How Widespread is Mythicism?

An English conservative Christian website drew on Barna research and put together a study, which includes the statistic that about one in five people without a church background in England think Jesus was a myth, and roughly the same number are uncertain whether there was a historical Jesus.

Conservative Christians are concerned for different reasons that secular historians will be, and are just as concerned that people don’t think Jesus was God as that they don’t think he existed. But for scholars and historians of all stripes, this data will be worrying because it shows how widely misinformation spreads and is accepted. It makes me think of the satirical article from a few months ago, reporting that Earth is threatened by the development of a new strain of fact-resistant humans.

Do these statistics ring true with your own anecdotal experience? It is striking that the number of Jesus mythicists or agnostics in England is similar to the number of Evolution deniers and agnostics in the United States.

Jesus myth English adults

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

    Of related interest, I just had this piece by Tim O’Neill drawn to my attention: http://www.strangenotions.com/why-history-isnt-scientific/

    • Ignorant Amos

      Am a bit surprised at your having any truck with the views of an amateur?

      I guess it’s okay when it suits your agenda.

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

        You really are clutching at straws if you, who are clearly an amateur when it comes to the subject we are discussing, complain that I mention when other amateurs say things on the topic.

        • Ignorant Amos

          My point is that YOU complain when other amateurs, in your opinion, say things on topic, precisely because they are amateurs and have no place in the discussion with serious scholars.

          That Tim O’Neill is self confessed amateur, but also totally biased to the point he misrepresents Carrier is what is most telling about your referring to him.

          “Carrier is a hopelessly biased polemicist and full-time anti-Christian activist and so, as such, his conclusions need to be regarded with profound scepticism.”

          Incidentally a couple of your regulars got involved in discussion on Strange Notions and the mirror site Estranged Notions which was set up to home the atheists banned by Brandon Vogt when the discourse got too prickly for him.

          The enemy of mine enemy is my friend.

          http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/estranged-notions-atheist-historian.html

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

            Denialists will often try any accusation in a desperate attempt to make some kind of “case” for their nonsense. But if I blog, by definition I am open to interacting with amateurs. And I am an amateur myself in relation to a great many things. What I object to are amateurs who think that their insights are superior to those of professionals who dedicate their lives to the study of a particular subject.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Have you ever been wrong? Are professionals ever wrong? Are amateurs ever right? Have professionals in Jesus studies ever been proven wrong by an amateur?

            Just askin’?

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

            I am wrong often, and that is just that I am aware of. I trust you know full well that this is not about whether I, or whether professionals, can be wrong, or whether amateurs have been or can be right. The issue is whether amateurs with ludicrously implausible ideas are more likely to be right than the consensus of professionals in a field, whether that field be biology, physics, or ancient history.

            Are you “just askin” because you are genuinely confused about the heart of the issue, or are you “just askin” in the same way that all denialists regularly “just ask” that very same thing?

          • Ignorant Amos

            The issue is whether amateurs with ludicrously implausible ideas are more likely to be right than the consensus of professionals in a field, whether that field be biology, physics, or ancient history.

            Fine. If that’s all there was. Just a bunch of no-nothing amateurs up against the field of professionals. But it’s not. You can pretend that it is, but it isn’t.

            It seems to me that any and all professionals on the opposing team become amateurs in your minds eye. Not just your pet peeve’s Carrier and Doherty either.

            And I wish you’d stop comparing things like biology, physics and ancient history like they are equivalent disciplines in some way. That the methods and level of evidence are somehow on an equal footing when they are not…and that doubt of an hypothesis is also of the same level, they aren’t either.

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

            I wish you’d stop pretending that I am comparing disciplines when I am comparing denialisms, and when you yourself continue to provide evidence of the similarity by doing the same things denialists in other fields do.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Because the level and type of evidence in each of the disciplines you compare is not equal, I’m contending the level of “denialism” is not equal and therefore the comparison you are making with mythicism and creationism is just daft.

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

            If you want to take comfort from the fact that history denial does not quite reach the same extremes as science denial, no one is stopping you. But unless mythicists stop using denialist tactics, the similarities will remain visible to those who are not merely seeking to comfort ourselves with respect to a preferred brand of quackery, but instead are seeking to defend academic rigor in all areas of inquiry.

          • Ignorant Amos

            James, if you could find any scholars in the field of biology, or any science for that matter, that are fervent evolutionists, but nevertheless assert that creationism has some merit and deserves to be taken more seriously, you might have a point. That there are serious scholars, Jesus historicist scholars, that nevertheless DO think that the mythicist position deserves to be taken more seriously, that completely undermines the erroneous comparison you are attempting to make in this line of rebuttal..

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

            Isn’t Ken Miller or Philip Kitscher addressing creationists “taking them seriously” in the same way that Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey have?

          • Ignorant Amos

            Whaaa?

            What has Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey got to do with this?

            And no, Ken Miller and Phillip Kitcher are not taking creationism as seriously in the same way as who I’m talking about and you know it already, so stop pretending otherwise.

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

            Instead of feigning astonishment and claiming that I “know it already” but am “pretending otherwise,” perhaps you would like to indicate who or what you are talking about? I do not know, and suspect that perhaps you have been given the mistaken impression (perhaps through quote mining) that there are more academics or quasi-academics who think mythicism is plausible than their actually are. But even if I knew, surely in a public forum like this one, it would be appropriate to actually say what you mean, for the benefit of others?

          • Ignorant Amos

            Professor Stevan L. Davies and Daniel Gullotta spring to mind immediately.

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

            Spring to mind as examples of what? I can’t imagine what category you would place both of them in…

          • Ignorant Amos

            Have you lost your train of thought there James?

            James, if you could find any scholars in the field of biology, or any science for that matter, that are fervent evolutionists, but nevertheless assert that creationism has some merit and deserves to be taken more seriously, you might have a point. That there are serious scholars, Jesus historicist scholars, that nevertheless DO think that the mythicist position deserves to be taken more seriously, that completely undermines the erroneous comparison you are attempting to make in this line of rebuttal.

            Professor Stevan L. Davies and Daniel Gullotta spring to mind immediately as examples of historicist’s that nonetheless think mythicism you should be taken more seriously. Can you point to a scholar that is an evolutionist that reckons creationism should be taken more seriously? If not, then your comparison in “denialism” is a false equivalence and is undermined.

            That’s not even going down the road of the number of scholars that say the methods used in NT scholarship are shot to bits.

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

            You are definitely misinformed about Daniel Gulotta – who you seem not to be aware is currently a student. What is it that gives you the impression that Stevan Davies thinks highly of mythicism?

            Scholars are always revisiting and seeking to improve on methods that we use. And denialists in the natural sciences as well as in history always latch onto that in order to spout their standard “it’s a theory in crisis” nonsense.

          • Ignorant Amos

            You are definitely misinformed about Daniel Gulotta – who you seem not to be aware is currently a student.

            Why do you think I don’t know that? What is he a student in? This isn’t more snobbery creeping in James is it?At present, I’ll grant you him being considered an amateur…is that okay?

            “For all of these reasons, the academic community committed to the study of the New Testament and Christian origins needs to pay attention to Carrier and engage with his thesis (even if they end up rejecting his conclusions); and if for no other reason than that he has the attention of the public.”

            What is it that gives you the impression that Stevan Davies thinks highly of mythicism?

            I can understand why mythicist’s you write about are forever taking you to task for your reading comprehension,.Where do I say he thought highly of mythicism? What he says is that….

            “…Recently an intellectual movement called Mythicism has received considerable attention. Mythicism argues that Jesus of Nazareth never existed at all. It claims that the Christian movement invented him as a founder figure, a mythical heavenly entity come down to earth. The reports of the sayings attributed to him, and the deeds supposedly performed by him, are entirely invented or mistaken according to Mythicism. The Mythicists’ argument is founded on the fact that our earliest surviving Christian texts, the New Testament epistles, show almost no interest in the life or teachings of Jesus. Except for his last week on earth, there is almost no such interest shown in the Acts of the Apostles. Interest in Jesus’ life story was surprisingly late to develop, and when it developed it did so almost entirely through the reworking and creation of ahistorical legends and miracle stories and, in the case of the Gospel of John, accounts of a divinity come to earth. Indeed, there really are only two accounts, that of Mark and that of John, and the latter may be dependent on the former for its basic narrative. I will endeavor to explain why this was the case, and to show how Christianity first came into being, and why the historical Jesus was of little interest to the first Christians. I am not making a Mythicist argument here, but I do think that the Mythicists have discovered problems in the supposed common-sense of historical Jesus theories that deserve to be taken seriously.”~Davies, Stevan (2014-12-19). Spirit Possession and the Origins of Christianity (p. 3-4)

            Taken seriously? Problems in the supposed common-sense of historical Jesus theories? In a book by an historicist scholar? Imagine.

            Scholars are always revisiting and seeking to improve on methods that we use.

            I’m all for improving methods. But not hanging onto methods that are flawed just because they suit a certain agenda. The problem is this though, the methods are still improving or being criticised and binned…eventually. The whole subject of biblical studies seems to be very fluid and forever changing, just not always in the direction you’d prefer.

            And denialists in the natural sciences as well as in history always latch onto that in order to spout their standard “it’s a theory in crisis” nonsense.

            Yeah, those pesky denialist’s pissing all over your academy. Unfortunately it isn’t just the denialist’s that are doing the pissing though is it? How many quest’s is it now? Ah well, onward and upward.

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

            Making me guess what you are thinking, and then complaining about my “reading comprehension” when I guess incorrectly, is worse than the denalist nonsense you have been spouting thus far. It is a standard troll tactic. Feel free to try this on the World Table and see how you fare, but on the Disqus side, I think you have made your approach and tactics clear enough that it is time to say goodbye.

            Historians in all realms of history regularly revisit questions of method and approach. There is nothing here that would surprise even a well-informed layperson. But of course denialists rarely fit the category of those who are well-informed…

          • Jan Steen

            Ignorant Amos wrote:

            Professor Stevan L. Davies and Daniel Gullotta spring to mind immediately as examples of historicist’s that nonetheless think mythicism you should be taken more seriously.

            When challenged to show that Prof. Davies thinks mythicism should be taken more seriously, he came up with this quote:

            I am not making a Mythicist argument here, but I do think that the Mythicists have discovered problems in the supposed common-sense of historical Jesus theories that deserve to be taken seriously.

            Ignorant Amos was clearly misrepresenting Prof. Davies. It is not mythicists that should be taken more seriously, it is the problems they pointed out that should be taken more seriously. Spot the difference.

            Ignorant Amos proves to be an exemplary pupil of Dr. Richard Carrier PhD, who pulls the same kind of stunt all the time. This behaviour is perhaps to be expected from a troll, but an “independent scholar” should realize that it doesn’t do his credibility any good.

          • arcseconds

            I think Gullotta thinks mythicism should be taken seriously in the same sense that Avalos and presumably Nye think creationism should be taken seriously: as something to be publicly rebutted, not ignored.

            That reminds me of someone else… the name is on the tip of my tongue…

          • Ignorant Amos

            What I object to are amateurs who think that their insights are superior to those of professionals who dedicate their lives to the study of a particular subject.

            By amateurs you mean all those without paper in a given subject?

            Like no recognised paper in NT study…or ancient history for example?

            Is it only professionals that have dedicated their lives to the study of a particular subject should be taken seriously?

            Is that the fear here?

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

            There is no fear here, at least on my part. There is frustration when implausible nonsense seems more probable than hard-earnd scholarly results to the insufficiently well-informed.

          • Scott Scheule

            Isn’t Tim O’Neill an amateur who thinks his insights are superior to a particular professional who has dedicated (part of) his life to the study of a particular subject?

            So is O’Neill’s critique ok, while other amateurs’ aren’t, because:

            1. Carrier hasn’t dedicated his entire life to the study of a particular subject?
            2. Carrier’s not a professional?
            3. Carrier’s only one professional? or
            4. Carrier’s not in the majority?

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

            This whole thread is very odd. I regularly point out that other bloggers say things that are of related interest, not necessarily indicating even that I agree with them, much less that their insights are superior to some other individual or category.

            I find Carrier’s arguments unpersuasive. I do not have issues per se with his amateur status. Plenty of amateurs have made significant contributions to our understanding in a variety of areas. Have they ever been the sort of amateurs, however, who insist that they are geniuses while the professionals in the field are fools?

          • Scott Scheule

            I wasn’t objecting to mentioning Tim O’Neill, who’s a smart and persuasive guy, nor to mentioning amateurs, which is also fine, but to your statement–What I object to are amateurs who think that their insights are superior to those of professionals who dedicate their lives to the study of a particular subject–which seems to involve a tension, since Carrier’s a professional, and Tim’s an amateur, and Tim thinks his insights are superior to Carrier’s.

