            In the case of “Historical Jesus” for example? Those who know Mythography, know that it is hard to prove historical provinance of myths, by means of just historical documents; since we just don’t have many ancient documents to work from. So that? In the face of having no good documents, mythographers have resorted to a kind of evolutionary/structural method and hypothesis: they analyize the Structure of different myths and religions; and look for a structural similarity, that suggests an historical, evolutionary kinship between them.
            It is of course very hard to “prove” for example, that the legend of the dying god or hero Jesus, came from ANE myths of dying and resurrected gods; and/or Greco-Roman heroes dying for their country. There just aren’t enough historical documents from this era to show this by way of documents, only. However, following the method of structural evolutionary studies, most professional mythographers accept that when we discover dozens of points of similarity, between one such element of say Christianity, and earlier myths? That strongly suggests that the Christian story was at least partially derived from earlier, structurally similar myths.

        • Paul Regnier

          For me a serious problem with this often-used Jesus Denial argument about shifting academic consensus revolves around how the consensus actually changes. Clearly knowledge does evolve in every field, and in every field there may be resistance to change (careers and reputations at stake etc), but does that mean that any and every theory that goes against the consensus deserves the respect and consideration of academics or is likely to result in an academic paradigm shift? I think the answer has to be no.

          So how do we tell the difference between a legitimate academic challenge and a fringe or denial theory? My own view is that denial theories are usually (though perhaps not invariably) put forward by an ideologically homogenous group of authors who lack genuine academic credentials relevant to the subject they are theorising about. Jesus Deniers might not like the comparision with those Creationism, 9/11 Conspiracy, or Holocaust Denial, but I’ve yet to hear a remotely convincing argument as to why the comparision doesn’t work.

          The example you cite of challenges to Q illustrates my point quite nicely: By contrast with Jesus Deniers, the academics behind the Farrer-Goulder-Goodacre challenge to Q were all qualified scholars with recognised credentials from leading Universities. Farrer worked at Oxford, Goulder was Professor of Biblical Studies at Birmingham, and Goodacre is at Duke. They also come from a range of religious perspectives – Farrer being a committed Christian, Goulder an atheist, and Goodacre… I have him pegged as an agnostic but I could be wrong! So it’s obvious that, whether you are convinced by it or not, the FGG hypothesis originated from within the academic community can’t be said to serve any particular ideological interest. So if the consensus on Q is shifting, it’s been shifted from within the scholarly community of Biblical Studies, not by a bunch of ideologically driven amateurs.

      • Bruce Gerencser

        For me, as a 55 yr old man with heslth problems that severely limit my ability to read like I used to, I am, to some degree forced to trust others who have expertise in this or that field. When I was in better health I would read an issue to death. While I still read, I have come to trust people who have put years of effort into knowing their field well. (like I did with theology and the Bible) I don’t blindly trust anyone but I hope I have the skills necessary to be able to judge when a good and convincing argument is made.

        I could spend the rest of my life trying to understand the intricacies of global climate change and still not have the knowledge that experts have. So, I try to have a working knowledge of the issues and I try to read and follow those who are experts on the matter.

        Certainly there are disagreements and debates on most everything and attention should be given to outliers, but, given the constraints I mentioned above, I am going to put my trust in the consensus of experts who agree on a particular issue. So, when it comes to issues like, global climate change, the historicity of Jesus, etc. I am going to stand with the majority and I am going to trust those who know a hell of a lot more about these things than I do.

  • Michael Wilson

    Yes in our dynamic age every one loves a rebel. Unfortunately new ideas are in short supply so todays so called rebels are just flogging the dead horses of yester year. illuminati conspiricies, Zionist conspircies, Jesus myth’s, Marxism, all this stuff has been around for over a century and has been completly discredited for decades, yet brave rebels like to pick it up and pretend that their on the verge of transforming society.

    • Bretton Garcia

      So if old ideas can be safely discarded? Let’s discard Christianity.

      • Michael Wilson

        I’m ahead of you. If you mean discard it for every one else, ive better things to do. I don’t listen to country music but i don’t go around trying to convince people its boring.

        • Bretton Garcia

          Yes. Most real academics just leave all; this behind, and never look back. No point in trying to say anything, around here.

        • Jim Harrison

          Religions are not simply matters of personal opinion. For example, by virtue of tax exemptions, the U.S. Treasury subsidizes churches to the tune of $80 billion a year, and churches are forever agitating to get the government to impose their opinions on others as in the current controversies over abortion and birth control. Which is why I subscribe to Spinoza’s position on the freedom of religion: governments have no business interfering with the freedom of thought or speech of individuals but churches do not have the same immunities and can be legitimately regulated or even suppressed if they endanger the community. They certainly have no right to be given special considerations and financial subsidies against the public interest. From this point of view, “Let’s discard Christianity” is a meaningful policy suggestion.

  • Bruce Gerencser

    Great post. I get a lot of flak from creationists on my blog because I trust scientists. For me it is simple. Theology and the Bible is my area of expertise. 25 years in the pastorate and thousands of hours in the study…

    When it comes to science, I am an ignorant novice. I am 55 years old, too old to go back to school and learn biology. So I read what I can and choose experts I trust. I don’t follow them blindly but I know I lack the necessary education to challenge or dispute them. We live in a day where we are constantly confronted with new information. Way too much for any one person to take in, so, in my case anyway, I must rely on experts to sift the wheat from the chaff for me.

  • Bretton Garcia

    1) Believing ministers and scholars in religion, to enforce their Belief, have always played a sort of game here: they tell us we can’t criticize religion, until we are Pope. Or now, until we have a Th.D, or a PhD in religion. But the fact is? Even a five-year old can often see that the emperor doesn’t have any clothes: no one is walking on water. Therefore, at least half of Religion appears obviously false. And the field should be opened to casual criticism at last.
    2) By Historicists, a certain kind of scholarly exclusiveness, has been adapted, to be used as a crude bludgeon, for the usual simple, crude end of traditional religious authority: demanding belief from others. This time, on the basis of The Argument From Authority. Here we see pseudo-scholarly adaptation of the appeal to “God” and the “Bible.” But this time with a new authority: we cannot cross the PhD scholar in religion. The real aim here is enforcing belief. Not scholarship.
    3) Worse, those in the field of religion do not see their own bias. Clearly there is a massive bias in this field: normally people who are not emotional believers, do not begin the 10-year course of study, to get a PhD in it. To be sure, many eventually learn better. But a vestigal emotional bias tends to remain strong in the field, even among many PhD’s.
    4) Then too, in regards to specifically the criticism of Mythicism? If Mythicists at times don’t know every detail of religious information, on the other hand, PhDs in Religion are often entirely ignorant in the most relevant disciplines: likely especially, Mythography.
    Religion scholars complain over and over that Mythicists don’t know Religion, the Bible. But Mythographers know that the reason that Historicists reject Mythicism, is that most PhD’s in Religion … just don’t know enough about STUDYING MYTHS. Especially when Historicists criticize the “beads on a string” approach, they show that they are entirely ignorant of a) the Structuralist method, from Vladimir Propp, and Claude Levi Strauss. And? In b) their neglect of Classical influences on early Christianity, they show their ignorance of highly relevant Greco-Roman culture especially.
    This is a two-way street; this is a double-edged sword. Religious scholars, Historicist religious scholars especially, can be accused of simple ignorance, as well as anyone else.

    • James F. McGrath

      Bretton Garcia, I really must insist that you cease talking nonsense. Just as it is problematic to speak about history, religion, science, or whatever without studying them, it is problematic to comment on the academic study of religion without actually knowing something about it. Your depiction does not describe mainstream secular universities, and religion students around the world at such institutions would be surprised that someone thinks they don’t study Claude Levi Strauss!

      So until such time as you know what goes on in the world’s major universities, is there really any reason why you insist on making false claims about the matter?

