Shame on Jerry Coyne

Shame on Jerry Coyne September 7, 2014

In a comment on his blog, Jerry Coyne responded to my recent post by quoting what I wrote and then writing the following:

 

This is a complete distortion of what I have said. I never started out by wanting Jesus not to exist. I had no opinion on the matter, and it was only until the controversy became public that I got interested and saw the paucity of evidence for Jesus.

You can distort my words on yoru website, but you will not be posting here any more. This is your last post.

I am disappointed by his failure to recognize that our desires are not always conscious ones. I am also disppointed that he has decided to ban me.

But what is most disappointing remains the fact that he chooses to use his blog to combat misinformation that comes from a fringe viewpoint related to his own field, and to promote misinformation that comes from a fringe viewpoint related to another field.

I haven't been banned from many blogs – unless I'm forgetting one, the only two that I've been banned from are Uncommon Descent and Why Evolution Is True. I will continue to hope that Coyne might see the parallel and find it disturbing as I do.

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  • helenmarplehorvat

    Gosh!

    • Benjamin Martin

      Blog-shaming is fun.
      dogshaming.com

      • Hilarious blog, Ben.

  • Welcome to the club. I don’t even know why I was banned. If Coyne posted a comment about it, then I missed that comment. Coyne seems to be surprisingly intolerant of disagreement.

    • Intolerant of blatant misrepresentation of his views is not “intolerant of disagreement”.

    • Just Sayin

      Why is it surprising? Anti theists don’t have a particular lock on tolerance…quite the opposite.

      • You misread that (probably my fault for not being sufficiently explicit).

        I meant “surprising for a university professor”, not “surprising for an atheist”.

  • JAMES: “I haven’t been banned from many blogs – unless I’m forgetting one, the only two that I’ve been banned from are Uncommon Descent and Why Evolution Is True. I will continue to hope that Coyne might see the parallel and find it disturbing as I do.

    As far as I know, those are the only two blogs that I have been banned from, also. Who knew we had so much in common?

  • smijer

    It is a shame that someone so scientifically astute is at the same time so emotionally immature. I had a similar engagement with him. I don’t remember if I was “banned” from his comments, or just told to shut up. I think that his natural scientific strength may have let him believe that he did not need to fully develop his intellectual faculties or emotional ones. I still occasionally enjoy a blog post from him (usually following one of your links), but mainly look for content elsewhere.

  • The problem is that you did not say that he subconsciously desired Jesus’ non-existence. You claimed that he candidly admitted his desire. Whether that justifies banning you is a different question.

    • Well, I had and have no way of knowing what his desires and motives were at any point in the past. What I commented on was his acknowledgment in a recent blog post that he views the ahistoricity of Jesus to be preferable for reasons that have nothing to do with the historical evidence.

      He is free to ban me. It is his blog. I am much more disturbed by his promotion of pseudoscholarly perspectives than by the ban.

      • I can’t find anything in the linked post that constitutes an acknowledgment that he views the “ahistoricity of Jesus to be preferable for reasons that have nothing to do with the historical evidence” or an acknowledgment of “the anti-religious motivation that leads him and other atheists to want Jesus not to have existed.” He just discusses why he thinks the question is important. Based on the reasons he gives, I don’t know that I would blame anyone for thinking those are his preferences, but he doesn’t acknowledge them.

        • Jonathan Bernier

          If someone so greatly distorts the evidence such as to support a six-thousand year-old Earth we right suspect that such a person has ideological motivation. So when someone engages in comparable distortion of evidence in the field of New Testament studies is it not unreasonable to harbour similar suspicions? I mean, a creationist could claim all she or he wants that she or he is motivated only by the evidence but that wouldn’t make it true.

          • As I said, I don’t blame anyone for thinking that Coyne has some anti-religious motivation. Claiming that an anti-religious motivation is the only explanation for the things he writes is probably within the bounds of acceptable blog commenting. However, falsely claiming he has candidly acknowledged that his conclusions are based on an anti-religious motivation crosses the line in my humble opinion.