            But your answer seems to be that Carrier IS an amateur, which means there really isn’t any tension in your statement.

            So, why do you consider Carrier an amateur? Lack of a teaching position?

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

            I wouldn’t use the term “amateur” to refer to Carrier. Did I appear to be doing so? Carrier is more akin to Michael Behe – someone who holds a view that his peers are not persuaded by, and who tries to market them to the masses nevertheless. I think we need a separate name for that. Any suggestions?

          • Scott Scheule

            You said you have no problem with his “amateur status.” Maybe there’s some nuance I’m missing, but that sounds like labeling him an amateur. But if it’s not, then my original observation applies.

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

            You’re right, I did give that impression – although I was responding to someone else who characterized Carrier that way, I ought to have worded my response better. On the one hand, Carrier is a self-described “independent scholar” and the term would normally apply in such circumstances. But on the other hand, he has relevant qualifications and has published in appropriate scholarly venues. But again, apologies for allowing a hastily-composed comment to make a longer discussion necessary!

          • arcseconds

            “Independent scholar” seems right for Carrier, does it not? Independent scholar perhaps covers a wide range of individuals, but it does include people who publish in scholarly venues with relevant qualifications.

            The only thing it doesn’t cover is the marketing of fringe views with no traction in the academy to the general public.

          • Jan Steen

            A crank.

          • Ignorant Amos

            But that is disingenuous James.

            Carrier is more akin to Michael Behe – someone who holds a view that his peers are not persuaded by,…

            A lie.

            Because more and more of his peers are struggling with the issue, which is what is called a shift in consensus, and why you are getting more and more attention in JM apologetics. NO?

            Because contrary to that statement…Carrier’s view IS persuading his peers…you may like or wish to deny it, but one example is enough to discredit your nonsense.

            How does a shift in the change of any consensus work in scholarship James?…I’m just a knuckle dragger by the way..and feel free to utilise that admission if ya like in further comments.

            Imagine investing your whole life in something specific in order to find out it is waffle.

            I think we need a separate name for that. Any suggestions?

            You work away at it…sheeeesh!

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

            If you mean that Carrier, working outside the academy as he does, is persuading his peers in the sense of other bloggers and apologists, then that is true. But if you mean that he is persuading academics, and not only that, but persuading more of them than the ID crowd persuaded to sign their “Dissent from Darwin” list, then I would be interested to see what evidence you would offer in support of that claim.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I wonder what makes you think that the consensus is starting to shift. Is that the impression you get from this discussion? Those on the other side are more likely to see it as confirmation of the sterility of the debate than as evidence of shifting ground.

            According to Carrier, the prior probability of any myth theory other than his own is so low as to rule it out of contention. It is, therefore, a straight fight between a celestial Jesus and a historical Jesus. Or to put it another way, if you are inclined to reject the theory that the first Christians believed in a purely celestial Jesus, then you can reasonably assume that there was a historical Jesus. This does seem to bring a certain clarity to the issue; the battle lines are clearly drawn.

            So how many scholars accept the celestial myth theory? As far as I am aware, there is not a single scholar. If Carrier holds a view which is not accepted by any genuine scholar, what does that make him? A crank, surely.

          • Gakusei Don

            Yes, I’d also like to know of any existing scholars persuaded by Dr Carrier’s arguments to accept the celestial myth theory. There may be more that are agnostic on the question of historicity, but I’m not aware of that position being influenced by Carrier’s work.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Well Carrier himself claims only to be agnostic.

            Whether others have been persuaded by Carrier’s argument or the argument Carrier champions is another matter.

            I read somewhere that Hector Avalos was influenced by Carrier’s argument.

            As I noted elsewhere, Raphael Lataster seems to run with Carriers thesis and even uses Bayes Theorem to support his position too.

            Raphael wrote his Master’s thesis on Jesus ahistoricity theories, concluding that historical and Bayesian reasoning justifies a sceptical attitude towards the ‘Historical Jesus’.

            Carrier lists a number of others in related scholarship disciplines in a rebuttal to Ehrman’s accusation in his book that there aren’t any.

            • CARRIER: Ehrman falsely claims in his book that there are no hyper-specialized historians of ancient Christianity who doubt the historicity of Jesus. So I named one: Arthur Droge, a sitting professor of early Christianity at UCSD.

            And of those who do not meet Ehrman’s irrationally specific criteria but who are certainly qualified, we can now add Kurt Noll, a sitting professor of religion at Brandon University (as I already noted in my review of Is This Not the Carpenter) and Thomas Brodie, a retired professor of biblical studies (as I noted elsewhere). Combined with myself (Richard Carrier) and Robert Price, as fully qualified independent scholars, and Thomas Thompson, a retired professor of some renown, that is more than a handful of well-qualified scholars, all with doctorates in a relevant field, who are on record doubting the historicity of Jesus.

            Most recently, Hector Avalos, a sitting professor of religion at Iowa State University, has also declared his agnosticism about historicity as well.

            That makes seven fully qualified experts on the record, three of them sitting professors, plus two retired professors, and two independent scholars with full credentials. And there are no doubt many others who simply haven’t gone on the record. We also have sympathizers among mainstream experts who nevertheless endorse historicity but acknowledge we have a respectable point, like Philip Davies.

            • EHRMAN: No reply.

            • CARRIER: See my remarks above on Ehrman’s continuing fondness for this No-True-Scotsman argument and why it’s a fallacy.

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

            Your list has nothing on the Dissent From Darwin list: http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?command=download&id=660

            And of course, Project Steve puts that list in perspective.
            http://ncse.com/taking-action/project-steve
            http://ncse.com/taking-action/list-steves

          • Pofarmer

            Raphael Lataster is one. Paul Hooper is another. There is a list at Vridar.org.

          • Gakusei Don

            Lataster, okay. I found a Paul Hopper, linguist, listed on Vridar’s Who’s Who, but nothing about him — or any others — being influenced by Dr Carrier’s views on mythicism. Do you have any more information on that?

          • Pofarmer

            There is at least one Post on Vridar talking about an article by Hopper. You should be able to search it. I didn’t know the bar was being influenced by Carrier.

          • Pofarmer

            Have you read Carl Sagan’s view on changing consensus? Consensus doesn’t generally change because the old gaurd changes their mind about something. Consensus changes when the old gaurd dies off and a new atmosphere can take hold.

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

            I think you are thinking of Thomas Kuehn. His work on paradigm shifts has been very influential, but also criticized for depending too much on the one example of Galileo and heliocentrism.

          • Pofarmer

            Sagan might have been paraphrasing someone, but I’m reasonably sure I read it in “Demon Haunted World. “

          • Ignorant Amos

            There are many exceptions though.

            Continental Drift which result in the science of Plate Tectonics in a period circa 50 years immediately springs to mind.

            Paradigm shifts, or changes in the consensus if you like, in biblical studies, seem to be a bit of a trend.

          • Jan Steen

            Sagan must have been paraphrasing Max Planck, who had written (in German, of course): “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

          • Dave Burke

            Last time I checked, Carrier was an unemployed blogger. That makes him an amateur even before we get to the issue of his credentials.

          • Ignorant Amos

            How does Carrier make his living then?

          • Mark

            Good question. I wonder how many examples of that there are. It’s not like Michael Faraday started out trashing the ‘better educated’ ‘professional’ crowd who employed him, before turning their world upside down.

          • Dave Burke

            Carrier is not a professional. and O’Neill has academic consensus on his side.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Let me help you here…

            A professional is a member of a profession or any person who earns their living from a specified activity. The term also describes the standards of education and training that prepare members of the profession with the particular knowledge and skills necessary to perform the role of that profession.

            Carrier checks those boxes.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Non of which is relevant here.

            What I object to are amateurs who think that their insights are superior to those of professionals who dedicate their lives to the study of a particular subject.

            Because that never happens? I mean, an amateur whose insights actually were superior to some professional that dedicated their lives to the study of a particular subject? Only peers and fellow professionals are allowed to have contradictory insights. But then again, not even then.

            But that is not the point anyway. It his the fallacious argument from authority and the cherry picking way it is carried out that is at the centre of the issue. Something you reserve the right to call others on when applicable to your position.

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

            It never happens that an amateur’s views overturn the scholarly consensus without the amateur in question persuading the scholarly community. That point is so obvious as to be nearly tautological.

            Appeal to authority means saying “Richard Carrier has a PhD” or “Richard Carrier’s book passed peer review” and “therefore he must be right, even though he has managed persuade hardly any scholar of his views.” It is not an appeal to authority to say “I am not an expert in the study of ancient languages, texts and artifacts, and so I will defer to the consensus of historians” or “I am not an expert in physics and so I will defer to the consensus of those who are.”

          • Jim

            Hey, so maybe Tim O’Neill is a self confessed amateur … but he’s in the top tier of the amateur pile … so just read the article already, dammit

          • Jan Steen

            Better one amateur like O’Neill than ten “professionals” like Dr. Carrier PhD.

            What’s the difference between them? O’Neill tries to explain the evidence. Carrier tries to explain away the evidence.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Hey, so maybe Tim O’Neill is a self confessed amateur … but he’s in the top tier of the amateur pile …

            Oh, ffs, seriously? That is what is called a non sequitur.

            Tim O’Neill is an astute and clever guy, but that is not the point is it? Top tier of the amateur pile or not, it is your guy McGrath that has the chip on his shoulder about credentials, the need for paper and scholarly recognition with peer review and so forth. That is his argument I was addressing and if the cap fits, he should wear it or be prepared to get called out for not applying his pet peeve equally across the board. He even extends the nonsense to those that ARE qualified, but disagree with his position. Which is fair enough of course, but let’s not pretend it is a genuine rebuttal when it really isn’t.

            Your defence here that an amateur, albeit a top tier amateur, along with that other attempt I read in another comment defending McGrath’s link to O’Neill by trying to equate the comment to the same as linking to creation articles, does not imply support for Behe, is ridiculous. It just draws attention to the double standard and hypocrisy you lot like to apply on these instances. Everyone knows fine well the reason for the O’Neill link. He’s an Atheist historicist well steeped in the subject of history scholarship, which again is fair enough, it’s the double standard that I was drawing attention to, that’s all.

            I have no problem with informed amateurs taking part in any debate, that is your man’s beef…when it suits of course. Plenty of folk with no formal qualifications are better informed than those with qualifications in all sorts of disciplines, including history. It was me that championed the position in another comment on this site by presenting some extreme examples of minimally educated amateurs. Geniuses who became experts with no formal qualifications at all. Michael Faraday, a particular favourite of mine, for one. I’m not the “expertise” snob here.

            …so just read the article already, dammit

            Whaaaa? Do ya mean from the link McGrath provided just the other day…or back when the article went up at the Catholic apologetics site Strange Notions and the Atheist mirror site, Estranged Notions…OVER A YEAR AGO? Where you will find in the comments section I’m in evidence of having read the article and even engaging with Tim O’Neill himself? Dammit!

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

            You seem to have badly misunderstood me. I have always had a great appreciation for the websites, blogs, and other materials and activities in which those who are not professional scholars draw on, help publicize, and even contribute to mainstream scholarship. What I object to is the anti-scholarly amateur – those who do not know Aramaic but insist that scholars have their understanding of an Aramaic text wrong nonetheless. I would hope that anyone could see the problem with trying to overturn a scholarly consensus without the necessary kinds of scholarly knowledge and skills.

          • Jim

            My interpretation of Dr. McGrath’s comments wrt peer-reviewed publication requirements (if I have perceived them correctly) relate more to the preferred protocol of supporting or challenging a historical consensus position at the academic level. This wouldn’t discourage participation in any ongoing dialogue/discussion on the subject matter for any interested parties. It’s just that formal challenges (or even support) need to follow formal protocol in order to be fully evaluated by experts. That’s the way it works in most academic disciplines.

            As I was reading your comment with deep empathy, a celestial person (dressed in a long white robe) landed on my right shoulder and whispered “it is not your place to vex Ignorant Amos”. Soon thereafter, a celestial person with horns (all in red and with a pointy tail) appeared on my left shoulder and said to me “did you read Jan’s comment; it’s way better than yours and more to the point”. So after what seems like pico-seconds ….. :)

      • John MacDonald

        Professors regularly enter into discussions with “amateurs,” where ideas are exchanged, positions furthered, and arguments bolstered or abandoned. Along with personal research, one of the most important roles of professors is their relationship with “amateurs.” Those “amateurs” are otherwise known as “students.”

