Pages

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hector Avalos and the Laziness of the New Atheism.

One of the defining traits of the New Atheism is that it turns every debate about truth into personal attacks even more quickly than is the norm in the Internet Era.  After The Truth Behind the New Atheism came out, I have been subject to numerous attacks.  What has struck me more than anything is not only that few of my harshest atheist critics bothered to read my books before attacking them, but how utterly divorced their attacks were from who I am.  I have plenty of vices, but instead of calling me on them, the critics attack me for strange and wonderful crimes, things that had never entered my head, and generally the polar opposite of what less-fevered observers recognize.  That is because the purpose of the criticism is not to "speak truth to power," but to distract people from the facts, to which they have no answers, and which, as a class, I have come to feel that they care little about. 

Iowa State Religious Studies professor Hector Avalos is a prime exemplar of this fundamentally lazy drive to turn substantive discussions into personal attacks.  In most of his debates, at least those I have observed, Avalos turns eagerly from facts and interpretation, to the lamentable credentials of his opponents: their poor linguistic skills, inferior education or teaching positions, their alleged failure to read as much and as deeply as himself.  Another of Avalos' favorite tricks is to micro-focus on some extremely petty  point, or point within a point, and over-awe his fans with an irrelevant display of erudition on that point, wildly at tangent to any relevant issue.  For example, when I cited numerous scholars who recognize a surprising awareness of God in cultures around the world, Avalos latched on to just one -- Emile Durkheim -- and then spent many pages critiquing, not my general thesis, nor even Durkheim's general observation about God in Australia, but on just one of the 20 or so sources Durkheim quoted.  His discussion of that one source, on which he wielded all his scholarly apparatus, was obscure to the nth degree and of almost no relevance to my thesis -- but proved impressive as all get-out to his fans. 

Some time ago, a young classicist who appears to be a protege of Avalos, Matthew Ferguson, wrote a comparison between the gospels and the Contest of Hesiod and Homer.  I described in detail how incredible that comparison was.  Ferguson responded, and then I responded here and  again here (first dealing with a bizarre misreading that cast me in a rather evil light.) 

Avalos then launched yet another attack on me at John Loftus' Debunking Christianity website.  I answered briefly, being crunched for time, and I think pretty politely, given the usual turn to personal attack on his part.  Avalos said nothing in response to all the facts I listed.   He was out for blood, not truth.  Ferguson and I have admittedly been a little peckish -- especially Ferguson, whose thin skin is a  poor complement to his argumentative style -- and like Ferguson, Avalos seemed only to recognize my generally lighter pecks as worthy of notice. 

The gang at Deconstructing Christianity then chimed in with insults, which I ignored to my own loss, since some of them prove (now I have read them) highly amusing.  (Especially given the original complaint about Christian scholarship!)

Why am I bringing this up (or reading those insults) now?  Because in a Facebook thread that Loftus began a couple days ago, on  how intellectually dishonest, lazy, or weak evangelical Christians are, he tagged Avalos and myself, along with a bunch of other scholars he thought might be interested in the topic, like Hector Avalos, Ed Babinski, Dan Barker, Richard Carrier, Jaco Gericke, Richard Miller, Paul Tobin, Phil Torres, etc. 

Then that thread turned from substance to personal attacks, as well.  Avalos, of course, led the charge, by linking his article attacking me. 

Before I rebut Hector Avalos' specious and, I will argue, fundamentally  lazy knocks against my scholarship, though, let us linger over some of the criticisms Loftus' pals at Debunking Christianity launched in the same thread. 

What all these sallies reveal, I think, is that it is not Christianity which is intellectually bankrupt, but the New Atheism.  Those who have facts, argue facts.   Those who have reason, argue reason.  Those who have slime, argue . . . Well, let's observe with wonder what they come up with. 

I plan to add links later -- no time for them today.  -- DM


A.  Deconstructing Christianity Deconstructs David Marshall
 
(a) "David Marshall strikes me as being somewhat sociopathic, like the sort of individual who thinks he might be the only self-aware, thinking being on the planet, and that possibly all other members of even his own species are just some form of two-legged bovine, vast herds inferior beings who exist to be corralled and milked by the superior ones. He thinks that anything he says should be accepted by everyone else simply because of this superiority. Despite the fact that his reasoning is consistently laughably poor, his self-aggrandizing claims are laughably far from credible, and his scholarship skills are laughably sub-par, it appears as though he holds himself to be perhaps the solitary beacon of intellect in the Virgo Supercluster. Possibly, the reason for David Marshall's indolence is the result of a mistaken impression that he has no intellectual competition to contend with. He just isn't aware that this competition has left him eating dust. He might work harder if this reality had ever dawned upon him."
 
I like the Science Fiction angle of our first contestant.  And I do admit to milking the New Atheism for laughs, at least, so perhaps this critic is onto something.  There is, certainly, a plausibly  bovine element to a lot of the criticism I encounter on sites like DC.  
 
The substance of the complaint here though seems to be that I think I'm smarter than anyone else, but am really pretty dumb.   I make this mistake either through want of exposure to my superiors, or (presumably) sheer blind arrogance. 
 
The first hypothesis won't work, since I've read scads of books by clever atheists, and was personally mentored by clever folks, too -- for instance, the atheist head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Washington, who almost two decades later, remains enthusiastic about my work, a friend whom I have never , ever visualized as a cow.  (He spoke with my students by Skype last year -- which, for the record, we never ask livestock to do).  The head of the History Department at the same school was another mentor.    Plus there are all those recommendations from leading scholars at Oxford, Marquette, Duke, Yale, Penn State -- the "doesn't get out much, legend in his own mind" hypothesis can  hardly survive the sorts of blurbs my books have won.
 
