March 8, 2007

Reality-Based Community Skeptical of Discovery of Jesus' Tomb

As news broke of James Cameron's supposed discovery of Jesus' tomb, most in the reality-based community reacted with skepticism. While some Christians acknowledged that Cameron's claim challenged the very core of their faith, most atheist bloggers appeared to regard the news with minimal interest. At first glance, this might appear surprising. After all, wouldn't atheists be expected to celebrate the death knell of Christianity?

As you have almost certainly heard by now, the big news involved claims by filmmaker James Cameron that his upcoming documentary on the Discovery Channel reveals the tomb of Jesus and his family. This claim, if it can be shown to be true, would challenge the Christian dogma surrounding the physical resurrection of Jesus.

So why are many atheists dismissing this news as being relatively unimportant? I believe the answer lies in our rationalist nature. I'm not here to claim that atheists are necessarily rationalists, but I readily identify myself as such. A rationalist is someone who looks to reason as the route to knowledge and who requires evidence rather than faith to sustain belief.

As a rationalist, I look at Cameron's claim with skepticism. First, I'm not convinced that anyone has conclusively proven that the Jesus figure described in the Christian bible ever lived. Second, I'm cautious about accepting the veracity of an archaeological claim made by a non-archaeologist. Cameron is unlikely to be qualified to identify the remains of Jesus, so I'd prefer to hear from the experts. Third, I note that making outrageous claims is a highly effective marketing strategy. It seems that Cameron is likely to be more interested in attracting viewers than he is in uncovering the truth.

Of course, it is entirely possible that my mind may change. That is the thing about we rationalists - we are quite willing to change our minds if convincing evidence emerges. I will await further developments in this story with interest. I'm content to follow the evidence on this one.

I should also point out that I am skeptical of something else related to this story. I am skeptical that any amount of evidence would actually alter the faith of many Christians. Known for distorting reality to preserve their beliefs, I see no reason to expect that Christians would suddenly embrace reality here if the remains could be authenticated. How would they explain it away? They have already shown us one approach:
James Tabor, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said that while literal interpreters of the Bible say Jesus' physical body rose from the dead, ``one might affirm resurrection in a more spiritual way in which the husk of the body is left behind.''
In any case, this is one more example of Christians taking a great risk when it comes to their superstition. As they make claims about the natural world (e.g., a man lived, died, and was resurrected), they open themselves to the possibility that these claims will be conclusively shown to be false.

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