Friday, 15 August 2014

Progress and Decline

Following up on my post about responsibility and goodwill, I feel compelled to write on what will perhaps seem to many an outdated idea, namely that collectivities of persons can go through progress and decline. "Progress" has a very simple meaning for Lonergan: genuine insights, good judgments, and responsible decisions build one upon another, such that society is organized and technology is created so as to objectively improve conditions for as many people as possible. Decline is the opposite: oversight, bad judgment, and irresponsible decisions compound each other such that society becomes fragmented, technology that could alleviate suffering is not developed, etc.

The grand scheme of history has seen a general trend towards technological progress, and I would argue also intellectual, social, and moral progress as well. Once we had barely mastered the wheel, now we can send people to the moon. Once we thought that the sun went around the world and was perhaps a personal deity, now we know that we orbit the sun and it lacks personhood. Once our societies were ruled over by the man with the biggest club, now we have at least the semblance of democratic institutions. Once we had no notions of human rights, now we have international treaties and organizations devoted to these matters. It's not perfect, of course, and the potential of many of these more salutary developments remain underrealized, but yet it seems to me that as a species we have achieved quite a lot in a very short time. And that's a good thing.

Yet we are live in a period of obvious decline. The events of this summer have driven this home. Yes, we have tremendous technology, but we use it to kill, whether by shooting unarmed teenagers, or bombing civilians, or engaging in acts of genocide, or systematically turning off the water to people living in the world's largest economy. Our democratic and international structures have largely broken down. Large swathes of the planet have been and continue to be economically and ecologically devastated in order to sustain an unsustainable concentration of capital into the hands of an increasing few. This devastation was once largely limited to what we here in what we call the West call another world--viz., the Third--but now it's in our backyards. Water shut-offs due to ecological and economic concerns are becoming a fact of life for many people living in the world's largest economy. Our cities are turning into war zones. And truthfully none of this is new: it's simply reaching the point that the average citizen of the West can no longer pretend that it isn't happening or that, if it is, it's happening over there.

Lonergan identifies "bias" as the engine of decline, specifically what he calls general and group biases. General bias occurs when a community systematically ignores the reality that certain questions call for appropriate expertise. Instead they try to answer all questions via "common sense." So it is that persons with no training in the sciences think that they can declare virtually all scientists to be in error when they say that evolution is the best explanation for the origin of species. So it is that persons with no training in New Testament studies think that they can declare virtually all New Testament scholars to be in error when they say that Jesus most certainly existed. So it is that politicians can ignore the warnings of specialists in various areas when they say that this or that policy will have disastrous effects. The inevitable result is bad policy compounding bad policy.

Coupled with this is group bias. Group bias is concerned only with what is good for my group. So what if a couple thousand Palestinian civilians have been killed if I'm not Palestinian? So what if some people in West Africa have died of a horrible disease if I'm not West African? Oh, wait--someone from country has died of that illness? OMG! We must take action, now!--but that action must be focused upon ensuring it does not come, and only if curing the disease over there will help achieve that end will I support sending aid. Christians are now being threatened in Iraq? The world must act! Oh, some Shiites have also been slaughtered and in danger? Meh. Things are going well? It must be the other party's fault...can't possibly be mine. That (which is obviously all stated tongue-in-cheek and does not reflect my actual views on the matters) is group bias. And it's just silliness that leads to inane, short-sighted, inhumane, collective decisions.

The problem we face right now is that we are not addressing these biases. We are treating symptom after symptom, but cannot treat the disease until we recognize that it consists on the one hand of a parochialism that allows people to neglect the tremendous untapped intellectual resources that could potentially reverse the decline through better insights, judgments, and decisions, and on the other of a provincialism that leaves us convinced that our own group's self-interest is the only one of legitimate concern.

What is academia's role in all this? The scholar's role should be clear: it is to continue doing the work of scholarship, to build up reservoirs of genuine insights and good judgments, such that if and when society begins to purge itself from general bias and seek the expertise of qualified experts there will be such expertise ready at hand. In NT studies we are concerned specifically with generating genuine insights and good judgments about first and foremost the New Testament, with ancillary interests in the HB/OT and a variety of cognate works. Given the extent to which global culture is shaped directly or indirectly by a Christian heritage it stands to reason that this heritage will likely be part of the solution to general and group bias. Exactly how that might look, and how we might contribute to that process, is left to be determined, but ultimately perhaps our greatest contributions, if any we are to make, will be in the area of moral reasoning. And to think of that is both terrifying and exhilarating.

80 comments:

  1. I also think we make progress in areas for which a lot of people think there can't be such a thing as progress. For example, I think we make progress in art.

    I also think we make progress (less controversially) in epistemology: knowing what counts as good evidence for what, and why.

    Related to that, and pursuant to one of your comments in the last paragraph, I was curious to know what reasons you yourself have for thinking Jesus most certainly existed. Despite the scholarly consensus on this, I tend to have doubts here. It doesn't seem very certain to me. But other than the fact of the consensus itself, do you feel like you've got a good handle on excellent reasons for thinking it nearly certain that he existed?

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    1. Thank you for your post Kristofer. I think perhaps you are missing the forest for the trees. The point was not that Jesus existed or that this is shown by the consensus. The point is that there is something problematic about a situation in which those who are not trained in a matter decide that they are more qualified to speak to a matter than those who are thus trained. Let me suggest that the argument that Jesus does not exist has precisely as much claim to legitimacy as does young earth creationism: it is an opinion held almost exclusively by those lacking professional qualifications on the matter and in defiance of the overwhelming consensus opinion of those who have such qualifications. It turns out that one learns things in graduate school, in doing research, in teaching, that those who do not undertake these tasks might not learn. And that's fine. The problem is when those who have not learned those lessons systematically disregard those who have. When that happens across multiple fields we do indeed set a systematic pattern of decline (or perhaps that disregard is a symptom of such decline).

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    2. //The point was not that Jesus existed or that this is shown by the consensus. The point is that there is something problematic about a situation in which those who are not trained in a matter decide that they are more qualified to speak to a matter than those who are thus trained.//

      I think there you're saying the historicist/mythicist debate isn't really what you wanted to address with your post, that you really want to talk about the legitimacy of questioning expert consensus in general.

      I do think one should tread extremely carefully when thinking about affirming propositions that are contrary to expert consensus, and one's level of confidence should probably be fairly low compared to other things one might affirm. But there's nothing inherently, necessarily wrong with thinking expert consensus has failed, even if one is oneself only a layman. If one can see the field as a whole systematically engaging in failures of critical thinking or logic, for example, one has a good reason to think the consensus in the field might not be reliable.

      An imaginary example: Imagine if, because of social forces, Astrology were an established academic field today. Someone with competence in logic and critical thinking would in that circumstance be completely justified in doubting the consensus among astrologers.

      A real example: the kind of literary criticism that can be Sokalized can be seen, even by non-experts, to often follow unreliable methods of discourse, and so any consensus reached in that field can be rightly doubted even by laymen to the field.

      (Even in those two cases, I would say a layman shouldn't _confidently dismiss_ the field. (Even in the astrology case--if we're really taking seriously the idea that it is an established academic field, then it really would be wrong for a non expert to be extremely confident that astrological consensuses are wrong. Given the expertise he's facing, the doubter should doubt with some trepidation. Lucky for us, no such situation has actually obtained w.r.t. astrology!)

      What this adds up to is: If I hear someone expressing doubts about an expert consensus (and don't have good reasons to think I know ahead of time what this person is going to say), and if I have the time and inclination to engage in a discussion with them, then my best reaction isn't to simply dismiss their doubts because they go against expert consensus, but instead to at least first ask what reasons the person thinks they have for doubting that consensus.

      Chances are the reasons they give will be bad ones. ("It goes against what I was taught" or "I have experiences I interpret as counterexamples" or "It's a conspiracy" when there's no evidence of such). But that's not a given. It's possible to have good reasons to doubt expert consensus.

      (BTW you can call me what you want but despite what you see above I actually go by Kris. I need to figure out if there's a way to change that...)