          • Benjamin Martin

            Are you really trying to equate “the field of New Testament studies” to the field of biology?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            In that both are fields of knowledge studied by persons who undertake a decade or more of formal training and then devote themselves to lifetime of studying the material, utilizing a generalized empirical method in order to arrive at conclusions, of course. They follow the same basic structure: question, investigate, hypothesize, judge. I could go on, but if it’s not already apparent to you then I’m dealing with either an idiot or an ideologue so what’s the point?

        • Here is what he wrote:

          UPDATE: Several readers have said in the comments that this is a non-issue: why should anyone care whether a historical Jesus existed? I would have thought the answer was obvious, but I’ll let Sajanas, who has already commented, give it:

          “But so much of Christian philosophy is based around the argument for authority, that Jesus not existing at all really just crushes it. Then, they’re really no more valid than the philosophies of the Iliad or the Aeneid.”

          It’s important because one of the major world’s religions is based critically on the claim that a historical Jesus existed, which in principle could be supported with evidence. (It’s also supported by claims for the divinity of said Jesus.) Sometimes I get the feeling that people just say, “Who cares?” because they have a form of xkcd Syndrome. But millions of Christians do care!

          It seems to me to explicitly to mean what I suggested: He quotes someone else as giving voice to his own sentiment, who says that Jesus not existing would crush Christian philosophy’s authority. Then Coyne himself adds that the non-existence of Jesus matters to him as an atheist because the existence of Jesus matters to Christians.

          Is there another way to understand what he wrote?

          • Jonathan Burke

            That’s very clear; “But so much of Christian philosophy is based around the argument for authority, that Jesus not existing at all really just crushes it”.

          • It can be understood as a man who is committed to following the evidence where ever it leads, but who has already concluded that the evidence shows that there is no God and that it shows that people are better off without religion. It can be understood as a man who wants to believe and wants others to believe whatever the evidence shows to be true.

            I may not agree with what Coyne thinks the evidence shows concerning religion and I don’t agree with him about the importance of the historicity issue, but I don’t doubt that he wants his beliefs to be based on the evidence. Nor do I doubt that he wants everyone to believe in a historical Jesus if that’s what the evidence warrants.

            That being said, his evaluation of the evidence will undoubtedly be influenced by the conclusions he has already reached.

  • I just posted this on the comment section. Who knows if it will be let through. Perhaps though some readers here might find it to be of some use!

    I am happy to take on this challenge. Unlike the commentator I have two degrees in Ancient History, with my thesis being on Philo of Alexandria as it happens.

    As for Philo of Alexandria, aside from specific events such as his embassy to Gaius he barely gives us any information about his own life or the events surrounding it (what we do know you can find helpfully collated by Dorothy Sly’s “Philo’s Alexandria”). None of the myriad of important religious and cultural leaders, figures and movements that Josephus mentions are recounted in Philo’s work. Nor does he even mention the Pharisees or the Sadducees! But then his concern is using allegory to show the harmony of Jewish scriptures and Platonic/Stoic thought. Also we only have part of his writings, with some of it being missing and fragmentary. So, to put this in some context, it would be like complaining that Barak Obama, this supposedly “world-famous” “most important man in the world” receives no attention in fragmentary academic treatises written by a Malaysian philosopher on metaphysics. Suspicious huh? Or maybe you can understand why this is not a question that is raised in serious academic historical studies…

    But lets give this silly, and repeated, suggestion that because Jesus is not mentioned by contemporary historical sources that this indicates that he does not exist some extended consideration. (In a debate with Zeba Crook, Richard Carrier has stated that this argument should not be given the weight it often is).

    We need to realize that any person in antiquity who would not likely be recorded about in physical assets such as coins, epigraphs (etc…), that we are dependent upon literary documents to know about their existence. These are extremely rare from antiquity. We probably have less than .001% of all literature from Classical period currently extant. Apart from a few examples, and most of these during specific events such as the Athenian-Spartan conflict, the Second Punic War, or the upheavals during the fall of the Roman Republic, we do not have sources from the time on people in Classical history. We have almost nothing written from the time about dozens of Roman Emperors who ruled one of the largest and most literate societies pre-enlightenment Europe. We only hear of great generals, such as Scipio, decades after the event. Perhaps we might suggest that he didn’t exist too? Great philosophers who mingled with Emperors, politicians and business men, who would have had infinitely more influence (and connections with literate people) than the itinerant failed messiah figure Jesus in rural Palestine with twelve regular followers! How much do we know of them from the time of their lives? Practically nothing.

