Saturday, August 28, 2010

Alpine Lakes Wilderness
The stated goal of this blog is to "map the universe from a Christian perspective, one blog at a time." I hope to touch on such topics in the coming months as cosmic and biological origins, how the Gospel fits in with world religions and ancient traditions, and the influence of Christianity. (The first three blogs were on this latter subject, and I do plan to get back to my clash over slavery with Dr. Avalos before too long.)

But if we're mapping the universe, why leave out the Alpine Lakes Wilderness?

Most famous Cascades woods stand in the shadow of tall, glacier-covered volcanoes: Mount Rainier, the North Cascades, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic monument, Crater Lake, the lesser-known but brilliant Glacier Peak Wilderness. Closer to home, though, chains of hundreds of lakes high in the Central Cascades beckon. This year I've mostly stayed home and pounded keys -- a yet-unpublished book on origins, and two chapters of my dissertation -- escaping however to the wilderness whenever possible, alone while the family was in Japan, with my brother Peter to Surprise Lake, sometimes with my boys. The dog often tags along.
The pond in Arctic pose is Silver Lake, up a steep mile and a half from the old Monte Cristo mining area, where gold, silver, and copper were among the extractions. This picture was actually taken in July; hard to believe that was last month.

Here John, James & Jake pose by a waterfall in late spring, making our way towards Melakwa Lake. We also hiked to Talapus and Ollalie lakes a bit in towards Seattle.
Our overnight hike for the summer this week was to the Rampart Lakes. This is a series of ponds scoured out by some ancient glacier at an elevation of about 5,000 feet. Within two hundred yards of the campsite to right, four different lakes, cool and clear, waited for us to swim, jump off the rounded rocks, and catch hungry rainbow trout. The little creek above flowed from a lake by our campsite to one just below, where we jumped off a little cliff into a deep chasm, and emerged from the baptism restored.

Here's the view of one of these little lakes from a hill behind it. The moon was bright, and we didn't see more than 7 dozen stars or so, including the Big Dipper shining into the front entry of the tent. The dog frightened about midnight and barked at some animal behind us. All I could find in the morning were human, dog, deer or elk, and mule or horse prints. (Hard so see how a horse could get up the steep trails to this little paradise.)
James caught a couple trout, and fried one in blueberries that were coming ripe, for want of other seasoning.

Next time, we'll have to bring some salt and pepper, if not barbecue sauce. No doubt the fish Jesus prepared for the disciples was seasoned: if his wine was the best (John 2:10), why not his barbecue (John 6:12, 21:13)?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Did All Greeks Deny Human Equality? A response to Avalos' claim that I dissed the ancients.

In his latest sallies in our on-going dispute over slavery, Hector Avalos seems to have mellowed a bit, if I'm not deluding myself. Perhaps he recognizes now that he is not going to win this debate purely on the beauty of fine footnotes. Or perhaps he is satisfied with having savaged me on a popular web site, where any response (if posted) is likely to be lost in the thicket of miscellaneous post-script.

It is a bit rich, though, of Avalos to describe my first response as a "personal attack." It was in part a defense against Avalos' personal attacks, as anyone who reads them will, I think, see was necessary.

True, I also criticized Avalos. I think my critique was judicious: Avalos is an intelligent, accomplished scholar and talented teacher. He is also grossly unfair towards Christianity and those who believe it. He is often remarkably sloppy in how he represents other scholars and historical facts. His arguments are undermined by logic that strikes me as atrocious.

The main purpose of that article, though, was neither to defend myself, nor dismiss Dr. Avalos, but to put his attacks on me, other Christian scholars, and the Christian record, in proper contexts. This needed to be done, because Avalos left way too much context out: our history, the nature of the books I was responding to, the nature of The Christian Delusion, indeed the nature of man and human exploitation.

Dr. Avalos owed it to me, but even more to his readers, to put his arguments into their proper contexts -- an even more important aspect of good scholarship, perhaps, than accurately listing publishing dates of books cites.

That was my main point. In his responses, however, Avalos not only neglects it, but is again grossly negligent with context.

I'll respond to his first post here (reproduced in the previous blog, also on the "Debunking Christianity" website) then to his other posts later.

(1) First, it is untrue that I have "no personal knowledge whatsoever" about the Craig-Avalos debate, and just "repeat material found on the internet."

In fact, I watched the thing. I cited Craig and Gonzalez on it, in part because I found their analysis on the money.

Nor am I sure it is fair to describe comments by the principals in Avalos' prior disputes merely as "material found on the internet." This description is literally true -- I found Gonzalez' comments in my "In-Box" after sending him an e-mail asking about his experiences with Avalos, for instance -- but rather misleading.

(2) Why should I care if Dr. Craig mistakenly described Dr. Avalos' position at Iowa State University? For the record, having watched a few of Craig's debates, it seems to me he usually goes out of his way in them to properly credit debate partners for their accomplishments. (Unlike, say, Bart Ehrman, who seemed to think he could win his debate by disparaging Craig's academic associations.) But that has little to do with our debate, or even with Craig's evaluation of Dr. Avalos' methods.

(3) Avalos admits he mistakenly added the word "the" to a quotation from me about how common it was in the ancient world to dismiss the humanity of other people. He avers that his error did not much change the meaning of my original comment, however, and that the original was still misleading somehow.

Here again, context makes a big difference. Here are the three paragraphs to the citation in question (which I'll put in bold):

"Jesus Frees Slaves
"The outlawing of the slave trade was a huge milestone in history. Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens all pin their criticism of the Bible on its failure to condemn this institution. For Harris, this is inexplicable. Isn't it obvious that a slave is a human being who suffers and enjoys like all of us? Every reasonable person understands that treating people 'like farm equipment' is 'patently evil.' Harris argues, 'It is remarkably easy for a person to arrive at this epiphany.' Yet it had to be spread 'at the point of a bayonet' in the pious American South.

"Only a historically sheltered child of the West and the product of a politically correct public school system could achieve such breathtaking and uncritical naivite.

"Slavery was obviously not wrong to Aristotle. The equality of humanity was denied by by Greeks, Gnostics, Indians (Asian and American), Africans, Chinese, and countless smaller tribes . . . " (The Truth Behind the New Atheism, 144)

I am, clearly, arguing that the teachings of Jesus led to the liberation of slaves. I am also arguing against Harris' naive and anachronistic view that since slaves are obviously human, it is "remarkably easy" for civilizations to arrive at the "epiphany" that slavery is "patently evil."

I return to both points again in the next paragraph, on page 145, which begins, "No great civilization arrived at the 'epiphany' Harris thinks so obvious until the rise of Christian Europe."

To support this point, that civilizations do not spontanteously recognize the evil of slavery, it is not necessary that I show that no one other than Christians ever decried it. Indeed, in that following paragraph, I point out that "a few voices" in India were raised against caste, but "the system shook them off." Analogously, as evidence warrants, I have no problem granting that such voices might perhaps have also been heard against slavery -- few and far between though they seem to have been.

All I need to support my argument is to show is that Harris' 21st Century Bay Area perspective was not the norm in the pre-modern world. Does Avalos really want to ally himself with Harris on this point? I offer examples from Greece, Islam, India, and the European Enlightenment to show that slavery and / or human inequality were often taken for granted.

