Friday, April 17, 2015

Another Wild, Unavailing Attack on my New Book

I am always amazed at the criticisms of my books that appear on-line.  So far, not a single review of any of them by atheists who were not professional academics, has shown any real understanding, or desire for understanding, of the book purportedly being reviewed.  (That includes four books so far.)  Three reviews have appeared by atheists who were academics, which came much closer to understanding (and were much more positive), but still fell somewhat short.  Probably the critical review that represented my views most accurately, was by a Youth Earth Creationist. 

Is this good news, or bad?  Maybe it is bad news as a gauge of the open-mindedness of individual skeptics.  But in relation to the arguments, it seems somewhat reassuring.  The best test of an open mind, and clarity of thought, is how well you represent arguments with which you disagree.  If your rebuttal is a long series of straw men and personal attacks, or petty "gotcha" critiques (some of my critics specialize in finding typos!), framed in a highly prejudicial or question-begging manner, one can hardly say you have even reached the stage of rejecting the argument, because you have not yet reached the stage of understanding it.  So appealing to the "Outsider Test for Faith" in another mode, it seems that the arguments I present for Christianity have not, so far as I know, yet been strongly rejected by any critically-thinking person even outside the faith, exercising those critical faculties in a fair and moderately open-minded manner.  While the smartest and most reasonable atheists seem to find something to those arguments. 
With that in mind, consider the following bizarre review of my new book, How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test for Faith: the Inside Story, that appeared this month on Good Reads.  I'll put that in green, then add my rebuttal, such as is needed, in black.)  I just came upon this "review" yesterday. 
The author of the review calls himself "Steve Lane:"
"Marshall claims he started writing about the "Outsider Test for Faith" over a decade ago, so the superficiality of his arguments in this book seems pretty remarkable.  After 10+ years, this is the best he can do?"

Actually more than fifteen years ago, in Jesus and the Religions of Man.  And it's not just a claim: my proto-OTF aruments are still in that book, still in its first printing, in black and white, on page 110. 

"In a nutshell, the OTF basically argues that religious disputes may be impossible to resolve, if the disputed issues are based on “blind faith;” so the OTF opposes the “blind faith” approach and advocates “rational analysis” instead."
Huh?  Neither in a nutshell nor in any other package, is that what the "OTF" is about.   As developed by John Loftus, its principle atheistic advocate, in fact the OTF asserts that (1) people believe in mutually-exclusive religions that depend on their cultural upbringing; (2) therefore their beliefs are largely determined by irrational causes; (3) therefore any given religion is likely to be false; (4) therefore "The only way to rationally test one's culturally adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider, a nonbeliever, with the same level of reasonable skepticism believers already use when examining the other religious faiths they reject." (Loftus, The Outsider Test For Faith, 16-17)
Neither I, nor any other educated Christian thinker I know of, advocates "blind faith," which is as many of us demonstrate in True Reason is at odds with millennia of Christian tradition.  That is just a red herring many New Atheists toss out, in ignorance (ironically) of the evidence of what Christians actually think about the matter, or in contempt of it. 
The actual point of an "outsider" test is that one should step outside the confines of one's own place and time to more objectively evaluate one's own beliefs.  Loftus does this imaginatively, without doing much homework to find out how outsiders have actually seen Christianity, and protecting his own allegedly "skeptical" position from similiar analysis.  I do this by actually reading the history of Christianity, and finding out how it passed the OTF in practice, in the hearts of hundreds of millions of real and rational human beings, more than any other faith, and comparing the Christian record to that of other religious systems, including Secular Humanism. 
"Blind faith" has nothing to do with the matter: no one on our side is advocating that. 