      • Bretton Garcia

        1) i am aware that many scholars of Religion, at world-class universities, pride themselves on being objective. But … are they really? Isn’t there a vestigal tie to the old dogmatics, down there somewhere? Just enough to want to say that there was a “real Historical Jesus,” at least? Even if that Jesus is not quite what is taught in most churches.
        2) In any case, are we talking about the scholarly elite, when we are talking about rank-and-file religious scholars, and Historicists?
        3) Or below them, your average pro-religious blogger? Or simple believer?
        4) So how well educated, and objective, are religious Historicists?
        Some might technically know Claude Levi Strauss. But their comments in opposition to Mythography, suggest they never really paid attention to him, or how mythography works. Especially when their PhD concentration was in Religion, and not Anthropology, that neglect would be inevitable, and intrinsic to the very nature of their concentration on, after all, other things, another “different” academic discipline.
        But especially I suggest the religious Historicists’ attachment to at least a vestigal Jesus – Jesus as an Historical, if merely mortal man – is even at that, still motivated not by true, objective scholarship. But by a small but real continuing emotional attachment; a vestigal “faith.”
        Nothing else than a residual emotional attachment to the past, would explain why Historicists see their method and their absurd Criteria – like the Criterion of Embarrassment – as “objective.”

        • James F. McGrath

          Religion is a field, and so the tools that those who study religion are from anthropology, and/or history, and/or literature, and so on. You still seem not to know what goes on in academic contexts with regard to the study of religion, nor have you yet understood what the criterion of embarrassment is, and so until you do, you will just be speaking what your convictions are without evidence or understanding.

          • Bretton Garcia

            PROVE that I do not understand the Criterion of Embarrasment. Instead of issuing raw assertions – and now, in Paul’s case, Arguments from Authority (applied to Hoffman, of all people).
            Your and Paul’s inability to frame an actual argument in fact, is a case in point: Historicists don’t actually THINK; they only cite previous authority.

            • Paul Regnier

              BG – OK I was wrong. I shouldn’t have said you don’t understand the criterion of embarrassment. I should have said you don’t understand the criterion of embarrassment OR the argument from authority.

              My bad.

              • Bretton Garcia

                Still no arguments from you: just raw judgements. As is typical of those who are trained to religiously, blindly follow authority, with blind “faith.” Instead of learning to think for themselves. Instead of learning the logic and reasons behind things.

                • beallen0417

                  ” … for most people who study the Bible the concern remains, as it has always been, to yield results that are helpful and informative for religious believers. Until the last couple of decades this was achieved through what is called “the historical critical method” – not really a method, more a series of questions that can be put to the text, a particular style of interrogating it.

                  The feeling that biblical criticism was somehow insufficiently reverent toward what is, for Jews and Christians, a sacred text has not been felt only by people outside the academic world of biblical studies: it is felt also by some biblical scholars themselves, and always has been. Wellhausen gave up his chair in Theology because he felt that he was making his students less fit for service as Lutheran pastors. Consequently there have been periodic attempts to “reintegrate” biblical studies into theology, or to “give the Bible back to the Church.”

                  Blackwell Companion to Modern Theology (2004), ed. John Barton.

                  • Bretton Garcia

                    Wellhausen’s statements mark the peak of the current New Dark Ages in Biblical study; the triumph of (an oxymoron) “Evangelical Scholarship.”
                    Against Wellhausen: real scholarship and science have little or no obligation to simply affirm the subjective desires and opinions of everyday people.
                    (Though popular opinions and beliefs have a certain Anthropological and Sociogical interest, they should never be taken just at face value, or fully and simply honored as if they were absolutely sacred.)

                • Paul Regnier

                  BG we had a whole discussion about this on the thread that would not die. If you’ve forgotten the problems I have with your take on the criterion of embarrassment then you can check here and follow the thread for our discussion:


                  Anyway, exactly how does referring you to Hoffmann’s assessment of your understanding of the criterion of embarrassment constitute a fallacious appeal to authority? If you want to talk about what is and isn’t a logical fallacy, I’m game on for that.

                  PS: As far as I can tell from the thread, you don’t even respond to Hoffmann’s statement that:

                  “These methods were not designed to address the question of the historicity of Jesus; they were designed to establish what might be primary and what might be later or secondary to the tradition. You have presented, moreover, a satire of them, based on Carrier’s misrepresentations.”

                  Am I missing something?

                  • Bretton Garcia

                    I don’t remember any substantive rejoinders to my remarks on the Criterion of Embarrassemnt.
                    My phillips screwdriver might not have been designed specifically to punch holes in a tin can; and yet however, it serves.
                    There is a reason Hoffmann never held onto a serious academic appointment in a presitigious university.
                    Wonder what it is?

                    • Bretton Garcia

                      The Criterion of Embarrassment, by your own referenced description, is used to evaluate whether a given quote or idea ascribed to Jesus, is genuine or not. Which is to say in other words? Whether it existed in earlier History, or not. While perhaps if it did exist, pariticularly very early in Christianity? The implication is … the saying may have originated with Jesus himself. (As for example, odd Aramaisms in the NT are asserted by Casey, to have likely originated with Jesus himself).
                      So the Criterion IS sometimes – and in a sense, always implicitly – in the service of Historicism.
                      How does it work? It evaluates every religious ideas, assertion, according to whether it seems to fit commonly accepted ideas or not. Ironically, it asserts that if it does NOT fit, likely, it must be a genuine saying or early tradition; since normally, sayings that did not fit accepted ideas, would simply be rejected. If they were retained, the theory goes? They were retained because … they were felt at the time, to not quite fit conventional expectations; but to be genuine sayings. So that could not be simply swept under the rug, fit or no fit.
                      So for example? If the people in the time of Jesus say, heard Jesus say something unexpected? Like the savior must die? They would normally simply never include that in their recountings of Jesus, because it just did not fit – or was “an embarrassment to” – their accepted preconceptions. So why did they include it? It is asserted by this theory, that they must have retained it, in spite of natural inclinations .. because they were convinced of its genuineness. That it really did come from Jesus. Like it or not.
                      And so?
                      1) The Criterion in point of fact, HAS been part of the attempt to prove Historical Jesus. (Indeed, as I remember, Goodacre introduces the concept in his podcast on that subject: Historical Jesus method?).
                      While 2) in effect though, the reasoning it uses, as you say, has problems and vulnerabilities. Since in effect, I now add?
                      What it is saying is that 3) if a saying seems contrary to expectation – or perhaps, seems utterly ridiculous, and absurd? Not fitting what would be normal? Then it is adjudged to be real, historical. Judged to be a saying that seemed straight from the source, by early recorders; a saying that must therefore be included … as likely, genuine and historical.
                      Do in effect? The Embarrassing Criterion – as I now term it – ends up by enthroning – indeed, literally deifying – silliness and contradiction itself. Since it says that when something seems silly, and just does not fit logic, or expectation … then that suggests it is nevertheless, Historical. And probably true.
                      Thus the Criterion of Embarrassment, I logically conclude, as often used by those in the field of Religion, actually deifies contradiction and stupidity. Often.

                    • Paul Regnier

                      3) if a saying seems contrary to expectation – or perhaps, seems utterly ridiculous, and absurd? Not fitting what would be normal? Then it is adjudged to be real, historical.

                      If your assessment of the criterion of embarrassment were correct BG, presumably Biblical scholars would use it to “prove” the resurrection, the virgin birth, or Jesus walking on water. As far as I know it is not commonly used in this way. So perhaps your understanding of it is incorrect?

                      Alternatively (and I’ve asked you this before) what is absurd or ridiculous about the relatively mundane claims that would pass the criterion of embarrassment – such as Jesus being from Nazareth, his baptism by John, or the crucifixion?

                      We might say that indirectly some of the criterion may suggest a historical Jesus (e.g. why would you invent a Messiah from hicksville Nazareth), but proving Jesus is not the original or primary purpose of historical Jesus criteria.

                    • Bretton Garcia

                      Goodacre and others mention the Criterion of Embarrassement in connection with, as a major part, of The Historical Jesus search.
                      While indeed, these things are logically tied. Logically, when you attempt to ascertain the genuinness of a given religious tradition concerning specifically Jesus … then that information would inevitably say, in effect, which things said about Jesus himself are likely to be true and historical, and which are not. So that? Logically, you will have been outlining, and confirming or denying, Historical Jesus. Follow the logical inferences.
                      Would we expect scholars to be using the Criterion to attack unexpected events like the resurrection? How and why would Christians consider miracles like Ressurrection, contrary to prevailing dogma and expectation in Christianity, and therefore worthy of attention from the Criterion of Embarrassment? Miracles in general, are absolutely mainstream. Indeed, if our savior dies, then tradition and prevailing expectation – which demands a living savior – precisely is what demands that he be returned to life somehow.
                      Of course, not EVERYTHING discovered by the Criterion, is utterly absurd. Like Jesus being baptised by John. But many things are.
                      A case in point? The notion that our “savior” and “God” should show up on earth as foretold (on the Day of the Lord, etc.) … and yet be executed? That is indeed, absurd according to Old Testament, Torah-based jewish thinking, and to common sense too. So that? While a CRUCIFIXION ITSELF, per se, is not absurd (the Romans often crucifying hundreds of Jews in fact), the notion of a “savior” and A “GOD” that 1) does not actually set up the kingdom promised; and that 2) furthermore, did not live on earth forever as promised, but instead immediately DIES, is EXECUTED, is indeed, as absurd as it gets.
                      And the churches’ teaching this absurdity to millions of people, commanding billions of people to accept that illogical absurdity, did not entirely help them. In fact, that did oodles and oodles to confuse their thoughts (and language, as the Bible said of Babylon). Teaching the people to accept and even embrace absurdities, to reject logic, did much to prevent most blind believers, from ever learning to reason logically and accurately. Thus crippling their entire lives.