The sentence Avalos objects to claims that "the equality of humanity" was denied by "Greeks, Gnostics, Indians," etc. The function of this sentence is not to show that no non-Christian ever spoke out against inequality -- I admit in the next paragraph that some Indians (at least) did. Its function, rather, is to show that what Harris describes as "remarkably easy" -- our modern dislike of unpaid exploitation -- in fact came with great difficulty, and a lot of leafing of Scripture.

That the sentence should be read as referring to individuals should be clear from sentences immediately before and after it, in which I give examples of influential people who denied what Harris saw as self-evident: Aristotle, Hume, Voltaire, Ernst Haeckel.

True, I might have made THAT sentence more clear by adding the word "many:" "The equality of humanity was denied by MANY Greeks . . . " My books are not sacred scripture, and one wants to keep even determined opponents from misunderstanding what one writes, if at all possible. But in context -- again -- it is hard to read this page as meaning ALL Greeks, Gnostics, Indians, etc, denied the equality of humanity -- which I neither believe to be the case, nor wish others to believe.

Avalos' other remarks are mostly focused on the meat of the issue, and it should be possible to answer them in a single, later post.

(Pirates of Caribbean photo copyright Disney 2003)
Dr. Avalos' Response I

Hector Avalos recently responded to my first two blogs on John Loftus' Debunking Christianity site. This blog will give his response, and I will respond then in a separate blog. (Are there copyright objections to quoting his full response? If so, I'll adjust. And some readers may wonder when I'm going to get on to other subjects! But our debate is scattered all over cyberspace; I'll try to consolidate things here and at, before launching into happier topics.)

Avalos' response came in 6 posts, which I'll identify with letters of the alphabet. I'll begin with his first post. (I'm having trouble importing the others, and will try to add them later.) The rest of the blog will be his unedited words.


A. I won't spend much time on Marshall's responses because he repeats the same sorts of techniques, arguments, and methods that I already criticized.

I will respond on this thread in case Marshall decides to edit or delete my posts on his threads, which may be found at:

http: //

http: //

His Part I is mostly a personal attack that has little bearing on my arguments on slavery. Marshall repeats material found on the internet about my debate with Craig, and other issues of which he has no first-hand knowledge whatsoever (e.g., the Gonzalez case).

For example, he cites a critique of my debate with William Lane Craig at Common Sense Atheism, but then does not cite my subsequent interview with Luke Muehlhauser about this debate.

See He also oassumes those criticisms are correct.

For the record, I have answered many of Dr. Craig's allegations, including some of Craig's factual errors, and so why didn't Marshall note that fact? Craig never has retracted even the clearest of factual errors (e.g., Craig misidentifies my position at my university), but Marshall does not seem to mind. I list some of them here:


I've answered some of Dr. Gonzalez's claims here:

In the interest of fairness, I do grant that I mistakenly added a "the" in manually typing (versus cut and pasting, which I prefer to do for accuracy) one of Marshall's quotes (see below). Though inadvertant, that should never happen. That is my responsibility.

Marshall is, however, wrong to say that it really changed the meaning of his claim. Compare the two statements at issue as he summarizes them:

A. "The equality of human was denied by Greeks, Gnostics, Indians (Asian and American), Africans, Chinese, and countless similar tribes." (Marshall classic version, p. 144.)

B. "The equality of humanity was denied by THE Greeks, Gnostics, Indians (Asian and American), Africans, Chinese, and countless similar tribes." (Avalos redacted version, emphasis added.)

If, as he claims, he did not mean to overgeneralize in the way that adding "the" appears to have made it, then he seems inconsistent with other statements he makes.

The whole context of his discussion is that Christians were different from other cultures in regard to slavery.

So, how would that make his point if some Greeks denied the equality of human beings, but then some Christians did, too?

In any case, Marshall's premise seems to be that a cultural / national word such as "Greeks" without the article is fine as long as "SOME Greeks believe X." An expressions such as "THE Greeks" applies only if "ALL Greeks believe X." Fine.

If this is the case, then I surmise that the following statements would also satisfy Marshall's rules for the presence or omission of the definite article.

A. "Greeks affirmed the equality of humanity" (since all I need is for some Greeks to affirm this equality to use "Greeks" instead of "the Greeks").

B. "Christians endorsed slavery" (all I need is for some Christians to endorse slavery to make this statement true).

Yet, the point remains. How does Marshall intend to convince us that Christianity was better or superior in regard to slavery if we can make equivalent statements about Christian and non-Christian cultures without the use of a definite article at the equivalent grammatical junctures?

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

(II) “Slave to Cherry-picked Footnotes: 19 problems with Hector Avalos on religion and human bondage.”

This is Part II of my response to Dr. Hector Avalos’ criticism of myself, and of the Christian record against slavery, in his article "A Slave to Incompetence: The Truth Behind David Marshall's Research on Slavery" on the “Debunking Christianity” web site. (See here for Part I, which mostly deals with Dr. Avalos' attempts at ad hominen; comments welcome below.)

(Note: Probably the most interesting part of this blog, especially for readers new to the discussion, will be the "Timeline for Christian Abolition" at the end of it. Some readers may like to skip my 19 critical points of response to Dr. Avalos' attack (immediately below) to this timeline beneath it. I especially welcome input, either by adding to the list, or by criticizing any errors or exagerations I may have made.)

No doubt Dr. Avalos chose to criticize the segment on slavery in my book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism for good reasons. In his on-going crusade to show how harmful Christianity has been, slavery is an obviously important front. Avalos is writing a book on the subject, so he has already done a lot of useful research. I explained, in Part I, why Avalos’ attempt to nurse his advantage on this topic into an attack on my scholarly credentials is bogus. But tactically, his choice of topics makes sense.

Hector Avalos is an accomplished and in some ways talented academic. With a doctorate from Harvard, a goodly number of publications, Avalos is recipient of the Professor of the Year award at ISU in 1996. He should be in a position, one would think, to offer formidable challenges to my arguments.

And in a sense, Avalos' critique is at least more detailed and (at first glance) convincing than most "new atheists" who have attacked the book, or than physicist Victor Stenger's critique in his book, The New Atheism.
But it is curious, given all these advantages, how often Avalos stumbles. It is also interesting to note the inconvenient facts he stumbles over.

Again, this is not meant to be a full rebuttal, which might best follow the publication of his book and more in-depth study. But I find nineteen initial problems with Avalos' critique, and with his approach to Christianity and slavery.

(Readers who have not read his critique might either like to read it first, or skip nos. 2-4, 11, and 13, which rebut specific criticisms. These bare less on the issue of Christianity and human bondage, than on the character of Hector Avalos' critique.)

(1) In one paragraph of page 145, I quote Sam Harris’ claim that the wrongness of slavery is “remarkably easy epiphany” and that Christians were especially dense for not arriving at it. I responded in part by saying Christianity DID stop it, twice, though “Not many people know about the first abolition movement.” I then briefly described Christian efforts in Antiquity to free slaves, and similar movements in the Middle Ages. I am not an historian of European history, and one paragraph for a thousand years is obviously a bit glib – though (as shown in Part I) much more than Harris or his allies offer. My main source for that paragraph was Rodney Stark, who does admittedly spread himself thin sometimes. (See my Amazon review of Carrier’s critique in The Christian Delusion.)

Avalos spends many pages rebutting that paragraph.

I took Avalos’ criticism seriously, and looked into the issue in more depth. Admittedly, some of what I found was depressing – Christian councils that saw it as a duty to return escapees, slave collars found with Christian symbols on them, slave-trading popes.

