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How Matt Dillahunty makes a brilliant argument against Jesus myth scholarship

March 31, 2015

I recently attended the Holy Trinity Down Under presentation and was struck by the rhetorical power and persuasive abilities of the speakers, particularly Matt Dillahunty. One of the ways Matt is so persuasive and effective as a communicator is his ability to relay complex concepts in simple, easy to understand ways. No doubt his communication ability has contributed to his global influence and success.

I was struck by one particular illustration that he used near the end of the Q&A time (video link). He was responding to a question and got talking about the credibility of the scholarship of Young Earth Creationist scientists. He conceded that there were scientists with PhD’s who believed in a young earth. He then asked us to put all those scholars together in a group which could be represented by his little finger. Then he proposed a comparison saying that all the scientists who didn’t believe in a young earth would stretch across the road (compared to the little finger).

This vividly and correctly identified the disparity in the ‘argument to authority’ when it comes to issues that shouldn’t really be controversial. (As a matter of full disclosure, I do not believe in a young earth and the reason Matt pointed out – i.e that there are compelling reasons which convince the majority of experts in the field, is one of the convincing reasons)

I think precisely the same analogy can be applied to historical Jesus studies and the ‘controversy’ surrounding the existence of Jesus. I drew a similar comparison in my discussion on John Oliver and Climate Change. There really isn’t an academic “controversy” about the existence of Jesus amongst experts in the field (Ancient history professors and NT scholars). We can be certain that Jesus existed.

Now, utilising Matt’s analogy, there are scholars with PhD’s who reject the existence of the historical Jesus and the number of scholars with PhD’s who reject Jesus existence could be represented by my little finger. Then the rest of the relevant scholars (historians and NT scholars) who think he did exist would stretch over the road. So it is permissible to entertain the suggestion that Jesus never existed, but you do so against the weight of almost the entire academic community (and the arguments that have convinced them all).

Hence if you want to entertain the proposal that Jesus didn’t exist, you also have to entertain the suggestion that Young Earth Creation scientists who have PhD’s might also be right!!! I think Matt’s analogy makes a brilliant argument against Jesus myth scholarship.

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8 Comments
  1. I think a big thing you have to do is unpack a whole lot of baggage about what you mean when you say ‘Jesus existed’.

    Because saying that there was a historical character upon which the Jesus in scripture is based is much different than saying that the Jesus in scripture existed.

    For a silly comparison, we can say that Abraham Lincoln existed. But that is a far cry from saying he was also a vampire hunter.

  2. I think you’ve created a false analogy here.

    The age of the earth is something that we have physical evidence for. We can hold a rock and analyse it. The yec view isn’t based on those measurements. It is based on a religious dogma and that requires them to reject science that contradicts that belief.

    Likewise Christianity requires a belief in Jesus. The evidence for him is irrelevant in that context. The Christian believes because of the Bible not the evidence. Having a phd doesn’t make that belief more valid. There is no physical evidence of jesus that we can touch and measure so the Jesus existing and an old earth are not comparable opinions.

    Lastly. Majority belief doesn’t automatically make it true. the majority once beleived the sun orbited the earth. Truth isn’t a democracy.

  3. James Garth permalink

    I think you’re absolutely spot on with this, Rob. I think we can further unpack things this way:

    – Professional climate scientists are best equipped to assess climate science. They have expert knowledge and experience in the relevant tools and methods of their discipline, climate science.
    – The overwhelming consensus of climate scientists is that the Earth’s climate is changing and a significant component of global warming is human-induced.
    – There are a small number of dissenters to this consensus, some of whom have PhDs.
    – But this proportion is exceptionally small.
    – And most of these dissenters do not publish in the professional, peer-reviewed, industry standard climate science journals. Their followers are mostly online, with no skin in the game.
    – It is reasonable to suggest that those who most strongly dissent from the consensus view do so because they have something to lose were climate change to prove true, perhaps they are heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry or a particular strain of political conservatism.

    – Professional geologists are best equipped to assess earth sciences. They have expert knowledge and experience in the relevant tools and methods of their discipline, earth science.
    – The overwhelming consensus of geologists is that the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old.
    – There are a small number of dissenters to this consensus, some of whom have PhDs.
    – But this proportion is exceptionally small, probably smaller even than the proportion of climate scientists who reject climate change.
    – And most of these dissenters do not publish in the professional, peer-reviewed, industry standard earth science journals. Their followers are mostly online, with no skin in the game.
    – It is reasonable to suggest that those who most strongly dissent from the consensus view do so because their Young Earth views are driven by a desire to uphold a prior commitment to a particular interpretation of scripture, specifically the Genesis account.

    – Professional historians are best equipped to assess historical questions. They have expert knowledge and experience in the relevant tools and methods of their discipline, history.
    – The overwhelming consensus of geologists is that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure who lived, taught and was crucified in first century Judea.
    – There are a small number of dissenters to this consensus, some of whom have PhDs.
    – But this proportion is exceptionally small, probably smaller even than the proportion of geologists who believe in a Young Earth.
    – And most of these dissenters do not publish in the professional, peer-reviewed, industry standard historical journals. Their followers are mostly online, with no skin in the game.
    – It is reasonable to suggest that those who most strongly dissent from the consensus view do so because they have a strong prior distaste for Christianity, are vocally anti-theistic and would find Jesus’ non-existence a strong confirmation of their worldview.

    • Brilliant comment. I could almost use that as another post! Thanks James

    • Your first two Items, yes I entirely agree. You have scientists who know their stuff and they can take pick up and hold tangible evidence and demonstrate the science and how they come to their conclusions.

      The minority that disagree generally have their own agenda and the consensus view doesn’t fit with that so they have motive to disagree. Importantly, for this subject, you have Christians and secularists agreeing on the science.

      Now for the Jesus argument I still think you’ve got the wrong analogy comparing it to those.

      The historical evidence for someone of that time isn’t there to touch and measure, it’s only there in the form of documentation. If you search what historians are saying, there is less agreement on Jesus as a person than you are claiming. Now the Christian Historians will of course take the view that Jesus existed and was divine, of course they will, that’s what being a Christian generally means.

      Look at what secular historians are saying and there is no consensus, some say myth, some say based on a real person and some say based on multiple people. The idea that there is a consensus on the historicity of Jesus and it’s only a minority who disagree with it simply doesn’t have the same backing as the other two examples you gave.

  4. James Garth permalink

    Go right ahead! Just make sure you replace “geologists” with “historians” in my fifth last bullet point. I obviously got a teeny bit too keen with the copy-pasting… which was sort of the point. 😉

  5. No argument here, just “Jesus existed because we said so”.
    I am asking for real historical & scientific evidence like the ones brought by the Myth theory.
    You know, the argument from Silence of the Epistles & the fairy tale nature of the Gospels…

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