Monday, December 15, 2008

History-As It Was vs As It Was Taught

The Simpsons live in the town of Springfield near a town they regard as their rivals; Shelbyville. The founding of the towns is explained at the Simspons Archive:

In 1796, a fiercely determined band of pioneers leaves Maryland after misinterpreting a passage in the bible. Their destination, New Sodom. Marge says these pioneers were circus freaks.

Jebediah: "People, our search is over. On this site we shall build a new town, where we can worship freely, govern justly, and grow vast fields of hemp for making rope and blankets."

Shelbyville Manhattan: "yes, and marry our cousins."

Jebediah: "I was -- What are you talking about Shelbyville? Why would we want to marry our cousins?"

Shelbyville Manhattan: "Cause they're so attractive. I, I thought that was the whole point of this journey."

Jebediah: "Absolutely not."

Shelbyville Manhattan: "I tell you I won't live in a town that robs men of the right to marry their cousins."

Jebediah: "Well then, we'll form our own town. Who will come and live a life devoted to chastity, abstinence, and a flavorless mush I call rootmarm?"

Those that form the roots of our town our wonderful and virtuous. Our enemies are deviant. This is kind of how history is taught in our schools. When we reach adulthood many of us come to realize that maybe our history courses were a little whitewashed. It makes you wonder how many erroneous views you may still hold about American history.

And you don't have to be a liberal to recognize this. Even conservatives understand.

In light of this, it is interesting to me to watch Christians that appear to be shocked at the skepticism of someone like Robert Price with regards to the New Testament. He and an apologist by the name of Phil Fernandez had a discussion. While Price offered reasons for his views, Fernandez' constant response was "But your views are out of the mainstream. Your views are rejected by even liberals. This is hyper-skepticism."

Price repeatedly responded by saying he knows he's in the minority, but the reasons for his view are still compelling to him, and Fernandez needs to address the reasons. Basically Fernandez didn't seem to think he had any obligation to. The fact that Price is outside the mainstream is response enough.

But the lessons we can learn from the way we were taught history in high school ought to be enough to inform us that it is very easy for large groups of people, even smart educated people, to have fundamentally erroneous views about even American history, where information is far more readily accessible. Did Lincoln fight the Civil War to end slavery? We're taught in school that he did, but perhaps most Americans when they reach adulthood come to know that it's not quite that simple. But it's easy to suspect that there are many other things that the majority of Americans are wrong about.

It's easy to see this even in our own day. How will history record the events of the last few years? Maybe textbooks 100 years from now will say that George Bush invaded Iraq to set up lucrative oil deals for friends, under the pretense of a WMD threat. Or maybe they'll say that he invaded to bring freedom to the Middle East. Does it matter which is true, or does it matter more the biases of the author of that history?

What about global warming? Conservatives reading this blog can easily recognize how media pundits can shape public opinion in a false way. If you can imagine widespread misinformation with regards to this issue, which is easily studied in this age of accessible information, why do you think it is enough to respond to Robert Price by saying "You're out of the mainstream"?

This point just does not seem to get through to Christians. It's almost like they can't hear you when you say it. I discussed some of this with internet apologist Brian Auten, who provided the audio of the Price/Fernandez discussion. I summarize here how he reacted:

Jon: Fernandez wouldn't address Price's arguments, but contented himself to just say that Price is out of the mainstream.
Brian: I know what you mean. But Price is on the fringe? How can you react to such a person?
Jon: Evaluate his reasons.
Brian: But why believe one scholar over the vast majority? Price's arguments are ad hoc and based on an unreasonable skepticism.
Jon: Sigh. The majority can be wrong. Which of his arguments are ad hoc or unreasonable.
Brian: Thanks for taking the time, Jon. I'm shutting comments down here.

This is from a guy that supposedly has access to lots of resources refuting the Christ myth position. Likewise Fernandez is obviously very well read. Why is he so averse to discussion the actual arguments made by someone like Price?


Steven Carr said...

John Loftus does the same.

He has just scoffed at the idea that Mark could introduce new stories about Paul

Jon, are you suggesting that an author such as Mark wrote a story and passed it off to people who were already believers about what they should believe?

PAUL in 2 Corinthians 11:4

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.


Paul states flat-out that people were happy to accept different Jesus's, yet John scoffs at the idea that somebody would write a story about a Jesus and have Christians believe it, even if it was different from what they had been told before.

John knows he is in the majority, therefore he does not need to even bother listening to other people, no matter how well based their arguments are.

Jon said...

Yeah, Steven, to me John's reasoning looks pretty bad. It's supposedly hard to imagine that Mark could tell a story differently from Paul? I don't know how John can reason in this way.

And yet for him he can't believe how poor our reasoning is, and he thinks we're acting just as reasonably as the Christian apologists he argues with. What a strange thing. Seriously, it's really a curiosity for me. Maybe there's something about humanity that really prevents us from seeing alternative views as even remotely reasonable.

Though for my part I can understand from his perspective why he finds his reasoning to be sound. I'm not sure he can do the same.

But then, it's tough to do on a keyboard. Talking to him might work better.