        • Ignorant Amos

          Nothing wrong with that of course. But don’t you think there is a hypocrisy going on here? O’Neill is an Historical Jesus advocating atheist, while someone like Docherty is derided and waved away as a kook because he is an amateur. Would O’Neill’s piece put up on that Catholic site have been referred to as relevant to the topic in hand had it been an amateur atheist mythicist piece. Of course not. That’s my point.

          Another blogger that got on the wrong side of Dr. McGrath has this to say…

          McGrath feels that mythicists don’t grasp the basic premises involved. Fair enough. Here’s the thing, though … as a layman with no stake in the game (despite the horns McGrath may envisage beneath my cap), I see people like Doherty and Carrier and the folks at Vridar at least trying to have an intelligent conversation about some of the more problematic and/or dissonant aspects of Christian origins. These people are talking about serious things. At the same time, I see people like McGrath simply wanting to discredit these people in any way, treating these serious people like insolent clowns, even resorting to crying “Creationism!” which is a really infantile and disruptive tactic, a way to stop a discussion before it even starts. The kind of antagonistic stance toward any hint of mythicism in McGrath’s diatribes suggests that he sees mythicism as getting way too much attention, and, heaven forbid, he can’t have dissenting scholars and freethinking laypeople who are ignorant enough to ask all of these really hard questions which are, it would seem, the rightful purview of proper mainstream academics. Lay people should keep their mouths shut on these matters, as should anomalous academic views (I guess). “Don’t worry, ma’am, we are scholars. We got this.” McGrath tries to hide complexity with facile arguments. He keeps it all reductio-like. The problem with that is that in as convoluted a subject as this is, details are crucial, and having a ready-made eloquently rehearsed general appeal to authority at the ready is all fine and lovely, but it has nothing to do with the critical analysis of the material that is being so earnestly sought by those he dismisses as mere “creationists.”

          • arcseconds

            McGrath is guiltly of the same hypocrisy when it comes to biology! He has in the past linked to Eye on the ICR with apparent approval, which is open about being written by an undergraduate. Yet he regularly is completely dismissive towards Michael Behe.

            How dare he!

  • SDGlyph

    Hmm. I’m British, and while I can’t say I’ve done any kind of study on the matter, the basic 20% figure seems reasonable on a ‘gut feeling’ level. It’s not at all surprising to me that it marries up with denialism among American Evangelicals – the UK is far less overtly religious than the US, to the point that public religiosity is generally unwelcome and frowned upon. I think it’s easier to default to ‘the whole thing’s a crock’ and assume that everything about Christianity is fictional than to put mental effort into sifting the historical from the legendary, especially if (a) the actual evidence is relatively esoteric / not part of the public consciousness and (b) our cultural mindset tends to be that smart people view any ‘official’ or ‘institutional’ information with automatic suspicion.

    If we assume that mythicism is to atheism as YEC-ism is to Christianity, and that many people will give what they believe to be the default answer because they’ve never really thought about it but they’ve heard people they respect say it, then really, I’m only surprised the figure isn’t higher.

    • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

      I think mythicism is far better supported than YEC. I’d put myself in the “don’t know” column, because I honestly don’t know.

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

        How is this different from saying that biological evolution is better supported than the crossing of the details of Alexander the Great’s death? Ancient history is always less well supported than the natural sciences, by definition, and so it is hard to see why that justified agnosticism – unless one is starting from the problematic assumption that only science gives sufficient basis for confidence in the probable truth of deductive conclusions.

        • The Eh’theist

          It’s important to note that there are two streams of authority making the claim about the historicity of Jesus. In the first case, it’s being made on the basis of research and scholarship. In the second, it’s being made on the basis of religious authority.

          When Pope Francis (for example) spoke of Jesus during his visit, he wasn’t basing his claims on Ehrman’s research (or anyone else) but on the prior claim that a real Jesus had written his predecessor’s job description.

          So like YEC, much of the claim to Jesus’ existence that has been based on purely religious authority has been called into question/rejected by those not willing to accept the authority underlying the claim.

          Unlike YEC, there is academic evidence for Jesus’ existence that can be reviewed, but unless there’s an argument for why people who’ve left behind religion should invest the time and effort to answer this question, it seems like entropy will feed the growth of “don’t knows” if not outright mythicists.

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

            I would have said that, when it comes to the existence of a historical Jesus or the origins of the cosmos, conservative religionists are more likely to simply assume things, while in both cases scientists and historians will ask what the evidence is.

          • John MacDonald

            Bible scholar Dale Allison says :

            “I have never been without theological motives or interests. Until a few years ago, however, I had not attempted to pursue those interests with much diligence or to examine my motives with much care. Recent circumstances have pushed me out of my historical-critical pose. After accepting a teaching post at a Protestant theological seminary, I soon discovered that future pastors are not interested in undertaking historical labor without the prospect of theological reward. In order, then, to keep my audience, I was compelled to complement my critical inquiries with theological deliberations.”

            Dale C. Allison Jr.. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Kindle Locations 20-23). Kindle Edition.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Is There a Christian Agenda Behind Religious Studies Departments?

            http://www.raphaellataster.com/articles/christian-agenda-university.html

          • Mark

            Note that the language of hidden agendas ‘behind’ the innocent surface is the language of conspiracy.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Of course you are bound to read it like that, no surprise there. Are you suggesting that Lataster is lying about his findings and reports?

          • Mark

            Lataster – this seems to be a term paper? – suggests that something in Quadrio “Kant and Rousseau on the Critique of Philosophical Theology” will teach us that “Christian influences can even be found in Philosophy departments, once great bastions of rationalism and scepticism, via Philosophy of Religion (Quadrio 2009).” Needless to say, it isn’t in text. But it doesn’t matter where he’s getting the idea from; it’s 40 ways absurd. First, there has probably never been anything you could call a ‘philosophy department’ in the so-called West that didn’t have Christian members. Second, if ‘Christian influences’ are growing, it will have trouble with the increasing vulgarity of philosophers in everything to do with religion; this has multiplied in the whole epoch since Reagan-time.

            The language of ‘Christian influences [having been introduced] via the Philosophy of Religion’ — that well known Trojan Horse — infecting these ‘once great bastions of rationalism and skepticism’ is the language of conspiracy. It every bit as unreal and unhistorical as typical right wing hysteria about Planned Parenthood or the discovery of the outlines of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the profit margins of Goldman Sachs.

            The author is not a serious person but a transparent operator and ideologue; I’m sure he has a bright future ahead of him among the internets.

          • arcseconds

            The philpapers survey shows 71% of professional philosophers are atheists or lean towards atheism (which rises to 81% in Australasia). Chances of there being departments without Christians seems quite high, especially as ‘theist’ may not mean Christian.

          • Mark

            The distribution is not entirely by chance, and I was including the whole history of the departments, each of which predates, say, the internet; but the statement was an expression of doubt not an assertion of fact. I know about the philpapers survey and refused to fill it out myself, like most people I know … most of them fellow unbelievers admittedly. The people who answered will have been social media types and people beholden to the surveying crowd. The whole operation generated a typical academic tempest in a teapot. The actual data on philosopher’s ‘religious beliefs’ will almost certainly correspond with ordinary data on academic people, e.g. law professors, professors of chemistry, English, mathematics. Similarly, their politics are indistinguishable from those of other academics, and are such as might be predicted on the vulgar-Marxist principles I am myself inclined to avow .. they tend to be big-state liberals, since the universities are largely funded by the state. Anyone who took this as evidence that big-state liberalism is true, is as much a fool as someone who takes philosophers’ opinions about ‘the existence of God’, whatever that means — Yes? – No? – Maybe? – as evidence of anything. What the hell is the question, after all? Little experience will tell you that a body of philosophers who are willing to answer a question so stupid without being given a chance to ask “What do you mean?” are not going to be giving you evidence worth wanting (this holds of the whole survey, which had little to do with Divinity, of course) It happens that in the last couple of months colleagues avowed atheism en passant in different connections, and I said, What, you know that Spinoza is wrong? (I’ve taken to saying this to people who can comprehend it, just for the hell of it, having gotten interested in this new atheism business and the question what people mean when they adopt postures in this connection.) Then they /both/ actually avowed either Spinozism itself, in the one case, and a predisposition to it, in the other. Neither meant to be denying the teaching of Aristotle, Spinoza or Hegel on ‘the divine’; they were just rejecting what goes by the name of religion, not advancing a metaphysical statement. Most of them haven’t studied the relevant parts of ‘metaphysics’, they’re not where the action is. So I think ‘atheism’ actually tends to be a political statement.

            Going by surveys when the topic is philosophical is basically the death of reason, face it. It’s like using an FMRI machine on people during the process of moral judgment.

          • arcseconds

            My goodness, what a rant spirited response! If I had known this was such a sore point with you I might not have brought it up, but oh well, no use crying over spilt milk, I suppose.

            You’ve certainly got a… complex and nuanced view there.

            On the one hand, philosophers are indistinguishable than other academics when it comes to views which philosophy might be thought to be fairly directly relevant to. One wonders, if they do not differ significantly than other academics on these matters, whether there is in fact any point in philosophy departments.

            On the other hand, apparently many of them have complex and nuanced views and would reject even answering the question, a question which most people would not have a problem with (or at least, not a problem with because they felt it was too simplistic).

            These don’t on the face of it seem compatible with one another, but maybe this is a contradiction to be resolved by a synthesis of some kind.

            And you seem very certain that you understand the sort of person who would answer such a survey, and it’s not a very flattering picture… one wonders how you can be sure of that, given clearly this can’t be based on a well-designed survey with a statistically significant number of participants. It almost sounds as though it might be a knee-jerk emotive response because you don’t like surveys, but I’m sure this can’t be true, you must have a better reason than that. Maybe you derived it from the principle of sufficient reason?

            Your views entail that stupidity, atheism, survey answering, and social media participation must be fairly strongly correlated among philosophers. That’s an interesting discovery!

          • Mark

            I’m not grasping the direction of this succession of sarcasms. My claims about the kind of people who did and didn’t respond to the survey were based on say 50 individual cases, where I saw affirmations or arguments put forth on the matter either in person or in public or in social-media land. I don’t know what the principle of sufficient reason is, or how I might apply it here. Obviously I could have faced a skewed sample. The matter was huge — in the way completely trifling matters can be huge in an academic community, or any other small loquacious community. The question was never whether to like or dislike surveys in general; what would that mean, and how would it be possible for any particular emotion to attach to surveys as surveys? The objections people had arose from experience with the survey in question, and from actually starting to answer the questions. Part of the trouble was that the questions were posed by experts in a fairly narrow (but important) range of subdisciplines, so as soon as they started formulating questions elsewhere they got comical results. For example, the classification of views in ethical theory presupposed a kind of categorization you might find in a 70’s primer; this was notably comical, but the case was similar for other areas. Of course, as soon as you see that this was inevitable, the point and possibility of any survey starts to come into question. You can have specialists in the various fields putting questions in terms that will be judged anodyne and un-question-begging, but then there is the question, why non-specialists in the determinate areas are answering questions framed in a technical vocabulary they have not been trained in. The difficulty as so far propounded would also arise for other academic disciplines, since the law of disciplinary fracturing and internal diversification is well known to have general applicability. But there are other specifically philosophical difficulties that came into peoples’ heads in the course of their experience taking one or another or no stand on questions that, from the point of view of their sub-sub-discipline, are comically formulated, namely that the struggle for lucid formulation and total clarity are more important than arriving at any determinate answer under any of these headings. I guess you could think of that as a brute emotional state of liking or not-liking. But in any case, the people who did complete the survey took a different view. I don’t think that the result under a heading like Existiert Gott? would have been appreciably different if everyone had to answer all the questions at gunpoint or something. But that the survey sample was disastrously skewed is quite plain; it’s not that they failed to reach remote communities or something, but that a clearly quite significant survey takers tended to reject the survey on grounds of experience with the questions themselves.

            Some of your sarcasm does seem to rest on ignoring the fracturing into sub-disciplines, and, if I understand, is preparing to use the effects of this to argue that maybe there isn’t any ‘point in philosophy departments’. Don’t worry, the deans are closing them down quite quickly enough (in typical cases, disappearing them into General Humanities or English or even Religious Studies, whatever that is — I would prefer Mathematics myself, as at least as rational a fusion as any of the above). It isn’t clear that there is any one thing to be flattered or un-flattered.

            But no matter, I’m basically not grasping what conclusion you think can be drawn from the philpapers survey. Are you for example thinking that “X% of philosophers affirm atheism” has any evidentiary value vis a vis atheism itself?