Do I feel contempt for the intelligence of others?  On the contrary, one of my main themes in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could, is the wisdom of ordinary readers of the gospels, often scorned by the "wise."  (Who, yes, I do think, and have often showed -- Ferguson stands in excellent company -- make fools of themselves, when they attack the New Testament.  See, also my recent analysese here of two of Bart Ehrman's arguments - just scroll down a few months.)   
 
So this criticism is directed at precisely the wrong person.   In my work, I defend ordinary readers against their presumpuous, and often mistaken, scholarly critics.



"His PhD is from Oxford Center for Mission Studies which doesn't seem to have any accreditation, but purchases accreditation through University of Wales which lost a lot of credibility for selling degrees to groups like OCMS. OCMS is a church and a charity and seems to just be riding the coattails of Oxford University when it's actually just a church."

No, OCMS is not a "church."   

I studied at OCMS partly at the prompting of the respected New Testament scholar, Ward Gasque, and am glad I did.  OCMS is a wonderful institution at which hundreds of scholars from around the world, many of them quite brilliant, study an astonishing variety of subjects (philosophy, economics, history, world religions, development, etc) under professors, often from leading institutions including Oxford.  No, OCMS doesn't "ride the coattails of Oxford University:" OCMS is careful to emphasize that it has no formal institutional relationship with Oxford.  But there are many informal relationships, and it's a wonderful place to study. 


My PhD is from the University of Wales.  My external supervisor was a leading scholar of world religions at Bristol University.  There is nothing bogus or "degree millish" about my doctorate -- which Gibson would probably need to learn a couple ancient languages to understand, and which has the potential to change how the world understands religions.   When it is available publicly, I will set up to any standard of comparison.   If my popular works win rave reviews from leading professors in a variety of fields at some of the world's best universities, as they do, don't imagine a work I labored over for six years, receiving input from many excellent scholars, can be simply scoffed a priori out of consideration.   

But what am I arguing with someone who presumes to judge what he has never laid eyes on?   Tige is, again, admitting that the New Atheism as a movement, or at least what he has imbibed of it, does not care about the real "ways and means" of scholarship. 

"His Master's is from University of Washington, but it's in International Studies, which doesn't qualify him to speak on the things he does. I don't consider that he's qualified to speak on International Studies either as he seems to be a racist."

My MA was completed in a single year (a bit fast, true); I've been studying religion, and "the things I speak on" for 35 years.   The MA merely shows that I know what I'm doing.  And the UW International Studies Department is highly competitive, especially in China Studies.   

I have no idea what Tige means by calling me a "racist," or why even if I were one, that would disqualify me from speaking on any subject but (presumably) race relations.  

Of course none of the "Brights" on Loftus' site called Tige on this nasty slur, or asked him to back it up with, say, evidence.  Another small signpost on the road to intellectual bankrupcy for the New Atheism. 

Avalos did, however, ask for proof that I really had a PhD from OCSM ("Do you have a source or a link for David Marshall having a PhD from OCMS?"), which Sir Russ procured, giving the abstract.
 
Avalos replied:

Thanks! This appears worse than even I envisioned.
 
What did Avalos mean by that?  He appeared to be hoping that I had invented my PhD from whole cloth.  Does Avalos pretend to perceive something defective about my work, from the abstract? 
 
He may, on the other hand, have meant that he deduced from this abstract that Biblical Studies is not my field, or that I am not competent to pursue it.  But neither conclusion follows.   In fact, I did a good deal of biblical studies for Chapter Two of this work.  But of course my work in this field was not limited to my dissertation: Craig Blomberg says my short book on the Gnostics is as good as anything on the topic, and I believe he is right. 

Loftus then chimed in:
 
Yes, David Marshall is not a biblical scholar. He should stop pretending he is one, now!

I'll say honestly, that apart from his completely unjustified condescending behavior, this is not to dismiss everything he's doing. He seems to be a good popularizer for what we find in other evangelical works. And his thesis project is defending what is probably avaunt guard missionary work, even if his academic credentials themselves are *cough* unimpressive.

I am "condescending" to Matthew Ferguson, because his thesis, which I thoroughly debunk (which is why no one argues about that here) is outlandish,and because I do, indeed, see him as an immature scholar.  Am I a "biblical scholar?"  I never claim that to be my primary area of expertise, though I certainly have read extensively in the field and done a good deal of original research, and aside from my first two books, we'll see what scholars say about my next book, which is intended to add substantially to the field.  I don't think I've ever committed any whoppers like Avalos' thesis that "Jesus commands hate," his implication that the early Christians in Acts murdered or the many other exegetical absurdities I have chronicled here at Christ the Tao in his work. 

As for originality, again, Loftus has no idea, since he has never read my stuff.  Mind you, he has posted reviews of two of my books on Amazon, then deleted one and offered to delete the  other (if I followed suit by deleting my review of his last book, which I HAD read.)  But he is pretending to evaluate almost purely by his presumed psychic powers. 

Another sign-post on the road to the intellectual bankrupcy of the New Atheism.  I think there's a word for this: laziness.   Laziness in dismissing works one has not bothered to read. 


Wait Dave has his degree from a degree mill......ha ha ha! No wonder he writes the crazy stuff he does! As I always say apologists...don't need brains ( as the Wizard of Oz says) they only need a degree! A Doctor of Thinkology will do just the trick. Thanks again Professor Avalos for uncovering another rank fraud in the ranks of the Xian "Think Squad"!

And New Atheists don't mind lying, because they can't argue facts.  OCMS is no "degree mill:" I will gladly take genuine critical challenges (as opposed to New Atheist vitriol) on my original thesis, supported by scholarship in four languages, and the important argument I make in it, from any qualified scholar in the world .

No doubt he doesn't care if his scholarship is valid or no, just so long as he is talking the scholarship talk and can sneer at anyone who opposes his POV.

Few can sneer as vacuously and blindly as Loftus' fans, as this thread is demonstrating. 
 