But after looking more deeply into the facts, I conclude that Stark was essentially right, as were my criticisms of Harris and Hitchens. A substantial and theologically-motivated movement against slavery did grow up in the ancient and Medieval worlds, among leading Christian thinkers. It ultimately helped liberate tens of thousands of people and make much of Medieval Europe almost free of slavery. It may be anachronistic to call it an “abolition” movement, but abolition was sometimes the effect.

But Avalos also errs by failing to note what I say about the nature of ancient and Medieval Christian reform. Were Avalos to read that whole chapter and the next, he would find that (in my view) what changes things for the better are usually not dramatic and instant revolutions, but incremental improvement:

(a) "Liberation often advances at glacial speed." (149)

(b) "Pluralism grew slowly in Western culture, like a sheltering tree from a small seed." (151)

(c) "Ideas are like Harry Potter's 'any-flavored candy,' or Forrest Gump's chocolates: there is a certain quantum variability to what comes out of the historical selection process at any moment. Influence is hard to pin down. How can we trace the flow of an idea from its intellectual origins through such a complex, ingenious, and devious organ as the mind, and out into human actions?" (158)

And here, on the Bible and slavery, a passage Avalos overlooks:

(d) "Some ideas are explicit. The apostles John and Paul wrote about the divinity of Jesus, which is why Christians have always believed him divine . . . . Other doctrines are implicit, and their logic mixes slowly, like juices in a crockpot. The New Testament has little to say about slavery -- it's taken for granted, but undermined by pervasive calls to love one another, talk about freedom, and the assumption that Christians form a united spiritual family. Still other doctrines or practices grow up in the face of commands against them, which we subvert for our own purposes." (158, emphasis added)

That, I think, accurately describes the process by which Christianity ended slavery. But Dr. Avalos does not seem to have read outside his four-page “strike zone,” and says nothing about these remarks.

(2) It is curious how often Avalos uses the "Yezbut" construction. It is never enough to admit my point: he always finds some complication, which of course history always furnishes, to pretend he is rebutting me, even when he essentially concedes my point. Finding such complexities is not hard to do when you’re responding with 24 pages to 4 pages.

(3) In two curious cases, Avalos quotes me, responds with the word “False!”, then goes on to admit that what I said is actually TRUE.

(a) Marshall: “Queen Bathild worked to free Christian slaves (at least) and stop the slave trade . . .”

Avalos: “False, at least in part. Bathilde did not work to ‘stop the slave trade’ . . . The Latin source . . . actually says that she ‘prohibited the sale of Christian captives . . . ‘”

Well, yes, that’s what I just said. Long before Islam had come to Europe, that’s what most people in her domain were, at least nominally.

And here’s a particular bald misreading:

(b) Marshall: “Hitchens claims that ‘this huge and terrible industry was blessed by all churches and for a long time aroused absolutely no religious protest. He’s wrong. Many popes protested, beginning in the 15th Century . . . “

Avalos: “False. For ‘a long time’ slavery was blessed by the churches and did not arouse any religious protests. Any protests were isolated instances. Marshall himself seems to concede that it took a pope until the 15th century to protest . . . 1400-1500 years would qualify as a ‘long time’ to many . . . ”

Here the tendentious nature of Avalos’ criticism is revealed by the contradiction of his own words. If there were “isolated instances” of protest, as Avalos seems to concede (in fact there were MANY such instances, and they were not that “isolated,” as we will see), then Hitchens’ claim that there were “absolutely no” such instances is false, just as I said. So as Avalos implicitly admits, even while he explicitly denies, my claim is not “false,” but quite TRUE.

Worse, Dr. Avalos’ criticism is based on badly misreading our discussion. Hitchens is not talking about slavery in general, but, to be precise, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. If Avalos does not have a copy of Hitchen’s book, all he had to do was read the prior sentences of mine to know this: “With slavery an accepted institution, and warfare a way of life, as they became more ‘civilized’ themselves, it was natural for the Portuguese and Spanish to go into the trade on a massive scale in Africa and the Americas. The English, French, and Americans followed their lead.”

Thus Avalos’ rebuttal drains into the sand without remainder. The Transatlantic Slave Trade BEGAN in the 15th Century: it is hardly surprising that popes only started protesting it then! (Even if Hitchens’ assertion were about slavery in general, then his claim would still be wrong – see the timeline at end.)

(4) Avalos accuses me of a "gross and misleading overgeneralization." Actually he MISQUOTES me again, then goes on a twelve-paragraph panegyric that depends for its barb on his misreading! Note carefully the two versions, Marshall (A) and Avalos (B):

A: "The equality of humanity was denied by Greeks, Gnostics, Indians (Asians and American), Africans, Chinese, and countless similar tribes." (Marshall classic version, p. 144.)

B: "The equality of humanity was denied by THE Greeks, Gnostics, Indians (Asians and American), Africans, Chinese, and countless similar tribes." (Avalos redacted version, emphasis added.)

What difference does Avalos' addition of the word "the" make to my sentence? It creates precisely what he accuses me of making, a "gross and misleading overgeneralization!" I left the word "the" out just because I didn't WANT to generalize about ALL Greeks, Chinese, etc!

Consider a similar example:

A. "A windstorm blew down trees in Mount Rainier National Park."

B. "A windstorm blew down THE trees in Mount Rainier National Park."

In which case are there probably still trees left in the park? In case A, of course. A is not a "gross and misleading overgeneralization;" B might well be.

This is not the first time Dr. Avalos, who makes so much of the importance of careful scholarship, and so often derides his opponents for failing at it, misquotes opponents. Nor is it the first time his misquotes give advantage to his arguments.

*In our debate, he tried to refute claims he ascribed to me about Stalin and Hitler that I had in fact not made.

*In Christian Delusion, Avalos claimed that Dinesh D'Souza admitted that Europeans had killed 100,000 people as witches – only D’Souza didn’t say that.

*Avalos falsely claimed that historian Richard Weikart blamed the Holocaust on atheism – but Weikart said no such thing, and when I asked him, he repudiated Avalos’ misreading. (See our Amazon debate for details on all these.)

* Later in this article, Avalos again quotes me as saying "slavery didn't die in Greece or Iberia," then responds, . . . "The fact is that it is in areas, such as Iberia and Italy, where the greatest Christian populations were concentrated in the Middle Ages." (sic) Aside from the confusing punctuation, it almost appears that Dr. Avalos is suggesting his "Italy" as a synonym for my "Greece!"

Slippery citations seem to be an unfortunate habit with Dr. Avalos. Given how usefully sloppy he can be working in English, it might be reasonable a fortiori to take his translations from Latin and Aramaic with a small grain of sal.

(5) Context again: as I emphasized, slavery was almost universal in advanced civilizations, because it was profitable. Even some ants enslave other ants. The wonder is not that anyone participated, but that any society ever stopped doing it for moral reasons. This is the point of some arguments I make that Avalos misreads as meaning something else.

(6) Avalos claims that "Qualitatively, nothing in the NT compares to the extensive and thoughtful advocacy of fairness of slaves in Seneca's forty-seventh epistle . . ."

Avalos would be right if he said "quantitatively." There is no passage on slavery in the NT as LONG as that in Seneca's letter.

But note two points. First, Seneca is keenly conscious of spitting against the wind here:

"Associate with your slave on kindly, even on affable, terms; let him talk with you, plan with you, live with you. I know that at this point all the exquisites will cry out against me in a body; they will say: 'There is nothing more debasing, more disgraceful, than this.'"

