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Jerry Coyne Once Again

October 6, 2014

imageJerry Coyne, this past Saturday in Why Evolution is True, asks, Once again: Was there a historical Jesus?

Again, the question is not whether Jesus was the son of God/part of God as Christianity alleges, but whether there was even a historical person around whom the Jesus myth accreted. While people like Bart Ehrman give an adamant “yes,” others, like Richard Carrier (and our own Ben Goren) are “mythicists,” claiming that there’s no convincing of any real person who could have been the model of the Jesus figure.

I have to say that I’m coming down on the “mythicist” side, simply because I don’t see any convincing historical records for a Jesus person. Everything written about him was decades after his death, and, as far as I can see, there is no contemporaneous record of a Jesus-person’s existence (what “records” exist have been debunked as forgeries). Yet there should have been some evidence, especially if Jesus had done what the Bible said. But even if he was simply an apocalyptic preacher, as Ehrman insists, there should have been at least a few contemporaneous records. Based on their complete absence, I am for the time being simply a Jesus agnostic. But I don’t pretend to be a scholar in this area, or even to have read a lot of the relevant literature. I haven’t even read Richard Carrier’s new book promoting the mythicist interpretation, though I will.

The next day, yesterday, Vincent Torley, over at Uncommon Descent (Serving the Intelligent Design Community), responded:

Jerry Coyne has written a post in which he states that he is inclined to believe that Jesus never existed, although he hasn’t made up his mind yet. And on what does Coyne base his tentative opinion? An article in the Huffington Post by a biopsychologist named Nigel Barber, a self-published book by a systems engineer, Michael Paulkovich, which Coyne admits he hasn’t read, and finally, another book which he hasn’t read, written by atheist activist Richard Carrier, who has a Ph.D. in ancient history, but who (judging from his Wikipedia biography) has no teaching or research position at any accredited institution. [Update: according to his C.V., Carrier teaches classes at the Center for Inquiry Institute Online (a think tank founded in 1987) using a Moodle interface, and is also an online instructor with Partners for Secular Activism. As far as I can tell, the only accredited program offered by CFI is an Ed.M. program in Science and the Public, in partnership with the Graduate School of Education of the University at Buffalo. However, Carrier does not teach this course.]

I wonder what Coyne would think of a critique of Darwin’s theory of evolution, written by a biopsychologist, a systems engineer and finally, a prominent evolution critic with a Ph.D. in biology, who had never taught the subject at any university. Not much, I think. I find it odd, then, that he is prepared to set aside the opinions of all reputable historians with relevant expertise in the field, on the question of whether Jesus existed.

Coyne seems to be click baiting. Torley takes the bait and resorts to expertise bashing. Hoping for sanity in the comments and not finding it, we do find bornagain77 using the Shroud of Turin to settle the argument (here on October 5, 2014 at 9:13 am, October 5, 2014 at 9:14 am and October 5, 2014 at 9:15 am)

That the image was formed by a quantum process, and not by a classical process, also adds significant weight to the fact that the Shroud is not a medieval forgery.

If the shroud is not a medieval forgery then of course Jesus existed and Coyne is wrong. That means, also that dogs are better than cats since Coyne is a cat lover. Never mind that the above, based on a brief paper by Fazio and Mandaglio is far far away from being theory. It sounds good, we can want to believe it, and we don’t need to stop with the Jesus of history. Move over Einstein:

Moreover, I personally hold that since the image was formed by a quantum process, and not by a classical process, then the shroud provides empirical evidence that General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics/Special Relativity (QED) were unified by the resurrection of Christ from death into the much sought after ‘theory of everything’.

Ain’t blogging wonderful.

  1. Nabber
    October 6, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Do the historical doubters ignore the Talmudic sources (2) also? Why would the Jews proliferate the idea that a mythical figure was a real historical figure?

    Why would the Apostles and the key disciples accept martyrdom for an idea supposedly emanating from a mythical figure? Are there any parallels to that?

  2. anoxie
    October 6, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    “People who are experts in one field are capable of appalling lapses of judgement when assessing the evidence in fields outside their own.”

    Good, basic conclusion.

  3. daveb of wellington nz
    October 6, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Ancient contemporary historical documents in accessible archives are usually confined to ruling houses, conquering generals, and accounts of wars, seldom to notable religious reformers unless they formed part of the establishment. I wonder what contemporary historical documentation there might be for the existence of Lao Tzu, Siddartha Gautama (founder of Indian Buddhism), Confucius, or for that matter Moses. Yet as with Jesus, their movements survive them.

    • October 6, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      Ancient contemporary historical documents in accessible archives are usually confined to ruling houses, conquering generals, and accounts of wars, seldom to notable religious reformers unless they formed part of the establishment. I wonder what contemporary historical documentation there might be for the existence of Lao Tzu, Siddartha Gautama (founder of Indian Buddhism), Confucius, or for that matter Moses. Yet as with Jesus, their movements survive them.

      Last year, I had read an interesting book on those matters. The title was Walter Vogel Ojcowie religii (original German title was Die Religionsstifter, ‘The founders of religion’). It had biographies of following religious figures: Moses, Buddha, Muhhammad, Akhenaten, Zoroaster, Confucius, Laozi, Mani, Guru Nanak and Bahá’u’lláh. Except for the two last figures from the relatively modern period, it seems that the life of Jesus is the best documented.

      • October 6, 2014 at 4:21 pm

        And biography of Jesus, of course.

  4. daveb of wellington nz
    October 6, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    “Except for the two last figures from the relatively modern period, it seems that the life of Jesus is the best documented.” – which was the fundamental point I had intended to convey!

  5. daveb of wellington nz
    October 6, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    It’s more than a mere academic question:
    “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” Matt 10:33
    Jerry Coyne could be getting into some serious trouble for himself!

  1. December 3, 2014 at 3:32 am
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