Thursday, July 28, 2011

Response to Arizona Atheist 

On Early Christians, Richard Carrier and Blind Faith 

Over the past four years, an atheist named Ken (aka "Arizona Atheist," "Gifted Writer," "Prime Truth," I forget what else) has been posting attacks on my book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism in various fora around the Internet (Richard Dawkin's website, Harvest House, Amazon, his own website, etc).  He has often goaded me to respond.  I have replied a bit sometimes, I think effectively enough, but less often or thoroughly than Ken and some seem to think appropriate. 

I was loath to say more: frankly, I didn't see the necessity.  Ken's criticism tends to meander -- his "rebuttal" of my book has now reached the size of a small book in itself.  I find his critiques amateurish and unpersuasive, and expected most other readers to feel the same. 

But atheists for whom I have some respect have drawn my or other peoples' attention to Ken's critique, challenging me (in effect or directly) to respond.  Also, to give him credit, Ken has revised and tried to improve his booklet.  He has toned down the aggregiously immature personal comments with which he peppered some earlier writings, and seems to have tried to improve the quality of his argument.  I have a bit of time this week, with my dissertation just sent in, and waiting for several chapters to arrive for our upcoming anthology.  So here I'll respond to Arizona Atheist's most recent critique of The Truth Behind the New Atheism

I'll focus mainly on the issue of faith and some of his responses to my first chapter, Have Christians Lost Their Minds?  In his response, Ken seems to rely largely on the atheist philosopher and historian, Richard Carrier, whose errors on Christian history and other topics I have exposed before.  The two also take on leading Christians thinkers in these pages, especially St. Luke, St. Paul, Justin Martyr, and Origen.  I am a great fan of all four, and am glad therefore for the chance to explore their real ideas, as opposed to the caricatures modern skeptics sometimes report of those ideas. 

I think the rebuttal will be enough, that it will become evident to most readers why I do not feel the need to read or respond to all of Ken's critique. 

What are we arguing about? 

Ken attempts to explain my argument in "Have Christians Lost Their Minds?"

"In this chapter Marshall attempts to prove to his readers that faith is 'not blind,' and that christians (sic) do have evidence for their faith." 

Unfortunately, the latter is NOT what I try to show in that chapter.  Proving that Christians have evidence for their faith is not something I would try to accomplish in such a short space!  Even in the five (soon six) books I've put together so far, I feel like I've only touched the fringes of a full argument for the truth of Christianity. 

Here's what I actually promise in the first sentence of the chapter (emphasis added, as below):

"If the modern world is confused about anything, it is the idea that Christianity demands 'blind faith.'"

So the question of whether Christianity provides good evidence is not the issue here, but whether it demands (in theory) that we believe without evidence.  This should also be clear on the following page:

"Much is at stake here for non-Christians as well.  I will argue that in its idea of 'faith,' the gospel defends us against simplistic and dehumanizing models of truth.  Christianity, I will argue, stands on the side of ordinary people against the intellectual imperialism of those who imprison the human spirit in credulous, tunnel-visioned scientism."

So one issue here is scientism, the idea that one finds truth only through science, as opposed to broader ways of knowing.  The chapter is mainly philosophical, in other words, not about the empirical search for evidence to support the Christian faith.  This is why, on the facing page, the first sub-head asks, "What Does the Bible Say About Faith?"  The theme of the chapters should also be clear from later subtitles: "Richard Swinburne: Can There Be Too Much Evidence?"  "Alister McGrath: Is Faith Supposed to be Blind?"  "Nicholas Wolterstorff and the Sin of Blind Faith."  "Do Ordinary Christians Believe for No Good Reason?"  "Pascal's Wager."  "What is Faith, and Why is it Useful?"

The men I name here are all leading Christian philosophers.  The questions I ask, are theoretical or theological.  "This is how Christians see faith."

It is a bad sign that AA mistates the point of the chapter from the get-go.  This is not a minor quibble, nor is it the last major misreading in his critique. 

Driving Miss Lazy

It is no great crime (admittedly) to misread David Marshall.  What is troubling about many Internet skeptics is their apparent inability to accurately and fairly read what great Christians thinkers say, and respond to plain words on the page, rather than to a series of straw men.  It might not be fair to call Ken lazy -- as one of my most diligent Internet critics, he appears to have worked long and hard on his rebuttals.  But his analysis does not go deep enough.  Like many such skeptics, again and again his criticisms suggest that he has not applied sufficient care to the first two phases of "read, mull over, and respond" that any serious critical encounter must pass through. 

Ken grossly misreads what great Christian thinkers say about faith , and also continues to badly misread my argument, much of the time.  Since this is such a dominant, debilitating, pattern, the rest of this post will mainly quote Ken, citing Christians, and show how he misreads us.  First, just one more on me:

"Marshall . . . goes through and quotes what a handful of christians, the bible, and other theologians have said about the definition of faith and that Dawkins must be wrong simply because no theists agree with Dawkin's definition." 

But I don't say "no" theists agree with Dawkins' definition.  In fact, I point out that in my survey of 76 Christians in conservative churches, one person did agree with that definition.  I assume he or she was a theist.  So, probably, did some of the tens of thousands in Michael Shermer's survey, which I also cite. 

Note also how different the procedure Ken describes looks, depending on whether you accurately understand my goal for the chapter, or accept Ken's misconstrual of it.  Skeptics might reasonably see citing the Bible and theologians as a poor way to show that there is evidence for Christianity.  But it's an excellent way to show what Christians think about the relationship between faith and reason, which is my actual goal. 

