Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Double Standards At Debunking Christianity

Ken Pulliam keeps making comments such as the following at Debunking Christianity:

I read some of the responses to Tarico and Avalos on Tribalogue and it reconfirms in my mind why it is a waste of time to respond to these guys. They remind me so much of J.P. Holding and his followers on TWEB. Sarcasm, insults, using the same argument but switching words, etc. are all signs of non-scholarship. I expect to see some cartoons soon on their site to refute TCD.

Hector Avalos responded:

There are plenty of people out there on the fence who will see precisely what you see. They will compare the invectives that substitute for argumentation at Triablogue with what we do here.

See some examples of cartoons posted at Debunking Christianity here, here, and here. Notice the title of a recent post by John Loftus. And the title of one of Hector Avalos' recent posts. Note the vulgarity and sarcasm in John Loftus' post here. See the post here in which Loftus explains that he's "mad as hell". Loftus opens the post here with the line "As a bit of sarcasm that Voltaire would appreciate let's all praise God for the coming Swine Flu pandemic!" Then there's Loftus' recommendation of sarcasm here. Is that the sort of non-sarcastic, non-insulting, scholarly atmosphere Ken Pulliam is asking for? Pulliam has been on the staff of Debunking Christianity. How could Pulliam work with people who are so sarcastic, insulting, etc.?

He posted at Debunking Christianity under the screen name Former_Fundy. Is "fundy" the sort of scholarly and non-insulting language he's asking Christians to use? In his introductory post at Debunking Christianity, he referred to "brainwashing" and how "foolish" he had been in accepting Christianity:

Since I left Christianity my mind has started to "clear" (from the brainwashing) and I am amazed that I was ever that foolish to believe. Its not a matter of intelligence, though, there are extremely intelligent people who are Christians but there are also intelligent Mormons, Catholics, and members of other faiths as well.

He goes on to refer to the "nut case" who led the Christian university he attended:

The problem with the school is the fact that all of the power has been centralized in one person, beginning with Bob Jones, Sr. who founded the school. His son, Bob Jones, Jr. was IMO, a nut case and often made public statements that were very embarrassing.

Since Pulliam has complained about sarcasm, notice his repeated use of "Dr.", with quotation marks, when referring to James White in the post here.

Earlier this year, Pulliam made the following comments about David Wood:

Unless David Wood has improved greatly, you should have no trouble. His debate with you on the problem of evil was pathetic. He is an embarrassment to the evangelicals.

Would Pulliam classify his assessment of Wood as "insulting"?

Here's something Pulliam wrote at his blog:

Sometimes I think sarcasm and humor are more effective in getting your message across than serious lectures or debates. I probably come across as being a stuffed shirt but in reality I have a great sense of humor.

In the process of commending The Christian Delusion at his blog, Pulliam wrote:

Chapter Ten is by NT scholar Robert Price who, in his own unique and sarcastic way, demolishes the attempts by evangelicals to wiggle out of the implications of biblical criticism.

Recall some of Richard Carrier's comments when The Christian Delusion came out:

He [Hector Avalos] even, BTW, dismisses the Stalin and Mao examples in just two paragraphs that are a model of pwning the Christian with his own Bible; love it)....

I don't begrudge you (Pikeman) or Ben playing the conciliatory, piecemeal, make-nice, "no, we don't think you're deluded, you're just mistaken" card. You can mop up whoever we don't mow down.

You can even tell them you hate us and gosh we're so mean. That neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. Just don't lie. I'll do the same: I'll be mean, but I wont tolerate saying anything I don't know to be true (and I'll correct myself whenever I find I'm wrong). That's been my ethic from the beginning, and that won't change.

Does Ken Pulliam think that being "mean" is similar to being "insulting"? How would he respond to a Triablogue post referring to how people are "pwned", how we're going to "mow down" people, etc.? How did he respond to Carrier's chapter on the resurrection in The Christian Delusion, in which Carrier refers to Jesus' disciples as "fanatical" (p. 308), refers to the Jesus of Christianity as "superman" (p. 296), etc.?

Pulliam is contributing to another book against Christianity that's supposed to come out next year. John Loftus is a contributor. So is Richard Carrier. How can Pulliam work with people who are so sarcastic, insulting, etc.?