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  2. Kristofer,
    Since the consensus of experts is precisely that Jesus existed, the burden of further reply is actually on you to explain why it's more reasonable to conclude that he doesn't. You're presumption is that because you are not convinced, it is thus the job of others to convince you or to try to convince you. But you are mistaken on the matter. The state of knowledge, dictated to a large extent by the experts in the field, is that Jesus is presumed to have existed, which means Dr. Bernier is not in the position of having to nurse you out of uncertainty. If you think Jesus did not exist, offer up the argument; if you are simply unsure, why not take it on the word of the experts?

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    1. //Since the consensus of experts is precisely that Jesus existed, the burden of further reply is actually on you to explain why it's more reasonable to conclude that he doesn't.//

      Anyone who cares to convince others of a claim has a burden to prove the claim. With that said--there's nothing requiring that anyone care to convince others of a claim!

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    2. In principle, yes, that is the case, Kristofer, and if we were operating in a vacuum it would a legitimate point in this instance. However we do not operate in a vacuum. We operate in a world where this matter has been treated, to the satisfaction of virtually all qualified specialists. If in doubt, read those previous treatments, and why those more qualified on the matter do not share your doubt.

      Please note that I am not talking just about the existence of Jesus but rather the supposition that evolution is more reasonable an explanation for the origin of species than special creation, which I also mention in my blog as a virtual consensus among qualified specialists in the matter. Now, let us consider a hypothetical situation. Let us say that Ken Ham came here and said "I don't agree with those specialists. Convince me that evolution is true." Would you then say that because of Ken Ham's disbelief it would suddenly become no more reasonable to affirm evolution than creationism? Would the biologist who would affirm natural selection be obligated to defend that affirmation, and until she or he does all should suppose that it remains unproven? Is that really a reasonable world?

      Ultimately it comes down to this: it is not reasonable to suppose that opinions offered by persons unqualified to speak on a matter will be typically superior to the opinions offered by persons qualified to speak on a matter. That is why I prefer to take consult my doctor about concerns regarding my health and my mechanic about concerns regarding my automobile.

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  4. //Would you then say that because of Ken Ham's disbelief it would suddenly become no more reasonable to affirm evolution than creationism? Would the biologist who would affirm natural selection be obligated to defend that affirmation, and until she or he does all should suppose that it remains unproven? Is that really a reasonable world?//

    In my view, burden of proof isn't best thought of as a way to tell anyone what's more or less reasonable to believe.

    Ken Ham comes in and says he doesn't beleive in evolution. I don't care what he thinks, and so I don't incur a burden of proof. So I don't give him any evidence. None of this has any implication for whether evolution and creationism are equally reasonable. Burden of proof isn't about that. It's just about who's trying to do what to whom with words.

    If Ken Ham comes in and says his thing, and then I decide I _do_ want to convince him otherwise, I thereby _do_ incur a burden of proof. Not because he said anything reasonable, but because I have decided to try to change his mind. My wanting to change his mind has no implication at all as to whether I am more reasonable than him or vice versa. The reasonableness of our respective beliefs rests on the available evidence, not on who has burden of proof.

    //...it is not reasonable to suppose that opinions offered by persons unqualified to speak on a matter will be typically superior to the opinions offered by persons qualified to speak on a matter. //

    Absolutely.

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  5. Right. So following this line of reasoning Jesus' existence, as affirmed by those who have most diligently and with greatest academic preparation consulted the evidence on the matter, remains the more reasonable position, despite your refusal to affirm thus. In this analogy you are Ken Ham and I am the biologist who has neither the time nor the inclination to respond to his tomfoolery. Glad to see that we reached common ground on this matter.

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  6. While I'd argue there are significant differences between me and Ken Ham, on the main point of this particular post (that you have no burden to prove that Jesus existed) I agree with you wholeheartedly, and have not said anything that should be construed to imply otherwise.

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  7. Kris,

    The matter of "burden of proof" or "burden of further reply" and of presumption are not matters with a view to "convincing" anyone, they are matters of argumentation—where it is presumed that the stronger argument is always the more compelling. Whether or not someone is convinced is irrelevant, because conviction alone cannot be the determining factor.

    The state of "being convinced" is just that—a state of being, a "feeling" of assent (rather than one of dissent). Since it can be the case that one can be convinced of falsity, the matter must be determined by whether or not stronger arguments are put forward. Thus, whatever you think "burden of proof" may mean, you're wrong about it. You don't understand the dialetics of scientific discussion, whereafter a certain position has been arrived at, the burden always falls on the one who would disagree with it. I cannot for instance say to the scientific community "You have failed to convince me that Einsteinian physics is true or that evolution is true, therefore the burden of proof is still on you," since I may be stupid or may be consciously or unconsciously obstinate. You render yourself an amateur by so doing.

    I don't care to convince you of these things (believe what you want), because simply whether or not you're convinced of them cannot be the determining factor on whether or not they are true. That's not how burden of proof works. So again, "If you think Jesus did not exist, offer up the argument; if you are simply unsure, why not take it on the word of the experts?" If you don't "care to convince" me, then I'll be happy to go on my way thinking that Jesus existed.

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  8. I don't know why you're ascribing to me an association between "not having the burden of proof" and "being right (or probably right)" (for example when you say "...simply whether or not you're convinced of them cannot be the determining factor on whether or not they are true. That's not how burden of proof works"). On the account I've outlined, it should be clear that there is no relationship at all between having burden of proof and being right. One has burden of proof only when one cares to convince someone of something. That's it. That doesn't make you right, or probably right. It just means you care to get someone to think something. I believed myself to be making this pretty explicit in what I said above about the (lack of) relationship between having burden of proof and having a reasonable argument.

    You're saying this isn't the usual notion of "burden of proof" and I agree--I brought up my conception of burden of proof originally by saying "I don't think it's best thought of" in the usual way. (Then I introduced the way I think it's best thought of.) In the past I've found the usual notion of "burden of proof" is pretty confused, and very often, anyway, no two people in a conversation have quite the same idea in mind.

    Why do I say the usual notion is pretty confused? Here's one kind of example. Often people will say "I don't have the burden of proof, because such-and-such makes mine the default position." But notice a tension here! The person first says they have no burden to prove the proposition--then they go on to prove it! The original comment I was responding to in this thread did this very thing:

    //Since the consensus of experts is precisely that Jesus existed, the burden of further reply is actually on you to explain why it's more reasonable to conclude that he doesn't.//

    Notice that in one and the same breath, John both denied that he had to prove anything--and provided the proof! Generous!

    But of course I'm joking when I call it generous. I think when people do this it's because they're failing to think carefully about just what it means to give evidence. They think of things like pointing to expert consensus as a way to [i]not[/i] have to give evidence, when in fact, it is itself an act of giving evidence!

    Another example I often find pops up in discussion with my students: "I don't have the burden of proof to show that the sky is blue, it's just obvious that it is!"

    Again--the speaker in one and the same breath denies they have the burden of proof---then goes on to prove it! Very generous indeed! :D

    It's not a simple gotcha. In general, one can't argue about who has the burden of proof over X without actually arguing over X itself--[i]if[/i] "burden of proof" means "hasn't yet made the stronger argument" or anything along those lines. This clearly follows, since you can't argue over who has made the stronger argument about X--without making an argument about X!

    (Continued in next post)

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  9. (Continued from previous post)

    So that whole way of talking about "burden of proof" seems either confused... or pointless... or something. But at this point it's important to ask, "If the [i]meaning[/i] of "burden of proof" is somewhat obscure or generally confused, then let's at least figure out why people [i]use[/i] the phrase." Figuring out why people use a word or phrase is often a very valuable tool in figuring out the best way to use the phrase (or for deciding the phrase should be avoided).

    The answer I think I see is that, in every case I've ever noticed, a person said "I don't have the burden of proof" when the person didn't care to convince people of his position, and when a person said "you have the burden of proof, it was clear there was (either stated or unstated) a rider such as "if you want to convince anyone."

    I think that's the key to a clear, useful concept of "burden of proof." It's not a logical concept or a concept related to the rational strength of an argument, rather, it's a rhetorical or "dialogue theoretic" concept (see stanford encyclopedia article on Informal Logic).

