The "New atheist" thing is just a subset of a larger ideological movement that I call "scientism." That is a term that refers to the idea of an inflexible doctrinaire approach to science that elevates science almost to the status of religion. I've argued with scientists over religion and I've never been impressed with tuei9r understanding. There is something about these reductionist types of ideology that closes one's view to all but a narrow range of ideas.
Laurence A. Moran "... is a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto. You can contact him by looking up his email address on the University of Toronto website." He is very learned, he's also a nice guy. Yet he demonstrates his myopic ideological ghettoization every time hye gets outside his own field. He runs a blog called Sandwalk.
He has an exchange with Bible scholar and Christian apologist James McGrath. The topic is historical method vs. Jesus myth idea. Moran is arguing that lack of scientific and historical evidence for Jesus is proof that he didn't exist. McGrath is arguing that this is not the way historians do history. There has to be some reason to assume he didn't exist. This makes perfect since. When I was a teaching assistant the guy I worked for, a big named historian in Persian studies, said "if we accepted that not having definite proof was a reason to doubt someone's existence, or because a religious persom said it we would know nothing bout the first century."
He quotes Jerry Coyne saying:
I’m still convinced that the judgement of scholars that “Jesus was a real man” comes not from evidence, but from their conviction that the Bible simply couldn’t be untruthful about that issue. But of course we know of cases where myths grew up that weren’t at bottom derived from a historical individual.James McGrath is upset at this and Moran can't get it. He has an exchange with McGrath on facebook
Laurence A. Moran I'm not familiar with this field. Apart from what's written in the Bible, what is the best historical evidence of the existence of a man called "Jesus" who could perform miracles, rose from the dead, and was the son of god?That is pretty much bull. It depends upon the claim. If wise man A says "I am the son of God" science has nothing to say, it is outside their domain, it's either theology or psychiatry. If he says "I am the son of God and I heal the sick" they can investigate to make sure there was an unexplained healing process. Even then it's a sure bet they will assert some anomalous state rather than sadmit to a miracle.
James McGrath That is a bizarre question. What is the best historical evidence for a Plato who is the son of Apollo? That isn't how history works.
Laurence A. Moran If there's no historical evidence that Plato is the son of Apollo are we justified in assuming that it's not true? That it's just a myth? Or am I still not understanding how history works?
James McGrath Historical study, like the natural sciences, ignores claims about divine entities and the miraculous and looks at things that can be assessed in terms of their probability in the everyday world of human agents and cultures.
Laurence A. Moran "Historical study, like the natural sciences, ignores claims about divine entities ..."
Science does not ignore claims about divine entities. Scientists investigate those claims to see if they are valid. (http://sandwalk.blogspot.ca/.../is-science-restricted-to...)
James McGrath I did see your blog post. But the point is not just whether one can in theory investigate particular claims using particular tools and methods, but whether it is meaningful to do so. If a religious text claims that God made the sun stand still at some point in the past, then historians can look and see whether there is mention of such an occurrence in texts from around the globe, and finding none, conclude that the claim is false. But in general, historians do not bother doing that, because historical study deals in probabilities, and so historical study is not going to find an improbable event to be probable anyway, and so it makes more sense to bracket out such claims rather than to waste time investigating them merely to confirm their improbability.But Moran doesn't stop there. What McGrath has said seems perfectly logical to me. It makes since given an understanding of philosophical parameters of the field. But we are outside Moran's field and rather than learn a new view he imposes his old one upon it. He resorts to the old atheist standard of mocking and ridicule. Of course it's a refined and educated version but that is what it is.
Laurence A. Moran You're actually serious, aren't you? According to historians, what is the probability that Wellington won the Battle of Waterloo? Is it a low probability so historians bracket out the claim of a Wellington victory and don't waste time investigating it?
James McGrath You seem not to understand. Do you think that the earth ceasing to rotate is comparable in terms of its improbability with the likelihood or unlikelihood of an individual military leader meeting with success or failure in a specific battle? But at any rate, if you think that historians and scientists could look at the claim that Apollo was of divine parentage, or that Jesus was miraculously conceived, feel free to explain to me the appropriate procedures to conduct such research.
He employs a civilized knowledge of literature and quotes Alice in wonderland.
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. 'They've a temper, some of them — particularly verbs: they're the proudest — adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs — however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'
'Would you tell me please,' said Alice, 'what that means?'
'Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. 'I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'
Then he concludes: Here is the all pervasive Jesus mythyer bait and switch where you think you are talking about history and they are really talking about belief in God.
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'What just happened here? He proved once again they cannot distinguish between the man in history and the concept of the son of God. It should be perfectly logical to see those as spate issues in water tight compartments but5 they just can't. Why? Because he's not thanking as scientist but as an athei9st ideologue, All the thinking and learning that civilization offers (he's even
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'
What is "denialism"? Is it "denialism" to think that the Biblical Jesus—the one who performed miracles and rose from the dead— didn't exist because there's no scientific or historical evidence that such a man ever lived?
Or is it "denialism" to claim that neither scientists nor historians are interested in, nor capable of, finding out whether Jesus the miracle-worker existed; therefore, Jesus the Son of God did exist?
Canadian) just goes away when the ideology is involved. It's ironic but not surprising that he quoted the passage that he did because it really is a matter of who will be in charge. Not a matter of truth or reason but of politics. The only irony is that he can't see that the implication he throws at McGrath is more true of him.
[1 ] I had exchanges on his blog and wrote a piece on th9is blog about it:
"The courtier[s Reply and the fool;s gambit," AW sept 2012
my link to that post doesn't work on my article so here it is is
still he was nice to me when I posted there again.
URL to hs exchange with McGrath (see also link above)