The Real Difference Between Creationism and Mythicism

Dissent from Jesus and Darwin

Creationists can find 3,000 academics who will sign a statement against evolution. That’s not 3,000 academics in relevant fields, just 3,000 academics, including retired ones. I’ve yet to see mythicism show any sign of even coming close to that. And yet supposedly we are to believe that creationism’s 3,000 are irrelevant, but the 10 or so mythicist sympathizers show that the historicity of Jesus is “a theory in crisis”?

I had the idea to make the above point a while back, when PZ Myers mentioned on his blog yet another appeal to a list of scientists who are creationists of some description, or who dissent from a particular way of describing the evolutionary process.

Mythicists often object to the comparison between mythicism and creationism, pointing out that the conclusions of the natural sciences are much more certain than those of historians. That is true – but it is not an argument in favor of mythicism. On the contrary, if there is greater room for interpretation and subjectivity in history than in biology, then it ought to be easier to find 3,000 or more academics who will dispute a historical conclusion.

Unless, of course, the evidence for that conclusion is considered so strong, and the alternative interpretations of the evidence so implausible, that there aren’t that many academics who would be willing to put their name on something that is, in the end, every bit as ridiculous as rejecting evolution, however different the fields in question may be.

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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    When I was camping in northern Montana, I took a photo of an academic mythicist, but it was really blurry. Nobody believed me, even though something kept getting into our food every night and leaving behind treatises on how peer review is obsolete.

  • As an atheist, I’m not sure why they even bother to push mythicism, since from what I understand the consensus view is simply that Jesus existed. It doesn’t say he was God in human form, or any of the other Christian beliefs.

    • Indeed, more than that, the consensus view is that the evidence about the historical Jesus points to him not having thought he was God, and thus this turns out to be a later perspective of Christians that doesn’t stem from Jesus himself.

      • That part I think I’d heard as well. Do they usually ascribe that to Paul’s teaching?

        • The Gospel of John provides the clearest evidence of the development in that direction, when compared with the earlier Gospels. Paul is harder to pin down, since he wrote letters and those take for granted many shared assumptions between himself and his readers. But it is clear that for Paul, Jesus was a figure subordinate to the one God, and in 1 Corinthians 15 that subordination is made particularly clear and unambiguous.

          • Yet the Gospel of John has Jesus saying “I and my Father are One.” (John 10:30). What does that mean to you?

          • That the two shared a significant unity. Jesus is depicted later in the same Gospel that his disciples might be one in the same way.

          • Unity in what way?

          • I will direct you to the images used in the Gospel. Unity as between a father and his beloved son, as between the sender and the one sent as emissary, as between God and the one upon and in whom God’s Spirit remains.

          • Ah, that makes sense. It seems there is a problem with taking things literally. Does this mean you disagree with the Trinity?

          • It depends what you mean “disagree.” I don’t object to people holding the viewpoint, who find it a useful symbol. But I do disagree that the earliest Christians were Trinitarians in anything like the sense that term later came to mean.

          • As I recall, the term wasn’t even coined before the second or third century, so that seems likely. I think it came about due to conflicts with other Christians who held views of the Godhead that they disagreed with, to explain their position.

      • John MacDonald

        I don’t even think Jesus believed he would be resurrected after three days, as the cry of dereliction from the cross seems to suggest Jesus thought God had abandoned him.

  • Dan

    I think the appeal to some atheists (I am an atheist myself) is that it debunks the entire Christian religion in one fell swoop. No more debating about the resurrection, the efficacy of prayer, or on presuppositionalism. Without a historical founder it is bunk.

    • John MacDonald

      Bart Ehrman says as much in his book “Did Jesus Exist?”

    • Kris

      Yes, I think the appeal comes from a desire for a mic drop: “Oh yeah? Well your guy didn’t even exist! BOOM!”

      I guess I understand the appeal, and as an atheist I certainly succumbed to some cognitive bias when I was first reading about this. But I’m also a skeptic, so I read both sides. All mythicist arguments fail (and did before I even finished reading Ehrman and Casey on the subject).

      • I read both sides, and turned sympathetic to Godfrey, as he sounded more reasonable, but not 100% convincing (it’s hard to be certain of anything related to Jesus).

        • Kris

          No, not certainty. I’m with you on that.

          For me, expert consensus matters. It takes a lot for me to assume I know enough to disagree with an entire field of academia (or take the word of a non-academic who is doing the same thing). Classical historians (I’m leaving theologians out for this purpose) train for years learning Greek and Aramaic, understanding cultural and historical context, reading source documents and presenting papers for peer review at symposia, etc. That stuff matters when it comes to evaluating ancient history.

          There has to be a host of reasons that the expert consensus exists, and I found Casey’s book was the best at laying these out…better than Ehrman’s for the specifics (I also looked at Fox and Vermes, among others). The two main people with the historical qualifications that go for this theory didn’t present any evidence that poked holes in that consensus. Neither did the non-historians (Fitzgerald, for example, spends most of his book arguing against the existence of the Christ rather than a guy who was one itinerant apocalyptic preacher among many. I agree the miracle/god claims are untenable, but they are irrelevant to the historical argument. I should add that I like Fitzgerald and that he’s a smart guy who wrote an excellent book on Mormonism).

  • Truth isn’t determined by popular vote, much like the outcome of wars is not determined by raw army size. No mythicist is going around trying to win academic popularity contests. I think you could find hundreds of mythicists in completely irrelevant fields, who would most likely hurt the cause more than help it.

    • Mythicists most certainly are trying to do what they can to persuade either academics, or to bypass academia and persuade people despite their noticeable inability to do the former. Are you honestly telling me that you have never heard a mythicist try to emphasize the number of scholars, or people in general, who accept their viewpoint, or conversely, to downplay the importance of their lack of numbers?

      • The number of mythicists is small, both among the general public and academia. I’ve heard downplaying of importance of the lack of numbers.

    • arcseconds

      If you’re going to count people who quietly hold divergent views but don’t say anything about it, then the 3,000 creationists is almost certainly an underestimate as well.

      I think creationists and ID lot are both right when they say that privately a lot of scientists quiety harbour views that there might be some kind of design going on.

      The thing is, a good scientist knows the difference between some kind of intuition or hunch and something that can actually be proven, and they only write papers about the later.

      • I’ve never heard of mythicists going around looking for mass signatures in unrelated fields as the creationists do.

        • arcseconds

          Well, then the hundreds of mythicists you allude to I suppose will remain hypothetical, won’t they?

          However, mythicists are rather fond of suggesting there’s a sea-change in the air. Unfortunately the numbers don’t really support this. As we’ve seen some movement-atheist scientist recently weigh in on the matter, I suspect it’s only a matter of time before mythicists start appealing to the authority of non-experts to bolstser their case.

  • AntLionKing

    I don’t suppose any Christian creationists have consulted with Rabbinical scholars, who will point out that at the very least the idea of Jesus being the true Messiah is a myth, as Jesus doesn’t meet the six clear, unambiguous biblical criteria for recognizing the true Messiah:

    I suspect that one could get several 10’s of thousands of signatories to a document stating that the idea of Jesus being Messiah is myth, if one were to ask around in the world of Jewish scholarship.

    • If your point is that, had the early Christians been inventing a Messiah from scratch, they would have invented one who actually did what was expected of the Messiah, then that is indeed a good argument in favor of there having been an actual historical Jesus, whose failure to do certain things the Messiah was expected to could not simply be ignored or rewritten because they were too well known.