Why don’t I? For the same reason why I don’t spend my time debating the people who claim that the following issues are “important controversies and worthy of debate”:
“Chemtrails are a secret and dangerous government program to control citizens.”
“AIDS is a germ-warfare creation of the government, which is withholding the cure while eliminating the targeted groups.”
“The World Trade Center towers were brought down by controlled demolition using ‘super-thermite’.”
“The Apollo 11 moon landing was an elaborately staged, government hoax.”
I’ve had people tell me that each of the above claims is “well-known among top scholars.” In fact, proponents for each theory listed various “experts with valid PhDs” who could provide “overwhelming evidence” for their claim. Fans of each of these claims (and many others like them) can point to Internet websites and discussions forums filled with people who enthusiastically support their favorite conspiracy theory. What they can’t point to is widespread agreement from the Academy, the scholars who settled these questions long ago.
Yet, the fact that, at least, 99 out of every 100 professors in the relevant fields of study at universities throughout the world have little regard for their claim, call it utterly unsubstantiated by the evidence and clearly untenable, that doesn’t faze them in the least.
So, seeing how that’s also the case with the “creation science” of Young Earth Creationist origins mega-ministries, why do I spend my after-hours researching and writing on YECism’s claims of a 6,000 year old world and denials of The Theory of Evolution? Of all of the best-known common conspiracy theories, the YECist claims that “science has been hijacked” (Ken Ham’s words) by evil atheist scientists (aka “evilutionists”) fascinates me above all the others. Moreover, as a retired educator, I like to develop and experiment with various approaches to educating the general public, including the naysayers, about the ways that evolutionary processes diversified life on earth and about the massive piles of evidence which tell an absolutely amazing, thoroughly gripping story.
What does all of this have to do with the “Jesus never existed” debate? A lot. To summarize my reactions whenever someone presumes to tell me, “Leading Biblical scholars have proven that Jesus never existed. No such man by that name founded or inspired the Christian religion”, I find myself recalling (if not actually quoting out loud) renowned agnostic scholar of Christian history and texts, Dr. Bart Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:
- “These [Jesus never existed] views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land one in a bona fide department of biology.”
Of course, much like the “true believers” in 9/11 controlled demolition theories who have lists of physicists, chemists, architects, metallurgists, and even structural engineers who have published detailed “proof”, the Jesus Mythers have their favorite experts, some with valid PhDs in relevant fields. The fact that their memorized list of scholars (chosen not for their academic caliber but solely for the fact that they happen to say what they want to hear) represent less than 1% of the Academy does not phase them in the least! And in that regard they remind me of every Young Earth Creationist “creation science” fan I ever met. (The only significant difference is the “creation scientists” can muster much longer lists of scholars who agree with them–and still can’t reach 1% of the Academy.) After all, find a rabid Internet YEC and a rabid Internet Jesus Myther, and you have found a pair of ideologues whose agendas are as angrily driven as they are fanatical. The “creation science” uberfan will sometimes admit it. And so will the Jesus-denier.
We all know the next line of the script, whether it’s a Young Earth Creationist or a Jesus Mythicist: “Truth is not determined by majority vote!” No, it isn’t. Scholarship is not settled by Arguments from Authority. The Academy reaches conclusions–and publishes textbooks–based upon compelling evidence and analysis. Ideas that survive peer-review and impressively compel the consensus of the Academy win on their own merits.
Of course, when such an idea–whether it be “Evolution never happened and the world is young.” or “Jesus never existed!”–fails to survive peer-review due to inadequate evidence and an appalling lack of compelling analysis, that’s when the peanut gallery of the Internet whines about bias and world-wide conspiracy theories. (You can also expect additional complaints of “The burden of proof is on the other side!” After all, that’s a whole lot easier strategy than refining your hypothesis, gathering more evidence, and writing much better papers which win over the scholars of the Academy to your hypothesis. Needless to say, if they really wanted to understand how the prevailing consensus already met the burden of proof, there’s textbooks and libraries aplenty–and yes, even Internet resources to bring them up to speed. Even so, cheer blocks aren’t known for investing time and effort learning from anyone but the home team. After all, strawmen make easier foes. And you can make your own in less time with even less effort.
Nobody is stopping Jesus Myth scholars from researching and publishing their claims. Indeed, I used to sit through a few of their papers at the annual AAR/SBL Conference when I felt like getting away from conference crowds. (Meeting rooms are assigned on the basis of likely audience size. The American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature joint conference attracts professors and other scholars from universities, graduate schools, and other academic institutions from all over the world in numbers as high as 10,000+. The best papers fill the largest auditoriums with standing room only spilling into the hallways.)
Just as “creation scientists” and IDers can earn acceptance for their ideas by publishing overwhelming evidence and compelling analysis, Jesus Myths have every opportunity to win over the historians and religious studies scholars of the Academy. After two centuries of Jesus Myth scholarship, the Jesus-deniers have enthusiastic followers on Internet chat rooms and discussion forums but are still barely on the radar where it actually matters. Yes, they get some media attention—for the same reason that “Man Bites Dog” gets more coverage than “Dog Bites Man.” Even so, to call them a tiny minority on the “fringe” of the Academy would be a generous dose of recognition.
My late colleague from the University of Nottingham, Maurice Casey, used to put it very simply: “The Jesus Myth position is the view of extremists and demonstrably false. It was settled by all measures of evidence long ago.” and “If the Jesus deniers have a case to make, they will have to do a lot better than what we’ve seen up to now.” Considering that “up to now” covers about two hundred years, I’m not holding my breath. Nor do I give it much more thought than I give most other conspiracy theories from other types of fringe denialists. But evolution-deniers? Now that interests me.
Meanwhile, fringe denialists find enthusiastic fans on-line and there’s money to be made selling books to the general public and getting an agent to arrange a speaking tour. And cable TV news networks just love to stage those “hard-hitting” six-minute debates. (It doesn’t pay much but it’s great publicity.) The public’s fascination with fringe scholarship rarely wanes. It worked for 9/11 controlled demolition conspiracy theories. It worked for “creation scientists” and Intelligent Design IDers. It’s working for the “Jesus never existed” club.
That said, there’s little more that I need to say. I give the Jesus Mythers the same challenge I give Ken Ham and Ray Comfort: Good scholarship wins out through peer reviewed publication, not Internet discussion forums and pep rallies. Come back when you’ve got a much, much better track record from peer-reviewed, compelling arguments based upon evidence.
Of course, “true believers” always claim “….but my pet theory is not just another conspiracy theory. Mine is really true!” Right. You bet.
“As to debate invitations from Creationists and Jesus Mythicists?”
“Remember: Just Say No. (It would only encourage them.)”
Meanwhile, everybody knows that doctors found a cure for cancer long ago—but the Cancer Industrial Conspiracy realized just as long ago that doctors and the medical mega-industry can make much more money treating cancer, right? I saw it on the Internet. And I can quote famous M.D.s and medical industry CEOs who gleefully declare how much money they’ve made for shareholders. Connect the dots. Everybody knows it’s true. It’s one big conspiracy. Again.
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