Thursday, July 28, 2011

David Marshall Responds to My Review of His Book....Sort Of

I am indeed shocked. That was my first thought when I received a notification from David Marshall in the comments that he has addressed my response to the first chapter of his book The Truth Behind the New Atheism.

After initially skimming his post to see the gist of his response I was not at all impressed. He failed to address over half of my arguments, including the facts that he took several passages from the bible out of context, and he ignored the scientific studies I cited proving that Christians do rely on blind faith. Marshall also ignored my discussion about how he put words in Richard Dawkins’ mouth when he discussed a television debate Dawkins had with Richard Swinburne. He also completely ignores all of my arguments about why in most cases the bible is not an historically reliable document. If I exclude the prefaces and the introduction (which comprise about three pages) Marshall only addressed a page and a half of my critique! Then he proclaims himself the victor after answering so little of my review! I find this astonishing to put it mildly.

His response truly showcases what I’ve come to expect from this “hack” (to borrow Hector Avalos’ term) because he resorts to much of the same nonsense that has dominated the vast majority of our exchanges in the past. In the place of argument he resorts to ridicule and makes dumbass assumptions about me without bothering to check his facts.

Aside from that, let’s see what his arguments are made of. I will quote the entirety of his piece in blockquotes and respond throughout.

Let’s begin.

Response to Arizona Atheist: On Early Christians, Richard Carrier and Blind Faith

Over the past four years, an atheist named of Ken (aka "Arizona Atheist," "Gifted Writer," "Prime Truth," I forget what else) has been posting attacks on my book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism in various fora around the Internet (Richard Dawkin's website, Harvest House, Amazon, his own website, etc). He has often goaded me to respond. I have replied a bit sometimes, I think effectively enough, but less often or thoroughly than Ken and some seem to think appropriate.

I was loath to say more: frankly, I didn't see the necessity. Ken's criticism tends to meander -- his "rebuttal" of my book has now reached the size of a small book in itself. I find his critiques amateurish and unpersuasive, and expected most other readers to feel the same.

But atheists for whom I have some respect have drawn my or other peoples' attention to Ken's critique, challenging me (in effect or directly) to respond. Also, to give him credit, Ken has revised and tried to improve his booklet. He has toned down the aggregiously immature personal comments with which he peppered some earlier writings, and seems to have tried to improve the quality of his argument. I have a bit of time this week, with my dissertation just sent in, and waiting for several chapters to arrive for our upcoming anthology. So here I'll respond to Arizona Atheist's most recent critique of The Truth Behind the New Atheism.

I'll focus mainly on some of his responses to my first chapter, Have Christians Lost Their Minds? In his response, Ken seems to rely largely on the atheist philosopher and historian, Richard Carrier, whose errors on Christian history and other topics I have exposed before. The two also take on leading Christians thinkers in these pages, especially St. Luke, St. Paul, Justin Martyr, and Origen. I am a great fan of all four men, and will be glad for the chance to defend them here, as well.

I think the rebuttal will be thorough enough, that it will become evident to most readers why I do not feel the need to read or respond to all the rest of Ken's critique.

My only request to Ken is that he not alter his review in light of the criticism.

At the outset I see several issues here, the first of which is this continuous attempt by Marshall to discredit me by airing our messy past, such as when he mentions the instances when I've resorted to “immature personal comments” in past reviews. The fact is, he is the one who started with all of the “immature” name-calling and personal attacks. I simply responded in kind, so I find this to be very hypocritical. Not only has Marshall resorted to personal attacks against his critics, he has also taken to character assassination. There have been numerous cases where I've caught Marshall outright lying about and smearing several of his critics, myself included. I wouldn't call that mature by any standard, so I don't think Marshall has any room to talk. Quite frankly, after having outright lies being spread about me, and being on the receiving end of continuous insults by Marshall for as long as I was, I can’t believe he expected anything less from me.

I don't understand why he feels the need to mention every pen name I've used on the internet. So what? Marshall has several aliases he also uses: David B. Marshall, David Marshall, Dave M (see Richard Carrier's blog), and Ma Dixiong.

