I was reading Kaveh Mousavi’s blog today and came across this short piece:
Basically, if you’re not a historian, how much does it matter that Jesus and other prophets existed or not? If you’re already an atheist, you already know it’s mostly a myth, so historical examination will give you evidence that the Bible and the Qur’an are myth books, and that might dissuade some religious people. But except evidence to debunk religion, is there any significance?
Let me put it this way: the myth plays a more significant role in the world and in our lives than the reality. If Mohammad didn’t exist or did, if he was completely different or exactly the same, people are going to read this fiction or fictionalized version of reality and make laws based on it and derive their values and reason based on it. So whether the myth is real or unreal, it’s still very significant as it plays a huge role in how we live our lives.
So, how much of a difference really does it make that these stories are myth? Shouldn’t we be concerned more with their effects on our lives than the fact that they’re not true?
I think this is an interesting question. Given the efforts of people like Carrier, and taking into account his voluminous work, is it worth the effort? Dan Fincke, in his insightful piece, seems to think not:
I personally want to take this chance to discourage my fellow atheists who are not historians from publicly making a big deal out of the historicity of Jesus, especially when engaging with Christians. Why? Because the historical consensus is that there was a historical Jesus. Responsible, mainstream, qualified history scholars who judiciously disregard supernaturalistic claims about Jesus and have no agenda to promote Christianity nonetheless, as a matter of academic consensus, believe there was a historical Jesus. Could they be wrong? It’s possible. But if they are, that is for qualified historians to prove, not laypeople. And it is for the field of ancient history to be persuaded to change its consensus before laypeople go around making claims that Jesus did not exist. I think it’s perfectly fine that Richard Carrier thinks he has a good case to make to the scholars of ancient history that there never was a historical Jesus. I enjoy listening to his arguments and am happy to pass his work on as a resource. But that is a debate for him to have with other historians and for secular historians to at least become widely divided over before atheists start advocating for one side or the other routinely and prominently. In the meantime, we should either be agnostic on the issue (as I am), defer to historical consensus, or, if we really find Carrier’s arguments compelling still be cautious and qualified in our declarations, acknowledging that we are agreeing with a minority view (and one that even Carrier seems far from certain about.)
He goes on to list a few fairly strong reasons not to get involved, including what, to me, is a pretty powerful point:
And, much worse than just being not convincing to Christians, it actively threatens to psychologically aid them in several ways. When we stake a lot on the question of whether Jesus ever existed during an argument, we set it up as a decisive issue. That means that if the result is inconclusive or (worse) if we are wholly unpersuasive to them that he didn’t exist, then the Christians leave feeling vindicated that on a central issue atheists are either guessing just as much as they are in other things or have outright lost a crucial point of contention for proving our side. We shouldn’t be giving the impression that disproving Jesus’s historical existence is at all integral to disproving Christianity.
So, readers, what do you think about whether the mythicist movement is a worthwhile cause?