Postscript: Initially I confused two on-line skeptics who both call themselves "Celsus" in this thread. There were good reasons for the confusion, aside from the fact that both used the same nom de guerre: both like to accuse Christian apologists of "dishonesty," and they seem interested in many of the same subjects. But my sincerest apologies to Matthew for the error. Clearly I should have gone one step further in verifying the identity of these two skeptics. All I can say is, having driven 900 miles yesterday, I'm glad I made an error of such magnitude on my blog, and not on the road. I will now have a quiet meal of fresh crow for dinner. I am inclined to add, however, that I also think people who publicly attack others by name should be brave enough to give their own names, which would help prevent such errors. It is tough to respond to critics who insist on hiding behind masks. -- DM
A fellow calling himself "Celsus" on Amazon, (who may be named Robert) specializes in accusing Christian "apologists" (among whom he numbers me) of dishonesty. I have dealt with Celsus before in these pages. He is that unfortunate type of ignoramus who is even ignorant of the fact that he is ignorant. But there seems (if I am not imagining it) an almost puppy-doggish lack of guile to Celsus' lambastations, that for me at least leave them not completely without charm.
I have Celsus on "ignore" on Amazon. Two years ago, I thus rather lately discovered, he had posted a thread on Amazon attacking what he called "The David Marshall School of Apologetics." (I have a school? Should I charge tuition? Students are urged to purchase textbooks via the Amazon links to the right!)
I was in a small town in the Midwest a couple weeks ago when I came across this thread, preparing to speak, and had a few moments to respond. So as unhealthy as this focus on the personal is (my books are about more important issues than myself), I took a few minutes to brush aside some of the cobwebs. This may also be interesting for those of you planning to start your own schools of apologetics. : -)
Rule 1: Nitpick. If your opponent uses an inappropriate word, hammer it. If they make a minor mistake in respect to a side issue, focus all your energies on this. In this way you stand a good chance of making your opponent appear foolish while diverting focus away from the main issues at hand.
Celsus does not require such wrongly focused energies to be made to look foolish: note that the one time I posted mainly about his arguments on my blog, most of the energy was directed at far more substantial issues than Celsus himself raises in this thread.
But to none of my three book-length rebuttals of important skeptics, nor I think of many of my posts rebutting skeptics, does Celsus' description here accurately apply. I offer twelve specific and sweeping criticisms of the Jesus Seminar in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, for instance -- none of which involve nitpicking. I fault Dawkins for getting what Christians mean by "faith" wrong, for misreading the Bible, for ignoring the positive contributions of the Gospel to human history, and so forth -- minor errors illustrate his sloppiness, but are not a substitute for serious argument. As the quality of the critic declines, and the vapidity of their critiques grows, however, I do sometimes grow correspondingly scornful.
Rule 2: Make bald assertions. If anyone challenges you to back your assertions, tell them you already provided evidence elsewhere, in a book or some other place. If they still request it, tell them you have a rule never to provide evidence more than once. If they continue pestering you for evidence, tell them to buy your book. If this fails to shut them up, put them on ignore.
Celsus himself employs this very method in this very thread. Ten assertions, no evidence, still less any systematic evidence.
My arguments are public property. Some are available in books, others for free on-line and in magazine articles. Both kinds of arguments are chock-full of publicly-available evidence, with footnotes added. If critics don't want to bother finding them and dealing with them, sure, that's their problem. (For instance, about 1500-2000 people have read my rebuttal of Reza Aslan's recent book on Jesus on-line, all for free. Not one has posted a serious rebuttal of my substantive points. John Loftus' followers challenged me to show that the Gospel has liberated women, even though Loftus refused to defend his contrary claim with evidence -- and I posted eight long posts here, chock-full of historical, social, and exegetical evidence. I cite my free and easily-available works as often as my books, with the same result -- 95% of atheists spend their energies on this sort of trash-talking instead.)
Rule 3: Promote yourself as a formidable scholar and debater. If you have an academic degree, remind your readers frequently of this fact. In this way you will establish yourself as an authority, and readers will be less inclined to question your bald assertions.
To describe myself as a "credentialed scholar" in some relevant fields is not mere self-promotion, it is true. And that does matter. But my arguments stand on their own. Often I have to beg skeptics to even try to rebut them -- instead I get this sort of vapid, irrelevant ad hominal crap, because that seems to be where many skeptics live and breath and have their being.
Rule 4: Find apologists who agree with you, and quote them as evidence for your arguments. If opponents insist arguments from authority are not good evidence, employ rules 1 and 2.