Sneer is right. That's what David Marshall does toward everyone who doesn't buy his model for "making sense of the complex data of world religious traditions" while maintaining (???) that christianity cannot fail to be the only world religious tradition that's the TRUTH. If you point out that, far from sound reasoning, this is textbook special pleading, he'll sneer at you like a troll. As though WE were the ones doing the special pleading...
How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test is just his fallacious dissertation repackaged in terms of the OTF, isn't it?

He asks this question, it appears, because no one in the thread had actually read either my dissertation or that book -- yet they continue "sneering" at both, while complaining that I sneer.  (Loftus read to page 26, apparently, judging by the notes in his new book -- yet posted a long, largely irrelevant one star review on Amazon.)   The irony is thick enough to pave a parking lot in hell for car bombers from ISIS with. 

In fact, (yet another sign-post), of the five one-star reviews of that book on Amazon, it appears that at most just one of the "reviewers" had actually read the book.  I faced the same problem with The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Gnus are too eager to criticize, to bother reading, first. 

The comments thread then goes out with a glorious "bang" of imaginative ad hominal silliness, like the final flurry in a fireworks display:

David Marshall thinks that Christianity is the tool to subdue Chinese to the Christian capitalism.

I don't know what organization is subsiding David Marshall's enterprise in China, I guess it is still Amnesty International, but that organization doesn't ask David to be a scholar, just to find people in China who'll accept Christianity, then get persecuted by Communists, then make complain to Amnesty International, then hope to repeat the Eastern Europe "coup d'etat"... less losing their control to the Eastern Orthodox, or to Buddhism in the Chinese case.

David Marshall seems to be prepared to take control of China with "Christ the Tao", so he learned some Chinese, and he already has some education in Christian bullshit no need of scholarly, just an appearance of scholarly to impress the Chinese who don't know the real David Marshall.

Note use, in the third paragraph here, of that noun, "bullshit," so popular among Gnus.  Surely this is a Freudian slip, and brings us nicely back in a cirle.  Remember that the charge against ME was that I see others as cattle.  Surely the author of this hilarious excursion into scatalogical psychobabble is issuing a confession here: "The value of my pejoratives are equal to or no greater than the value of the excrement of livestock, because I really don't give a (relevant scatology) about truth."

I am in China to "subdue the Chinese to Christian capitalism?"  No, actually I'm here to take advantage of Chinese capitalism by teaching young Chinese Plato, Darwin, Euripides, and of course great Christian thought as well, and prepare them to study well and contribute to top universities in America. 

I wouldn't know how to teach economics if my life depended on it. 

As for Amnesty International, so far as I recall, I've never so much as spoken with anyone from that organization in my life.   But yes, "my organization" does ask me to be a scholar --that's why they hired me, and why I make a few times the wages of ordinary American teachers here.  

So ironically, the very thread that Avalos links to prove how poor Christian scholarship is, actually demonstrates the intellectual laziness of his fellow atheists.  So much guessing about who "Marshall" is, what he does or has done or why he does it!  All wrong, and all totally irrelevant to the actual question -- whether skeptics can find any real parallels to the gospels, or have to keep on offering such phony ones as The Contest of Hesiod and Homer. 

So where did all this laziness come from?  It was mentored by Dr. Hector Avalos, in an attack on me in which he accused me of, ironically, indolence. 

So enough of the warmup bands.  Now let's see what Avalos, John Loftus' ideal scholar, has to say against that indolent, racist, counter-revolutionary totalitarian David Marshall with the phony degree from a "church" -- and what more we can glean about the depths to which the New Atheism has fallen, in its inability to respectfully and rationally engage in substantive debates. 


B. Hector Avalos "proves" that I am no real scholar.

The recent post about David Marshall’s lack of expertise, when compared to Matthew Ferguson, points to a broader issue of who counts as a “scholar.”  

Since some of my posts were referenced in that discussion, let me just add my own comments on why David Marshall would not qualify as a scholar of the Gospels, while Matthew Ferguson would.

In general, a scholar is one who, at minimum, has the equipment needed to verify independently the claims made in the relevant field.  Usually, it is standard to have undergone some certification process as reflected in graduate degrees and peer reviewed published work. Self-proclamation as a “scholar” is not standard academic procedure.

Since, in fact, I falsify Ferguson's claims, and neither Avalos nor anyone else manages to show otherwise, all this gabbiness about who is or is not a "scholar" is just typical Avalosian evasion to distract attention from the real and important facts. 

In the case of biblical studies, one needs, at minimum, the ability to evaluate the primary biblical sources independently. That, in turn, means that one must have the ability to read biblical texts in the original languages . . .
As a matter of fact I have read the relevant biblical texts in Greek, their original language.  But since at no point does either Ferguson or Avalos show that I have made any errors in my reasoning based on linguistic inattentiveness or ignorance, this is all just hot air, again a distraction from anything that is conceivably relevant. 

David Marshall does not know any of the biblical languages needed to evaluate the primary sources independently. On that basis alone, David Marshall cannot be regarded as a scholar of the Gospels or of any part of the Bible.

How, I wonder, did Avalos intuit this "fact?"  He is wrong.  It is, again, irrelevant to my critique, not one single point of which depends on linguistic ambiguities.  He just wants to argue ad hominem because he can't face the facts.  This is his normal procedure. 

In addition, Marshall uses theological arguments that are not verifiable to those who don’t accept his theological suppositions.  He shows very little or no familiarity with the technical and scholarly literature of biblical studies.

No examples, of course.  The claim can therefore be ignored. 

In fact, John Loftus, who does have graduate degrees in theological studies, is far better read in general than Marshall. 

I doubt Loftus would have the gaul to make this claim.  Again, what is it based upon?  Does Avalos really claim to know what I have or have not read?  Does he know, for instance, whether Loftus or I have read more ancient Greek literature?  Has John read all the extant Gnostic writings, all Greek novels, as well as quite a bit of Greek history, epic, and plays? 

