bookmark_borderA Nasty Christian Apologist Defends the Indefensible

There are many nice Christian apologists out there. To cite just four of several examples, (1) Glenn Miller; (2) Randal Rauser; (3) Trent Horn; and (4) Sean McDowell have both been extremely gracious as dialogue partner (1 & 2) or host (3&4). But there are also some nasty ones who apparently didn’t get the memo about 1 Peter 3:15. About a month ago, I had a run-in on Twitter with one of the nasty ones: Anna Maria Perez (@A_M_Perez). She has roughly 100,000 followers and won’t hesitate to use that fact to put down critics who don’t command an equally large following. Perez describes herself as a “constitutional conservative” who is “Pro 2nd Amendment.” She runs a website devoted to the defense of the (U.S.) Second Amendment right to bear arms, but she also posts on a variety of other topics of interest to conservatives. Her modus operandi is verbal abuse (e.g., name calling, insults, put downs, chronic forgetting, blaming, etc.) and, like any narcissist, she does not handle criticism well–at all. Accordingly, she has zero interest in genuine dialogue with anyone who disagrees with her. People who have the audacity to challenge her statements–the horror!–will find themselves on the receiving end of a spew of insults before being blocked.
I learned all of this the hard way, when I dared to respond to a tweet promoting her October 12, 2015 post, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist!” Having already written a comprehensive rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s book by the same name, I was already very familiar with the kinds of arguments Geisler and Turek use in their book. So I was disappointed (but not surprised) to find Perez using the same, refuted arguments. When I pointed out the various fallacies in their (and her) arguments, I was called:

  • idiot
  • loon
  • retarded
  • moron
  • stupid
  • ill
  • buffoon

I’m surprised she left out “Village Atheist.”
Each of the tweets containing these insults were “liked” by many of her followers, some of whom piled on with insults of their own. My personal favorite was when one of her followers asked me, “Are you deliberately stupid, or can I sell you a bridge?”
The insults were so over-the-top that I actually found the entire experience rather funny. They were also validating, but not in the way Perez intended. In my experience, when an opponent relies so heavily on personal insults, it is often done to mask some deep feeling of inadequacy, such as not having the evidence or arguments to back up their claims. So when I find myself in the debate equivalent of a “street fight,” I just smile and think to myself, “I just won the debate.” But enough about her insults. Let’s move onto her fallacious arguments, which I will refute over the course of multiple posts.

 

Refutation of Anna Marie Perez

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bookmark_borderDid Jesus Exist? Paul Maier’s Complete Failure