"How does Marshall defend Christianity against the awful threat of “rational analysis”?"
Awful threat?  Humbug.  I was engaging in rational analysis when Loftus was a still a preacher.  And Christians have been using reason, as we demonstrate conclusively in True Reason, from the very beginning. 
"Simple. He moves the goalposts."
This is true, in a sense.  Loftus didn't put up any goal posts on his side of the field, so some needed to be moved onto it.  Only one goal visible on the field of play ("Your religion is wrong, atheism is right!").  Furthermore, the field itself was slanted his way, so it needed to be dug up and  leveled, too.  Doing so made it possible to evaluate both Secular Humanism and Christianity, according to exactly the same four criteria.  In that sense, Lane is right: I did move the goalposts, and more than that, so we could have a real intellectual contest over what is true, not a game of soccer solitaire.   
"In the first part of the book, instead of focusing primarily on the allegedly irreconcilable differences between competing religions, he focuses primarily on their alleged similarities."
This is very confused.  Actually, it is the LAST part of the book in which I argue that the Gospel is the fulfillment of truth from cultures around the world.  The FIRST part of the book makes very different arguments.  And I never, ever merely "focus on alleged similarities."  What I do is point out that Loftus writes exclusively of differences, and maintain that to be fair, one needs to consider both similarities and differences, which Loftus refuses to do.  (Even in his "rebuttal" of my book.)  
Again, pointing out that there are similarities as well as the differences Loftus gives exclusive attention to, and considering their implications as well, is simply the fair and rational thing to do.
"That rhetorical ploy allows Marshall to gloss over the frequently hostile, or even homicidal, disputes between various religious factions, but it does very little to address the OTF’s fundamental opposition to “blind faith.” So Marshall seems to be focusing on a side-issue, while studiously avoiding the more fundamental issue."
The irrelevance is Lane's own argument, here, since of course I have never, in all my books, breathed a single blessed word in favor of "blind faith."

"Furthermore, Marshall’s basic approach, even on that side-issue, may be entirely wrong-headed. Alister McGrath, a far more eminent, Christian scholar than Marshall, has stated emphatically that the world’s religions are not actually all that cohesive. Marshall conveniently fails to even mention McGrath, much less resolve the problem he raises."
Nor did I claim that the "world's religions are cohesive," whatever that is supposed to mean.  (No exact citations are given.)  Lane simply has failed to understand my argument.  It's a good bet he misunderstands McGrath, too. 

"So Marshall's justification for moving the goalposts seems highly questionable.  And those aren’t his only problems.  In fact, even with the goalposts in a more convenient location, Marshall still has serious problems reaching the end zone."
"For example,, other prominent scholars hypothesize that whatever similarities do exist may reflect nothing more than a shared psychological, not supernatural, causation. In other words, their hypothesis is basically that man created God in his own image.  Marshall seems to be aware of that issue, but makes virtually no effort whatsoever to resolve it, though it badly undermines a very important part of his argument."
I don't "seem to" be aware of this issue, I am and have been aware of it, and written on it, for decades, now.  I even challenged Alvin Plantinga on it, in "Faith Seeking Understanding." 
But these psychological theories, some of which I have reviewed on Amazon, do not undermine my argument.  Loftus and fellow atheists maintain that whenever religions disagree, they tend to undermine the  credibility of one another.  But when most or all religions disagree with THEIR position (no supernatural, no God), that does nothing whatsoever to undermine their own beliefs. 
I am, again, simply leveling the playing field.  If disagreement between cultures tends to prove error,  then agreement would tend to suggest truth.  You can't argue the first, then deny the second,  just because you like the disagreement, and feel threatened by the agreements, as Loftus and his fellows do.
As for exactly what implications to draw from the fact that people are aware of God in many cultures around the world, see my articles on this site on TACT, the "Theistic Argument from Cultural Transcendence," along with Win Corduan's excellent In the Beginning, God.  Lane writes patronizingly about my awareness of this issue, but I doubt he has much real clue about the issue. 

"Marshall also apparently believes that some people have a mysterious ability to perceive spiritual realities, but his claims on that point seem about as persuasive as Blondlot’s claims about his mysterious ability to perceive “N rays.” Blondlot, of course, was basically just a fraud, which is probably a good thing to keep in mind when Marshall starts making similar claims about similarly mysterious abilities."
Who is Blondlot?  And what does his alleged fraud have anything to do with anything I say in this book? 
It appears that Lane is just free-associating here, without tethering his critique to anything I actually say.  That may be why, in his long review, he offers no actual quotes.

