Thursday, November 23, 2006

Liberal back-patting

A while back, Christian blogger John Sabatino was kind enough to plug my review of The Empty Tomb.

A colleague of mine has drawn attention to some activity in the combox involving Richard Miller:

1.First of all, it’s striking to see Miller pan The Empty Tomb himself:

“Now, I shall give one last comment regarding the Empty Tomb. I think the book is largely trash. My comment that its articles are ‘fine’ was made in the context of the unprofessional paper given by Steve Hays. In that context, I would repeat the same sentiments. In this context, however, I would contend that the book is unworthy of its topic. I agree that these are ‘Evangelical atheists’ and are thus guilty of nearly every point that I have been identifying and complaining about in our discussion. I read over their ‘infidels’ site and was deeply disappointed with the socio-religious orientation that they have taken for themselves. There is no place in good history work for such ideologically driven societies. I think Carrier and Price are the best of the bunch. Carrier at least has a very strong Classics training, and the introduction by Price is quite incisive. I do think, however, that their endeavor to create an ‘atheist’ club and then publish an assault on sacred Christian tradition is both adolescent and rivals the foolishness of the Evangelicals (who do the same crap on their side).”

2.He also has a comment about my tone:

“I have yet to read The Empty Tomb (will do so this evening), but I can see from the vitriolic, unprofessional response given by Hays and the traditionalist, polemic provided by W. L. Craig, that the book must have some substance.”

I’ll just make a few remarks about my “vitriolic” tone:

i) I did not employ a uniform tone in reviewing TET. My tone varies with the tone of the contributor.

When a contributor like Price employs a polemical style, I employ a polemical style. When a contributor like Lowder adopts a “professional” tone (whatever that means), then I employ a professional tone.

Up-to-a-point, I pitch my style at the level of the opponent.

ii) Another reason my review of TET does not employ a uniform tone is because a large proportion of my review consists in quoting other scholars. The review is, to a great extent, a compilation of moderate-to-conservative scholarship in reply to the sort of arguments adduced by the contributors.

So, whatever the reader happens to think of my own tone, or the quality of my own analysis, my review has a value quite irrespective of my personal contributions to the review, for the review itself is chock-full of verbatim quotes from major scholars in the field.

If you were to block out everything I wrote, the review would still be of value for the amount of secondary material it incorporates in the text. Indeed, this is arguably the chief value of the work.

If Miller actually exemplified the kind of critical detachment he attributes to himself, he would be able to draw these distinctions.

iii) For someone who is so easily offended by a vitriolic tone, you only have to read the way Miller describes anyone to his right to see that he has a well-oiled command of the vitriolic invective himself:

“Asking Craig to write a piece defending the historicity of NT ‘resurrection’ narratives is like asking an Exxon Mobile senior executive to provide a scientifically reliable account of the impact of oil-based combustion on global ecology. Good Luck ~!”

“The traditional ‘custodians’ that Evangelicals look to as their ‘scholars’ signal for those outside the tradition a picture of deep intellectual dishonesty, chicanery aimed at certifying the religious myths of Western Christianity for those already sold on them, and barricading the rest of society from seeing any hope of intelligent satisfaction or admiration for the same. Christianity is a beautiful religion, but many will never come to see that due to the fundamentalist propaganda festooning so many modern renditions of the religion.”

“I can only conclude that Wright and Craig are either ignorant of the evidence, or they are less interested in the evidence than in propping up a facade to sell to their market.”

“The problem comes when we have the modern spin doctors who were trained at ideologically policed academies skewing the evidence in service to their socio-political market and its needs. Asking your local crack dealer about the health benefits / risks associated with crack cocaine is probably not advised.”

“The Evangelical ‘scholars’ know this and therefore largely avoid the Society of Biblical Literature where they would be eaten alive by real academicians, and instead publish pop-books aimed at their own deluded base, i.e. people who need no real proof, only a facade of proof.”

And so on.

iv) It’s clear from these extracts that, strenuous disclaimers to the contrary notwithstanding, Miller gets very emotional when the subject turns to Christianity. He is not at all the dispassionate rationalist he paints himself as being.

And the reason for this is not hard to find, for Miller is, by his own admission, an apostate. His defensive tone is typical of the average apostate.

v) Does Miller really judge a writer by his tone? There are any number of Evangelical scholars who adopt an irenic tone. But Miller is just as dismissive of their scholarship.

vi) Do Evangelicals really have the clout to “barricade” the rest of society? If we had this power at our disposal, then how is it that Miller keeps talking about the “larger scholarly community.” How did they get past the barricades?

3. “Unfortunately, these ‘responses’ come from persons socio-religiously obliged to conservative Christianity.”

How does Miller happen to know that I was socio-religiously obliged to conservative Christianity?

For the record, I’m a native of the blue state of Washington. My father was a lifelong agnostic. Both my parents were public school teachers. I myself went to public school from K-12. When I was growing up, both my parents were party-line Democrats and party activists. My parents were also involved in the local arts community. I didn’t attend an Evangelical church until long after my conversion.

To the extent that I’m a product of my social conditioning, I was socio-religiously obliged to be irreligious.

