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The weight of expert opinion (Re: Jesus didn't exist and he lived 100BC!)

Jan 06, 2006 07:00 AM
by kpauljohnson

--- In, gregory@z... wrote:
> That anyone in the 21st century would bother to assert that Jesus 
did not exist
> is indeed extraordinary, given the vast weight of scholarship (as 
opposed to
> "psychic revelation") that has been devoted to this question! 
Scholars who are
> agnostics, humanists or atheists have reached the conclusion that 
his existence
> is a simple matter of historical fact.

This brings to mind a quote from Raymond Martin's The Elusive Messiah:

Our amateur status does not mean, however, that we cannot ever pass 
judgment on the views of New Testament scholars. In certain cases, we 
may be able to see better than a historian that he or she is in the 
grip of a distorting theory, Even so, we must give expertise its due. 
In my view, when it comes to trying to decide what to believe on the 
basis of historical evidence alone, the distinction between experts 
and amateurs is crucially important. Roughly speaking, the rule for 
experts is this: Base your views directly on the primary evidence; 
although the opinions of other experts cannot be ignored, you can 
override their opinions by your own reading of the evidence. The rule 
for amateurs, on the other hand, is this: Base your beliefs mainly on 
the views of the experts, if a sizeable majority of the experts agree 
among themselves, then accept what they say; if they disagree, then 
suspend judgment.(p. 24-25)

The existence of Jesus is, as noted by Dr. Tillett, a matter of near-
universal agreement among NT scholars. So is the falsity of the 
birth narrative tales in the gospels. So those are two areas where 
as a non-expert following Martin's advice we should accept expert 
consensus. Ditto for the chronology.  

Following up Adelasie's question last week about my view of 
evolution, I will say that Martin's advice applies to the hard 
sciences as well. As a non-expert in the life sciences, all I can do 
is accept the conclusions that are near-universal among experts and 
suspend judgment on matters of ongoing controversy among experts.

Of course it can be comfortable and ego-enhancing to claim to know 
better than the experts on the basis of psychic revelations or sacred 
texts. But that is not in the spirit of the theosophical enterprise 
as defined by the Founders, however much it might have become a 
prevalent attitude of Theosophists in the 20th and 21st centuries.


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