    People like the founders of Stoicism and Epicureanism; their writings were part of every educated Romans’ libraries and had followers (like Christianity) in every major city. So there must be thousands of copies of their writings? No. Apart from three letters of Epicurus almost nothing. Alexander the Great who conquered the whole known world. Well, we must have thousands of reports about him from Nope. We can fit it on about half a page of A4. Consider the “Loeb Classical Library” that has been published by Harvard University Press for over a hundred years. It translates and publishes all the major works from Classical Antiquity. Over 1,000 years of writing, during which time the West enjoyed its first Golden Age of literature. How large is this corpus of material? It can fit into two bookcases (!)- and they are double the size they need to be: each volume supplies the Latin/Greek as well as an English translation.

    Read Professor Robert Garland’s “Celebrity in Antiquity: From Media Tarts to Tabloid Queens” and Graham Anderon’s “Sage, Saint and Sophist: Holy Men and Their Associates in the Early Roman Empire”, try to note down in a spreadsheet how close the extant records we have for apparently well-known people in antiquity (including actors, philosophers, religious charismatics etc”) are. All are pretty much written about decades, mainly hundreds of years after their lives, and are almost always only referenced in one solitary source. Look at the Jewish historian Josephus’ works. He lists many Jewish leaders who were equal to Jesus in fame. Who else records them? No one, just Josephus. (by the way no-one mentions Josephus, supposedly this BIG Jewish commander and how client of the Emperor himself, he must never have existed a well!). The destruction of Pompeii, a large city, completely destroyed. An event comparible in terms of shock to 9/11. This must be recorded EVERYWHERE. Only no. It isn’t. Only one source from near the the time talks about it. So perhaps it, and all these other figures, a just made up too, or perhaps people like these non-trained activists like Ben and Fitzgerald need a new argument.

    One interesting exercise to show how ancient fame vis-a-vis ancient literary records works is to compare Jesus with Cato the Younger. Cato was probably the most famous person by the time of Christ. We even have two classical authors saying they are fed up having with having stories of his live being constantly recollected by everyone. Now how many biographies of his life now exist? One, by Plutarch who wrote it over a hundred years later! This is a very good indicator of that this argument from silence needs to be put to bed, not given the oxygen of media attention- especially by free-thinkers(!!).

    Lets not be ignorant about this. They would have a field day producing books, blog posts, and having their readers high-fiving them if it served the atheist cause to turn their “methods” to question such ancient figures and events’ existence – yet they think that historians are only wrong about this one figure. It is online amateur activism parading itself as reasoned scholarship.

    The fact that Jesus is talked about by a dozen pagan references within a hundred years is remarkable. But this is a narrative that is sidelined, and just as illegitimately so as when Christian apologists sideline the evidence of competing traditions within the Gospels, or when creationists try to explain “show me the missing links” Both are reprehensible, and both show complete ignorance of how to properly approach and understand the field. (And by the way a recent find in the Talmud by the leading British expert on it, and also new scholarship Mara bar Serapion do provide evidence that Jesus was talked about during his lifetime, but, well, that can wait for another day).

    • It got through.
      Not yet.

      • Guest

        My comment is still not up, over 10 hours after I posted it, and after others long after me who posted have had theirs approved. While I hope that it will soon be made available, my post does nothing other than lay out historical context with no vitriol or ad hominen. I will leave it to others to interpret what this means we can deduce over Coyne’s (or his moderator?) integrity and desire to examine the facts calmly and without partisan bias.

        Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    • Kris Rhodes

      //(And by the way a recent find in the Talmud by the leading British expert on it, and also new scholarship Mara bar Serapion do provide evidence that Jesus was talked about during his lifetime, but, well, that can wait for another day).//

      This seems rather earth shattering… can you follow up on this a little?

