Friday, August 30, 2013

"Celsus" on the "Marshall School of Apologetics"

Postscript: Initially I confused two on-line skeptics who both call themselves "Celsus" in this thread.  There were good reasons for the confusion, aside from the fact that both used the same nom de guerre: both like to accuse Christian apologists of "dishonesty," and they seem interested in many of the same subjects.  But my sincerest apologies to Matthew for the error.  Clearly I should have gone one step further in verifying the identity of these two skeptics.  All I can say is, having driven 900 miles yesterday, I'm glad I made an error of such magnitude on my blog, and not on the road.  I will now have a quiet meal of fresh crow for dinner.  I am inclined to add, however, that I also think people who publicly attack others by name should be brave enough to give their own names, which would help prevent such errors.  It is tough to respond to critics who insist on hiding behind masks. -- DM

A fellow calling himself "Celsus" on Amazon, (who may be named Robert) specializes in accusing Christian "apologists" (among whom he numbers me) of dishonesty.  I have dealt with Celsus before in these pages.  He is that unfortunate type of ignoramus who is even ignorant of the fact that he is ignorant.  But there seems (if I am not imagining it) an almost puppy-doggish lack of guile to Celsus' lambastations, that for me at least leave them not completely without charm. 

I have Celsus on "ignore" on Amazon.   Two years ago, I thus rather lately discovered, he had posted a thread on Amazon attacking what he called "The David Marshall School of Apologetics."  (I have a school?  Should I charge tuition?  Students are urged to purchase textbooks via the Amazon links to the right!) 

I was in a small town in the Midwest a couple weeks ago when I came across this thread, preparing to speak, and had a few moments to respond.  So as unhealthy as this focus on the personal is (my books are about more important issues than myself), I took a few minutes to brush aside some of the cobwebs.  This may also be interesting for those of you planning to start your own schools of apologetics. : -)

Rule 1: Nitpick. If your opponent uses an inappropriate word, hammer it. If they make a minor mistake in respect to a side issue, focus all your energies on this. In this way you stand a good chance of making your opponent appear foolish while diverting focus away from the main issues at hand.

Celsus does not require such wrongly focused energies to be made to look foolish: note that the one time I posted mainly about his arguments on my blog, most of the energy was directed at far more substantial issues than Celsus himself raises in this thread.

But to none of my three book-length rebuttals of important skeptics, nor I think of many of my posts rebutting skeptics, does Celsus' description here accurately apply.  I offer twelve specific and sweeping criticisms of the Jesus Seminar in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, for instance -- none of which involve nitpicking.  I fault Dawkins for getting what Christians mean by "faith" wrong, for misreading the Bible, for ignoring the positive contributions of the Gospel to human history, and so forth -- minor errors illustrate his sloppiness, but are not a substitute for serious argument. As the quality of the critic declines, and the vapidity of their critiques grows, however, I do sometimes grow correspondingly scornful.

Rule 2: Make bald assertions. If anyone challenges you to back your assertions, tell them you already provided evidence elsewhere, in a book or some other place. If they still request it, tell them you have a rule never to provide evidence more than once. If they continue pestering you for evidence, tell them to buy your book. If this fails to shut them up, put them on ignore.

Celsus himself employs this very method in this very thread. Ten assertions, no evidence, still less any systematic evidence.

My arguments are public property. Some are available in books, others for free on-line and in magazine articles.  Both kinds of arguments are chock-full of publicly-available evidence, with footnotes added.  If critics don't want to bother finding them and dealing with them, sure, that's their problem. (For instance, about 1500-2000 people have read my rebuttal of Reza Aslan's recent book on Jesus on-line, all for free. Not one has posted a serious rebuttal of my substantive points.   John Loftus' followers challenged me to show that the Gospel has liberated women, even though Loftus refused to defend his contrary claim with evidence -- and I posted eight long posts here, chock-full of historical, social, and exegetical evidence.  I cite my free and easily-available works as often as my books, with the same result -- 95% of atheists spend their energies on this sort of trash-talking instead.)