    I don't see the use in discussing the question of whether I understand how "burden of proof" is used in "scientific discussions" but if you'd like to hear something about that, my dissertation was in the philosophy of science. I don't refer specifically to "burden of proof" in that work* but of course the practice of understanding how proof and dialogue work is prerequisite to doing any work at all in that area.

    *(I wouldn't be surprised if no analytic philosopher has used the phrase in published work in several decades, given the conceptual confusion its usual sense seems to get people into.)

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    1. This is all fine and good. Yet none of it touches the fact that we are not starting from scratch in any given discourse. Just as biologists have done the work of showing that evolution is more reasonable than creationism so too have New Testament scholars done the work of showing that Jesus' existence is more reasonable than his non-existence. Thus rather than repeating all that here I simply refer you to that work. If you have specific objections to the virtual consensus within among qualified specialists on the matter than voice those objections. If not then please stop wasting my time.

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    2. Since there is no relationship between having the burden of proof and possessing a reasonable argument, I will simply state that I am not convinced by the account on the burden of proof which you’ve outlined, and I have no care to convince you otherwise, which, if I understand you, the burden of proof is not on me. Since I can potentially possess a reasonable argument without thus having the burden of proof, or needing to demonstrate why I believe something, I will proceed as if I do possess a more reasonable argument.

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    3. Sure, but don't forget that "Potentially X" does not imply "It makes sense to proceed as though X." :D

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    4. Right, (and you'll never know whether my 'potential' arguments against your views aren't in fact actual; and I don't care to convince you! :D). Don't forget that (as far as I am concerned) your potentially having arguments against Jesus' existence (I don't know if you actually do, because you haven't shown them) doesn't imply that it makes sense to proceed as if Jesus doesn't exist. I guess I'm left with how the experts proceed?

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    5. I didn't think you were interested in knowing why I have doubts about Jesus's existence. Was I wrong about that? I hadn't intended to go into that, but maybe I can try to say something about it if you like.

      You were kind enough to answer my question about why you think Jesus exists (after initially deflecting it, understandably, in favor of the overall post topic) by referring me to works by experts. (Implying, if I understood you correctly, that your reasons for thinking Jesus existed basically consists in the fact that there exists such a consensus among the experts.) In that sense, my initial question is asked and answered, which I appreciate. I did follow up with a request for some specific works, preferably scholarly rather than popularizations, and other than Ehrman's and Casey's books. Anything you can provide here will be greatly appreciated.

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    6. I’m not sure it matters what you would say about Jesus’ existence, Kris, since you’ve given me a way out of needing to be responsible and charitable to others in discussions. I don’t even have to see what your concerns are; my reply is going to be “I am not convinced by arguments” and “I don’t care to convince you.” Therefore, there is no burden on me.

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    7. Also, I suspect that your failure to actually provide reasons that Jesus didn't exist implies that you don't have any, right?

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    8. No, I'm not particularly interested in going into the matter of Jesus' non-existence, just as most evolutionary biologists are not particularly interested into going into the matter of creationism. As for scholarly works, that probably exhausts the literature. There is a reason for that: the idea that Jesus did not exist is so incredibly wrong-headed that it is only in recent years that it has really become an issue, and it remains an issue only outside academic circles.

      That brings me to a further point: I did not appeal to authority, as you intimate. It goes without saying that consensus is not evidence. Rather, I suggest that the consensus exists for good reason. There is very good reason that virtually all qualified specialists on the matter agree that Jesus existed, namely that the opposite entails such intellectual gymnastics and radical skepticism as to obviate the very possibility of genuine knowledge about the past or even the world. The level of sophistry and solipsism that must be employed to make Jesus' non-existence work moves the discussion firmly into the realm of pseudo-science. As a historian of the New Testament era I consider the hypothesis to have precisely as much merit as a geologist considers the hypothesis of a hollow earth. I would bet dollars to donuts that virtually every qualified NT scholar would agree on that matter.

      To give an analogy: I understand that you have a Ph.D. in Philosophy. Imagine if someone without training in philosophy came to you and said "John Locke was a Marxist." You say "That's absurd. That just cannot be." And of course it is absurd. The person without training responds with "Says you," and in their ignorance of the matter supposes that they can speak more knowledgeably on the matter than you. Would we consider such a person reasonable? Probably not. That is exactly what both the evolution-denier and the Jesus-denier do. Think of it that way, and you might understand why people trained in NT studies, such as John Bolton and I, get a bit frustrated with the inanity of this "debate."

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    9. //I’m not sure it matters what you would say about Jesus’ existence, Kris, since you’ve given me a way out of needing to be responsible and charitable to others in discussions. I don’t even have to see what your concerns are; my reply is going to be “I am not convinced by arguments” and “I don’t care to convince you.” Therefore, there is no burden on me.//

      (First I should note in some of my responses above I've been confused about whether I was talking to John or Jonathan! I don't think this has led to any serious problems though.)

      I don't see how I've given you a way out of being responsible or charitable to others in discussions. You are no more free to be irresponsible or uncharitable now than you were before you'd ever seen any of my posts. What you do is and has always been entirely up to you. Nothing I've said here (about burden of proof or anything else) implies any kind of permission to do anything. No one needs permission from me.

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    10. //Also, I suspect that your failure to actually provide reasons that Jesus didn't exist implies that you don't have any, right?//

      Prior to the above, it had been my understanding that the blog owner preferred this thread not to be about evidence for or against Jesus's existence, and instead be about the question of whether it can make sense for a layman to disagree with experts. In this particular thread of comments, I have understood the topic of discussion not to be evidence for and against Jesus's existence, but instead, the meaning and use of the concept of "burden of proof." So no, my not providing evidence of Jesus's non-existence doesn't imply that Jesus doesn't exist.

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    13. @Jonathan:

      I want to assure you I wasn't trying to intimate that you were fallaciously appealing to authority. In fact, as I said above, I think that appealing to expert consensus _is_ a way to give evidence. "I believe evolution occurred by natural selection, because this is what practically every trained biologist teaches" is an example of giving evidence for evolution. The premise makes the conclusion more probable. Hence, it is evidence for the conclusion.

      //I would bet dollars to donuts that virtually every qualified NT scholar would agree on that matter.//

      Depends on exactly how many counts as "virtually every" but for whatever it may be worth, these biblical historians, many of them fairly "big names" so to speak, (not all of them specialists in the NT, but expertise in biblical history more generally seems very relevant here) are on-the-record as doubting Jesus's existence: Thomas Thompson, Thomas Brodie, Kurt Noll, Arthur Droge, Hector Avalos, Robert Price.

      And these scholars are on the record as _at least_ saying mythicism should be taken seriously (in some cases, some of these scholars may even be agnostics or mythicists but it's not always clear so I'll just cautiously put them on this more conservative list): Emmanuel Pfoh, Roland Boer, Jim West (who is apparently taken seriously as a member of the scholarly community even though AFAICT his activities are mainly online? Not sure--take this one with as much salt as is appropriate).

      Concerning your last paragraph, I do understand going in just what mythicism looks like to you guys. For that reason, I do my best not to be that guy. I do state outright that I have my doubts, but I try to form my comments as much as I can as a form of reasoned, invitational, constructive discussion

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    14. "You were kind enough to answer my question about why you think Jesus exists (after initially deflecting it, understandably, in favor of the overall post topic) by referring me to works by experts. (Implying, if I understood you correctly, that your reasons for thinking Jesus existed basically consists in the fact that there exists such a consensus among the experts.)"

      " So no, my not providing evidence of Jesus's non-existence doesn't imply that Jesus doesn't exist."

      Kris, my not providing other evidence besides consensus does not then imply that my reasons consist of basically consensus. Right? Because I haven't provided it, it doesn't mean there isn't more there.

      It's okay, though, you've answered the tacit question I've had, which is whether or not you have any argument against Jesus' existence. I appreciate you answering me.

      Also, I don't deny that I have any more or less opportunity to be uncharitable, but you have given me one more tactic to use if I want to be uncharitable. It's a clever little system you got there, where you get to deflect any obligation of making any substantive points (which you've continually done). I suggest what you do is write a paper on it and submit it to a peer-reviewed journal (if you haven't already). If you have, send it along. We'll see what your colleges make of your ideas about burden of proof. But somehow, I don't see you doing that (not sure why, though).

