Who to Trust?

I've been watching the debate between Bart Ehrman and Richard Carrier with fascination.  I'm a fan of Bart Ehrman's, based on reading two of his books--Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium and one correcting errors in The DaVinci Code.  Richard Carrier is someone I've noticed over the years peripherally, without paying direct attention to him. People seemed to think he was super-smart. Now Ehrman has written a book excoriating Carrier and other mythicists--people who think Jesus is 100% a myth, not a historical figure. The debate gets enormously complicated, and I'm not about to do the homework it takes to follow every move.  In a situation like this, you have to save time and effort and ask yourself "Who do I trust?"  That's exactly how Carrier would have me approach this, for which I am (of course) grateful.  Carrier writes--
I do not see this as a competition between us as to who is the better scholar, but as simply a matter of who to trust: someone who presents carefully researched, carefully worded, carefully reasoned work on this subject, with a minimum of mistakes (because as I’ve said, I make them, too), or someone who doesn’t.
The part after "who to trust" is tendentious, of course.  Bart Ehrman's books are fantastic, and they show he's a good scholar and perfectly prepared to be a skeptic (he abandoned the Christian faith of his youth).  In rounds one and two of the web-debate, I think Ehrman slaughters Carrier.  But here's what really destroyed Carrier's reputation in my eyes. It so happens that the first thing Carrier wrote after he joined Free Thought Blogs was an astonishingly cocky yet unbelievably stupid diatribe called "Meat not Bad".  The thing was shot through with errors, yet the tone invited the reader to think Carrier was Mr. Smart slaughtering all the dummies. His conclusion: "I think being a vegetarian out of 'compassion' is irrational. I mean that in the classic sense: it’s a non sequitur, and thus illogical. It’s to treat animals like people, which they are not."

You could not read the literature on the treatment of animals, or watch videos put out by reliable groups like the Humane Society, and come away with this opinion. Could not. Yet he holds forth with certitude, and make the other side out to be illogical. This, I take it, is Carrier's modus operandi.  It's exactly what you see in his current debate with Ehrman.  So I have no time for Richard Carrier, but Ehrman's book sounds fun--perhaps just because it's intriguing how some atheists are so determined to move from "No God" to "No Jesus".  I'd like to see this passion for no-Jesus dissected.


VinnyJH57 said...

If you want to read more Ehrman, I would highly recommend Misquoting Jesus, Jesus Interrupted, and Forged (and so would Carrier). I don't think Did Jesus Exist? is nearly as good.

Aeolus said...

I had never heard of these two before, and I'm in no position to evaluate their academic disputes. But after a little googling around, I can say I'd much rather have a beer with Ehrman. Carrier seems awfully full of himself and quick to denigrate those he disagrees with.

Wayne said...

Condescending tone aside, there are a few points in his vegetarian essay that should be taken heed of in all seriousness. I often bring up the biased presentation of PETA videos in my class (since I show one), and he's kind of right about his water use argument. (Granted it rains, and thats part of the water use, but he neglects to mention that aquifer water use when it isn't raining, and such...)

But there is plenty of straw man characterizations of the Vegetarian (like how we can abide meat eaters...)

Jean Kazez said...

I also talk to my class about what's misleading in PETA videos, and then I show videos by other orgs. For example, I show videos put out by the meat industry itself, undercover videos by the Humane Society, etc. What's fascinating about this is that even in the meat industry videos, you see horrendous over-crowding. It all looks cleaner, but the animals can't move. In many undercover videos you can see animals being beaten and thrown around. Even in the "nicest" videos, like one put out by Polyface Farms, you can see animals being thrown around. It just won't do to say PETA shows grimy videos, and then conclude animals aren't being mistreated. Even industry insiders like Temple Grandin say that animals in intensive farming are seriously mistreated. Carrier has not done his homework, yet talks like a know-it-all. Ugh!

J. J. Ramsey said...

Thom Stark took apart Carrier's case that pre-Christian Jews expected a dying Messiah. It's not even a close contest. Carrier gets caught saying things that are either misleading or flat-out wrong. It's hard for he not to regard him with the same contempt that I have for, say, Ken Ham, though Stark himself is a bit more charitable.

I've found, though, that Carrier is very good at making a shoddy case look good to laypersons by presenting it forcefully.

Jean Kazez said...

Hi JJ, Ehrman makes the same argument about a dying Messiah in this interesting interview--