Bart Ehrman Just Can’t Do Truth or Logic

Bart Ehrman was again asked what evidence there is that Jesus existed this February 18, 2016, at Fresno City College. See the video here (he begins his answer at timestamp 23:18). First he says this:

I don’t think there is any doubt that Jesus existed. There are a couple of scholars who’ve argued he didn’t exist. There are a lot of voices out there saying that he didn’t exist. But they’re not by scholars who are actually trained in any historical disciplines. There are voices on the internet. But there are voices on the internet for all sorts of things. Scholars who study this stuff really, there isn’t any, it’s not a question that’s debated among my colleagues. It is not debated. Because the evidence is so overwhelming.

This is not a very truthful statement. [Read more…]

Historicity Apologists: Their Own Worst Enemy

Brian Bethune has published a good article on the historicity question for Macleans, a leading Canadian magazine. Titled Did Jesus Really Exist?, his article presents a pretty fair assessment of the debate (after summarizing recent developments in the field calling into question the reliability of memory). He doesn’t delve into the deeper levels (principally, what did Paul mean by “Brothers of the Lord” or being “made of a woman” or “of the sperm of David”?). But he summarizes where things stand. And like me ten years ago, he finds the historicity defenders have a surprisingly, indeed perplexingly weak case.

Around the same time, doctoral candidate in religious studies Raphael Lataster published a peer reviewed journal article summarizing the case in more detail. Titled It’s Official: We Can Now Doubt Jesus’s Historical Existence, and published in Think (by The Royal Institute of Philosophy), Vol. 15.43 (Summer 2016), pp. 65-79, it’s a good summary of his book Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate among Atheists. None of his more speculative stuff is in there. Every point he makes is entirely correct.

In both cases, the truth of what they report significantly rests with the extremely poor responses of historicity defenders. Once again it’s starting to look like they have no good responses to make (this became evident even in my debate with Craig Evans in Georgia a few weeks ago, which I’ll blog about soon). Ehrman seems not to have given Bethune any good answers. And the only books the entire field has produced in defense of historicity really do phenomenally suck—and in all the ways Lataster documents.

The responses to these two articles so far are absurd. They even make the defense of historicity look embarrassing and ridiculous. Which shouldn’t be so easy to do. But alas, two authors definitely accomplish said marvel… [Read more…]

Brief Note on Euhemerization

This is just a brief note for those interested in my thoughts on Tim Widowfield’s article “What Is Euhemerism?” about what he thinks are confusions regarding the terminology of “Euhemerization.” For the context, see my article “Euhemerization Means Doing What Euhemerus Did.”

Widowfield is confusing what Euhemerus did, with why he did it. This is a basic mistake of Aristotelian categorization. The efficient cause is the act itself that brings about the effect. The final cause is the reason why, the goal being sought, by doing that. Those are two different things.

Aaron Adair, the astronomer who wrote the best book ever on the Star of Bethlehem (seriously, I highly recommend it, for all who want the definitive take-down of that miracle claim), will be presenting an equally well-written paper at the upcoming national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature on this point that documents what I’m saying extensively, but it will be awhile before that will be available to cite.

TL;DR, Euhemerization is doing what Euhemerus did: convert a non-historical deity into a deified historical man (in contrast to deification, which is when an actual historical man is converted into a deity). Why he did that is actually widely debated. We don’t actually have the text in question, only hostile reactions to it, which quote selectively from it or paraphrase it (how accurately we can’t tell). But whatever his reasons for doing it, his reasons for doing it are not what he did, but why. And as Adair shows (and as do I, though less directly, in OHJ, e.g. in my discussions of Romulus and Osiris), many people did the same thing (used the same process) to accomplish different things. Some wanted to rationalize cosmic myths. Some wanted to hide them from the uninitiated. Some wanted to polemicize against them. But what they all did in common, is the same one thing: convert a non-historical deity into a deified historical man. A trend begun by Euhemerus. And thus so called.

This is the problem with trying, as Widowfield does, to create an analogy between Darwinism, which is by definition not teleological, with an actual goal-oriented human activity. The latter differentiates between the act itself and its purpose. And as such, the same act (smelting steel, say) can be turned to many more purposes than its originators intended or imagined (you can smelt steel to make swords, plowshares, or literal flying machines). What you create is different from how you use it. Euhemerus did not invent his idea, but he popularized it. How people thus inspired then used that idea varied, as each user had their own goals, which his idea could be turned to accomplishing.

And this is demonstrated in the historical record.

On the Gullibility of Bart Ehrman & the Asscrankery of Tim O’Neil

As someone recently clued me to, the indomitable asscrank Tim O’Neil had posted a comment on Ehrman’s blog back in 2013 lambasting my peer reviewed article on the James passage in Josephus, to which Ehrman responded “Terrific comments!! Many thanks.”

