Agnosticism and Jesus and What it Means

Joel Watts recently wrote:

One cannot easily deny their association with a group if they spend all of their time defending the ‘quality’, ‘truth’ claims, or ‘validity’ of said group.

Pick a side, Tom.

via Pick a side, Tom | Unsettled Christianity.

But I refuse to do so.  The only honest position in this whole debate is on the side of doubt and agnosticism.  Does he not know that the reason I am agnostic is because I am not convinced by arguments for historicity?  It just so happens I think that some (please note: some–not all, not most) mythicists have sounder arguments about the state of the evidence (because historicists will often take that evidence for granted).  That doesn’t mean I agree with their conclusion about historicity.  Has Joel never cited a work or spoke praise of an argument from someone whom he didn’t agree with on everything?   Or does he only cite someone with whom he completely agrees with on every point?

I think this is a logical fallacy latent in certain parts of scholarship.   Just because I agree with certain arguments about the status of the evidence does not mean I agree with other conclusions.  I don’t believe all the evidence is in and thus I remain unconvinced that Jesus did not exist.  I also remain unconvinced that Jesus did exist.  Frankly I find the whole question useless and currently unanswerable.

However, I do think that Ehrman makes a ton of mistakes and ignores a lot of relevant scholarship and as a result Carrier comes out looking the better because he doesn’t ignore that scholarship.  I do not like ANY position based in presupposition.  And frankly Carrier is more agnostic about historicity than any other mythicist I know.

Finally, I agree with a lot of historicists on subjects unrelated to historicity (like with mythicists).  I like Crossley’s work, I like Crossan’s work (I really, really love Crossan’s work) and I think that Thomas Brodie’s arguments are outstanding.  And all of these individuals are historicists.  I also find a lot of what James McGrath says to be on the money about the socio-cultural world of second temple Judaism.

So Joel’s assertion that I disagree with historicists is just silly.  I don’t agree with them on historicity–and I don’t agree with mythicists on that point either.  But I have yet to see a historicist make a sound and reasoned argument without drawing on very crappy criteria and old data.  I am hoping that Casey’s forthcoming work is better and more sound and from what I hear it will be.  But Ehrman’s book is anything about good work.

Finally, I am surprised by Joel’s hypocritical suggestion that I ‘pick a side’ since he agrees with me!  He finds the whole question unanswerable and irrelevant (though he believes in a historical Jesus, he argues we can never find that individual).  And I say hypocritical since he sides with tons of historicists and never once makes even a passing agreeable comment about an argument from a mythicist!  if his response is ‘well I just don’t find them convincing’, then he knows why I am not in agreement with historicists currently.  That doesn’t make me a mythicist, however.

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20 Responses

  1. Tom,

    You said, “The only honest position in this whole debate is on the side of doubt and agnosticism.”

    Do you really believe that’s true? The ONLY honest position?

  2. Absolutely.

  3. The only honest position is to accept that the evidence is not conclusive.

  4. Wow. Let it not be said that agnosticism is attended by humility.

  5. Mike,

    It has nothing to do with ‘humility’ it has to do with the state of the available evidence. At this point, it is inconclusive on the question for historicity. I don’t think you can draw any other conclusion without sacrificing important data or ignoring other evidence or scholarship. Until a better argument presents itself or a better interpretation or more evidence comes to light, it is inconclusive. And that should be okay.

  6. Tom, to say that the evidence is inconclusive is one thing. To say that anyone who thinks it is conclusive is being dishonest is quite another.

  7. Fair enough.

  8. To say that anyone who thinks it is conclusive is being dishonest is quite another.

    You’re right Mike. It’s a good thing that Tom didn’t say that. It’s just another one of your straw men.

  9. Joel just sounds like he wants the mental rights to exercise his full prejudice.

  10. Joel is an excellent scholar and I don’t think this to be the case at all. It may be that Joel did not think this through the whole way, or it may just be he was busting my balls (as he does on occasion). I have nothing but respect for Joel and I would like to believe the feeling is mutual.

  11. If you say so.

  12. I’m not sure what you are implying about Joel, Ben. If you have a problem with Joel, you should really address it with him.

  13. Well, when you imply that someone has to pick sides and that there’s something wrong with being in between views, that normally means they are tossing intellectual integrity out the window and want to make it easier on their own in group/out group emotions so that you fit into a clear category to either love or hate. And Joel is an ass and I have been confronting him on various issues.

  14. Ben,

    Do I think Joel is being a little too conservative in his view on this subject? Absolutely. But he probably thinks I’m being ridiculous in my agnostic perspective. Frankly, disagreements are a part of the game. I like Joel. He’s a smart guy and knows his subject well. We disagree on a lot (and our phone conversations attest to this) but I would have a drink with him any day.

    I wish I could understand Steph’s position better, but I’m not sure how an agnostic is a ‘fundamentalist’ nor how being unsure of something is signs of ‘fundamentalism’. Perhaps she needs to explain what she means a bit better because this sort of thing interests me.

  15. Addendum: It seems as though Steph has clarified her position.

  16. Where has Steph clarified her position?

  17. On Joel’s Blog.

  18. Which post?

  19. The ‘fungusmentals’ one.

  20. Thanks. His “Recent Comments” is so low on the page that I didn’t see it.

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