I never claimed no pagan ever suggested it would be a nice thing to treat slaves nicely. In fact, some pagans freed slaves, possibly including the great Buddhist king of India, Ashoka, and the founder of the Late Han Dynasty in China, Liu Xiu.

Second, when it comes to QUALITY, while Seneca urges us to treat slaves as "friends," Paul tells Philemon to receive Onesius "no longer as a slave, but as more than a slave, a beloved brother." (αδελφον αγαπητον) Paul may or may not have been asking Philemon to manumit the young man (there is long debate over the point), but certainly the term of endearment he prescribed at least matches that of Seneca. (To say nothing against Seneca or Stoicism in general, for which I have profound respect.)

(7) There is no exegetical reason not to apply the hundreds of demands in Scripture that we "love" both other Christians and people in general to slaves. Slaves are human, and therefore fitting objects of all the imprecations along those lines in the New Testament. Of course slave owners can choose to ignore those demands, but that does not render them void.

(8) Avalos scoffs at the relevance of my pointing out that Jesus was a carpenter. Apparently he does not understand this point. Slave societies create a mindset in which owners think physical labor is beneath them. The example of Jesus forever renders this attitude heretical to Christians: how can the work Jesus did be too good for his followers? Of course people can again ignore the Gospel example, but that is their fault.

(9) “There is no evidence cited that loving one’s neighbor eventually led to abolition. As Harry M. Orlinsky, the prominent scholar of Hebrew, has deftly noted, the Hebrew term (re’eka) translated as ‘your neighbor’ is best understood as ‘your fellow Israelite’ in Leviticus 19:18 . . . ‘”

All one has to do is read what abolitionists like John Wesley, Francis Pastorius and his fellows, and William Wilberforce said about slavery, to see that “loving one’s neighbor” was the heart and soul of the abolition movement. They consciously drew on Jesus’ teaching and example here.

As for what “your neighbor” meant, let me suggest that Dr. Orlinsky, and Avalos again, “deftly” fail when it comes to reading context. Note just 15 verses later in the same chapter, 19:33: “When a stranger lives among you in your land, do not mistreat him; the foreigner who lives among you shall be like a native among you. You shall love him as your own . . . “

Is that not sufficiently clear?

If it isn’t, similar commands elsewhere in the book should make it so:

23: 22: “When you harvest the crop of your land neither mow to the very edges of your field nor glean what has been dropped in harvesting; leave it for the poor and for the foreigner. I am the Lord.”

25: 35: “If your brother becomes poor and unable to meet his obligations to you, then you shall sustain him, foreigner or neighbor, so he may keep alive with you. Charge no interest . . . “

There are numerous similiar regulations in Numbers, which immediately follows Leviticus, and throughout much of the OT.

(10) Avalos wants to ascribe the origins of racism to Christianity. I wait with interest to read his argument proving this point, contravening the plain meaning of Scripture.

(11) In regard to Darwin, I did not, in fact, "resort to guilt by association," as Avalos alleges. My point was that Haeckel was a prominent Darwinist, not that Darwin (as a person) was responsible for his views. As I’ve said elsewhere (in fact earlier in the same book from which Avalos read 4 pages, see subtopic on page 53, “Darwin was a Great Scientist!”), I have much respect for Charles Darwin.

(12) No, Pharaoh was not an "abolitionist," as Avalos claims. Nor, in the Exodus story, did he "manumit" anyone -- after all the trials God sent him, he allowed the Hebrews to go into the desert to sacrifice, then went after them with an army when they tried to stretch their holiday to a lifetime. I suggest Avalos re-read Exodus; it in NO way supports an abolitionist interpretation of his actions.

(13) No, I did not "excuse the Spaniards and the Portuguese because slavery was 'an accepted institution.'" I didn't even root for Spain in the World Cup.

(14) Avalos asks how the Bible could have had anything to do with getting rid of slavery in northern or western Europe, if it didn't serve the same function in southern Europe, "even though the Bible was known in both areas."

What a view of historical causation this seems to betray! Yet his fellow CD contributor, the historian Richard Carrier, makes the same mistake in trying to deny Christianity had anything to do with the rise of science, by offering this remarkable view of historical causation:

“One of the most basic principles of causality: when the cause is in place, its effect is seen.”

But history is not a machine in a pizza parlor that, when you hit the blue button, a the green alien pops out. It is multivariable chronology of events involving complex, obstinate creatures (human beings) who act out of a wide variety of often opaque and usually self-serving motivations.

Sure, there were Bibles in Spain. But few people owned them. There were also other books. Most people could not read any of them. Those few who read Bibles, were also acted on (like all of us) by lust, greed, pride, hunger, cowardice, stupidity, vanity, and social inertia. In addition it is, as I conceded in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, possible to rationalize slavery from the Bible, if you really want to. And of course, Sam Harris aside, human beings take a lot of motivating to give up power and wealth. To reduce a fantastically complex causal pathway to “when the cause is in place, the effect is seen” mocks modern post-determinative physics, still less any realistic understanding of how human history works.

(15) I argue, “A second and more radical abolition movement began among the Quakers,” then describe one of the antics of Benjamin Lay, the eccentric Quaker activist who agitated against slavery in the Philadelphia area until his death in 1759, to illustrate the point.

Dr. Avalos spills much ink arguing that, despite Lay, many Quakers in Philadelphia were and for some time remained slave-owners. He admits that the number of slaves there fell by 60% in just 8 years, from 1767 to 1775, but claims, “A better explanation for the decline of slaves is the inability of a slave population to reproduce itself after slave importations had virtually stopped.” On this basis he derides the idea that Quakers can “be counted as the second time ‘the Bible’ ended slavery.”

This response is questionable on several counts.

First, I didn’t say Quakers, or the Bible by means of one particular Quaker living in Philadelphia in the 1750s, “ended slavery.” I said a radical abolition movement BEGAN among Quakers. So it did. Nor did it begin or end with Lay, as anyone who reads the history of abolition should know. Misreading my real claim, not for the first time, Avalos simply fails to respond to it.

The first recorded protest against slavery in North America seems to have come from four Quakers in 1688. Half a century later, Benjamin Lay, Anthony Benezet, and John Woolman followed their lead. Woolman wrote, “my heart was enlarged in the love of Jesus Christ, and the favor of the Most High was extended to us in that and the ensuing meeting,” which gives a feel for his motivation.

Aside from their influence in the colonies, in England, “Friends taking the initiative against the slave trade in the 1780s drew on the colonial American Quakers Benezet and Woolman. The groundwork of a powerful testimony and action against the trade in slaves was laid by their writings.”

Second, is it really likely that the slave population of Philadelphia fell 60% in eight years through natural attrition? The slave trade to the US was outlawed in 1808. The 1810 Census counted 1.2 million slaves, while the 1860 census counted 4 million! (Not counting free blacks.) So even without slaves being imported, the number more than tripled over 52 years. So why should it have plunged so precipitously in Philadelphia? There is, then, something in need of explanation about the demographic claims Dr. Avalos draws from, here.

Third, why did Pennsylvania ban the import of slaves? Wasn’t that itself the fruit of agitation against slavery?

(16) No, I did not use the movie Amazing Grace as "evidence," as Avalos infers. Here's what I said:

"But as the movie Amazing Grace beautifully shows, Wilberforce's 'delusion' that God has raised him to make slavery 'vanish away' changed the course of history."

