Sunday, September 30, 2007

Was I a "Troll" and Did I Merely Critique Deconversions During My Three-Month Stay at the Debunking Christianity Blog?

Man, I never thought intelligent atheists would be so desperate that they would have to resort to fictional, revisionist historical accounts of my past behavior in lieu of rational responses to my critiques. I expect this behavior from fringe anti-Catholic Protestants, but atheists?! Yet that is exactly what happened recently. Dave Van Allen decided to attack me personally rather than deal sensibly with my critique of his deconversion story.

He claimed that I was merely "trolling" when I visited the popular skeptical site Debunking Christianity. For those who may not be familiar with this Internet lingo, a "troll" is one who has no intention in engaging in serious conversation, but only in stirring up trouble and controversy, getting a few shots in, and splitting. The Wikipedia article, "Troll" states:
Trolls can be existing members of a community that rarely post and often contribute no useful information to the thread, but instead make argumentative posts in an attempt to discredit another person, concentrating almost exclusively on facts irrelevant to the point of the conversation, with the intent of provoking a reaction from others. The key element under attack by a troll is known only to the troll.
A person who retaliates (using whatever means) as a result of a misunderstanding (or as a way of rebelling against the overzealous application of rules) is not a troll. A troll is a person who approaches a board with the specific intention of stirring things up, either as a goal in and of itself or as a means of attacking the board perhaps motivated by opposition to the ethos of the board. For example, a neo-Nazi approaching a Jewish forum with the intention of attacking the members, purely because the neo-Nazi knows the forum to contain Jewish members, will be considered a troll.
The general element, that determines whether a malicious user is a troll or not, is the level of indignant emotions present in the person, coupled with the person's history with the forum or group. An indignant user who has had a previous normal relationship with the group is not a troll, even if the user uses methods of attack that are characteristic of a troll attack.
Interestingly, by this criterion, Dave Van Allen was the "troll" in our recent brief exchange on his blog, at least insofar as he was "concentrating almost exclusively on facts irrelevant to the conversation topic itself, with the intent of provoking a reaction from others." In his hit piece post of 9-28-07, he was clearly intending to do exactly that, since he wrote about:
1) My supposed "trolling of two other sites (Debunking Christianity and Ed Babinski's website).

2) "what other Christians think of Dave A's theology": he provided links to six examples: all from anti-Catholics. But anti-Catholics, of course, are only a tiny fringe element of Protestantism, and we all know what they think of Catholicism, so their differing from me is only a big yawner; hardly any proof that I am some sort of kook or loose cannon (as Dave was trying to "prove").
The Wikipedia article goes on to make a point almost identical to what I have stated about my encounter on Dave Van Allen's skeptical forum:
The term troll is highly subjective. Some readers may characterize a post as trolling, while others may regard the same post as a legitimate contribution to the discussion, even if controversial. The term is often used to discredit an opposing position, or its proponent, by argument fallacy ad hominem.
Often, calling someone a troll makes assumptions about a writer's motives. . . .
The word troll is often and easily (mis)used as an ad hominem attack against someone whose viewpoints and input cannot otherwise be silenced (i.e., via banning). Its successful use and misuse reveals much about how starkly different the world of technicians is compared to normal social and political discourse.
The term troll should be used with attention since it is a very easy way of undermining an opposing point of view. Sometimes, overly using the word "troll" may constitute trolling in itself.
Established forum users might all agree on one side of a message as being the universal truth; in which case a "troll" might just be some outsider adding an opposing message.
In any event, I was not a troll at all in my visit to either atheist / skeptical / agnostic / former Christian site. John Loftus, blogmaster of Debunking Christianity, proposed a variation of this charge on my blog. He claimed:
Dave, isn't this getting old with you? You came to Debunking Christianity and did the same thing with us a while back. We wrote deconversion stories of why we left the Christian faith and you concluded in each case we left for less than the best of reasons...surprise!
And in another comment:
I just think you would do better to deal with our arguments, the kind that I linked to earlier, that’s all. . . . the reason you provoked my ire is that you came to DC and evaluated personal testimonies, not our arguments, and as I said these stories are personal.
Note that he contends that I haven't dealt with his arguments and those of others who frequent his blog, and that I critiqued deconversion stories instead of regular old arguments (deconversion stories being, you see, merely "personal" and "Atheism Lite"). But this is patently false, and I proved it by citing (in three posts: one / two / three) no less than 19 serious dialogues / debates that came about during my time at DC. I guess John couldn't handle being refuted with facts, and so, as usual, he decided to become personally hostile, rather than admit that he had presented a warped, revisionist history of events that occurred in the not-too-distant-past on his own blog.

Nor was I a regular commenter on John's blog for a short time, as is the usual procedure with trolls. Looking over the debates that came about during my stay, we find that I was there from (at the very least) 16 September 2006 to Christmas Day, or about three months and a week. Sorry, folks, that is not trolling: three months and 19 major debates with several of the paticipants there, and spread out over that whole time (Sep: 3 dialogues, Oct: 9, Nov: 4, Dec: 3)? And none of these were critiques of deconversions, which were additional papers.

Additionally, at least one prominent atheist regular contributor to the blog at the time wrote to me privately and told me that he felt I was being treated most unfairly by the moderator (which was indeed true). Rather, I was (as the Wikipedia article says) an "outsider adding an opposing message" (just as I was at ExChristian.Net in that other recent asinine thread and feeding frenzy). That message was apparently found difficult to rationally refute, and so I am now being smeared as a troll and/or someone who only had one unsavory purpose that precluded my seriously considering opposing arguments.

The truth of the matter is that I visited both places in search of cordial, confident, articulate atheists who would be willing and able to engage in dialogue with a Christian. As I wrote in a recent post:
I stayed and debated until replies to me simply descended into a flurry of insults. Since that is the death of discussion when it occurs, there was no reason to remain any longer.

There is trolling and there is also rudeness, flaming, feeding frenzies and the pack mentality on the part of the mass of people on any given group blog, when someone dares dissent from the party line.
I think those who are dialogue-challenged among my atheist friends will have to do a heck of a lot better than this utterly ridiculous, groundless charge to oppose my point of view. No one is fooled by this fathomless imbecility and shameless evasion tactic.

Reply to Former Christian John Loftus' "Outsider Test of Faith" Series

John Loftus is a former pastor and the webmaster of the Debunking Christianity blog. This reply is at his request. John's words will be in blue.

* * * * *

John provided a general post that linked to other individual ones (I won't give all the URL's; the previous link gives those). In later ones, he merely repeats many of his arguments, so I need not cite everything. I will be meeting the basic arguments head on.

Here's the short version of my argument. It begins with these four propositions:

1) Religious diversity around the globe is a fact—many religions can be found in distinct geographical locations in the world.


2) There are no mutually agreed upon tests to determine which religion is true.

To some extent this is correct; however, at least for the western religions, there are several tests from various fields of study (natural science, archaeology, textual analysis, historiography, philosophical arguments, etc.) that can be brought to bear. Those from these traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) hold lots of tenets along those lines in common, and so can compare the relative strength of their religious claims.

Eastern religion is another story, and the presuppositions and conception of God is so different that it is difficult to test or examine rationally by these same standards.

3) Religious apologists all claim they are correct and they reject all other distinctive religious beliefs but their own.

We all believe what we believe (religious or no) and believing one thing precludes believing simultaneously in another that contradicts it. Most religious people will readily admit, however, that many beliefs in other religions are similar or identical to their own. All religions and indeed ethical systems (whether religious or not) have great commonalities. This was a central thesis of C.S. Lewis's book The Abolition of Man.

4) All religions seek to answer life’s most important questions in a believing communal social environment where the adherent is encouraged to believe and discouraged to doubt.

Sure. This is done in varying degrees of plausibility and rationality, but as a generality it is true.

These four facts form the basis of the argument. Okay so far? I think these facts are undeniable.

#2 is questionable to a significant extent, as argued. #3 must be seriously qualified.

So if you want a deductive argument expressing this inductive argument of mine, here it is:

p -> q:

If 1-4 is true, then it’s probable that people adopt their religion based upon “when and where they were born.”

They often (even more often than not) do do that; no argument there.



.: q:

Therefore, it’s probable that people adopt their religion based upon “when and where they were born.”

Based upon 1-4, it's highly probable religious adherents will not investigate their faith dispassionately.

That's exactly right. That is a major reason why I do apologetics. Religion needs to be held with a great deal more rationality and self-conscious analysis for the epistemological basis and various types of evidences for one's own belief.

They will use reason to solidify and support religious beliefs arrived at prior to rationally examining them. And because there isn’t a mutually agreed upon scientific test to determine the truth of any religion, therefore social/political and geographical factors heavily influence what religion one adopts.

Again, this is undeniably true (except for the "testing" part). Of course it proves nothing whatsoever about the strength of relative truth claims, so I don't see that it has much value except as a rather self-evident bit of sociological observation.

This conclusion is the strongest in those communally shared religions where doubt places the adherent in danger of hell, as well as the fear of losing the friendship of the religious community he or she is involved in.

Or places folks in danger of their lives if they dare dissent (or at least losing many freedoms, and their personal reputation), as in many Muslim countries, or Communist nations.

This conclusion leads to the presumption of skepticism when investigating any religious faith, including one’s own religious faith; for it’s probable that the adherents merely adopted their faith based upon “when and where they were born.”

I believe everyone should study to know why they believe what they believe. On the other hand, I deny that there is no religious knowledge or evidence other than these hard proofs from scientific inquiry. There are also highly complex internal or instinctive or subjective or experiential factors that have been analyzed at great length by philosophers like William Alston (see philosopher Michael Sudduth's paper on "Alstonian Foundationalism") and Alvin Plantinga ("properly basic belief"). Those are huge discussions, but not to be dismissed as irrelevant to the present line of inquiry.