In another recent thread at Debunking Christianity, Pulliam wrote:

These guys at Tribalogue are not worthy of a response. First, they are not scholars as were the authors of TCD. Second, because they are not scholars they don't understand the issues involved. They just merely presuppose that their holy book is perfect and that anyone who disagrees is of the devil. Third, any response only gives them credibility.

You can understand why he would want to claim some sort of higher ground, and ignore some critics he doesn't want to respond to, rather than defend the unreasonable claims he's made. As I explained in a response to his comments above:

I would suggest that people read The Infidel Delusion and contrast it to the approach Ken Pulliam claims we take. Ken should explain why he considers men like John Loftus and Ed Babinski scholars in a way that's relevant to the current context, and he should explain why the authors are encouraging non-scholars to read their book if only scholars can understand the issues.

Is it scholarly for Pulliam to keep contradicting himself and keep making such unreasonable claims? What's his objective basis for the moral pronouncements he keeps making? Maybe that would explain his inconsistencies.


  1. It's been interesting to see the exchange so far. I am rather amused by their actions. It's almost hard to believe that someone can be so blind to their own hypocrisy but we have here living proof. I guess that happens when you are so caught up in the belief that you are not only right but smarter than your opposition. Such is the blinding effect of arrogance.

  2. It is absolutely nauseauting to listen to Avalos posturing about morality.

    This is the guy who, in "Fighting Words" calls for "the ELIMINATION (his word) of religion from human life" and says we should consider the MECCA OPTION. (The use of nuclear weapons against religious sites.)

    Seriously, between him and the war mongering Christopher Hitchens you could not kill religious believers fast enough to satisfy what can only be describes as their hatred.

  3. Ken Pulliam should repent of his apostasy.

    That way his hypocrisy would be forgiven. And he would be humble enough to own up and acknowledge it as he repents.

  4. Part of what I find amusing and sad in the overall tone of this debate is the repeated insistence that without a PhD you are unqualified to speak to a matter.

    First -- that is intellectual arrogance which I have little respect for. The overall erosion in standards at universities since 1997 especially, calls into question claims of expertise just because you have a PhD.

    Second -- a PhD qualifies you to make the statement that you have studied a subject. The statements you then go on to make regarding that subject or other ones reveals if you have gained any wisdom.

    Right now I am enjoying immensely (perhaps too much), David Berlinski's The Devil's Delusion. He convincingly demonstrates over and over again that scholarly qualifications (having obtained a degree) is no license to claim you are wise, as he deftly skewers those in the scientific community who think they can make short work of religion by linking their atheism and their arguments with science.

    To not believe is what some will do. Please, spare me the intellectual arrogance of just because I don't have a degree, I don't or cannot understand the issues at hand.

  5. I suppose that the good news is that none of this is immoral and it doesn't matter anyway. Since there is no God and since morality is simply an expression of one's own desires, it's a meaningless exercise for Dr. Ken [i]et al.[/i] This even explains their persistence in describing logical/rational analysis of their statements as demeaning. There is no need for logic unless they desire to use it and they can redefine it however they like since they are at all times morally infallible even if they contradict themselves.

    They, as rejectors of moral absolutes, have no reason to equitable unless they desire to be so. By reverse, as has been observed here, any value judgement they make about anything or anyone (including themselves) should have no effect on anyone else. They are their own metaphysical island, trapped in their own heads and incapable of interacting on any substantive level with any other island.

    What might further their case is an argument for why someone claiming to believe (or disbelieve) what they do should care about [i]anything[/i], especially the beliefs of others. Given the acumen of Dr. Ken [i]et al[/i] as demonstrated so far, I won't hold my breath... But it wouldn't be wrong of me to do so.

  6. Oh man. Cry us a river, boys.

  7. You seem to have a drastically different tone and approach to issues, Engwer. How is it that you tolerate your fellow Triabloggers? I have difficulty tolerating Loftus and most recently (to a lesser extent) Carrier. I don't mean this as an attack, but I wonder what your thoughts are on fitting in. The one quote of Carrier was actually to me, and I don't really appreciate being relegated to the "clean up" crew. Yet that's where I'm stuck in the atheist online culture, apparently. Do you see yourself as stuck as well or no?

  8. Re: Morrison and the Mecca Option
    This is another one of those false statements that comes from someone who has not read Fighting Words, or has not read it carefully.