Celsus is badly confused about the nature of arguments from authority, and also misrepresents my arguments. Compare my citations in The Truth Behind the New Atheism with those of Richard Dawkins, for instance, and you'll find that I cite about four times as many works per page as Dawkins does. Furthermore, while Dawkins tends to cite friendly web pages, I cite acknowledged scholars on both or many sides of the issues, from their main works. This includes numerous citations from leading skeptics: in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, for instance, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens, themselves, frequently, also Ernest Becker, Marcus Borg, Charles Darwin, Emile Durkheim, Bart Ehrman, Robert Funk, Steven Hawking, Bertrand Russell, Alan Orr, Carl Sagan, Michael Shermer, Edward Wilson, and many other leading scholars who are on the fence or relatively neutral. If Celsus denies this, he is himself telling patent untruths.
Rule 5: When faced with a number of potentially damaging points, focus your attention on the weakest ones and ignore the rest. If you succeed in refuting these, claim victory for the lot.
Here Celsus clearly is lying. I consistently address the most important arguments of skeptics who I am debunking. (Except where I admit lacking expertise, or feel other people have already done the job.) The Truth Behind the New Atheism rebuts most of the important arguments made by Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens. The same is true of my other works, rebutting the Jesus Seminar, Elaine Pagels, John Loftus, etc.
For instance, in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could, I focus on and substantiate twelve errors made by JS scholars: assuming miracles cannot occur, "faulty chronology and poor logic, reliance on shaky sources, neglect of contrary arguments, a preference for far-fetched skeptical theories over orthodox truisms," post-modern biases about history, and so on. All of these are substantive criticisms, and they are the "focus" of the critical part of that book (as opposed to my later more positive arguments).
Celsus, by contrast, majors in calling Christians "liars," and other childish ad hominem. So apparently he is actually describing his own MO, here.
Rule 6: Misrepresent your opponent's arguments. This makes them easier to refute.
Celsus gives no examples, of course. In fact, The Truth Behind the New Atheism is full of long and short quotations from the people I am critiquing, precisely because I want to get their arguments right. Loftus has admitted that I represent his argument for the OTF accurately.
One need not respond any further to an assertion like this, completely lacking in empirical support. It is, of course, possible that at some point I may have misrepresented an opponent's position, though I try not to. But this needs to be demonstrated.
Rule 7: Never discuss Matthew's miracle involving the disinterred town-strolling zombie saints.
Finally Celsus gets one right. He fails to understand the reason, though. I'm not an inerracist. I just don't care that much if, like every other historian in the ancient or modern world, Matthew made a mistake.
The real question, of course, is why silly skeptics like Celsus are so obsessed about that story. And the answer, apparently, is that they are fundamentalists: they think that if one dubious claim can be discovered in the Bible, the whole thing will collapse. Sorry, but historians don't think that way.
Rule 8: Ad hominems are useful, especially when all other options have been exhausted.
Heh. Celsus is suffering from severe Irony Deficit Disorder. (IDD) His whole schtick, including this thread (and many of his posts both on Amazon and on his own website), is mostly or at least largely ad hominem. There is no trace of an actual argument against anything I have said about anything, here. And of course Celsus' favorite gambit is to accuse Christian "apologists" of "lying for Jesus," which is demonstrated by showing that they have said something he thinks (for whatever often bad reason) is probably untrue.
One assumes Rule 8 means Celsus is admitting that he knows he has utterly failed in all his attempts to argue rationally against my books, and against Christianity in general.
My work, again, it speaks for itself. In fact, I challenge any skeptic to find a genuine instance of ad hominem given in response to any of the arguments I have rebutted in print, from Crossan, Dawkins, Dennett, Ehrman, Funk, Harris, Hitchens, Pagels, or any other major skeptical figure.
Rule 9: Never admit you are wrong about anything.
I'd love to admit I was wrong about something, if only Celsus would once in a great while get something right. : -)
(Note: This post gave me the opportunity to do so -- see above!)
Rule 10: When all else fails, remember the words of our esteemed mentor, the first Protestant apologist, who said: "What harm would it do if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church...a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them" Martin Luther
Of course, Celsus picks one Christian writer whose work I have not read practically at all. So it's hard to know how I could "remember" "what I've never even read. (I am frankly not really that into the Reformers, though Calvin is a wonderfully lucid writer.)
That is about as close to a falsifiable criticism as Celsus offers in this attack --- that I rely on words that (in fact) I have never even read, at least not in context (the way I prefer to read serious authors).
But I bet Ferguson hasn't read this quote in context, either. He probably got it by surfing the Internet.
As for the accusation of lying, I'm afraid that along with smoking, gambling, dropping acid, and eating saurkraut, that is not a vice I am much tempted to commit.
Well that was amusing enough. A casebook instance of projection, on Celsus' part. One could print this in psychology textbooks.