John Loftus, in a second post, presents a typically presuppositionalist, Van Til-like excerpt from Paul Manata (who frequents Steve Hays' Triablogue site). But before looking at how he disagrees with it, it should be known that most non-Calvinist Christians also disagree with this outlook concerning the relationship of faith and reason, and unbelievers and believers. I myself have written lengthy, scathing critiques of presuppositional apologetics itself, and the late Greg Bahnsen's influential version of it. In other ways, there is common ground with what is called "evidentialist" apologetics (my preferred brand). Alvin Plantinga shows one way of achieving a semi-synthesis.

I've written papers specifically denying (based on the biblical data) that atheists must be evil and immoral, and affirming that any individual atheist can possibly be saved in the end. I've also strongly denied the notion that any atheist who says he was a former Christian must be lying, since it is considered impossible. That is biblical hogwash.

Does this description of the thinking of an unbeliever confirm or deny what I have been saying, that Christianity must devaluate philosophy in favor of believing in historical knowledge of a "special revelation" in the Bible?

It confirms it but only in a very limited way, since this presents the viewpoint of only a small minority of Christians: strict Calvinists (mostly fundamentalists). Not even all Calvinists would take this strict of a view. Loftus makes a mistake very common in the atheist / agnostic / skeptical literature: confusing just one small sector of Christianity with the whole. It's essentially a straw man because it is even less than a "half-truth" if we go by numbers of (thinking, informed) Christians proportion-wise who think like this.

And if a Christian must place reason below his faith, then how can he properly evaluate his faith in the first place, since the presumption of faith we start out with, will most likely be the presumption of faith we end with?

A Christian doesn't have to. The Bible doesn't teach this in the first place. The largest and most continuous Christian tradition (Catholicism) would flatly deny it. So do the majority of Protestants and Protestant apologists.

Since the presumption of faith we start out with is something we accept by, what John Hick calls, the "accidents of history" (i.e., where and when we are born), how likely is it that the Christian will ever truly evaluate his or her faith?

Many (and probably most) Christians never do that; I agree. Again, there is a reason why I have devoted myself to apologetics. If even an atheist thinks Christians should reason more about their faith, then it is obvious that the work of apologetics is crucial.

I would say, though, that there is a version of this "become whatever your surroundings dictate" argument that can be turned around as a critique of atheism. Many atheists -- though usually not born in that worldview -- nevertheless have decided to immerse themselves in atheist / skeptical literature and surround themselves with others of like mind. And so they become confirmed in their beliefs. We are what we eat. In other words, one can voluntarily decide to shut off other modes and ways of thinking in order to "convince" themselves of a particular viewpoint. That is almost the same mentality as adopting a religion simply because "everyone else" in a culture does so, or because of an accident of birth. People can create an "accident of one-way reading" too.

My position, in contrast, is for people to read the best advocates of any given debate and see them interact with each other. That's why I do so many dialogues. John Loftus could write these papers, and they may seem to be wonderfully plausible, until someone like me comes around to point out the fallacies in them and to challenge some of the alleged facts. Read both sides. Exercise your critical faculties. Don't just read only Christians or only atheists. Look for debates where both sides know their stuff and have the confidence to defend themselves and the courage and honesty to change their opinions if they have been shown that truth and fact demand it.

How is it possible to rationally evaluate the Christian faith when the Christian can only do so from within the presuppositions of that faith in the first place--presuppositions which he or she basically accepted by the "accidents of history."

This is basically what the presuppositionalists do, but that is rejected by the majority of Christian thinkers today and throughout history. John's critique applies only to them and to fideists and pietists who deliberately underemphasize or reject reason. it certainly does not apply to all of Christianity. The irony is that he makes a critique of something where I as a Christian and an apologist can largely agree with him. We disagree mainly on whether the critique affects Christianity as a whole or only one small -- mistaken -- school within it.

So let me propose something I call The Outsider Test: If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would be a Muslim right now, say it isn't so? That is a cold hard fact. Dare you deny it? Since this is so, or at least 99% so, then the proper method to evaluate your religious beliefs is with a healthy measure of skepticism.

Yes, it's true. Most people believe in religious matters what they were born into. But of course, many change their minds later on. And we must also take into account variations within religions. In my case, for example, one could say "sure, you're a Christian because most Americans claim to be so." True enough on one level, but it is false insofar as it would presuppose that I am a Christian only because of this factor and no others.

In fact, I have made up my mind as an individual and often changed my opinions. I was born into a liberal Methodist family. I never resonated with that much, and stopped going to the Methodist church when I was ten. I then became a "secularist" or "practical atheist" for about eight years. That went against my background because both parents and all four grandparents were Methodists. I then converted to evangelical Christianity at age 18. There wasn't much of that in my larger family, either. And at length I converted to Catholicism at age 32. There were virtually no Catholics in my extended family. So I was making decisions on my own regardless of what folks around me believed (particularly in my Catholic conversion). Therefore, this whole analysis doesn't really apply to me, if we examine it closely and take it a step deeper and out of the broadest generalities.

Test your beliefs as if you were an outsider to the faith you are evaluating. If your faith stands up under muster, then you can have your faith.

That is essentially what I am doing in my numerous posted debates (more than 450 as of this writing; perhaps nearly 500 by now. I stopped counting). I interact with people who don't agree with me, all the time., And so I am exposed to their premises and worldviews and in a good place to judge if it is superior to my own. Obviously I haven't been dissuaded of Catholic Christianity yet. And I can demonstrate to anyone why, by directing them to my debates with atheists and Protestants (i.e., anyone non-Catholic).

If not, abandon it, for any God who requires you to believe correctly when we have this extremely strong tendency to believe what we were born into, surely should make the correct faith pass the outsider test. If your faith cannot do this, then the God of your faith is not worthy of being worshipped.

I agree that every Christian should have a reasonable faith, that can withstand rational and skeptical examination. I do this myself and I write so that others can share in the same confidence and blessing that I receive as I do apologetics and interact with other people of different beliefs.
What we believe does not depend entirely on where we are born. It also depends on when we were born, and what beliefs and conditions were there when we grew up. What would you believe if you were born during the Middle Ages, or during the Ancient superstitious days before the rise of modern science, Frontier days in America, pre-civil war days in the South, and even pre-depression era days, WWII days, Vietnam protest days, the greed decade of the 80's, and the microchip and cell phone revolution now? Is human reason that mallable? I think so.

None of this means there isn't any truth, moral or otherwise. But this is known as the Dependency Thesis, whereby what we believe depends upon these factors world-wide. Yep, that's right, world-wide. And while it doesn't prove anything about truth itself, it should give us all pause to consider the factors of where and when we were born, and whether or not we properly are evaluating our faith.

All true, again. And I agree that "it doesn't prove anything about truth itself". I have long accepted the sociological basis of much actual belief, on account of my reading of social analysts such as Thomas Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) and Michael Polanyi. See also psychiatrist Paul Vitz's analysis of the familial background of many famous atheist figures. This also is a result of my degree in sociology and minor in psychology.

There are so very many things we believe because of when and where we were born that an argument is made by moral relativists based on it, which is known to ethicists as the "Dependency Thesis (DT)" According to the DT our morals are causally dependent on our cultural context. Even if the relativists are wrong in the very end, they make an extremely powerful case which should give the over-confident Christian a reason for a very long pause, if nothing else.

I don't see why. Every person is responsible for his own intellectual advancement. The trouble is that public education is so rotten today that young minds aren't formulated in ways that would further this end. They are spoon-fed secularist propaganda bleached of any Christian influence whatsoever, and then given a massive sophisticated dose of anti-Christianity in college (so that many students lose their faith because they are so overwhelmed and unprepared), as if this were a fair, intelligent way of going about things. They are what they eat too.

That's why secularists are so intent on removing any vestige of Christianity from education, because they prevail only by people being ignorant of alternatives and being presented one side only. I was a thoroughly secularist pro-choice, pro-feminist, political and sexual liberal coming out of high school. I would have repeated the party line impeccably (in marvelously blissful ignorance). But when I started reading some materials with a different perspective during my college years and shortly afterwards (Christian, politically conservative, pro-life), then my opinions changed because I had a rational basis to compare one view with another, rather than ape propagandistic slogans learned by rote repetition (which is much of liberal, secularist education these days).

The Christian believes God is a rational God and that we should love God with all of their minds. The Christian is not afraid to examine his or her beliefs by the test of reason because he or she believes in a God of reason. A small minority of Christians even believe Logic and reason presuppose the Christian God.

So what's the problem here? Why aren't Christians posting by the droves and saying, "Fine, I have no problem with The Outsider Test?” Why not?

Because they are insufficiently acquainted with historic Christianity, biblical Christianity, and historic apologetics. They are fair game to eventually lose their faith, or else possess such a weak, mangled, ineffective faith that they make no practical difference to anyone around them, as potential "witnesses" of the truth of Christianity.

An outsider would be someone who was only interested in which religious or nonreligious view is correct, and assumed from the start that none of them were true--none of them!

But there are no absolutely clean slates. This is where I would disagree, based on the analyses of people like Plantinga, Alston, and Polanyi (the latter almost singlehandedly dismantled logical positivism).

An outsider is a mere seeker who has no prior presuppositions about any faith, or no faith at all. To be an outsider would also mean we would have nothing at stake in the outcome of our investigations, and hence no fear of hell while investigating it all. These threats could hinder a clear-headed investigation.

I deny the premise, and so am skeptical of this scenario; however, I do believe in being as objective and fair as we possibly can be, even given our inevitable biases and belief-system that cannot be erased merely by playing the game of philosophy and supposed extreme, dispassionate detachment.

What exactly is wrong with this? While I know it may be impossible to do, since we all have presuppositions, what's wrong with striving for this as a goal that can only be approximated?

I agree, if qualified like this. Good.