Misreading Origen 

Marshall also quotes a few early christian apologists as to their views on faith . . . . 'Origen . . . argued that there was good evidence (in archeology, history, miracles and prophecy) that the Christian faith was, in fact, reasonable.'  

It's odd, but Marshall doesn't even provide a direct quote for Origen so how can we truly know what Marshall is saying about him is accurate?

Uh . . . By reading him?   I have read Origen some, and found these arguments in his writings, especially Contra Celsus.  I take my readers for mature adults, and assume most have access to the Internet and libraries.  I do not need to "prove" it: were I to make such things up, Dr. Paul Griffiths, Warren Chair of Catholic Thought at Duke Divinity School, whose blurb appears on the back cover of the book, would no doubt have caught such errors, and boxed my ears. 

However, I do have a direct quote and it presents a much different view than Marshall claims.  Origen said, 'We admit that we teach those men to believe without reasons.'

Now the sad thing, here, is that rather than read Origen for himself, Ken's footnote shows that he is citing Richard Carrier's Not the Impossible Faith.  Rather than box his ears, here is where I am liable to become "patronizing," and Ken, angry.  Lesson number one for those who would pretend to the status of intellectual: READ THE DARN ORIGINALS

What happens when we read Origen here in context? 

Origen is debating the anti-Christian writer, Celsus.  In chapter nine of Contra Celsus, Celsus is quoted as offering the following complaint:

He next proceeds to recommend, that in adopting opinions we should follow reason and a rational guide, since he who assents to opinions without following this course is very liable to be deceived . . . he asserts that certain persons who do not wish either to give or receive a reason for their belief, keep repeating, 'Do not examine, but believe!' and, 'Your faith will save you!'

Origen responds in part as follows:

To which we have to answer, that if it were possible for all to leave the business of life, and devote themselves to philosophy, no other method ought to be adopted by any one, but this alone. For in the Christian system also it will be found that there is, not to speak at all arrogantly, AT LEAST AS MUCH OF INVESTIGATION INTO ARTICLES OF BELIEF, and of explanation of dark sayings . . . as is the case with other systems.

Did Richard Carrier forget to cite that part?  I have not read this one of his books, and am relying on Ken, here, so will remain agnostic.  But having read others of his writings, I would not be shocked.
The three chapters in which this conversation occurs are only a few short paragraphs long.  If he didn't want to read the whole book (it's worth reading), Ken should at least have read these paragraphs.

Origen is responding to Celsus' criticism here, that Christians take things on faith. His answer is four-fold:

(1) Christians who have the time and ability DO investigate "articles of belief" (still true);

(2) But most people don't have time or intellect to do that well (also still true);

(3) Isn't it better that they believe on insufficient grounds, and have their characters reformed for the good? (which also remains a reasonable consideration);

(4) Anyway, Celsus, most people in your Greek schools also believe without doing all the research, so what are you complaining about? (Also still true of skeptical schools -- as Ken makes quite evident in his mis-reading of Origen!)

Origen is being extremely reasonable, here.  If skeptics misunderstand his argument, so much the worse for them, since modern skeptics could benefit from this good sense.  (Which is, by, the way, in sync with an insightful comment by Aristotle, in Politics, about how we learn not only from direct empirical investigation, but also, reasonably, by authority of the "old, wise, and skillful.")

Both Ken and the uneducated Christians Origen referred to believe based on what other people say, rather than on first-hand investigation.  The difference is, Origen seems to have cited his opponent more fairly than Dr. Carrier (or Ken, if the error is his) takes the trouble to do.

Misreading Justin Martyr

Justin fairs little better: 

As for Justin Martyr, Marshall neglected to quote the following from the twenty-third chapter of his First Apology . . .

Ken then cites a long passage from Justin Martyr that, while popular among some critics of Christianity, is not very relevant to the topic.  This is a famous passage in which Justin Martyr proposes what neo-pagan "scholars" Freke and Gandry call the theory of "diabolical mimicry:" that the devil planted fake stories (myths) about an incarnation, to pre-empt the real incarnation.  It's a silly theory, but Justin's critics often seem to quote-mine it without reading Justin for themselves and gaining the many valuable insights Justin offers elsewhere, as I argued in part 3 of this earlier post.   And that's a pity. 

Only the last few lines that Ken quotes seem relevant to the issue I'm talking about in this chapter -- and they supports my claim, and undermine those of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Arizona Atheist:

Justin Martyr: " . . . they have caused to be fabricated the scandalous reports against us of infamous and impious actions, of which there is neither witness nor proof -- we shall bring foward the following proof." 

Arizona Atheist: But what 'proof' is he referring to?  Nothing but the bible.  Throughout his Apology the only 'proof' he cites is scripture.  Justin Martyr's argument summed up is not one of inquiry and evidence, but one of blind faith that the scriptures are true, and that's what he used as 'evidence,' when he never checked the reliability of such writings to begin with.  According to Richard Carrier:

"You can read Justin's two apologies back to front and never once find any other methodological principle or source of his faith [other than the scripture]."

That's curious, because I find another methodological principle (or, rather, empirical method) in the very second chapter of the Apology, which I cited, and which Ken objects to, and in the chapter that follows it. 

Here's the bit I cited:

"Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honor and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions." 

What is he talking about?  What methodology is he pushing, here?  Read the Bible, close your eyes, and believe?  Not at all:

"For we have come, not to flatter you by this writing, nor please you by our address, but to beg that you pass judgement, after an accurate and searching investigation, not flattered by prejudice or by a desire of pleasing superstitious men, nor induced by irrational impulse or evil rumors which have long been prevalent, to give a decision which will prove to be against yourselves.  For as for us, we reckon that no evil can be done us, unless we be convicted as evil-doers or be proved to be wicked men; and you, you can kill, but not hurt us."