Hmm. In the comment Ehrman gullibly praised, O’Neil, who has no relevant qualifications but claims to know more than the peer reviewers for the prestigious Journal of Early Christian Studies, told Ehrman that my paper they published (which you can find reproduced, along with my peer reviewed papers on the Thallus and Tacitus passages, among other items, in Hitler Homer Bible Christ) was “riddled with problems,” yet never discusses any of my paper’s actual arguments, or any of my paper’s actual evidence, and instead spews his own lies and mistakes.

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Can Paul’s Human Jesus Not Be a Celestial Jesus?

Fake science fiction book cover showing all kinds of Buck Rogers style action scenes, and in the middle a Buck Rogers style Jesus pointing a blaster and gollowed by a similarly armed woman companion, title says the Amazing Adventures of Space Jesus. Image I believe was made by a guest blogger at The Friendly Atheist.James McGrath wrote a couple of years ago about Paul’s Human Jesus as an argument against mythicism—in particular against the Doherty thesis, which in stripped down form is what I find most likely to be true in On the Historicity of Jesus. I have noted before how McGrath makes armchair assertions without fact-checking them. Yet he represents his opinion as authoritative, giving the impression that he researched it and knows what he is talking about. As such he is deceiving his readers.

The most glaring example of this was McGrath’s face-palm-worthy assertion that only state officials commissioned inscriptions in the Greco-Roman era. Which he used to argue that Christians would never have produced inscriptions. Wow. This not only illustrates how he deceives his readers (by representing his unchecked assumptions as researched and authoritative facts), and how he is neither an expert (since he didn’t know the truth in this case, he cannot claim to be well versed in ancient history or its sources) nor reliable (since it didn’t even occur to him to check his claim before asserting it, how many other times has he done that?), but also how emotionally invested he is in dissuading people from considering even the possibility that there was no historical Jesus. Because he jumped immediately to this ridiculous, unchecked, factually false argument. Instead of just making the far more competent and level-headed argument that the earliest Christians were too poor or expecting the apocalypse too imminently to bother erecting inscriptions. A point with which I have agreed (it’s why I don’t count the absence of such inscriptions as evidence against historicity: see Chapter 8.4 of OHJ).

Instead McGrath just ran with the first thing that came into his head. And asserted it as a fact. And instantly believed it was true without even knowing if it was.

This is how a Christian apologist behaves. Not a competent and reliable expert in the matter.

He did this again in Paul’s Human Jesus. [Read more…]

Tucker’s Review of Proving History in the Journal History & Theory

Cropped view of the cover of a recent issue of the journal History and Theory. Subtitled: Studies in the Philosophy of History.As I recently mentioned, a Harvard University philosopher, Aviezer Tucker, just published a review of my book Proving History for the academic journal History and Theory (Vol. 55, February 2016, pp. 129-140), titled, The Reverend Bayes vs. Jesus Christ. Tucker is an expert in the methods and philosophy of history, so his review carries some weight. It’s significant, therefore, that he endorses the program of my book—that historians need to start using Bayes’ Theorem, as effectively as they can, to resolve questions in their field—and that in fact even when he criticizes my book, he does so by suggesting improvements that are either already in that book (and he merely overlooked them) or in my subsequent application of its program in its sequel, On the Historicity of Jesus. This is almost the best assessment one could expect. It lacks merely noticing that much of what he suggests, I already did. What I provide below is an analysis of his review that helps understand his points, and relates them to what I’ve already written. [Read more…]

Barnes Still Not Listening on the Bayesian Analysis of Fine Tuning Arguments

Cover of Christian physicist reference guide to multiverse arguments, entitled Who's Afraid of the Multiverse, by Jeffrey Zweerink, showing a bunch of bubbles full of stars lined and stacked in black space.Last month I caught up on an old thread with On the Bayesian Reversal of the Fine Tuning Argument by Sober, Ikeda, & Jefferys (against Barnes & Lowder). Luke Barnes has now thrown up a bunch of responses that are even more bizarre. One of the things I observed is how he never addresses any of my actual arguments. And now he keeps doing this yet again. And I think he sincerely doesn’t even know this is what he is doing. It looks like he delusionally believes I argued things that I didn’t, and delusionally doesn’t see the things I did argue, even when I explain them to him. I don’t know how to interact with someone like that. And on top of that, now he seems to be contradicting himself and isn’t aware he is. This is genuinely strange.