      • Kris,

        Not earth shattering, because, as with all things to do with the Talmud, dating sources is always an art, But see http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/Tyndale/staff/Instone-Brewer/prepub/07_Instone_Brewer.pdf

        http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/Tyndale/staff/Instone-Brewer/prepub/bSan43a-Intro.htm

        and a video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jF0egAzJ7bw

        On Mara bar Serapion see the articles from a recent conference at http://www.brill.com/letter-mara-bar-sarapion-context

        and the forthcoming book by Teun Tieleman, a Dutch Classicist.

        • Neko

          Thank you for your comments. I first encountered the text that is the subject of the video above in R. Joseph Hoffmann’s “Jesus Outside the Gospels” and am looking forward to reading the Instone-Brewer paper you linked to.

          Hoffmann notes:

          It should also be stressed that the Talmudic literature is absolutely silent concerning any Roman part in the trial and execution of Ben Stada [Jesus]–a fact difficult to explain in view of the Christian willingness to (partially) exculpate the Jews. The consistency of the Talmud on this point should not be overlooked. So too with the name of the place of execution, Lūd (or Lydda), the method of execution (stoning), and in the last passage, the time: the eve of Passover. (p. 49)

          At no point in his brief treatment does Hoffmann suggest interpolation.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Is Hoffman casting doubt on the view that Jesus was crucified?

          • Neko

            Well, elsewhere in this section Hoffmann remarks that the Gospel stories of Jesus’s trial should be considered no more “inherently” credible than the rabbinical accounts. He speculates that the Gospel versions reflect an uneasy shift between early Christian embarrassment of Jewish responsibility for the execution of Jesus and later embarrassment of Roman culpability. By the way, this book was published in 1984.

            Interestingly, in his reconstruction of the life of Jesus, “Jesus: The Outline,” posted at the New Oxonian a couple of years ago, Hoffmann says only that Jesus was “executed.” But–I have only a superficial acquaintance with these matters, and Hoffmann may well have expressed support for the crucifixion elsewhere.

          • arcseconds

            I’m about a third of the way through the first link, which is pretty interesting, and Instone-Brewer does think there’s interpolation in the text.

            The current text reads:

            It was taught: On the Eve of Passover they hung Yeshu the Notzri. And the herald went out before him for forty days [saying]: ‘Yeshu the Notzri will go out to be stoned for sorcery and misleading and enticing Israel [to idolatry]. Any who knows [anything] in his defence must come and declare concerning him.’ But no one came to his defence so they hung him on the Eve of Passover.

            Instone-Brewer thinks the earliest version was:

            On the Eve of Passover they hung Jesus of Nazareth for sorcery and leading Israel astray.

            It’s worth noting that the Talmud redactors were prepared to add material, but not delete things. There is a bit of a contradiction between hanging (I understand it’s not a stretch to think this means ‘crucifixion’?) and stoning, of course, and one reason to assert stoning is that stoning is a traditional method of execution in Judaism, whereas hanging/crucifixion is not.

          • Neko

            Hi, thanks for your response. I did get around to reading that paper; it’s fascinating. I should emphasize that Hoffmann’s survey of Talmudic references to Jesus isn’t intended to be an in-depth analysis of any given source. I mention it by way of contrast. The crucifixion is supposed to be an unassailable datum, yet Hoffmann suggests it may not be so stable, after all. He assumes that the texts mean that Jesus was first stoned, then “hung.” (Sadly, what comes to mind are the recent victims in Syria and Iraq who were executed before being crucified.)

            I’m not equipped to assess Instone-Brewer’s paper, that’s for sure. It seemed quite speculative in places, but it’s an exciting argument to ponder. One thing is clear, though. The rabbis think of Jesus as a man.