If Christianity wins hands down in the marketplace of ideas, like so many seem to indicate, then why not mentally adopt this test? Christians shouldn't have any problems doing this, right?

Amen! I try to do it by my debates, such as the present one. I think Christianity wins in any such encounter. It's always been my experience.

The outsider test would mean that there would be no more quoting the Bible to defend how Jesus' death on the cross saves us from sins. The Christian must now try to rationally explain it. No more quoting the Bible to defend how it's possible for Jesus to be 100% God and 100% man with nothing left over, by merely quoting from the Bible. The Christian must now try to make sense of this claim, coming as it does from an ancient supertitious people who didn't have trouble believing this could happen (Acts 14:11, 28:6), etc, etc. Why? Because you cannot start out by first believing the Bible, nor can you trust the people closest to you who are Christians to know the truth. You would want evidence and reasons for these things. And you'd initially be skeptical of believing in any of the miracles in the Bible just as you would be skeptical of any claims of the miraculous in today's world.

This is a description of apologetics, pure and simple. Thanks for confirming the value of what I have devoted my life to.

. . . we would do well to question the social conditions of how we came to adopt a particular religious belief in the first place, that is, who or what influenced us, and what were the actual reasons for adopting that belief in its earliest stages.

I agree wholeheartedly.

If you've read my Conversion/deconversion story, I had no initial reasons for adopting the Christian faith, except that everyone I had ever met believed. The reason I adopted it in the first place was because of social conditions--no one I knew doubted it and I concluded at the age of 18 that therefore it must be true.

My story was precisely the opposite. I was so utterly ignorant of Christian theology at age 18 that I didn't even know that Christians believed Jesus was God in the flesh. I arrived at all my Christian beliefs by my own deliberate study. I had gotten secularism crammed down my throat in Detroit public schools and Wayne State University in Detroit. I had to "even the score" a bit by my own study of the theistic intellectual tradition. That was a bit tough to do in a fair way, given, for example, that there wasn't a single theist in the philosophy department at Wayne when I was there and took five courses or so.

. . . . there are no empirical tests to finally decide between religious viewpoints.

This is simply not true. There are a number of evidential or empirical tests that Christianity and other religions can be subjected to. The argument from biblical prophecy offers a chance to test by real, concrete historical events whether the predictions were accurate or not. A study of Jesus' Resurrection, that involved a dead body and a rock tomb guarded by Roman soldiers, provides hard facts that have to be dealt with and explained somehow. The cosmological and teleological theistic arguments offer hard scientific facts and details that are rationally explained as suggesting a God. All miraculous claims can be examined.

In the Catholic tradition, there are many eyewitness accounts of people being raised from the dead (St. Augustine, for example, attested to this). There are all sorts of miracles. For example: the incorrupt bodies of saints. If you can take a dead person out of their grave twenty, fifty years or more after their death, and the body has not decayed, and it is because they were a saintly person, then that is hard empirical evidence that confirms Christian, Catholic teaching. You have the mystery of the stigmata, that could be seen in, e.g., St. Padre Pio, who died in 1968. There is archaeological evidence confirming the claims of the Bible. Etc., etc.

Skeptics thumb their nose at all of this but it is not nearly so simple. There are unexplained phenomena here that have to be accounted for. We have our interpretation, but the atheist puts his head in the sand and claims that it's all impossible because of their prior axiomatic beliefs that all miracles are impossible because they "go against science " (itself a blatant fallacy). Hence John writes: "Christians believe God did miracles in the ancient past (but we see no evidence he does so today, which is our only sure test for whether or not they happened in the past)." And that is considered "open-minded" and intelligent.

A believer in one specific religion has already rejected all other religions, so when he rejects the one he was brought up with he becomes an agnostic or atheist many times, like me.

We need not reject all other religions in toto; just aspects of them that we believe to be untrue. For example, Confucius taught excellent personal ethics. A Christian would disagree with very little there. We have no objection to Jews following the 613 commandments of Mosaic Law or keeping kosher. Buddhists are often pro-life, and teach about personal asceticism something not unlike Catholic monasticism. Muslims still have kids, are against abortion and premarital sex and pornography. All great stuff.

You quoted Paul, for instance. Why should I believe what an ancient superstitious person believed and said?

Here is the classic atheist condescension and double standard. We're supposed to sit like eager baby birds receiving regurgitated worms from their mother's beak, in hearing atheists lecture us about the Bible and how stupid and contradictory it is, and how dumb our interpretations are. John cited the Bible and beliefs stated in the Bible all over his main post. But the Christian is not allowed to cite the Bible in his replies (???!!!).

Thus John waxes indignantly: "Deal with the argument. The Bible means nothing to me." Well, how the hell is a Christian gonna be able to respond to an argument of biblical skepticism and alleged contradictions by not citing the very Bible that was critiqued? It's irrelevant whether John accepts it or not or puts it on the level of Mein Kampf or Aesop's Fables. It's our view that is being critiqued and so we have the task of defending the Bible. And in order to do that one must cite it! Good grief . . .

The condescension towards the Apostle Paul, who was one of the most educated and philosophically nuanced men in the ancient world, and a brilliant writer is, of course, completely out of line and ridiculous; a quintessential example of atheist chronological snobbery.

For the outsider test to fail the test of the Bible you must first establish the trustworthiness of the Bible to tell us the truth. I'm proposing a test to see if the Bible should be trusted in the first place. How do YOU propose we test it? Could you please explain to me why you might use double-standards when testing it against other religious books?

That's super-easy: we test it like any other source of history: through historiographical scholarship and archaeology. The Bible has been tested again and again in this fashion and has proven itself accurate, insofar as it reports historical, geographical, biographical details, etc.
Wholly apart from religious faith, then, we can establish that it is a remarkably accurate document that can be trusted to accurately report things. That's the bare minimum. Once supernatural events are being discussed, the argument must be made on an entirely different plane: legal-historical evidences, philosophy, etc. But the Bible is not untrustworthy on the basis of inaccuracy of things that can be empirically verified.

That's enough for now. If John wants to engage in further dialogue, minus the acrimony that has plagued our previous several attempts, I'd be happy to. Many areas here can be unpacked and elaborated upon in great depth.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Angry, Irrational Atheists and Other Ex-Christians On the Prowl Again: Christopher Hitchens vs. Fr. George Rutler / The Good Folks at ExChristian.Net

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Let me start out with a strong disclaimer: I personally know many atheists who do not (repeat: do NOT) fit into this characterization. I've often defended atheists against individual irrational Christians. One must judge every person individually. Atheists may possibly be saved. Some who state that they are former Christians may very well indeed have been Christians at one time (a non-Calvinist Christian need not deny this, as it is a quite biblical notion). Atheists are not inevitably immoral or amoral or ethically relativistic, or politically liberal, etc. I've stated all this many times. I have nothing against atheists as people. I have no hostility towards atheists as a class, or prejudice whatsoever. I approach anyone and everyone with an unassuming attitude and without cynicism. In fact, I cause myself no end of misery for this reason.

That said, it is undeniable that many atheists are very angry people, obsessed with Christians, quite irrational, rude, absurd, and foolish in dialologue with Christians, unable to withstand a critique of their "deconversion" stories, condescending, hostile, patronizing, and burdened with considerable personal prejudice against Christians and Christianity. It's unarguable. Examples are innumerable. Ten minutes cruising the comboxes of virtually any major "former Christian" blog or website will confirm this beyond all possible refutation or doubt.

Recently, I have had an experience of this myself (for about the 50th time), in critiquing the "anti-testimony" of Dave Van Allen, webmaster of ExChristian.Net. He made one terse "reply " only loosely connected, if at all, to my actual critique) and then descended into purely personal, petty attacks (see my direct reply to the latter, documenting the folly of one particular scurrilous lie), along with "attaboy rah-rahs" from a dozen or so of his cronies on his blog, who all wanted to "reply" to me also (me being the lone Christian around in that particular thread, and supposed to be able to answer twelve people at once?).

Twelve or so insulting atheists against one Christian attempting to participate in rational discourse: that sounds fair and right, doesn't it? Hardly any of them dare to come to my blog, where they would be treated with politeness and courtesy, but I am expected to stay there and engage in "discourse." Not a chance. It would be an insult to my intelligence and that of any thinking, fair-minded person, and to the very notion of rational dialogue, for me to remain in such a farcical situation.

Sadly, this pack mentality a very common characteristic not only of atheists, but of many people on the Internet of many belief-systems . . . anyone can get with twelve other like-minded zealots and attack a dissenter from that circle. That takes neither guts not brains to do. But let one person offer a rational critique of one's reasons for leaving Christianity and it is Chicken Little and Super-Paranoia Time.

What I find especially interesting was the repeated denial by Dr. Jim Arvo, that (many) atheists (as a generalization) exhibit such irrational anger and hostility. In our sub-dialogue regarding Van Allen he reiterated this over and over:

[ME] ...many atheists collapse Christianity into know-nothing fundamentalism, so that it can be dismissed as 'anti-intellectual' and 'anti-science'...

I don't know who the "many" are that you speak of.

. . . Bottom line: don't dismiss all atheists as simply thinking they are smarter than anybody else.

Many clearly do think so. Again, I appeal to the rhetoric commonly seen here and in similar places, about how "imbecilic" and "obviously false" Christianity is. That is the language of condescension and a "know-it-all" mentality.

. . . You guys usually regard them as primitive gullible simpletons (part of that is "chronological snobbery", as C.S. Lewis calls it), and so expect to find massive error and contradiction.

That's a crass generalization.

It certainly is a generalization, by nature. Whether it is "crass" or not depends on whether it is a true general observation. I say it is.