Because continuing this looks impossible—Barnes has so consistently ignored what I actually say, that I do not see the likelihood of his ever actually responding to me, making any further engagement a waste of my time—this might be the last time I bother addressing him. I’m giving him one more shot only because he’s supposed to be an actual cosmologist and not some rando. But be aware, yet again, he is already refuted by everything I already actually wrote in the original TEC article and in my latest reply to him (with one exception I’ll get to below). So honestly, you could just go back and read those. That’s all you need to see how irrelevant or wrong everything he keeps saying is. But I’ll survey it anyway.

[Read more…]

On the Bayesian Reversal of the Fine Tuning Argument by Sober, Ikeda, & Jefferys (against Barnes & Lowder)

Computer map of the known universe in oval form with spectral and other key items indicated, on a black background, with the text beneath saying Christianity, the belief that a god created a universe 13.75 billion lightyears across containing 200 billion galaxies, each of which contains an average of more than 200 billion stars, just so he could have a personal relationship with you. Someone has crossed out the 13.75 and relaced it with 93, writing a note at the bottom that 13.75 billion is the age of the universe, not the size. In fact the size is determined by the distance the farthest known stars have traveled in the 13.75 billion years since the light we now see reached us. Which is between 91 and 93 billion lightyears. And that's not the size either, just the size of the visible part.Clearing the dusty shelves of old unanswered things. One such is the Lowder-Barnes critique of my application of Bayesian reasoning to reverse the fine tuning argument into a case against God, rather than an argument for God. Actually this is not my argument. It is the argument of three prominent mathematicians in two independent studies. My popularization of it (in conjunction with more data from other physical scientists I cited) appeared in my chapter “Neither Life Nor the Universe Appear Intelligently Designed” in The End of Christianity (ed. John Loftus 2011).

The original versions of the argument appeared as cited therein: Michael Ikeda and Bill Jefferys, “The Anthropic Principle Does Not Support Supernaturalism” (an earlier version of which appeared in Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier, eds., The Improbability of God in 2006) and Elliott Sober, “The Design Argument” (an earlier version of which appeared in W. Mann, ed., The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion in 2004; which corrects my footnote in TEC).

Cosmologist Luke Barnes critiqued this in a series of posts, and Jeff Lowder concurred somewhat in The Carrier-Barnes Exchange on Fine-Tuning (which also rounds up all the links in the debate, including my contributions). My principal point then was that Barnes wasn’t even responding to my actual argument (and thus neither to any of the mathematicians, one of whom also an astrophysicist, who originated it). He still hasn’t. Barnes had also tried the same tactics against Victor Stenger on much the same point. In my comments debate with Barnes it became increasingly clear he was a kook who simply never understood or addressed what I actually said in my chapter, and continued to refuse to after repeated requests that he do so. A debate with such a person is impossible. One would make more progress arguing with a wall. So I have nothing further to say to him. My chapter as actually written already refutes him. Since he has never responded to its actual content.

But Jeff Lowder is not a kook. He is a responsible philosopher who listens, takes considerable caution, and will strive to get an opponent’s arguments correct. So I am writing this entry today in response to his take on our debate (a take which wisely avoided even discussing most of Barnes’s weird and irrelevant arguments). [Read more…]

Lataster on the Historicity of Jesus Being a Debate Among Atheists

Cover of Raphael Lataster's book Jesus Did Not Exist, A Debate Among Atheists, with Richard Carrier. Shows an annular solar eclipse.Raphael Lataster, an Australian doctoral student in religious studies, has published a book recently, Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate among Atheists, examining the debate over the historicity of Jesus by focusing only on what atheist and agnostic experts are saying, and not Christian believers—regarding the latter as too biased to consider; since any good arguments they have should be as convincing to experts who aren’t believers anyway, so really we should only be looking at the debate among atheists.

It’s a good point. Unfortunately, atheist academic monographs defending historicity don’t exist. The only two so far written this century, by Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey, were neither published by academic presses, nor underwent any formal peer review. But Lataster works with what the academy has given him. And so he surveys the merits of those two books anyway. And compares them with mine, On the Historicity of Jesus, which was published by an academic press and did pass formal academic peer review. His own result is historicity agnosticism. And a lot of serious criticism of how the academy has handled this debate, judging by the only two books it has produced so far in defense of what the academy often claims should be so well demonstrated as to be irrefutable.

I was commissioned to write a foreword and afterword to the book, and to read the manuscript and provide any advice I had towards its improvement or the correction of any obvious errors or omissions. Lataster operated independently. He did not necessarily heed all of my advice. Whatever remains in the book is now his responsibility to defend. But I will make some comments on the matter below. In particular, I discuss in his book’s afterword what I expected critics will attempt to do, like attack its tone rather than its content—or lie about its contents. That process has already begun… [Read more…]