          • arcseconds

            Other stuff that sticks out for me is:
            – the account of censorship (prompted by Christian authorities (ones with state power behind them, not scholastic reputation!) for the most part, it seems) of the material in the Talmud concerning Jesus
            – that the above leads to few sources actually containing this material, the Munich Talmud apparently being the most complete

            One thing to note is that the Talmud (and related literature) are somewhat unusual in the extent that they preserve different opinions. In fact, it’s easy for us to forget to what extent the Tanakh and the New Testament does this because we’re usually exposed to harmonizing interpretations, but the Talmud does this even more, and is more explicit about it.

            This would make the Talmud inconsistent with the other evidence (in the New Testament for the most part) that Jesus was crucified if hanging wasn’t mentioned, and to whatever extent weight should be put on the Talmud’s evidence that could be regarded as undermining the crucifixion — although it still supports the notion of execution.

            However, ‘hanging’ is referenced in what is apparently the most complete extant text in this regard,

            Plus the crucifixion is regarded almost universally (and with good reason) as being one of the few reasonably secure points in the life of Jesus.

            So the most plausible story that takes account of all the evidence would appear to be that Jesus was crucified, and this was preserved in the Talmud, but a later amendment came to be added that he was stoned, and Instone-Brewer’s suggestion of why seems perfectly reasonable to me. It is in keeping with how the logic of the Talmud seems to operate.

            And so in my almost completely uneducated opinion, Hoffmann is out on an unnecessary limb here if he thinks this raises significant doubts about the crucifixion. I can kind of understand that position to some extent if he wasn’t aware of this reference to hanging, but even so that seems to be putting a lot of weight on the evidence of the Talmud, when we could expect it to be a biased source.

            (Early Christianity being a highly biased source too, of course, but it’s hard to come up with a justification for them inventing a crucifixion, whereas there’s several reasons why the Rabbis might have preferred a stoning account)

          • Neko

            I didn’t mean to give too overwrought an interpretation of Hoffmann’s remarks–I was just struck by his recent choice of the word “execution” instead of “crucifixion” in his HJ profile, juxtaposed with his thoughts on the relevant passages in the Talmud in Jesus Outside the Gospels. In his “Outline” Jesus is arrested and condemned for sedition, in which case there’s no question he would have been crucified by the Romans. So I wouldn’t say Hoffmann floats significant doubts about it; just that the Talmudic passages merit serious consideration (perhaps because of a history of dismissing them as anti-Christian revisionism).

            To be honest I should reread that Instone-Brewer paper, not least to get a better grasp of the timelines.

  • James McGrath has been very candid about the religious motivation that leads him and other Christians to want Jesus to have existed, to find it advantageous if Jesus did exist. Of course, he doesn’t seem to have grasped the extent to which solid evidence that Jesus did not exist but was different from what some mythicists claim might be even more desirable from that perspective. But I appreciate the honesty, even if it has not yet been matched with a recognition that we need to be cautious about our desires distorting our perception.

    -James, do you agree this is a complete distortion of what you have said (especially if Neil Godfrey, Ben Goren, or Jerry Coyne ever said something like it)?

    • If someone said this, I would consider whether I might have motives that influence me that I am not aware of. If I was persuaded that the criticism was off target, I would offer a response, perhaps along the lines of things that I have already said, such as that a Jesus who was mistaken about the end, as history shows him to be, is not clearly preferable to one who never existed, as mythicists claim him to be. But the only reason I would ban someone is if they decided to post this same thing over and over again as spam or in some other such manner behaved in a way that was likely to drive away people interested in serious discussion. Hence the fact that Neil Godfrey, Ben Goren, and Jerry Coyne can all post here. I’ve only banned people that I considered to be trolls or spammers.

    • arcseconds

      Had James said “the question of Jesus’s existence is in fact very important because the entire Christian faith rests on it”, or “the question of Jesus’s existence is in fact very important because Jesus’s existence just crushes mythicism” then I think it would be quite plausible to say that he is ideologically motivated, and that such a statement was pretty clear evidence of it.

      ‘Candid’ is perhaps a little misleading as it suggests that James (or Coyne, in the real case) is actually admitting he’s biased, rather than just revealing a strong and potentially motivating factor in a rather clear way.

      But it’s scarcely a ‘complete distortion’.

  • I’m not sure how many blogs I’ve been banned from. Whenever it happens, I tell myself “Well, that’s one less place on the internet to waste my time.”