                    • Bretton Garcia

                      (Postscript, regarding what is expected, what is consistent, and what is not, what is absurd: the death of a man, a hero, a martyr, dying to save his country, is a common an expected thing in many cultures. Including Jewish culture, from 2 Mac 7. The death of a God come to earth, however, is far less harmonious with Jewish thought. Indeed, this implied core notion in Christianity is quite absurd, logically and rationally. And the partial acceptance of that idea, and many other magical absurdities in religion, hindered the adequate development of reason and intelligence and logic, in billions of believers).

                    • Bretton Garcia

                      Here is the famous biblical scholar Mark Goodacre refuting Dr. McGrath by name. Specifically McGrath’s idea of the Criterion of Embarrassment. And specifically by citing the example of the Crucifixion, as embarrassing:

          • Bretton Garcia

            So you feel that you know as much Anthropology as a PhD Anthropologist; AND as much Literary Criticism as a PhD in Literature; AND as much History as a professional Historian (like Carrier); AND … on and on? Or could you be making a mistake in one of these fields in which you yourself did not get any graduate degrees?
            Isn’t Vanity considered a sin in Christianity, James?

            • James F. McGrath

              Bretton Garcia, you still seem not to have grasped what I’ve written. I agree with what historians have to say about this matter of history that we are discussing. It is not as though I am challenging mainstream history without having that as my primary area of expertise – although there is a group that does that, won’t you please acknowledge it?

              As for the criterion of embarrassment, it is simply a matter of your saying it is something it is not. Why not offer a quote from a mainstream scholarly source to illustrate your understanding? In the process, I hope you might gain some insight into what scholarly tool actually is.

              • Bretton Garcia

                Mark Goodacre notes problems with the Criterion of Embarrassment, conveniently, in his i-pod notes on Historical Jesus, and metholdology.

                • Bretton Garcia

                  Here the famous scholar Dr. Mark Goodacre disagrees with you, Dr. McGrath, by name, on this subject of the Criterion:
                  There you suggest that 1) perhaps embarrassing things were actually voiced by critics of Christianity; and were left in as recalcitrant rumors that had to be left in – to be refuted. But then Goodacre raised the example of the crucifixion; was it a lie generated by opponents of Christianity?
                  You 2) then suggested, alternatively, that leaving such embarrassing things in, might have been making “a virtue out of necessity.” You here seeming to concede the crucifixion as a fact? Goodacre did not respond to that.
                  Major scholars in your field have addressed many of your arguments, at your insistence – and they have most often rejected them.

                  • James F. McGrath

                    What odd comments. You link to an article that you seem not to have read, or at least not to have understood, since it offers no support to your contentions. And having mentioned Mark Goodacre’s criticisms of the criterion of embarassment, you say that “scholars” in the plural have addressed “many” of my arguments, at my insistence, and have “most often rejected them” – to which the only appropriate response is presumably “What on earth are you talking about? Are you intentionally parodying crackpot behavior to make mythicism look ridiculous? Or do you think you are being serious rather than ridiculous?

                    • Bretton Garcia

                      Oddly, I have the very same reaction to you and your comments. What are YOU talking about? Have you actually read the references sources here?
                      1) The reference to Meier? It is not to an “article”; it is a chapter in a book. One which makes positive remarks about the Criterion … but then negative ones.
                      2) The Buglas and Viljoen article IS an article; whose title and content indicate that it is ALL about problems with the Criterion.
                      3) Goodacre specifically addressed you, and your idea of the Criterion; and clearly seems to object to parts of it (“Yes, but…”).
                      4) Other scholars – plural – as cited in the above articles, address many of the (various) ideas of the Criterion you have supported. Goodacre addressing your a) specific notion of embarrassing ideas retained by enemies of Christianity (which attacks the traditional fundamental concept; that has embarrassing concepts developed retained by neutral events, even God, not enemies). While b) these other cited sources attack the other, more conventional ideas you often support.
                      5) Other bloggers have comented that you don’t read thoroughly; you “skim” as they righly say.
                      6) And your comments here reflect that. Indeed, you yourself have earlier indicated that you do not regard comments to be fully professional, and therefore that you will not give them close – or adequate – attention.
                      7) Read my remarks here, noting not only Denial, but therefore also the aspect of “Projection” in accusations by religious believers, as per Freud and Festinger. The very accusations you levy against others, seem very applicable to you yourself.

                    • James F. McGrath

                      Bretton Garcia, since you seem to be incapable of writing comprehensibly, it is perhaps not surprising that you do not understand what others write. If and when you actually seem to have understood what I and others (including in the article you linked to which you seem somehow to think supports your points, when even the abstract makes clear it does not), we can try again to see if conversation is possible. For now, however, I must say that writing things you clearly either do not read or cannot understand is rather a waste of time.

                      But let me make at least one last point. Perhaps you will understand it, perhaps not, but it needs to be made (as it has been made before) for the benefit of others who may read this conversation, at the very least. Scholarship is not something done so that those outside the field can pick and choose which results they like. The fact that Michael Behe, a molecular biologist, has published articles and books making a case for Intelligent Design, does not mean (as some of his fans claim) that evolution has been refuted. The fact that Mark Goodacre has written criticisms of the Q hypothesis or the criterion of authenticity does not mean that that is the final word on the matter. Scholarship is a conversation among researchers, and if one wants to get a sense of what experts think about a matter, the consensus is what one must look to. It is unhelpful when creationists and mythicists say that a field about which they have kooky fringe ideas is one in which everyone is incompetent – and then cite those very scholars if and when some things that they have written seem to support their case. Such an illogical and self-contradictory approach to scholarship does nothing to help your case, but indeed illustrates one of the things that is fundamentally wrong with it.

              • Bretton Garcia

                For a general review of criticisms of the Criterion of Embarrassment by scholars in specifically your field, see Buglas and Viljoen, on scholars like Meier & Crosson:

                • Bretton Garcia

                  To be sure? I apologize for my admittedly often jumbled syntax. Though I would plead that religious writing often results to obscurantism, in order to deal with potentially explosive reactions
                  In any cas, Dr. McGrath; though I believe Mark Goodacre may have been critical of it, your idea of the Embarrassment may have some potential. As you expressed it in a conversation with Mark, here:
                  There, if I read you right, you are apparently ageeing with the basic idea, that there are elements of the New Testament that seem “embarrassing” to conventional theological expectations and churches. Like the Baptism of Jesus by his inferior, John; or say the crufixion of its hero and savior. But then you seem to disagree with the conventional formulation of the Criterion of Embarrassment. As your remarks suggest the possiblity that these embarrassing moments may not reflect geniune historical events or traditions; but only early negative criticisms, even deliberate false rumors, spread by early critics of Christianity.
                  Is that what you intended to say? That would be a new, unconventional reading of Embarrassment. Though I find it interesting.

              • Bretton Garcia
        • Paul Regnier

          BG – you’ve consistently shown that you know nothing about historical Jesus criteria or how they are used. And you wouldn’t know what the criterion of embarrassment was if it came up to you and did something, like, really embarrassing…

          • Bretton Garcia

            1) Prove it. Take my examples, say, of applying the various Criteria … and my finding that these criteria would equally, “prove” the existence of Micky Mouse, and Daffy Duck.
            2) By the way? Then refute Dr. Goodacres’ warnings about problems with the Criterion of Embarrassement, in his podcasts.
            3) And then? Refute your own earlier admission of the same.

            • Paul Regnier

              BG – I started to type a response, but how about I just provide you with a link to remind you of Hoffmann’s assessment of your understanding of the historical Jesus criteria?