His reasoning capabilities apparently exhausted (despite obviously having a head on his shoulders and being a professor), Jim himself then jumped right into personal insult:

I was quite clear that I read only part of your writings, and only responded to part of them. If you actually have something of substance to offer, then please direct me to it, or recap it here. I honestly don't have the time to sift through all you've written looking for something that may make sense to me . . . If you cannot bring yourself to admit that the clear surface meaning of the two Judas accounts are problematic, then it seems to me that you cannot even enter into the debate in a meaningful way IMHO.
In giving examples of the legion of "angry, irrational atheists" I wrote:
Such rhetoric is very common among atheists / agnostics / skeptics / "freethinkers". Look at Dawkins and Hitchens, for heaven's sake. There are exceptions (you seem to be one of them and I know others personally from the Internet and in "real life") but I stand by my generalization, based on many years of experience of debates and discussions. I used the word "many"; not "most" or "almost all."
Lo and behold, I discovered a tidbit about Christopher Hitchens today that confirms what I am saying, rather strikingly. It was reported by journalist Richard Lawrence Poe and has been noted by (former atheist) Jeff Miller (the "Curt Jester") and (former Episcopal priest) Taylor Marshall. Poe writes:
Eyewitnesses report that Hitchens erupted into a drunken rage at a recent promotional event for his book. Hitchens reportedly descended from the stage, visibly inebriated, approached a Roman Catholic priest in the audience [Fr. George Rutler], and began shouting at him, only inches from his face. Hitchens’ manner appeared so physically menacing, witnesses say, that a plainclothes bodyguard on duty at the event rushed in and escorted the drunken scribe from the room.

All of this happened four and a half months ago, on May 1. It was never reported in the press. A conspiracy of silence shielded the bestselling author from the negative publicity his behavior seemingly should have earned him.

. . . Billed as, “An Evening with Christopher Hitchens“, the event was presented by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and featured a discussion between Hitchens and Peter Collier (who is Director of Publications for the Freedom Center). During that discussion, Hitchens offered many insults — laced with a generous helping of obscene, Anglo-Saxon expletives — to such beloved religious figures as the late Mother Teresa. One eyewitness states that Hitchens’ “drunken, rambling, anti-Semitic, bigoted and foul-mouthed rant” caused “two-thirds of the people to leave in disgust” before the talk had ended.

[some of the lurid details can be read in the Poe article; also in another post elsewhere; be forewarned about gutter language]

. . .During the question-and-answer period following Hitchens’ talk, Father George Rutler took the floor and the following exchange ensued:

FATHER RUTLER: I have met saints. You cannot explain the existence of saints without God. I was nine years chaplain with Mother Teresa [inaudible]. You have called her a whore, a demagogue. She’s in heaven that you don’t believe in, but she’s praying for you. If you do not believe in heaven, that’s why you drink.
FATHER RUTLER: That’s why you drink. God has offered us happiness, all of us. And you will either die a Catholic or a madman, and I’ll tell you the difference.
And secondly, I’m an officer with this club. And this conversation has been beneath the dignity of this club. . . .
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Well, it is now. . . . It is now.
FATHER RUTLER: And I’d just say that…
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Fine host you turned out to be.
FATHER RUTLER: …this club, we’ve had very open discussion. But we’ve never heard such vulgarity and bigotry.
FATHER RUTLER: And I am, I don’t want to see this in this club again. And I think I represent the officers of this noble…
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Your claim to know what a [saint] is or what heaven is is as absurd as your [inaudible] arrogance, your unkindness and your lack of hospitality. . . . You should be ashamed. . . . And you are supposed to represent a church of charity and kindness?
. . . It was after the above exchange that the real fireworks started, according to witnesses. This blog has obtained a written account of the incident by one eyewitness, which states the following:
“At the end of the event as he staggered, sweating and red faced, out of the room, he [Hitchens] advanced on Father Rutler in a threatening and physical manner, screaming that this beloved pastor and brilliant scholar whom he had never met was `a child molester and a lazy layabout who never did a day’s work in his life’. His behavior was so frightening that a bodyguard put himself between Hitchens and Father Rutler to protect him. Several of the event organizers then escorted Hitchens to the men’s room and when he emerged he continued his psychotic rant, repeating the same calumnious and baseless screed as before. It was then that Father Rutler, in the most charitable manner, told Hitchens [for the second time] that he will `either die a madman or a Roman Catholic’. … Unless he faces his alcoholism soon, I am betting on the ‘madman’ ending for him.” (4)
. . . I hope and pray that Mr. Hitchens will seek the help he needs in his struggle with alcohol. And I hope that someday soon, when his mind has cleared, Mr. Hitchens will see the need to pay a visit to Father Rutler and deliver to him face to face the apology this good and saintly man so plainly deserves.

. . . Two extremely reliable eyewitnesses, who were seated close to Father Rutler, have vouched for the version of events set forth in this article. A third eyewitness — Father Rutler himself — while declining my request for an interview, did not deny the essence of the story.
The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Fr. Rutler was a hero of 9-11, spending the day
hearing confessions and giving last rites to firemen

Poe's article also includes two e-mail responses from Christopher Hitchens. The Penraker blog noted with delightfully acid sarcasm: "Hitchens would then be a very poor example of the supposedly wonderful, kind, generous, pacific world of atheism."

So much for the supposed rarity of "angry, irrational" atheists. Hitchens (along with Richard Dawkins, who would win no prize for rudimentary fairness towards Christians, either) is one of the most famous ones today.

Dr. Arvo claimed that the folks who frequent ExChristian.Net were (in the main) of a high calibre as well: of a sort that wouldn't participate in mere mockery or hostile irrationality towards their fellow human Christian brothers and sisters. I had (to no avail) documented in my replies to him thus far some examples of exactly what I was contending, from the same thread in which I was participating; notably, from one "rd":
. . . the total fallacy of religions is anyway? Your longing for a belief in the after life that you are willing to deny the obvious? The obvious truth being, that it's all a lie.

Anytime you need faith in order to believe something, you are expected to go beyond your own intellectual honesty and accentually lie to yourself knowing full well deep down inside it could not possibly be true.

Kill the old self and lie to the new self, step beyond reality into mental delusions of psuedo [sic] grandeur.

. . . incredable [sic] imbecilic nonsense . . .
Also, here are some tidbits from Dave Van Allen, whose deconversion I was critiquing (all from his story or his later comments in the combox underneath it):
My mind was opened to reality, and is continuing to be opened to reality, as the myths and gods of my youth are abandoned to be replaced by reason.

Christianity is just another man-made, phony cult - that's all . . . all it really does is enslave the mind.

[W]hen Christianity condemned the pursuit of science, viewing it as an attack on faith, many centuries of ignorant darkness, disease, and painful death resulted.

Christianity caused the Dark Ages.

Religion is complete emotion — thought means little.

No matter how ridiculous, illogical, stupid, and irrational, anything in this book seems, all of you who want to call yourselves Christians, and go to a wonderful place when you leave this life, must suspend all rational thought processes, turn your brains off to anything except the particular doctrine being promulgated by your particular sect.

I have no reason to hate those religions. I do have a reason to hate Christianity. By way of analogy: You can't hate someone else's ex-wife. But you can hate your own.
And in his "reply" to me, he wrote:
Can you show me any evidence outside your book of myths for the existence of a mysterious, maniacal, meglomanic [sic], Jewish deity living somewhere in the sky that has promised everlasting retributive horror to be reigned [sic] down on all those who have the wrong thoughts in their heads about his existence?
Thank you very much, Dave Van Allen, for being a quintessential example of the proverbial (Irrationally) Angry Atheist. Here are some additional sterling examples of Pure Rationality, fair-mindedness, and open-mindedness, from the same discussion thread I participated in. These are the folks who want to engage in discussion and "dialogue" with me:
ME: I make sure that all atheists and agnostics are treated cordially and respectfully on my (Catholic) blog.

"boomSLANG": ....and we make sure that all self-righteous theists are treated like people . . .

ME: “…supposedly anti-science…” and "…allegedly 'caused the Dark Ages.'"

Huey: Dave, you use the words ‘supposedly’ and ‘allegedly’ as though there is some question about the statements they are attached to and in examining your website, you do a lot of that. There is no ‘supposedly’ and 'allegedly' about their application in this instance and using language to suggest otherwise is simply a form of dishonesty.

The Catholic Church has a long and well documented history of suppressing science, with the tools brought to bear being censure, torture and murder . . . The dark ages were brought about by the Catholic Church's control of knowledge. This extended to the confiscation of scientific and engineering texts and their subsequent destruction. It also included, and still does to this day, the censoring of knowledge that their laity may possess. The advancement of enlightenment, both scientifically and socially, was achieved in spite of, not because of the Catholic Church.

Bill: Whatever the belief, motivation and emotion behind your actions, you can be sure they are personal and not driven by god or pure rational thought. They are emotional driven.

RD: What we have observed here folks from the comments left from Dave Armstrong, is the effects of that poison. We've tasted it and it made us sick so we stopped drinking it. I suggest he do the same.

"eel shepherd": . . . Jesus of Nazareth, who likely never existed.
A brief review of similar statements elsewhere on ExChristian.Net reveals some real classics of substance- and rationality-free hatred against Christians and Christianity (my emphases):
Christianity suggests that God regrets that he created the world, and could be gratified by torturing every one of its inhabitants in hell for eternity. I cannot believe that I believed such idiocy for so long. Such a God, if it existed, deserves to be denounced, not worshipped. . . . It truly is an elaborate hoax, but I am glad I have now seen the light. I love Christians but hate Christianity.

(George Basel, 5-7-05)

Christianity does nothing but condemn people who share a different belief system, and it enslaves people's minds like it did mine. I am not afraid to say that I hate Christianity, and that Christianity SUCKS!!!!

(C.W., 11-23-06)

I hate Christianity for a variety of reasons. The first is the Bible.

(Sarah, 5-12-04)

Oh we all know what being a Christian is all about... it is about hate. Christianity is just plan silly, the idea of Jesus is silly. Go back to your little church, stuff your head in the sand... and live your lie.

