Two weeks ago in Roseville, California, I debated Phil Zuckerman on the topic, "Does Christianity or Secular Humanism provide a better foundation for Civil Society?" Some parts of my performance were fumbling. I think I won on substance. Phil didn't even claim to debunk my arguments, and I'm not sure he made any real arguments for Secular Humanism of his own (as we'll see). But the consensus is, he won on style. And that means a lot in Show Biz.
The atheist Blogosphere has now ridden to my rescue, however. Several big name (I almost said big mouth) atheist bloggers -- PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, John Loftus, Tippling Philosopher, and the Friendly Atheist website, among others - have posted on the debate and its aftermath, often drawing "wider lessons" either from my alleged loss, or from Adventure's initial temerity in posting the exchange. The guest poster on the Friendly Atheist site, Richard Wilson, who actually attended the debate, was polite, reasonable, and fair, even admitting that he had initially heard one of my arguments incorrectly. By contrast, other secularist posters seemed to be doing their level best to support my fourth point in the debate:
Secular Humanism does not have a clear and independent record of building great societies, nor does it offer the best solutions to modern crises. There are some troubling signs.
Consider the light that these comments by leading Secular Humanists, and then their followers, throw on the potential their ideology holds for encouraging a rational, healthy, and neighborly public sphere.
I. John Loftus. After announcing my supposed loss, John Loftus added, "David Marshall is a joke, folks, and this is my judgment apart from his debates."
You might think this odd if you had read John's communiques, asking me to co-write a book with him. Or his requests that I offer a blurb for his books. (A request he's given two or three times, one of which I was able to fulfill, since I liked that book.)
Would you ask someone to write a book with you if you thought that person was a "joke?" Or would you want a clown's name on the back of your book, recommending it? (Unless it were a book of jokes, or an illustrated guide to Big Tent circus acts?)
Or would you tell someone whom you regarded as a "joke," "If I could write like you, I'd be the Stephen King of atheism?"
You don't suppose Loftus' "judgment apart from his debates" would have anything to do with the fact that I posted the most detailed critical review of his OTF book, taking it apart, on Amazon, do you? (After which he posted a phony review of one of my books on Amazon, which he obviously had not read, and which he took down after I revised my review of his book a bit?) Or with my recently demonstrating that all Loftus' criticisms of "Christian apologists," are credibly true about him? (After which he swore at me, and seemed to swear me off?)
So there's one of your new generation of Secular Humanist leaders, folks, creators of a new and better, post-religious civil society.
2. Jerry Coyne. Jerry doesn't remember me, and clearly hadn't seen the debate. So his target wasn't myself so much as Adventure Church, and Christianity in general, as a threat to democracy. Those who know him, can only find his sermonette deeply ironic:
This is why this form of Christianity is inimical to democracy. I can’t imagine Zuckerman, myself, or any other debating atheist refusing to allow the debate to be aired—no matter how bad our performance was.
What I can imagine, is Jerry Coyne censoring Christians for posting on his blog while making too much sense. That has happened to me. You make a point there, several people throw wild criticisms at it and at you, you respond patiently, politely, and rationally -- and your response never appears.
And in fact, I posted several times on that thread, including some innocuous "behind the scenes" explanations, but also criticism of Coyne. Last I checked, none of it had appeared.
My friend Tom Gilson has seen worse. Coyne is allegedly capable of posting comments that directly challenge Christians like Tom, then deleting his responses, making it appear that he is unable or too cowardly to reply. And it seems Coyne is also engaged in what Tom describes as "witch-hunting," by seeking to pressure universities to cancel classes that fairly discuss evidence in nature for God.
So Coyne is being disingenuous. Not only can he "imagine" censoring considered opposing arguments, he does it all the time. He seems to be deathly afraid of an honest exchange of views.
Which is more dangerous to democracy: a private religious institution that gets cold feet after a debate, for a few days, or an anti-religious scientist who can't handle disagreement on his own blog, and projects his bossy personality on the public sphere by getting public institutions to suppress Bad Think on campus? And then brags about how he would never censor a debate?