The inquiry requested in this great passage is judicial and historical.  The question is whether Christians are "evil men," whether they in fact commit the crimes they are accused of.  (Much like the claim that a certain Norwegian mass-murderer really was a "fundamentalist Christian," as often alleged.) 

"Do the investigation!"  Justin is saying.  His address is to the emperor (chapter 1), and he is asking for a JUDICIAL review, not a Bible study.  In fact, he has not even mentioned the Bible, yet. 

In the next chapter, he makes the nature of the inquiry, and of Christian reason, even clearer:

"We demand that the charges against the Christians be investigated, and that, if these be substantiated, they be punished as they deserve . . . But if no one can convict us of anything, true reason forbids you, for the sake of a wicked rumor, to wrong blameless men, and indeed rather yourselves, who think fit to direct affairs, not by judgement, but by passion."

I could go on with such quotes: Justin repeats himself at length, to make his demands clear in these first chapters.  He wants rumors about crimes allegedly committed by Christians investigated, feeling confident that investigations will clear them.  He appeals also to philosophy, which he opposes (along with piety) to "violence and tyranny." 

In the following chapter, Justin appeals specifically to Socrates, whom Cynics, Stoics, and Peripatetics alike often took as an example of true philosophy and nobility.  Reason (Logos) prevailed among the Greeks, and took form among the Barbarians, in the person of Jesus, by which we repudiate the immoral acts imputed to the gods, he argues. 

So in the first five chapters of the book, Justin in fact appeals not once to the authority of the Bible, but to three independent sources of knowledge: judicial review (historical investigation), philosophical reason, and moral understanding of which Greeks are also assumed to be aware.  Carrier is dead wrong, and leads readers like Ken off a cliff, here. 

Justin does cite Scripture, beginning I think in chapter 15, not because he thinks it will automatically be seen an authority for pagans, but to explain and demonstrate the wisdom of Christian teachings.  In chapter 15, he quotes Jesus on chastity, then makes an empirical claim that can (again) ONLY be proven by sociological investigation, which he recommends:

"And many, both men and women, who have been Christ' disciples from childhood, remain pure at the age of sixty or seventy years; and I boast that I could produce such from every race of men.  For what shall I say, too, of the countless multitude of those who have reformed intemperate habits, and learned these things."

Carrier cannot have read the Apology carefully.  He was apparently looking for something, and found what he was looking for by shutting his own eyes to the empirical facts, and believing.  I could go on, and there is much more of interest to say about Justin's methodology.  But this is enough to make my point: Justin clearly did not believe in "taking things on faith" in Dawkins' sense of "believing without evidence."  That definition, from Justin's point of view, would have been nonsense, but almost decribes, unfortunately, the procedure Arizona Atheist appears to have followed here. 

Misquoting Jesus

Ken then attempts to show that my argument that the Bible supports reasoned faith is "selective," and flies in the face of "much evidence."  He tries to make this case by citing four NT passages that I supposedly overlook, and claiming that I "misrepresent" "some" passages, of which he names Isaiah 1: 18.  He also attempts to rebut my argument that Doubting Thomas actually involves an appeal to reason, not "blind faith." 

I'll deal with the "new" passages Ken cites as positive evidence for his views.   If those don't help him (and they won't), I see no need to read any further.

(a) 1 Timothy 6:3-4: "If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and the constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain."

Ken does not explain why this passage is supposed to support the contention that faith, for Christians, should be blind.  Paul (if it is Paul, there is controversy about who wrote this letter) seems to be preaching against loud-mouths, sophists ("quarrels about words") and con men.  He is not saying that faith should not appeal to rational support.  Earlier in the letter Paul warns against an unhealthy interest in "myths and endless genealogies," which hardly suggests that his target here is rigorous empirical investigation. 

But granted, there is some possible ambiguity in this passage.  The next two passages Ken cites, however, completely undermines his "read" of Paul:

(b) 1 Corinthians 15:11 Paul says, "...this is what we preach, and this is what you believed."

How remarkable that Ken would cite this passage!

Is Paul saying, "Just close your eyes and believe that Jesus rose from the dead?" Not at all! He is making a bold historical and empirical argument for the resurrection, here. Paul preached that something dramatic had happened.  Jesus had appeared to Peter. He then appeared to the Twelve. Then to more than 500 "brethren" in one shot, most of whom were still alive. Then he appeared to James, the apostles, and finally to himself.

"If Christ has not been raised," Paul continues, "our preaching is in vain, and your faith is also in vain."

Plus that would make us a bunch of miserable liars, he adds, wasting and risking our lives preaching what we would not in fact have witnessed.

Nothing further from "blind faith" could be found than this passage. It remains, in fact, a strong piece of historical evidence for the resurrection, cited in every serious debate on the topic.  (NT Wright's discussion of the passage in Resurrection of the Son of God, for instance, spans some 48 pages!) 

(c) 2 Corinthians 5:7: "We live by faith, not by sight."

Never trust a seven word phrase snatched out of context. Paul here is talking about life after death, about which indeed we have to trust God -- who has shown Himself worthy of that trust, as Paul recognizes and explains many times, including in the dramatic conclusion of Paul's previous letter to the Corinthians, already cited.

Read the story of how the Corinthian church started, in Acts 18, and one finds that Paul was "reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Gentiles."

That doesn't sound like the church began in an appeal to blind faith, either.