"Also, if spiritual intuition is really so reliable, then how come so many Christians got fleeced by a bunch of pious-sounding con artists in the Greater Faith Baptist Ministries scandal in the late ‘90s? And I won’t even mention the recent Alex Malarkey fiasco, except to note Alex’s wonderfully appropriate last name. Marshall says very little about such problems, but both the existence and the reliability of Marshall’s alleged, mysterious power seem highly questionable."
More free-association without quotes.  As a critique of my book, this is worthless.  As an expression of the mindset of many skeptics, it may, however, be telling. 
In fact I offer no generalizations about the infallibility of "spiritual intuition," whatever that is. 

"Interestingly, Marshall makes some pretty obvious, factual errors. For example, he implies that King James lived during the American Revolution, that the Church never aligned itself with monarchs during the High Middle Ages and Renaissance, and that Kepler and Newton predated the Enlightenment by “centuries.” Spectacularly wrong on all four counts, of course, which raises the question: why should anyone believe Marshall about theists having mysterious abilities to accurately perceive invisible things, when Marshall himself (who claims to be a historian, of all things!) apparently can’t accurately perceive things that are patently obvious?"
"Implications," again.  Never trust a reviewer who argues against "implications" without citing actual words. 
There is, indeed, a typo on page 83.   I wrote "King James" instead of "King George."  (And yes, I do know who both men were, though no, British history is neither my field nor my particular interest.)  Congratulations to "Steve" (I am beginning to wonder, though, if that is his real name?) on finding an error. 
Lane, in turns, commits a bigger blunder in his comment about Kepler and Newton.  In fact I write:

"Most of the concepts the authors would likely recognize as enlightened -- modern science (etc). . . had been developing within the Christian civilization they deride here for centuries before the so-called 'Enlightenment,' began, or even before the Scientific Revolution (also a questionable term, Rodney Stark has recently argued) hit its peak." (22)
If Lane thinks these words mean that Kepler and Newton predated the "Enlightenment" by centuries, then all I can say is, he needs to hone his reading skills.  Perhaps he can join my 16 year old non-native SAT students for a class -- I doubt many of them would make this mistake. 
Certainly, science had been developing in Europe for many centuries before the Enlightenment, by any reasonable definition, began. 
One can hardly even call Lane's third example of an "obvious factual error" in my book itself an "obvious factual error" -- it looks more like a meaningless lie.  Of  course I never say, hint, or think, that the Church (again, however defined) never allied itself with kings.  I am beginning to wonder if "Steve Lane" is just making stuff up for the hell of it.  (Using that baneful place name advisedly.) 
So to prove that my 200 page book is full of errors, Lane in his single paragraph makes two whopping errors, and finds a single typo.  Pot, meet kettle.  Kettle, meet pot. 
"Perhaps Marshall’s most ridiculous argument is that we should more or less blindly accept what the “wisest” people of diverse cultures tell us."
Another lie, "more or less."  More, actually.   I say no such thing, which is why this "reviewer" sites no such admonition.   Nor have I ever even thought such nonsense. 
"That takes the hoary argument that “the Bible says it, I believe it, and that’s that” one giant step further by advocating that we should also put what basically amounts to “blind faith” in mere mortals too. So Marshall’s outlandish response to the OTF’s objection to “blind faith” essentially just advocates an even more extreme version of “blind faith.” Marshall must really be desperate to try a Hail Mary like that to reach the end zone. "
"Lane" (I am beginning to develop suspicions) must be truly desperate, to lie so baldly and shamelessly. 