Coyne works himself into a fine lather:
Imagine what these Christians would do if they turned America into the theocracy they want!
The vast majority of Christians want no such thing. And here Zuckerman's comments sail way past the evidence, as well:
They are indeed afraid to air the underling truth of my position: that no civil society can thrive if it does not exist upon a bedrock of democracy, and democracy is not a Christian value — it is not articulated anywhere in the Gospels, nor is it promulgated, in any way, by Jesus or Paul. Rather, democracy is a secular humanist ideal — something dreamed up and established by and for people. (Coyne cites Zuckerman, from his blog)
Yeah, and Zuckerman himself admitted in the debate that the people who "dreamt it up" were Christians, not Secular Humanists.
One might wonder here, not only about the charity of Zuckerman's Patheos conclusion, but also its rationality -- generalizing about Christians from the narrow evidential base of one church. Reason is supposed to be high on the list of virtues for the Secularist Millennia.
But Zuckerman was piqued, and can be forgiven a bit of venting. Coyne has no such excuse.
I explained, in the debate, how Christianity did indeed nourish civil society in the West, citing eminent historians who have examined the matter, and how the value of separation of Church and State derives in part historically from the New Testament. I quoted two specific verses that were cited in the Medieval debate on this subject. Zuckerman did not address this point.
Protestant missions were also key to the spread of democracy around the world, as Singapore University sociologist Robert Woodberry points out:
Protestant missions are significantly and robustly associated with higher levels of printing, education, economic development, organizational civil society, protection of private property, and rule of law, and with lower levels of corruption.
But a fellow who can't handle dissent on his own blog, or in state universities, wants to trash the entire Christian record, based on a few days' delay in releasing the tape of a debate?
3. P. Z. Myers.
PZ does remember me, and like John Loftus, seemed to relish the opportunity to get in a few digs:
Remember David Marshall? Christ the Tao? The last thread he commented in was this one, where he was his usual bumbling pretentious self, if you need a prod to the memory.
But his main target was Rick Stedman, the Senior Pastor:
So he was surprised that people pressured him to release the video. How disingenuous, especially given that before he revealed it, he had posted several one-sided rebuttals. And now he has the gall to whine about ‘civility’! You gotta give it to get it, guy.
And that, of course, is what PZ Myers is known for -- civility. He is therefore highly qualified to preach it to others.
If, that is, by "civility" you mean "the sadistic psychological disembowlment of posters, including atheists, who fail to toe the party line in all nuances and flavors of the day, for the ritualistic pleasure of cult members." (See "P Z Myers, Guru of Hate.")
And if by "civility" you mean, "launching civil wars among atheists so fierce that even John Loftus walks out on you."
It has gotten so, that when an atheist points to Christian sins, often all one needs to say in response is
"Pharyngula" (the title of PZ's popular web site)
And the atheist will reply:
I'll take "bumbling" and "pretension" over that, any day.
4. Shots From the Peanut Gallery
Phil Zuckerman pointed to the (temporary) incivility of Rick Stedman, if that's how we should interpret it, and carelessly generalized from that to the Christian record as a whole. He was ticked. I don't really blame him. PZ and Coyne gleefully follow his lead, harboring fewer scruples, therefore not needing any excuses for their pique.
If one church, or one pastor, serves as an adequate evidential base to generalize about a billion or two Christians, why shouldn't we take three popular humanist bloggers and generalize about the probably smaller number of Secular Humanists? And the influence these folks would have, with an increased quanta of power?
Because it's still too small a sample. However poorly other people act, one must still be fair and reasonable.
