Atheist Criticizes Those Who Deny Jesus Ever Existed
Did Jesus exist? It has become common amongst many New Atheists to deny that Jesus ever existed. Adherents of this position point to a tiny handful of scholars who agree with them. The irony behind this is that many of these same atheists will also severely criticize those who hold to views in other fields that are largely rejected by the scholarly community. Neil Carter, a former Christian turned atheist, points this out.
When climate change deniers want to insist that our actions have no impact on global temperatures, they display a remarkable disdain for an entire discipline populated by credentialed professionals in that field who say otherwise. It doesn’t seem to bother the deniers that they themselves have no specialization in the academic field they disparage because in any field of study there will always be at least some small contingent who go against the consensus. The existence of those outliers is justification enough for the deniers to say, “This business is far from certain, you know. Just look at these four people who disagree!”
That’s how I feel when people in the skeptic community argue that Jesus never existed. They are dismissing a large body of work for which they have insufficient appreciation, most often due to the fact that they themselves have never formally studied the subject. And yes, I know that the study of religon [sic] and of antiquity is a far “softer” field of study than climatology (and therefore more subject to personal bias). But that doesn’t mean we can’t reasonably conclude anything at all about the distant past. There are at least a handful of things about the origins of the Christian religion which we can reasonably conclude based on the things that we know. Among them are that there was most likely a guy named Jesus who preached and was killed outside Jerusalem, and that after his death a diverse following emerged which built around that event a narrative which grew to become the Christian faith. …
There’s a method to determining these things, and a pretty thoroughly developed academic discipline underneath it all. It doesn’t speak well of us to dismiss whole disciplines with the wave of a hand on account of two or three of its members finally suggesting something we wanted to believe all along… I don’t think it makes us look very objective when we too eagerly embrace a position which contradicts an almost universal consensus among those who have devoted their lives to the academic discipline which concerns itself with these matters. We of all people should know better.
Neil Carter, “An Atheist’s Defense of the Historicity of Jesus,” Godless in Dixie (blog), September 4, 2014, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/godlessindixie/2014/09/04/an-atheists-defense-of-the-historicity-of-jesus/.