    • Sean Garrigan

      I was once removed from a blog for simply forgetting to sign my name at the end of my post. The moderator sent me an email and reminded me of the requirement, and I simply asked “Why?” (i.e. why the rigid requirement), and that was it. He responded (paraphrasing) “You’re out of here”. And he claims to be a Christian.

      What is it with the intolerance one so often sees in blog/forum moderators, Darwinists, and those to whom both descriptors apply? 🙂

  • Neko

    If Coyne thinks McGrath distorted his words he could post a rebuttal. Banning McGrath simply reinforces the impression that Coyne is ideologically driven. Coyne gives amateur Ben Goren free rein but banishes from the discussion an actual NT scholar? Uh huh.

  • Jonathan Bernier

    “[I]t was only until the controversy became public that I got interested…” Leaving aside the abuse of English grammar, this just shows his ignorance on the matter. It supposes that there was some sort of controversy happening behind closed doors, that only suddenly erupted into the public forum. Two points to be made: first, there is no controversy among qualified experts on the matter; second, consequent to the previous point, whatever controversy exists has always ever been public, as it exists only in the popular realm.

    • Mark Erickson

      He is referring to the controversy within the atheist blogosphere from the publication of Bart Ehrman’s Huffington Post article promoting his Did Jesus Exist? book. That article launched thousands of mythicists, and rightly so. Jerry knows that the historical Jesus is the academic consensus.

      • Bethany

        But the controversy was always ONLY public, and it pre-existed before Ehrman’s book. That’s why he wrote the book (after he realized that there were actually people in the general public who thought Jesus might not have existed) — he talks about it in the intro.

  • Has Jimmy been caught out telling lies for God? 😉

    • jjramsey

      Nope. He had said, “Jerry Coyne has been very candid about the anti-religious motivation that leads him and other atheists to want Jesus not to have existed, to find it advantageous if Jesus did not exist,” and pointed to a post of Coyne’s that could plausibly be interpreted as such. In particular, there’s this bit:

      UPDATE: Several readers have said in the comments that this is a non-issue: why should anyone care whether a historical Jesus existed? I would have thought the answer was obvious, but I’ll let Sajanas, who has already commented, give it:

      But so much of Christian philosophy is based around the argument for authority, that Jesus not existing at all really just crushes it. Then, they’re really no more valid than the philosophies of the Iliad or the Aeneid.

      It’s important because one of the major world’s religions is based critically on the claim that a historical Jesus existed, which in principle could be supported with evidence.

      I would say that this outlines pretty well why Coyne would “find it advantageous if Jesus did not exist.”

      • So Jimmy was lying and slandering Jerry, as you are too. Jerry never said he would find it advantageous if Jesus did not exist or anything like it. James was caught out doing what he always does with anyone he thinks is encouraging a mythicist viewpoint — distort and misrepresent what they are saying and slanders them by innuendo or worse. Instead of suing James Jerry doesn’t want any communication with him at all anymore.

        James was not banned for anything he said on Jerry’s blog. He was banned for slandering Jerry with a gross distortion here. James is so habituated to reading anyone with mythicist sympathies with hostile intent I can’t tell if he deliberately lies or really genuinely can’t help but read them with sinister motive.

    • maryhelena

      Neil: Has Jimmy been caught out telling lies for God? 😉

      I simply shake my head. Particularly so because of your own position regarding my posts to your blog. (now on moderation and last post rejected.)

      Neil: “I know you disagree strongly with Doherty and Carrier and that’s your right. I have disagreements with them, too, but I don’t jump up and down every time I get the opportunity to express those disagreements. That would be acting like a troll.”

  • Mark Erickson

    Jerry has a thin skin and I replied to his comment quoted here asking him to reverse the ban (although not as a favor to you). However, you should link to the comment and include what you wrote about him in the text of this post. http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/guest-post-on-the-historicity-of-jesus/#comment-1052831 That’s basic blogging etiquette.