But readers of Patheos, Deconstructing Christianity, Pharyngula, Why Atheism is True, and even a few on Friendly Atheist and Tippling Philosopher, also Amazon, seemed to feel no such constraints.
a. Saad M. Jafri, from New York City, posted a "review" of my book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism on Amazon, entitled "David Marshall is a coward -- getting churches to censor video of him losing debates." In the "review" he said nothing about the book itself, but wrote:
My advice to David Marshall would be to not hide behind pastors' skirts in putting your own work, in practice, out there when you're upset that you've been outclassed.
You're as much a fraud as a coward.
I would recommend others to check out the article themselves at patheos.com, concerning "the Grate Debate" held by Adventure Christian Church... and their cowardly censorship on behalf of this joke of an author.
I think Saad means "great debate." A "Grate Debate" would be an argument over whether to burn cedar or pine in the fireplace. He also probably meant to give the book one star, but gave it five stars by accident. Of course he was also mistaken in thinking I asked Adventure not to release the debate. Zero for three.
b. Gregory in Seattle
"You cannot have a contest of wits with an unarmed opponent like David Marshall."
Brilliantly original, Greg. I hope you're not a cousin-in-law of that name and city.
c. Caine, Fleur de Mal
"Remember David Marshall?"
"Yes, I do. Eeeuwerbleargh. Now I have to get this sour taste out of my brain."
Can't argue with that, sunshine.
"4 minutes in, Marshall calls North Korea a “secular society”. Welp, this guy’s a dumbass."
My mistake. North Korea is a Christian-murdering and torturing,slave society that hates God worse than Richard Dawkins after losing a debate with Ken Ham. How could I ever describe it as "secular?"
"Marshall cites Dan Brown as a character reference for Jesus! I next expect to hear that Jesus is alive and living in Boca Raton."
I said, "Jesus was the original feminist, as Dan Brown, ironically, put it." The word irony is key, but was apparently lost on this listener. And of course, borrowing a phraseology is not the same as citing a reference.
f. Kevin Schelley
"Wow, Marshall seems to have a really hard time comprehending what Zuckerman was saying. How did he get that Zuckerman was saying that Marshall was supporting Gnosticism and Theocracy?"
And didn't Coyne use that exact word, theocracy, in his interpretation of Zuckerman's comments on Pantheos? How is it that Coyne and I both made the same mistake?
As for "Gnosticism," I was referring to Phil's claim that Christians don't care about our physical lives in this world, since we're so eager to get to heaven.
"On his site, Marshall makes the feeble claim about “having no influence in posting the video”.
“No influence” means he never asked the church to post it, and never will."
Uh, yes I did ask for its release, which is one reason Stedman gave for doing so.
h. Closet Atheist
"I'm not trained in debate, but even I feel like I could have torn him a new * after he listed those 7 ridiculous 'gifts of the gospel.' Feminism? Human rights? First healer? the red cross being Christian? The Christian capacity for % is the only thing in this universe that seems to be infinite."
One of the other infinites seems to be the atheist capacity for misunderstanding and misrepresenting. Making a vast empirical argument for the impact of Christianity over 2,000 years in ten minutes, of course one needs to be simple -- thus the citations of eminent non-Christian historians that some posters complained about. But I backed up all seven points, explaining what I meant. And it should be clear that I in no way intended to say that, for instance, there had been no doctors in the world before Jesus. That would be a very uncharitable hearing.
Also, read up on the life of Jean-Henri Dunant, founder of the Red Cross.
But we should be fair. Some skeptics were far more gracious. I mentioned the fair-minded report on Friendly Atheist, though I disagreed with its conclusion. There were others, including an erstwhile critic who said some nice things in a hostile environment.
But in the absence of real evidence for the proposition that Secular Humanism has made a seriously positive difference in society -- and as we'll see, despite three feints in that general direction, and much eloquence of speech, Phil Zuckerman really did not give any -- Gnu bloggers would do well to abstain from tipping the scales too much in the opposite direction.
It might even be a good demonstration of civility and rationality, to honestly consider the case I made for the good Christianity has done humanity. (And I did see signs that a few may also be doing this, not excluding my esteemed opponent.)