As should be clear, I mentioned the movie because I LIKED it, and wanted to encourage readers to see it. It is an illustration, nor an argument, thus the words "beautifully shows."

Having run up the flag of True Scholarship again, Avalos then tries to distract attention from the clear fact that Wilberforce DID play the leading role in banning slavery, by an historiographic aside questioning the "Great Man Theory of History." But if men like Jesus and Paul do not have a big effect on history, why does Avalos need to worry about something called Christianity? Furthermore, why does he spend so much effort trying to pin blame for the Holocaust on Martin Luther in his chapter in Christian Delusion? Should he add a postlude to that chapter: “But of course recent historiography has shifted away from the Great Man Theory of History, so the heart of my argument is null and void?”

Or does this argument, too, only work when employed against Christians?
(17) Avalos quotes Wilberforce as saying the NT undermines slavery, then pretends the man didn't really mean it. Again he plays a kind of verbal shell game, this time by first citing what he takes as a useful quote from Wilberforce, then transitioning with a sentence starting "In other words." Not uncommonly with Avalos, what follows are not just other words, but other meaning:

Wilberforce: “ . . . there certainly cannot be a doubt as to the principle of the Holy Scriptures especially of the New Testament on the subject of the Slave Trade or even that of slavery; tho on the latter point explanation would be required. But I believe it was better not to enter into any such discussion in the House of Commons for many reasons.”

Avalos: “In other words, Wilberforce apparently recognized that arguing on the basis of the Bible was a losing battle in the Commons . . . if anything, it was abandoning the Bible that made the abolitionist argument much easier.”

The implication is that, as Avalos claims earlier, the New Testament does not furnish good arguments against slavery, or that it furnishes better arguments for it, and Wilberforce wisely recognized this. But Wilberforce actually MEANS exactly the opposite: “there can be no doubt” that the NT is AGAINST both the slave trade (obviously) and slavery in general (needs some explanation).

An unspoken premise here is that Wilberforce could have no other reason for not emphasizing the biblical argument, than that the NT is not really against the slave trade and slavery, wink, wink. (Never mind his explicitly stated view that it is!) In any case, this premise is also clearly false. Consider the famous words of William Lamb (aka Lord Melburne):

“Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life.”

A reprobate of the old school and friend of Enlightenment figures, Lord Melburne seldom seemed to allow religion to invade his private life much, either. Avalos seems to curiously assume that such orientations were unknown, even in the midst of the Enlightenment.

(18) Avalos' arguments about why Christians enslaved black Africans is something to behold, and seems to have little to do with historical reality. But this paper is growing long; I’ll leave that for another day.

(19) Finally, I write, "Evangelical Christians led the movement against slavery in England and America, and England led the world."

Dr. Avalos responds:

"Not quite. In 1791, Haiti became the first country where slaves successfully overthrew their slavemasters (Christian slavemasters in this case) and founded a new nation. Those slaves were heavily influenced by Voodoo and other African traditions rather than just Christianity."

The topic here is abolition, not slave rebellions. Slaves have always wanted to free themselves, of course, which is why we have so many movies about Roman slave rebellions. (Note: movies are an illustration, not evidence!)

And how did slavery end in Haiti? Perhaps the best and most effective leader of the revolution was Toussaint Louverture, the Father of Haiti, a zealous Catholic and abolitionist who believed God wanted slavery overthrown. This formed no part of my short argument, and I’m not quite sure why Avalos brought Haiti up, other than the need to find someone, somewhere, who was not a zealous Christian, to credit for abolition. No doubt one might well credit practitioners of voodoo in Haiti for some good deeds in that process; we will see what specifics Avalos comes up with.

But the Western movement culminating in abolition had been going on a long time before slaves were liberated in Haiti. Western history is not, as I have admitted, my primary field, and the following events deserve more in-depth research than I am able to give them right now. But with a bit of rummaging around, here’s a partial list of prior abolition-tending highlights, a tree, as I said, growing slowly from a seed:

Timeline for Christian Abolition

50s AD: Paul writes, “In Christ, there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free.” The full implications have been debated ever since; certainly it precludes treating slaves as less than human.

60s: Paul writes a letter to his fellow Christian, Philemon, asking that he take back Onesimus “no longer as a slave, but as a brother.” His meaning has been debated ever since.

300s: Ambrose, bishop of Milan, melts down communion vessels to redeem captives: “The ornament of my sacrament is the redemption of captives; and those alone are precious vessels, that redeem souls from death.”

354-431: Paulinus, bishop of Nola, (whom Avalos criticizes for alleged racism) liberates his own slaves, spends his considerable wealth redeeming citizens of Campania, and then, (allegedly, will need to look into this further), goes into slavery to redeem one captive.

4th Century: Gregory of Nyssa critiques slavery in the light of Christian theology:

"'I obtained servants and maidens.' What are you saying? You condemn man who is free and autonomous to servitude, and you contradict God by perverting the natural law. Man, who was created as lord over the earth, you have put under the yoke of servitude as a transgressor and rebel against the divine precept. You have forgotten the limit of your authority which consists in jurisdiction over brutish animals . . . “

"God has said, 'Let us make man according to our image and likeness' [Gen 1.26]. Since we are made according to God's likeness and are appointed to rule over the entire earth, tell me, who is the person who sells and buys? . . . How can we properly estimate the earth in its entirety as well as its contents? If these things are inestimable, tell me, how much greater is man's value who is over them . . . ? "

400-425: Socrates Scholasticus, a contemporary historian, tells how Acacius, Bishop of Amida in modern Turkey, talked his priests into melting down holy vessels in order to redeem 7,000 Persian captives and send them home. He explains:

“Our God, my brethren, needs neither dishes nor cups; for he neither eats nor drinks, nor is in want of anything. Since then, by the liberality of its faithful members the church possesses many vessels both of gold and silver, it behooves us to sell them, that by the money thus raised we may be able to redeem the prisoners and also supply them with food.”

400s: St. Patrick rebukes Coroticus for enslaving Christians and threatens him with damnation:

“I do not know what to lament more: those who have been slain, or those whom they have taken captive, or those whom the devil has mightily ensnared. Together with him they will be slaves in Hell in an eternal punishment; for who commits sin is a slave and will be called a son of the devil.”

The assumption here, which has NT precedent, is that slave-trading is a “sin,” and a particularly nasty one, showing that the sinner is “mightily ensnared” by the devil. Patrick’s rant continues:

“Far from the love of God is a man who hands over Christians to the Picts and Scots . . .They have filled their houses with the spoils of dead Christians, they live on plunder . . . This is the custom of the Roman Christians of Gaul: they send holy and able men to the Franks and other heathen with so many thousand solidi to ransom baptized captives. You prefer to kill and sell them to a foreign nation that has no knowledge of God. You betray the members of Christ as it were into a brothel. What hope have you in God, or anyone who thinks as you do, or converses with you in words of flattery? God will judge.”

500s: An anonymous Christian believer in Egypt makes a legal declaration that a woman dependant on his family named Martha is not a slave, as she says, but free. After she certified that she was in fact of slave status, “fearing the judgment of God, and mindful of the Savior’s love of mankind, I groaned aloud.” He warned that anyone who tried to enslave the woman and her children would be subject to God’s judgment.

