Mythicism: The Heart of the Matter?

Mythicism: The Heart of the Matter? August 7, 2011

I think that Neil Godfrey’s recent post on “fear of mythicism” raises what may be the most important issue in relation to mythicism. After listing numerous comments on this blog which make comparisons between mythicism and other fringe views such as creationism and holocaust denial, Godfrey writes:

I can read rational, evidence-based rebuttals of holocaust denial, psychic powers, creationism, etc.

I am reminded of why I left Christianity and belief in the Bible. The more I searched for answers the more I realized that there were no rational, evidence-based answers.

Perhaps it will be best to mention the latter point first, briefly. Accepting the historicity of Jesus is not about “belief in the Bible” or about “Christianity” but about the conclusions historians and other scholars of antiquity draw about the existence of a figure who at best partially resembled – and is certainly partly at variance from – the Jesus of Christian faith and dogma. This is a side issue, but it needed to be mentioned.

But the heart of the issue, for me, is that when one is an adherent to a particular fringe, then the arguments that persuade other people don’t persuade you. There are creationists who could say the following (and anyone who has been one or interacted with one will recognize this):

I can read rational, evidence-based rebuttals of holocaust denial, psychic powers,mythicism, etc.

I am reminded of why I left atheism and belief in the evolution. The more I searched for answers the more I realized that there were no rational, evidence-based answers.

And so the question is not whether there is evidence for mainstream knowledge. There is, and it is never perfect but it is in many cases persuasive for the vast majority of experts. The question is how one can communicate mainstream expertise to someone who is persuaded that what is true of other fringe viewpoints is not true of their own.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Am I right in thinking that this is the central issue, not in terms of the evidence, but in terms of communicating that evidence to those who insist on seeing things differently? For mythicist readers, how would you persuade a creationist who responded to your presentation of the evidence for evolution, or a holocaust-denier or some other fringe viewpoint, by saying something of this sort?

UPDATE: After reading this, I saw an article in the New York Times about Bayes, theorem, which has the following quote that seems relevant:

[P]eople wedded to their priors can always try to rescue them from the evidence by introducing all sorts of dodges.

Evidence is only persuasive if you are committed to following the evidence where it goes. And so although it has been suggested that the introduction of Bayesian logic might provide objective answers to questions such as the existence of the historical Jesus, the article suggests that even such a method may not be able to overcome the arbitrary setting of the likelihood of something extremely low – whether the topic is Jesus’ existence, vaccines causing autism, or anything else.

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