How did Paul reason with Gentiles?  A model is given in Acts 17, where Paul explains Christian faith to Stoic and Epicurean philosophers.  This would take us a bit afield, but I suspect that Paul's argument may have been based on the Stoic argument for God given in Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods, ascribed to Balbus.  It is very much a rational, evidence-based piece of reasoning.  Paul also engages in evidence-based argument from Natural Law when he preaches to pagans in Acts 14, and echoes these arguments in Romans 1-2. 

(d) "Luke 1:18-20 tells how Zechariah asked god (sic): 'How can I be sure of this? I am an old man an my wife is well along in years." Because he questioned god, he was punished by being made a mute.'"

How is this passage supposed to undermine my case? The man was talking with an angel! Isn't the appearance of an angel a palpable form of evidence -- the very sort of visual, palpable evidence skeptics often demand?

Zechariah was punished (mildly) for disbelieving not without evidence, but with evidence. And the punishment itself was a further form of confirming evidence, as was his later cure. Ken is flailing, here.

(e) "Romans 1:17 it is said that 'The righteous will live by faith.'"

Yes, of course! But the issue here is what Christians mean by "faith."

And what does Paul mean? Happily, he gives some indications (yet again) in the very next verses . . . also some words that careless skeptics might well take to heart:

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Because that which is known about God IS EVIDENT  within them; for GOD HAS MADE IT EVIDENT to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been CLEARLY SEEN, BEING UNDERSTOOD THROUGH WHAT HAS BEEEN MADE, so that they are without excuse . . . Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools."


In each case, Ken simply misreads what he wants to deconstruct. In most cases, he baldly, palpably, grossly misreads. (Or perhaps, in some cases, not read at all, but relied on unreliable sources.) He gets my arguments completely wrong: far worse, he twists the plain words of Justin, Origen, St. Paul, and St. Luke.

In each case, the passages he thinks prove that Christians affirm blind faith, when read in context, show just the opposite. Origen was practical, but thought that for those who had time to study it, there was excellent evidence for the Christian faith.  Justin argued from judicial inquiry, history, and Greek philosophy.  Paul made use of a wide variety of evidence and rational arguments to make his case for the truth of the Gospel. 

But that, I think, will be enough for one day.  I can hardly find a single passage that Ken has read accurately. 

Such misreadings seem especially common among evangelical atheists on the Internet. They seem to share some preconceived notion about Christianity that they want to affirm. Seeing themselves as intellectually superior due to their reliance on "science" and lack of belief in "god" (the grammatically-incorrect lower case is de rigeur), and following lazy writers like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers who think true skepticism means adopting a bold pose, they rush into fields of which they know little, like Red Guard city slickers sent down to the countryside and trying to plant rice for the first time. They assume that their superior assumptions about life will make up the difference, or that people won't check the originals for themselves. Maybe the Internet has made them lazy. Maybe they've grown used to quote-mining, not really reading, books.  Even when they do read, their hostility and lack of practice in pondering contrary arguments, determines what they will and will not see, and what colors of mud will be splattered on their faces, when the carriage passes. 

Professing to be wise, they become fools. 

How did Paul know?


JSA said...

"Such misreadings are common among evangelical evangelists on the Internet."

Typo? I think you meant to say "evangelical atheists"

David B Marshall said...

Allen: Quite so. Thanks for catching that.

Arizona Atheist said...


I must say that I am shocked that you actually responded but I am not impressed in the least with your response. I’m sorry, but I wouldn't call that a "rebuttal" to my response to the chapter because you ignored at least half of my arguments. Not to mention most of the review itself. In addition your response fails to put even a tiny dint in my arguments. I’m happy you finally responded (took long enough) but to be quite honest your “rebuttal” (and I’m being very kind even using this word) failed horribly. I hope someone else does respond because then maybe I’d actually get a decent challenge.

I feel that your mention of “immature personal comments” that were interspersed throughout a past edition of my review is nothing more than yet another attempt at your usual discrediting campaign, trying to cause viewers to look down on me before they even see what I have to say. Second, the same goes for your mention of my past screen names. So what? What's the point in mentioning them? I've never denied having multiple aliases over the years. After all, even you have a number of aliases you use on the internet: David B. Marshall, David Marshall, Dave M and Ma Dixiong. I believe there is one more but I'm not certain.

As far as your response, I've been wondering if I should even bother pointing out to you how every single argument you put forward is absolutely wrong, and that you're the one who doesn't understand the passages you're reading, but what good would it do? I know from personal experience (especially with your view on Richard Dawkins and his claims of “child abuse”) how you deny your blatant errors even when the evidence against you is insurmountable and I don't have the patience anymore to deal with it.

The fact is, none of the Christians you cite or biblical passages mention anything about checking the facts in regards to their religious faith. Justin talking about supposed crimes of Christians doesn't cut it. This right there proves you don't understand what Dawkins means by “blind faith.” Dawkins doesn't mean Christians never rely on evidence, but do not rely on evidence for their religious beliefs.

By the way, you apparently didn't read my footnotes very closely because I didn't read either Origen or Justin Martyr “second hand.” I read the entirety of both of their writings on the internet to double check what Carrier said was accurate. Unlike you, I check out my sources' accuracy.

David B Marshall said...

Ken: I knew you wouldn't be able to answer my arguments, but just saying, "They're all wrong," is still surprisingly feeble.

Really all I need to do to rebut that is just quote your claims about Justin, again:

"Throughout his Apology the only 'proof' he cites is scripture. Justin Martyr's argument summed up is not one of inquiry and evidence, but one of blind faith that the scriptures are true, and that's what he used as 'evidence,' when he never checked the reliability of such writings to begin with. According to Richard Carrier: 'You can read Justin's two apologies back to front and never once find any other methodological principle or source of his faith [other than the scripture].'"