              • Bretton Garcia

                Paul: then read my responses to Hoffman.

  • Paul D.

    “the anti-vaccination movement, Holocaust denial, Jesus-mythicism, and the list could go on and on.”

    You have many relevant points, but I think this way grouping of things that are very unlike each other for the emotional impact is disingenuous. It bothers me when pedophiles, racists, Nazis, and professors from Butler University do it.

    • James F. McGrath

      Just because things are unlike each other does not mean that they are not also like each other. However much it might make us uncomfortable, all the four categories you mentioned are subsets of the category “human beings.” While I have always been the first to admit that there are differences between various sorts of denialism, the similarities are rather apparent, in terms of the tactics they use to try to undermine mainstream scholarly conclusions.

    • Neil Godfrey

      The following is from Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things.

      1. Holocaust deniers find errors in the scholarship of historians and
      then imply that therefore their conclusions are wrong, as if historians
      never make mistakes. Evolution deniers (a more appropriate term than
      creationists) find errors in science and imply that all of science is
      wrong, as if scientists never make mistakes.

      2. Holocaust deniers are fond of quoting, usually out of context,
      leading Nazis, Jews, and Holocaust scholars to make it sound like they
      are supporting Holocaust deniers’ claims. Evolution deniers are fond of
      quoting leading scientists like Stephen Jay Gould and Ernst Mayr out of
      context and implying that they are cagily denying the reality of

      3. Holocaust deniers contend that genuine and honest debate between
      Holocaust scholars means they themselves doubt the Holocaust or cannot
      get their stories straight. Evolution deniers argue that genuine and
      honest debate between scientists means even they doubt evolution or
      cannot get their science straight. (p. 132)

      Every one of these points, from my observation, applies to scholars
      who are attempting to denigrate mythicism, but I have not seen
      mythicists like Doherty or Wells or Price or Zindler or Salm or Elgard
      or Thompson fall into any of these types of fallacious reasonings in support of their core arguments for mythicism.

      How many times do we see historicists attacking mythicism by means of
      declaring the whole conclusion false because of a few errors in some of
      the arguments, quoting mythicists out of context and misleadingly, and
      contending that because mythicists disagree the whole thing must be
      wrong? — Yet each one of these grounds is applicable to the holocaust
      denier and creationist, at least according to Michael Shermer.

  • T. Webb

    Dr. McGrath,

    Perhaps you could have a post on “Why skepticism in the first place?” It seems to me that any skeptical approach is loaded with assumptions. I’d love to know more. Thanks.

    • James F. McGrath

      I am not sure I understand the question. If all approaches are loaded with assumptions, then is not at least attempting to become aware of our assumptions, and examining and questioning them, more likely to help us to avoid error than not doing so?

  • VinnyJH

    Based on objective criteria, I am a reasonably bright fellow. I graduated near the top of class from law school. I am an expert rated chess player. I passed the test for Mensa. I have read books by brilliant scholars in a variety of fields, and I have always been able to follow their reasoning. I can’t do what Steven Pinker, Stephen Hawking, Daniel Dennett, Ronald Dworkin, and Joseph Stiglitz do in their respective fields, but I can understand why they find the evidence for their conclusions as compelling as they do.

    It is only in the field of historical Jesus scholarship where I am told that my lack of specialized training prevents me from appreciating just how compelling real experts find the evidence. It is only in this field where the ability to appreciate the most basic of conclusions, i.e., whether the central figure existed, depends on understanding minute matters of nuance in ancient languages and theology. It is only in this field that I am so often asked to take the consensus of scholars on faith.

    • Paul Regnier

      Vinny, my view is that the degree of scepticism required to lead us to reject the existence of Jesus would, if applied consistently, lead to a kind of historical myopia where we would have to doubt almost everything that happened before modern times.

      Personally, I have no objection if we apply this scepticism consistently (though I doubt that such a position would be a particularly useful or rewarding one to hold) but in practice I don’t think that JDers are nearly as consistent or as objective in their approach to the past as they would like to think.

      • VinnyJH


        In my view, the uncertainty about the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is almost entirely a product of the type of mark that he left in the historical record, which is entirely different from that left by anyone else in the ancient world about whose existence historians express confidence. Based on the historical evidence, it is entirely possible that the earthly Jesus led an obscure life unknown beyond a small group of illiterate peasants until such point where he came to the attention of the Roman authorities who executed him as a troublemaker. In the case of every other person in the ancient world (or the modern one for that matter), our certainty about their existence varies in proportion to the impact that they had during their lives on the literate and prominent people of their day. I don’t think that doubting the existence of someone about whom we shouldn’t expect to know anything should in any way cause us to doubt the existence of people who had the kind of impact during their lives that might be expected to leave a discernible mark in the historical record.

        If there was such a person as Jesus of Nazareth, he left his mark in the historical record as a result of encounters that one or more people claimed to have had with a supernatural being some time after the actual man died. These encounters appear to have had profound theological significance for the people who experienced them and for the people who were told about them. Every story that was told about the earthly man thereafter was shaped by the belief in those supernatural encounters and the desire to spread that belief. There is little doubt in my mind that many or most of those stories were invented for the purpose of spreading those beliefs, and I think one can reasonably entertain the possibility that all of them were without needing to be unduly skeptical about the existence of anyone else in the ancient world.

        • Paul Regnier

          In the case of every other person in the ancient world (or the modern one for that matter), our certainty about their existence varies in proportion to the impact that they had during their lives on the literate and prominent people of their day.

          I don’t think that this is strictly the case Vinny – at the very least it leaves out the role of accident in preserving one source while allowing another to be lost. There must be many prominent people whose existence has been wholly lost from us because the sources that mention them have also been lost. And conversely, there are plenty of insignificant people who we know existed because of a passing mention in a letter or a book.

          I also have problems with this idea of a variable certainty of existence. I’m not convinced that historians get too caught up in proving the existence of the people they write about – I suspect that it’s a convenient fiction of Jesus Deniers that this is how History works in practice. I’ve been going through a couple of my old Buddhism textbooks and there is precisely zip in there about trying to prove that the Buddha existed. This is not to say that nobody has ever questioned the historicity of the Buddha of course, but as far as I can tell it seems to be a fairly dead issue. Is that because the evidence for the Buddha is better than that of Jesus? Or because the Buddha doesn’t have a group of aggressive atheists trying to prove that he didn’t exist?

          If there was such a person as Jesus of Nazareth, he left his mark in the historical record as a result of encounters that one or more people claimed to have had with a supernatural being some time after the actual man died.

          People do have (or at least claim to have) encounters with dead people all the time. I seem to remember reading in Robin Lane Fox’s “The Unauthorised Version”, a number of such examples – Queen Elizabeth being seen in her library shortly after she died is the one that sticks in my mind. I’ve also mentioned the postmortem exploits of Freddy Jackson in other posts. And I’m sure that many people will have had dreams about dead people that they feel are in some way significant. But religions have not (as far as I know) sprung up around such people – I suppose the closest parallel might be the canonisation and veneration of saints who have worked miracles after their deaths.

          But if you had such an experience about somebody who had lived, and who had been a significant religious figure, it’s obvious to see how this might lead you to see the figure and their teaching in a different light – the experience would be a validation of the things they did and said. I doubt that we would have the gospels without the resurrection experience, but I don’t see that what caused the early Christians to preserve (and in some cases invent) stories about Jesus in any way undermines his historicity.

          • VinnyJH

            I don’t think that this is strictly the case Vinny – at the very least it leaves out the role of accident in preserving one source while allowing another to be lost.

            I agree that it is not strictly true. There are no doubt many significant people whose mark in the historical record has been obliterated while much less significant people left a mark that chanced to endure. However, in terms of whose existence we might reasonably expect to establish, I think that there is going to be a pretty strong correlation between our certainty and their impact on the literate and prominent people of their day.

            I don’t really know what the arguments are for the historicity of Buddha. I notice that wikipedia cites Karen Armstrong as holding that we can reasonably confident that he existed as a historical figure even though there is very little information about him that can be considered historically sound. Maybe there is less controversy about Buddha’s existence because everyone recognizes that it impossible to separate fact from legend.

            I don’t think that the bare fact of a historical person’s existence is the kind of thing that comes up all that often, but it does from
            time to time. In 1969, the Roman Catholic Church removed several feast days from the calendar, including that of St. Christopher, because it determined that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the saints in question were ever anything more than just a legend. I’m sure that all of them were believed to have performed miracles after their deaths.

