PZ Myers posted something about a new book, Idiot America, and I'm reposting it with my own comments:
"The rise of Idiot America, though, is essentially a war on expertise. It's not so much antimodernism or the distrust of the intellectual elites that Richard Hofstader teased out of the national DNA, although both of these things are part of it. The rise of Idiot America today reflects — for profit, mainly, but also and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power — the breakdown of the consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people we should trust the least are the people who know the best what they're talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a scientist, or a preacher, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.
This is how Idiot America engages itself. It decides, en masse, with a million keystrokes and clicks of the remote control, that because there are two sides to every question, they both must be right, or at least not wrong. And the words of an obscure biologist carry no more weight on the subject of biology than do the thunderations of some turkeyneck preacher out of Christ's Own Parking Structure in DeLand, Florida. Less weight, in fact, because our scientist is an "expert" and therefore, an "elitist." Nobody buys his books. Nobody puts him on cable. He's brilliant, surely, but no different from the rest of us, poor fool."
I must say this is long overdue. I have run into many a creationist fool who thinks she knows more about the age of the earth than the consensus of geologists who have studied it their entire lives. We all know the creationist fools who are sure that they have the theory of evolution all figured out, and can't see why biologists who have studied this their entire lives just don't see the simple truth they do. Of course, many of them realize how absurd this is and so they cover by saying that these folks keep quiet because they'll be thrown out of academia if they dare to disagree, or they simply uphold these things because they want to have the freedom to sin without fear of hellfire.
I, and many other atheists, have no right to be smug: In the past I have thought that perhaps the scholarly community was wrong about the existence of Jesus. Or at least, that New Testament scholars were overblowing the case for an historical Jesus. I now realize what a mistake I made. Rest assured that this did not come out of the blue, for the past several weeks I have been thinking and have made up my mind that it is probable that Jesus really was. I have two primary pieces of evidence for this:
1. Galatians 1:19, in which Paul claims to have met James, the brother of the Lord. This was written about 20 years after Jesus died. The plainest reading of the text would suggest this was a flesh and blood brother of Jesus (not to mention the fact that a James is named as a blood brother of Jesus in the gospels). So Paul must have, at very minimum, thought that he was conversing with a brother of Jesus, and by implication he thought Jesus was real. Furthermore, it is hard to see how Paul's letters would have been accepted by the Christian community if they did not also believe that Jesus was real. Now why would these folks, just twenty years after Jesus supposedly lived, think he was an earthly person? The best explanation is that he was.
2. If you read the end of the gospel of Matthew, you will notice that Matthew tells of a report amongst the Jews that the disciples stole Jesus' body, to which Matthew replies that the guards were paid to say this. Let's think about this for a minute: If the gospels are symbolic fiction, as mythicists believe, wouldn't Matthew have reacted to this rumor amongst the Jews by saying that the empty tomb was not literal, but only a symbolic expression meant to convey some spiritual truth? I suppose a mythicist could argue that the story of the Jews' rumor and its reply all have some symbolic meaning. That's fine. But the burden of proof is on them to show that this interpretation is correct, since the plainest, simplest reading of the text does not indicate any such thing. The best explanation is that the gospels were not (completely) symbolic myths, and that there was a real person who inspired the gospel stories.
What about the arguments for Jesus mythicism? Well, the primary piece of evidence cited in favor of mythicism is that Paul said almost nothing about the historical Jesus, and that the very few passages in his writing which appear to refer to a historical Jesus can also be interpreted as having some symbolic meaning. I think the fact that Paul says little about Jesus as an actual person means nothing, because Paul tells us that he recieved his info on Jesus not from men, but from visions and reading OT scripture. A person relying on sources like these wouldn't say much about the gospel Jesus, whether he existed or not.
The other argument commonly used in favor of mythicism is the fact that there are no references to Jesus outside of the New Testament. While this may disprove a miracle-working Jesus, it does not disprove a poor, apocalyptic prophet named Jesus (who was an ordinary man) who gave rise to the gospel stories.