Activist Jerry Coyne finally decides to review (sort of) Professor Ehrman’s book. He begins by painting a distorted version of reality:
The book has inspired a fracas, with several scholars—including Richard Carrier—claiming that Ehrman’s scholarship is dreadful, giving little evidence for his thesis (see Carrier’s website for many posts on this issue). Others, including the irascible R. Joseph Hoffmann, have defended Ehrman and attacked Carrier.
Coyne once again holds up Gnu atheist apologist Richard Carrier as a “scholar.” But according to Hoffmann:
The free thought rabble have chosen Carrier as their standard bearer, without any reason to put their trust in his inane conclusions and methods—a man who has never published a significant piece of biblical scholarship, never been peer reviewed (peers?), never been vetted, and never held an academic position. His “reputation” depends on deflecting his mirror image of himself as a misunderstood, self-construed genius onto a few dozen equally maladroit followers.
Also, Carrier is writing a book that promises to show Jesus never existed, so he clearly has a vested interest in dismissing Ehrman’s book. And it is to be published by an atheist publishing company. It would seem to me that a true scholar would publish this revolutionary finding in the peer-reviewed academic literature. I suppose Gnus are special and their experts don’t need to bother with such needless trivialities.
But it’s worse than this, folks. Out of thin air, Coyne has inflated the problem by declaring there are “several scholars” who agree with Carrier. Really? Just who are they? And just where have they aired their problems? Isn’t it odd that Coyne does not produce the list of these “scholars?” Could it be the “scholars” are just other mythers pounding keyboards for their blogs and web sites? I think Coyne is disingenuously trying to create the illusion that some type of scholarly controversy is at hand.
Coyne then writes:
Disgusted with the book (you’ll know this if you’ve been reading this site), intrepid poster Ben Goren discarded it by sending it to me. Last night I looked through it, trying to see if I wanted to read it. I don’t think I do, but I want to give a few reactions, based on a reading of some parts and a skimming of others. Take these comments, then, with that in mind.
So after making all this fuss about Ehrman and his book, Coyne decides he doesn’t want to read the book. Anyone surprised by this? But that won’t stop him from pronouncing judgments. He declares:
My look-through does support the assertion that the scholarship is thin.
Let’s get this straight. Coyne, who is an atheist activist and a complete amateur with this material, and is thus not qualified to judge the level of “scholarship,” glances at the book, skims a few pages, and pronounces, “My look-through does support the assertion that the scholarship is thin.”
That’s ridiculous. Assertions of thin scholarship simply cannot be supported by the intellectual laziness of amateurs who take a brief look at something. The “support” that Coyne thinks he sees is nothing more than his own confirmation bias that exists within the context of his Gnu activism. That’s all it is.
Let’s consider an example of his “look through.”
He quotes Erhman:
There are solid reasons for thinking that Jesus really was betrayed by one of his own followers, Judas Iscariot. It is, of course, recorded in multiple independent traditions: Mark, M, John, and the book of Acts (Thus Mark 14:10-11; 43-50; Matthew 27:3-10; John 18:1-11; Acts I:15-20). Moreover the tradition seems to pass the criterion of dissimilarity, as it does not seem to be the sort of thing that a later Christian would make up. Jesus had no more authority over his closest followers than that?
We are completely handicapped in knowing why Judas would have done such a thing, though there have been a plethora of suggestions over the years [here Ehrman has a footnote referring to his previous work.
Now this evidence of betrayal by a man called Judas comes completely from within the Gospels; there are no independent sources for Judas’s existence beyond the “independent” ones Ehrman cites above. Yet the betrayal is portrayed as a pretty solid fact. Note as well the “criterion of dissimilarity” used as evidence: it must be true because it doesn’t seem to be the thing that people would fabricate.
Two things become clear from this response.
1.) Coyne is engaging in misrepresentation.
a. Note carefully that Ehrman said there “are solid reasons for thinking.” He did NOT cite these as “solid fact.” A solid reason for thinking is not the same as a solid fact. One can still be rational in rejecting a solid reason; one cannot still be rational for rejecting a solid fact. Clearly, Coyne is trying to sneakily inflate Ehrman’s position by misrepresenting Ehrman as making a stronger claim than he did. Through misrepresentation, Coyne is then able to attack a straw man.
b. Another example of misrepresentation comes from Coyne’s portrayal of the “criterion of dissimilarity”
it must be true because it doesn’t seem to be the thing that people would fabricate.