          • arcseconds

            Why on earth would you think that? The context was that you were saying that philosophy departments probably all have Christians in them, but the available data is that academic philosophers are typically atheists. We were not discussing the truth of atheism.

            While there’s still a decent proportion of non-atheists, so that one would expect a typical department to have a non-atheist or two in their midst, and in western countries these are likely to be Christian, there’s a strong likelihood of some atheist-only department.

            So where are you getting the notion that I think that makes atheism true from?

            Your response to this was an eccentric rant about the survey and the sorts of terrible people that fill out surveys. You do realise you sound rather like a crank who won’t fill out his census form, yes? The rest of us are all sheeple and Federal Government running-dogs. I was rather hoping you were joking, although even as a joke calling your colleagues who responded to the survey ‘social media types and beholden to the surveying crowd’ seems bad-spirited.

            None of what you say suggests that there’s any real reason to doubt this survey on atheism. What you’d need to do that is an argument that Christians are less likely to fill out the survey, but even your own anecdote suggests that the people refusing to do so are also predominantly atheists. And your own statements that philosophy departments are not likely to be that different from other higher ed departments would also suggest a reasonably high frequency of atheism.

            Even if it ends up being a political label — a view I have some sympathy with — it’s still the case that people identifying with that label are rather unlikely to be Christians and extremely unlikely to be believing Christians.

            There will be a few who identify as both Christian and atheist, of course.

            You seem to have rather a lot of trigger issues, and when triggered respond with enthusiastic diatribes. It’s all very entertaining, but it does mean it looks like it’s difficult to have a reasonable discussion with you.

          • Mark

            You misread the sentence repeatedly. The point was historical and I was never contemplating temporal cross-sections, and envisage philosophy faculties as emerging from the middle ages, etc. But never mind. My own current department has had 72 individual members since 1952. (It is a post-war expansion type university and an ultra-secular department and doesn’t go back to the middle ages.) In many must-have areas of philosophy e.g. history of early modern and medieval and I think philosophy of religion, believers are over-represented. The matter is subject to deteminate laws; no doubt I have them somewhat wrong.

            I don’t think the result stated in the philpapers survey about atheism etc. is particularly wide of the mark, but the survey is not a legitimate source of knowledge. It is good as entertainment, which is more or less what it was meant as. If you are using it in any way in defense of any particular view, you are simply lying to people. There’s no way around this.

            By the way serious people use the word Christian to mean something like “celebrates Christmas”; any other use of the opposition “is Christian/is not a Christian” is basically sectarian and cultic in character. The uncaptive mind will find it obvious that many Christians don’t e.g. believe in God. As soon as you attempt to argue against such a criterion you have entered the space of cultic thinking.

            I don’t know what it means when you predicate the verb phrase ‘has rather a lot of trigger issues’, unless it means, ‘has a lot of thoughts unfamiliar to me’ or maybe ‘says stuff I can’t fit under the meaningless jargon I have picked up on the internet, like “has trigger issues”‘

          • arcseconds

            Sorry, I did actually accept your correction (without acknowledging it) immediately, so what I should have written was ‘have’ instead of ‘had’, or it ‘seemed to me’. It’s a complex sentence with a nested conditional over times, departments and members, and it’s not clear to me even now that my original reading isn’t a viable one, although I’ll allow that your intended reading is better, and moreover your intention.

            But it’s not really relevant, is it? I summarized the context purely to show that we weren’t discussing the truth of atheism, but rather the incidence of atheism in philosophy departments. So where is this notion that I think surveys of philosophers shows athiesm to be true comming from?

            ‘Trigger issues’ could have been phrased better. The point is that frequently (although not always) rather than actually engaging in a reasonable, respectful, and relevant discussion you go off on extended tangential rants, which show a distinct lack of charity towards your interlocutor, your colleagues, and people who aren’t as nuanced and sophisticated as you. Perhaps you’re not aware that this is what you do and how you come across?

            Here, let’s do a compare and contrast. Here’s a reasonable and proportionate response to my statement about philpapers might go that makes most of the points:

            Well, yes, philosophy departments have a high proportion of atheists these days, and you’re right: there may well be departments that lack Christians now. But the point was meant historically: philosophy departments of any age will have had many Christian members in the past.

            By the way, you probably shouldn’t put much stock in the philpapers survey. It might get the proportion of atheists roughly right, but it’s unreliable because of…

            That would show you understood what I was asserting, you agreed with the assertion (if not the evidence I referred to, but you haven’t actually given any reason to think the result is massively unreliable (but coincidentally right) on this particular matter), and that your opinions about the survey are a bit of an extra.

            Instead what I got was an extended rant, over several posts, and not an especially coherent one, in which you:

            *) impugned respondents to the survey

            *) implied very strongly I’m a fool

            *) assumed without any warrant that I can see that I’m taking a high proportion of a particular response as indication of the truth of that response (even after I’ve cast doubt on the reasonableness of this assumption!)

            *) downplayed philosophers as being ordinary academics

            *) clapped yourself on the back for your sophisticated nuance

            *) implied very strongly that people who don’t share your sophisticated nuance are idiots

            *) indicated that philosophers frequently don’t share your sophisticated nuance

            *) implied very strongly that you don’t think I share your sophisticated nuance.

            Not one bit of this is at all relevant to the point I was raising, which it turns out, after some considerable struggle, you agree with!

            (Well, there’s still the point about early modern and medieval philosophers and philosophers of religion, to which I’ll point out that however ‘must have’ these areas are, nevertheless they frequently are represented by just one person, or are absent altogether)

            You behave a bit like this towards mythicists, too.

            Do you see what I mean? You’re like the cantankerous and perhaps not entirely sober uncle at Christmas parties that people have to avoid certain topics if they want to avoid an extended performance, where their presence is either as audience or as stand-in for the objects of his vitriol, not as partners in a proper discussion.

            I’m probably not going to go over this again. On the whole it’d probably be more pleasant if you made an effort to restrain yourself and actually try to have a reasonable discussion with me, rather than flying off the handle at irritants and imaginary opponents.

            But I don’t particularly care if you continue doing this — as I said, it’s entertaining.

            One thing you have to understand, though: if I’m to be subject to performances, I’m likely to throw peanuts!

          • arcseconds

            seeing as we appear to have a professional philosopher in our midst, what is your opinion on the extent of Bayesian arguments in philosophy? ncovington89 seems convinced that they’re common (he said ‘very common’ at one point). But I don’t think I’ve ever come across a Bayesian argument for anything outside Bayesian epistemology itself. I don’t deny that they exist, but not nearly to the extent that warrants calling them ‘common’ or ‘very common’.

            nconvington89’s evidence of this is to point to some companion to natural theology, a couple of philosophers of religion, and someone who argues against William Lane Craig as examples, but naturally I find this unconvincing. Going and looking for Bayesian arguments of course can’t tell you how common they are, and even these examples seem somewhat fringe on the whole.

          • Jim

            I’m quite fascinated by the application of BT to HJ studies. On the one hand you have a tag team of apologists (McGrew and McGrew) who use the odds form of BT to conclude that the probability of Jesus’ resurrection at the end of his human life is some high number while on the other hand, Richard Carrier determines the probability of an HJ using BT results in a very low number (his preferred number and not his “generous” upper limit of 32%). I just wish that my math prof had accepted that kind of range of answers while marking my final exam.

          • arcseconds

            Unfortunately, bayesian arguments out there in the wild are used to justify all sorts of nonsense, to the point where ‘I can prove that probably X by a Bayesian argument!’ is a fair indication a more accurate statement would be that ‘I can prove that probably X by a bullshit argument’.

            It’s unfortunate because a lot of people have taken this to mean that Bayesian arguments are always bullshit arguments, and therefore Bayesian epistemology and even Bayesian probability are therefore also bullshit. But we can learn a lot from Bayesian epistemology (and it may even be true), and I’m still cautiously optimistic that a Carrier-style treatment in history could prove useful.

            Doesn’t seem like his his particular treatment is a goer, though.

          • Jim

            Yeah, imo a bit more work is required to be able to confidently apply BT to special cases such as one time none repeatable (past historical) events. Currently for this specific application, the use of fairly subjective inputs/priors seems to lead to an unacceptably wide variation in outcomes. But with time, thought and proof of concept, hopefully this technique may become more robust and lead to improved insights in historical studies. I suppose it’s the old time will tell thing.

          • arcseconds

            I really don’t think we’re going to get a calculus where we can rigorously calculate a probability for some particular event to have occurred that eliminates subjectivity. The best we can hope for is a framework for making some of the assumptions and weightings more transparent.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I heard some time ago that McGrew was reading Carrier’s book. It’s interesting that he hasn’t offered any comment on it so far. I imagine that he’s facing a bit of a dilemma. He can’t just say that the application of Bayesian reasoning to questions of this type is inherently bogus, because that would undermine his own work.

            My take, for what it’s worth, is that Carrier’s conclusion provides a kind of reductio ad absurdum of his method. Carrier’s theory is that the early Christians believed in a heavenly crucifixion, but the “evidence” to support this is hopelessly inadequate. However, by a form of epistemological necromancy, Carrier is able to “demonstrate” that this is indeed what they believed.

            The very fact that Carrier is able to “demonstrate” something for which the evidence is so poor should automatically make us highly suspicious of the method by which he reaches his conclusion.

          • Mark

            Yes, I think directly giving a “Bayesian” argument, or indeed a probabilistic, argument is restricted to philosophy of religion; I associate the line of development ncovington89 is thinking of with Swinburne, who is indisputably a very high quality writer and all round Eminent Person (whatever the merits of his philosophy of religion). He was already up to this kind of thing in the 70’s; Craig is more of an epigone.

            This isn’t to say that various expressions containing “Bayes” as root-word aren’t all over the place, of course. The reason for the distinction is fairly straightforward, as you will see by reflecting that mathematicians don’t engage in probabilistic arguments, but rather in mathematical proof; nevertheless Probability, Probability and Measure, etc. are a typical undergraduate courses. The Bayes relationship is a trivial feature of this discourse, of course.

            The oldest analytic-philosophical disputes in this area were about the interpretation of probability – Frequentism, the Logical Theory (defended e.g. by Keynes), Subjectivism, etc., etc. This is something that cannot be decided by the mathematical theory. “Bayesianism” as that phrase circulates in philosophy is basically the name for what used to be called the “subjective” interpretation, which more and less radical further thoughts added on.

            The subjective interpretation can’t stand alone, but is associated with the general theory of ‘rational choice’, ‘decision theory’, whatever you want to call it — in which degrees-of-belief are coupled with “preferences” or (so to say) degrees-of-valuing. The latter was devised by the philosopher F P Ramsey and Bruno de Finetti (from ample pre-existing materials). This interpretation makes the use of the Bayes relationship much more important, thus the name. Once the idea of degrees-of-belief is up and running, it is possible to make it the basis of ones ‘epistemology’; all change of belief (in contingent matters) becomes updating of confidence levels. The literature that turns the Ramsey-de Finetti interpretation of probability into a general doctrine of belief is certainly immense and of high repute (this isn’t to say any associated propositions are widely accepted, of course, just that the literature is by general consensus esteemed as a zone in which there is work of first rank; that the late David Lewis was much involved in such debates, was enough to make it central to the discipline in the recent period.)

          • Mark

            Oh I meant to add that Swinburne’s and Craig’s sorts of argument are about the rationality of believing in God, rather than direct arguments for the existence of God, which would be metaphysical in character. Thus the subjective interpretation of probability and the valorization of the Bayes rule springs to the fore for them. All of this turns on a frame of mind where ‘belief in the existence of God’ or ‘disbelief in the existence of God’ is a burning *practical* issue, so that we need to ‘go meta’ on endless tide of metaphysical arguments and counter-arguments. It sort of makes sense, but is in a sort of half-light of quasi-philosophy. We used to make fun of Swinburne in my youth as assembling a pile of professedly bad arguments that ‘almost make it’ into one big argument alleged to be good. There was truth in this objection, surely, but it was maybe a little unfair. Viewed as an attempt to represent the state of the believer as rational, it is somewhat different from what we normally think of as philosophy, which would directly address the proposition.

          • arcseconds

            Ah, I didn’t know that. I always thought Craig was arguing for the existence of God. Checking the wikipedia page he seems a little more credible than his followers have led me to believe. It seems he argues not that the Resurrection has a high probability tout court, but a high probability given that God exists.

            And surely it’s correct to think it’s got a much greater probability on the assumption of the existence of a miracle-working, interventionist God :-)

            Is it really different in kind from the Bayesian epistemological notion of a Bayesian agent (limited in some ways, like lacking in logical omniscience) updating their belief in a scientific theory on the basis of incoming evidence?