There is no mention here of "to prove what." Your comments are about Justin's empirical methodology, and are sweeping: if he argues from any other evidence than Scripture on anything, you and Carrier are both wrong.

I show above that these claims are, in fact, completely wrong. I'm not absolutely shocked that you refuse to face this clear fact. It should be self-evident, by now, why there was no need to read further.

Arizona Atheist said...

Actually I have responded and in much detail. I just didn't respond here. Like I said I didn't feel it was necessary because it wouldn't do any good anyway. Once again you miss the point. Where does Justin cite anything other than the bible for his religious faith? He cites the bible numerous times in his Apology referencing his various beliefs but no actual fact checking to ensure what is said in the bible is even true.

I see no point in any more discussions with you. I've refuted every single argument you've ever put forward on your blog (that I bothered to respond to anyway) and in your book. My work here is done. You can lead a Christian apologist to the evidence proving him/her wrong but you can't make them think. You've proven that more times than I can count. I think you ought to go visit Ray Comfort. You two would get along well I think because you both can be shown mounds of evidence against your positions and still be convinced you're correct! It's absolutely crazy. At some point you just have to step back and allow that person, like you and Comfort, to continue to bask in their delusions.

JSA said...

@AA - I have to say, this is pretty surreal. David just gave comprehensive evidence that Christians (including Justin) rely on many other sources besides blind faith. Additionally, David conclusively shows that Justin relies on sources other than scripture.

You have a really weird style of apologetic. If you were just going to ignore the facts, and accuse him of being "crazy" and "deluded", why did you even bother writing your 44,000 rambling and semi-coherent words in the first place? If you didn't intend for your rebuttal to actually be compelling, and planned all along to fall back on the "theists be CRAZY!" argument, you could have saved yourself a lot of time. You could have just prefaced your apologetic with the disclaimer: "If you agree with David, you're a crazy deluded person" and then proceeded to write 44,000 words of random gibberish.

Arizona Atheist said...

Let’s try this again shall we?


I didn’t agree with David in the least. Like him, you also don’t understand the New Atheists’ argument about faith. It’s not that Christians never rely on evidence in their daily lives, but do not rely on evidence for their religious beliefs. Even Sam Harris says exactly this:

“Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.”

Therefore, I’m not wrong in the slightest. You and Marshall are. Just as Harris stated, Christians do often demand evidence in their daily lives just as Justin demanded evidence for crimes of Christians but didn’t cite anything except the bible when referencing his religious beliefs. Got it? I hope so...

JSA said...

@AA - I'm quite familiar with the "new atheist" arguments, since I used to be a militant atheist and deconverted a number of people.

"Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever".

I'm a Christian and I don't believe any of that stuff, so I'm not sure what your point is?

For the beliefs that I do hold about religion, I certainly didn't arrive at my belief through "blind faith". After all, I had to be converted away from a rather comfortable atheism.

As far as I can see, you haven't really even tried to support the claim that Christians use "blind faith" with regards to religious beliefs. At best, you've argued that some Christians apply a double standard when evaluating their religious beliefs. While that certainly casts doubt on their belief, it's not the same as "blind faith", and your apparent failure to notice this distinction doesn't help your credibility.

And, of course, when Christians or atheists apply double standards to their preferred beliefs, that doesn't mean they are automatically wrong. I believe it is possible to be an atheist without applying a double standard (I was one, after all), and it is possible to be a Christian without applying a double standard. Unless you're going to commit the fallacy of Bulverism, the admonition against double standards is just good advice -- it's not actually an argument.

Arizona Atheist said...


You claim that you’re very familiar with the New Atheists’ arguments but from your previous comment it sure didn’t appear that way. If you did I doubt you would’ve made such a blatant error.

After I cited Harris’ comment you back off from that previous bad argument and accuse me of not providing evidence that Christians rely on blind faith regarding their religious beliefs. Nice job trying to shift the argument back to me (sarcasm), but I’ve already done my part by proving that Marshall’s arguments about Christians making use of evidence for their beliefs are all wrong. That is my argument (Of course, I also have provided a positive argument but I guess you haven’t read my review of Marshall’s book.). Having shot down the previous arguments it’s up to those who argue Christians rely on evidence to prove it. The burden of proof is on you. Thus far, all examples have failed.

If you’d like to discuss this further you can come to my blog. I won’t respond here again.


JSA said...

@AA - It's probably wise for you to gracefully withdraw at this point. Just to recap, here is what we've decided so far:

1) You made an easily-testable empirical claim: "Christians do not rely on evidence for their religious beliefs" (your own words). This claim is flatly false, and trivially demonstrated to be wrong. You would've done less damage to your credibility by arguing that "all Christians have lice", since at least people would've been able to tell that you weren't serious.

2) You reported an additional empirical claim that is easy to test: "Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever." This claim is flatly false, and is easy to empirically prove.

3) You claimed that Justin relied entirely on "blind faith" (and scripture) when forming his religious beliefs. This, too, is an empirical claim that is easy to test. Once again, the facts show your claim to be flatly false.

I've subscribed to your blog, and am rooting for you, but your thinking on this specific issue is an utter trainwreck. You foolishly made at least 3 empirical claims that were flatly false on the evidence, and it just makes you look like a loon. If you didn't actually intend to make those three claims, then you need to take a class in clear communication.

As for the rest of your 44,000 words; I've read through them, and it's all the same. It's a lot like Steve Carell in Anchorman.

Peek-a-boo said...