  • Mark Erickson

    It is also important to read the post that was updated with the material that offended James. http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/once-again-did-jesus-exist/ Here’s one short quote from it:

    Yet it seems churlish—an offense to Christians—to doubt that a
    historical Jesus existed. It’s as if by being skeptical about that, you
    are deliberately trying to tick off Christians. And yet, I think,
    our doubt is warranted. We should not automatically concede to
    religionists that Jesus must have existed in some corporeal form, divine
    or otherwise.

    • Neko

      It’s very telling that Coyne couches the debate in terms of “skeptics” v. Christians instead of, say, a self-styled avant-garde reacting against the professional consensus. I guess it really is a Holy War to him.

  • the_Siliconopolitan

    His (non)blog, his rules.

    I’m a bit baffled that you as a liberal Christian are so antagonistic to the idea that Christ may only have existed in a heavenly realm. I would have thought that pave the way for a more contemporary faith that doesn’t have to feast every new archaeological discovery. Someone said, that is Judaism can get asking without Moses (and the Patriarchs), why does Christianity need Jesus? You’re free to have a better religion through revelation than through history.

    As an atheist I’m actually pleased that you stick to historicism, since that makes your arguments forever entangled with fundamentalists you abhor.

    • arcseconds

      Yes, it’s completely baffling how James is so prepared to go with the evidence that is also convincing to atheist and Jewish scholars, rather than what you personally think would be convenient for his faith. Especially given that he’s been so prepared to wave goodbye to so many other traditional Christian beliefs. It’s almost as if he’s responsive to evidence or something!

      One would think with such a prolific and long-lived blog he might have explained himself at some point. So strange he has not.

      It’s such a huge mystery!

      • the_Siliconopolitan

        But baffled, not completely baffled.

        Incidentally you’re appealing to consensus again.

        • arcseconds

          Well, it’s baffling that you’re baffled, as James has not exactly kept his reasoning on this matter secret, and his reasoning is seems to be more or less the same as every other expert.

          I’m appealing to consensus in the sense that the fact there’s a consensus that includes plenty of people that do not share James’s faith commitments means you might want to look further afield than his faith commitments (like, I don’t know, his actual statements on the matter?) to explain why he believes this.

          In order to work out why James thinks there was a historical Jesus, the fact there’s a consensus makes no material difference. All that’s necessary to indicate that faith commitments are not the only thing at play here is that there’s a significant number of people who agree with James but don’t share his faith commitments.

  • David Chumney

    Coyne once wrote on his blog that anyone who thought the Bible contained great literature either hadn’t read it or was smoking something. When I challenged that foolishness and pointed out that Richard Dawkins considered some of it great literature, I got banned from commenting. Nowadays, I read it for what Coyne is qualified to talk about and ignore the rest. Coyne is great in his area of expertise, but sometimes is a bit of a bully in other areas.

    • the_Siliconopolitan

      What one considers great literature is a rather subjective matter. Dawkins has in the past shown himself to be rather self absorbed.

      Anyway, why should I the word of a biologist about what is great literature, if I’m not supposed to listen to him about theology because it is outwith his ken?

      • Bethany

        It is indeed subjective, meaning that the fact Coyne doesn’t think it contains great literature doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of people who have read it without smoking anything who disagree.

      • David Chumney

        Yes, what makes for “great literature” is indeed a subjective matter. And, of course, no one should accept the opinion of Dawkins (or anyone else for that matter). My complaint with Coyne was his view (also entirely subjective) that he was correct AND that anyone who disagreed (his words) “either hadn’t read the Bible or was smoking something.” I only invoked Dawkins because few would believe he was in either category. For Coyne to ban me from commenting on his blog for making that observation seemed rather petty. Since it’s his blog, he makes the rules. But in my opinion, he’s often more obnoxious than informative when he gets outside of his area of expertise (yes, once again, entirely subjective on my part).

      • arcseconds

        Who is asking you to take the word of a biologist on the greatness of the bible?

        The point here is that Coyne banned someone for daring to remark that a colleague of his, and a fellow movement atheist traveler, disagreed with him about a subjective matter.

        That’s not a good look.

  • Andrew Dowling

    He’s a tool.