          • arcseconds

            I’m tolerably familiar with Bayesian epistemology, just for the record. I think perhaps nconvintgon89 is more familiar with the philosophy of religion literature than anything else, maybe that explains why he’s so convinced it’s widespread in philosophy.

            It seems to me that something like the subjectivist notion of probability is indispensable if we want to make any kind of notion of rational-given-their-beliefs action. I think it’s fairly evident that people do reason in a way that’s something like this: they have degrees of belief, and they take action on the basis of those degrees. Obviously something like the stock market (or actual gambling) is the clearest example of this, but really a lot of our daily decisions can be described in this way. You know there’s a chance you’ll die in a car accident on the way to work, but you go anyway, because the small risk is worth remaining in gainful in employment, and if the risk starts to get too great (because the brakes on your car have gone, or there’s oil all over the roads, or something) you make a different decision.

            The question as to whether this is the ‘true’ notion of probability is kind of beside the point, to my mind.

            However, as I mentioned to Jim, every time I’ve encountered a Bayesian argument out there in the wild, they seem to be deployed in cases where we’re reasoning in a vacuum, and appear to be an attempt to shore up armchair speculation. The Drake equation, the existence of God, the occurrence of miracles (and indeed Pascal’s wager) all seem to be examples of this. I’ll cop to not having read William Lane Craig directly, but on the other hand no-one’s actually directly cited his work to me, so far as i remember. They all point to summaries or restatements or whatever, and these don’t inspire confidence.

            One obvious problem is that they’re still giving informal reasoning to establish a lot of the probabilities, and the reasoning isn’t any better than armchair reasoning about totally speculative topics about which we have no real data normally is.

            Another problem is the embrace of the principle of insufficient reason (AKA the principle of indifference) uncritically to establish no-information priors. (This is where for n options in a no-information case they demand a probability of 1/n.) For several reasons I’m pretty sure we need to be thoroughly sceptical of the applicability of this principle to these cases.

            Also, there’s a risk with people sitting down playing with the probability calculus (or any kind of technical treatment) for bits of their argument when they don’t really understand it. Do they know what a probability distribution is, for example? De Finetti knew his stuff, for certain, but I’m not sure about William Lane Craig.

          • Mark

            I agree; my understanding has always been that subjectivism/bayesianism is completely opposed anything like a principle of indifference. Carrier explicitly appeals to it pretty frequently; I wondered where he was getting it from. In the logical interpretation this had a place, but involved a very elaborate metaphysics (the treatment of probability in terms of ‘elementary propositions’ in the Tractatus is typical). The trouble is that subjectivism places amazingly few controls on degrees of belief; it is like the principle of non-contradiction. Where are dealing with special complex propositions like projecting statistical distributions, that it can really get us anywhere interesting. Where the propositions are all particular, it seems obvious that we can’t really get much worth speaking of out of this material.

          • arcseconds

            Well, just to make it extra confusing, there are ‘objective Bayesians’ who while they interpret probabilities as degrees of belief, do think there are some kinds of rational constraints on priors and likelihoods (Jaynes being a good example, championing a maximum entropy distribution as the way to rationally assign no-information priors) and ‘subjective Bayesians’, who brook no constraints at all. Clearly there’s a possibility of spectrum here, and I gather there really is a spectrum.

            I only learned that Carrier appealed openly to the principle of indifference recently. Ian recently said it struck him that Carrier seems to be thinking that a 1st year introduction to Bayesian probability is in fact the entire subject area (it had also struck me this way too, but Ian knows this stuff better than I do. Or at least, he knows the mathematical side and the practical use Bayes’s theorem in a computer program to predict things side a lot better).

            So either he’s not really aware that there’s a discussion about this, which suggests he just does not know this area well enough to be using it (it’s not like it’s a deep secret that only ultraspecialists are aware of) or he is aware and is choosing to ignore it.

            I suppose Carrier might say he’s writing for a popular audience so can’t get into an involved discussion on this stuff. But it just strikes me as irresponsible. He is not trying to summarize an involved argument so that a layman can have some understanding of what can only be fully understood by an expert: he is trying to lay the entire argument, all of it, in front of the layman.

            Basically, even if there’s something to be had here for history (and despite my misgivings and doubts, I still think there might be), he’s going about this all wrong. The way to do this would be to collaborate with someone who is actually something of a specialist in this area (a top-notch, mathematically capable Bayesian epistemologist) and show how undisputed arguments in history can be rationally reconstructed in a Bayesian manner. That would actually be quite an achievement in its own right, and eminently publishable (I’d be surprised if there wasn’t work in this area already, though). If that works out you can move on to try to solve contentious problems later, on the basis of a methodology that has something of a proven track-record.

      • Gakusei Don

        Enopoletus, ‘mythicism’ is a broad church. Best you spell out exactly what form of mythicism you mean. Most mythicists in my experience believe the claims of the first part of the Zeitgeist movie. I would put that on a par with YEC, at best.

        We need to be clear on both sides of the argument when we talk about how well mythicism is supported.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Raphael Lataster defines the situation pretty well to a question on this interview at 12:12…

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEhDY-s0pRs

          • Mark

            Curious academic career, where you announce your results in advance, and then undertake studies. The last guy I knew who did this is in jail now.

          • Ignorant Amos

            ????

  • The Eh’theist

    This is a topic I find personally interesting as an atheist, as there are some atheists who want to use this as a shibboleth for true atheism, leading to demands to “prove Jesus existed” if one doesn’t identify as a mythicist.

    For me it’s always seemed the simplest explanation that there was an actual teacher that formed the basis for the biblical Jesus. Beyond the historical debate, the strongest factor in moving me this way is what I’ve observed with the legacy of MLK since his death.

    There have been hagiographic streams that have turned him into an icon with preferred photos and sayings, while there have been others that sought to demonstrate his humanity by emphasizing embarrassing narratives and weakness. Different “followers” have invoked MLK to champion their views on current moral and social issues, blurring the line between “he would have said” and “he said” in some cases. Likewise, descriptions of his influence seem to be de-emphasizing his actual historical actions in favour of a more abstract impact on the US and race relations (“he changed the way we see each other”). Looking at all of these narrative streams and influences, considering the same sorts of outcomes with regard to gospel narratives about an actual Jewish teacher who was killed seems quite reasonable.

    I can see why some would jump to a mythicist understanding: if you were taught Creationism, Exodus and Jesus as a package deal, and 2 out of 3 have been strongly refuted historically, it seems to beg the question why one should exert significant effort to verify the third. Especially if one has rejected the divinity of Jesus.

    There is also the overall increase of skepticism about historical figures: Abraham, Moses, David, Homer, Plato, Socrates, Buddha, etc all being questioned as to their historicity. Again it appears to beg the question if it is suggested that Jesus should be definitively excluded from this group. If we could be wrong about these, why not Jesus?

    Just as I would consider myself to have a better understanding of the historical causes of the ’95 Quebec referendum than I do of WWI (taking into account factors like interest level, access to information, temporal, cultural and geographical proximity and familiarity), likewise I think the results from the UK are showing that many are beginning to be honest about lower levels of certainty about their understanding of subjects like the historical Jesus and their rejection of ‘common wisdom’ (as opposed to academic study). They see that much of common thought wasn’t based on factual foundations, leading some to go beyond the more reasonable “I don’t know” with a complete rejection, and then there are some outliers, such as a Carrier, who seek to actively disprove the historical Jesus.

    Sorry if I’ve gone on too long, but there seems to be a number of factors at play that are influencing skepticism about Jesus, and I think it’s important to distinguish these from mythicism to avoid giving undue credit for a societal change.

    • arcseconds

      I sometimes wonder about the scepticism about other historical figures. It’s struck me that sometimes the bar is being deliberately set to exclude Jesus as historical, and if that happens to get Siddhartha Gautama too, then what of it? Consistency is a virtue, but setting parameters to reach a foregone conclusion isn’t, even if one maintains internal consistency by doing so.

      Of course, I’m talking about actual mythicists here, I take the point that for someone who’s pretty uninformed about history, induction on mythic-seeming individuals from the days of yore might suggest scepticism about all of them.

      • The Eh’theist

        I believe that for most of the historical figures I mentioned that the question of their existence is part of the academic debate apart from any mythicist speculations. I can recall when doing my initial Classics studies being shocked by how many historical figures were “provisional” in terms of existence in contrast to their being fully accepted in the past.

        Your second point was also what I wanted to highlight: that an increase in skepticism about the existence of Jesus didn’t automatically equate to growth in mythicism, but was more likely individuals acknowledging that their previous claim to knowledge wasn’t built on a firm foundation.

        • arcseconds

          I’m pretty sure that no real academic doubts the existence of Plato. Someone has to have written those dialogues at any rate. And I’d be pretty surprised if there’s any serious debate about Socrates.

          (I sometimes debate it, but just for fun, you understand)

          While the evidence for Siddhartha Gautama is significantly later than when he supposedly lived, which itself isn’t entirely certain, and has more room for doubt, I was under the impression that the majority view, at any rate, was he most probably existed?

          • The Eh’theist

            To be clear, I’m not saying that these historical figures didn’t exist, just as I’m not saying there wasn’t an historical Jesus. I was simply pointing out that there had been professional academic discussion of their historicity (to varying degrees as you note with Plato and Siddhartha Gautama).

            I was simply pointing out that if the academic world can entertain discussion on their existence, then some may question why a similar discussion about Jesus is off the table, especially if they’ve never reviewed the historical evidence, or if they’ve come from a conservative background and no longer accept that authority.

            We don’t question the existence of Gandhi or Henry VIII, so it becomes a matter of documenting the reasons why one would argue that Jesus belongs in that category rather than the “disputed” category.

          • arcseconds

            I thought you probably accepted Socrates and Plato, but you did seem to be suggesting that there was academic debate about them. I don’t think there is. I hardly know the literature intimately, but I have read stuff on both of them and there was no indication of any debate. Plato seems quite indisputable at any rate, and Socrates isn’t really open to doubt unless you’re wanting to be a wholesale sceptic about lots of historical figures.

        • arcseconds

          I suppose the pagan neoplatonists thought the world had existed from eternity, so maybe the worldview has room for Plato’s works to have also always existed, so maybe no author needs to be posited? :-)

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    Define Jesus.

    My take is that, to the extent he resembles the person in the bible, Jesus is a myth. And to the extent that he is real, he bears only trivial resemblance to the character in the bible.

    I guess I don’t understand the whole “he existed if you strip away all the miracles and rising from the dead and the supernatural stuff” position. If you strip all that away, what do you have? Can you say that Robin Hood existed except he didn’t rob from the rich and steal from the poor with his band of merry men? If not, how is he Robin Hood?

    I could just as well say that Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz is real. There was a girl named Dorothy who lived in Kansas and had an Aunt Em (“M”, actually, Maude Baum) who inspired the stories of the Wizard of Oz. It’s true. But if she didn’t travel to Oz, would you say that Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz was a real person? I sure wouldn’t.

    Same with Jesus. If you strip away all the things that make Jesus unique, how can you still call him “Jesus of the Bible”? Oh, there was a rabble rousing rabbi preacher who got in trouble with the locals. That’s Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Son of God who Christians worship? I don’t think so.

    • Dorfl

      That’s almost exactly how I’ve described my objections to how the historicity of Jesus is discussed, except that I’d used the example of a ‘historical’ King Arthur with no excalibur, no Camelot and no round table.

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

        But the problem is that this starts from the Christian standpoint of Jesus’ uniqueness, whereas the historical Jesus, from the evidence, was an itinerant teacher and exorcist who most likely also at least hinted that he was the Davidic Messiah. He was previously a disciple of John the Baptist, then branched off in his own movement which focused on eating with the marginalized rather than punishing evildoers, leading his former mentor John to express doubts about whether he was the one that was expected. Eventually he is crucified by the Romans, just as his mentor John had been executed by the Jewish ruling authority. That isn’t historically insignificant, as far as knowledge about an ancient figure goes. That he is no longer the Jesus that is so idolized by conservative Christians should not come into it, any more than it should be a problem if historians draw conclusions about Plato that put him at odds with later developments in Platonism.

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          That isn’t historically insignificant, as far as knowledge about an ancient figure goes. That he is no longer the Jesus that is so idolized by conservative Christians should not come into it,

          Huh?

          Considering the question is “Did Jesus exist?” the fact that he is no longer the Jesus that Christians are talking about has EVERYTHING to do with it!

          It’s not Jesus of the Bible. It’s a completely different person.