4. “I have no ulterior motives or socio-political allegiances or forces swaying or determining my work.”

And we’re supposed to take his word for it, as if he’s a disinterested witness.

If Miller did have “ulterior motives or socio-political allegiances or forces swaying or determining his work,” do you think he’d admit it?

Moreover, those who are most socially conditioned are the least aware of their social conditioning.

5.” I simply do not allow my faith or faith community to dictate or even lightly shape the contours of my history work at the university.”

So he has a “faith,” but he doesn’t allow his faith to shape his historical work.

But that would only make sense if there were no point of correspondence between his faith and what he takes to be true.

For if you think that your faith involves a set of true beliefs, then why shouldn’t your faith have a shaping influence on your historical work?

6.” All said, I come away from Wright’s book with the same feeling I get from most Evangelical scholarship; I feel as though he has not written to me but to his own camp.”

He comes away with a “feeling.” Is that the best he can do?

7.“For these reasons, I personally have concluded that ‘Christian apologetics’ indeed weakens Christianity in the modern time. Christianity should be able to stand (or fall) on its own merits as placed under the rigorous academic scrutiny of Historians and Religious Studies scholars who have no vested interested in its preservation or destruction. These are the basic principles of academic and intellectual honesty.”

This assertion is funny in several respects:

i) If Christianity can stand or fall on its own merits, then why does it have to be “placed under” the arbitration of “Historians and Religious Studies scholars.”

If Christianity can stand or fall on its own merits, then no one self-selected body is in a position to rule of the merits of the case.

If you feel the need to empower such a body to adjudicate Christian truth-claims, then you are not judging the Christian faith on its own merits, but rather, subjecting these claims to the authoritarian sentence of some unaccountable body of self-appointed experts.

ii) And what about placing “Historians and Religious Studies scholars” under rigorous scrutiny as well? Note how Miller operates with his own “clubhouse” mentality.

iii) He also indulges in the pretense that “Historians and Religious Studies scholars” have no vested interest in the outcome—as if academics were uncontaminated by ethical, emotional, or philosophical predispositions.

But there are two things wrong with this:

a) Modern academia is a shame culture in miniature.

b) There’s no such thing as a value-free assessment of the Bible.

Many people disbelieve the Bible because they don’t believe that miracles are possible. For them, it’s as simple as that. There’s no room in their naturalistic outlook for divine revelation or supernatural happenings.

8. “If Craig took any other position on the resurrection position than he does, he would be out of work. Talbot would cut him his last paycheck and send it to his PO Box. Nobody would hire him because he has nearly no reputation outside of his fan club. It’s sort of difficult to see things clearly or evolve your perspectives when your paycheck is contingent upon that never happening.”

“If these were honest scholars, they would engage the larger scholarly community and not just the “scarecrows” such as Borg, Crossan, or now Fales. Why doesn’t Craig or Wright take on Helmut Koester at Harvard, or John Collins at Yale.”

Several problems with this analysis:

i) His criticism is self-refuting. When he presents the “larger scholarly community” (e.g. Harvard, Yale) as an alternative to Talbot, then, by his own invidious comparison, there are employment opportunities for those of a more liberal persuasion. Indeed, very prestigious employment opportunities.

Given Craig’s resume, he would be a very eligible applicant.

ii) How long would a prof. in the science dept. at Princeton or Harvard or MIT or Caltech survive if his intellectual evolution took him in the direction of YEC or even ID?

iii) Miller’s reasoning is reversible: If Koester or Collins were “honest scholars,” they would take on Craig or Wright.

9.“Apologetics is ‘in your face’ propaganda meant to push hard toward one objective, i.e. the justification of the claims of a socio-religious community, at every expense. In the free marketplace of ideas, apologetics has no place; it is too dishonest. That is why apologetics is not marketed to the larger marketplace, but to those already in the camp. It is to insulate a religious community from the outside world where the bullets are real, a facade really, designed to rally the certitude and fidelity of the community at the expense of real discourse and freedom of thought.”

More problems:

i) When someone like Craig engages in live, high-profile debates, he is exposing himself and his cause to “real” bullets.

ii) Consider his recent debate with Ehrman. Wasn’t Ehrman the one who tried to suppress the public record of the debate?

iii) Ehrman was caught off guard because he’s used to working with like-minded colleagues or giving interviews to ignorant, softball questioners.

He isn’t used to seeing his methods and assumptions subjected to serious challenge by someone outside the cloistered walls of secular academe.

10.”As for Hayes, I do see him as an Evangelical. Somehow he has managed to dupe several people into respecting his position on resuscitating ancient Jewish Midrash for modern use. I find the position silly and faith-driven.”

Notice how he substitutes adjectives for arguments. “Duped.” “Silly.” “Faith-driven.”

11.”The Nobel Prize example really does not deal with this social dynamic.”

Is that a fact?


  1. :::SNIZZZ!!!:::

    "I adopt my tone to the lowest common denominator of the other posters...because that is what Christ would do!"


  2. So you're saying that I should never descend to the level of a rank unbeliever like yourself?