    It is Hays who makes an argument similar to the Mecca Option regarding Syrian children. Is Morrison "nauseated" by that, too?

    Note also that Morrison presents no quotes where I say we should consider using the Mecca option. My discussion of the Mecca option is in the context of how religious rationales can lead to attacks on sacred sites, which is what has been happening in the Middle East for years (e.g. at Samarra in Iraq).

    Discussing those rationales is not the same as endorsing them. My discussion emphasizes the DANGERS of using such rationales. I would love
    to see Mr. Morrison demonstrate otherwise.

    RE: Berlinski. Anyone who thinks Berlinski is convincing is simply demonstrating a lack of expertise. Berlinski's writings contain many factual errors that I would be glad to list in a different post. GREV shows no expertise to judge what Berlinski was able to skewer or not skewer.

    Assuming that what you say is true about DC, I am not sure how Triablogue’s general approach serves the mission of Christian apologetics.

    It seems to me that Christian apologetics would try to show how it is different and ethically superior in its behavior to atheists.

    However, if you behave in the same way as your atheist opponents (e.g., in the use of insulting sarcasm, personal attacks, etc.), then how does that make the point that Christian apologists and ethics are different?

    And what if Loftus is a brilliant tactician who repeatedly entices you to behave like atheists do, and you repeatedly oblige?

    Again, how does your “tu quoque” argument show theistic ethics to be different on the blogosphere, if that is what your mission is supposed to be?

    And would you be able to show the superiority of your facts and reasons without the use of those atheistic ploys you also use? If so, why do you keep using the same tactics as atheists? Aren’t you convincing atheists that you have nothing better to offer in terms of ethics?

  9. Dr. Avalos,

    Was this post meant to demonstrate the moral superiority of Christian bloggers or, more likely, as the title says: "Double Standards at Debunking Christianity."

    Second, another point is that is seems that Christians, like us, don't whine and complain when you name call. We come back and give you a taste of your own medicine and then also offer arguments. When your side is reduced to moaning and complaining when we use your same arrogant tactics against you, that says more about you then us. We don't use people's attitudes as a reason to ignore their arguments or avoid arguing with them.

    Lastly, I find it laughable that you continue to work at cross purposes with yourself. Here you spend all this time talking about how unethical and evil the Bible is, how unethical Jesus was, etc., and then when we use similar language as our opponents, you claim we're being "unChristian." Well, which is it? If your argument against the Bible is correct, then we *are* acting Christian.

  10. Dr. Avalos:

    "RE: Berlinski. Anyone who thinks Berlinski is convincing is simply demonstrating a lack of expertise. Berlinski's writings contain many factual errors that I would be glad to list in a different post. GREV shows no expertise to judge what Berlinski was able to skewer or not skewer."

    I guess we shall be left with a clash of experts because it seems there are people who consider David Berlinski to be knowledgeable and worth the read.

    His chief concerns in writing the book as summarized here are I think quite strong and not easily refuted:

    “Berlinski's chief question is not whether God exists but "whether science has shown that he does not." The West has long told the story of a good God, of evil losing out in the end, of paradise regained. "I do not know whether any of this is true," writes Berlinski. "I am certain that the scientific community does not know that it is false.""

    Please go ahead and list the errors in a different post so we might continue this journey in gaining knowledge. But I suggest respectfully that you will have a hard road to travel because his intentions in writing are strong and speak to fundamental issues in the Religion Science Debate.

    But those who seek refuge in Science to try and build a foundation for their Atheism are pursuing a dream that shall not produce what they desire.

    Please do not automatically type cast me as someone unable to understand. I am trying to read and discover. But within the context of a Christian worldview that I think your atheism cannot and will never destroy.

    Your moral relativism arguments I am saving to ponder later.

    I am carrying on fruitful discussions with a scientist - philosopher where we RESPECT ONE ANOTHER AND WE DO NOT SHARE THE SAME WORLDVIEWS.

    That discussion I cherish. Someone's dismissal right from the outset I find hard to find much respect for.

    Give me a reason to think otherwise.