Rule 3: Promote yourself as a formidable scholar and debater. If you have an academic degree, remind your readers frequently of this fact. In this way you will establish yourself as an authority, and readers will be less inclined to question your bald assertions.

To describe myself as a "credentialed scholar" in some relevant fields is not mere self-promotion, it is true.   And that does matter.  But my arguments stand on their own.  Often I have to beg skeptics to even try to rebut them -- instead I get this sort of vapid, irrelevant ad hominal crap, because that seems to be where many skeptics live and breath and have their being.   

Rule 4: Find apologists who agree with you, and quote them as evidence for your arguments. If opponents insist arguments from authority are not good evidence, employ rules 1 and 2.

Celsus is badly confused about the nature of arguments from authority, and also misrepresents my arguments. Compare my citations in The Truth Behind the New Atheism with those of Richard Dawkins, for instance, and you'll find that I cite about four times as many works per page as Dawkins does. Furthermore, while Dawkins tends to cite friendly web pages, I cite acknowledged scholars on both or many sides of the issues, from their main works. This includes numerous citations from leading skeptics: in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, for instance, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens, themselves, frequently, also Ernest Becker, Marcus Borg, Charles Darwin, Emile Durkheim, Bart Ehrman, Robert Funk, Steven Hawking, Bertrand Russell, Alan Orr, Carl Sagan, Michael Shermer, Edward Wilson, and many other leading scholars who are on the fence or relatively neutral.   If Celsus denies this, he is himself telling patent untruths. 

Rule 5: When faced with a number of potentially damaging points, focus your attention on the weakest ones and ignore the rest. If you succeed in refuting these, claim victory for the lot.

Here Celsus clearly is lying. I consistently address the most important arguments of skeptics who I am debunking. (Except where I admit lacking expertise, or feel other people have already done the job.) The Truth Behind the New Atheism rebuts most of the important arguments made by Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens. The same is true of my other works, rebutting the Jesus Seminar, Elaine Pagels, John Loftus, etc.

For instance, in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could, I focus on and substantiate twelve errors made by JS scholars: assuming miracles cannot occur, "faulty chronology and poor logic, reliance on shaky sources, neglect of contrary arguments, a preference for far-fetched skeptical theories over orthodox truisms," post-modern biases about history, and so on.  All of these are substantive criticisms, and they are the "focus" of the critical part of that book (as opposed to my later more positive arguments). 

Celsus, by contrast, majors in calling Christians "liars," and other childish ad hominem.  So apparently he is actually describing his own MO, here.

Rule 6: Misrepresent your opponent's arguments. This makes them easier to refute.

Celsus gives no examples, of course. In fact, The Truth Behind the New Atheism is full of long and short quotations from the people I am critiquing, precisely because I want to get their arguments right.  Loftus has admitted that I represent his argument for the OTF accurately.   

One need not respond any further to an assertion like this, completely lacking in empirical support.  It is, of course, possible that at some point I may have misrepresented an opponent's position, though I try not to.  But this needs to be demonstrated. 

Rule 7: Never discuss Matthew's miracle involving the disinterred town-strolling zombie saints.

Finally Celsus gets one right. He fails to understand the reason, though. I'm not an inerracist. I just don't care that much if, like every other historian in the ancient or modern world, Matthew made a mistake.

The real question, of course, is why silly skeptics like Celsus are so obsessed about that story.  And the answer, apparently, is that they are fundamentalists: they think that if one dubious claim can be discovered in the Bible, the whole thing will collapse.  Sorry, but historians don't think that way. 

Rule 8: Ad hominems are useful, especially when all other options have been exhausted.

Heh. Celsus is suffering from severe Irony Deficit Disorder. (IDD)   His whole schtick, including this thread (and many of his posts both on Amazon and on his own website), is mostly or at least largely ad hominem. There is no trace of an actual argument against anything I have said about anything, here.  And of course Celsus' favorite gambit is to accuse Christian "apologists" of "lying for Jesus," which is demonstrated by showing that they have said something he thinks (for whatever often bad reason) is probably untrue. 

One assumes Rule 8 means Celsus is admitting that he knows he has utterly failed in all his attempts to argue rationally against my books, and against Christianity in general.