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

            Then your interest is in apologetics, not in history. The question of whether there was a historical Socrates, and what he was like, is not just a question of saying “He was probably not exactly as depicted in Plato’s dialogues, so we will just say he didn’t exist.”

          • Dorfl

            The question of whether there was a historical Socrates, and what he was like, is not just a question of saying “He was probably not exactly as depicted in Plato’s dialogues, so we will just say he didn’t exist.”

            This oversimplifies the argument. Imagine a historian telling you that they’ve recently discovered a vast amount of historical documents that previously had been thought lost, which casts new light on the life of Socrates. First of all, it turns out that he wasn’t actually named Socrates, and he didn’t really say any of the things attributed to Socrates, nor did he do most of the things Socrates is said to have done. At some point in this, wouldn’t you interrupt and say something on the lines of

            “Hold on. This guy you’re describing seems to almost entirely unlike what we’ve normally meant by ‘Socrates’. I mean, this isn’t just forcing us to reinterpret what we thought we knew about him a little. Essentially, this is a completely different person, who you’re for some reason referring to as ‘the historical Socrates’.”

            But the crucial thing is that there is no specific point at which you’d have to say this. There is no individual criterion that, by failing to fulfil it, this person goes from “a historical Socrates who is very different from what we believed” to “some guy, who may somehow have influenced the myth of Socrates”. There is in practise a sliding scale between ‘historical’ and ‘mythical’, even though it feels like they should be absolutely distinct things.

            So to an outside observer, it seems like the mainstream position is that Jesus was 90% mythical. While I understand that this is a very important distinction to a historian, I’m not sure that there’s any reason why people outside of that field should even care about it.

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

            Do you have any sources you can cite – I am curious what has given you the impression that the predominant view in the academy is that Jesus was 80% mythical?

          • Ignorant Amos

            Is the Christ 80%-90% mythical in the academy?

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

            If by “the Christ” you mean all depictions of messianic figures in Jewish sources, real or imagined, past or expected in the future, then perhaps. But individual messianic claimants may be more historical than mythical in our sources. If you were simply asking about the academy’s view of Jesus of Nazareth, rather than “the Christ,” then I do not have the impression that the view is widely held that the Synoptic Gospels are predominantly mythical. There may be a preponderance of material about which we cannot be very certain, and perhaps you misunderstood that as indicating a preponderance of material is pure invention which does not accurately convey even the gist of the historical figure of Jesus? Or perhaps you are thinking of the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar, and mistakenly assuming (1) that their conclusions in average form reflect the academy as a whole, and (2) that the category of grey does not convey historical information, even if the wording does not precisely preserve what Jesus is likely to have actually said?

          • Pofarmer

            “then I do not have the impression that the view is widely held that the Synoptic Gospels are predominantly mythical.”

            Well, then, there’s the problem. What methodology is used to determine if something is probably mythical or not?

            Maybe I should word that better. How do you determine what parts of a work are fictional or historical before you start assessing it?

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

            Before one starts assessing it, one does not determine anything. One deals with questions of history by asking historical questions and applying historical reasoning to the evidence available.

          • Pofarmer

            Isn’t that somewhat putting the cart before the horse? Wouldn’t you analyze “The Hunt for Red October” differently than the report on how Seal Team six got Osama Bin Laden?

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

            I would analyze them differently because prior analysis of the situation indicated that they are different genres. Determining genre is an important part of analysis. Are you suggesting that one should assume what the genre is of literary works is a priori?

          • Pofarmer

            It seems to me it would be helpful to asses the genre you are dealing with before you start analysing it.

          • arcseconds

            How can you assess the genre without analysing the text?

            Ancient texts don’t come with things like ‘ROM’ or ‘SF’ on the spines, you know…

          • Pofarmer

            Maybe we take a broad overview and look for signs that the work just might be of a particular type? There were conventions for certain genres.

          • John MacDonald

            You would need criteria stating “if this section of text ‘X’ meets the following conditions, then it is reasonable to conclude the text is mythical.” The problem is that the gospels would look the same if they were “historicized myth” as they would if they were “historical memory with legendary embellishment.” For example, Matthew presents Jesus as “The New Moses.” Does this mean the writer began with facts about the historical Jesus and then colored them to seem like the story of Moses, or did the writer simply recapitulate the story of Moses as historical fiction using Jesus as the main character? Who knows?

          • Dorfl

            Basically, I’m just comparing how I’ve heard you or Bart Ehrman describe the historical Jesus to what I think most people would take the word ‘Jesus’ to mean.

            As far as I can tell, common usage Jesus was born of a virgin, did perform a lot of miracles, died and was resurrected. This is also a central part of the character – while the theological explanation for these things is open to discussion, they have to be there for him to be Jesus. Just like you can write about a ‘Thor’ who is actually a humanoid alien from a parallel dimension with Clarke’s law technology, but he still has to have a hammer or else he just isn’t Thor.

            Since the historical Jesus lacks these traits, I’d say that common usage Jesus is largely mythical. This means that while I accept every factual claim you make about the historical Jesus, I think those claims could be summarised as least as well by saying “The myth of Jesus originates from the historical person Yeshua, who…” as by “Jesus was a historical person”. Even if I understand how you’ve ended up with the latter choice of terminology*, it seems to have made a very academic point seem more important to non-historians than it actually is.

            I understand if you object to the faux precision in my use of percentages. What I meant is just that the mainstream position seems to be that common usage Jesus is very mythical, while the mythicist position is that he’s very, very mythical.

            I want to add that these kinds of problems are definitely not limited to Jesus. Even names like ‘Keith Richards’ or ‘Bruce Lee’ will in normal usage refer to characters that are to a noticeable extent mythical. Just not to the extent that we’d start arguing about whether ‘the historical Bruce Lee’ is a useful term or if it actively confuses people.

            * This kind of problem isn’t limited to new testament history either. Whenever someone talks about how even the ancient Greeks knew about atoms, I want to point out that what Democritus and others actually meant by ‘atom’ is something every bit as unfactual as the four elements. It just so happens that we’ve inherited the word ‘atom’ itself.

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

            The point you make is a good one, about whether a myth or legend develops to such an extent that using the same name can be misleading. But I am not sure that alternatives are better – just substituting the Aramaic name doesn’t seem to be enough, and there are quite a number of religious people who seem to like the Aramaic form, but not for reasons of historical acccuracy. And “common usage Jesus” seems too awkward. It is precisely the approach of historians which highlights that in our earliest Christian sources Jesus was not thought to be born of a virgin. And so to me, I think that the phrase “historical Jesus” is still likely to prove the most helpful. And then offering whatever explanations and clarifications prove necessary, much as biologists have to do all the time with words like “theory” and even “evolution.”

          • Dorfl

            I think you’re right that there probably isn’t really any better option. Coming up with terminology that’s both accurate and succinct seems to be one of those problems that often doesn’t have a good solution. There are definitely cases where we’ve ended up with much more misleading terminology, that we’re now stuck with – I’m teaching a maths course right now, and I’d submit “natural, rational, real and imaginary numbers” as the worst offender yet.

          • Pofarmer

            Didn’t the Jesus seminar conclude that something like 16% of the things attributed to Jesus in the Gospels might be historical?

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

            No, they concluded that that percentage is likely to reflect the actual wording of things said by Jesus or close to it. To get the total with content that is historical at least in its gist, you need to include the percentage of grey material too.

        • John MacDonald

          Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist is generally considered to be historical fact because it meets the criterion of embarrassment. However, historical minimalists point out that just because Jesus’ baptism was embarrassing for later gospel writers, we have no reason to think it was embarrassing to Mark. In fact, Miller has argued the Markan baptism pericope may be making a theological point, relating Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and the endowment with the spirit to a repetition of 2 Kings 2, where, near the Jordan, Elijah bequeaths a double portion of his own miracle-working spirit to Elisha, who henceforth functions as his successor and superior.

          • John MacDonald

            I love the edit feature here on this website. I make too many typos the first time around. lol

          • Ignorant Amos

            Am sure there is more than just the two of us.

        • Ignorant Amos

          But isn’t it a problem that there is no consensus among scholars on your list of details that you see as having evidence in support of a Jesus?

          I mean, take the attribute of exorcist for example. Who says Jesus was an exorcist? The gospels when referring to his miracles? But miracles cannot be verified to be historical. Are you saying he carried out unsuccessful exorcisms? Okay. But then those tales are untrustworthy and are myth’s. Then the John the Baptist disciple?

          Eventually he is crucified by the Romans, just as his mentor John had been executed by the Jewish ruling authority.

          What’s the sources?

          That isn’t historically insignificant, as far as knowledge about an ancient figure goes.

          Hmmmm…But if it isn’t history then historically speaking, it IS insignificant as far as knowledge about an ancient figure goes.

          As mentioned elsewhere, many historical things have been written about Romulus that are claimed to be history, but aren’t.

          Then a few voices began to proclaim Romulus’s divinity; the cry was taken up, and at last every man present hailed him as a god and son of a god, and prayed to him to be forever gracious and to protect his children. However, even on this great occasion there were, I believe, a few dissenters who secretly maintained that the king had been torn to pieces by the senators. At all events the story got about, though in veiled terms; but it was not important, as awe, and admiration for Romulus’s greatness, set the seal upon the other version of his end, which was, moreover, given further credit by the timely action of a certain Julius Proculus, a man, we are told, honored for his wise counsel on weighty matters. The loss of the king had left the people in an uneasy mood and suspicious of the senators, and Proculus, aware of the prevalent temper, conceived the shrewd idea of addressing the Assembly. ‘Romulus’, he declared, ‘the father of our city descended from heaven at dawn this morning and appeared to me. In awe and reverence I stood before him, praying for permission to look upon his face without sin. Go, he said,and tell the Romans that by heaven’s will my Rome shall be capital of the world. Let them learn to be soldiers. Let them know, and teach their children, that no power on earth can stand against Roman arms. Having spoken these words, he was taken up again into the sky” ~ Livy (59 BC – 17 AD), “The Early History of Rome”.

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

            We have ancient sources about exorcisms, and archaeological evidence in the form of amulets and magical bowls and things used to try to control malevolent spiritual forces. You seem to be trying to argue, in essence, that since witch doctors do not have genuine supernatural powers, somehow their existence in thereby called into question.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Not at all. I don’t doubt that real folk claim to be all sorts of things they are not. It is a case of deciding what is likely in context.

            However, we must go on to ask whether this reputation [as an exorcist] was well founded. We should not avoid this question, because where a characteristic trait of Jesus’ ministry can be parallelled in the wider milieu of his time, many modem scholars become less willing to recognize its historicity -the reason being that ear-catching stories and popular sayings tend to gather round a famous figure. So, in a context where power over demons was regarded as a mark of spiritual authority, the argument would run, it would not be surprising that the early church should seek to portray Jesus as an exorcist, even if he never once attempted to ‘cast out a demon’.

            So, just attributing the stories of exorcism to the person a generation later could just have been to give that air of special authority. Whether about an historical person or otherwise.

            I read that illness was caused by demons so that anyone that cured by driving out demons was not considered so much an exorcist, but a healer.

            The stories don’t proclaim this fella just practised the charlatan activity of exorcism, but that he actually carried out the supernatural miracle act of exorcising actual demons.

            Did a guy called Jesus exorcise a legion of demons into a herd of swine and run them into the tide? Or did someone make that story up? If the story is made up, then it is made up.

            Paul doesn’t know of this exorcist, the Gospel of John is also devoid of such activities.

            Nevertheless…Scholars have described Jesus as all manner of contradictory things going on interpretation of the texts.

            The many differences of emphasis among mainstream interpretations in the third quest may be grouped together based on a number of primary interpretations of Jesus as variously an apocalyptic prophet, charismatic healer, Cynic philosopher, Jewish Messiah or prophet of social change. But there is little scholarly agreement on a single interpretation of his life, or the methods needed to construct it. There are, however, overlapping attributes among the accounts and pairs of scholars which may differ on some attributes may agree on others. These groupings reflect the essential feature of each portraits and the accounts often include overlapping elements, for example there are a number of scholars, including Crossan and Wright, who are otherwise critical of each other but whose interpretations agree that Jesus was not “primarily apocalyptic” but still believe that Jesus preached such a message, while others (e.g. Borg and Mack) differ on that issue. The third quest has thus witnessed a fragmentation of the scholarly interpretations in which no unified picture of Jesus can be attained at all.

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

            This is a common mythicist mischaracterization of scholarship, as though because scholars are constantly trying to make new proposals, that somehow invalidates the prevailing conclusions. Borg is very clear about the theological reasons for adopting the views that he does, but you treat that with no suspicion, because you want to adopt a certain view of scholarship.