  11. I'll address the comments of Hector Avalos, then respond to WAR_ON_ERROR.

    Paul Manata is correct about the intention of my post. I was addressing the double standards of some of our critics. Documenting double standards doesn't answer every related question that could be raised, but it does accomplish some things that are significant. It removes a false excuse that people could use to dismiss The Infidel Delusion and Triablogue while not doing the same with The Christian Delusion and Debunking Christianity. It also tells us something about the reasonableness of Ken Pulliam, for example.

    I also agree with another distinction Paul Manata made. If somebody like Ken Pulliam raises the issue of our behavior, and he keeps objecting to our behavior without interacting with our arguments, and his objections are inconsistent with his own behavior, it makes sense for us to respond by pointing out his double standards and his evasiveness. It doesn't follow that we agree with his standards, nor does it follow that our criticism of his behavior is in the same category as his criticism of ours. We didn't raise the issue. He did. We didn't make the issue out to be so important. He did. We didn't use the objection to behavior as a means of evading arguments about larger issues. He did.

    Those of us who are on the Triablogue staff have sometimes sinned in our behavior on this blog. Sometimes our behavior is as bad as an atheist's or worse. And we sometimes agree with atheists, so we wouldn't assume that our behavior should always be different. (For example, I don't think that sarcasm is inherently wrong, though it is inappropriate in some contexts. I cited the use of sarcasm at Debunking Christianity and at Ken Pulliam's blog to illustrate a double standard. I wasn't suggesting that it's wrong for those two sites to use sarcasm. I was answering Pulliam on his own terms.) We can be similar to atheists in some contexts while being different in others. By Christian standards, doing something like promoting atheism, promoting moral relativism, or promoting the pro-choice movement isn't morally neutral. We don't judge a site like Debunking Christianity merely by standards like the language they use or how patient they are with people. An impatient pro-life advocate isn't morally equivalent to an impatient pro-choice advocate. Even on lesser issues, I don't think Triablogue and Debunking Christianity are comparable. I would suggest that people contrast our language to the prominent and common use of vulgarity at Debunking Christianity, for example. Even when Debunking Christianity and Triablogue engage in similar behavior, the context isn't necessarily equivalent. A rebuke or a use of language that's inappropriate in one context may be appropriate in another.

    (continued below)

  12. (continued from above)

    I'm primarily responsible for my own behavior. I have less responsibility for relatives, coworkers in ministry, coworkers at my place of employment, etc. But all of us do have some responsibility for the associations we keep. The members of the Triablogue staff disagree with each other on some issues, including matters like what language ought to be used and how we should approach particular people and subjects. Similarly, I suspect that Hector Avalos disagrees with some of what's occurred at Debunking Christianity over the years. But we all make judgments about the associations we keep based on a combination of factors. Weaknesses can be outweighed by strengths. And I judge Triablogue by more than what occurs publicly. I have a lot of information that the average reader of this blog doesn't have concerning this ministry and the people who work here.

    Ben, I don't know much about your relationship with men like Richard Carrier and John Loftus. I don't have "difficulty tolerating" anybody on the Triablogue staff. I think highly of all of them. They've treated me well. We're all conservative Evangelicals with a lot of interest in apologetics, among other things we have in common, and I get along well with all of them as individuals. My disagreements with them are far outweighed by my agreements. Maybe you don't have as much in common with men like Carrier and Loftus. Atheism doesn't provide as much common ground as Christianity. In The Christian Delusion, Loftus made the point that religious motivation intensifies the evil that people do. In The Infidel Delusion, I made the point that the intensifying potential of religion applies to good as well, not just evil. That's relevant here.

  13. Jason,

    Your thoughts are interesting and reflect many aspects of how I get along with my fellow atheists with whom I have disagreements with. Thanks for sharing. And basically I expected what you've said, but I wanted to confirm it (rather than just assume you are as sensible as I thought you were).

    I did want to respond to one thing in particular, or rather point out additional observations that complicate the political and moral back and forth. You said:

    "We can be similar to atheists in some contexts while being different in others. By Christian standards, doing something like promoting atheism, promoting moral relativism, or promoting the pro-choice movement isn't morally neutral."

    I understand where you are coming from there, but similarly being religious, or specifically being a conservative Christian is not morally neutral to many outspoken humanists. From our perspective Christians are promoting numerous egregious human rights violations and are fostering a world of moral negligence in terms of epistemology. You may care about the next world, but we do care about this one.

