Richard Carrier has recently had an ongoing debate with New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado. I have not been following the debate because frankly I don’t care. Plus, I find that Carrier just gets nasty and his arguments become more emotional than rational.
But something he wrote caught my attention.
I came across his blog post The Difference Between a Historian and an Apologist. This interested me because I identify as both a historian and an apologist. Plus, I was recently accused in a comment on my podcast The History of Christianity, that I was doing apologetics and not history. So I wanted to know what Carrier had to say.
I need to confess that Carrier’s post is painful to read. It is dripping with sarcasm and ad hominem attacks on Larry Hurtado. It is difficult to get through all of Carrier’s rhetoric to find something of substance.
The basic argument is that Hurtado is doing apologetics and not history. This is the clearest that Carrier gets:
This is the difference between doing history, and doing apologetics. Apologetics invents any rationalization conceivable for rejecting an unacceptable conclusion, no matter how irrelevant or illogical. Historians, by contrast, don’t behave that way. They attend to the science of probabilities: what is the more probable. Even if it’s not what we thought or want to be probable.
I have not followed the discussion about Philo’s comments about the logos and so I won’t comment on the accuracy of either Carrier or Hurtado’s interpretation.
But I would like to discuss Carrier’s contrast between an apologist and a historian. According to Carrier, “Apologetics invents any rationalization conceivable for rejecting an unacceptable conclusion, no matter how irrelevant or illogical.” Who came up with that definition? That is a straw man argument if I have ever seen one.
What is apologetics? Apologetics is simply giving a reason for believing or preferring something specific. It is not limited to religion or philosophy. If a person can explain why they think Star Wars is better than Star Trek, they are doing apologetics.
What this means is that every time Richard Carrier argues for atheism or for the Jesus myth, he is doing apologetics. Carrier is an apologist as much as anyone.
What about this contrast with the work of historians? According to Carrier, historians “attend to the science of probabilities.” Carrier argues for something called the Jesus myth, specifically that Jesus never existed. If we put Richard Carrier in a room with one thousand of the top historians and they discussed the probability that Jesus existed, I wonder how many would agree with Carrier? I would be surprised if we could find even one.
I have never met Richard Carrier but I have met Larry Hurtado. I have taken a class with him during my doctoral studies. I’m familiar not just with his teaching of that class but his experience at teaching at top schools and publishing with respected publishers and journals. If you compare Hurtado’s academic reputation with Carrier’s, there is not much of a contest.
I’m not trying to criticize Carrier. He has done a good job of self-publishing and using his entrepreneurial spirit to make a name for himself. I don’t want to diminish those efforts at all. But when it comes to scholarly standing, he is not even in the same league as Larry Hurtado.
Carrier contrasts apologetics and history. The truth is that Carrier is a historian. A misguided historian (I’m not talking specifically about the Philo question) but still a historian. But even more than a historian, Carrier is an apologist. He began as an apologist for atheism and has developed his apologetics from arguing against God to arguing against Jesus.
Richard Carrier is an apologist.