Just How Bad is Mythicism?

Just How Bad is Mythicism? October 15, 2013

Neil Godfrey posted about peer-reviewed journals and how the peer review process is imperfect, if not indeed deeply flawed, and thus even problematic studies manage to get through into peer-reviewed journals in the sciences. And if that is true in the sciences, surely it is also true in the domain of history.

And so what does that tell us? That most mythicist writings are so very bad, so obviously flawed, so profoundly bizarre, that they cannot make it past even a deeply flawed quality control process.

I’m so glad Neil Godfrey took the time to highlight this.

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  • VorJack

    My, but that cartoon makes the rounds, doesn’t it? I’ve seen it used by climate change deniers and creation scientists.

  • Tom Verenna

    I like death at the end. I’ve had that feeling before..

  • And so what does that tell us? That most mythicist writings are so very bad, so obviously flawed, so profoundly bizarre, that they cannot make it past even a deeply flawed quality control process.

    I would be careful with that conclusion.

    There are two possible kinds of errors in peer review. One of those is that poor quality work is accepted. And that’s what you are pointing out. The other possible error is that high quality work is rejected.

    To put it differently: thinking outside the box is great. But if you think outside the peer reviewer’s box, your work might be rejected.

    There’s a built-in bias there.

    Personally, I am skeptical of the mythicist view. But I would not rely on your reasoning to reject it.

  • Hmmm…. to justify mythicists sidestepping publishing in peer review journals, Godfrey cites research published in… peer reviewed journals.

    My brain hurts.

    • Godfrey also cited the deputy editor of a leading medical journal that has rejected peer-review because of its flaws. But that’s an inconvenient fact that spoils a good chance to kick a perceived mythicist with a sarcastic put-down so it does not register. Meanwhile, neither Regnier nor Mcgrath has bothered to address the actual argument my post made. They are not interested in engagement with argument but only with supercilious put down and mockery.

      • So you never mock or put down mainstream Bible scholars Neil?

        • Raphael Verelst

          Point, but Mr. Regnier, have you actually addressed the argument?

          • Put it this way Raphael – I rather think that if peer review were not used in Bible studies, Neil would be using that as the basis for one of his apparently endless attacks on mainstream scholars.

  • arcseconds

    I’m kind of with Neil here.

    The mythicist claim about the biblical studies community is that it has a huge bias against mythicism, and will just reject out of hand anything that doesn’t agree with the received view.

    Is it possible for a field in academia to have such a bias? It certainly is. Every academic has a story about a journal editor or someone who simply wouldn’t publish (or at least obstruct publishing) certain ideas because they ‘knew’ they were wrong, which can be especially constraining for small, specialist fields. And I’ve definitely read some disturbing accounts of the group-think present in some fields. Generally they’re small, low profile, often highly technical (or with some other similar barrier for outsiders) fields. Unfortunately I don’t remember the details of the most concerning cases, but as a milder example Ian and I briefly discussed not long ago the notion that the ‘classic’ neo-Darwinian synthesis did excercise a certain dominance in biology a few years back, and he seemed to agree with me (or at least be open to the notion) that this made it difficult to get hearing for research that supported mechanisms that weren’t part of the model.

    (I don’t know this first hand, just what some people have told me, one geneticist in particular. I think we can expect this sort of thing will happen from time to time, though, because it’s difficult to strike exactly the right balance between conservatism and radicalism. We can hope over the long term things will sort themselves out, though, and this does seem to have happened in biology.)

    So, yes, sure, it’s possible for peer review to exclude things out of a systemic community bias rather than (lack of) intellectual merit.

    However, it would greatly surprise me if this was somehow the case with Jesus. Jesus is not some low-profile, specialist topic that only a tiny group of scholars care about, and it’s not enough to point to a ‘vogue’, either. People have been seriously questioning the existence of the man for centuries.

    Even if everyone in biblical studies is either a card-caring Christian (or Muslim), or was once and still feels some fondness for the tradition (Ehrman), or has adopted, however sincerely, the biases in order to get recognition in the field, there are plenty of academics in related areas (history and classics) in which there’s no reason to expect such bias.

    Assuming for the sake of argument that we can’t trust Christians or anyone in biblical studies, there must be thousands of historians and classicists around the world who are either agnostic, atheist, or have religious affiliations that have nothing to do with Christianity. It must have been like that for decades at least.

    Are we to believe that all of them (save Carrier) have failed to notice, or are too polite to mention, that their colleagues in biblical studies are hidebound and intellectually dishonest? It only takes one person to publish a damning critique for it to get noticed by other historians, and from there to become the next big scandal in academia after the Sokal social text affair.

    It’s possible, of course, that Carrier is the start of that process, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Bob de Jong

    Would the gospels have been published if they had been submitted for peer review? Walking on water, multiplying fish, come on!

    • Mr. Red Herring

      Red herring.

  • Curiously no-one here, not even the author of the original post, addressed the central argument of my post. My post merely used “mythicism” as the introductory foil to break into the theme of the post — as anyone with passable reading comprehension abilities should see. I could have removed that word and the post’s theme and message would have been exactly the same. But people here who are obsessed with mythicism will react viscerally whenever they see the word and completely misread the remainder of the post.

    It was not about mythicists avoiding peer-review — indeed, we know that mythicists like Salm, Doherty, Carrier, Price and Brodie HAVE all published through peer-review processes at some point, some more often than others — but it was about the poor quality of articles by biblical scholars that are flooding the electronic and print media. Tim has highlighted regularly the blatant errors, circular arguments, etc that pour forth from scholars like McGrath, Hurtado, Ehrman, Hoffmann, Casey, etc etc and the blatant absurdity of this when many of these same scholars protest so loudly that only THEIR Peer-Review System is a the KEY to acceptable scholarly contributions.

    It was the hypocrisy and the flat-wrongness of biblical scholars parading peer-review as the key to their superior standards (self-acclaimed) that was the topic of my post.

    But none here so blinded by their obsession with mythicism and their own intellectual snobbery that they WILL not see their own flaws.

  • Hoooo Boy!!! It has just come to my attention that Dr Jimmy McGrath, no less, not so very long ago posted this: “Finally, There Will Be a Peer-Reviewed Case for Mythicism” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2013/07/finally-there-will-be-a-peer-reviewed-case-for-mythicism.html)

    And what does this mean for the good associate professor of Bulter? Why this, no less — as he writes:

    It means that one is approaching a question in a rigorous scholarly manner.

    So, Dr James McGrath. Please explain! Are you still prepared to affirm that peer review, the “imperfect process, if not deeply flawed”, is STILL the one way to assure readers that they are engaging with “a question in a rigorous scholarly manner” as you indicated in your earlier post?

    Or has the world’s leading parallelomanicial authority on parallels between sci fi and religion changed his tune, since?

    Or is nothing in my vridar post, most of which itself passed peer-review, in the slightest bit weighty? Or will you just slink away pretending not to notice the corner you have been caught in?

  • Raphael Verelst

    The big problem that I find with Christianity is its heavy emphasis on continuously preaching and making incredible use of guilt: guilt of sin, guilt of murdering Jesus, guilt of existing.

    I find it more likely that the Caesar’s lined up the prophecies to pacify subjects, persecuted it to make it look revolutionary and to create pity upon it, and repeat ad nauseam.