Six Elements of Denialism

Six Elements of Denialism November 16, 2015

John Loftus summarized a list provided by Sean Carroll of six arguments that are used by science denialists:

The six arguments used by science denialists aim to:
1) Cast doubt on science.
2) Question the motives and integrity of scientists.
3) Magnify disagreements between scientists, especially to cite gadflies as authorities.
4) Exaggerate the potential harm coming from science.
5) Appeal to the need and value of personal freedom.
6) Object that accepting science repudiates some key point of philosophy.

These are a slightly different version of a list I shared here last year (I’ll include the image again at the bottom). They work every bit as well for history denialism and other sorts, do they not? Here’s a list for mythicism:

  1. Cast doubt on history;
  2. question the motives and integrity of scholars;
  3. magnify disagrements among them (especially to cite gadflies as authorities);
  4. exaggerate the potential harm coming from New Testament scholarship/accepting the consensus that there was a historical Jesus
  5. appeal to the value of personal freedom;
  6. object that accepting there was a historical Jesus is at odds with a tenet of philosophy/history/atheism/freethought.

The form #5 takes in relation to mythicism is particularly interesting, and fresh in my mind. I’ve been told more than once something along these lines: “Consensus isn’t an argument, I can make up my own mind, and if I evaluate the evidence differently than professional scholars, the problem is with your presentation of the evidence, not my understanding.” Most recently it was in a Facebook group, by someone who actually claimed that the Jesus Seminar disbanded (!) because they didn’t find any authentic sayings. I kid you not, someone really claimed that. And another person thought Carrier’s view of Philo is plausible, and so has clearly only read Philo as quoted in Carrier’s book.

A commenter on Larry Moran’s blog objected to my use of “denialism” in relation to mythicism. But the shoe seems to fit very well, does it not?


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  • The Eh’theist

    I thought I might see the post from Loftus’ site appear here. Its relation to the mythicism discussion was the first thing that came to mind.

    Your link to Moran is in need of some TLC.

    Also came across this on one of the Catholic blogs, and it seemed an apt comparison to how the evidence is interpreted differently by mythicists as compared to those who accept the historical Jesus.

  • charlesburchfield

    you got denial somewhat covered now. now how about starting a discussion about anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance?

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    Some guidelines on the use of the term “denialism”:

    1) An accusation of denialism should not be made when a new idea is proposed which challenges a scholarly consensus. Someone mentioned the theory that bacteria cause gastric ulcers, which initially met with a hostile reception from experts. The theory was eventually proved to be correct. The key factor is time. If a theory which challenges the consensus has been around for decades but has failed to convince the experts, then those advocating it may start to look like denialists.

    2) However, there should still be freedom for those working in a field to advocate a theory, even if it has consistently failed to convince the majority. But there must be limits to this freedom. A scholar who champions a failed theory may continue trying to convince his colleagues, but he does not have the right to take his case to the general public or to complain of unfair treatment.

    3) Members of the public who advocate a theory which has been consistently rejected by experts have the right to do so, but they cannot then complain that an accusation of denialism is unfair. This is especially the case if they attribute the rejection of a theory to the dishonesty or incompetence of an entire field.

  • Andrew Schefe

    You could almost say it’s the Rank Raglan scale of history denialism…………..

    • Cecil Bagpuss

      It’s funny you should mention the Rank-Raglan scale. There are good reasons for being suspicious of Carrier’s use of the scale. Carrier places Jesus in a class with 14 other Rank-Raglan heroes, including Zeus and Heracles. All but one of the others would have “lived” before 1000 BC. Eleven of them come from Graeco-Roman mythology. None of them can be placed in a historical context in the way that Jesus can.

      We might think differently of Heracles if we had a letter from someone who had met his charioteer Iolaus or his brother Iphicles.