Christian apologists often write CRAP, crap that is taken by sheeple in the pews to be POWERFUL ARGUMENTS.  I suspect that Christian apologists often write crap precisely because they write for a generally ignorant and highly biased audience who will buy their books by the millions and show deference to the GREAT SCHOLARSHIP in the books and articles of Christian apologetics, despite the intellectual shoddiness of the vast majority of books and articles written by Christian apologists.
One such example of crap written by a Christian apologist (who clearly writes for an audience of biased sheeple), is the article “Did Jesus Really Exist?” by Paul Maier, a professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University.  REAL SCHOLARS who study ancient history generally make carefully qualified claims, and speak in terms of probability and plausibility, but Maier dispenses with such intellectual humility in an attempt to win over his dim-witted audience of true believers:
In fact, there is more evidence that Jesus of Nazareth certainly lived than for most famous figures of the ancient past.  This evidence is of two kinds: internal and external, or, if you will, sacred and secular.  In both cases, the total evidence is so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence.  And yet this pathetic denial is still parroted by “the villiage atheist,”  bloggers on the internet, or such organizations as the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
(“Did Jesus Really Exist?” from the opening paragraph, viewed 6/11/16, emphasis added)
Such overblown and exaggerated rhetoric may endear Maier to his ignorant Christian fans, but such strong claims are red meat for skeptics like me,  so Maier is just begging for a good ass-kicking, and I will be happy to provide him with one here.
The sheeple who read his essays and articles are probably taken in by the crap he writes, but I am not one of those ignorant sheeple, and I can clearly and plainly see that his case for the above very strong claim is a COMPLETE FAILURE, just as Bart Ehrman’s ABSIG argument (Agreements Between Seven “Independent” Gospels) for the existence of Jesus in Chapter 3 of Did Jesus Exist? is a complete failure.
Although Ehrman’s first argument for the existence of Jesus (ABSIG) is a complete failure, his book Did Jesus Exist? (hereafter: DJE) does have some merit.  In Chapter 2 “Non-Christian Sources for the Life of Jesus” Ehrman quickly and efficiently argues for the important conclusion that “If we want evidence to support the claim that he [Jesus] did in fact once exist, we therefore have to turn to other sources [i.e. to CHRISTIAN SOURCES].”  In other words, there is no significant evidence for the existence of Jesus from non-Christian sources.  If Ehrman is correct, then Maier’s claim that “external sources” provide evidence for the existence of Jesus that is “overpowering” and “absolute” is clearly wrong, because much of the evidence from “external sources” is from non-Christian sources, such as Roman sources.
Maier makes various false and highly dubious claims in his crappy article “Did Jesus Really Exist?”, but the biggest and most glaring problem with this article is that he makes NO ATTEMPT WHATSOEVER to show that any of the non-Christian sources that he cites are independent from the canonical gospels.  This is a very basic and fundamental flaw, one that would be obvious to just about any NT scholar.  Any NT scholar with even a modest degree of objectivity would reject such a case out of hand; it is only because Maier is writting for an ignorant audience of Christian sheeple that he is able to get away with such an intellectually shoddy case.
Ehrman lays out the relevant principle of historical scholarship clearly and simply:
Moreover, in an ideal situation, the various sources that discuss a figure or an event should corroborate what each of the others has to say, at least in major points if not in all the details. …
At the same time, it is important to know that the various sources are independent of one another and do not rely on each other for all of their information.  If four ancient authors mention Marcus Billlius as a Roman aristocrat in Ephesus, but it turns out that three of these authors derived their information from the fourth, then you no longer have multiple sources but only one.  Their agreements do not represent corroboration but collaboration, and that is much less useful. (DJE, p.41-42, emphasis added)
This is NOT rocket science.  This comes very close to being just a bit of common sense.  In any case, the issue of the independence of historical sources is often important in NT scholarship, so this principle is one about which any NT scholar should be very familiar.
For example, the following (imaginary) line of apologetic argument would be rejected as hopelessly ignorant and naive by just about any NT scholar:
We can establish with great certainty that Jesus was crucified on the order of Pontius Pilate because not only does the Gosel of Matthew assert this to be the case, but this claim is also corroborated by the Gospel of Mark and by the Gospel of Luke.  So, we have at least three early historical sources that all agree on this key point.
The problem with this argument is that the author of the Gospel of Matthew used the Gospel of Mark as a main source of information about Jesus, as did the author of the Gospel of Luke.  In fact, the passion narratives (which tell the story of Jesus’ trial before Pilate and Jesus’ crucifixion) in Matthew and in Luke are mostly borrowed from the Gospel of Mark.   So, because the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke use information from the Gospel of Mark, particularly in their passion narratives,  they do NOT provide INDEPENDENT evidence for the claim that “Jesus was crucified on the order of Pontius Pilate”.
Any NT scholar with half a brain would reject the above (imaginary) apologetic argument as being a COMPLETE FAILURE, as being based on either ignorance of the dependence of Matthew and Luke on Mark, or as failing to take into consideration the basic principle of historical scholarship requiring that historical sources be INDEPENDENT in order to provide corroboration of a claim.
In the section of his article that covers secular external evidence, Maier cites three Roman writers: Cornelius Tacitus, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, and Pliny the Younger.  Maier never claims that any of these historical sources were INDEPENDENT from the canonical Gospels.  Maier never argues that any of these historical sources were INDEPENDENT from the canonical Gospels.  These omissions by themselves make Maier’s case a COMPLETE FAILURE, because this is, for any NT scholar, a very basic issue, an issue that must be addressed in order to make any sort of reasonable case for the claim that these historical sources provide corroboration of the view of the canonical Gospels that Jesus was an existing historical person.
But worse than that, there is good reason to suspect that these historical sources are NOT INDEPENDENT of the canonical Gospels, as Ehrman points out in Chapter 2 of  DJE.  Maier quotes from Annals by Tacitus, which was written in 115 CE (DJE, p.54).  The Gospel of Mark, however, was written about 70 CE (DJE, p.75).  So, Tacitus wrote the passage in question about 45 years after the Gospel of Mark was written.   Clearly, it was possible that the information Tacitus had about Jesus came (perhaps indirectly) from the Gospel of Mark.
The Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke were written about ten to fifteen years after the Gospel of Mark (DJE, p.76), so they were written between 80 and 85 CE.  Clearly, it was posssible that the information Tacitus had about Jesus came (perhaps indirectly) from either the Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of Luke, since Tacitus wrote the passage in question about 30 to 35 years after those Gospels were written.
Concerning a passage quoted from Annals by Tacitus, Maier makes the following overblown claim:
Were no other references to Jesus available, this passage alone would have been sufficient to establish his historicity.  Skeptics realize this, and so have tried every imaginable means to discredit this passage–but to no avail.  Manuscript analysis and computer studies have nerver found any reason to call this sentence into question, nor its context.  
(“Did Jesus Really Exist?” from the section called “External Evidence: Secular”, viewed 6/11/16, emphasis added)
By “discredit this passage” Maier presumably means: to show this passage to be spurious, to be something that was not actually written by Tacitus, but that was inserted into the text by a Christian copyist.
There is no need to “discredit” the passage, because Maier has COMPLETELY FAILED to meet his burden of proof as an historical scholar, which requires that he provide evidence and arguments showing that this passage was in no way influenced (even indirectly) by information from the canonical Gospels.
Ehrman, however, does provide an argument, but it is an argument that casts doubt on the view that this passage by Tacitus was INDEPENDENT from the canonical Gospels:
…the information [from Tacitus about Jesus] is not particularly helpful in establishing that there really lived a man named Jesus.  How would Tacitus know what he knew?  It is pretty obvious that he had heard of Jesus, but he was writting some eighty-five years after Jesus would have died, and by that time Christians were certainly telling stories of Jesus (the Gospels had been written already, for example), whether the mythicists are wrong or right.  It should be clear in any event that Tacitus is basing his comment about Jesus on hearsay rather than, say, detailed historical research.  Had he done serious research, one might have expected him to say more, if even just a bit.
(DJE, p.56)
Ehrman argues that Tacitus did not review “any official record of what happened to Jesus” and that it is “highly doubtful” that any such record existed for Tacitus to consult (DJE, p.56).   Ehrman’s conclusion is this:
He [Tacitus] therefore heard the information.  Whether he heard it from Christians or someone else is anyone’s guess.  (DJE, p.56)
If Tacitus heard the information about Jesus from Christians, then that information quite likely originated from one or more of the canonical Gospels.  If Tacitus heard the information from a non-Christian, that information quite likely came to that non-Christian from conversations with Christian believers, and the information from those Christians, once again, quite likely originated from one or more of the canonical Gospels.
Maier’s case for the strong claim that external evidence for the existence of Jesus is “overpowering” and “absolute” is a COMPLETE FAILURE because he makes NO ATTEMPT WHATSOEVER to show that his external sources (such as the three Roman sources) are INDEPENDENT from the canonical Gospels, and there is good reason to believe that they are, or might well be, dependent on one or more of the canonical Gospels.

