Self Deception

See Daniel Gilbert’s article in the New York Times, “I’m Okay, You’re Biased” (thanks to Matt Bertrand for the link). It mentions some studies on self-deception, noting, among other things, that

“By uncritically accepting evidence when it pleases us, and insisting on more when it doesn’t, we subtly tip the scales in our favor.”

No kidding. Those unsympathetic to traditional Christianity have been swallowing Michael Baigent’s (/Dan Brown’s) nonsense with a vengeance (see here), and it’s only going to get worse after the release of The DaVinci Code film. Meanwhile, the enthusiasm — even in scholarly circles — for Tom Wright’s “resurrection evidence” has been no less astounding. We know that lack of precedent has never been an obstacle to religious creativity, yet people continue parroting Wright just the same: “no ancient Jew would have claimed that a messiah was raised before the end, unless he really was”. I’m not saying that Wright is generally comparable to Baigent, but on this particular point he is, and the massive followings garnered by each on the basis of pseudo-evidence or -logic point to the self-deception phenomenon mentioned in Gilbert’s article. We take what’s pleasing to us, however bogus the evidence (Baigent), however greasy the logic (Wright).

I love this part:

“Because the brain cannot see itself fooling itself, the only reliable method for avoiding bias is to avoid the situations that produce it.”

How encouraging.


8 thoughts on “Self Deception

  1. “no ancient Jew would have claimed that a messiah was raised before the end, unless he really was”.-Loren – this looks greasy indeed. But who is lathering on the grease? Is it you or them? Where does anyone, including Wright, make this claim?thx, Bilbo

  2. Wright has claimed, repeatedly, that since messiahs were expected to be raised along with everyone else at the end, the disciples’ claim about Jesus’ premature resurrection must be taken as factual — something you should know if you’re familiar with Wright’s work. See <>Who Was Jesus?<> for this particular quote.

  3. I could be wrong here, but from my recollection of Wright’s work on the resurrection (which I probably read less attentively than others, as I found it rather boring compared to the work of someone like Allison), I would find it odd that he’d concede that Messiahs were expected to die **at all** — let alone be resurrected — in 1st century Judaism. From his work, I got the impression that he thought Messiahs were not supposed to die.Again – this still sounds greasy. Where are you getting this from?Bilbo

  4. Here’s an excerpt from a review of Wright’s book. The summary of Wright’s claims doesn’t exactly match Loren’s summary, but they aren’t necessarily incompatible. In any case, I would agree that Wright’s reasoning is quite greasy.“Wright’s bold argument is extensive and detailed, but it can be summarized in simple form. While Second Temple Judaism supplied the concept of resurrection to Jesus’ followers, it did not do so in the specific manner in which it was deployed in early Christianity. In other words, the Christian position, while grounded in Jewish tradition, did not spring spontaneously from it. Furthermore, while neither the empty tomb nor the appearance of Jesus could have generated belief in the resurrection on its own, taken together these accounts demand an explanation. And in Wright’s view the simplest explanation is what the New Testament writers profess: Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.”

  5. ‘I would find it odd that he’d concede that Messiahs were expected to die **at all** — let alone be resurrected — in 1st century Judaism. From his work, I got the impression that he thought Messiahs were not supposed to die.’Isn’t that the precisely the point underlying Loren’s quotation from Wright?

  6. Just calling something “greasy” doesn’t point out the flaw in the logic. To my knowledge, Wright’s argument is actually a cumulative argument, and even just taking one leg that his resurrection hypothesis seeks to explain, and saying “Well, that’s easily explainable by something else” really misses the point. Wright seeks to give one hypothesis that explains many of the incongruencies with Judaism and what he considers to be the relevant historical facts (empty tomb, appearances). Saying well, this one thing could have another explanation is true, but trivial in the context of the argument he’s making. A good way to refute Wright, if the summary of his argument to be trusted, is just to come up with a simpler explanation for the relevant incongruencies and historical facts, or deny that the latter really are incongruencies or historical facts. And I see nothing at all in your quote that shows Loren’s assessment of Wright’s argument is correct. No, its not necessarily incompatible. But neither would an infinity of other caricatures or distortions of Wright’s views be necessarily incompatible with that summary. Bilbo

  7. Here are several quotes by Wright from his webpage:“And when resurrection happened, it would therefore happen to all God’s people at the same moment.”“The third way in which early Christian belief about resurrection is significantly different from that of second-Temple Judaism is that, particularly in Paul, ‘the resurrection’ has split into two. Paul still sees ‘the resurrection of the dead’ as a single theological event, but it takes place in two phases: first the Messiah, then at his coming all his people. This too only makes sense within second-Temple Judaism, but it is something no second-Temple Jew had said before. Resurrection had been a single all-embracing moment, not a matter of one person being raised ahead of everybody else.”Isn’t this exactly what Loren was claiming that Wright said?

  8. Where does Paul say *why* Jesus is the Messiah? (and Paul uses Christ almost as a name , rather than a title)I would be intrigued to know what Paul thinks Jesus did to show that he was the Messiah.

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