My work, again, it speaks for itself.  In fact, I challenge any skeptic to find a genuine instance of ad hominem given in response to any of the arguments I have rebutted in print, from Crossan, Dawkins, Dennett, Ehrman, Funk, Harris, Hitchens, Pagels, or any other major skeptical figure.

Rule 9: Never admit you are wrong about anything.

I'd love to admit I was wrong about something, if only Celsus would once in a great while get something right. : -)

(Note: This post gave me the opportunity to do so -- see above!) 

Rule 10: When all else fails, remember the words of our esteemed mentor, the first Protestant apologist, who said: "What harm would it do if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church...a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them" Martin Luther

Of course, Celsus picks one Christian writer whose work I have not read practically at all. So it's hard to know how I could "remember" "what I've never even read.  (I am frankly not really that into the Reformers, though Calvin is a wonderfully lucid writer.)

That is about as close to a falsifiable criticism as Celsus offers in this attack --- that I rely on words that (in fact) I have never even read, at least not in context (the way I prefer to read serious authors). 

But I bet Ferguson hasn't read this quote in context, either. He probably got it by surfing the Internet.

As for the accusation of lying, I'm afraid that along with smoking, gambling, dropping acid, and eating saurkraut, that is not a vice I am much tempted to commit.

Well that was amusing enough. A casebook instance of projection, on Celsus' part.  One could print this in psychology textbooks. 


GreekAsianPanda said...

It's kind of silly to only comment on one sentence in this long post, but I'm pleasantly surprised that I'm not the only non-inerrantist Christian who takes Christianity completely seriously!

Bjørn Are said...

Luther seems to have said something like this, however, as you suspected a tad out of context.

Κέλσος said...

Greetings Dr. Marshall,

This is Matthew Ferguson. I was just informed by a man named Robert (username Celsus on Amazon) that you had written this post about me:

Your post is in response to a thread on Amazon. This is all very strange to me, since I have never written or commented on any reviews at Amazon.

You also visited my blog a couple weeks ago, where I clarified to you that I am not the Celsus from Amazon:

I am sorry to see that you did not properly identify the Amazon author, before you wrote this post against me and even included my picture.

I have clarified this error on my blog:


Matthew Ferguson

David B Marshall said...

Bjorn: Could you contact me by e-mail? I have a debate coming up, and have a question or two that I'm hoping you might be able to offer some help with.

Toasty McGrath said...

In case you missed it the first time:

I'm not sure if it was dishonesty or incompetence, and frankly I don't care. You need to acknowledge your serious error, Mr. Marshall.

David B Marshall said...

Matthew: Wow! My profound apologies. I hope you'll agree that it is quite a coincidence to find two different skeptics calling themselves Celsus, citing Richard Carrier so enthusiastically, accusing Christian apologists of "dishonesty," and apparently sharing so many interests. But I was finding it hard to picture that other Celsus in a doctoral program, I have to admit.

I'll edit the post accordingly. I think I'll also challenge the post that cites Carrier, in a future blog: as I have misquoted you, Carrier has garbled that argument, and you have followed him into error.

Again, my sincere apologies: I hope you will not take the comments I made about Robert's arguments personally, now that that has been corrected.

David B Marshall said...

Toasty: Why would I attack a stranger for no reason, if I didn't think he was the guy shooting at me first? And of course the alternative to "dishonesty" isn't "incompetence," it is error, and I think a quite understandable one, given their common interests, tendency to accuse people of, yes, dishonesty, as well as their noms de guerre. But I have admitted my error and apologized.

Κέλσος said...

Hi Dr. Marshall,

Thank you for your apologies. I will note this on my blog.

However, since you have updated this page so that your readers can no longer see the statements that were directed against my name, I have also made your original post available in a PDF on my page.

Accusing someone by name with the personal attacks you did is no minor issue. In fact, it validates rule 8 of the original Celsus' post. It's unfortunate that you choose to engage people in this way, but thanks for at least apologizing about the mistaken identity.

-Matthew Ferguson

Anonymous said...

There's so much feigned outrage in these comments that if feigned outrage were fuel we'd have enough to go from Earth to Gallifrey to Krypton and back again ten times over!