Avalos is guessing -- and then accuses me of not writing as a real scholar! 

Loftus’ work over the years in both his blogs and in his anthologies provide a much better look at what is going on in atheist scholarship than Marshall’s books provide for his evangelical side.

Which of my books does Avalos claim to have read?  Come on, Hector, man up and list all of my books that you have read.  Let's not go blind assertions: your disciples are gullible enough that they might actually think you're claiming to have read much of my writing, which I'll wager you have not. 

Marshall’s general manner of reasoning is also poor and circular when he attempts to defend his lack of scholarly equipment. For example, in his reply to Matthew Ferguson, Marshall states“But to determine genre or historicity, a good translation will usually do.”

However, how would Marshall even recognize “a good translation” if he cannot read the original languages? Obviously, he cannot know what a good translation would be without knowing the original languages.

Who said I can't read Greek? 

But again, Avalos is merely covering up for the fact that neither he nor Ferguson is able to point to substantive errors in my critique of Ferguson's lame comparison.  In his replies, which I have responded to, Ferguson does not seem to point to a single error on my part that derives from linguistic confusion.  Avalos has taught Ferguson to engage in the same obfuscation. 

INDOLENCE AS A CORE FEATURE
 
I have said before that Marshall’s main feature seems to be indolence.That is to say, he is not willing to undertake the extensive and intensive work it requires to determine the truth of anything he is discussing about the Bible. He seems content to stop once he thinks he found evidence for his position, and then does not check to see if the claims made by the sources on which he depends are sound or not.

There are many examples given in the links provided by Loftus. I recommend reading the post on how Marshall used Émile Durkheim and the essay about how Marshall evaluates historical claims about Alexander the Great to exemplify his modus operandi.
Which I responded to here, with I think success.   Really it was a lame argument -- Avalos attacks one of Durkheim's 20 or so sources in detail, and that was only one of twenty  or so sources I used -- of the far larger number I have at other times cited on the matter.   (See Win Corduan's In the Beginning, God for a recent and powerful case for the presence of God in primitive cultures.)   
 
Marshall is particularly fond of using Rodney Stark as an authority. But many specialists realize that Stark is himself out of his expertise when he speaks on many issues. See, for example, Richard Carrier’s comments hereMarshall’s indolence in this matter is illustrated by the fact that he apparently has not bothered to check whether challenges to Stark are accurate or not.
 
On the contrary, Avalos' indolence is demonstrated by the fact that he has not bothered to read my responses to Carrier.  (And to the fact that he claims to dismiss  my work, of which I will wager he has read very little.) 
Carrier makes harsh, dismissive accusations against Dr. Stark for one error about ancient science, effectively saying that his publisher should be ashamed to have published such a false claim. 
But I could easily list 20 errors in history that Carrier has made, as bad or worse.   I have described many on this site, in the past. 

In a blog post dated June 24, 2012, Marshall lists Stark’s For the Glory of God as one of the “essential” books one must read. He claims that Finally, Stark shows how Christians put an end to slavery, beginning in the ‘Dark Ages.’”
 
Yes, and I stand by both comments. 
 
However, I responded in detail to Stark’s arguments and analyze his sources in Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship (2011). I show that Stark often cannot read the original languages either, and other times he did not bother to read the primary sources he is referencing. Stark is often just relying on secondary sources.
 
And I have shown "in detail" that Avalos' exegesis and representation of sources is often grossly flawed, and cannot be trusted.  Follow the links from "Hector Avalos" on this site, and read my exposes slowly and attentively.  Some of his errors are astounding. 
 
But I never claimed that Stark was infallible.  I have independently confirmed a great deal of the history Stark describes, listing it on this site.   
 

One need not take my word that my critique of Stark is effective. Robert Seesengood of Albright College wrote a review of my book, Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship (2011) for The Bible and Critical Theory (2013). Although Seesengood does not agree with me on everything, please note his independent judgment of my arguments against Rodney Stark:

“Among Avalos’ principal antagonists are several evangelical scholars and Rodney Stark. Stark’s For the Glory of God: How Monontheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts and the end of Slavery argues that (Roman Catholic) Christianity and the Bible initiated most intellectual and ethical progress in Western culture. One specific example, for Stark, is the role of the Bible in abolition. Avalos’ critique of Stark is complete and devastating. To be fair, however, as a target for scholarly fire, Stark, tends to be a rather low-flying dirigible, lacking any substantive training in the relevant languages, literature, and scholarly history for biblical and theological debate, and reveling deeply in tendentious argument” (my underlined emphasis) . . .
 
We are drifting far afield from any plausible connection now to the article which Avalos purports to critique, here.  I have, as I said, independently verified much, though of course not all, of Stark's story.  And as I have shown, again and again Avalos tends to "devastate" opposing arguments through shere force of misdirection and pettifogging.  So I feel no need to rush back and read Avalos' book -- I've read enough of his scholarship, and described both its merits and its flaws. 

I sent Marshall a copy of my book on July 10, 2012. To this date, he still has not apparently addressed my criticisms of Stark or why they are wrong. Yet, he keeps referencing Stark as an authority.
Again, I've verified the trajectory Stark describes as essentially valid.  I have better things to do right now than read another Avalos book, though if I write on the subject again, I'll see if I can find it, and of course appeciate him sending the book.  Unlike Avalos, I do NOT claim to have read ALL his books -- but I bet I've read more of him that he has of me. 
 
Therefore, in the last three years, Marshall has not been willing or able to read the refutation of Stark. That is what I call indolence in seeking the truth.

The alternative is that Marshall simply does not care to read something that will refute his authorities. That is not the sign of intellectual honesty or curiosity either.


