Thorn-in-my-side Ken B. made a comment earlier in the week that I’ve seen in several places, in varying forms. So I will quote him here, but realize the point goes beyond Ken B.’s particular question. Here’s Ken:
So a question Bob: I refuted the historicity of the story of the woman taken in adultery, showing it does not belong in the Gospel of John.
I cited several links.
What steps have you taken to investigate the issue?
You certainly have not directly addressed the issue on this blog.
When I first arrived on this board I made points about Jesus of Nazareth as an apocalyptic prophet, quite unlike the stained-glass Jesus.
In particular I argued that the early sources conflict, that these sources are best seen as representing the beliefs of divergent faith communities rather than as accurate history, and that the ‘stained-glass Jesus’ is a strained attempt to harmonize the synoptics, John, and Paul.
These are mainstream views of critical biblical scholarship.
I cited several well-known scholars and provided links to several books.
You admitted you had not read enough to refute me.
What concrete steps have you taken to determine if or where I erred?
In what way, in short, has your behavior here not vindicated Hitch’s insight?
Note that your past snappy dismissive comments count against you here.
I submit that this is a terrible argument. If any of you who read this when Ken B. first wrote it, were nodding your heads in agreement at how Christians “don’t really believe this stuff after all,” then it shows you are very biased when it comes to theological arguments.
As far as Ken B.’s recommendations in particular, the short answer is, I trust him as far as I can throw him. In case you are not familiar with Ken B.’s rhetorical style, here is something very recent. The beauty of this one is that it’s self-contained; you can just read a few lines to see what I am talking about.
To set the context, someone had pointed me to the debate between that Spanish professor and Krugman. Naturally, every Austrian who’s told me about it, thought the Spanish guy crushed Krugman. Here’s what I said in reaction:
[Bob Murphy:]FWIW, I watched the first 10 minutes and thus far I can see why Krugman would think, “I’ve answered every one of these points, numerous times, on my blog. This guy doesn’t even know my position.”
I haven’t watched the rest of it yet, but I am prepared to say, “Krugman won that debate.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not yet declaring this, because I have to see what Krugman says in response.
(I didn’t volunteer this because it would look so petty. “Oh boy, this guy knocks out Krugman first, and now Bob is jealous.”)
Then about 10 minutes later Ken B. writes the following, in reference to someone’s theory about what Krugman meant when he complained that Pedro (the Spanish guy) was pulling rank:
I wasn’t sure what Kruggers was referring to, since Pedro said many nice things about him, but this [the other commenter's theory] has to be what PK was talking about. And Krugman is right on the substance too.
Maybe that’s why Murphy says PK won the debate.
This is par for the course, for Ken B., and it’s why twice now I’ve literally had to just stop talking to him in the comments on posts. He makes carelessly false statements of others’ positions, and he’s smart enough to make me think it’s a big joke to him.
So, do I drop other things in my life to go read books that Ken assures me will blow up my religious faith? Absolutely not, and I don’t feel any need to apologize for this.
However, let’s generalize it, and not make it about Ken B. Gene Callahan, for example, has sent me at least one historical book, and I would love to read it. But, during the last 3 months, I have not made time to do so.
So, does this mean I don’t really believe in the afterlife? I mean, if I claim that my soul depends on getting these things right, then how can I choose to work an extra hour and pay my mortgage this month, rather than reading more from a book on religion, if there’s even a 1 in a million chance that I’m worshipping the wrong God?
The answer is pretty simple, and any economist should get it: People make decisions on the margin. Look, there are all sorts of comments people leave on blog posts, talking about vaccines causing autism, 9/11 was an inside job, cell phones cause brain tumors, etc. etc. If I choose to work an extra hour and pay down my mortgage, does that mean I like my house more than my kid? That I am naive about my government? That I must not really prefer to avoid cancer, after all?
For what it’s worth, I have made inquiries to people whom I really respect about these sorts of historical claims. And their answers were enough to reassure me that confident statements such as “there really is no historical evidence that Jesus existed” (not saying Ken B. made that claim, but others do here, repeatedly) are balderdash. They have indeed given me further reading, but I haven’t gotten time yet to see for myself.
One final point: I imagine people might say, “Ah, but your soul is infinitely valuable. So marginal analysis breaks down.” No, I don’t think this is right. Jesus gave the command to go and spread the gospel. If His disciples ignored that, and instead spent all their days studying history books and theological tracts, they would not be striving for the best way to please God, which is what their religious beliefs say is the highest end in life. So you can look at it from a secular or a heavenly viewpoint. Either way, spending every waking moment studying books, trying to become ever surer of your personal belief in Christ is not what a good Christian necessarily should do. If you feel called by God to a monastery, okay maybe you should do that. But it’s not what all Christians need to do, by virtue of their professed metaphysical views.