            While there is nothing unusual about someone claiming to have a postmortem encounter with a historical person, in every case of which I am aware, the existence of the historical person is established by more usual means. Lots of people claimed to have postmortem encounters with St. Christopher, but the Catholic Church didn’t take those encounters as proof of the historical St. Christopher’s existence.

            But if you had such an experience about somebody who had lived, and who had been a significant religious figure, it’s obvious to see how this might lead you to see the figure and their teaching in a different light – the experience would be a validation of the things they did and said. I doubt that we would have the gospels without the resurrection experience, but I don’t see that what caused the early Christians to preserve (and in some cases invent) stories about Jesus in any way undermines his historicity.

            It certainly might happen this way, however, the fact that it might is not proof that it did. It also might happen that people believed that they had postmortem encounters with a person who never actually existed as happened with the various saints whose historicity couldn’t be established. It also might happen that all sorts of legends might arise about what these people had done during their lives as a result of those postmortem claims.

            • Paul Regnier

              Maybe there is less controversy about Buddha’s existence because everyone recognizes that it impossible to separate fact from legend.

              I think that the interest in the seperating the historical from the legendary Jesus results from the Englightenment which was a largely European/American process – i.e. one that took place in predominantly Christian countries. There wasn’t a comparable process in non-Christian countries, so over the years there hasn’t been the same interest in detaching the historical from the superstitious in accounts of the Buddha, Muhammad etc.

              I’ve been going back over some biographies of a few other religious figures and I really don’t see much interest in these books in “proving” that these figures existed – it seems to be more or less assumed that they did, even though I think it would be hard to argue that the evidence for the Buddha, Confucius, or Muhammad is much “better” than the evidence for Jesus. Muhammad might be an exception here as there are a few non-Muslim references, but I wonder if a historical Muhammad would survive the type of objections that JDers make about the non-Christian references to Jesus?

              I’m not saying that nobody has ever questioned the historicity of these figures, but I don’t see a vocal movement claiming that these figures are purely mythical. Is it because the way that scholars talk about – say – the Buddha is radically different to the way scholars talk about Jesus or their methods are better? I haven’t seen any evidence that it is. Or is it because the historicity of Jesus seems like more of a live issue because we have a noisy bunch of ideologically driven non-academics who write and blog about the issue?

              The comparison I’d make here is that there seems to be a particularly strong creationist movement that seeks to challenge evolution, but there seems to be less interest in challenging scientific theories like plate tectonics or the Big Bang theory (not to say there is none). Is this because the evidence for evolution is less strong or there is less academic consensus about evolution than for these other theories? Or is it simply the case that evolution provokes particular ire from an angry bunch of denialists?

              Lots of people claimed to have postmortem encounters with St. Christopher, but the Catholic Church didn’t take those encounters as proof of the historical St. Christopher’s existence.

              Nope, but are there any books about Christopher that treat him as a historical figure and that date within 40-60 years of his supposed life? Does anyone claim to have hung out with his brother? Do non-Christians seem treat him as a historical figure within a century of his supposed life? And do you have any evidence in the case of St Christopher that the miracles come before the stories?

              The kind of process that you think may have happened in the case of Jesus (i.e. supernatural encounter quickly produces fake historical figure) doesn’t seem to have happened in the case of St Christopher, and I struggle to think of other examples of where such a process has happened.

              Incidentally Vinny, I’ve recently started a blog to go with my teaching, but I’m planning to write a few bits and bobs about mythicism/Jesus denial. Drop by and say hi some time – I’d be interested to read any comments you might have.

              • VinnyJH

                Or is it because the historicity of Jesus seems like more of a live issue because we have a noisy bunch of ideologically driven non-academics who write and blog about the issue?

                I think we have to recognize that it takes two sides to make an issue so noisy. If I started blogging about Socrates being a literary fiction created by Plato or Buddha being purely legendary, I doubt that I would be getting many hits or comments. However, questioning the historicity of Jesus is sure to generate traffic. Were it not for all the ideologically driven non-academics who write and blog on the historicist side of the issue, it would be little livelier than the question of the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. This is not to say that Jesus denialism isn’t as objectively unsound as Socrates denialism, but doesn’t it say something that the latter is a matter of indifference while the former provokes howls of outrage that could only be matched by Muhammad denialism?

                Most mainstream scholars would acknowledge that the historical Jesus has been heavily mythologized, and I think that many even might acknowledge that the process has been so thorough that there may only be a handful of facts beyond his mere existence that are not subject to doubt. Mythicists take this a step further to assert that even his existence can reasonably be doubted. Perhaps this step is objectively unsound as a historical matter, but it is hard for me to see it as the outrage that so many historicists portray it as.

                I wonder what other small steps on historical questions would provoke such a strong response. The claim that FDR knew about the attack Pearl Harbor beforehand may be objectively unsound, but there is little doubt that FDR wanted to get the United States into World War II and that he deliberately took a confrontational approach towards Japan. That Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone may be the best explanation of the available evidence, but there are so many unknowns that it seems to me that it is hard to eliminate all the alternatives. Might these be cases where the evidence for the consensus position is portrayed as more overwhelming than it is really is because the implications of the alternatives are so objectionable?

                Why is it that mythicism is compared so frequently to creationism and Holocaust denial rather than Shakespeare denial? Is questioning whether a 1st century Palestinian peasant was completely mythologized rather than just heavily mythologized really as big a threat to our ability to understand the world around us as questioning the foundations of the science of biology or questioning one of the most profound events of the 20th century?

                • Paul Regnier

                  I’m quite happy for Jesus denial to be compared to Shakespeare denial as well as other denial movements. For me, the comparison is a formal one, it has nothing to do with the relative importance of what is being denied. JDers tend to be outraged when such comparisons are made, but if they want to aviod such comparisons, perhaps they should stop behaving like other denialists?

                  I wonder if you overstate the interest in Jesus Denial compared to over types of denial. After all, there have been Hollywood films about Kennedy and Shakespeare theories (JFK and Anonymous) which suggests that there is a fair amount of interest in/sympathy for these. There’s been a ‘Jesus and Mary Magdalene getting it on’ conspircay theory book and film that Dan Brown did quite well out of, but I’m not aware of any Hollywood films about Jesus denial. And although I’d heard about the view of a mythical Jesus at Uni, I pretty much completely forgot about the view until I rediscovered it on this blog just a couple of months ago, even though I was still interested in and reading books about religion and early Christianity.

                  I’ll have to plead ignorance when it comes to FDR (and most of 20th century American history, come to think of it). At a guess I would say that a historian who thought that FDR knew in advance about Pearl Harbour could debate the amicably with a historian who disagreed because dispite the disagreement, both historians share a narrative about FDR and would agree on most other facts about him, such as that he was the 32nd President of the US etc. I doubt that either would be able to debate with somebody who took a David Icke-esque approach and theorised that FDR belonged to an alien race of lizard people – they simply wouldn’t share a narrative within which they could constructively discuss the issues.

                  Similary, some historians have claimed that the Holocaust was preplanned, other have said that it was more of an ad-hoc response to events. Again, I guess that such historians could disgree fairly amicably because they share a narrative of WW2 in which the Holocaust was a real event. But neither could constructively engage with somebody who says the holocaust did not happen, even though a holocaust denier might claim that it’s only a small step from saying that the holocaust was unplanned to saying that there was no systematic murder of the Jews.

                  • VinnyJH

                    I think that alternative theories about the assassination of JFK may arouse more passion then mythicism, but I don’t think that are very many people who get worked up over who wrote Shakespeare, although it is interesting to speculate about it. If FDR knew about the coming attack at Pearl Harbor and did nothing because he wanted America to get in the war, that would be pretty significant. (There may not be any movies about it, but I did see an episode of J.A.G. that dealt with it.) It would be comparable to saying that George Bush knew the 911 attacks were coming, but did nothing because he wanted to gin up a war against Iraq. I don’t know whether any credible historians think FDR knew what was coming though.

                    In my view it is important to distinguish between different challenges to the consensus of scholars based on the evidence that supports that consensus. In the case of JFK and 911, I don’t think that there is sufficient evidence to reject the consensus view, but I think the investigations of both events were seriously flawed such that a reasonable person can question whether we have all the facts. In the case of Pearl Harbor, the only mildly suspicious thing I know is that all the American aircraft carriers were out to sea, but I think the matter has been sufficiently investigated.