Avalos pretends, again, that Stark is my only authority, or that any of my major arguments depend exclusively on him.  He also assumes that a scholar who disagrees with him is automatically obliged to read all his books.  Again, the difference between the two of us is that I have probably read much more of Avalos than he has of me, but I don't pretend to have read it all, whereas by implication, at least, he does seem to make such a pretense.

MARSHALL’S CREDENTIALS



Because a day without irrelevant personal speculations to distract the gullible from genuine issues, is like a day without sunshine. 


In the summer of 2012, Marshall invited me to debate him publicly. I asked him to provide his academic credentials, which is a standard procedure at my university to publicize any future potential events. I later also planned another essay on a different issue, and I wanted to ensure that I was representing his credentials correctly. As it is, I was looking for more well-known figures to debate at that time, and I had medical issues to manage, as well.  


In any case, Marshall initially was reluctant to provide these items: 

 -The type of doctorate (e.g., Ph.D., Ed.D., Th.D., etc.) he earned.

-The department and institution where he earned them.

-The title or subject of his doctoral dissertation
 
Avalos fails to explain WHY I felt "reluctant."   This is after he had published a hit piece of his signature brand against me on DC.  Here is what I told him:

It occurred to me that I'd be happy to help you with any background information you need, if your critique is above-the-board and, as you say, substantive.  But I would feel a little peculiar helping you gather information for another ad hominem hit piece, and would not want to encourage that even by helping you get background facts right.  This is less because I feel personally injured by such attacks (I have a pretty thick skin), but because it would not seem quite fitting to encourage them. 
Avalos replied:

I don't feel any of my work is any more ad hominem than yours has been. In any case, I simply wish to ensure that I represent your educational background correctly, just as I did for Dr. Campbell in the very post to which you responded. Dr. Campbell has since written me a nice note saying that he appreciated my essay, even if he disagrees. He didn't seem to have a problem with me simply stating his educational background for our readers.

I am assuming that there is nothing secret about your doctorate, and so I am not sure why you would be reluctant to divulge such basic information.

If you have a link where this background is given, then that will be fine as well, but I am trying to go to the most primary source I can find rather than depend on websites that may not be accurate.

I have my basic educational background narrated on several sites, and I have no problem with you saying what my basic degrees and institutions are. So, that would at least be a level playing field there even if we may disagree on other issues.


To which I answered:

Dr. Campbell, of course, does not have the same history with you as I do -- or indeed, the other Christian scholars you refer to in that article, with whom apparently (by your own account) you have not managed to develop amicable relations.

But I'll hope again for the best.

My BA was on "The Chinese and Russian languages and Marxism," with the Senior Thesis (required for that kind of BA) advisor being the historian, Donald Treadgold.

My MA was in China Studies, focusing (in the two MA papers) on the history and anthropology of certain Chinese religions, with Kent Guy (Qing historian) and Stevan Harrell (anthropologist of Chinese religions) being the advisors.

My PhD was from the University of Wales (also, conveniently, UW or UoW), and proposed a new Christian model of religions, in the Chinese context. I analyzed the concept of "fulfillment" in the New Testament, especially Matthew and Acts, retold the story of Chinese fulfillment thinking from the Tang Dynasty on, focusing on the contemporary Chinese philosopher / reformer Yuan Zhiming, studied several key concepts he raised as developed in the Chinese Classics, and then applied the results to arguing for a particular model of religions, in dialogue with John Hick, Leslie Newbigin, and Gavin D'Costa, among others. D'Costa, a Catholic theologian of religions at Bristol University, served as External Examiner for my oral defense.

Clearly, my concern was warranted.  Here Avalos is, indeed trying to use our personal communication as a weapon against me.  So here's what we both actually said.  (I can, of course, add Avalos' initial query, if that is in question.) 

He eventually stated that his PhD was from the University of Wales (also, conveniently, UW or UoW), and proposed a new Christian model of religions, in the Chinese context.

"Eventually" here meaning, "on the second response." 

But, in those personal communications, he did not provide the year of that degree or where I could obtain a copy of that dissertation. He did provide other information about his topic and his advisors.  In any case, he may have a legitimate PhD in his area, but it is not biblical studies.

Neither has Avalos send me any such information. 

Any good scholar should know how difficult it is to acquire expertise. If Marshall undertook actual research in Chinese studies, then why would he think he can gain such expertise in biblical studies without knowing the languages of the primary sources? . . .

And if Dr. Avalos were less "indolent," why did he not simply ASK me whether, and how much, Greek I read, before presuming?  (Not, again, that it makes a feather's weight of difference to the actual issues.) 
 
I skip some minor criticisms, since this post is getting extremely long, and my back is getting sore.  I may return to them in the future, if need be, and time allows. 
 
Let us move on, now, to Avalos' finale:
 
 
CONCLUSION

David Marshall is not a biblical scholar. He does not have sufficient knowledge of the original languages to evaluate the primary sources independently. That alone disqualifies him. None of his work shows any breadth or depth in the scholarship of classical or biblical literature.

Avalos shows no evidence that he is either intellectually or emotionally prepared to issue such an evaluation.  He has probably read very little of my writing, and certainly not my dissertation.  We began debating in the first place when I challenged some of his poor arguments in one of Loftus' anthologies, and he showed from the beginning that he was emotionally-invested and very far from objective.  (Though, to give him credit, Avalos is very good at a certain kind of biased argumentation: his critiques may be houses of cards, but they are ornate, many-stories houses of cards, and one has to blow several times to bring them all down.) 

It is not that Marshall can never achieve this sort of competence. Rather, I am affirming that he does not possess it now, and he should devote his time and effort to acquiring that competence rather than to writings that will only expose that incompetence when relevant experts such as Matthew Ferguson and academic biblical scholars and classicists read it.