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    15. John, your posts are combative, and I don't understand why.

      //Kris, my not providing other evidence besides consensus does not then imply that my reasons consist of basically consensus. Right? Because I haven't provided it, it doesn't mean there isn't more there.//

      That's right.

      //It's okay, though, you've answered the tacit question I've had, which is whether or not you have any argument against Jesus' existence. I appreciate you answering me.//

      John, this is completely unfair. The owner of the blog has indicated he'd prefer the thread not be about that. If you would like to discuss this with me, my email address is kris.rhodes@outlook.com. I am happy to tell you what it is that leads me to have doubts about Jesus's existence.

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    16. Okay. Let us grant nine as the number of qualified specialists who have spoken favourably about Jesus' non-existence, despite the facts that some of which lack primary expertise in New Testament studies, some of which you admit you do not know their position on the matter, and some of which have not said that Jesus does not exist but merely granted it as a possibility. Now, I'll bet that if I did a little digging I could find nine persons holding Ph.D.s in biology who disputes evolution. I mean, the power of ideology is sufficiently strong to make it likely that that is the case. Would you then say that evolution is anything other than consensus among biologists? Would you quibble when I said that, despite these nine, virtually all biologists agree on the matter of evolution? I am sure Ken Ham would be quite happy if you did.

      Let us put this in perspective. The Society of Biblical Literature has 8500 members. Let us control for persons not holding doctoral degrees in NT by cutting into a sixth of the number. We'll even round down to the nearest 100, yielding a number of 1400. Now, 9/1400 yields a result of 0.006, or 0.6%. That's charitably accepting nine as the numerator and probably working with a grossly deflated denominator. Yes, I would say that this would qualify as virtually no qualified specialists who hold to Jesus' non-existence.

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    17. And BTW, that will be my last statement on the matter. I have more important things to do on this Saturday. I might, for instance, take a nap.

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    18. Thank you for your replies.

      While you did indicate you won't be saying anything else about it, I feel like I've got to make just one point in response of what you did say. The thrust of my comment wasn't just that these are nine people with PhDs, rather, that they're nine people who are accepted and respected as scholars within the general field. The PhDs you find in Biology who dispute evolution will not enjoy such status. I would bet there is not even one.

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    19. Kris,
      Your posts are passive aggressive, and I don't know why.
      Let me get this straight. I'm being unfair when I've said that you have answered the tacit question I had in mind—which is whether or not you have reasons to accept the Jesus did not exist. But it's not unfair of you to say that we've answered your question?

      Why don't you man-up and provide the reasons, regardless of the author's desires. Stop pretending to take the moral high-road. And do you think I'm going to have some private conversation with some no-name philosopher after he's passive aggressively tried to wiggle his way out of taking substantive positions? You have continually put yourself in the position of evaluator, without actually bringing anything of substance to the table. It's rather parasitic.

      Like I said, submit an article to a peer-reviewed journal on your ideas about the "burden of proof." And lets see what your peers have to say. I know what I would say, but then again I don't care to convince you that you're wrong. (By the way, there are philosophical treatments that have been written in the last few decades on the burden of proof. I have some on my bookshelf. But once again, I don't care to tell who they are. (Am I lying? Or am I telling the truth? I guess you'll never know))

      Oh, and by the way, at least with some of the names you cited (the ones whom I'm familiar with) as scholars who are "respected," are in fact not. Robert Price? Really? Really? I've actually had one of them as a professor, and I believe he has not published anything since the 80s or 90s.

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    20. //But it's not unfair of you to say that we've answered your question? //

      I actually meant that, though! I wasn't taking a swipe or being sarcastic or anything along those lines (which is what I think you're implying here?). I was straightforwardly saying that I considered the question to have been answered! Not in any snarky sense or anything. I thought Jonathan answered the question! Did he not? What am I missing?

      Something weird is happening in this conversation so I want to make sure this is completely clear: I am utterly confused by your comments. I think you're ascribing sarcastic intent (this is what I think you're saying?) to comments that I have intended with utterly straightforward sincerity.

      I am being completely literal and straightfoward with you, and have been throughout the thread. Please understand I consider that to be a serious responsibility on my part. I don't do snark or sarcasm. I don't do "passive aggression." :(

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    21. And it's a perfectly respectable answer! I have not criticized it at all, because I don't think it should be criticized (not on its logical strength anyway)! "I think Jesus exists because that is the consensus of virtually all the relevant experts" is an utterly innocuous and perfectly rational defense of the view that Jesus exists. Please don't take anything I've said to mean anything else.

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    22. I was completely sincere too, when I said that you answered my question. Don't think that just because it had a convenient purpose, that I was being insincere. No No! The two are not mutually exclusive, or at least I don't think so. You have legitimately failed to convince me about your positions on the burden of proof or some of your counterarguments. And I don't care to convince you otherwise. I'm not being combative or sarcastic or anything. There is a sincerity to what I say, and I want you to know this.

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    23. //I was completely sincere too, when I said that you answered my question. //

      I know you were. What was unfair was the answer you'd ascribed to me. You were ascribing to me the answer "I have no evidence for my claim," when that ascription was not well-supported by anything you've seen in this thread, was in fact counter-indicated by what you've seen in this thread, and not only these things, but was false besides.

      I will not present the reasons for my doubts in this comment thread, because the blog owner has made it clear he doesn't intend that to be a topic of discussion in this comment thread.

      If you want to talk about that, it must be elsewhere.

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    24. And it was unfair of you to think that the only reasons we had for believing in Jesus existence are basically consensus ones. That was not supported anywhere in the thread also. And there was plenty to counterindicate it as well. Your position about our beliefs was false. And yet it seemed to you at the time to be legitimate conclusion.

      The fact is, you haven't presented anything by way of evidence at all, so I actually don't know if you have evidence for your claim or doubts or suspicions. I'm not going to presume that you do, either; just because you might in fact have something. Thus, I'm not convinced that my ascription of you was not well-supported. And as I've said before I don't care to convince you otherwise.

      And Nope. As far as I am concerned you're going to supply your reasons here. I'm not concerned with what the author of the blog wants. This discussion (we're having) no longer concerns him. He's not obligated to engage, so you can stop hiding behind that skirt. You can supply them here so that they may be evaluated by anyone who cares to discuss the matter, or you continue in your present obstinacy. If you don't want to, that's fine by me, as well. (Of course, you're more than welcome to present your case in a peer-reviewed journal as well.) But since you have not produced anything I'll continue to believe Jesus' existence for the reasons I hold (which I'm not going to tell you because I don't care to convince you otherwise).

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    25. //And it was unfair of you to think that the only reasons we had for believing in Jesus existence are basically consensus ones.//

      I don't _think_ I've said anything in this conversations about what your (singular) reasons for thinking Jesus existed are.

      As for Jonathan's reasons, your remark is fair enough. I thought that's what Jonathan was saying, but on a re-read of the thread I can see how he may have been saying, not "I think he existed because that's the consensus among relevant experts" but rather, "I think he existed for the same reason the relevant experts do." But if I misunderstood, that was a genuine misunderstanding--I wasn't intentionally being uncharitable or anything like that. I just thought that's what he was telling me.

      As to your continued interest in my reasons for doubting Jesus's existence, I'll write up a blog post and link to it here for you. I don't think that will be unduly intrusive on Jonathan's comment thread.

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  10. I am genuinely unaware of any of the scholarly work establishing Jesus's existence. (I know of two recent popularizations, Ehrman's and Casey's. I've read the former, and I found that even sympathetic reviewers didn't have much good to say about the latter so I haven't read it.) Please give me some pointers here? What's the scholarly work I should be looking up that takes up the argument that Jesus exists?

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  11. "Prior to the above, it had been my understanding that the blog owner preferred this thread not to be about evidence for or against Jesus's existence, and instead be about the question of whether it can make sense for a layman to disagree with experts. In this particular thread of comments, I have understood the topic of discussion not to be evidence for and against Jesus's existence, but instead, the meaning and use of the concept of "burden of proof." So no, my not providing evidence of Jesus's non-existence doesn't imply that Jesus doesn't exist."