781: Jing Jing, in Chang An, the Chinese capital, writing an authoritative summary of the history and characteristics of the Church of the East:

“They do not keep slaves, but make the noble and humble equal. (不畜臧獲。均貴賤於人). They do not amass wealth, but put their stock in common.” (Note: the first Chinese phrase here is an unusual classical expression, used similarly by the Han historian Si Maqian, among other places.)
972: Counsel of Koblenz

1014: In the "Sermon of the Wolf to the English," Wulfston is said to lambast the English for restricting the rights of slaves. Slaves seem to have constituted either about 2 or 10% of inhabitants of England.

1000-1150 Iceland: ¨Christian influences were also one reason why slavery declined and disappeared in the 11th and early 12th centuries.¨ Jon Hjalmarsson (a history teacher in Iceland and regional administrator of education), History of Iceland, 34
1102: Under the leadership of Anselm, philosopher and Archbishop of Canterbury, the Council of Westminster condemned the slave trade: “Let no one here after presume to engage in that nefarious trade in which hitherto in England men were usually sold like brute animals.”

As one blogger put it, Anselm “hated slavery.”

1198: Founding of Trinitarians, who are credited with freeing almost a million (Christian) slaves over following centuries, among other acts of charity.

1200s: Founding of Mercedarian Order, also dedicated to freeing Christian slaves.

1300s: Louis X allows slaves to buy their freedom, as Avalos notes, to swell his coffers; actually his rationalization extended beyond that. In any case, France remained mostly slave-free, which did not need to happen.

1335: Magnus IV outlaws slavery (for Christians, anyway) in most of Scandinavia.

1416: The Republic of Ragusa (in modern Croatia) abolishes slavery and slave-trading.

1508: Thomas Hunt, one of John Smith's lieutenants (see Pocahontas for the Disney version!), kidnaps an American Indian named Tisquantum (Squanto) and attempts to sell him as a slave in Europe. Friars educate him, he is freed and returns to North America. While he is gone, everyone in his village died in an epidemic. Settlers at Plymouth are surprised to meet an Indian who speaks English. He teaches them how to fish, fertilize vegetables, and talk with other local tribes, enabling the colony to survive.

1588: The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth abolishes slavery.

1772: The Somersett’s case essentially ruled against the (already rare) institution of slavery in England.

1777: The Republic of Vermont adopted a Constitution outlawing slavery: "no male person, born in this country, or brought from over sea, ought to be holden by law, to serve any person, as a servant, slave or apprentice, after he arrives to the age of twenty-one Years, nor female, in like manner, after she arrives to the age of eighteen years, unless they are bound by their own consent."

1778: Slavery is outlawed in Scotland.

1780: Pennsylvania passes an Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery; other northern states follow with similar laws in 1783, 1784, 1799, and 1804.

1783: Slavery is ruled illegal in Massachusetts.

1780-1803: Other new laws are adopted against slavery in various parts of Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

1804: Haiti declares independence and abolishes slavery.

Given this history, it is puzzling why one should see Haiti as the pivot around which modern abolition moved.

After this point, and with this precedent, it is I think fair to say evangelicals (and Quakers) led what became the moral crusade against slavery, first in the English world, then extending around the world to this day. (I myself was privileged to play a small role in the continuing struggle.)

But not being a slave myself, I think I'll end here. A more proactive argument for the influence Christianity had and continues to have in ameliorating and ending slavery is probably needed to join all these little dots; maybe I’ll find time to write such a paper, or book, later.

Part III will deconstruct Dr. Avalos’ argument that Christianity caused the Holocaust.

Why the hectoring, Dr. Avalos?

(I) “Why the hectoring, Dr. Avalos?” A Response to Hector Avalos’ criticisms of The Truth Behind the New Atheism, I.

Hector Avalos, Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, recently wrote an angry attack on me focusing on four pages of my book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism. The article was published on John Loftus' "Debunking Christianity" web site under the title, "A Slave to Incompetence: The Truth Behind David Marshall's Research on Slavery:"

My response will come in three parts: (I) “Why the hectoring, Dr. Avalos?” will explain the motivation behind Dr. Avalos’ attacks, set them in context, and show them for the humbug that they are; (II) “Slave to cherry-picked footnotes: some problems with Avalos on religion and human bondage.” This post does not fully rebut Avalos’ argument on Christianity and slavery – best wait till his book comes out and more time becomes available for that – but raises a series of substantive questions about his arguments, responds to specific criticisms, and shows a bit more about how Christianity undermined slavery from early on. III. “(Ab) Uses of History: Carrier vs. Avalos on Christianity and the Holocaust.” I am also writing a more in-depth response to Avalos’ attempt in The Christian Delusion to blame Christianity for the Holocaust, which will also demonstrate the weaknesses and mutual incoherence of the take on historical causation propounded by Richard Carrier and Hector Avalos, respectively.

I. Why the hectoring, Dr. Avalos?One of the most popular ways to fool an audience is to omit context:

"Greg hit me!"
"Gregory, did you hit Tom?"
"Yes, but . . . "
"Go directly to your room!"
It later emerges that Tom dropped a landscaping block on Greg's toes first.

In his critique, Dr. Avalos plays a series of six similar tricks that are meant to confuse readers unaware of the several contexts (involving Avalos and I, the “New Atheism,” and Christian history) of his attack. Six questions demonstrate the essential humbug of Avalos' article, and set the issues he raises into more reasonable contexts:

(1) Why did Avalos spend so much time and effort attacking four pages of a low-profile book by an alleged "indolent, incompetent hack?"Avalos does not directly explain his personal motivation for the barrage. His ad hominal edge, revealed in characterizations of me as a "hack writer," "slave to incompetence," "indolent researcher," "cut and paste artist," "not well-read," "lazy person's apologist," "as deep an indictment of intellectual integrity as one can find," and endless other such digs, only deepens the mystery. If I am that bad a writer – nor famous or rich, let me add – why expend so much energy and wrath responding? For all we can tell from what he says, Avalos picked up my book at random, found questionable statements in it, and felt compelled by the scholarly good angel on his right shoulder, and objective love of truth, to correct the record.

The truth is quite different, and Avalos' failure to tell it casts doubt on his own integrity.

A few months ago, I posted a review of The Christian Delusion, edited by John Loftus and featuring chapters by Dr. Avalos, among others, on I praised some chapters, but sharply criticized Avalos' chapter "Atheism Was Not the Cause of the Holocaust," which sought to blame Christianity for the Holocaust instead. Avalos responded, and we debated heatedly for a few weeks. That debate is I think still visible on the Amazon site for The Christian Delusion, and also on my web site,

My criticisms of Avalos' argument seemed to withstand his (often ad hom, from the beginning) responses easily enough. Feel free to read the debate for yourself and disagree, if you like. But even if you're inclined to Avalos' views of things, you have to ask yourself . . .

(2) Why didn't Avalos mention the fact that we had a "history?" That would be the normal, above-board thing to do. There are even standard terms trotted out on such occasions: "Disclaimer," "For the record." As in, "Disclaimer: Marshall trashed my essay in Christian Delusion, then rebutted my defenses. I warned I'd avenge myself!"

Why do you suppose Dr. Avalos didn't offer some (suitably less campy) version of this? Why didn't he breath a word about our earlier debate?

Is it not likely because he knew, at some level, that his defense proved ineffectual?