Ferguson's attempt to refute my arguments are entirely unavailing, and Avalos has made no such attempt.  Instead, he repeats ad nauseum his assumption that I don't read Greek, and that somehow that proves fatal (how exactly?) to my arguments.
 
I'm sorry, but that is a lazy way of arguing.  Ornate though the shape of the cards may assume, they are not concrete, rebar, steel, fir, and walnut. 
 
My charge of indolence is not just a trivial scoring point. Indolence and lack of scholarly due diligence are fundamental to the entire way in which Marshall operates. Like many others I can name, he wants the authority to speak on a subject before he has done the real work to earn that authority.

One may ask why real experts devote any time to Marshall’s writings or comments. The answer is that Christian apologetics is primarily an authority-based system. Therefore, to undermine Christian apologetics it is necessary to expose the lack of credentials and expertise by apologists.
 
Hector Avalos is an intelligent and well-read man.  He cannot admit the same of me, though, because to do so would be to drop this weapon of personal invective, and force him to try to actually deal with my arguments.  And that would be a lot more work. 
 
Here is one of the reasons the New Atheism has failed.  While accusing me of "indolence," Avalos here is actually making excuse for his own intellectual laziness, for taking the shortcut of ad hominem rather than engaging my actual arguments.  In fact, in all this long post, Avaloso doesn't so much as mention The Contest of Hesiod and Homer, still less engage any of the dozens of reasons to discount it as a valid analogy to the gospels. 
 
Here is how Avalos justifies the actual indolence of the New Atheism.  He wants to win arguments about the true nature of the gospels, and whether any parallels have been found, without engaging them!  Even without reading them.  Still less without considering their possible truth. 
 
Avalos' ad hominal argument against me and against others I have seen him engage is, in the end, a lazy man's way to truth.  "This person is not sufficiently credentialed, not enough of an expert -- he doesn't read Latin, or his Greek is not as good as my man's -- so (let me tell you, because I am a credentialed authority) his argument can be dismissed."
 
The irony, again, is that while I appeal to the evidence, Avalos is directly and clearly making an appeal to authority.  Yet he has the timerity to accuse Christians of "authority-based system." 
 
And he is teaching this philosophy of laziness and personal attack to his disciples. 
 
Second, Marshall does represent the way many believers think and reason. Therefore, refuting Marshall’s arguments is, in effect, refuting the arguments of thousands or millions of others who use similar ones. 

No one has made arguments much like mine, as those who have actually read them often recognize. 

I usually challenge such pseudo-scholarship on a case-by-case basis. There are just too many Marshalls in the world for one person to refute them all.

There are never enough Marshalls.  :- )

 
Finally, here's my initial (as you can see, polite) response to Avalos' attack on DC.  I saw it and posted it late, so of course one of the denizens there accused me of all manner of evil motives in doing so:
C. David Marshall: Sorry, Hector, I don't have time to deal with this in detail right now. I have a debate coming up tonight, school is beginning, and I'm working on the book that deals (in appreciative delight) with Matthew Ferguson's absurd attempts to find parallels to the gospels among obscure hagiographical literature (among more mainstream, but equally futile skeptical attempts to come to grips with the gospels), beside all of that.


It doesn't appear, anyway, that you even try to defend the positions that Ferguson takes. I describe dozens of characteristics that favor the historicity of the gospels, that do not apply to the parallels Ferguson makes, such as the Contest of Hesiod and Homer. If you think my "indolent" failure to read that text in Greek makes a difference to any of those points, go ahead, make my day, and explain any significant actual errors on my part. (And please, no more misdirections like you did when you invested so much sweat and tears into tearing down one out of twenty or so citations that Emile Durkheim gave, just one of my own many examples of a High God around the world. So much sound and fury, signifying nothing. It may work on DC, but don't expect that to cut it in the real world.)

Meanwhile, most of your long post is, again, little more than an exercise in ad hominem. Of all the things to accuse me, the accusation of "indolence" will strike anyone who knows me as the most amusing. I have now read and systematically analyzed every single Gnostic text, every single Greek novel, many Greek plays, a number of epics and hagiographies, to test the parallels your fellow skeptics continually throw up in mounting desperation. That's lazy? Again, to my knowledge, none of these arguments has been seriously challenged on linguistic grounds -- that's just a red herring, an exercise in indolent debating tactics, if you will.

The truth is, atheism is stuck. It has been stuck for a century, when it comes to dealing with the gospels. C. S. Lewis was dead on target, in Fernseed and Elephants, and Ferguson's futile attempts to find parallels to the gospels (also those of Ehrman, whose lame analogy to Baal Shem Tov I deconstructed a few weeks ago at Christ the Tao, and Richard Carrier, to name a few), only confirm what Lewis said about the "restless fertility of bewilderment."

I demonstrate the fertility by describing dozens of qualities that demonstrate the gospels' historicity. You respond with the same old "indolent" ad hom. Another day, another dollar.


As for poor exegesis, let anyone read my critiques of your writings on Christ the Tao, and wonder that you dare raise the issue, anymore. I have demonstrated such sloppiness and sleight of hand in your own work, that if I were you, I'd keep away from exegetical issues for a few years. But again, what I care about are facts and reason, addressed to serious matters. If my analysis of your arguments, or of Ferguson's, are wrong on substance, why does DC act like a stirred hornets' nest and buzz all around with personal attacks, rather than refuting my arguments? Not that your stingers really sting -- mostly you seem to be trying to sting someone else whom you conflate with yours truly.