"Even apart from the "blind faith" issue, Marshall's outlandish proposal is chock full of other serious problems.  For one thing, how did he decide who the “wisest” were?  His selection process is not clearly defined. One suspects that cherry-picking may have been involved."
Wow!  This is actually a serious challenge!  This point could be developed into a somewhat serious partial rebuttal to an important point or two in the book, were Lane a serious person who cared about the difference between truth and falsehood. 
But then, neither does Aristotle, whom I cite here, define the "old, the wise, and the skillful" whom he admonishes us to consult.  This is an open question, not a reason to summarily dismiss either his argument or mine. 

"Marshall’s argument also bears an obvious resemblance to an ad populum argument, which raises two more problems.  First, ad pops are a classic example of poor reasoning, and Marshall’s feeble attempts to dismiss that objection are completely ineffective.   Marshall’s frequent problems with basic logic – there are numerous question-begging assumptions and other obviously faulty arguments in the book – make his claims about how easily Christianity passes the “rational analysis” of the OTF look pretty ridiculous."
At this point the realization is almost complete.   This is almost certainly just Tim Beazley, again, lying about his name again (has he been disbarred from Good Reads, too?), and laying out the snake-oil tools of his trade in a typically graceless manner.  
No quotes, no serious consideration of arguments, no need to waste further breath on these vacuous assertions,  either. 

"Finally, even apart from the cherry-picking and the dubious logic, the fact remains that popularity can be transient.   Islam’s growth rate over the past thirteen centuries has apparently been much faster than Christianity’s.  If that historical trend continues, Marshall’s eternal truths may turn out to be neither true nor eternal."
Not if you read the book fairly, in which I explain the difference between the spread of Christianity and of Islam.  And Lane / Beazley is pretending that the least important of my four arguments, is the only one, here, but he is hardly pretending to do it justice.   

"There are many other serious problems with Marshall’s book, but the bottom line is that it is pretty much just a hopeless mess, about what you’d expect from a vanity publication. It doesn’t seem as thoroughly dishonest as his earlier book did, but his arguments still seem like they were designed more to avoid key issues than to discuss them honestly. Evangelicals who think that “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that’s that” is a persuasive argument may find the book a pleasantly soothing opiate; but if you prefer to think for yourself and are looking for a more rigorous analysis, you’ll find very little of that."
Fortunately, all honest and intelligent review that have come to my attention so far, say otherwise.  (Few of whose authors think according to the caricature Beazley offers here.)  The book has gotten a rave review from every single reader with a terminal degree who has read it to day, so far as I know, as well as from many thoughtful and well-read "ordinary" readers. 
Beazley betrays himself again in this long paragraph, by referring to my "earlier book."  He means The Truth Behind the New Atheism.  He's been obsessed with that book for eight years, now, having authored some two dozen "reviews" of it on Amazon, most of which were removed by the hosts.  That book was not, of course, published in-house, as this one was, so it's a little amusing that Beazley thinks this "vanity publication" is, at any rate, preferable (I would say, "even better," since I think the folks at Harvest did a splendid job on that one, too).
Though nothing is very amusing about the obsessions of Tim Beazley.  Having realized it was him, again, I'm a little sorry to  give him more attention.   Feed a cold, starve an obsessive, and all.   But I'm kind of glad that he found a few minor errors in my new book (he mentions a few others elsewhere), anyway.  We all need a purpose in life, and we "vanity publishers" can always use more gratis proof-readers. 
Still, How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test itself remains untested in any substantial manner.  As we have seen, John Loftus himself could only attack the book by focusing on minor points, and misrepresenting those.  Other Amazon reviewers have done even worse.  In that sense, so far the "crititical history" of my new book is replicating that of The Truth Behind the New Atheism, which received a few thoughtful reviews from atheist scholars, but nothing but misaimed mud pies from the Gnu mob as a whole.  The same is true of the fewer reviews by atheists of Jesus and the Religions of Man, and True Son of Heaven.   Going by my own experience, it would almost seem that when hard-core, determined atheists read Christian books, a veil hides their eyes, and they simply fail to see what it there, still less critique it productively. 
Maybe that veil is spiritual in nature.  But it's always hard to fairly describe and appraise arguments supporting the truth of what one despises.   And some people seem congenitally color-blind to nuance.