(Onanite, 1-5-06)

There's no reason to hate God... after all, you can't hate that which doesn't exist. I choose to hate Christianity, and the destructive power it has on human kind.

(Anonymous, 9-26-06)

If my anger were to materilize [sic] as a bomb, I could blow up a whole residential block. That's what a psychologist told me. He also said that my depression was anger based. But, currently, I am more angry at myself for having believed the %&$#%&%@ that [sic] I am at the christian church itself. Perhaps in ten years I will actually hate christianity like you do today.

But I am somewhat angry at the church. I am particularly angry at the self-righteous hypocrites that thought they had the right to tell me how to feel, how to behave,what to do, and what to believe. Boy, do I ever hate them.

(Lorena, 5-31-06)

But now, it's different. When the fear comes, so does something else. Rage. Anger. Hatred.

I hate to see IT manifest itself in so many ways. The arrogance, the pride, the self-inflated egos of those who say "I'm saved and you're not." I hate to see IT spreading. Whenever I see Billy Graham, I cringe. I see an angry man preaching a fear based message to people who need help. In his messages I find threats and absolutes.

. . . I want to stop IT. I want to see IT lying on the ground, bleeding and dying a painful death for all the misery it has caused. IT deserves nothing less. If there is a hell, then IT should be the only permanent resident. Fear has no place in heaven.

"…Hope you have an asbestos suit, cause you're going to HELL…"


I grab IT by the neck and I squeeze. I squeeze hard. IT gasps and grabs at IT's throat, IT's copy of the bible falling into the mud.

I squeeze, pushing IT towards the mud.


IT changes form. IT's face shifts rapidly. A fundamentalist, hell fire and brimstone preacher, who's kind rants and raves about the torments of hell upon the unbelievers.

. . . Before I can finish the squeeze, IT's form shifts again. This time, it's Billy Graham.

"Mr. Graham." I hiss. "I've been wanting to do this for a very long time." I pick him off the ground and hurl him into a wall. His bible falls from his shirt pocket. I grab it and rip it to shreds. "Where's your precious bible quotes now Mr. Graham?!" I shout, grabbing him by the collar and slamming him back into the wall.

"Tell me Mr. Graham." I hiss to his face. "How do you feel telling well-meaning people that they are doomed to hellfire because they haven't accepted Jesus? How often do you stand up on that dinky little podium of yours and tell the audience that we're all sinners? How often do you tell people that they're damned, damnit?! You my friend, spread fear. You spread the caner. I hope you like that!"

Grabbing his throat, my fingers digging into his skin, I hurl him over my head and face first into a wall. He falls, neck broken. But it's not finished.

Above me, the cloudy sky pours rain as I walk over to Mr. Graham's lifeless corpse. Then IT changes again, this time to the authors of all the fear based bible books and material I've ever seen. IT stands up and looks at me, glaring.

"…It's too bad that you're going to Hell…"

I scream and jump on IT, sending us both into the mud. I grab IT and punch, claw and tear at the faces, the ones who told me that they were my friend, trying to save me. The ones who say that Jesus is the only savior, the ones who frightened me with their work.

I scream and tear at them all, ripping their faces to bloody shreds. All the anger, all the hatred has boiled to the surface, and there is no stopping it. All the mental anguish and all the fear will be dealt with.

With a final slash I send the broken, bashed in face of Greg Laurie sliding through the mud into a rock. I stand, and I stare at the ruined, bloody face of IT. And I turn, facing away. All the pain, all the hatred at these people who threaten me, even if they aren't aware of it. I hate them all. I hate them.

. . . …and I stare into the face of Jesus Christ.

I pause. My clenched fist, so eager to pulverize, hesitates. From the mud, Jesus looks up at me, his face unreadable. No anger, no hate, no love, nothing. He just looks at me, as if letting me know that I can bash his face in if I want.

I look at him.

"Why?" I ask, tears coming from my eyes. "Why?"

He looks at me.

"Do you have any idea, any idea at all, about all the pain your sayings would cause? Do you have any idea at all how much I hate what you say? Do you have any idea whatsoever how much I hate the religion that follows you? Do you have any idea how much I hate its doctrines, its exclusiveness, its fear?! Do you?! DO YOU?!"

He doesn't answer.

"WHY?!" I scream. "WHY, WHY, WHY?!?!?!" Over and over and over I keep screaming it, screaming at a man who supposedly said he was the son of God, at the man that millions adore and worship.

And yet…he does not answer me.

"I HATE YOU!" I scream. "I HATE YOU!"

And then IT changes one more time. The face and body of Jesus vanish, replaced with an unexpected form.


I stare at myself, standing there. My own face is angry. My own face is full of rage. IT glares back at me with the same anger I have.

My God…why? I'm becoming just like IT.

Maybe it's not the people I hate. It’s the fear that they spread that I hate. It's the darkness that they spread that I despise, that I detest. It's the ideas that drive people apart, that cripple people's lives, that plunges them into the depths of despair and fear.

That's what I hate. I don't hate these people. I hate the darkness within them…and me.

For fear is like cancer. It takes hold and it doesn't let go.

. . . I prayed to God while I was in bed. No, more like, pleaded and cried. I ranted at God how I hated Christianity, how I hate its doctrines, its exclusiveness, and how it uses fear. I ranted at God at how much I hated it, how I thought it was a cancer upon the earth that needed to be wiped out.

(Ian, 6-16-06)

. . . we don't "hate" Christians---however, yes, many of us loathe Christianity, and especially the tactics used to promote it.

(boomSLANG, 11-18-06)

Have I fully denied the existence of God? No... I have more rebelled from Christianity and ran from this Jesus that I have come to hate. How do I love someone I don't even like?! I don't love God, and I don't know how to, This God that loves me is the only source of power to save me ....yet he chooses not to!

(Mark Fouche, 1-23-06)
After this remarkable and pathetic parade of irrational anger and folly, I would actually like to end on a positive note, just as I began on one. I wrote a post about how atheist Jim Lazarus was excoriating an atheist group called The Rational Response Squad, for their ridiculous attacks on Christians and Christianity. Some excerpted highlights:
Every single catch phrase is something along the lines of, "Believing in God is a disease, and we can cure it!" or "Theism is a mind virus!", etc. The entire project reeks of arrogance. It'd be nice to see them have to deal with a series of intelligent theists, and see how they perform.

But I can't support a movement that depicts theism as a mind disease. It's incredibly arrogant, in my never so humble opinion.

My problems were based on the arrogance and narrow mindedness of its attitude, evidenced by the way that you've been acting toward believers the entire time. Your catch phrases and slogans are especially telling. Right on the front page: "Fighting to Free Humanity from the Mind Disorder Known as Theism".

Suggesting that belief in theism is worthy of comparison to beliefs of men in mental institutions demonstrates the same close-minded and arrogant attitude that I mentioned in my post. Simply because some believers support ridiculous things does not mean that they all do, or that theism itself is necessarily a deranged idea.

I'm speaking out against arrogance in the form of shallow analysis from a "better than thou" perspective, where "shallow" is essentially a cheap consideration of whatever issue a person is opposing. There's a difference between this and calling a clearly unintelligent person, unintelligent.

If you think that Ray is an intelligent theist, then this would actually prove that you have no idea what an intelligent theist is really like. I've met more sophisticated believers in teenage Christian chatrooms than Ray Comfort. If you're looking for intelligent theists, try Richard Swinburne, or Paul Moser, or William Lane Craig, or many believers in the Reformed tradition, or other up-and-coming names in theistic apologetics such as Victor Reppert, Douglas Groothuis, and others. These are intelligent believers, as well as those who have committed themselves to studying and defending the arguments put forward by them, and the number of those people is growing every day.

By pushing the issue on Comfort, you've more or less proved one of the complaints that I made at the outset. FAOR has set out an agenda against theism, and yet it falls horribly short of that by focusing its criticisms against unimpressive believers. From there, you make sweeping claims about theism in general and by extension believers in general, calling it a mind disease. At the end of the day your project comes nowhere close to a strong critique of theism in general, and therefore "Anonymous" is correct when he or she says that this program is only on the level of teenagers and those people who are "Mad At God".

Friday, September 28, 2007

Dialogue with Former Christian, Dr. Jim Arvo, on Various Aspects of "Deconversion"

This exchange took place on the ExChristian.Net site (in a combox), in response to my critique of the webmaster Dave Van Allen's "anti-testimony." Dr. Arvo's words will be in blue. My older cited words will be in green. Dave Van Allen's words will be in purple.

* * * * *

Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

You start by responding to Dave's comment "None of this proves or disproves Christianity..." with the statement "If such stories give no reason whatsoever to reject Christianity then (not to be insulting), I humbly submit: what good are they at all?"
You erroneously equate lack of "proof" with "no reason whatsoever to reject Christianity". That is a gross misinterpretation. Dave is acknowledging what is manifestly true--that neither side can be PROVEN absolutely. However, proofs are not what we employ when deciding upon empirical matters; we marshal evidence. I submit to you (not to be insulting) that the difference is enormous, and that the weight of evidence is not on the side of Christianity.

That's a good point, and it did cross my mind. However, in light of Dave's later comments, I think I was justified in reading it the way I did, and not in the more technical epistemological sense you suggested. E.g., Dave claims in the combox:
My mind was opened to reality, and is continuing to be opened to reality, as the myths and gods of my youth are abandoned to be replaced by reason.
Also: he describes Christianity as "primitive imaginings" and a "phony cult" that "enslave[s] the mind." It is supposedly anti-science and (most ridiculous of all) allegedly "caused the Dark Ages." To me this implies that somewhere along the line he assumes Christianity has been rationally disproven, or at least so discredited that he has justification to speak in such insulting and derogatory terms.