                    I agree that 911 crackpots, JFK crackpots, creationist crackpots, Holocaust crackpots, Birther crackpots, moon landing crackpots, and myther crackpots tend to have similar problems rationally evaluating evidence. However, the similarities in the crackpots shouldn’t obscure the differences in the quality of the evidence supporting the consensus view in each case. In some of the cases we have most of the pieces of the puzzle. In others, there are a lot of gaps in our knowledge.

                    • Paul Regnier

                      I agree and disagree Vinny. I’d say there’s something particularly repellent about holocaust denial, given that there are still many witnesses to the holocaust alive today and the racist ideology that accompanies the denial. Where we’re talking about events that happened hundreds of years ago, such as the lives of Jesus, Socrates, or Shakespeare, I can see why there is always some room for doubt.

                      However, how, objectively, do we step outside the discussion and objectively compare the evidence for – say – the life of Shakespeare with the evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole assassin of JFK? Surely by assessing the evidence, we are already taking part in the discussion? To put it another way, if I were to ask you, BG, Neil, Dr McG, and Mike to make a rational assessment of the evidence in the cases of Jesus, evolution, and the assassination of JFK, I’m going to get five completely different answers. How do I know who is right?

                      This is why I think there is merit in taking a more sociological approach to comparing mythers with other types of denier – it allows us to step away from the evidence for a few minutes and compare different movements by their formal characteristics.

                    • VinnyJH

                      I don’t think that there is any way for you to know which one is right without going out and examining all the evidence for yourself. Unfortunately, no one has the time to study every issue in depth so we have to come up with short cuts like the consensus of scholars to deal with most issues. However, while the consensuses that are strongly supported by the evidence may be opposed only by crackpots, even where a consensus is more weakly supported, some of its opponents are going to be crackpots. So while comparing crackpots may be interesting in its own right, I’m not sure how helpful it is assessing which scholarly consensuses warrant the most deference.

                    • Paul Regnier

                      So while comparing crackpots may be interesting in its own right, I’m not sure how helpful it is assessing which scholarly consensuses warrant the most deference.

                      Unless, as you say, you could study and understand all the evidence in every field where there is a dispute, would your assessment of the strength of the consensus not boil down to which groups or experts you were happy to defer to, and which you were not?

                    • VinnyJH

                      Even without becoming an expert, I think that it’s possible to learn enough about a field to make an informed judgment about the quality of the scholarly consensus. I think that its possible to detect ideologically driven conclusions, poor methodology, and unwarranted degrees of certainty. Sometimes you can tell that the emperor has no clothes even if you’re not a tailor.

                    • Paul Regnier

                      I guess this takes us back to were we started Vinny – I don’t see that the methodology of Bible Studies is particularly worse than that used to study comparable ancient figures.

                      Which reminds me – I still haven’t replied to your point about historical figures being seen as creator of the universe have I?

                    • VinnyJH

                      I’d be more interested in what you think of Moroni as a historical figure fabricated shortly after a spiritual encounter.

                    • Bretton Garcia

                      Or say, Venus as an allegedly (for Greeks) historical god, created after many encounters with the spiritual quality of Love?

                    • Bretton Garcia

                      Paul? You and other “Jesus Denial” accusers seem amazingly unaware of the classic psychological studies on Denial from Freud to Festinger. Both of whom by the way, found many of their classic examples from Religion, and specifically Christianity.
                      Festinger most famously formed his theory of “Cognitive Dissonance” after examining Christian religious doomsday/Apocalypse cults. Festinger examing their reactions when their projected day of the expected Messianic/Apocalyptic end, did not come. Interestingly, Festinger concluded that religious persons, when confronting even massive and obvious evidence (in this case, against their doomsday predictions), often did not lose faith or leave; but instead became more fanatic than ever.
                      So your consant and one might even say compulsive accusations of “Denial” are curious, and perhaps revealing. As is wellknown in psychology, often the most obvious and compelling and common cases of Denial, proper, were found in religious people like yourself; not in rationalists. Suggesting furthermore that in Freudian psychoanalytic language, your fixation on “Denial,” and constant ascription of it to everyone else, other than yourrself, amounts to a classic case of denial, fixation, and projection. As noted by Freud and Festinger.
                      Or for that matter, as the apostle Paul once noted in the Bible? Be careful of what you accuse others of being; since you will find that you are guilty of it yourself. In spades.
                      What do religious believers do when they prayed for miracles that do not arrive? What do they do, when they hear one piece of evidence after another, after another, contradicting them logically and rationally, from hundreds of scientific and scholarly sources? They project their own failures on everyone else, of course; and accuse others, of what they are most guilty of, themselves.

                    • Paul Regnier

                      were found in religious people like yourself

                      BG, I’ve pointed out to you many, many, times that I am not religious. I don’t know if you if you are calling me religious because you are unable to grasp this fairly simple point or because you are aiming for some rhetorical effect.

                      In either case, if you are incapable of accurately representing my perspective, I’m afraid I really can’t see any point in further discussion with you.

                    • Bretton Garcia

                      One of my casual subhypotheses here, is that you are more religious than you think. And most of your psychological habits point to that.
                      Here as in many places, the narrowness of the GB educational system, has left its graduates vulerable – blind to; in Denial of – all too many realities “outside” their narrow educational experience, and their view of Religion. In this case? Insufficient knowledge of Psychology, and the fuller outline of “Denial,” have limited the self-awareness of British students of Religion.
                      You are welcome in any case to return, when you wish. But I would ask everyone to be less judgemental and dismissive of others.
                      Normally I do not resort to direct, pointed examination of other’s psychological foibles or character flaws; I only do so in direct response to such repeated attacks on myself and fellow Mythicists.

                    • Paul Regnier

                      Here as in many places, the narrowness of the GB educational system, has left its graduates vulerable – blind to; in Denial of – all too many realities “outside” their narrow educational experience, and their view of Religion. In this case?

                      “Dr” Breton Garcia – whichever institution you studied at seems in your case to have awarded a doctorate to somebody who barely seems capable of forming a coherent sentence.

                      I would avoid being too critical of the British educational system if I were you: I don’t know which country’s educational system produced you, but you are hardly a glowing advert for it.

                    • Bretton Garcia

                      Still no substantial, reasoned arguments from you: now, only ad hominem attacks. To add to Denial, and simple blind love of perceived Authority.
                      For that matter, the two main “arguments” for historicism on this blog have been essentially at the level of a 4-year old. Claiming in effect:
                      1) The people we like have bigger degrees than yours; and
                      2) Anyone who says different is crazy.

              • VinnyJH

                The kind of process that you think may have happened in the case of Jesus (i.e. supernatural encounter quickly produces fake historical figure) doesn’t seem to have happened in the case of St Christopher, and I struggle to think of other examples of where such a process has happened.

                The clearest example I can think of is Joseph Smith and the Angel Moroni. As I understand it, in the earliest version of the story Smith was simply visited by an unnamed angel from God, but he was quickly turned into the fake historical figure of Moroni, the last of the Nephites. Of course Moroni was turned into a fake historical figure who lived over 1400 years before the supernatural encounter whereas Jesus would have been a fake historical figure who lived only a handful of years before Paul’s supernatural encounter, but perhaps thirty to forty years before the stories about him were invented. The significant point to me though is that large numbers of Mormons willingly accepted the fake historical Moroni despite the lack of any credible evidence and despite outside attempts to expose Smith as a charlatan. It is not hard for me to imagine 1st century Christians being equally credulous about a fake historical Jesus.

                I would also turn the question around: Are there any examples of an actual historical figure being elevated to the status of creator of the universe so quickly? Certainly we have many examples of fantastic stories arising around actual people after their death, but this seems rather extreme. Might not this point towards a mythological understanding from the start?

                • Michael Wilson

                  vinny, just look up on wikipedia people who have claimed to be are were claimed to God. It is long list. all such people are pretty much defacto elevated to be creator of the universe. I produced list like this for others but im tired of hunting down easily obtainable information for people that can’t be bothered to educate themselves.

                  • VinnyJH


                    Sometimes I educate myself by politely asking questions on blogs. Sometimes pleasant people like Paul provide me with helpful information. Sometimes jerks make snotty responses. Care to guess which category I put you in?

    • James F. McGrath

      Vinny, I am truly sorry to hear that anyone has asked you to take the consensus of scholars on faith. I expect you to treat the consensus of historians and scholars with respect to Jesus of Nazareth in the same way you treat any other academic consensus.

