I recently attended a lecture by Richard Carrier in Ventura, California. It was basically a preview of his upcoming book, On the Historicity of Jesus Christ. I can now safely say there is no other book for which I am more excited. Wow. This book should be a Vesuvius of scholarship.
At the beginning of the talk, Carrier took a poll of the audience: “How many of you think Jesus was probably a historical person?” About half the audience raised their hands, perhaps 50 people.
At the end of the talk, Carrier asked again: “How many of you now think Jesus was probably a historical person?” Only about 10 people raised their hands.
Both times, I raised my hand and waffled it, meaning “I dunno… maybe.”
It concerns me that so many people were convinced to reverse their position on the basis of a single, brief talk without (1) checking Carrier’s sources, (2) reading other scholars on the subject, or (3) reading rebuttals of Carrier’s points.
Mind you, this was a roomful of atheists. Critical, skeptical people, right? Not so! Nearly half of them were willing to be instantly persuaded by a single talk without checking any sources or reading any rebuttals. Many of them were totally unaware of how historical scholarship was even done. I feel like I could have made up a bunch of stuff, claimed that it was held by the majority of historians, and then persuaded half the audience to believe that Jesus was a Persian myth.
Had I been Carrier, I would not have felt pleased that I had persuaded so many people so quickly. Instead, I would have quickly scolded them: “Wait, about half of you just changed your minds on the basis of my single talk, without checking any of my sources or reading other scholarship on the issue? Do you think that’s wise? Is that how you come to the rest of your conclusions? Don’t you worry that’s a bit… gullible? I appreciate you listening to my arguments and finding them compelling, but please don’t take my word for it. You’ve got to figure this stuff out for yourself. Nobody can be trusted. I could be full of shit. You have to look into it yourself to see if I’m full of shit, or if I’m being honest.”
Which is why, I suppose, Carrier will always be a more popular speaker than I am. He knows not to do that.
Anyway, this is one of a thousand events that lead me to think atheists are not generally more rational or careful than belivers. Thus, my plea to all people is: Do not be quickly persuaded. Investigate. Challenge. Doubt.
Previous post: Sexual Discrimination as an Indicator of Religious Nuttiness
Next post: The Importance of Philosophy