David B Marshall said...

Panda: Another Christian made the same comment, though he posted it on another thread. You're not alone! And C. S. Lewis stood in the same camp.

Robert said...


My distrust in you is clearly well-placed, and has been confirmed yet again. Remember a couple of years ago, when you decided you didn't want to discuss on Amazon the issues of a thread I started , so you transferred it to your blog and created your own thread there? You invited me to discuss it there, but I refused citing your total control of the blog and ability to alter or delete any of my posts. You assured me you would print my replies, but I did not trust or believe you. You have now done the same thing with this thread, posting your lengthy reply on another of your blogs, which you alerted readers to on the Amazon board.

Back in early September I decided to check it out and posted a short rebuttal to you, for your consideration. It is highly damaging to your credibility, so I wondered if you would print it. The same message can be seen here, post #22
As expected, you did not print it. You are a truly cowardly and deceitful apologist, David. But then again, so are most of the others.

By the way, you never did offer any apologies on the Amazon site for your claims that I and Matthew Fergusson are one and the same. Your false claim still stands there, thereby nicely fulfilling rules 9 and 10 of your handbook.

David B Marshall said...

Robert: Don't you think it a little bit odd that a "coward" would cheerfully take on Hector Avalos, Richard Carrier, Stephen Law, John Loftus, Jonathan Pierce, Robert Price, and Phil Zuckerman directly, among others, publishing their unedited arguments against his own positions on his own web page, and write books challenging the likes of Borg, Dawkins, Dennett, Ehrman, and Pagels, but fearfully shy away from YOUR brilliant rebuttals?

Delude yourself as you like. But I am the host of this site, I set the rules here, and enforce them. If something you or anyone else writes does not conform to my reasonable rules, I may not publish it. I usually give a lot of latitude, and pretty much never delete what appears to be a sincere, reasonably courteous, and / or reasonably intelligent comment that is not for commercial gain.

I'll delete the comment about Matthew, for which I apologized on this site and on his site as well. Tim Beazley will probably claim then that I am covering up my error. But I have no obligation to most of the people who participate in such a forum.

Now do you have something substantive to say? Or have we been entirely reduced to childish, and tiresome, ad hominem? Your critiques of my "method" in that forum sure were nonsense.

Robert said...

David says:
"...I am the host of this site, I set the rules here, and enforce them."

Which is precisely why I refuse to debate you here.

"I'll delete the comment about Matthew, for which I apologized on this site and on his site as well."

I see you have now deleted all your false allegations on Amazon, but what you failed to do is apologise on that thread or even admit your error. And you have never apologised to me - all in keeping with rule 9.

>>Tim Beazley will probably claim then that I am covering up my error.<<

I am sure he would, as would all reasonable folk, since clearly this is what you have done (or rather, attempted to do).

"But I have no obligation to most of the people who participate in such a forum."

Indeed, you have no obligation to behave in a decent manner to anyone. Likewise, we, on the receiving end of your indecencies, have no obligation to bear them in silence.

"Now do you have something substantive to say? Or have we been entirely reduced to childish, and tiresome, ad hominem? Your critiques of my "method" in that forum sure were nonsense."

I would be happy to debate issues on the original thread, but certainly not here, on your blog, where you are free to alter or delete my posts at whim. Why you are so afraid to discuss the issues on the original thread? Do you require the advantage of an uneven playing field?

David B Marshall said...

Robert: Do you think I mind if you refuse to debate me here, or anywhere else? Do you think your record of clumsily and ignorantly slander of Christians, usually by misreading texts and bumbling their points, actually commends you to me, somehow?

Do you know who Tim Beazley is? Do you know how absurd your implication that he is somehow "decent," as opposed to dishonest, cowardly, conniving me?

Again, I have willingly debated eminent scholars in many fields on their home turf, without trepidation, and often with mutual respect. Your insinuations are ridiculous, as are almost all of your arguments.

No, I don't want to participate in a forum dedicated to ad hominem against myself, and filled with near lunatics. What in the world would I want to do that for?