bookmark_borderApologist Responds? Check. Uncharitable? Check. Uses Cheap Shots and Insults? Check.

I stopped reading Triablogue some time ago, but today I decided to make an exception. After I posted my comment about the twin hypothesis, I thought to myself, “I’ll bet Steve Hays responds to this and uses the ‘Village Atheist’ tag.” My prediction was accurate. (See his post here.)
In my comment, I didn’t defend the twin hypothesis. I didn’t even lay out Cavin’s case for the Twin hypothesis in his Ph.D. dissertation. All I did was define the hypothesis in order to prove the point that Reppert did not consider a mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive set of possibilities. It wasn’t my goal to defend the twin hypothesis. I certainly didn’t expect anyone to find the twin hypothesis convincing based upon my stating the mere definition of it, anymore than I would expect anyone to find any controversial hypothesis about any subject convincing, just by hearing the name and definition of that hypothesis.
Again, it wasn’t my goal then and it isn’t my goal now to defend the twin hypothesis. I do not even claim that it is true. But I do claim that it cannot be so simply dismissed on the uncharitable, ill-conceived grounds Hays provides. In fact, all of Hays’ “Is Jeff…” questions are misdirected; the questions should begin, “Is Cavin…”(Without going into details, I’ll just say that Hays’ objections are about as sophisticated as atheists who think “What caused God?” is some kind of “Gotcha” question for theists, as if they had never considered such objections before.) Regardless, I’d encourage anyone interested in the topic to read Cavin’s Ph.D. dissertation, which implicitly answers all of Hays’ objections.
An interesting fact about the dissertation: it was written at the University of California at Irvine under the supervision of philosopher of science Brian Skyrms and the late philosopher of religion Nelson Pike. UC Irvine is a well respected school; Skyrms is (and Pike was) highly respected. Because Cavin successfully defended the twin hypothesis in his dissertation at such a prestigious university under the supervision of such well-respected philosophers, Cavin hardly deserves to be ridiculed as a “Village Atheist.”  Ditto for Keith Parsons. In the past, I might have been offended on Cavin’s (or Parsons’) behalf if Hays’ use of the ‘Village atheist’ tag weren’t so misplaced; I now think it is a badge of honor for an atheist to be called a “Village Atheist” by theists like Hays.
Atheists have their village idiots. Theists have theirs. But neither Cavin nor Parsons nor Hays belong to such groups. In fact, notice how calling someone a village idiot (or village atheist or village theist) personalizes the debate; instead of talking solely about the arguments, Hays also brings in implied judgments about the intelligence of the persons who make those arguments. But this is simply embarrassing. For Hays.