And that gets back to my point: either he thinks his deconversion story offers some of the reasons why he thinks Christianity is false or it doesn't. If it does, where are they? I saw none as I examined it. If it doesn't (as I interpreted), then what good is it? Frankly, who cares about horror stories of the ignorant, anti-intellectual fundamentalists he mostly associated with? It may tickle the fancy of former Christians who love to hear these things, but it doesn't advance the discussion at all. It is merely anecdotes about fools.

And I would add that if he couldn't extricate himself from such know-nothingism for 30 years, what does that say about his intellectual discernment? Does he mean to imply that he couldn't find a single Christian congregation anywhere for 30 years, that respected the mind and science and philosophy, and had a thought-out view of culture, politics, the arts, etc.? I find that astounding. Catholicism (my group) certainly offers all that. And many Protestant groups and congregations do. I've been in them myself (as a former Protestant evangelical). But it doesn't reflect well on his own judgment as a Christian.

In response to Dave's story about asking difficult questions as a child, DA responded "I would ask the child back: 'why do you presume to question God's purposes for doing anything, or act as if we would or could or should understand everything that God does, in the first place?'"

What a terrible answer. You are, in effect, saying that the child must simply accept the story as given, without testing it against their own experience or their own notion of justice and compassion. While the latter ought not be the ultimate yard stick, it should certainly sound an alarm if a religious teaching proclaims compassion yet appears to lack it in its most basic teaching. I should think it far better to explain why we should accept that god's actions appear less charitable than the child's own would have been, and why the child should continue to seriously question actions that appear unkind or downright devious.

I didn't say all that. You read that into what I said. My point was simply to note that we shouldn't expect to know all about God's deepest purposes, by the very nature of the case (or Being). Later I made analogies to the many deep mysteries of science (origins of life, DNA, why gravity acts as it does, etc.). I'm contending that if we can acknowledge mystery in science, why not also in theology? In that context I was presupposing belief in God. If you grant that, then given the traditional theistic / Jewish / Christian concept of a transcendent, monotheistic, omniscient, omnipotent God, it is foolish to think that we can figure all that out, since clearly such a Being is many magnitudes greater in thinking ability.

That was my point: not that one should render blind faith, or be a fideist. I have always opposed that. I would never urge that on anyone. Now, if people in your past or Dave's taught that they were wrong, and I fully agree with your general critique of their mentality.

"...many atheists collapse Christianity into know-nothing fundamentalism, so that it can be dismissed as 'anti-intellectual' and 'anti-science'..."

I don't know who the "many" are that you speak of.

Isn't it obvious even in this combox? E.g.:

. . . the total fallacy of religions is anyway? Your longing for a belief in the after life that you are willing to deny the obvious? The obvious truth being, that it's all a lie.

Anytime you need faith in order to believe something, you are expected to go beyond your own intellectual honesty and accentually lie to yourself knowing full well deep down inside it could not possibly be true.

Kill the old self and lie to the new self, step beyond reality into mental delusions of psuedo [sic]grandeur.

. . . incredable [sic] imbecilic nonsense . . .
It was clear in Dave's deconversion as well. Such rhetoric is very common among atheists / agnostics / skeptics / "freethinkers". Look at Dawkins and Hitchens, for heaven's sake. There are exceptions (you seem to be one of them and I know others personally from the Internet and in "real life") but I stand by my generalization, based on many years of experience of debates and discussions. I used the word "many"; not "most" or "almost all."

At there are hundreds of Christian visitors who zealously place themselves into this category by refusing to examine any of their beliefs and by attempting to discredit science in the large with childishly simplistic and fallacious arguments. We, as a rule, do not use such visitors as an excuse to dismiss anything (which is what you are apparently suggesting).

Why deal with them at all? If thinking Christians and ex-Christians agree that they shouldn't be dealt with seriously, then why the obsession with them? It's because (in my humble opinion) that is the easiest way for an ex-Christian to live with his or her decision to leave Christianity. It's in their interest to caricature Christianity into the silly anti-intellectual wing of it, so it can be rejected (because even a Christian like myself would readily reject the same things insofar as they are stupid and mindless). You take the very worst, fringe aspects of something in order to reject it.

In fact, some sites, like Debunking Christianity, openly state as a matter of emphasis and policy that they are interested mainly if not solely, in dealing with fundamentalist Christianity. 95% or so of the remaining sectors of Christianity are ignored (Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, more sophisticated brands of Presbyterianism and Calvinism in general: folks like Alvin Plantinga, Anglo-Catholicism, Methodism, etc.).

Serious analysis of a competing view will deal with the most respectable form of it, not the dumbest and least respectable.

However, they do get dismissed because they contribute nothing.

And then a serious Christian who comes along gets to deal with all their baggage and the latent hostile attitudes, as if they represented the sum of Christianity . . .

"...what makes him [Dave] think that he knows better than scholars who have studied these things for years? This is a common motif in atheist deconversions. They know better than everyone else."

Tell me, which scholar should we all listen to?

I wasn't talking about any particular one, but all of them as a class. Again, if one is to rationally dismiss a point of view, shouldn't he at least seek out some of the better representatives of it?

Yes, of course. Do you imply that people here have not done that?

My replies had to do with Dave Van Allen, not all 473 skeptics at ExChristian.Net.

That was my point. I kept wondering if Dave had even tried to do that, or if he would ask a question of some pastor who wouldn't have a clue, and then just give up, as if no Christian on the face of the earth could offer the slightest reply to his probing questions.

Many made a desperate effort to rescue their waning beliefs by pursuing a wide spectrum of apologetics, looking for something well-founded. The Webmaster himself went though this.

If so, there was no indication of it whatsoever in his anti-testimony.

It sounds as though you chastise them for not having settled upon your particular brand of Christianity. Each sect could take the same stand (and to a degree, that's what they do).

My reply had nothing whatsoever to do with Catholic distinctives over against other brands of Christianity. I never defend Catholicism when debating atheists, but Christianity in general.

Not everybody thinks Catholicism is the most rational branch of Christianity--I'm sure you are aware of that. (To the regulars here: Please pardon my understatement.)

No kidding? I'm so shocked I think I'll faint.

You know as well as I that 1) what some scholars have to say is not worthy of the name "scholarship", and 2) there are legitimate scholars on both sides of practically any issue.

Sure, but that was irrelevant to my point, clarified above.

In the end, each of us must decide which line of reasoning is most coherent and has the greater force of evidence (thanks, in part, to the efforts of legitimate scholars).

Indeed. That's what I'm saying: read the best of both sides, in any given debate, not the best of one and worst of the other, or only one side.

That's what I've done for close to thirty years. Do you claim to have read the best on both sides?

I try to familiarize myself with the best arguments, yes (money- and time-permitting). I prefer one-on-one discussion with informed advocates, but it is rare to find such people.

* * *

Do I know better than everyone else? No, I don't believe so, and I don't claim to. But I have a well-thought-out position--one that is coherent, and has benefited from exposure to nimble minds on both sides (Plantinga, who you mention, is among them).

Good for you. I would say exactly the same about my own view. Looks like you and I, then, may be able to engage in some excellent, fruitful dialogue. It's the love of truth and reason and dialogue that allows that to take place.

Bottom line: don't dismiss all atheists as simply thinking they are smarter than anybody else.

Many clearly do think so. Again, I appeal to the rhetoric commonly seen here and in similar places, about how "imbecilic" and "obviously false" Christianity is. That is the language of condescension and a "know-it-all" mentality. You are an exception, apparently, but exceptions don't disprove the rule, as they say.

Instead, I encourage you to address their arguments with the same dedication that they put into forming them.

I did my best with Dave's anti-testimony, and am doing so presently.

* * *

Thanks again for your thoughts. I am enjoying the discussion.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Reply to Alleged Biblical Contradictions Concerning Judas and His Death (vs. Dave Van Allen and Dr. Jim Arvo)

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This is a portion from my reply to an atheist deconversion story by Dave Van Allen, who runs the large website ExChristian.Net. His words will be in blue. Dr. Jim Arvo's words will be in green.

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One of the biggest contradictions I could not rectify was whether or not Judas threw his money into the temple and hanged himself or bought a field and fell headlong into it.

Let's examine this alleged contradiction:
Matthew 27:5-10 (RSV) And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." So they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me."

Acts 1:18 (Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.
Now, do these two descriptions necessarily formally contradict? No. For example, here is one way that the seeming discrepancy of the purchase of the field can be explained:
Regarding the "purchasing" of the "field"...both accounts are true. The temple rulers bought the plot of ground, like Matthew says. Acts does not contradict Matthew. Remember that the priests said, "it is not lawful to put them into the treasury". In other words, they were not taking actual 'receipt' of the money, diverting it, instead, to purchase the plot of ground. Thus, in a 'legal' sense (?) since they were not taking 'ownership' of the money, it was still Judas' money. And when Peter speaks of "wages of iniquity", it is not that Judas bought the plot of ground...but that the money he had received to betray Jesus had bought it. The money was Judas' "wages"...but he threw it back, and the priests weren't accepting it. These "30 pieces" were like the proverbial "hot potato" BLOOD MONEY both parties were trying to get rid of. Technically it was still Judas' money, which the priests used to purchase the plot of ground. Thus, in a legal sense, it could be said that Judas bought it, because it was 'his money' that bought it.

. . . And so, did Judas hang himself...or did he "fall headlong"? Both are obviously true. He hung himself. When did he fall headlong? Did the rope break? Or did his "entrails gush out" when others came along to cut him down from the tree (assuming he actually hung himself from a tree limb)...and he split open when he hit the ground? There is a lot of data the Bible doesn't tell us. How tall was the tree? If he hung himself on a tall branch, it might not have been possible for somebody to hold the body while another cut the rope. So, if a single person went up and cut the rope, and the body fell a great distance to the ground (not gently), the chances might be good that the body would land, making a 'mess'.

