Monday, March 09, 2009

Inconsistent Skepticism

Last week, I wrote a few responses to Jon Curry (here, here, and here). He's responded with more posts in his threads here and here.

He complains that my criticisms are "quibbling", "boring", etc. He's added qualifiers to his arguments that he didn't include previously. He gives us what he calls a "purely speculative" analysis of why scholars who aren't conservative Christians agree with the conclusions of conservative Christians, but he gives us no reason to trust that speculation. He continues to ignore the content of my citation from Craig Keener, both the evidence Keener discusses within that quote and the argumentation and documentation Keener provides in the work I cited. He supports his trust in Josephus by quoting an assessment of Josephus by Robert Eisenman. After disregarding his own previously stated standards for evaluating historical sources, and after failing to tell us what sources he would compare Josephus to in order to judge that he's accurate, and after failing in other ways to hold Josephus to the same standards to which he holds Christian sources, Jon tells us:

Jason writes that he agrees with me that we should be consistent in the acceptance of documents, and then goes on to offer several reasons why either Josephus or Tacitus should be doubted if we apply the same standard to them that we do to the NT. In supposedly agreeing with me one would think that my point is the need for consistency. It is not. Actually my point is sort of like the opposite. I'm saying it is better to be inconsistent and accept few spurious texts than consistent and accept many spurious texts.

Why be inconsistent? I'm consistent in accepting both Josephus and a document like 1 Corinthians or Philemon. Jon, on the other hand, would be inconsistent to accept Josephus while rejecting the others, for reasons I've explained. The fact that it's better to accept "few spurious texts" than "many" isn't an adequate defense of an inconsistent method. Jon wasn't just addressing why other people trust Josephus and how they err less often than a conservative Christian. Rather, he was giving us his view of Josephus. (And as I explained earlier, Jon has often made similar comments accepting the authorship attributions, textual transmission, etc. of other extra-Biblical sources.) If he's acknowledging that he's been inconsistent, but is giving a partial defense of that inconsistency by telling us that his inconsistency supposedly results in accepting fewer spurious texts, then why should anybody think that such a partial defense is sufficient? To err less often, as a result of an inconsistency, is still to err and to be inconsistent.

Whether the documents in question are spurious is an issue that's in dispute. I don't accept Jon's conclusions about the alleged spurious nature of documents like 1 Corinthians and Philemon. But if Jon is acknowledging that he's been inconsistent, as his comments above suggest, then we're in agreement on that point.

He goes on to say:

Are there good reasons to reject Josephus or Tacitus? Fine. Reject them. Persuade us that we should reject them. I'm open to it.

I already gave Jon reasons for rejecting such sources, using his own standards that he's applied to Christian documents. For example, Jon has often cited Bart Ehrman on textual issues, including general statements that Ehrman has made about the New Testament text as a whole. Thus, if Ehrman says that we have better textual evidence for the New Testament than for the other documents of antiquity, and Jon has been so critical of the New Testament text, then the implications for the text of somebody like Josephus or Tacitus are obvious. I've also explained that the ancient Jews produced many forgeries, which is a point that Jon often makes about the ancient Christians in order to undermine the credibility of the ancient Christians in general. I've explained that just as the patristic Christians sometimes destroyed documents, so did the Roman government. Etc. Jon isn't interacting with what I've already said.

Notice that after years of questioning New Testament documents and dismissing them on such frivolous grounds, Jon still trusts sources like Josephus and has to ask people to explain to him why he should reject such sources. And this isn't the first time I and others have pointed out Jon's inconsistency to him. Why is he so inconsistent, even after having that inconsistency pointed out to him repeatedly? And whose responsibility is it to inform Jon on issues like the reliability of Josephus? Shouldn't he do his own research? Isn't it highly irresponsible to spend years arguing against the New Testament documents in public forums, then make inconsistent claims about other documents in that context and expect other people to research those other documents for you and explain to you why you shouldn't accept them by your own standards?

Here's what Jon said about himself in a discussion with me in 2006:

"I believed for years because I was indoctrinated to believe as a young child, as are many people. I'd sing 'Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.' I'd see as Christians would beg and plead with others to convert and guilt people that didn't tow the line. That has an effect on people. I didn't want to see the inconsistencies and the unrealistic nature of the gospel accounts because like a lot of cultists I was conditioned to not see such things. It's a hard nut to crack. And maybe I'm a little slow." (here)

Some things don't change.

No comments:

Post a Comment