bookmark_borderExtreme Unfriendly Theism or Abusive Theism

(This is another item in the “not new, but new for me” category. I was familiar with presuppositionalism, but not this particular presuppositionalist. Based on how radical Cheung’s position is, I guess you could also place this in the “you can’t make this stuff up” category.)
Vincent Cheung is a Christian apologist of the presuppositionalist variety. His website includes two articles which defend his calling all non-Christians “morons”:

In this post, I am simply going to quote some excepts from these articles:

According to Scripture, all non-Christians are morons.

It is important for us to realize that non-Christians are morons and that I am right in stating this as an integral part of the biblical approach to apologetics. This is because if we are going to face our intellectual enemies with Scripture as our weapon, then we better first accept Scripture’s own description of the unbelievers, that they are stupid and depraved. No wonder many Christians are such feeble apologists! They have rejected Scripture’s own description about the situation from the start.

Cheung then turns to philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong to provide an example of what he calls a professional moron. But first Cheung takes issue with William Craig’s performance against Craig:

Then, one day my wife came home and said that she heard William Lane Craig in an interview on a Christian radio program. The interview was mainly to promote this book, and the host of the program asked Craig about several of the issues that were discussed in the debate. My wife thought that Craig’s responses were too uncertain, too tentative, and she wondered whether such weak answers do more damage rather than good for the Christian cause.

Turning to Sinnott-Armstrong, after criticizing various statements and arguments by Sinnott-Armstrong, Cheung offers this assessment:

Look how far the human race has fallen, that someone can be this stupid! Like all other non-Christian scholars, Sinnott-Armstrong is an intellectual fraud. He passes himself off as a professional philosopher, and claims to be one who examines the assumptions behind people’s beliefs. Yet, at essential points in his arguments, he resorts to subjective intuition, common sense, and popular opinion. Professor of philosophy? I would not trust him to teach even elementary school debate. He is better off roaming the streets and picking up soda cans – at least then he would be making an honest living. Where are the scholars? Where are the philosophers? Where are the professors of this world? Has not God made intellectual mincemeat out of them?

You might exclaim, “What?! He calls himself a philosopher, and this is how he argues? What’s wrong with him?!” I already told you – he is a moron.

And elsewhere we get this generalization:

You might exclaim, “What?! Are they stupid or something?” Yes, they are stupid, and these are the same morons who attack your faith and call you irrational. They are desperate and dishonest. They are finding it impossible to remain rational apart from reliance on God’s revelation, but they refuse to admit it.

Cheung makes it absolutely clear the same conclusion holds for any other non-Christian professional philosopher:

I have used Sinnott-Armstrong and Zarefsky only as examples, but all other non- Christian thinkers are just as mentally feeble. Whether it is Michael Martin, Kai Nielsen, or some other non-Christian in the past or present, it makes no difference.

Furthermore, not only are non-Christian philosophers “mentally feeble,” but even small children are intellectually superior to non-Christian professional philosophers:

This brings us to an important point mentioned earlier. Can even children defeat these non-Christian professors in debate? They certainly can, if they are properly trained by their parents and their pastors. God has already made the unbelievers foolish (1 Corinthians 1:20), and he delights in using the lowly things to humiliate the proud (v. 28). Although we should all participate, who better to embarrass non-Christian scholars than the children, the mentally disabled, and the uneducated?

And elsewhere, Cheung writes:

According to Scripture, unbelievers are nothing but spiritual and intellectual fecal matter. Otherwise, why in the world do you think they need to convert? Why do you think that they are helpless apart from God’s sovereign grace?

He concludes:

Under biblically-approved conditions, we are permitted, and at times even duty-bound, to use biblical invectives against unbelievers and heretics. We do not call them “morons” or “feces” out of personal vindictiveness, but to proclaim what Scripture says about them, and to declare to them that they are not the rational and decent people that they imagine themselves to be.

Let us hope that Cheung’s apologetics is as fringe to Christian apologetics, as Westboro Baptist Church is to Christian churches.