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In Which I Discover that I Am Not a Thinking Person

I just made this discovery this morning.

I mentioned Jerry Coyne’s site in an earlier post Five Sites I read Because I Disagree, and I still read it. I get some good information about evolutionary science and great cat pictures and videos. But Jerry Coyne is not particularly friendly to believers.

Now I want to be clear. I’m not one to be terribly upset by vigorously expressed viewpoints, so I’m not offended by the new atheists. I’m more concerned with Christians who use excessive rhetoric. After all, we’re supposed to be on the same team. So the new atheists are proud and open about their atheism and their objections to religion, and I have no objection.

So today I read Coyne’s latest on Bart Ehrman’s new book in which he presents evidence that Jesus existed. Now one has to be careful in stating Ehrman’s thesis. Ehrman doesn’t mean that the divine savior of the world of Christian doctrine existed. He means that there was a man Jesus who existed in history and about which certain things can be said with reasonable historical validity. (I haven’t yet read the book, but I think this much is clear from the reviews. Further, it’s an unsurprising thesis.)

Coyne is concerned that people will misunderstand Ehrman, and that Christian believers will take comfort from the book. Coyne says, “I’m hoping he isn’t being deliberately ambiguous to cater to believers.” Probably not. Ehrman hasn’t really been known to cater to believers, though his book jackets seem to be designed to annoy them. Compared to the relatively tame content, the jackets manage to stand out as shocking. (I previously blogged through Misquoting Jesus [link to the summary and conclusion with links to the parts].)

Then his penultimate sentence:

But what is important, and all those Christians who buy the book should know this, is that both Ehrman and atheists see not a scintilla of evidence that Jesus was the son of God or divine in any way, was born of a virgin or resurrected, or is the way to salvation.

Really? I would have thought that the important issue was whether Ehrman had done his historical work with any accuracy. Not having read the book yet, I can’t comment in detail, but I suspect he has. I can certainly understand his annoyance with the mythicists who use very poor historical methodology. I see the annoyance that Ehrman seems to be expressing as the the annoyance of a scholar at the use of unscholarly methods and approaches. Coyne would doubtless be quite annoyed were the methods of mythicists used in science. (See James McGrath on this issue–for example, Creationists, Mythicists, and Schroedinger’s Scholar Fallacy.)

But then there’s the last sentence:

That remains fiction to all thinking people.

I am, of course, aware that Coyne regards this as fiction. I’m aware that Ehrman does as well. But that wasn’t the point of Ehrman’s book.

It’s an interesting form of attack. If you think Jesus was divine in any way, then you are not a thinking person. Not You are a person whose thinking is faulty. Not even You are a thinking person who is mistaken on this point. If you disagree, you are just not a thinking person.

I think Christians should be forthright and open about what they believe. But when I hear a Christian say something like “You have to be stupid to see the universe, and not believe in God,” I will tend to point out that there are definitely very intelligent atheists, those who are able to think clearly on issues about which we agree. Why would one assume they are suddenly stupid because they disagree on one point? My preference would be for one to simply say, “It is not sensible to assume that something came from nothing.” That may simply push the issue back a level, but it is an attack on the idea, and by implication on the person’s thinking in that particular area, but not an attack upon the person.

But since I confess that I regard Jesus as divine, not to mention savior of the world, something that is not really an historical question as such, I guess I am not a thinking person.

Oh well!


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  1. Henry, found the site after reading “Not Afraid” ebook, which I’m very greatful to you for writing.

    Dale Martin makes the case about why the limited historical examination shouldn’t be used to draw conclusions for either side in his lecture on the historical Jesus. Which, if you haven’t already seen can be found at: http://youtu.be/d_dOhg-Fpu0?t=13m22s with thanks to the wonderful people of Yale for putting it on the interwebs for free.

    He also raises the important question of what exactly a test of Jesus’ (or anyone’s) divinity would look like, which I think is a question that deserves some thought. Even with the science of today would we be able to come up with a convincing proof? Does that not then me we have to accept that it is very unlikely any skeptic will ever be swayed by any evidences from the ancient world, whatever those might be?

    1. I tend to agree. If I put myself in the proper skeptical frame of mind and then ask what evidence would convince me of the divinity of some particular person, I’m not sure I can find the evidence. There’s faith and subjectivity in there!

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