    I just don't think it's terribly helpful to stand in judgment over people we don't really know. To me, I think I've relinquished my rights to be offended by Christians, since I go to them online. I know what I'm getting into. It does affect arguments when you are too busy trying to maintain accusations rather than informing a public that by and large does not care about the petty political squabbles of a handful of jaded individuals. My goal (though obviously I'm not always successful) is to serve the conversation regardless of what people ultimately conclude. People really struggle to sort these rather complicated issues out. And the politics both sides bring with them are negative modifiers in my view.

    Pulliam, Avalos, and others who may want to disown getting into things with Triabloggers need to reassess what their goals are, since you guys aren't that different than most Christians that can be found online. Who exactly are they trying to talk to? Many Christians will simply rally behind what you've written and then the folks at Debunking Christianity are setting themselves up for never engaging what should probably be their target audience. They're helping to create and expand an audience they by definition will never be aiming for! The credentials and behavior of both sides varies, and they end up engaging you anyway (though somewhat shallowly), so if someone is delusional on this count, it appears to be them.

    Loftus and I do not get along at all (since my review of the TCD was such a buzz-kill, apparently), though I imagine if he knew me personally that would be a bit different. I don't see him as a bad person though. I just don't think he's good at politics. Carrier is much more tolerant of atheist on atheist criticism, and I know him quite a bit better and have a lot more in common with him. To the extent we disagree, I've lifted the cliche' Christian principle of being in the politics, but not of it. I think that's the best I can do if I wish to continue productively here. Obviously the politics aren't going to stop, since everyone is all too human. But I think some of us can do better on both sides.


  14. WAR_ON_ERROR wrote:

    "I understand where you are coming from there, but similarly being religious, or specifically being a conservative Christian is not morally neutral to many outspoken humanists."

    Yes, it goes both ways.

    You wrote:

    "My goal (though obviously I'm not always successful) is to serve the conversation regardless of what people ultimately conclude. People really struggle to sort these rather complicated issues out. And the politics both sides bring with them are negative modifiers in my view. Pulliam, Avalos, and others who may want to disown getting into things with Triabloggers need to reassess what their goals are, since you guys aren't that different than most Christians that can be found online. Who exactly are they trying to talk to?"

    Loftus and Avalos have distanced themselves from Pulliam's approach to some extent. See their responses to him in the first thread linked above, for example. And what I documented in my first post here should make Pulliam's approach even less convincing to people.

    I think there's been, and will continue to be, an increasing awareness that the initial response to The Infidel Delusion was inadequate. Paul Tobin's response to us avoids some of the mistakes that were made earlier.

  15. Look, if you set up a site called DEBUNKING Christianity, you are going beyond just saying your opponents are mistaken. You are saying that their position is bunk. If you call your book The Christian DELUSION, then you are saying that their position isn't just erroneous, it's delusional. You're staking out the low ground, not the high ground. You gain some passion for your own position, but you undercut any hope you might have of walking away from the dialogue on some kind of a friendly basis once it's over. And you can't be terribly surprised that people whose position you are attempting to debunk don't like what you're doing, and hit back with as harsh as tone as you yourself employ. Why should anyone like it when they are told that what they believe and dedicate their lives to is bunk, and a delusion.

    I'm not saying that debunking is always bad. There are some things in this world that deserve debunking. Of course, I don't think Christianity is one of them, but if you do, it's a free country.

    If you want a polite exchange of ideas, you might want to name your site "Critiquing Christianity." Of course, some people who like to be nice might try to engage you in polite dialogue, anyway. But you should be surprised by the polite responses, not the harshly polemical ones. They go with the territory you have staked out.

  16. But Victor, your blog is called "Dangerous Idea" and when I get done reading your posts, I never get the feeling the AfR is all that dangerous and you're still such a pleasant fellow! :D

  17. WOE: If the overall tone of the posts over at DC were such that we could conclude, despite the blog's title, they weren't really Christian-bashers, that would be one thing. But no, the title of the blog and the tone of the posts both suggest that they are declaring war on Christianity.

    I mean, when you have a post that says "Calvinism is bullshit, and God told me to say so," (or whatever the title of that post was), I take it the poster is not on the high road. I can recognize this, and I wasn't even predestined before the foundation of the world to be a Calvinist.

  18. hehe, I was just teasing. I know what you are saying.