No one was bowing out. He said you could go to his blog to further discuss the issue. He told you already where you could find his “positive” case against your argument. You ignored everything he said and now shamefully declare yourself the winner? Where are your arguments he asked for? Huh?


David B Marshall said...

Ken: Your attempts to spin Justin are nonsense. Two passages are now on the table, one introduced by me, in Truth Behind the New Atheism, and one introduced by you. Carrier also offers a generalization about Justin that you endorse. You are wrong about all three.

First, as I show above, in the passage I cited, chapter two, Justin makes no reference whatsoever to Scripture. He is making a general statement about how philosophers will only love what is true, then calls (at length) for JUDICIAL, then PHILOSOPHICAL and MORAl investigation of charges against Christianity. The character of Christians, as determined by such non-biblical investigations, is in his view one piece of evidence for the truth of Christianity. This is plain as day.

Second, in the chapter YOU introduce, chapter 23, Justin is ALSO talking about judicial review, as he makes clear in the following several chapters.

Now carefully read Carrier's claim, which you foolishly endorse:

"You can read Justin's two apologies back to front and never once find any other methodological principle OR source of his faith [other than the scripture]."

I emphasize the word "OR" here because it dooms Carrier's argument, and yours. (As if the Titanic was struck by a meterorite, just after it hit the iceberg.) What does OR mean? It means that if EITHER OR BOTH conditions are fulfilled, his claim is rendered false. For example:

"There are no apples OR oranges in the house."

Three conditions will falsify this claims:

(1) There are apples but no oranges in the house.

(2) There are oranges but no apples.

(3) The house holds both apples and oranges.

In fact, BOTH of Carrier's claims here are unambiguously false. Read only Justin's first apology, and read only a few chapters into it, and it quickly becomes clear that Carrier is blowing smoke out his ears. Justin:

(1) In fact DOES make use of other methodological principles that biblical fideism, and often -- as explained above.

(2) He ALSO bases Christian faith on arguments other than biblical fideism.

But the word "or" means only one needs to be the case for this claim to be wrong.

You're going to finally stop following me and confronting me with these tedious and silly "refutations?" After promising to do so how many times, do I finally dare to hope? I'll believe it when I see it.

David B Marshall said...

JS: You are, apparently, a person of great patience.

Shara said...

What? Where does Justin say anything about investigating his religious beliefs? Nowhere. He is talking about investigating accusations of immoral acts by Christians. Don’t start putting words in Justin’s mouth now...

Shara said...

I should add that in the ancient world people determined how trustworthy someone was by how moral they were. If they were immoral they were considered untrustworthy and is what Justin is talking about. Whether or not someone is moral or immoral is not a reliable sign of if they're telling the truth. That's not an investigation into the religious beliefs of Christianity. I'm sorry but you're incorrect again.

David B Marshall said...

Shara: Here, again, is the Carrier-AA claim:

"You can read Justin's two apologies back to front and never once find any other methodological principle or source of his faith [other than the scripture]."

Again, the word "or" here means that if EITHER is found in Justin's books, BOTH men are wrong.

You seem to concede that other "methodological principles" are, indeed, to be found (and easily!) in these books. Therefore, they are wrong. Can you admit that?

Now of course EVEN IF Justin were only to cite Scripture as a "source of his faith," that would in NO WAY disprove my general claim. It may be that, in fact, the Bible contains rational evidence that supports the Christian faith. In fact, I think it does, and have argued that in several books, as have other informed Christian thinkers.

But even that is incomplete, because as I have already pointed out, Justin also cites non-biblical considerations that support faith, such as philosophy, and ethical reasoning.

And it's not just in the ancient world that the probative value of a witnesses' testimony is seen to depend on their virtue or lack thereof. It's called credibility, or "cred." Watch a few news reports of trials. "Cred" remains a cornerstone of modern law, politics, of ALL empirical scholarship, and is an eminently rational consideration.

So what is it that I'm supposedly wrong about? I'm certainly not wrong in claiming that Justin saw faith as supported by evidence and reason.

Shara said...

Carrier might be wrong but I think it's debatable. Arguing whether or not a group is considered trustworthy isn't a reliable method of discovering truth. People can't be mistaken? People can't pretend to be telling the truth? This principle you're pointing to isn't a reliable method of making sure your facts are correct so Carrier's argument still holds. Early Christians didn't rely on "evidence and reason" and that is why. THAT is what you're wrong about.

David B Marshall said...

Shara: Everything is "debatable," because people are often too pig-headed to admit even the most obvious facts. That Justin makes use of other "methodological principles" than just quoting Scripture is one of those very clear facts -- I've cited several crystal clear examples of him using them, already. If you're not willing even to concede that, then I have to wonder how serious you are. The value of those other "methodological considerations" is an entirely separate issue.

And if you DO choose to dismiss the rationality of using human testimony, you've just doomed all history, all legal procedures, and most science.

Paul said...

The only fool is you! AA has done more to disprove your nonsense than anyone else I've seen. I just read his response to this travesty and he gives you a butt whopping you won't forget! It was fun to read! FYI his butt-kicking rebuttal was great too!

David B Marshall said...

Paul: On the contrary, even if I am a fool, I am certainly not the only one. You ought to know that.

But go ahead. Make my day. Cite the single most telling "butt whopping" counter-argument he makes against any of my chief arguments. Or is actually making arguments, with, you know, stuff like evidence and reasoning, against your Net-surfing credo?

Paul said...