I don't expect many here to profit by it (I'm not going to waste my time interacting with my "fans" here this time), but I've described the weaknesses of your own version of printed scholarship in some detail at Christ the Tao, over the years. (Including your grotesque misrepresentation of the gospels, Acts, and the early Crusading texts -- which indolent though I am, I had read years previously, and so recognized your misrepresentations.) Given that none of my arguments depend on technical points of the Greek language, and none of Ferguson's overly rhetorical and personal replies (inasmuch as I have had time to read them yet) seem to even attempt to claim otherwise (but I'll look again for any such points when time permits), your usual point about language seems as mute as the same point repeated by Ferguson. The problems with his, and your, own arguments translate easily into English, and are on an altogether grander scale. I am happy to leave those conversations where they wound up, and let fair-minded readers judge between our arguments. I do not expect, for instance, that your claim that "Jesus commands hate," and that that is as fair a reading of the biblical data as its opposite, "Jesus commands love," has gotten or will get much traction among sober readers who read the gospels in any language. (I found that argument a useful foil in my last book, however. And yes, I have long since read the passages in the original -- which helps not one whit to save your hypothesis.) Indeed, one Irish atheist who visits my blog thought your thesis, in this case, "unbalanced, ungenerous, and even unhinged." So lots of luck with that project.

http://christthetao.blogspot.c...
 
"Biblical scholar" wouldn't really be my first choice in self-identity, as a matter of fact. You should probably just admit you don't know where to place me. (Hint: "apologist" would be a fairer description of John Loftus than of myself.) I admittedly come to New Testament studies as a (well-read and obviously far from indolent) outsider. But I believe in the cross-pollenization of disciplines, so make no apology for bringing my own insights and set of skills to the table. Time will tell which of our perspectives is ultimately found more persuasive, but that verdict will not be made at DC: in the meanwhile, until my full argument is complete and published, I have little objection to your expressing as much self-confidence, or disparagement of my work, as you like. I understand. Old wounds sometimes take a deal of licking before they fully heal.

8 comments:

David B Marshall said...

Here is Avalos' response:

Your grand diversionary blog post will not help you. In fact, you only confirm how indolence is one of the main features of your work. Please note these points:

A. I asked you to address specific arguments in Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship (2011), especially as they pertained to your claims about Stark. You did not do so.

Since you have had the book for years now, then why do you keep repeating your claims about Stark when you have at least possibly refuting evidence in front of you? If it is not indolence, then what would you call it?

B. I devoted a whole chapter (some 12,000 words + footnotes)
to my claim about Jesus commands hate in Luke 14:26, and I explain why those who try to mitigate the literal meaning of Luke 14:26 are not successful. This is in The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics (2015). You do not show any familiarity with the arguments therein before pronouncing them as silly.

C. I have read the following books of yours thoroughly:

1. Why the Jesus Seminar Can’t Find Jesus and Grandma Marshall Could: A Populist Defense of the Gospels (2005).

2. The Truth about Jesus and the Lost Gospels: A Reasoned Look at Thomas, Judas, and the Gnostic Gospels (2007)

3. (editor) Faith Seeking Understanding: Essays in Memory of Paul Brand And Ralph D. Winter (2012).

This is more than enough to show me that you have little or no expertise in the subjects you treat.

Moreover, these are not books published by any reputable academic presses, and Kai Mu Press is not what anyone I know would call an academic press.

All praise for your work comes mainly from you. I don’t see those works reviewed by any major journal or scholarly organization. If they are, then please give us those references.

David B Marshall said...

My answers: Hector: Thank you for answering my question.

Let's start with your last lazy comment -- that "all praise from your work comes mainly from you." Didn't bother checking first,did you?

(I cite 22 recommendations, mostly from scholars, including eminent scholars at Oxford, Yale, Duke, Penn State, etc, who praise my work, often in very strong terms.)

Having had your own scholarly shortcomings frequently exposed on my blog, and seen how you reacted (angrily, without linking my critiques or so much as mentioning them), I have never asked you for an endorsement, of course.

What am I supposed to say about Stark? I've often pointed out myself that he makes historical mistakes sometimes. So do you, and so does Avalos. So do I, for that matter. But I do not base my argument for the liberating effects of the Gospel entirely on an appeal to Dr. Stark's well-recognized authority, as Avalos seems to imply. If I did, an ad hominem attack on that authority might somehow be relevant. I rely on many sources, even in my little blog piece on abolition. I seldom make important claims without first ensuring I can back it up with independent and credible sources, which is why Avalos' attack on Stark does not even need to be dealt with in detail. In addition, given all the misleading arguments I have found in Avalos' work, including yes very dubious representations of sources, I have not felt a rush to push his work on abolition to the head of the line. I'm working on other issues right now. If I ever get back to slavery, I certainly will carefully read and check Avalos' arguments against the facts, and will admit where I find truth -- as I do, even with books by my opponents.

David B Marshall said...

Avalos again: Your grand diversionary blog post will not help you. In fact, you only confirm how indolence is one of the main features of your work. Please note these points:

A. I asked you to address specific arguments in Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship (2011), especially as they pertained to your claims about Stark. You did not do so.

Since you have had the book for years now, then why do you keep repeating your claims about Stark when you have at least possibly refuting evidence in front of you? If it is not indolence, then what would you call it?

B. I devoted a whole chapter (some 12,000 words + footnotes)
to my claim about Jesus commands hate in Luke 14:26, and I explain why those who try to mitigate the literal meaning of Luke 14:26 are not successful. This is in The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics (2015). You do not show any familiarity with the arguments therein before pronouncing them as silly.

C. I have read the following books of yours thoroughly:

1. Why the Jesus Seminar Can’t Find Jesus and Grandma Marshall Could: A Populist Defense of the Gospels (2005).

2. The Truth about Jesus and the Lost Gospels: A Reasoned Look at Thomas, Judas, and the Gnostic Gospels (2007)

3. (editor) Faith Seeking Understanding: Essays in Memory of Paul Brand And Ralph D. Winter (2012).

This is more than enough to show me that you have little or no expertise in the subjects you treat.

Moreover, these are not books published by any reputable academic presses, and Kai Mu Press is not what anyone I know would call an academic press.