    I'm not convinced by your argument. And I don't care to convince you otherwise.

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    1. I feel like I detect a tone in your response such that it is meant to be in some way pointed or point-making. But your point is missing the mark, if that's so. If what you said in the post above is completely truthful, ("I'm not convinced by your argument. And I don't care to convince you otherwise.") then there's absolutely no problem with you wishing not to engage in the discussion. Meanwhile, if you're not saying what's completely truthful, in order to make some kind of point, then, well, you're not being truthful.

      I'm inclined to think you're both being truthful _and_ thinking you're making some kind of point. But you can't be right on both of those counts. It's one or the other.

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    2. Is it possible, Kris, that I've said something completely truthful and that it serves a point. What if for instance, I read what you said and said to myself, "Oh, yes, but he's not taken this into account." I go to write something, and realize just before I do so, "Oh, actually this will make for an excellent point." Wouldn't have I then both said something truthful AND been able to make a point? But as it were, I'm not convinced that you've actually detected a tone in my response, and I don't care to convince you otherwise.

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  12. I like to think that I am a reasonably bright person. I graduated in the top 5% of my class from law school; I am an expert rated chess player; and I took and passed the test for Mensa. I was able to follow Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time without an advanced degree in physics. I have been able to follow the logic of Steven Pinker, Daniel Denett, Ronald Dworkin, Joseph Stiglitz, and Jared Diamond as well as other scholars without advanced training in their fields. I cannot do what they do, but I can generally understand how their premises lead to their conclusions.

    I consider myself an agnostic when it comes to the historical Jesus and I am doubtful that mythicism could ever be anything more than an intriguing possibility. Nevertheless, I consider myself perfectly capable of reading a book like Did Jesus Exist? and assessing the strength of the case that Ehrman makes. If the reasons he gives are in fact the reasons that most scholars affirm the existence of a historical Jesus, then I am perfectly comfortable in questioning the consensus.

    I strongly disagree with the notion that doubting the existence of a historical Jesus entails such “radical skepticism as to obviate the very possibility of genuine knowledge about the past.” The fact that I am uncertain about the existence of a first century itinerant preacher who had little impact during his life outside a small group of illiterate peasant followers doesn't prevent me from having a reasonable degree of certainty about emperors and generals and politicians who were widely enough known during their lives that their activities were noticed and chronicled by their contemporaries.

    I do not believe that all consensuses are entitled to the same respect. One of the problems in economics is the quantity of ideologically driven research. There are well funded think tanks that hire PhD’s for the purpose of generating research which will support a conservative political agenda. As a result, an economist who sings the praises of laissez-faire capitalism has more job opportunities than one who does not. I think that a similar problem exists in historical Jesus studies. There are institutions that require scholars to affirm the historicity of certain events as a condition of employment. I do not see how that could help but skew the consensus.

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    1. Thank you for your post, Vinny. First, agreement on the matter of Jesus' existence occurs across the ideological spectrum. Ehrman is hardly a right-wing nutter. In point of fact the only ideological correlation that I see in this discussion exists among Jesus-deniers. Thus if your argument cuts in any direction it is towards suspicion of such a position.

      I'm not interested in getting into the empirical matter of Jesus' existence, because this post was not about that matter. What it was about was to suggest that a contributing factor to social decline is a tendency for non-experts on a matter to think themselves better qualified to speak to that matter than experts. All you are doing is presenting yourself as an example of such decline. Put otherwise, you're part of the problem, not the solution.

      And with that, I am completely done with this discussion. Now I'm going to take a nap.

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    2. Thus if your argument cuts in any direction it is towards suspicion of such a position.

      My argument doesn't have anything to do with which position warrants confidence and which position warrants suspicion. It has only to do with how much confidence a particular consensus warrants when the field is subject to a systemic ideological bias. Any particular position within that field stands or falls on the merits of the evidence.

      I certainly do not believe myself better qualified to speak to the matter than an expert. Nevertheless, I think that I am normally capable of judging whether an expert's conclusions logically follow from the evidence he presents. I am capable of spotting an expert's failure to apply basic principles of probability. I can also tell whether an expert understands the concept of relevance. I can also tell whether an expert is fairly stating the counter-arguments to his position and whether he is meeting them or sidestepping them.

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    3. //I certainly do not believe myself better qualified to speak to the matter than an expert. Nevertheless, I think that I am normally capable of judging whether an expert's conclusions logically follow from the evidence he presents. I am capable of spotting an expert's failure to apply basic principles of probability. I can also tell whether an expert understands the concept of relevance. I can also tell whether an expert is fairly stating the counter-arguments to his position and whether he is meeting them or sidestepping them.//

      Very well put.

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    4. "I certainly do not believe myself better qualified to speak to the matter than an expert. Nevertheless, I think that I am normally capable of judging whether an expert's conclusions logically follow from the evidence he presents. I am capable of spotting an expert's failure to apply basic principles of probability. I can also tell whether an expert understands the concept of relevance. I can also tell whether an expert is fairly stating the counter-arguments to his position and whether he is meeting them or sidestepping them."

      Right Vinny. I actually don't have a problem with what you've said, although I'll add that (which I doubt you'll in the end disagree with) the conclusions you come up with for why you might disagree with an expert will themselves be open for critique by the same standards which you espouse. And that's how the process works, isn't it? (At least as far as I understand it.)

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    5. Absolutely John. One of the reasons I blog is to test my thinking. I've learned a lot from the responses to my posts and comments.

      BTW, I agree with Kris about letting the blogger control the parameters of the conversation. I consider myself a guest when I comment on someone's blog and I try to conform myself to the standards the blogger sets.

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    6. Vinny and Kris,
      I recommend that before you post any more to the blog (with regard to *any* post) you supply your reasons for why Jesus didn't exist, so that they can be evaluated. It's not fair to the author of the blog for you to continue critique everyone else's claims, without supplying your own for a similar critique. You end up showing yourselves to be parasites.

      Kris, write up the blog post and link it here, before you post any more on this blog. You have a penchant for wasting everybody's time.

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    7. Already working on it, but will be a while.

      I don't think it makes a lot of sense to talk about what's "fair" here--that's a useful concept in gaming and in politics, but I don't see the application in the present context. My presumption is that anyone who makes an argument is thereby inviting critique. So if "fair" and "unfair" are useful concepts in this context, it's perfectly "fair" to offer that invited critique.

      I'll let you know when the blog post is up.

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    8. Who appointed you blog cop John? If Jonathan want to set any conditions on commenting, I will be happy to comply.

      As I stated above, I am agnostic about the existence of a historical Jesus. I find the sources so problematic that I am not comfortable affirming either that the Jesus traditions go back to a historical first century Galilean preacher or that they began with the visionary experiences of some first century mystery cult. I have written many posts about the subject on my own blog.

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    9. Vinny,

      Like uncle Theo used to say, Don't poke the bear.

      I hold and John is about to complete a Ph.D. in NT. We both know that Jesus-denial and even Jesus-agnosticism are far to the left of even the far left in professional NT studies. Go to the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, read first or second or third tier journals and you won't find people debating Jesus' existing. It's just not an issue among professional NT studies. Most NT scholars would find the idea that Jesus didn't exist quite foreign, and probably consider it pseudo-science.

      So suddenly some guys standing entirely outside the discipline tell us "No, you're wrong. You don't know what's actually normative in your discipline." We try to explain that that's not the case. They tell us that we are mistaken. Turns out we might be a bit frustrated, even offended. John's comment above expresses that frustration.

      So, as uncle Theo says, don't poke the bear. As far as I'm concerned, John has in fact shown remarkable restraint in the face of repeated provocation. Kudos to him.

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    10. Repeated provocation.

      I would ask you to please show me two instances in this thread where I provoked John.

      Or are you saying I provoked him once while Vinny provoked him more than once?

      I do not think I provoked John even once. It is my view that I have been reasonable and constructive throughout the thread, and that John has treated me in a way that is incredibly unbecoming and childish--especially considering he is a grown man, a scholar, about to earn an advanced degree in a field in the humanities no less.

