28 Dec 2012 
#24 Bad mythicist arguments: Carrier's scholarly approach vs Doherty's political approach

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Written by Gakuseidon:
Interesting comment by Doherty recently, especially compared to Carrier's comment on the same topic. Background: Last week I added a review of J:NGNM onto the Amazon website here. Doherty saw my review and made the following comment on Neil Godfrey's Vridar blog here. Doherty wrote (my bold below):

Of course, as I've said before, Carrier's comment [that J:NGNM is "90% speculative digression"] is ridiculous. In-depth argument and a wealth of literary evidence backing up that argument is hardly pointless speculation and digression. Making demands on a reader's attention span may be something entirely different, but if Carrier prefers the more succinct and less demanding "The Jesus Puzzle" why dump on a fuller edition which simply seeks to cover all bases and make the most thorough case possible (something appreciated by many readers)?

Sometimes I think non-historicists can be their own worst enemies. I can't for the life of me understand Carrier's motivation in this. Does he want to cut a fellow writer off at the knees in preparation for the publication of his own book? Incomprehensible behavior like that naturally raises less than flattering speculation. It also gives ammunition to unscrupulous apologists like GDon who will gleefully promote Carrier's comment in his devious and despicable "review" of the book on Amazon (see Neil's much appreciated comment added to that review).

As a corollary it also enables apologists to portray the mythicist camp as squabbling and at odds with themselves. The same kind of overwrought condemnation of Acharya even by some who sympathize with mythicism is self-defeating. And it's fodder as well for those declared atheists and agnostics found all over the internet who for unfathomable reasons treat the mythicist case as scholarly charlatanism and virtually tantamount to raping their grandmothers. I regularly get sick of the whole thing.

Aside from Doherty's colorful "raping their grandmothers" quote, it is interesting to contrast Doherty's approach to Carrier's. This is what Carrier wrote on his blog here (my bold below):

Bad mythicists (e.g. Atwill, to pick an example of someone who is very much arguing a thesis Murdock must reject) are doing good mythicists no favors. In fact, they are making it worse for us, by communicating to the scholarly community that "mythicism" is based on sloppy methodology, dubious speculations, and ignorance of the arguments and evidence discussed by the actual experts in these matters. So when I try to present at a conference or publish a paper, I have to explain at length how my methodology is valid and that I do not endorse all the nonsense that people like Atwill argue, and even then academics are suspicious, because all they have seen is Freke & Gandy crap. Mythicists can't even agree on what happened (is it Murdock's explanation? Or Atwill's? One of them is wrong; which one? What method do they have to answer that question with?). There is therefore no benefit in "not criticizing" each other. Because, by all disagreeing with each other, most mythicists must be wrong. And the cornerstone of valid, professional methodology is pursuing and rooting out error and determining who of any collection of disagreeing parties is wrong. We therefore must do that. To say we shouldn't do that, in some sort of political solidarity to the abstract "idea" of mythicism is precisely the kind of dogmatic, political, emotional bullshit that is screwing over serious myth research. That behavior is the surest way to never be taken seriously by anyone who matters.

That's what I like about Carrier: I suspect I will disagree with his conclusions as much as I did with Doherty's, but he comes across as a scholar. His condemnation of some of Acharya S's theories where he thinks she is wrong is a sign of integrity, nothing more. I've always scratched my head at Doherty's support of Acharya S's theories. Did he really think he was helping the mythicist cause look like a serious enterprise by recommending her works in his book and website? But Doherty's comment above solves the mystery for me.

Tags: {Carrier} {Doherty} {mythicism}
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Comment from: mullerb
Gakuseidon, excellent post (and your first one at that!).
I put some coloring on the quotes and filled the Tag section.
Yes, I noticed the lack of criticism from one mythicist to the others long ago, even if their ideas were vastly different.
Carrier is changing all that and calling other mythicist's ideas & books by what they are.
But, about what I heard & read about Carrier's arguments for his own mythicist case, with some points I already commented upon on this blog, I do not think Carrier will avoid to be considered like the others.
Cordially, Bernard
Comment from: gakuseidon
Thanks for that Bernard. I was trying to add colors but couldn't work out how. Is there a webpage that explains how to do this?

I think I will disagree with Carrier as much as I disagree with Doherty. But Carrier is expecting disagreement due to mythicism as a fringe idea, whereas Doherty seems to see any disagreement as ideologically based. I think that this shows the integrity of Carrier's position: he is approaching this from the perspective of a scholar. Doherty on the other hand seems to expect that mythicists should avoid criticisms, as long as the answer is "no historical Jesus". And this has never made any sense to me. There is plenty of disagreement between historicist scholars nowadays. Indeed, Doherty relies on this tension between historicist scholars in his arguments. If mythicism ever becomes the mainstream, the same situation will prevail: there will be arguments for and against the prevailing mainstream view. To me, Doherty shows that he is more about making an idealogical statement rather than a scholarly one, while Carrier shows himself as more interested in a scholarly statement.
Comment from: gakuseidon
An update: I responded to Doherty on Neil Godfrey's Vridar blog, with pretty much the same content as above. I don't think anyone will be surprised to learn that my response was rejected and never appeared on Vridar. I don't have any problem with that, since I think blog owners should be free to post or reject any content.

So I then posted the OP in my Amazon review. Someone complained to Amazon and the post was deleted. I followed up with Amazon, they apologized and restored my post. I think it is important to have it there, since it provides substance to my criticism of Doherty's approach to mythicist arguments.

What is most fascinating though is that (to date) Neil Godfrey hasn't commented on Doherty's post on Vridar. Imagine if a historicist scholar wrote something equivalent, i.e. "historicists shouldn't criticize other historicists" -- Neil would be all over that!

It suggests that a double-standard is at work there. Doherty often uses the tensions and disagreements between historicist scholars to show that there are problems on the historicist side. And fair enough, too. That is just part of scholarly debate. Scholars in every field propose bad arguments all the time, and they get beaten down. It only makes theories stronger.

But by not being critical of bad mythicist arguments, Doherty is not doing mythicism any favors, to paraphrase Carrier. Is Doherty happy to be lumped in with Acharya S? It looks like he is. And he doesn't understand that it reflects on him. It simply isn't a scholarly approach.