            How do you know that Paul had never heard of Jesus performing exorcisms? We don’t know whether he did, but your confidence that he did not seems unwarranted by the evidence.

          • arcseconds

            Mythicists are also describing all manner of contradictory things going on in their interpretations of the texts.

            Was Jesus a celestial rising-and-dying messiah, à la Carrier, or were there many folk heroes called Jesus that eventually got combined, à la Fitzgerald? (Or is he actually a retelling of Horus or Mithras or someone?)

          • Andrew Dowling

            By this criteria all shamans and medicine men actually did not exist , , ,

    • Mark

      The words “to the extent that he is a myth” and “to the extent that he is real” are total confusion. There is the thing the Gospels say stuff about and the things they Gospels say about him. The latter are largely nonsense on a huge range of respectable views. To characterize such views as holding “Jesus was to a certain extent mythical” is basically intellectual euthanasia.

    • Neko

      You wrote:

      I guess I don’t understand the whole “he existed if you strip away all the miracles and rising from the dead and the supernatural stuff” position. If you strip all that away, what do you have?

      Quite a lot, actually. The Sermon on the Mount. A vision of radical justice and compassion. An anti-hero. A legacy.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        You think that the cult of Jesus started because of the Sermon on the Mount? Does Paul ever refer to any part of the Sermon on the Mount even?

        That’s not Jesus, the source of Christianity. That’s fine preaching, but it’s not the start of anything.

        • Neko

          Did I say that? No. But if you accept a minimalist Jesus, then you accept these things were attributed to that person (whether he said them or not). And if you accept a minimalist Jesus, then the obvious source of what would become the Christian religion was the belief that he rose from the dead.

          I’m not sure about this, but as far as I know Jesus was the biggest failure ever to be revered as a god.

        • Andrew Dowling

          There were many Christian communities before Paul.

          • Pofarmer

            There was a Christian community before Paul. Likely very small. So small, in fact, that it escaped the notice of someone like Josephus who was attempting a complete history and covered many small sects.

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

            How did you determine that it escaped the notice of Josephus?

          • Pofarmer

            Because he doesn’t mention it, except in contested passages. And, yes, I think the evidence points to the TF being a complete fabrication.

          • Andrew Dowling

            No there were many. In fact, it had spread all the way to frikkin’ Itally within 15 years (the community Paul writes to in Romans was NOT a Pauline-founded community). And a majority of historian do not think all of the references to Christians by Josephus are interpolations.

          • Pofarmer

            “And a majority of historian do not think all of the references to Christians by Josephus are interpolations.”

            Then it’s a good thing no one is saying that they are. Btw, how many references to Christians are in Josephus?

          • Pofarmer

            Well, we’re talking individual communities here. The Jerusalem community was quite small. And yes, there were other small communities around to, but the total numbers of Christians before the beginning of the second century is estimates as quite small.

      • John MacDonald

        The hermeneutical problem isn’t what you are left with when you strip away the miraculous, but rather what we can know with relative certainty about the historical Jesus. Currently, the only two facts reaching almost universal consensus are 1. Jesus’ relationship with John the Baptist and 2. Jesus’ crucifixion. And even 1 and 2 have been criticized. Regarding 1, as I say in another comment on this blog topic, Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist may not pass the criterion of embarrassment. Regarding 2, Paul says Jesus died “according to scripture (1 Cor 15: 3-4),” which either means (a) Paul believed Christ’s death fulfilled Hebrew scripture, or (b) Paul learned about Jesus’ death through an allegorical reading of Hebrew scripture (eg., the implicit piercing of hands and feet, Psalm 22:16b). Whether you choose (a) or (b), Paul’s understanding of the crucifixion is a theological one, so it is difficult to trace it back to the historical Jesus (in the same way historians don’t attribute miracles to the historical Jesus because a miracle pericope could have served a theological function for the first Christians and so there is no reason to think it went back to the historical Jesus.) I’m a historical minimalist and I think claims about the historical Jesus can be problematic.

        • Neko

          You wrote:

          The hermeneutical problem isn’t what you are left with when you strip away the miraculous, but rather what we can know with relative certainty about the historical Jesus.

          Yes. I get this and what you find problematic about even the minimalist Jesus. (The references to a man supposed to be Jesus preserved in the Talmud are also suggestive, since the condemnation of Jesus is described as an intra-Jewish affair with no mention of a Roman crucifixion. But I imagine all of this is highly disputed.)

          I’ve noticed a line of thinking that discounts the minimalist Jesus as just some preacher guy who ran into trouble with the Romans, as if this slender data was inconsequential. If you accept that Jesus existed and was crucified by the Romans, and further that he was executed for sedition, as seems probable, that in itself suggests a range of possibilities, from the furtive Messiah of Mark to a militant like The Egyptian. But whatever occurred, and since it seems highly unlikely he intended to get himself crucified, Jesus failed. Yet this extravagant theology and legend developed around him quite soon after he died. The Sermon on the Mount had to come from somewhere; it exists. Even the minimalist Jesus is momentous. But so would be a mythical Jesus. For obvious reasons.

          I’m also amused by the idea that if it could be persuasively argued that Jesus never existed that this would be some crushing blow to Christianity. This was a cult that anticipated the imminent end of the world in the 1st century, and here we are in 2015, and people still cry “Maranantha!”

          Edit: I should add that this is directed more to “Bofa on the Sofa” than to you.

    • Cecil Bagpuss

      If there had been an important political movement originating in late eleventh-century England whose members had called themselves the “merry men”, we would be interested in its founder. We would certainly be interested if the movement had gone on to have a decisive impact on English history.

      It would be frustrating if the existence of the founding figure was a matter of speculation, but if that was not the case, if we had a letter from someone who had joined the movement shortly after Robin Hood’s untimely death and who had met his brother, our interest in Robin Hood as a figure of historical significance would be justified.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        if we had a letter from someone who had joined the movement shortly after Robin Hood’s untimely death and who had met his brother,

        Yet, that person also admits that nothing he is talking about comes from the brother, and is solely the result of divine revelation.

        our interest in Robin Hood as a figure of historical significance would be justified.

        But suppose that figure of historical significance has only a passing resemblance to the character described by the Merry Men? Would you still call him Robin Hood?

        Robin Hood without Robbing from the Rich and Giving to the Poor, movement or not, is not Robin Hood of the legend.

        Perhaps that’s the more appropriate description. It’s a legend.

        • Cecil Bagpuss

          According to my scenario, Robin Hood’s place in history would be established by the impact of the movement which began in his name. In Jesus’ case, we can say that at least some of what we think we know is legend, but we can’t say that all of it is. We can speculate about the details, but that shouldn’t distract us from the importance of Jesus as the figure from whom the ripples of history emanate.

          • John MacDonald

            For one Sunday, pastors of churches should be restricted to only teaching what is universally agreed upon by scholars as pertaining to the historical Jesus. That should take about 1 minute, and then everyone can leave church early to go to the pub. The next Sunday, pastors are free to start making stuff up again about Jesus to help fill in the time.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            John, as long as we have the ripples, we don’t need to know the shape of the stone. Clearly, the Bofa on the Sofa hadn’t thought of that. He came in shooting lightning from his finger tips but didn’t realise that he would be going up against Yoda :-)

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

          Where does Paul supposedly “admit” that? I suspect that if you actually read Paul’s letters against the background of their historical context, you will find that they do not say what mythicists claim that they do.

          • John MacDonald

            I think he is talking about Carrier’s claim that Paul learned about Jesus only through revelation and not any other sources.

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

            I understood what he was talking about. I was asking for evidence, hoping that Mr. Sofa would look at Paul’s letters and perhaps understand that what mythicists claim about them does not correspond to what one actually finds in them.

          • John MacDonald

            Carrier assumes too much in his reading of Paul. For instance, he claims 1 Cor 15: 3-9 means “Christ’s death and resurrection are known from the scriptures (OHJ, 516).” This is clearly not the only possible reading. “According to scripture” could just as easily mean that Paul thought Christ’s death and resurrection “fulfilled” scripture.

    • Mark

      > Oh, there was a rabble rousing rabbi preacher who got in trouble with the locals. That’s Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Son of God who Christians worship? I don’t think so.

      That’s just the one that Christians think was the messiah (and in many forms worship and declare to the ‘son of God’ in a more-than-pleonastic sense). They will grant this, and so will we unbelievers — except for the ‘mythicists’. If you depart from this understanding you will introduce nothing but confusion into the discussion, which must never admit even a scintilla of unclarity on this point.

    • Mark

      > Can you say that Robin Hood existed except he didn’t rob from the rich and steal from the poor with his band of merry men? If not, how is he Robin Hood?

      > Oh, there was a rabble rousing rabbi preacher who got in trouble with the locals. That’s Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Son of God who Christians worship? I don’t think so.

      This isn’t a topic for blather. Try http://www.amazon.com/Naming-Necessity-Saul-A-Kripke/dp/0631128018 which is incredibly readable and even funny in addition to being, by most learned lights, one of the two or three or five greatest philosophical works of the 20th c. No amount of bullshit attached to a name by way of predication has anything to do with whether and what it refers to. Kripke may not have settled the matter; but it is interestingly one of the very few philosophical questions about which the claim “it is settled” is arguable and widely argued.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Ummm, a huge chunk of the Gospels are attributed sayings by Jesus, and while the stories about him may or may not be fictional, they do point to a common character for the most part. Ever heard of Jefferson’s Bible? There is a lot still in the Gospels after you strip away “all the supernatural stuff” . . .

      • Pofarmer

        “a huge chunk of the Gospels are attributed sayings by Jesus”

        What they are is typically reworkings of OT stories.

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

          If you mean in the manner of Brodie, then I would encourage you to read my article on that topic: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/03/mcg388024.shtml

          • Pofarmer

            Was thinking more along the lines of Randal Helms and Thomas Paine and Richard Pervo and Bart Ehrman and numerous others.

        • Andrew Dowling

          Yes, many use the OT for their motifs? So what? Higher criticism has long recognized the sayings tradition as being distinct from any later conjured narratives; hence why in the Gospels you have the same sayings being used in fairly different contexts. Also gThomas and Q, which don’t even have narrative material beyond a bare minimum.

          • Pofarmer

            Q is hypothetical. With the discovery of Gospel of Thomas, it sure looks like it could have been responsible for most of what’s attributed to Q. It all hinges on dating, of course.

    • Ignorant Amos

      That’s the difference between the erroneously termed Christ Myth Theory and Jesus Myth Theory…secular scholars are all, or should be, Christ Myth Theorist’s.

  • Mark

    This survey is irrational, from the point of view of getting a decent picture of the English hoi polloi, since there are not enough options. One way of asking if people are Christians is the ask the question is “Is all this Jesus stuff a lot of bullshit, fiction and fable?” Yes/No/Don’t Know? Then the unbeliever will sensibly say Yes. This has nothing to do with mythicism v. historicism of course. It is only the presence of the first choice that makes it clear that the second choice is not simply asking for a disavowal of Christian piety. It takes a fair amount of inquiry just to be able to formulate the ‘mythicism’ v. ‘historicism’ question, whereas “Christianity: Fact or Fiction” comes up negative as soon as you reject God, miracles, almost anything.

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

      This is a really good point – and it is perhaps similar to the issues in evaluating science literacy, when people have to choose between “God made humans as they are within the past 10,000 years” or “humans evolved and God played no part in it.” People of faith who embrace evolution, assuming they don’t simply throw the questionnaire on the ground in frustration, will have to pick a choice that does not accurately describe their viewpoint.

      • primenumbers

        It makes me think of the scene in Yes, Prime Minister: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0ZZJXw4MTA , but yes, if you don’t ask the right questions, you’ll get nonsense results, which could very well be what happened here. Unless you’re aware of “Jesus Myth Theory” that “Is Jesus a mythical or fictional character” as not contradicting “Jesus is a real person who actually lived”, in that you think that although there was a real person behind the stories (so to speak) the stories are fictional. To get a proper response vastly more nuanced questions would have to be asked.

        • Ignorant Amos

          James asserts much more than there is an historical person who actually lived though.

          He assigns certain details to that person that are to be taken as historically accurate. Using the methods of NT scholarship and the gospels of course.

  • Erp

    One problem with the survey is that it may make it difficult for those who consider the life of Jesus to be a mix of fact and fiction (which includes a lot of Christians) to decide which way to answer. If those being surveyed knew the survey was by a Christian group and were atheist/agnostic they may have opted for myth over fact in answering.

    I note another choice was

    We asked English adults which, if any, of the following statements reflect your beliefs about Jesus Christ?

