Matthew McCormick, professor of philosophy at Sacramento State, recently wrote a book titled “Atheism and the Case Against Christ,” which has brought him quite a bit of publicity, albeit not always positive.
“A lot of this is about the resurrection of Jesus,” McCormick said. “There’s a lot of people that think there’s good historical evidence for the Resurrection, so I’m looking at the history of the evidence and trying to apply philosophy arguments to that with epistemology and psychology and looking at different problems. I argue that given the information we have it’s not reasonable to believe in the Resurrection.”
McCormick said the reason he chose the Resurrection is because of blind faith in the improbable event.
“For someone from the outside, you would think the Resurrection is really peculiar, but since you’re so used to it, you’ve lowered your threshold for common sense,” McCormick said. “You’ve got common sense in all these cases. Look at Scientology. How is it any less outrageous to say this guy came back from the dead?”
It’s views like these that have McCormick receiving threatening mail from seemingly religious fanatics, he said.
“I’ve got two or three people stalking me from afar, and sometimes one will send out this ranting diatribe every month or week if he gets off his meds,” McCormick said. “There (have) been times when I get worried. I’ve had to have a talk with the department about what we would do if one of these guys (shows) up.”
He said some days when he gets a lot of negative mail, he starts to look over his shoulder, especially when he doesn’t know where it is coming from.
“I’m a professor at a public university, people know where I am,” McCormick said. “There are people out there that are really wound up about religion and they’re ready to kill for that.”
After a specific encounter with one man sending threatening emails, McCormick said he had to get the police involved.
“I did get worried about one guy showing up in the department,” McCormick said. “He said he was coming up to
Northern California to talk with me. He had sent me a bunch of emails that made me believe he wasn’t in his right mind, and I didn’t know what he was capable of.”
In his book, McCormick compares the Salem Witch Trials and the Resurrection for his part of his arguments, including the unrealistic probability the women were actually witches.
“Well, the evidence for real witchcraft at Salem is better than the evidence of the Resurrection, so if you don’t buy magic in Salem, why would you buy magic in Jerusalem?” McCormick said. “They are being inconsistent because they would reject the Salem Witch Trials and the comparable miracles of Islam, but they’re accepting their own arguments.”
McCormick said he wants to expand readers’ points of view.
“I just want people to think it’s OK to have doubts about what their preacher says,” McCormick said. “There’s a huge social stigma of being nonreligious.”
Russell Disilvestro, associate professor in philosophy and McCormick’s debate partner, believes that the book, although bold in its arguments, is mistaken.
“It’s plain-speaking, fast-moving, wide-ranging, and hard- hitting,” Disilvestro said. “It engages and advances previous discussions in countless creative ways. It does not simply ‘preach to the choir,’ at least not often.
I believe its arguments are mistaken. But it will take at least another book to say why.”
Anthony Risso, a junior philosophy and business major, has taken classes with McCormick.
“I come from a very Catholic family and I’m the only one that questions religion,” Risso said. “It wasn’t a great conversation when you tell your parents, ‘Hey, I think you’re wrong’. To have someone that shares the common question of belief is very helpful.”
McCormick said the threats don’t get him down.
“I peg a lot of the threats to mental illness,” McCormick said. “There’s a lot of hyper-religiosity and hyper morality. It so happens that a lot of mentally ill people are wound up very tightly about religion. If you have someone that is publicly outspoken with contrary views to religion, it sends some folks off the deep end.”
Disilvestro said he shared a similar viewpoint.
“The simple truth of the matter is that people in general, and Christian theists in particular, can read a book like this for profit and for pleasure, even if it leaves them challenged, and/or reassured, and/or perplexed at various points,” Disilvestro said. “As one with more authority than me on such things has said, ‘that’s just life in philosophy.’”
Kaitlin Bruce can be reached at email@example.com