[ source ]
The supposed contradiction of the purchase is also clarified by looking at the Greek words involved, as another Christian site devoted to alleged biblical discrepancies explains:
Once we examine the original Greek, we see Matthew and Luke differentiate between terms of ownership. Matthew uses the word ajgoravzw (legal ownership) while Luke uses ktaomai (physical possession). In other words, Judas purchased the field in his name and was therefore the legal owner, but after his death, the priests obtained the field for communal use yet did not possess the legal rights to it. In layman's terms, Judas purchased the field but the priest acquired the field after his death.
And Judas' manner of death is speculated upon by another web page, without falling into necessary contradiction:

1. First, Judas tried to kill himself by hanging himself. And this is not always a successful way. Maybe he tried, and failed (as have many others who have tried to commit suicide by hanging). Then after some time, he threw himself off a cliff and fell upon some jagged rocks. Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for people who commit suicide to have tried it before.

2. Judas could have tied a rope to a tree branch that extended over a cliff (after all, you have to get some space between your feet and the ground to hang yourself). In this situation, the rope/branch could have broke before or after death, and Judas plummeted to the ground and landed on some jagged rocks.

Certainly, these explanations are plausible, thus a contradiction has not been established.

MAT 27:5-8 Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood." And they consulted together and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

First of all, notice that the text does not say that Judas died as a result of hanging. All it says is that he "went and hanged himself." Luke however, in Acts, tells us that "and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out." This is a pretty clear indication (along with the other details given in Acts - Peter's speech, the need to pick a new apostle, etc.) that at least after Judas' fall, he was dead. So the whole concept that Matthew and Luke both recount Judas' death is highly probable, but not clear cut. Therefore, if I were to take a radical exegetical approach here, I could invalidate your alleged contradiction that there are two different accounts of how Judas died.

Notice verse 5."Then he...went and hanged himself." Matthew does not say Judas died, does it? Should we assume he died as a result of the hanging?

What does Acts say? ACT 1:18 (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.

ACT 1:20 "For it is written in the book of Psalms: 'Let his dwelling place be desolate, And let no one live in it'; and, 'Let another take his office.'

Here we may have a graphic explanation of Judas' death. Of course, maybe someone can find some medical source somewhere that discusses the possibility of one having their entrails gush out after being burst open in the middle, and still survive. :)

So, my line of reasoning to dispel the contradiction myth re: the "two" accounts of Judas' death is this. Matthew doesn't necessarily explain how Judas died; he does say Judas "hanged himself", but he didn't specifically say Judas died in the hanging incident. However, Acts seems to show us his graphic demise. Therefore, there is no contradiction between Matthew and Acts re: Judas' death.

We do know from Matthew that he did hang himself and Acts probably records his death. It is possible and plausible that he fell from the hanging and hit some rocks, thereby bursting open. However, Matthew did not say Judas died as a result of the hanging, did he? Most scholars believe he probably did, but....

One atheist I debated along these lines said... the Greek word "apagchw" (ie: hang oneself) is translated as a successful hanging. I replied, No you can't only conclude this, although...this was a highly probable outcome. But Matthew does not state death as being a result. The Greek word is APAGCHO. Matthew 27:5 is it's only occurrence in the New Testament. In the LXX (the Greek translation of the OT used at the time of Jesus), it's only used in 2 Samuel 17:23 : "Now when Ahithophel saw that his advice was not followed, he saddled a donkey, and arose and went home to his house, to his city. Then he put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died; and he was buried in his father's tomb." Notice that not only is it stated that Ahithophel "hanged himself" [Gr. LXX, APAGCHO], but it explicitly adds, "and died". Here we have no doubt of the result. In Matthew, we are not explicitly told Judas died. Also, there is nothing in the Greek to suggest success or failure. It simply means "hang oneself".
The same page discusses the aspect of the purchase:
Perhaps here, the following maxim holds -- "He who does a thing by another, does it himself." That is, yes it was the chief priests who actually bought the field, but Judas had furnished the occasion for its purchase. Thus, the verse in Acts could be employing a figure of speech where we attribute to the man himself any act which he has directly or indirectly procured to be done. After all, we attribute the "Clinton health care plan" to Bill Clinton, when in reality, it is a plan devised by others associated with Bill Clinton.
So we see that very plausible Christian explanations can be and have been advanced for these things. I doubt that young Dave sought these out. He merely asked questions of people who usually weren't prepared to give an adequate defense and counter-explanation. Then Dave used their non-answer as a pretext for falsely supposing that no Christian could provide any plausible explanation, thus leading to the further unwarranted conclusion that the Bible was untrustworthy (hence, Christianity itself).

In contrast, here is Dave's counter-"explanation" from the combox:
[T]he real point is that neither the writer of Matthew nor the writer of Luck actually saw any of it - it was all hearsay. It seems obvious that each writer merely tailored the details of the fable in order to demonize either the Jewish leaders or Judas, depending on the writer's personal motive.

Besides, I've heard that worn out apologetic a hundred times, and for many a year I even tried to believe it. I'm ashamed to say I even preached it to others.

However, both stories cannot be true - period. Since there is some measure of inaccuracy in at least one of the stories, that would suggest that the Bible is not inerrant. If the Bible is not inerrant in even one sentence, then there is error, and that means it is NOT the word of a god.

. . . the evidence remains that Judas either hanged himself in a field he purchased, or he had a nasty fall in a field that someone else purchased. More than likely, neither story has a shred of truth in it and the writers of the two gospels simply felt that Judas needed to end up dead after his horrible "mortal" sin of kissing God on the lips.
You (be you atheist or Christian or something else) decide which is more reasoned and plausible, and which is mere dogmatic denial based on a preconceived bias.

Clearly, anyone could reject anything if they utilized such a "method" and refused to seek out the more informed proponents of said belief-system before finding it wanting. That is Mickey Mouse pseudo-intellectualism, not serious thought and seeking of truth. if Dave Van Allen conceded (today) that this is not a case of two obvious contradictions, then he would have to remove this objection from the collection of those that caused him to reject Christianity.

If the Christian could (speaking hypothetically for the moment) systematically debunk all of his similar objections, does that mean his deconversion is nullified and he would again become a Christian? Maybe so, but that is ultimately a matter of God's grace and faith. Apologists can only remove the roadblocks of false objections. We can lead the horse to the stream and show that there are no unassailable hindrances in getting to the stream, but we can't force the horse to drink.

I wrote to an evangelistic radio ministry out of Richmond Virginia, asking for direction about these apparent problems. I was only thirteen and they responded to my cry for help with a short note. Instead of an intellectually satisfying apologetic, they merely admonished that some things could only be answered through the eyes of faith. I pretty much got the same answer everywhere I went.

Exactly my point. But he did not seek enough answers. There are entire books written about such things, such as, for example, volumes by biblical scholars Gleason Archer and William Arndt. It's even easier now with the Internet (I found the above explanations in short order via Google). Dave didn't have that back then, but books existed in those days, way back in the 60s and 70s. But instead, young Dave settled for non-answers from fundamentalist types unacquainted with apologetics and an intellectual grounding for their faith.

Maybe he didn't know any better then, and can be given some slack (he at least tried to get answers from someone) but he should now, especially after reading this (assuming he ever does). It's a classic case, though, of the absence of apologetics, where it was crucial that it was present, in order to help a young zealous Christian harmonize faith and reason without contradiction or serious difficulty. It wasn't there, and by his own admission, this led him to later reject Christianity.

This is why I do what I do. Apostasy can be avoided in part by an understanding of the reasons why we believe what we believe. That's apologetics. It is extremely important in a Christian's life. As the proverb goes: "the heart cannot accept what the mind believes to be false."

* * * * *

Having studied the arguments of a great many apologists who purport to dismantle the "so-called contradictions", I can say with little hesitation that I find their arguments to be artificial and filled with special pleading and often circular reasoning. (See below for an example.)

As I have found the hackneyed, facile skeptical arguments, that are often so silly that they don't even understand that a clear formal contradiction is not present at all, but simply wished upon the texts, as a result of the usual predispositional bias of the textual critic. I have several examples on my site.

I don't deny that there are difficult textual questions. Of course there are (and there are silly Christian arguments to be found), and Christian scholars devote entire careers to them in some cases. But many "difficulties" are in fact, none at all.

Regarding how Judas met his demise, DA said "... And so, did Judas hang himself...or did he 'fall headlong'? Both are obviously true."

Obviously?! Why is that obvious?

What is obvious is that it is not a formal contradiction. It just isn't. As a professor, surely you can see and acknowledge that. The two passages can easily be synthesized in several different ways. A true contradiction would be something along the lines of:
1) Judas went and hanged himself and died in five minutes, and his dead body had only a mark on his neck.

2) Judas did not hang himself from a tree, but rather, fell headlong onto sharp rocks and his bowels gushed out and he died.
That is clearly a contradiction, and no one would deny it. But the biblical texts under consideration are not.

Of course it's not a "formal" contradiction! You are unlikely to find many formal contradictions in prose! If I said I had been sick with the flu, and had a 110 fever all day on Wednesday, and I later claimed to have run a marathon in under three hours that same day, there is no formal contradiction. It's conceivable that both were true. However, without some explication, it would be quite fair to think something was amiss in my claims--that not both are true.

Just as it is also "quite fair" to surmise that there was no contradiction of any sort if it isn't obvious. Goose and gander.

As for the Judas accounts, both appear to offer an explanation as to HOW Judas died; that is, they both convey the fact that Judas died, and they give details of a life-ending event. One is quite explicit in asserting that the death was by hanging.

This is untrue. The text (if we want to get technical, as these discussions of "Bible contradictions" always do) says he "hanged himself." It doesn't say he died by hanging. He may very well have, of course, and it is not unreasonable at all to suppose so, but it is also equally reasonable and plausible to harmonize the two accounts in one of the various ways I have presented. He could, for example, have died by hanging and then the body may have fallen, with his bowels coming out. And that is no contradiction. It is mentioning different aspects of what happened to him, in two accounts.

