Richard Carrier Reports on the Amherst Conference Concerning The Jesus Project

You can read his detailed report right here. I want to highlight some of his statements, make some comments on what he wrote, issue a caution to him, and make a suggestion or two. Get ready. Here we go again.

About Paul Kurtz's speech, Carrier said that
"...it was so full of historically naive or inaccurate statements that it seems to have embarrassed some of the scholars.” “I know it's impolitic to speak ill of the Grand Lord of Humanism (legend has it his wrath is reminiscent of Ruper Murdoch on a bad day), but I'm a suicidally honest man, and I honestly have to say there was no reason for this speech other than to please the Kurtz fans in the audience. Since that's where the money comes from, I suppose this was a practical tactic, though that's generally not how scholarly conferences are oriented.
I have to respect someone like Carrier who is a true freethinker and willing to offend Paul Kurtz, whom I have nothing but respect for at 80 plus years old and going strong. I've heard Paul speak too, and he does ramble. He seems disorganized as well. But he's probably done more for skepticism than any other living person. As far as I know he committed the funds for the conference in the first place. The organizers merely honored him by asking him to speak. He deserves that honor. [Last I read from Paul Kurtz he thinks Jesus existed. See his 1991 book, The Transcendental Temptation. He wrote: “[I]t seems to me that some such man lived, most likely in Palestine in the first half of the first century, that he was crucified or hanged, and that a sect of Christians developed proclaiming his divinity. We know very few authentic facts, however, about Jesus beyond this bare outline.” (p. 114)]

About Robert Price, Carrier said:
“...though most of the scholars I found were unhappy with Price, finding him a bit of a kook, I found him funny and erudite and generally right.”
*Ahem* Richard, that means most of the scholars there would think you are a kook too. [I'm not saying you or Bob are kooks. I'm only commenting on what you yourself said]. As I have said before, do not become marginalized as a scholar. Your scholarship is too good for that to happen to you. Make sure that your book contains convincing arguments. I have no reason yet to suspect it doesn't do this. I wish you the best and I will read your book. What typically happens is that someone writes on a topic of interest and when scholars call the author a kook he will write a response in order to save face. And if this isn't convincing he will devote his whole life to defending himself. If this happens to you let it drop. Move on to other more important topics. You have so much to say about so many things. Say them. Make your statement and move on to these other topics if that happens.

About Ronald Lindsay, Carrier reported:
“He...used Plato's dialogues as an example of the rapid fabrication of sayings and conversations of a historical person (it is generally acknowledged that these are not a verbatim record, and often not even true at all, of what Socrates said), proving two points in one: that rapid fabrication of unchallenged legends is not improbable but in fact routine, and that such fabrication does not entail the non-historicity of the speaker.”
I believe this is the honestly respectable position, and I applaud Lindsay for this.

About Frank Zindler, Carrier noted that
"...he is somewhat infamous for excessive skepticism.”
Yes he is. Frank sent me a copy of his opening statement. As a scientist he's asking us to do history just like we do science. He wrote:
"The crucially important difference for us to note today is that for all claims of existence, science presumes the negative. It will ignore all affirmative arguments if they are not supported by evidence and facts." "[T]he problem is that we have not even been trying to use the scientific method in the field of religion studies." And later reiterates his point by saying: "For the last time I shall remind you that we must always remember that in science it is not necessary to prove a negative. Science assumes the negative. If no one can provide convincing positive evidence that Jesus of Nazareth once lived, we must then resort to the tried-and-tested, successful methodology of science to account for the origins of Christianity....Any hypotheses that survive rigorous tests can then be elevated to the rank of theory. In time, one of the rival theories will predominate and gain the scientific consensus." [Emphasis is his]
My claim is that if we treat the historical past according to these rigorous scientific standards then there will not be much for historians to write about. He's demanding that the paucity of evidence found in the historical past should shoulder the burden of proof when it comes to the existence of an end times apocalyptic prophet like Jesus is depicted to be. Prophets like these were Legion in those days. My claim is also that how someone views the past is guided by control beliefs which must additionally be defended. There are several different philosophies of history that must be defended as one looks at the evidence of the past. The historian looks at the past with his particular outlook on life and it's probably impossible to do otherwise.

If one reads Carrier carefully we see that Gerd L├╝demann, Robert Eisenman, Dennis MacDonald, and Bruce Chilton all think there was a man behind the mythic traditions. I think it's important to add that G.A. Wells used to argue Jesus didn't exist, but has since changed his mind. It should also be noted that Bart D. Ehrman, one of skeptics best scholarly friends, thinks Jesus was an apocalyptic end times prophet, as I do.

Having said this it's an interesting question to me, but the money could be spent on better things. It seems as though skeptics have long ago concluded that religion is "bullshit" (ala Penn and Teller) and have now moved beyond that question to investigate other topics of interest to them. Most of them come from a scientific background, too. Since these other topics are interesting questions to them they focus on them. Having already debunked religion, including Christianity, they are looking for other things to debunk (why beat a dead horse, right?). The problem I see with such worthy interests is that there are still a great number of Christian believers in the world who will not seriously consider the possibility that Jesus did not exist. I would like to know if any Christian has walked away from his faith because of these arguments. I dare say that no one ever has (although this might change, I cannot say). It might be the equivalent of the Ontological Argument for the existence of God. No one has ever become a believer from that argument that we know of (Bertrand Russell flirted with belief because of it but eventually rejected it).

Given our recent poll on the question of who Jesus is/was, an overwhelming number of skeptics think Jesus was a mythical fictional character. Some of the skeptical voters have not been reading my arguments of late. They came here just to vote because of a request to chime in on our poll, which was posted on a very popular skeptical website. They came, they voted, and they left. Still it's good they did. It shows what most skeptics believe.

There are many topics that are of interest to me, while there are only a few that I'm concerned about. The question of The Jesus Project is of interest to me, but I'm not concerned about the results. I think Christianity fails whether Jesus existed or not. I base my arguments on Jesus's existence not unlike how St. Aquinas based his arguments for the existence of God on the eternality of the universe. He thought if he could show God existed based on the eternality of the universe, then how much more so can he show God exists if the universe did come into existence at some point in time. I can do that in reverse. Even if Jesus existed then Christianity still fails.

Where can the money be better spent? I need grant money to continue my work. There is a donate button in our sidebar that helps me stay alive in these hard economic times. I need your help. I need people who are willing to donate on a regular basis, a monthly commitment if you can. Unless more money comes in I’ll be forced to get a second job. Spinoza ground lenses during the day and researched at night. What if he had to have two jobs? I’m no Spinoza by a long shot, but what if Spinoza never had to grind lenses for a living and could research and write all day long? How much better would his arguments be?

Call me arrogant if you will, but I am one person who has the arguments that can be the undoing of Christianity. [BTW, Keith Parsons emailed me recently and said: "Humility is a Christian virtue. Be proud of your accomplishment!"] I’d like for CFI and Paul Kurtz to send me on a speaking tour, allow me to revise my book one more time (if I had time I could condense it and make it more accessible to the masses), fund me to debate some high profile Christians, make me a research scholar for the CFI institute. These requests have been made by me to them, with one important person who is advocating on my behalf, and maybe some or all of these requests will pan out in the near future. But my goal is not just to understand the world, as Marx said, but to change it.

Skeptics, yes, we need to move on to other issues and be on the cutting edge of them. Let's just never forget what our common goal is and how daunting the task is. We must major on the majors and minor on the minors and know the difference between which is which.

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