Are you too lazy to go see for yourself? It's only a few clicks away for Christ's sake. AA demonstrated that you are the one who is grossly misreading the early Christians about their views on religious belief and faith. His rebuttal to your apologetic disaster called The Truth Behind the New Atheism is just as stellar. It's a shame you refuse to read such a dedicated and thorough response to your arguments.

XAtheistX said...

Hello David Marshall. I hope this comment finds you well. This is certainly an interesting discussion going on between you and this critic of yours. I found your blog after looking up the Inquisition in Google and came upon az atheist's essay about your book. That's a lot of work he put in to it and I'm curious why you don't respond in more detail. Surely if someone read only a few pages of your book and deemed it full of holes I don't think you would take their criticism seriously so why do the same to a critic of yours?

Thank you.

David B Marshall said...

XA: Thanks for dropping by.

In a sense, I think I've given Ken more attention than he deserves. What prima facia reason do I have for thinking any of his arguments are any good? When we "talked" on, I often challenged him to bring his best arguments to Amazon, as a neutral forum. He usually refused, and the arguments he did post there -- including in his review -- were (in my opinion) of low quality. He lost his temper easily, swore and said some rather vile things. But after many requests, I did read some of his critiques on his web site. One was long, rambling, and after like nine pages, I had found no challenges to any important point. Why read the other 60 or whatever pages, if the young man can't come to the point?

The world is full of great literature. I have piles of books to read, and am presently studying (when time permits) Koine Greek, classical Chinese, and a bit of Korean. I'm at various stages in the writing of three other books, right now. Ken is not a published author. If he wants to be read, he needs to earn the right. Be succinct, be reasonable, get to the point, address important issues, not trivia. That's not much to ask of an unpublished blogger without any relevant credentials and a less than "sterling" record.

And as you can see, I did address some of Ken's arguments, above.

Beyond that, I've also told Ken's allies they can borrow the best of his arguments and challenge me with them, if they like. You can see Paul's childish reaction, above.

Maybe you are Ken. If so, fess up and challenge me on the single point in your arsenal you feel is strongest. As you can see, I am not deleting posts from Ken that remain within guidelines.

XAtheistX said...

David Marshall: Thank you for the response. I find your response curious. You say you've addressed his points but I must honestly say you did not since you've barely scratched the surface. After reading his response to the above post I am convinced that he – no offense intended – ripped you a new one. I am hard pressed to believe you actually think you've presented a strong case against his arguments. I'm sorry but I just don't see it and from the looks of things several others also agree with my assessment after viewing comments he's received on his blog. Here is one from someone named Dr H: “I will submit that Arizona Atheist has set an excellent example that, from the tone of recent conversation, a number of people here could benefit from emulating: he actually /read/ the work of the person who's ideas he is critiquing, read it thoroughly, and then carefully and systematically refuted it point by point, with facts and logical argument.” You'd like me to find the “strongest” argument he's presented but you couldn't even deal with the above minor issues so I don't see how you could possibly deal with an argument that was even more iron clad than those featured above – and believe you me there are several he presents that easily meet that criteria. Two examples I recall were his counters to your assertions in your book The Truth Behind the New Atheism about Richard Sternberg and about evolution. And there were several more. I honestly do not know how you can actually believe your arguments have stood up to his counter-attacks but to each his own. Confidence is always a good thing but when someone clearly has you over a barrel I see no point in trying to deny it. Accept it and move on I always say and learn from your mistakes. In that area it seems to me you have a lot to learn.

XAtheistX said...

I cannot speak for az atheist but after reading many posts of his about yours and his past tiffs I get the impression that he believes he's completely discredited you and doesn't need to bother dealing with you again. I don't blame him. He has written some very good pieces exposing your vacuous arguments and, might I say, your more undesirable traits that do not place you in a very good light.

As it stands your above rebuttal is entirely ineffectual and I think it's more than obvious to anyone who has read both responses who has who on the ropes so to speak and let me tell you it isn't him on those ropes.

I think your comment about his being nothing more than a blogger ironic since it's apparent who the better scholar is. Having a few book published doesn't mean much when you don't have your facts straight to begin with.

Good evening and please think about what I've said.

David B Marshall said...

XA: You don't deny that you are another sock puppet for Ken. The fact that you can't seem to restrain yourself from scatalogical braggodocia in lieu of an actual argument, seems to confirm that -- though that inability is certainly not unique to Ken among Gnus.

Again, yes I DO mind. It's not that I have a thin skin -- I've been FUed, wished to torture and hell, by other Gnus many times, and shrugged most of it off. But this is my forum, and I ask people to talk like adults, here. At the very least, if you want to insult, be creative in your insults. Stretch yourself.

Above, I show that AA was wrong on several specific points:

(1) He completely misconstrues my argument about faith.

(2) He wrongly represents me as saying NO theist would agree with his own, false, definition of faith.

(3) AA quotes Origen out of context. In fact, Origen actually says the Christian faith involves "at least as much investigation into articles of belief" as rival systems.

(4) AA completely misconstrues Justin, who actually undermines the Gnu view of Christian faith. Apparently this is because he hasn't read Justin himself, but is going by Carrier's errors.

(5) AA also misrepresents Paul baldly.

(6) As well as the Gospels.

All I get from you, as from Ken's other fans or sock puppets, is more empty braggadocio. As Allen says above, the vacuity of your response is indeed "surreal."

Again, this is a forum for adults. I hesitated to post about Ken, because even responding to such silliness, seems to encourage more silly responses.

If you post here again, rather than repeating all this empty bluster, please do attend to actual, concrete arguments. There are several above, which neither Ken nor his fans have even attempted to come to grips with. If you can't deal honestly with the facts and arguments in this forum, why should anyone care what you say somewhere else?