The other mentions a bizarre event of disembowelment. The natural reading of the second is that this bizarre event was the CAUSE of death. Without further explication, there is an apparent contradiction.

It may have been the actual cause of death (with his falling from the tree as he was hanging, but before he had died) or it may not have been , as in my above hypothetical example. It's all speculation on both sides, but a contradiction has not been established; period. End of sentence. The claim is that a contradiction is present, and it has not been proven.

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Certainly not by a plain reading of the text. Do you think it improper for someone to point to the two different accounts and suggest that they contradict?

They could possibly, but not necessarily. When one approaches texts with such hostility and animosity coming in, itching to find a contradiction, then they will "see" them where there are none.

That's ad hominem. I'm not interested in such appeals.

You may not be interested, and it may or not be ad hominem, but it remains a prevalent fact of atheist / agnostic / skeptical exegesis. I've seen it a hundred times. You may not be guilty of it, but many are, and I was making a general observation, as I often do in the midst of discussions.

It seems to me that Christian, though biased in favor of harmonization of biblical texts, at least comes to it with a positive goal of understanding it in a coherent way. But the critic assumes that it is a bundle of contradictions, written by gullible nomadic idiots and shepherds, and so find what they want to find.
He hung himself. When did he fall headlong? Did the rope break? Or did his 'entrails gush out' when others came along to cut him down from the tree (assuming he actually hung himself from a tree limb)...and he split open when he hit the ground? There is a lot of data the Bible doesn't tell us.
Right, lots of details will be missing from any story. However, this does not give you license to ADD whatever detail you wish. In this case you are assuming that the missing details will harmonize the two accounts. Why do you assume that?

Because I am giving the texts the benefit of the doubt, that both parties were telling the truth according to the information available to them.

Why do you assume that?

I explained below, by the analogy of court cases; also because it is the most sensible way to approach anything, unassuming and in charity rather than cynicism.

Then, even if that is so, why do you assume that the information is accurate? Certainly it's possible that the stories are honest and accurate information written by those who were in a position to actually know what happened. But that is one possibility among many.

Following my method above, I assume it is accurate unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary. Also, it is known that the biblical writers conveyed information with extraordinary accuracy. We know this from outside historical and archaeological evidences.

Stories can and do get passed on inaccurately, paraphrased, and embellished. They can also be synthesized from older texts, through midrash. At the other extreme we have total unfounded fabricated, although I see no reason to think the latter is likely in this case.

Like I said, the accuracy of the Bible has been verified again and again as further independent data is gathered (often making higher critics look like fools in their bold claims that are later proven to be false).

* * *

. . . the two can be synthesized and harmonized, just as we would do with two witnesses in a trial, of good character and reputation. We don't assume that their eyewitness accounts clash or that someone is lying because there are some details that don't harmonize at first glance.

No, of course not. Neither do we simply assume that things took place exactly as described. Particularly when it's unclear how the writer came to know what is in the story. One needn't jump to the extreme of "lying" in order to legitimately doubt a report, as per my comments above.

Be that as it may, this particular discussion has to do with whether a glaring contradiction is present. Remember, Dave claimed this was one of the clearest examples of that. I contend that he has failed to demonstrate it.

It is also possible that the missing details would make it even more difficult to harmonize the accounts.

Of course. But the Christian who harmonizes is basically expanding upon what we know in the texts. Nothing wrong with that, just as historical fiction is considered valid as far as it goes: as speculation building upon what we know.

Missing details are MISSING. We do not know what they are. If you claim that there is no contradiction because facts can be inserted to harmonize them, then you are begging the question--i.e. you claim there is no contradiction because fact X can be inserted to harmonize the accounts. But if your reason for assuming X is that it harmonizes the accounts, that is circular.

Not quite. I am saying that there was no contradiction in the first place. A formal contradiction has not been established; as in most atheist arguments of this sort, it is assumed with insufficient warrant. You have to first prove that a formal contradiction is present in the text.

No, that's a specious claim. The word "formal" is completely out of place in this discussion. If we were discussing mathematical proofs, then we would seek formal contradictions. What we have before us are written accounts by people we cannot question. If the obvious surface meaning of the text leads to an improbable scenario (i.e. a person dying in two different ways), then there is sufficient warrant to doubt that they are both true.

And we have attempted to show that it is not necessary to interpret in the sense that there are two conflicting, contradictory stories. People may differ on which scenario is more plausible. I'm glad to leave that to the fair-minded person's judgment. Both sides have been presented; let folks decide for themselves. That's what I am about. We can each claim our view is best all day long but in the end such claims are meaningless. Others will have to decide who has the better interpretation.

* * *

When the Christian speculates on unknown details, it is an argument from plausibility or possibility, not strict logic. That is permissible, but claiming contradictions when they cannot be proven is what is out of line, and lousy thinking.

When a Christian speculates, it's not automatically "plausible"; it's still speculation.

Of course. Plausibility is dependent on many other factors, and people will differ in judging that. My point was that arguments from plausibility are superior to erroneous claims of contradiction that cannot be substantiated.

If there is something to substantiate it, it may or may not then be deemed "plausible".

Yes, exactly.

And again, your claim about "proving" contradictions is specious. One cannot "prove" that something is a contradiction in a formal sense in most prose. These are not formal arguments. In general, they cannot be. There is always an element of likelihood involved. And, no, it's not "lousy thinking". You can do better than a quip like that.

Christians are subject to many quips. I am entitled to judge the strength of arguments, just as ours are routinely judged by you guys. I'm confident that you'll survive the duress of critique.

* * *

I grant that the aspect of the texts having to do with purchase of the land is more likely to be a contradiction, and the explanations we offer less plausible and strong. But I don't think they are bad arguments or outright implausible.

But one's attitude coming to the text will highly color such judgments. I am biased in favor; y'all are biased against. I approach the writer as an intelligent person (and Luke certainly was that). You guys usually regard them as primitive gullible simpletons (part of that is "chronological snobbery", as C.S. Lewis calls it), and so expect to find massive error and contradiction.

That's a crass generalization.

It certainly is a generalization, by nature. Whether it is "crass" or not depends on whether it is a true general observation. I say it is. I have cited, for example, atheist Jim Lazarus excoriating atheist ad hominem attacks against Christians.

I know from my own long experience how I have been treated myself, and I have read dozens of ad hominem atheist posts. My experience with atheists is just as valid as your experience with Christians. I'm the first to admit that there are many Christians who have unfair, uncharitable, even sinful views of atheists en masse. Atheists and agnostics should also admit the obvious regarding the extremely negative view that is taken by many many atheists and agnostics towards Christians and the biblical writers.

Let me give you my assessment, so you needn't speculate. I'll use the author of "Mark" as an example. I suspect that the author truly believed what he wrote, and was rather well educated. I do not detect any outright fabrications in his account--not by the standards of the day.

Good. That is more fair than most atheist attempts at exegesis that I have seen.

However, it appears that the author held a common belief of the time: that scripture was a vehicle though which god speaks (in the present tense) to believers.

It's a rather common belief today, too. It's called "biblical inspiration." Obviously, acceptance or denial of that also colors how people interpret. To us the Bible is made up of inspired words ultimately from God. To you who believe neither in God nor the supernatural, it's just an old book. Big difference . . .

He, and his contemporaries, routinely sought to answer historical questions by looking to scripture. If something was "foreshadowed" in scripture, then it must have come to pass. This is not forgery. This is not dishonesty. Yet it is not a reliable way to conduct historical research either (at least not by today's standards).

I think this is overly simplistic. The gospel writers and Luke in the book of Acts were writing narratives with an eye to producing what we call "salvation history." But one can judge the historical accuracy of these books wholly apart from acceptance of Christian claims that go beyond mere historical writing.

The Judas story, by the way, may have been invented in this way as well. That is a possibility I always consider when reading the Bible.

Well, you would, based on your presuppositions. Thanks for your honesty. We Christians simply accept the text at face value, as we would any other text. Judas died, and there are two accounts of that death, and they do not contradict, as is claimed.

The point being that there may be other legitimate reasons for adding some missing detail--I don't discount that. But I don't see any indication of such an argument in what you've written.

Yet you have not dealt with my arguments themselves. You've only nipped around the edges and engaged in "meta-analysis." That is usually a clue that a person doesn't want to deal with the argument and wants to shift the discussion to extraneous or presuppositional factors. Sometimes that is good, but in the present case, I think it is obfuscation.

Okay, now you have become quite rude.

So you say. I'll let the reader judge whether that is true or not.

That's usually a give-away too. It usually indicates fear of being upstaged.

Is that an ad hominem attack? You tell me. My supposed imaginary "fear" has something to do with the discussion at hand?

I was quite clear that I read only part of your writings, and only responded to part of them. If you actually have something of substance to offer, then please direct me to it, or recap it here. I honestly don't have the time to sift through all you've written looking for something that may make sense to me.

Well, I have enjoyed it, even if you haven't. Thanks for your time.

By the way, I pointed out a very clear circularity in your argument; unless you can substantiate the details you wish to add to the Judas story in some independent way, your argument is fallacious. Please don't nip around the edges. Address that directly if you would. Thanks.

I already did. Thanks again

If you cannot bring yourself to admit that the clear surface meaning of the two Judas accounts are problematic, then it seems to me that you cannot even enter into the debate in a meaningful way IMHO.

Right. And this is what it almost always comes down to in these sorts of discussions. The atheist point of view (on yet another alleged biblical contradiction) is, we are told, self-evidently true. If the Christian can't see that, then there is no discussion. Basically, to disagree at all is to preclude any meaningful discussion. And that is "logic" as viciously circular as it can get . . .