All praise for your work comes mainly from you. I don’t see those works reviewed by any major journal or scholarly organization. If they are, then please give us those references.

David B Marshall said...

My reply, again:

Hector: The "diversion" is your own.

A. I answered this point; see my response to John above. It is irrelevant to any evaluation of MY work, given those rebuttal points.

B. I answered this point here:

https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=5071813#allposts

Yes, it is silly, and frankly rather fanatical.

C. Thank you for reading three of my books. But the logic is as flawed as your reading is skewed. For one thing, the first book was written 11 years ago, yet you use the present tense, "have" no expertise. For another, you generalize -- "in the subjects you treat" which is as irrational as saying "I ate an apple, a cherry, and a strawberry, which is enough to show that all fruit are red." No, it is not: you would have had to have read all my books to responsibly draw that conclusion, AND update your knowledge to the present. It might also help if you could refute a few of my main arguments, which I doubt that you can.

Kuai Mu, not Kai Mu, is my own company, and the Jesus Seminar book was an experiment in criticism which I think contains a great deal of value, but was not yet ready for mainstream publication. In that sense, it is comparable to Richard Carrier's early works - though needless to say, I think it is superior to them, and hits closer to reality.

I have already shown that your claim that "all praise for your work comes mainly from you" is a falsehood. I have cited praise from leading scholars who teach at Oxford, Yale, Penn State, Marquette, Baylor, etc. But even if I merely cited Amazon reviews, that would suffice to refute your claim. Why do you repeat it?

And again, I have already pointed out that I wrote these books for a general market that includes informed scholars as well as ordinary readers. I make no effort whatsoever to solicit reviews from specialist journals. If I do, I expect the results will be just as good as when I ask leading scholars to evaluate my work -- the results of which have been overwhelmingly favorable.

Please do not continue to repeat talking points I have already addessed. I am sure we are both too busy to waste time like that.

Again back to the main point -- from your diversion. Do you or do you not affirm Ferguson's apparent suggestion that The Contest of Hesiod and Homer is as good or better than the gospels in terms of grounding in historicity? If so, where are your arguments? If not, why this long distraction from the facts of the really important question into vain ad hominem?

John Loftus said...


David, you go around saying I reviewed your book on the Insider/Outsider Test for Faith without reading all of it. You go around saying this as if there are things in it that I had not considered before.

I read your book. Just because I did not comment on it all means nothing. I only reviewed the part that had to do with the OTF.

If you assert that the part I didn't review had to do with the OTF, then you are wrong. The rest of your book is irrelevant to making the case for Christianity you need to make. The interesting thing is that you don't seem to even know they are irrelevant, as I showed in my book review.

This is what we mean by shoddy scholarship, if anything else. It is a non-sequitur to say that if I reviewed a book and didn't comment on it all that I must not have read it all. But it's worse than that. You master in mischaraterizations and non-sequiturs. It's a non-sequitur to say that if I reviewed a book and didn't comment on it all that I must not have read it all. But it's worse than that. Not only do you come to that fallacious conclusion, you go around like the emperor who has no clothes on, proclaiming your conclusion without a trace of evidence for it. Finally, it's even worse than that! You do so even though I have denied what you claim.

John Loftus said...

Oops. This instead:

This is what we mean by shoddy scholarship, if anything else. You master in mischaraterizations and non-sequiturs. It's a non-sequitur to say that if I reviewed a book and didn't comment on it all that I must not have read it all. But it's worse than that. Not only do you come to that fallacious conclusion, you go around like the emperor who has no clothes on, proclaiming your conclusion without a trace of evidence for it. Finally, it's even worse than that. You do so even though I have denied what you claim.

David B Marshall said...

Fine, I'll take your word for it that you read the book. (Even though you STILL misrepresent my fourth and most important argument, which constitutes half the book, as if you'd never heard of it. But maybe that's just garden variety cognitive dissonance. There are, admittedly, fewer misrepresentations of my arguments than your earlier responses -- progress of a sort, but nothing to give yourself airs over, or pretend you can now speak for objectivity and fairness of representation -- do you want me to laugh out loud?)

And don't come talking to me about "shoddy scholarship" coming fresh from a thread in which your allies (with your silent acquiescence) accuse me of insanity, run down some of the leading scholars in the world for the crime of recommending my books, and link to all the errors and inconsistencies I demonstrate above.

As for "mischaracterization," that's bull, and you know it. To wonder if, when someone "answers" your book by citing what, eight or ten passages and they are all in the first 26 pages, and when furthermore he badly misreads the thesis of the book's second half, that he has not read the whole book, would at most involve drawing a conclusion hastily from just so-so evidence, not misrepresentation of any of YOUR arguments. But that you actually do badly misrepresent mine, I have shown in several threads on this site. That Avalos grossly misrepresents the Bible and other texts at times, I have also shown.

Are you not a little disgusted by that thread you started, BTW? The whole purpose was to run a whole category of people down. I showed up, and defended that category in two posts. Avalos then went after me. Followed over-the-top attacks, in a gang, on me, then (by at least one) on eminent Christian scholars. I defended myself, and your friends -- aside from Babinski, who is eccentric but at least decent most the time -- found nothing better to do with their time than try to besmirch me, as you are doing now.

Don't you feel a little dirty? This all speaks of what the ancient Chinese called "the small man," or 小人, as opposed to the gentleman or 君子. If you want to do a pig pile on Christian scholars next time, leave me out of it. I have better things to do with my time.

John Loftus said...

David, my FB Wall post was about The Case against Evangelical Higher Education. I don't know how it degenerated exactly, but it didn't have to. You came in with a big bang is what I remember. And I'm too busy myself to correct everyone who comments. There is no acquiescencing in that. For if I did start I would have to comment on many others. I do want to be more like 君子. It's just hard when you do in fact major on things I find ignorant and you even boast about them. Cheers.