(3) Why it is OK for Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens to write general attacks on Christianity spanning many topics about which they know next to nothing (making many errors along the way, as I show), but it is wrong for Christians who know far more about some of those topics (like myself, but presumably Dinesh D’Souza or John Lennox as well) to respond?
Consider Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion. In that book, the Oxford zoologist pontificates on the following subjects, among others:

American Christianity.
American Law.
American schools.
Medieval philosophy.
The intellectual history of Soviet communism.
The Old Testament.
The New Testament.
Life on other planets.
The influence of Roman Catholicism on sex abuse.
The Inquisition.
Martin Luther.
Blaise Pascal.
Nazi ideology.
The 20th Century history of India.
The psychological effect of slavery on blacks in the American South before the Civil War.
The political sociology of Israeli children.
Asian holy men and the 2004 tsunami.

One of Avalos' chief criticisms of me, which he makes in this article, and repeatedly during our debate, and is indeed a standard debating trick for him, is that I don't read Latin, and therefore am not qualified to say anything about the history of slavery. I couldn’t understand the primary texts of Medieval Europe, even if I wanted to. He insinuates elsewhere that I’m not a real scholar because I don’t (he seems to imagine) read any language but English. He also argues that Dinesh D'Souza doesn't know Russian, and therefore is not qualified to argue about Soviet communism. In the past, he tried to embarrass New Testament scholar Rubel Shelley by putting a text on the screen during a debate and demanding that he identify the particular text. His debate with William Lane Craig devolved (on his side) into obscure pedantry over the proper interpretation of Aramaic terms few if any spectators knew. (Craig’s general critique of Avalos’ tactics is devastating.)

But the relevant question here is, does Richard Dawkins read Latin, Hebrew, Koine Greek, Russian, Chinese and whatever Asian language the holy man spoke in?

Avalos does not ask this question, let alone answer it. He probably knows that Dawkins does NOT know all the primary languages from which his varied claims derive, neither has he read many primary sources. Nor does Dawkins have any special expertise in many of the topics he holds forth on.

The same is true of other leading atheists: Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Victor Stenger, Carl Sagan, Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchens. All make many arguments outside the bounds of their own specialties, and often involving primary languages they do not I think know.

Does the fact that they make arguments about these topics mean the New Atheists are not "real scholars?" Or does this argument only work for Christians?

And what are Christians supposed to do in response to The God Delusion? Wait until some thousand-year old polymath who has studied every language and every discipline touched on in these books takes up pen and paper to refute Dawkins and his friends?

Until Avalos rebukes all the most famous "New Atheists," and a lot of old ones, too, more adamantly than he has me (actually, I have done research in Russian, modern Chinese, classical Chinese, and Koine Greek, all of which fortified me for topics covered in Truth Behind the New Atheism), his critique is naught but humbug and hypocrisy.

(4) What do citations reveal about the New Atheists and their critics?Accusing me of “indolence,” Avalos writes: “The goal of hack writing is to publish something quickly and with little effort and so these books are often very thin bibliographically. Such a hack writer is David Marshall . . . “

In response, I invite any reader to pick up copies of Truth Behind the New Atheism and God Delusion, and turn, respectively, to pages 221-236 of the former, and 388-399 of the latter, and see where the “indolence” lies.

Note first that the main text in Dawkins' book is almost twice as long as my text. Dawkins offers 156 citations. I give 429. That's almost 3 times as many, in a book about 60% as long -- more than 4 times as many per page.

Next look at the sources Dawkins and I respectively cite. Here is a sample:

Dawkins: "Jerry Coyne's reply to Ruse appeared in the August 2006 issue of Playboy" . . . "Madeleine Bunting, Guardian" . . . "Dennett (1995)" . . . "New York Times" . . . "Leading Scientists Still Reject God," Nature . . . Free Inquiry. . . Daniel Dennett Interview in Der Spiegel (English edition). . . . . . . . . J. Horgan, “The Templeton Foundation: a skeptic’s tale . . .”

What becomes clear from skimming Dawkins' citations is that (a) He appears to cite nothing that is not in English; (b) He almost always cites friendly sources; and (c) mostly but not all from newspapers and web sites of low scholarly wattage.

By contrast, from the first 3 pages of my notes: "Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions . . . Richard Dawkins . . . Alan Orr . . . James Boswell, Life of Johnson . . . Hubert Yockey, Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life . . . Nicholas Wolterstoff, Divine Discourse . . . Michael Shermer . . . Blaise Pascal . . . Francis Bacon . . . Carl Sagan . . . Joseph Needham . . . Rodney Stark . . . Bertrand Russell . . . Huston Smith . . . Edward Wilson . . . Steven Hawking . . . Charles Darwin . . . C. S. Lewis . . . Francis Collins . . . Sam Harris . . . "

What a scan of our respective bibliographic citations should show any honest reader is that, by contrast to my main target, Richard Dawkins (whose authenticity as a scholar in his own field I NEVER question), my citations are (b) a mixture of friendly and hostile sources, including a lot of atheists; and (c) nearly all from works by indisputably reputable scholars writing on topics in which they are experts.

I only cite books in English, not because those are the only ones I read, but because this is a popular book, and those are the only ones I expect the majority of readers to find useful.

On this score, too, Dr. Avalos' critique is pure humbug. In general, my citations are far more and better those of Dawkins, to whom I am responding. Obviously, in answering so wide-ranging an attack on Christianity as The God Delusion, it is sometimes necessary to cover issues on which I am not personally an expert. In doing so, it is legitimate to cite credentialed and especially eminent scholars who ARE experts in those topics.

"But that’s why The Christian Delusion is so much better!" I almost hear John Loftus saying. "I assigned each topic to a scholar with specific expertise in each field. That way, they can read all the necessary languages and thoroughly research every topic, with no need for second-hand readings or translations. That's what you should have done, instead of trying to be a one-man band!"

Which leads to our next question . . .

(5) So why does The Christian Delusion in fact contain sweeping claims about the world based on second-hand (and sometimes highly dubious) scholarship?

I’ll limit myself to just two juicy examples that I found very quickly; no doubt many more could be cited:

(a) On page 30, in "The Cultures of Christianity," anthropologist David Eller makes the following claim about unspecified "native" peoples of the Americas:

"Precontact gender relations were so critical and such an anathema to missionization because native women 'had considerable power, authority, and prestige in Amerindian tribal life.' Although there was a sexual division of labor, Indian cultures lacked the moral vocabulary to conceive of women as 'bad' or 'evil.'"

Bracket for a moment the absurd assumption that Jesuits (or Christians generally) saw women as "evil." (See chapter 8 of my The Truth About Jesus and the 'Lost Gospels' for an effectual rebuttal, also "The Sexual Revolution" in Jesus and the Religions of Man, for how Christianity has liberated women.)

More relevantly, how does Dr. Eller know what he says about "native women” and the “moral vocabulary of Indian cultures” is true? Is he fluent in all "native" languages (his comment is appears borderless) of North and South America? Has he done in-depth personal research on each and every tribe in the Western Hemisphere?

No doubt that sounds silly. Eller ought to have made the boundaries of his claim clear. But to be charitable, from context, he is probably talking about Mesoamerica. So does Eller speak all the languages of Central America?

Apparently not. He gives a footnote to justify his claim: Michael Welton, in an article from Adult Education Quarterly. Dr. Welton, it turns out, is an historian of education. His skill in mesoamerican languages also remains obscure; from his CV it appears he lives in Vancouver Island, so one might think he has had contact with Coast Salish.