      • VinnyJH

        Dr. McGrath,

        One of the things I look to is the ability of scholars in the field to explain how the evidence supports the degree of certainty they express about their conclusions. In the field of historical Jesus studies, I find the most eminent of scholars expressing wildly optimistic degrees of certainty based on arguments and evidence that appear to me to be little more than speculation and conjecture.

        • Blanche Quizno

          VinnyJH, if you return, please make sure you keep hold of that skeptical attitude of yours. For an example of how Biblical scholars are so often more interested in promoting their faith and their jesus than in actually examining the texts (with, say, the same degree of rigor they would apply if investigating the sacred texts of the Hindus or the Buddhists or the Muslims), see this paper: Historical Criticism and the Great Commission, by Robert L. Thomas, Professor of New Testament

          A few excerpts:

          If questions exist about the genuineness of four major parts of the Great Commission as well as about the Commission as a whole, can evangelical preachers have any confidence in affirming that Jesus spoke any of the words of the Commission?

          Why should THAT be our concern? What of truth? What of intellectual (to say nothing of professional) integrity?

          It is quite evident that some evangelical scholars have conceded major ground to theories of Historical Criticism. Fifty years go, evangelical scholars stood squarely for the historical accuracy of the Gospels in general and the Great Commission in particular.

          Their stand matched that of the early church leaders and representative post-Reformation scholars cited early in this article. Today much equivocation prevails among them on that point.

          What are we to make of a discipline in which certain methods of investigation are forbidden with regard to a specific text? Does that sound right? Is that the proper attitude for an honest scholar to have? (Although for an Evangelical scholar to acknowledge just how much the “consensus” has eroded among those firmly on the side of church doctrine is extremely exciting! It must REALLY be slipping for him to cop to it!)

          To say that the words represent Jesus’ intent even if He did not utter these specific instructions is a presumptuous copout, possibly a concession to gain respectability with the academic intelligentsia, an effort to find a middle ground between the absolute accuracy of the Gospel account and the extreme view that Jesus never said any such thing. If He never spoke the words, the Gospel writer has misrepresented a historical happening and the text is not inerrant.

          How can a legitimate scholar ever claim that a text is “inerrant”??? What does that even mean outside of theology and religious dogma?

          Further, the church from earliest times has mistakenly tied the words directly to Jesus and has obeyed the command of a clever redactor of church tradition, not of Jesus. The missions mandate is a clever ruse. The directive to carry the good news to the ends of the earth did not come from Jesus. To believe His claim to universal authority, in carrying the gospel to all nations, in baptizing, and in using the trinitarian formula therewith is a mistaken assumption. He never spoke those words. A very early Christian community and/or Matthew put the words on His lips.

          Ah, and therein lies the rub. All the evidence points to the “Great Commission” being a later addition – why should this be a problem for anyone who’s interested in the facts and truth of the matter? Remember, this is a Professor of New Testament, about as credentialed an authority as we might find, who is wringing his hanky over what the preachers and believers will think. His conclusion:

          The practical impact of Historical Criticism on proclaiming and obeying the Historical Criticism and the Great Commission is devastating.

          Why should the concept of “obeying” the directives of a given text even enter into the professional picture for a legitimate scholar?

          The evangelical church will do better if it dispenses with that ideology in studying and responding to this portion of the Gospel accounts. The same holds true for the Synoptic Gospels as a whole. Those works are historically accurate and deserve to be recognized and preached in that light.

          And there, mes amis, is why the consensus of CHRISTIAN scholars is irrelevant. They are more interested in their own faith and promoting their religion than in legitimate, honest scholarship.

          So given how conflicted and confused this poor fellow is, it would be a mistake to accept his conclusions solely on the basis of his absolutely relevant credentials, in effect compounding the error.

          • James F. McGrath

            Indeed – although one can say the same about any perspective or ideology, with some engaging in far more distortion than others. Looking at something from The Master’s Seminary is obviously going to provide an example of ideology making at best selective use of scholarship, and so I’m not sure what you were trying to do other than illustrate the obvious. And the fact that no one on the faculty there is renowned as a scholar in the field of secular scholarship likewise says a lot.

  • harvey

    and the ‘thousands’ of acaemics who work in the field of biblical scholarship for a living–are they the ones for whom faith is living, in action, miracles are happening, and spiritual growth occurs? or are they the ones who value above all else, ‘skepticism,’ not faith, and are bitterly dying inside trying to decide, not what Jesus wants his followers to do, but whether or not he even existed. 1 john 4:4 ff. even ‘uneducated’ people know there are such things as false teachings, and more should be expected of those who have studied more.

    • Bretton Garcia

      TO hear Religious Studies compared to Chemistry, or even History, in its degree of certitude, is a mockery of science, and certitude both. And to demand obedience to religious scholars, to same degree that we defer to Chemists in matters of Chemistry, say, is an outrage. It is 1) an offense against Reason; and 2) an attack on religious freedom.
      The status of Religious Studies is nowhere near that of the sciences. Or even of History. In fact? Jesus himself overall, if evaluated by Science or real History, would clearly not be called “historical.” Overall. Since if – as even many religious believers concede – the promises of miracles are false, then half of Jesus as most understand him, is false.
      And therefore? Rather than referring to Jesus as an “historical person,” the normal Historical nomenclature that would be applied here would be to refer to Jesus as at best, overall, a “Semi-historical” or “Legendary” figure; not as an “historical” personage.
      So that the concentration on an “historical Jesus” is misleading; an a-historical red herring. And If Historians today refer to an “historical Jesus,” therefore, that is probably a mistake. It is time to apply a stricter, more professional standard. And to refer to the overall popular notion of Jesus not as “historical,” but as “semi-historical” or “legendary.” Or even, say, “eponymous.”
      Or no doubt? It won’t be long before we see this genuine innovation in Historical nomenclature: as not just a few, but at last a majority of historians frankly call Jesus “mostly mythic.”

      • Paul Regnier

        TO hear Religious Studies compared to Chemistry, or even History, in its degree of certitude, is a mockery of science, and certitude both. And to demand obedience to religious scholars, to same degree that we defer to Chemists in matters of Chemistry, say, is an outrage. It is 1) an offense against Reason; and 2) an attack on religious freedom.

        BG – can you give me one good reason why I should accept the views of a largely non-academic and ideologically motivated group above the consensus position of experts in that field?

        • Bretton Garcia

          The reason is that Theology, Religious Studies, is improving. But it is not yet an objective, science-based field of study. It has always been the adjunct of blind religious “faith” and belief; never objective knowledge and reasonable explanations. And that crippling legacy remains deep in the field, deforming all its “objective” studies by “experts.”
          Therefore? 1) Even a rather biased ideologue who nevertheless uses reason and logic in his argumentation, is to be preferred to “experts” in this “field” of study.
          While of course 2) I assert that the position against Historical JEsus moreover, is not ideological, but soundly based on Reason, and historical knowledge; not all-too-blind “faith” in traditional Authority.

          • James F. McGrath

            I consider it such a wonderful thing that mythicists come here and say things like this, illustrating their biases and lack of comprehension or knowledge of what goes on in athe academic world. My accusations might ring hollow were it not for the fact that some mythicists insist on leaving comments here that illustrate my points so clearly.

            • Michael Wilson

              i think the ? are conspiricy lingo. at least he doesnt USE ALL CAPS LIKE RON PAULERS!!!

            • Bretton Garcia

              Present examples please, rather than simple assertions.

              • Bretton Garcia

                Indeed, I am entirely, absolutely ignorant of any academic virtues whatsoever in Butler university. I know Oxbridge, Harvard & MIT, and a few others. Durham is rated about # 6 in England, out of a very small gene pool. Which “London”?
                Generally by the way, the English degree is considered very problematic. The bachelor’s or “honors” is only 3 years; and includes most classes only in a single discipline. While of course the MA and PhD – are likewise, very, very narrowly specialized, on just a single academic subject.
                So that a graduate of any such a system, like yourself, would be understandably – but culpably – lacking, in the kind of broader understanding of other disciplines. Whose lack you painfully demonstrate, in your antagonism towards/ failure to understand basic concepts of History, Anthropology/Mythography, and so forth.