      Perhaps the first provocation is in even bringing the subject up. I'll grant that. But you said "repeated provocation." I would request, with all due respect, that you show me what you are referring to. Multiple points at which John was provoked.

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    11. Kris,

      Please allow me to copy the first paragraph of the definition of "trolling" from Wikipedia: "In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion."

      Now, this entire discussion was off-topic from the outset, a fact that I flagged in my initial response to your very first post. Nonetheless I indulged your off-topic discussion on the supposition that you were a person of goodwill interested in the genuine exchange of ideas. To this end I explicitly requested relatively early in the discussion that you post your positive arguments against Jesus' existence. You have not yet done so. I subsequently stated that your behaviour was frustrating to both myself and Mr. Bolton and explained why. Yet you persisted in your behaviour. Here you continue to ignore the substantive point of my post, caviling upon the word "repeated" instead of trying to figure out why I, the blog owner, might find your behaviour problematic.

      So, sir, either stop acting like a troll or get off my blog.

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    12. As I've stated several times, I was under the impression you'd explicitly asked me _not_ to give my reasons for doubting Jesus's existence. Having just re-read the thread, I'm still not seeing where you explicitly asked me to present my reasons, but it's entirely possible I've missed that during the re-read.

      My reasons for doubting Jesus's existence are:

      1. The systematically poor reasoning (not false factual claims, poor reasoning) of those scholars who have taken on the question, in the sense that they systematically fail to understand the arguments they're addressing, and fail to understand logical and relevance relations between statements.

      2. A look at the history of the field shows that Jesus's existence is by and large not a conclusion the field has come to, but an assumption the field starts from. The few attempts to address the question that can be found suffer from the problems listed above. This includes a dismayingly shaky grasp on what it even means to be _on topic._

      3. The text of Paul's letters by and large gives me the impression that he's not talking about a human being who'd lived on Earth, but instead a heavenly person who has not yet visited Earth but (having undergone crucifixion and resurrection) will be coming soon. The cases where this reading is not obvious are surprisingly rare, and are matched by cases where the historicist reading is not obvious.

      4. The kinds of syncretism and creativity with religious tropes involved in telling a story like the one just outlined in a ca. 1st century Jewish messianic context are demonstrated in religious traditions we know about from that time and place.

      5. The gospels show little evidence of having been based on historical events, and a lot of evidence of being fictions designed from the ground up to illustrate the spiritual, moral and political thoughts of early church communities.

      Now each of those in itself requires support, and that's what I'm writing the above-mentioned blog post about.

      I am the very opposite of a troll. I am extremely earnest, and I have treated you with nothing but respect. John's behavior is appalling. Everyone reading this blog can see what kind of people are being dealt with in this thread, on both sides.

      :(

      :(

      :(

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    13. With regard to your arguments:
      1) is irrelevant. There is no logical and relevant relation between my failure to understand a counter-position and the truth of my own position.
      2) is again relevant. That people have supposed X does not constitute a reason for thinking X to be false.
      3) First, that reading of Paul is questionable in the least. Where, for instance, has this heavenly figure been crucified (and buried!) and resurrected if not on Earth? But if we grant this quite questionable reading you have other problems. For instance, why privilege Paul on the matter? Sure, it is scholarly consensus that he wrote before the Evangelists, but then again you spurn consensus when it suits your purposes. Indeed, that consensus is built by exactly the same scholars whose competence you question in points 1 and 2. So suddenly now their conclusions are indubitable? Note, given point 2, that to the best of my knowledge these same scholars who take Jesus' existence for granted also take Paul's for granted. Why is that not a problem for you? Please be consistent and show why you believe in 1) Paul's existence, 2) that he wrote the letters to which you appeal for data, and 3) that he wrote before the first of the Evangelists.

      Once you have done that then please offer a historical narrative to explain how Jesus went from a purely heavenly figure to a life-and-blood man in at most about thirty years. That's a lot of development to happen in a short time, especially when you suppose that many of the followers alive c. 50 would be alive c. 80. Did none of them say "Hey, wait a minute...yesterday we said that he was a purely heavenly figure, today we're saying that he lived on Earth. I'm calling foul?" Or were they suppressed? If so, where's the evidence of that suppression? What sort of historical narrative can actually render this plausible.

      4) Even if we grant the empirical claim, which is in fact quite questionable (I actually have no idea what evidence you are using to support this claim), what has it to do with Jesus' existence? At best you have merely identified the tropes upon which early Christians drew in telling their story of Jesus's life.

      5) Just begging the question. "Why do you think that the Gospels do not report historical events but rather reflect the beliefs of later Christians [i.e. are mythical]?" "Because they do not report historical events but rather reflect the beliefs of later Christians." You also have a bit of a non sequiter. Of course the gospels illustrate the "spiritual, moral and political thoughts of early church communities." It does not follow from that however that these thoughts obviate an interest in historical reporting. Indeed, you overlook two very real possibilities. First, that these thoughts were in part the product of early Christianity's human response to Jesus' life and work. Second, that among these thoughts was a consequent interest in said life and work. This seems to me at least as plausible a reading of the data. It moreover is a reading with greater explanatory power, for unlike what you have presented it offers an account for the origin of those communities and their spiritual, moral, and political thoughts. That seems the real fly in your ointment: from whence came these communities that created Jesus, what was their interest in so doing, and from whence your confidence in the data that supports your understandings of these matters?

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    14. The blog post I am working on anticipates and answers most of these questions, but just to answer a few important points, in order to fill out the account or address some points of logic:

      You're right that a person's argument being bad doesn't make their conclusion false. But if that person's argument were the only reason anyone had to believe his conclusion, then once the argument was shown to be a bad one, everyone would lose any particular reason to believe his conclusion. This is what I've termed above as being in a state of "doubt."

      (Autobiographical aside: Up until about (I think it was) October of last year I was a liberal Christian who assumed Jesus existed and we had ways to sensibly figure out who he was and what he was about. I thought of mythicism just as you do, as conspiratorial tin-foil-hat thinking by the likes of Acharya S and Richard Atwell. When I did encounter Doherty and Carrier, they at least passed the "sounds reasonable test," which surprised me. I expected to learn a lot by reading those who refuted them. To my chagrin, the opposite occurred--Doherty and Carrier both showed themselves to be able to basically walk circles around their interlocutors (notably: McGrath, Ehrman, and Casey) in a way which showed me that those three guys, at least, are at a loss for how to defend the idea that Jesus existed. But the thing is--if anyone in the field should have been able to defend the idea, at _LEAST_ Ehrman and Casey should have been able to make a passable effort. They didn't! This is when I realized I have to doubt that Jesus existed--the best the scholarly field has to offer fails to offer a cogent argument for the view, and up until then, "the field has a cogent argument to offer" was my only reason for thinking Jesus existed in the first place! The foundation for my belief in Jesus's existence was removed. With that, of course, went my avowed Christianity. That was alright--as a super liberal type Christian my beliefs had been logically equivalent to atheism for a long while.)

      As to where the crucifixion etc are supposed to have taken place, the idea is that they took place in the area just above the Earth and below all the rest of the heavens.

      As to accepting the consensus that Paul existed and not the consensus that Jesus existed, the evidence that someone (with some redaction) wrote these letters during the 1st century is much, much stronger than is the evidence that Jesus was a historical figure. It's not as though once one has rejected one thing a person or group says, one must then reject everything that person or group says.

      As to the progression from a myth set in the heavens to a myth set on Earth, I don't know the story here, but it doesn't seem remarkable to me. You have a mishmash of teachers with conflicting teachings even about pretty basic stuff concerning Jesus even in Paul's time. And we know of at least one case (Ned Ludd) where an entirely fictional person became known as a historical person in a shorter time period than the one you mentioned, in a time where communication was much easier from community to community. When it comes to religion, as I imagine you know, people are credulous and believe weird, contradictory things.

      Continued in next post

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    15. Continued from previous post

      Concerning the syncretism etc that I mentioned, I didn't make it clear that this was intended to head off a "Jewish people at that time and place would never have made up such a story" style of objection.