I think it's a fair now to say, I don't want to hear any more from you, unless you can find your way to offering a substantive argument for something that people care about. Your obsessions are a bore to healthy-minded people. You should give serious thought to your motivations, if you are capable of honest introspection.

David B Marshall said...

As for the nonsense about my "covering up my error," I admit it with my very first words of this post. I apologized on Matthew's site. I corrected the error, making note that I had made adjustments, even on that vile Amazon thread. What, should I take out an ad in the New York Times?

Honestly, I think you ought to seriously consider what is driving you.

Robert said...


"Do you know who Tim Beazley is?"

Only that he is someone you are obsessed with because he pointed out 300 errors in your book. Other than that, I know nothing about him.

" Do you know how absurd your implication that he is somehow "decent," as opposed to dishonest, cowardly, conniving me?"

I never implied he is "decent". Apparently your inability to comprehend what you read has not improved recently.

"As for the nonsense about my "covering up my error," I admit it with my very first words of this post. I apologized on Matthew's site. I corrected the error, making note that I had made adjustments, even on that vile Amazon thread."

Yes, you made adjustments to cover up your error on Amazon. Swept it under the carpet, as it were. You are good at doing that. What you failed to do is admit your error or apologise for it. Which is entirely typical of you. See rule #9

David B Marshall said...

Robert: When a former prosecutor posts two dozen "reviews" of a book on Amazon, most of which are removed by Amazon, plus dozens of forums dedicated to impugning the honesty of the author of that book, it is reasonable to describe that former prosecutor as "obsessed" with the author. If the author refuses to interact with that prosecutor, but makes very occasional references to him when he shows up under various fake names, it is not reasonable to describe the author as "obsessed."

Got it? This is Sanity 101.

But you're immoral and sleazy, Robert. YOU notified ME about my error on that thread. I then corrected it, noting there that I had made corrections. Now you have the gaul to try to twist the very fact that I made the correction you brought to my attention against me, too.

And of course, not a single syllable of your response here contains the faintest hint of the "substantive argument" I demanded. It's ad hom and vitriol, vitriol and ad hom, all the way down, for you.

This is a moral problem located in your own soul, Robert.

But I'm not a preacher, I'm a scholar who runs a blog in his spare time.

And you're gone. You accused me of not having the guts to print your response. I gave you the rope to hang yourself with, and you have made use of it. You have proven that you have nothing to say of interest to grownups who read this blog, and contribute to it. I will delete subsequent posts from you, probably without reading them. Take your antics elsewhere, and hang with the Beazleys and Kwoks of this world, as is your choice.

David B Marshall said...

By the way, I didn't even know Beazley was now claiming to have found "over 300" errors in The Truth Behind the New Atheism. That's how "obsessed" I am. I do know that none of the "errors" he claimed when I paid him any heed, were real. (Though other people have found minor errors, such as "Bronze Age" for "Iron Age" in one instance, and misspelling the name of an Amazonian tribe.) Well, maybe he found one like that. He certainly isn't good enough to work as a copy editor.

Robert said...


I like the way you misrepresented my statement, thereby fulfilling rule 6 of the handbook. You say:

"YOU notified ME about my error on that thread. I then corrected it, noting there that I had made corrections. Now you have the gaul to try to twist the very fact that I made the correction you brought to my attention against me, too."

So you claim I merely notified you of your error, which is, of course, not true. Here are my exact words:

"By the way, you never did offer any apologies on the Amazon site for your claims that I and Matthew Fergusson are one and the same. Your false claim still stands there, thereby nicely fulfilling rules 9 and 10 of your handbook."

You merely removed your false allegations from the site, but failed to offer any apology or even admit your error. This is why no one has any respect for you, David. You are a very cunning and sleazy apologist - one of the worst. If you ever get the courage up to address the hundreds of allegations concerning your lies and deceptions listed on the Amazon site, submitted by dozens of posters, I would enjoy engaging you there. But clearly, there is no point in trying to do the same here, where the only two participants are you and me. Now there is only you.


Robert said...

Hi David

I feel my last post to you was mean spirited and unwarranted and I would like to have it deleted please. Thanks.