            • Anonymous

              It is very easy to make insulting assertions. But it is a far more difficult and impressive thing, is to present examples, and then present a reasoned discussion of them, that proves your point. Citing examples, and arguing your case rationally.
              Insulting assertions of your own superiority, assertions of the radical inferiority of every else, amounts to simple egotism and name-calling; nothing more.
              And classic Denial of the evidence.

              • James F. McGrath

                Anonymous, it will typically seem to someone who shows up on a blog for the first time that a post that is merely one in an ongoing discussion leaves many matters untouched. Please take a look at some of the round-ups I’ve posted of my blogging on mythicism, and/or use the mythicism tag to see what I’ve written previously on the subject over the course of the past several years, and then please let me know what, if anything, you think I still need to cover but have not as yet.




                • Bretton Garcia

                  Indeed, you have been prolix, if not astute.
                  There will not be time or space here to address your dozens of posts in the subject of Mythicism, individually. (Though Carrier effectively addressed you on a few). However, I might address some general points that have arisen since I began responding on your blog about a month ago:
                  1) You have long since given up addressing things logically, with reasoned arguments, and instead here continually simply assert your own authority; the Argument from Authority. Which is first of all, logially flawed. And amounts to a vestige of the old days, when we followed the Pope, or the Archbishop, as if he was a god.
                  2) And your love of Authority and consensus is historically flawed. In Art History, or example, it is well known that the greatest new artists and innovators of the 19th century, were all rejected by the Academy.
                  So that? “Consensus,” in the academy, History knows, counts for nothing. Indeed everyone knows from the History of historiography, that there are fads that dominate academic fields for a time. Fads that then are disproven, and pass away. Therefore? “Consensus” counts for nothing. Particularly in highly subjective fields, like your own.
                  3) Particularly in the field of Religion; which has been so subjective that at times it has seriously defended the existence of talking donkies (Baallem’s?); unicorns; and people who walk on water. While now it defends the Real Historical Existence of Jesus
                  4) Turning to your own credentials: if you must cite authority: what are your own qualifications here? a) You have often appealed to what professors say in elite universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard. But? You yourself did not finish your PhD at any of these it seems. And b) you are presently teaching at Butler? You seem to have gotten … two undergraduate degrees? One at Cambridge in Religious studies … but then another, (in Divinity, with a more traditionally “religious” orientation?) at Durham? Finishing at Durham?
                  5) The scholars you quote – like Hoffmann – likewise may have passed through some elite universities – but were not reliably employed there. Rather they are polemicists, at best. Rather than influential, accepted scholars.
                  6) So what finally, do REAL scholars say? Here I have quoted the famous scholar Mark Goodacre for example, supporting my point on the Embarrasing Criterion. Of course he and I am well aware that the Criteria have been put to good use by real historians. But here I have alluded constantly to the danger of MISUSE by religious scholars; who in particular, because of the anti-evidential bias of “faith,” are always highly prone to the massive bias of their field, and to misuse. As per my examples. Goodacre likewise warns of misuse of this problematic method. (If you want a simple accessible source? Goodacre’s podcast on Historical Jesus methodology, online.)
                  Dr. McGrath? You yourself are a bundle of selfcontradictions. On the one hand you constantly, even slavishly, defer to Ivy League experts … but you are not, strictly speaking, one yourself. Your own brief experience with a major university – Cambridge – seems to have been rejected by you, in favor of Durham and the like. Then too, you constantly alude to real, scholarly argument … but in my experience here, you never produce it.
                  My impression is that you like many believers, are essentially inclined to worship Authority. And to follow this god slavishly, simply on the basis of its own simple say-so. Without necessarily fully understanding its tentative arguments. And then, you expect others to do the same as you. Rather that discovering that after all, all knowledge changes, and progresses; and things once thought solid in any given discipline, often evaporate, as new information and data uncovers new perspectives, new theories.
                  While finally, in the present case? Given the new wave of Mythicist scholarship, clearly any Historicist orientation or “consensus” in your field, has been simply another fad. One that is due to pass.
                  In favor of the New Mythicism. Now being outlined, formed, in various Internet blogs.

                  • James F. McGrath

                    So basically you know as little about British universities as about American liberal arts colleges? :-)


                  • Michael Wilson

                    First Bretton let me start by saying you are a boor and
                    troll. Second, your rejection of the concept of a consensus means that all theories are effectively just personal opinions and all schooling is just forcing someone’s opinion on someone else. I suppose though that you feel you are gifted enough to make the judgment for every one on what REAL truth is just like apparently a REAL scholar is whoever you say is. You really aren’t even arguing a case at this point but are just asserting your personal beliefs to be true. You have all the traits of an ignorant pig. The evidence is your idiotic post.

                    • Bretton Garcia

                      This criticism has some merit. Normally in fact I don’t talk like this; only after repeated simple insults from others, raw accusations and insults against Mythicists, accompanied by no evidence, do I finally .. respond in kind. If you check my earlier remarks, you will find they are based on Reason; not on personal attacks.
                      Though to be sure I hold to my position that the notion of serious, science-based, “objective” religious study, is an as-yet unrealized ideal. And therefore for persons in this field to dogmatize, is no less offensive than hearning anyone else’s religion, forced on others. By any other pseudoauthority.
                      Remember that the Pharisees were the religious authorities of Jesus’ day; do you want to be like them?

                    • Blanche Quizno

                      And the American Historical Association disagrees with your insistence that “consensus” is the goal. If you’re still around, I would recommend that you take a look at the AHA’s Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct.


                      Your conduct thus far is anything but professional; thus, I don’t think you should expect people to mistake you for an authority.

                  • Blanche Quizno

                    I realize this is very late, but it’s never too late to review the Standards of Professional Conduct from the American Historical Association

                    “Professional historians benefit enormously from this shared human fascination for the past. Few fields are more accessible or engaging to members of the public. … All manner of people can and do produce good history. Professional historians are wise to remember that they will never have a monopoly on their own discipline, and that this is much more a strength than a weakness. The openness of the discipline is among its most attractive features, perennially renewing it and making it relevant to new constituencies.”

                    So those who try to intimidate others by citing credential requirements etc. are doin it rong.

                    Multiple, conflicting perspectives are among the truths of history. No single objective or universal account could ever put an end to this endless creative dialogue within and between the past and the present.

                    Consensus is not the goal, or even a goal. Remember, this is from the American Historical Association’s Standards of Professional Conduct.

                    “Because the questions we ask profoundly shape everything we do—the topics we investigate, the evidence we gather, the arguments we construct, the stories we tell—it is inevitable that different historians will produce different histories.

                    So not only is consensus not sought, disagreement is expected.

                    “For this reason, historians often disagree and argue with each other. That historians can sometimes differ quite vehemently not just about interpretations but even about the basic facts of what happened in the past is sometimes troubling to non-historians, especially if they imagine that history consists of a universally agreed-upon accounting of stable facts and known certainties. But universal agreement is not a condition to which historians typically aspire. Instead, we understand that interpretive disagreements are vital to the creative ferment of our profession, and can in fact contribute to some of our most original and valuable insights.”

                    Repeat: Consensus is neither sought nor desired. Disagreement is a given. “Multiple, conflicting perspectives” is expected. Those who disagree are not to be condemned for having a different perspective.

                    Remember, this is difficult for non-historians to understand. We can afford to be patient with the poor dears as they get up to speed.

                    • James F. McGrath

                      If by consensus you mean complete agreement of every scholar with no one taking a second look, then of course that is contrary to the very nature of scholarship itself, not just in history but in every field. But nothing you presented in your comment suggests that, on those rare occasions when historians do agree almost unanimously about something, it is anything other than an indication that the evidence for that conclusion must be particularly strong, or the arguments for interpreting the evidence a particular way especially persuasive.

          • James F. McGrath

            I’ve been meaning to ask? Bretton Garcia? For some time? What’s with all the? Oddly-placed question marks??? :-)

            • Bretton Garcia

              Well, I’ll admit that these are oddities, toys I’m playing with.
              Too many questions? It’s a habit I picked up living in Germany and other countries. A style that I’m experimenting/toying with. Generally the idea is to express a student’s or challenger’s potential questions regarding a given theory; presenting them as indeed, likely questions and challenges. And then answering them.
              Occasional caps are not to look too cranky; but are used experimentally in lieu of italics. And to highlight major topics for easy scanning.
              Too many commas? Also a stylistic experiment. The attempt is to break down sentences that would otherwise be too long and convoluted for laypersons, into smaller bites.
              Granted, these ARE novelities and oddities. Toys in fact.