      Concerning the gospels, you've mischaracterized my argument. The argument is: "Why do I think that Jesus was originally a mythical, non-historical character? One reason is that the gospels, it turns out, show signs of being fictional from the ground up rather than overlaying messages onto historical events."

      If I'm right that the gospels are not records of historical events, then the gospels add no weight to the view that Jesus existed. As in the first point above, this doesn't show that Jesus didn't exist, but it means there is less evidence that he did than there might have been otherwise.

      While I am working on setting arguments for these and related claims in order, I want to recommend Richard Carrier's books _Proving History_ and _On the Historicity of Jesus_. He's both better qualified to talk about this, and has had the time and resources to put together peer-reviewed work on the topic. Read 'em for a lark at least. ;)

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    16. Thanks, Kris, for finally responding with something at least somewhat substantive. I appreciate that you are working on a post. I’m sorry you think that my behaviour is appalling, which I find not a little bit amusing as some of it is reminiscent of a modus operandi employed by someone you and I both know. :D I suspect your view of my behaviour was spawned no doubt by a certain frustration you have as a result of not finding us as tractable as I’m sure you had hoped. Anyway,

      I have some questions (I’ll try not to overlap with Dr. Bernier’s comments too much)

      “1. The systematically poor reasoning (not false factual claims, poor reasoning) of those scholars who have taken on the question, in the sense that they systematically fail to understand the arguments they're addressing, and fail to understand logical and relevance relations between statements.”



      a) I’m wondering if you have read anything that has tried to secure the existence of any other historical figure. If so, who? And by whom? How does it compare to the treatments you have read about Jesus’ existence? I am assuming that you seen examples where this has been done effectively.
      b) There seems to be a supposition (unless I’m mistaken) that (this is somewhat related to point above) you would know what would constitute good reasoning with regard to demonstrating the existence of some historical figure. What is that reasoning process? How should a proper treatment of securing the existence of a historical figure look? What steps should one take? Would it be any different from securing the historical existence of someone in the 19th or early 20th century?

      “2. A look at the history of the field shows that Jesus's existence is by and large not a conclusion the field has come to, but an assumption the field starts from. The few attempts to address the question that can be found suffer from the problems listed above. This includes a dismayingly shaky grasp on what it even means to be _on topic._”

      I don’t doubt that this first part is not true to some extent: (“A look at the history of the field shows that Jesus's existence is by and large not a conclusion the field has come to, but an assumption the field starts from”). But isn’t this true almost for every historical figure? I mean we don’t get works called “Did Socrates Exist?” and the like, although I suspect somewhere someone has asked that. Again, what books have you read where the existence of figures other than Jesus have been argued for and established. Is this really that popular of a genre? *In your number 3 you just assumed Paul’s existence, without evidence or argumentation. Why the assumption of existence there, and not the same skepticism with which you treat Jesus? (Dr. Bernier has identified in greater detail some of the issues. I’ll stop here.)

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    17. continued . . .

      “4. The kinds of syncretism and creativity with religious tropes involved in telling a story like the one just outlined in a ca. 1st century Jewish messianic context are demonstrated in religious traditions we know about from that time and place.”

      This is not intelligible to me. You’ll have to break it down, or explain it further. (I can wait till the blog post is up.) However, from what I can glean from it, you are presupposing real knowledge about historical situations which you have given no reason for us to suppose—again not unlike your suppositions with regard to the historical Paul. Where do you derive your information about what syncretism and religious tropes were like in the first century? Why should we take them for granted? How did you establish that your feelings in this regard are true about the world of the first century? It seems to me you are presupposing knowledge of a situation you have no business presupposing, in that you’ve done none of the work of showing why these statements should be accepted.

      “5. The gospels show little evidence of having been based on historical events, and a lot of evidence of being fictions designed from the ground up to illustrate the spiritual, moral and political thoughts of early church communities.”

      Once again, “early church communities”?—how do you know there were such things such as these? What is your data? (There is a difference between being in a community [which all of us are to some extent a part of], where one member writes a work, and a community of persons who set out collectively to write a work with specific issues in mind)—so why are you assuming that the gospel documents are products of these communities who were specifically responding to spiritual, moral and political issues? Why do you think that Gospels have anything to do with early church communities? Couldn’t they have been written outside of these groups? And yet you’ve assumed it. What is your evidence for your historical suppositions and why do you to believe that that evidence actually historically refers to these situations?

      You might be treating these issues in your blog post (I hope). So I may be asking questions which you’ve been answering. I look forward to your post. Any information about these issues would be greatly appreciated. I too am earnest. And I have no problem continuing discussions with persons who have shown little respect but have afterwards repented of their obstinacy.

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    18. Since you acknowledge that your initial points #1 and #2 do not constitute arguments I will skip those. With regards to some sort of "cosmic crucifixion" I am not at all convinced that that is a particularly compelling reading. And what about a passage such as Romans 1:3 Jesus is said to be a descendant of David according to the flesh? (And the Greek text leaves no doubt that Paul is referring to Jesus Christ here?). It seems to me that you end up having to do a lot of exegetical back-flips to make this work.

      Now, you mention that the evidence is strong that someone wrote the letters attributed to Paul in the first century. I would agree, but add the following caveats. First, "someone" is not Paul, and your formulation leaves open the possibility that some or all of Paul's letters were written after his lifetime, and potentially after one or more of the gospels. Moreover, the same consensus to which you appeal holds that this is precisely the case, that at least three and maybe six letters of Paul were written towards the end of the first century or even into the early second, which is coeval with or even simply later than the dates typically given for the gospels. Thus, given your hyper-minimalist stance towards both the data and scholarly consensus I remain uncertain how you can hold with the confidence necessary for your position that the particular passages that would best support your view (which I suspect to be found in Romans and 1 Cor.) predate any of the gospels.

      As to how the myth developed and circulated, it's not sufficient for you to show that it could have happened. You need also to produce a historical narrative that is more plausible and has greater explanatory power than the alternative.

      And that's the problem here. Your claims to the contrary, you have not actually produced a positive argument. You've at best shown that some of what was considered to be evidence on the matter might not be. And I'm still left without an answer: from whence came these Christian communities that made up Jesus, and why did they do so?

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    19. You know, the more I think about it, the more I realize that if you dispense with Luke as a historical source then you must also dispense with Acts, and if you dispense with Acts you lose pretty much any ability to anchor Paul in time and place. Moreover, if you merely state that somebody wrote the letters, and not necessarily Paul, then on principle they could date as late as c. 150 or so, when we first have clear manuscript evidence attesting to their existence. But we have clear manuscript evidence attesting to the Gospel of John's existence from c. 125. So I'm thinking that on your own terms it is far from clear that the Pauline corpus does not post-date the Gospel of John. So now you have an account that does clearly situate Jesus on Earth potentially predating letters that situate him exclusively in the cosmos. That throws your narrative into a bit of a kerfluffle.

      The problem here is fundamentally that you are reading tendentiously. Anything that could be taken to refer to something other than activity on earth is assumed to do so, and any critical judgments as to dates that would support your narrative are preferred. The only consistent criteria that I can identify for your decision-making is this tendentiousness.

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    20. A lot of what you're asking about is stuff I need to deal with at length in the aforementioned blog post.

      On certain important points of logic you wanted to make, though, and which may indicate a crucial misunderstanding:

      //Since you acknowledge that your initial points #1 and #2 do not constitute arguments I will skip those. //

      and

      //Your claims to the contrary, you have not actually produced a positive argument.//

      With apologies for the pedantry, let me lay out the basic argument of the first two points as follows:

      Premise 1: The field of NT scholars has not mustered a cogent argument for Jesus's existence.

      Premise 2: The existence of a cogent argument for Jesus's existence in the field of NT scholars is the only reason any of us (non-scholars and most scholars) has for accepting Jesus's existence.

      Conclusion: It is reasonable to doubt Jesus's existence.