As for Dr. H, he's an old friend, but he's also a highly committed atheist, whose standards for arguments on his own side can be more liberal than for opposing arguments. But he has several times expressed respect for my work, which I appreciate.

XAtheistX said...

I hate to disappoint but I'm no sock puppet. I've got to say I am quite offended by that. I just call it as I see them. It's the same issue at play when I said you're not a scholar. I'm not trying to offend you I'm just telling you the God's honest truth.

I've read about several of your comments towards some of your critics and given how you treat people I'm not surprised about some of the comments that have flown back at you. Hey – if you can't take it don't dish it out.

See. This is what I am talking about. When it comes to your counter arguments you're entirely blinded by your conviction that you're right when it's obvious to anyone with half a brain that you're not.

This has been an interesting covo. I never realized there were people who were in love with themselves and their lackluster abilities as much as you are. I have to agree with what I've seen others say about you. You truly are the poster boy for the Dunning–Kruger effect. Since you're not making any money with your books maybe you can ask Justin Kruger and David Dunning to do experiments on you to further test their theory? Could be a good career move! God knows your apologetic work hasn't panned out the way you wanted it to.

David B Marshall said...

Typical Gnu. Not a word of argument, not a single fact, not a single quote, not a single line of rational argument relevant to any of my points, above -- all shrill ad hominem.

XA, you've made it abundantly clear you have nothing to say. I've given you several opportunities to make an argument, and you have yet to avail yourself of those opportunities.

One more chance. Do NOT post here again, if you cannot do one of the following three things:

(1) Admit the points I make in the OP are accurate, as they plainly are.

(2) Dispute them with facts and reasoning.

(3) (Here I'm being perhaps too generous.) Cite some other great an important argument Ken has made against any MAJOR point I make in The Truth Behind the New Atheism.

As for your claim that I am "not a scholar," aside from irrelevant, that is a clear-cut lie. Of course I'm a scholar. Whether or not an anonymous poster on the Internet (if you don't want people guessing who you are, give your name) think I'm a good one, not having read my scholarship, is hardly something I'm going to lose sleep over.

You are making it pretty plain what kind of person you are, XA. Cut the blubbering, make a real and relevant argument, or take a hike.

XAtheistX said...

FYI I did give an example of a MAJOR argument you made that has been addressed. Evolution. After looking at your book on Google arguments against evolution IS a major chapter in your book. The above post is also about a MAJOR argument in your book. It's about Christianity and how Christians see faith. I named not just one, but two MAJOR arguments. What ELSE are you asking for? I think you need to read my above comment about bettering yourself.

David B Marshall said...

I've deleted the psychobabble. I asked that any further posts from you, contain one of the following:

(1) "Admit the points I make in the OP are accurate, as they plainly are."

(2) "Dispute them with facts and reasoning." Your post above, which I leave, and the one I deleted, contain neither: it is pure, naked assertion. The same is true of Ken's posts, above: naked assertion, without a scintilla of evidence to back those assertions up.

(3) "Cite some other great and important argument Ken has made against any MAJOR point I make in The Truth Behind the New Atheism."

This you sorta-kinda attempt to do, with the single word "evolution." But "Evolution" is not an argument. Neither is there a chapter in my book called "arguments against evolution," or that could accurately be described as such, as you seem to think. You clearly have no idea what's in the book, yet feel compelled to flail against it, anyway.

Neither does Ken argue with any of my points in the OP. He asserts that they are wrong, but refuses to explain why, then stalks off in a huff.

That seems to be the pattern with you guys.

You plainly don't have the faintest idea of what you're talking about. You've never read Justin Martyr for yourself any more than Ken has, have you? Or Origen? Yet you go rattling on, as if there were any reason in the world anyone would want to read the tripe you keep on posting.

Six posts. Zero arguments. Scads of silly psychobabble.

I think that's enough.

XAtheistX said...

I see my comment was deleted. I guess the truth hurts eh?

David B Marshall said...

I'm going to explain this to you one more time, then maybe delete both of our posts.

This is a forum for adult discussion of real and interesting issues. I don't care about your psychobabble in the slightest: it is patently ridiculous, and doesn't even rise to the level of bad satire. I have taken on some of the leading skeptics in the world today, and in the eyes of important philosophers, scientists, sociologists, and historians, come out ahead. The idea that I'm traumatized by the childish, ill-informed, and rambling nonsense Arizona Atheist writes, is laughable. But it is not even plausible enough to even prompt much of a laugh.

Again, Ken is the one who has demonstrated such difficulty controlling his temper. I do find stupidity irritating, and even more, blatant dishonesty, but don't mistake accurate descriptions (as above) for anger on my part.

And none of that has anything to do with this thread. This is a forum for adults, as I told you before. And one of the things that distinguishes adults from adolescents, psychologically, is that the former have learned to separate facts from their emotions.

I describe five general facts, above, that AA gets wrong. In your seven responses to my OP -- or is it 700? -- you have attempted to rebut not a single one of those facts. All you have given us, has been an unending cascade of psychobabble. Neither did Ken, or his other supporters, try to challenge those facts.

It would be a non sequitur for me to take your inability to deal with the facts, as evidence that those facts are accurate. It is more likely, as I said before, that you just haven't read Justin, or Origen, or the NT very attentively, for yourselves. This is another difference between mature thinkers and adolescents: not so much that you haven't read the primary sources, but that you haven't been willing to admit that you haven't read the primary sources, and that that is why you choose to work in psychobabble, rather than evidence.

Come back when you've grown up a bit, XA, or your desire to know truth has overcome your fondness for childish and irrelevant insults.