There is no “must be true” aspect of the criterion of dissimilarity. It simply states that embarrassing material is deemed as evidence to support the legitimacy of the claim. That follows from our knowledge of human psychology and a study of history. Again, Coyne is trying to misrepresent something that would be deemed evidence into a proof (“must be true”). He erects another straw man.
2. Coyne is engaging in disconfirmation bias.
After dismissing the evidence by erecting straw men, Coyne demands “independent sources for Judas’s existence.” This is nothing more than hyper-skepticism. We can tell because Coyne cites no argument or reason why there should be independent sources for Judas’s existence. Coyne needs to make the case that if Judas did exist, sources outside the Christian community would have documented it and these sources would be available for analysis in 2012. Until he does that, his demand for independent sources is irrational.
Of course, if we did have such sources, there is no reason to think Coyne would accept them. It is likely he would follow the lead of his fellow travelers – the mythers – and explain them away as interpolations or insist there are hidden meanings in the words of those sources which mean the sources don’t really say what they say.
Coyne then writes:
Now I don’t have a dog in this hunt, and think that it’s not logically impossible for a Jesus to have existed who was the basis of the Christian myths, and that perhaps he was crucified (though I have some doubts about the Judas part). But the evidence for the stuff above is pretty thin (there are no independent sources cited). Caveat again: I’m not trained in biblical scholarship, nor have read extensively about this issue, though I have read Carrier’s critiques.
First of all, I do not believe him when he claims he has no “dog in this hunt.” Remember, Coyne does not come to us as a disinterested scholar. He comes to us as a Gnu activist looking to prop up other internet Gnu “scholars” who are fighting on his side in their culture war. What’s more, it’s starting to look like Coyne is a closet myther: “it’s not logically impossible for a Jesus to have existed who was the basis of the Christian myths.”
Imagine you found a Christian blog where the blogger wrote the following:
Now I don’t have a dog in this hunt, and think that it’s not logically impossible for evolution to have occurred, and that perhaps bacteria evolve antibiotic resistance (though I have some doubts about macroevolution). But the evidence for evolution is pretty thin (there is no independent evidence other than fossils and genetics). Caveat again: I’m not trained in biology, nor have read extensively about this issue, though I have read Ken Ham’s critiques.
If you read that, would you really believe the Christian blogger had no dog in that hunt? Or would you think the Christian blogger was a closet creationist?
Now you know why I think Coyne is a closet myther.
Coyne’s last paragraph tries to create the illusion of being objective, as he tries to make it look like he is critiquing both sides:
I decry those atheists who issue a kneejerk denial of Jesus’s existence largely on the grounds that they don’t want Jesus to have existed. But I also worry that the kind of thinly-supported speculation that I see in Ehrman’s book will give succor to Christians who automatically conflate the existence of a historical Jesus with that of a divine Jesus. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and since so many people’s beliefs are intimately connected with the existence of Jesus, it would pay scholars to be very careful on this issue. Jesus is not simply an anonymous carpenter in the Middle East: his existence is the basis of millions of people’s faith and hopes. The most careful and impeccable scholarship is needed here, even in a popular book. I don’t see that in this one.
But given that he devotes only 24 out of 134 words to “decrying” a “kneejerk denial of Jesus’s existence”, those words look more like an attempt to appear objective than an example of being objective. After all, is there really that much difference between a “kneejerk denial of Jesus’s existence” and denigrating a book you refuse to read?
So after the CYA sentence, we get to some really funny material. Coyne, who misrepresents Ehrman and can’t be bothered to read his book, demands “the most careful and impeccable scholarship.” Just how would he know careful and impeccable scholarship if he saw it? Let me guess. It would just happen to support the myther position?
And also, we get further evidence Coyne is a closet myther. For it turns out that Coyne thinks a historical Jesus is an “extraordinary claim.” So now he is demanding scholars provide him extraordinary evidence. We have no idea what would count as extraordinary evidence. Myther Robert Price says we need either Jesus’s skeleton or his diary. Maybe Coyne wants a videotape. Who knows? As for whether or not any evidence you provide him would be deemed extraordinary enough, he’ll will let you know after you present it to him. 😉