      You're strictly incorrect when you say I "acknowledg[ed] that my initial points... do not constitute arguments." Rather, I was explaining what the argument _is_. (And above, I've explained it even more transparently.) But what I think is going on is, there's been a misunderstanding about just what conclusion I'm arguing for. I haven't been arguing for the view that Jesus didn't exist. I have been arguing for the view that it's reasonable to doubt that Jesus existed even given the fact of scholarly consensus. (And recall from my previous post that when I say "doubt" I do not mean "believe the opposite," I mean "not believe.")

      (Even when, in points three through five, I offered an alternative hypothesis to explain the data we have, it was not with a view towards arguing that Jesus didn't exist, but just to highlight that other plausible readings do obtain. Together with the apparent lack of cogent arguments for Jesus's existence, this also leads to the conclusion, not that Jesus didn't exist, but that it's reasonable not to believe Jesus existed.)

      So when you go on to say "You've at best shown that some of what was considered to be evidence on the matter might not be," far from being a relevant criticism, this is actually just a statement of the kind of point I'm trying to make.

      Basically, as described in the autobiographical aside above, I'm in the position of having encountered arguments for mythicism that sound reasonable, and not having seen arguments for historicism that sound reasonable. In every other intellectual field, when this happens, I can go to the experts, in person or in popularization, and get good, relevant arguments showing why the consensus is based on good reasons. But... not so when it comes to Jesus studies and the question of Jesus's existence.

      Part of the reason for the latter, though, is that for the most part, historicists _refuse to give arguments at all_, insisting the matter is settled. But unfortunately for me, I haven't been able to find the arguments that are supposed to settle it. When you trace things back, the claim that Jesus exists quite clearly exists as a presupposition in the field, not a conclusion. (I mean maybe I'm wrong here. Think back to your own education. Was it ever an actual question that you had to deal with, or that you read about others' dealing with, or that you in your own thinking as a student or young professional dealt with yourself? Was it a question that was actually engaged in? Or was it, instead, something everyone supposed was true and figured had been settled previously and so wasn't worth looking into? I don't know the answer to this question, and I'm interested in hearing what the answer is.)

      This is why I ask people in the know what their own positive reasons for thinking Jesus exists are. It's not to challenge them per se. It's to learn from them. But for the most part, everyone refuses to do any teaching!

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    21. //I find not a little bit amusing as some of it is reminiscent of a modus operandi employed by someone you and I both know. :D I suspect your view of my behaviour was spawned no doubt by a certain frustration you have as a result of not finding us as tractable as I’m sure you had hoped.//

      I think you're referring to Carrier. I do wish he'd tone down the rhetoric. But let's return to the subject of your tractability. I didn't expect anyone to be "tractable." I expected a productive, interesting discussion from which I might learn something. Instead, John, what I got was you.

      // I have no problem continuing discussions with persons who have shown little respect but have afterwards repented of their obstinacy.//

      I have, until this last pair of posts to you, shown _zero_ disrespect to _anyone_. As I said before, everyone who happens to be reading this comment thread can see for themselves what kind of people are being dealt with.

      I have not ignored the substance of your post. But I will not be replying to you personally on this comment thread any longer. Given your behavior, I cannot see a way to be confident a continuation of this interaction will lead to anything interesting or constructive. Let us call that a failure of vision on my part.

      I will let you know when the blog post is up. It will deal with the points you bring up to the extent that I am able. If you decide to engage in that conversation, I will treat you as a guest in my house. I consider our current interaction to be finished.

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  13. Jonathan,

    With all due respect to your Uncle Theo, the way I became an expert chess player was by losing games to players much stronger than myself and learning from the losses, so the possibility of being shown where I am wrong does not concern me in the slightest.

    I cannot see anywhere where I have suggested what is or is not normative in your discipline and I cannot imagine why you would liken anything I have said to doing so. I have suggested that the consensus of scholars in all fields is not equally impressive. One of the things that makes me less impressed with historical Jesus scholars is their propensity to respond to arguments that I haven't made.

    I have posted further thoughts on the matter on my own blog.

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    1. Fair enough, Vinny. I was speaking really to Kristofer there. Apologies if you felt unduly lumped in.

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    2. Fair enough, but it was an easy mistake for me to make as you addressed the comment solely to me.

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  14. Kristofer:

    Please consult the message of August 15, at 19:34, which reads: "This is all fine and good. Yet none of it touches the fact that we are not starting from scratch in any given discourse. Just as biologists have done the work of showing that evolution is more reasonable than creationism so too have New Testament scholars done the work of showing that Jesus' existence is more reasonable than his non-existence. Thus rather than repeating all that here I simply refer you to that work. If you have specific objections to the virtual consensus within among qualified specialists on the matter than voice those objections. If not then please stop wasting my time."

    I am not clear how I could have been more clear: voice your objections to the consensus (i.e. Jesus's existence) if you want to continue with the discussion.

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    1. I did miss that. Thank you for pointing me to it.

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    2. Interesting that that's there, and that I was insisting on it. Hmm.

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    3. Just some verses we might want to consider when thinking about Jesus' existence:

      Rom 1:1 ¶ Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
      Rom 1:2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,
      Rom 1:3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh

      Rom 5:15 ¶ But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ (thØv touv e˚no\ß aÓnqrw¿pou ∆Ihsouv Cristouv), abounded for the many.
      Rom 5:17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

      1 Cor 11:23 ¶ For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,
      1 Cor 11:24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
      1 Cor 11:25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”


      1 Thess 2:14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews,
      1 Thess 2:15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone

      1 Thess 4:14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.

      1 Tim 2:5 For
      there is one God;
      there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
      Christ Jesus, himself human,
      1 Tim 2:6 who gave himself a ransom for all
      —this was attested at the right time.

      1 Tim 6:13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you
      1 Tim 6:14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

      2 Tim 2:8 ¶ Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel,

      Heb 5:7 ¶ In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

      Heb 10:10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
      Heb 10:19 ¶ Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,

      Heb 13:12 Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood.

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  15. Interesting that I was insisting the opposite, and you could easily have helped me see my error, and you had no interest in actually showing me what you were talking about, instead choosing to approach the matter like a hugely childishly aggressive jerk. "Man up" indeed. What a remarkably inappropriate thing to say in the context of an intellectual discussion. To you I guess I would have to reply "grow up." I'm finished with you for now.

    (Sorry Jonathan. I appreciate your indulgence so far. I'll work on the blog post and let you know. Other than that it is probably best for me to disengage.)

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    1. I'm not about to show someone his error if he is not about to read properly what has been said. Nor when he has been shown errors in other places yet continues to indulge in asinine fatuity. The very fact that you continue with your tasteless invective suggests that though you don't think you're being disrespectful you actually are [just need to get the last word, don't cha!]—in the very passively aggressive way that you have been. I have said it. The author of this blog has said it. What more do you want? Pretending to have an "intellectual discussion"? You were merely playing around. And that is there for everyone to see, you're quite right.

      Be done with me. I don't care. As you've indicated, Carrier knows more than you. I'll go read his stuff, since, I can be sure that you haven't got anything better.

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  16. Sorry one last question: Did you elect not to accept my comment to your "Jesus invented in 1863"? I thought I posted the comment several days ago. Did it go through? Was it rejected? Since this is an administrative question it wouldn't hurt my feelings if you didn't post the present comment and instead responded to it in private.

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  17. A couple quick comments.

    First, yes, I elected not to post that comment. It seemed to me that it was continuing the discussion from this thread and was attempting to keep it localized here. Apologies if that seemed at all censorious.

    Second, John Bolton is an old and good friend, and one of the smartest people I've ever known. He's never afraid of speaking his mind, and whilst sometimes that can make him come off a bit abrasive it also means that you're getting an honesty and integrity often missing in this world. He is the epitome of WYSIWYG. He also likes chihuahuas and is getting one tomorrow. True story.

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    1. Okay. I understand what you're saying about John. I am disengaging for all our sakes. I try to facilitate mindful and rational discussions. You can see I'm failing at that in these last few posts.

      (About the other post's comment though, is there any way you can send me what I said? Or is it gone? Email is kris.rhodes@outlook.com )

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    2. Alas, it is gone. As I recall, all it said was that you see a difference between 19th-century skepticism and current mythicism. I just didn't want to get into that.

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    3. LOL, John Bolton, or "Lola"? (John's new dog is named "Lola," hence the word play).

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