(b) On page 103, from John Loftus, "The Outsider Test for Faith Revisited":

"In fact, most Christian thinkers from Tertullian to Luther to William Lane Craig have all disparaged reason in favor of faith."

Who does Loftus mean by "most Christian thinkers?" Has he read Tertullian in Latin? Why did he chose Tertullian, instead of more important early Christian thinkers like Clement, Augustine, or one of the Gregories, as his sole ancient example? Why did he pick the relatively non-intellectual Luther, instead of Anselm, Aquinas, Calvin, Erasmus, Mateo Ricci or John Locke, as his sole Medieval example? The answer is obvious: Tertullian and Luther give famous and colorful quotes on the subject (“faith must trample reason underfoot;” “reason is the devil’s whore”) that seem at first glance to support Loftus’ point, and are therefore cherry-picked by EVERY skeptic who doesn’t know anything about the subject (Dawkins offers the same two examples!), but wants to prove Christianity “disparages” reason.

Probably Loftus is not even right about either man. (On Tertullian, see Alister McGrath, Dawkin’s God, 99-101. On Luther, see Chris Marlin-Warfield, Even if he nailed those two, it would do little to prove his generalization.

But again the more pertinent question here is, has John Loftus read 50.0001 % or more of Christian thinkers in their original languages? (Say, in Greek, German, French, Russian (Church Slavonic!), Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Chinese?) Or again, do Avalos' standards only apply to Christian scholars?

A couple years ago, I posted an anthology of what thirty leading Christian thinkers down through the centuries (plus a Vatican Council) have said about the subject, in an article called “Faith and Reason” at That anthology (though in English) does I think well disprove the point Loftus is making. Christian thinkers do NOT generally “disparage reason,” and Loftus seems to misunderstand what we Christians mean by “faith,” which is not at all the repudiation of it.

But here, too, the most salient point is that the editor of Christian Delusion clearly does not hold to Hector Avalos’ standards.

My last question begins to wind back to the purported subject of Avalos’ critique, slavery and religion, which I plan to address in the next article:

(6) Who better supports their claims about Christianity and slavery, the New Atheists, or your humble “indolent, poorly read, incompetent hack writer?”

Let's see. Richard Dawkins on slavery, p. 169, no citations, bald (and false) generalizations. Page 265, no citations, bald (and false) assertions. Page 271, no citations, more bald (and false) assertions.

Sam Harris on slavery, Letter to a Christian Nation, pages 18-19, again, not a single citation, and barely a credible comment.

Myself, on slavery, The Truth Behind the New Atheism, 144-148. Sources:

Hugh Thomas: Thomas gained a First Class in Part I of the History Tripos in 1952 and was President of the Union (Cambridge) in 1953. His 1961 book The Spanish Civil War won the Somerset Maugham Award for 1962. From 1966 to 1975 Thomas was Professor of History at the University of Reading. He was Chairman of the Centre for Policy Studies in London from 1979 to 1991. (Wikipedia)

Rodney Stark, generally considered one of world's leading sociologists of religion, did graduate work at UC-Berkeley, taught at University of Washington for 32 years, and is now co-director of the Institute for Study of Religion at Baylor.

Bernard Lewis, Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Lewis specializes in the history of Islam and the interaction between Islam and the West, and is especially famous in academic circles for his works on the history of the Ottoman Empire. Lewis is regarded as one of the West's leading scholars of that region. (Wikipedia)

Richard Fletcher was Professor of History at the University of York and one of the outstanding talents in English and Spanish medieval scholarship. (Wikipedia)

Donald De Marco, Professor of Philosophy at St. Jerome's College.

Benjamin Wiker, lecturer in science and theology at Franciscan University.

John Wesley, founder, Methodist Church, graduate, Christ Church College, Oxford.

Donna Hughes, Eleanor M and Oscar M Carlson Endowed Chair, Professor of Women's Studies, University of Rhode Island.

I also refer vaguely to "a room full of very serious historians within minutes of Dawkins' office" (meeting, as I recall, at Merton or Corpus Christi College, Oxford) who seemed to take it for granted that the Gospel was a primary motive force behind abolition.

What a difficult choice! Who is more properly called "ill-read" and / or "indolent," skeptics who make assertions about slavery but fail to cite a single source, or a Christian who answers them by citing between seven and thirty (depending how you count) well-informed scholars? Does Dr. Avalos prefer bald assertion to citing eminent scholars who have researched the topic?

Were I to write a scholarly monograph on the origins of the abolition movement, Avalos' criticism would make sense. In this context, it is pure (calculated, this being a habit with Avalos) humbug.

The Truth Behind the New Atheism, while several steps up from Dawkins' The God Delusion, as I think is clear from the discussion to this point, is still a POPULAR work.

It HAS to be popular. No one could respond in an interesting way to the wide-ranging New Atheists without going into at least some fields in which he or she is not an expert.

These six points show Avalos' personal criticisms for the dubiously-motivated sham that they are.

While Avalos makes a show of distinguishing my allegedly poor scholarship from that of real Christian scholars, in fact this sort of ad hominem seems to be, pardon the Latin, the normal modus operandi for the good professor. To set Avalos’ comments into yet another proper context, here are comments from four observers to that effect, two atheists and two Christians, beginning with Avalos himself:

Hector Avalos, on a previous debate partner, William Lane Craig: "Dr. Craig is not regarded as much of a scholar outside of his narrow circle of apologists. His function is more to comfort believers than to convert those non-believers who actually know the primary sources well."

(Note that one often hears the opposite from scholars who are atheists but less addicted to ad hominem.)

Luke Muehlhauser, self-described “outspoken advocate of reason, freethought, science, and atheism,” and host of the popular "Common Sense Atheist" web site, on the same debate:

"Avalos comes out swinging, citing very specific parts of Craig’s work and trying to put Craig in uneasy situations. Craig responds calmly and confidently, and reminds the audience that almost nothing Avalos has said (1) builds a case against the Resurrection, nor (2) rebuts the arguments Craig gave in this debate. Avalos focuses on a linguistic disagreement with Craig – but of course nobody in the audience can tell who is right, and it wasn’t even part of Craig’s case in the debate.

"Also, Avalos is kind of a %#*& at certain times, which doesn’t help him. His language attacks Craig more than Craig’s arguments. After Craig gives his final speech, Avalos jumps in on Craig’s applause and says, without any humor, “I very much appreciate your applause for me, thank you.” Smooth, Avalos."

William Lane Craig: "Dr. Avalos is less interested in the argument than in impugning the integrity of his opponent. Such extraordinary ad hominem attacks by Dr. Avalos are unseemly and highly unprofessional and serve, I'm afraid, only to sully his own reputation."

Guillermo Gonzalez, former Iowa State astronomer and previous target of Avalos’ attacks, who also attended the Craig-Avalos debate: "Hector uses whatever tactics he can to criticize Christians, even if that means ad hominem and misrepresentation . . .

"Hector was at the forefront of the firestorm that erupted at ISU against me starting a few months after my ID book was published. I don’t know if “honorable” or “dishonorable” are words I would use to describe his behavior, but I would call it unacademic, intolerant and unprecedented (at least in my experience). I think, however, that Hector’s actions and views have been so extreme that he has relatively few (but very vocal!) followers." (personal communication)

Such habits do not, of course, show that Dr. Avalos is wrong about Christianity and slavery. That will be, in part, the burden of my next paper.