    A normal human being – 17%
    God in human form who lived among people in the first century – 21% (↑ black adults)
    A prophet or spiritual leader, not God – 30%
    Don’t know – 9%
    Other – 2%

    It might have been interesting on the mythic question to break down various bits. For instance on a scale of 1 to 5 (and unwilling to guess) with 1 being definitely not, 5 being definitely yes, answer the following

    Jesus was born of a virgin
    Jesus’s mother was Mary
    Jesus’s father was God
    Jesus’s father was Joseph
    Jesus was born in Bethlehem
    Jesus while an infant was nearly murdered by Herod the Great
    Jesus grew up in Nazareth
    Jesus taught in Galilee
    Jesus taught in Jerusalem
    Jesus was executed at Jerusalem
    Jesus was executed by order of Pontius Pilate
    Jesus was executed on the first day of the Passover
    Jesus was executed on the day before the first day of the Passover
    Jesus physically rose from the dead
    Jesus physically appeared to his disciples after his death
    His disciples thought they saw Jesus after his death
    Jesus is a later fiction and never really existed
    Jesus is God
    Jesus is a prophet of God
    Jesus is the promised messiah of Israel

  • Gakusei Don

    I doubt that most of the people surveyed have thought much about the issues around resolving questions of history. Most mythicists in my experience come to mythicism via the Zeitgeist movie and Acharya S’s “The Christ Conspiracy”, and they are more interested in countering Christianity than resolving questions of history. As the number of atheists grow, it is natural that the number of those with a superficial interest in mythicist conspiracy theories grows as well. But if they are interested enough to look into them, they will drop off once they find such ideas are mistaken.

    What meaning can we take from the number of people who believe there was
    a historical Jesus? Nothing IMHO, since I doubt most people have thought about it, either way.

    I think Dr Carrier has done the world a favour by writing a book that is peer-reviewed and presents a well laid out mythicist theory. It is a natural antidote to those conspiracy theorist mythicists who say that it is no use trying to get their theories through peer-review because the academia would not allow it. Now the Dohertys, Acharya Ses and Dr Prices of the world no longer have that excuse. We just need to point them to Carrier’s example. And since Carrier has presented his case as the best one for mythicism, it narrows the field to just his work.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “and they are more interested in countering Christianity than resolving questions of history”

      I find this to be pretty much the raison d’etre of 95% of mythicists including Carrier.

      • Pofarmer

        Christianity can be countered just fine without resorting to Mythicism. Carrier even says as much.

        • John MacDonald

          Sure. Ehrman points out that the problem of suffering counters Christianity. Three year old children dying of cancer are not compatible with an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.

        • Matthew Green

          How so? I can see conservative Christianity being countered with arguments from science (evolution, errors in the Bible, etc) and history (failed prophecy, historical blunders in the Bible, etc) and logic ( discrepancies, etc) but what can be used against liberal forms of Christianity?

          • Neko

            The problem of theodicy.

          • Pofarmer

            Various iterations of the Problem Of Evil. Divine hiddeness. Failure of intercessory prayer. Conflicts between liberal interpretations of God and biblical interpretations. The list could get quite long.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Liberal Christianity in the vein of Tillich/Robinson/Crossan doesn’t really think of God in traditional theistic terms and doesn’t view the Bible as authoritative; it also doesn’t affirm intercessory prayer (at least in its traditional context).

    • psstein1

      Price is probably a better scholar than Carrier. As wrong as Price is on a lot of topics, Carrier is even worse.

      • Matthew Green

        Price is certainly more gentlemanly and professional than Carrier is. Price is sometimes scornful of some conservatives (Craig, Witherington, and especially Wright) but I have never seen him verbally abuse anyone the way that Carrier does. Carrier can dish out verbal abuse against other scholars but when someone does it to him or any scholars, whose expertise he respects, he cries foul.

        • psstein1

          3 months later, but I agree. Also, Price’s argumentation shows that he at least has a vague understanding of how to use things like the criteria of embarrassment, criteria of dissimilarity, etc. Then again, Price isn’t a mythicist in the strict sense…

    • Jan Steen

      For the n-th time: Carrier’s book was not properly peer reviewed. Stop endorsing his lies.

      • Cecil Bagpuss

        Carrier’s book can be summed up in five words: malfunctioning of the dopaminergic system. Carrier’s thinking, particularly as evidenced in OHJ, and behaviour in general is strikingly reminiscent of that of people who are temporarily or permanently suffering from some disruption of the dopaminergic system.

        Drugs such as cannabis and cocaine which artificially boost dopamine cause people to experience bizarre delusions and to see significance in things and connections between things that they wouldn’t normally see. These are also the symptoms of psychotic illnesses, and the treatment for such illnesses is drugs which block dopamine.

        These pathological symptoms are obviously apparent in Carrier’s book. The whole thing is one bizarre delusion. Moreover, it is remarkable how Carrier repeatedly pounces on things throughout the book which seem deeply significant to him but in reality are trivial or coincidental.

        In my view, this is already strong evidence that Carrier has some sort of neurochemical imbalance, but there is a clincher. Disruption of the dopaminergic system is also associated with aberrant sexual behaviour. QED.

        • Neko

          Wow. Cecil, I’m often quite in accord with your comments, but this is one big ad hom!

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            You may have a point, Neko, in which case it is just as well that this wasn’t in World Table. My ratings for respectfulness, helpfulness and likability would be in jeopardy. Somehow I can’t see myself lasting in the new regime.

          • Jan Steen

            If you had just said that Carrier was a pathological liar with delusions of grandeur your statement would be evidence-based. :)

          • Matthew Green

            Jan, I certainly trust Carrier as far as I can throw him. I can’t pick him up if my life depended on it.

          • Neko

            Actually I think you’d survive World Table just fine. But hitting that trifecta is too ambitious for me.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Thanks, Neko. In fact, Bryan Hall has told me that I should be all right. I’m sure that you yourself have nothing to worry about.

    • Matthew Green

      I agree. I disagree strongly with Carrier but at least he is making his case the right way. As much as I dislike Carrier personally, he’s also doing the world a favor by arguing against worse cranks like Murdock and Atwill. At least no one can point a finger at Carrier and cry out that he’s some kind of Christian apologist. However, I have more respect for Price than Carrier. However, I think Price has missed out on a great opportunity to present the mythicist case by going with publishers like Prometheus and American Atheist Press. If Price had done with a reputable academic press like Carrier did, maybe more academics might be inclined to take the Christ-myth thesis seriously.

  • John MacDonald

    All the people I know (I’m Canadian), including myself, feel Jesus existed. I’m not religious, but I feel the evidence definitely supports the historicity of Jesus. That said, virtually no one I know understands the arguments involved enough to make a decision for or against historicity. Most of the people I know support Jesus’ historicity without really knowing why (e.g., that Paul met Jesus’ brother).

  • Joe Wallack

    “uncertain whether there was a historical Jesus”.

    Professor McGrath, is this your definition of “Mythicism”?

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

      I would prefer to keep “mythicism” for those who outright deny that there was a historical Jesus, and use a tetm like “Jesus agnosticism” for those who are genuinely unsure. But as you will know if you have ever dealt with ID proponents or other such denialists, sometimes purported agnosticism is not a principled stance but merely a tactic in a war on science or history.

  • arcseconds

    I recently spoke to a friend, who’s an atheist (perhaps technically agnostic) who doesn’t know or care about this debate, and he was pretty sure that Jesus is the best explanation for the Christian phenomenon. Thought there was some room for considerable doubt, but he really wasn’t aware of the historical evidence: thought Paul’s letters were much later than they are, etc.

    I suspect there’s quite a lot of people like him around. They might even lean mythicist, but they really haven’t thought about it or looked into it at all.

    I’m going to be provocative and say: does it matter? We don’t expect everyone to be well-informed on all matters, not even the basics of all matters. Most people probably have no clue about Qin Shi Huangdi, and if someone thought the First Emperor was fictional, possibly by getting him confused with the Yellow Emperor, would this be concerning? Would we care if 20% of the population made this mistake? Chances are someone here has some wrongheaded ideas about physics, too..

  • Gakusei Don

    I just saw on Richard Carrier’s blog a link to a 4 min Youtube clip by Mythicist Milwaukee. MM have launched a fundraiser to create a movie called “Batman and Jesus”. They will be interviewing Dr Carrier, Dr Price, David Fitzgerald and many others. They are inspired by the Zeitgeist movie, but recognised that it was flawed. So they plan to make a movie with “improved scholarship on films of its kind”.

    One of the producers says at the end of the clip: “I’m going to make a movie about how there almost certainly wasn’t a historical Jesus, and I’m going to use Batman to make that point.” Not a promising start, though probably an attention grabber, I hope.

    Link is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLnNOJnf7OU

  • guest

    I think it depends how they ask the questions. I am not myself 100% certain that Jesus was a historical person. I don’t see that you can prove it one way or another. If you strip away all the fabulous elements of Jesus’ life, what are we actually left with? Someone who preached some kind of religious message and then was crucified by the Romans. Serious scholars disagree on what exactly Jesus said. We don’t have any contemparary sources about his life. I’m not a mythicist…I think on balance he probably existed in some form, but I’m far from certain.

    I am from England but the people I mix with don’t really talk about religion much and don’t really care about it. It’s considered impolite. You can know people for years without finding out if they believe in God.

  • Scott Scheule

    Carrier:

    Because if [qualified academics] can’t honestly refute it, they have to admit it makes a plausible, competent case, and they cannot afford to do the latter, and cannot do the former, so it’s best if they do nothing and hope it becomes forgotten.

    By contrast, if they could take it apart, they would not hesitate to do so in academic journals. So that’s how we know they can’t. Because they would have by now.

    But that leaves only one option: a favorable review—because even a neutral review will be “favorable,” as it will be read by their peers as endorsing it. That will subject them to be targeted in turn as fringe crazies who have lost it, and the fear is that professional punishment will ensue, as happened to Thomas Thompson (I know more than one insider expert who won’t come out publicly as a historicity agnostic for essentially this reason).

    James, what is your appraisal of this reasoning? How can laymen tell the difference between a book that has been ignored because it’s not seen to be worth bothering with, and a book that has been ignored because it’s irrefutable?

    • Jan Steen

      If an author claims that his book is ignored because it’s irrefutable, you can safely ignore it because it’s not worth bothering with.

      Only a crank could believe in a conspiracy by academics who are all publicly defending a theory they secretely reject, while suppressing a theory (the crank’s) they know is superior. This belief is practically a diagnostic trait of a crackpot theorist.

      Why would a busy academic spend days of his or her life writing a refutation of a book that (a) presents nothing new; (b) uses “Bayesian” voodoo-calculations that make astrology look respectable; (c) is over 700 pages long?

      • John MacDonald

        It’s been my experience that most authors grossly overestimate the impact their book is going to have

        • Jan Steen

          Indeed. Especially if they’re called Richard Carrier.

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

      If a book has been ignored, laypeople can safely ignore it. If it were saying something significant and persuasive, it would not be ignored. Carrier is simply not persuasive when he suggests that a new and convincing idea might be proposed, and yet among all those looking for something new to publish about, none will argue for it or even engage it.

      • Scott Scheule

        Thanks, James. What time period would you allow to determine whether or not something has been ignored? I spoke with Tim O’Neill and he said about a year. What’s your view? Also, is there any easy way a layman can tell if a book has been ignored?

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

          A year is very little in terms of academic publishing. 5-10 years, on the other hand, in which someone’s work is not making an impact is clearly indicative.

          • Scott Scheule

            I suppose we’ll have to wait some time to see then! Ah well. Did you see Matthew Ferguson gave a bibliography for readings on Jesus and the Apostle Paul?https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2015/09/10/some-scholarly-bibliography-on-the-historical-jesus-and-the-apostle-paul/

            Any works you’d strike or add?

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

            It’s a good bibliography. I’d add more by James Dunn to the Paul one, but I’m biased…

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            What I actually said to Scott is that you would expect academic review notices to start coming out by about a year. It would take much longer (5-10 years, as you say) to see if that initial reception translated into any kind of significant impact on the field.

            We are now two years out from Carrier’s release of his book, to great fanfare (from Carrier), and according to Scopus, Google Scholar and Web of Science the only thing remotely like an academic review is one by Carrier’s loyal acolyte, the post-grad student Raphael Lataster: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9809.12219/abstract

            In the months immedately after publication Carrier seemed poised for a storm of responses and reviews from his peers, stunned at the bombshell he had lobbed into the field. Except he got … nothing much. At one stage he was reduced to blogging responses to Amazon.com reviews and comments but eventually even he realised this just made him look kind of sad.

            His book is a clunker.