Regarding the comment that I've “been posting attacks on” his “book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism in various fora around the Internet (Richard Dawkin's website, Harvest House, Amazon, his own website, etc),” I still do not understand his reasoning when he complains that I've “attacked” his book. Back in November of 2010 I emailed him to try to discuss the issue with him and asked him about why he feels my posting responses to his book are somehow “attacks” on him. He never responded. It's obvious he feels threatened by my review and so feels it is an “attack,” but it isn't. Unlike him, I care about truth and I felt the need to expose Marshall's errors. If he didn't want this to happen he should have written a better book.

The simple reason I posted the review in so many places was for two reasons. 1) I see no problem with being proud of something you've written and want many people to read it. And most importantly, 2) I wanted as many people to read it as possible so I could submit it to a form of “peer review” to see if anyone might catch a few accidental errors, and to see what kinds of counter-arguments might be leveled against it so I could better my arguments.

Yes, I’ve revised my review several times over the years. In fact, I am currently writing my fifth and final version right now. In response to Marshall’s request that I not alter the review he responded to, I did not (and do not) plan on deleting it, only posting the new review and linking to the new version from now on. The new review contains some new arguments and I tackle his book much more thoroughly than I have in the past, including this first chapter, though my arguments are much the same.

Marshall has never responded to my arguments in a satisfactory manner. He may believe so, but he is entirely deluded if he thinks so. In the past he has continually browbeat me (as he does also in this reply) and insulted me, instead of offering a detailed, serious rebuttal to my arguments. I believe this is the first time I've ever gotten an actual serious response from him.

I find it hilarious that Marshall actually thinks he has rebutted Carrier. I’ve read his responses and they’re horribly argued.

What are we arguing about?

Ken attempts to explain my argument in "Have Christians Lost Their Minds?"

"In this chapter Marshall attempts to prove to his readers that faith is 'not blind,' and that christians (sic) do have evidence for their faith."

Unfortunately, that is NOT what I try to show in that chapter. Proving that Christians have evidence for their faith is not something I would try to accomplish in such a short space! Even in the five (soon six) books I've put together so far, I feel like I've only touched the fringes of a full argument for the truth of Christianity.

Here's what I actually promise in the first sentence of the chapter (emphasis added, as below):

"If the modern world is confused about anything, it is the idea that Christianity demands 'blind faith.'"

So the question is not whether Christianity provides good evidence is not the issue here, but whether it demands (in theory) that we believe without evidence. This should be clear on the following page:

"Much is at stake here for non-Christians as well. I will argue that in its idea of 'faith,' the gospel defends us against simplistic and dehumanizing models of truth. Christianity, I will argue, stands on the side of ordinary people against the intellectual imperialism of those who imprison the human spirit in credulous, tunnel-visioned scientism."

So one issue here is scientism, the idea that you can find truth purely through science, as opposed to broader methods of finding truth. The chapter is mainly philosophical, in other words, not about the empirical search for evidence to support the Christian faith. This is why, on the facing page, the first sub-head asks, "What Does the Bible Say About Faith?" The trend continues in later subtitles: "Richard Swinburne: Can There Be Too Much Evidence?" "Alister McGrath: Is Faith Supposed to be Blind?" "Nicholas Wolterstorff and the Sin of Blind Faith." "Do Ordinary Christians Believe for No Good Reason?" "Pascal's Wager." "What is Faith, and Why is it Useful?"

The men I name here are all leading Christian philosophers. The questions I ask, are theoretical or theological. "This is how Christians see faith."

It is a bad sign that AA gets the point of the chapter wrong from the get-go. This is not a minor quibble, nor is it the last critical misreading in his critique.

This is David Marshall Apologetics 101: falsely argue that the opposition doesn't understand your arguments in order to avoid having to deal with their criticisms. He’s used this obfuscation ever since our first discussions and it's highly annoying. I did not misunderstand his chapter. Marshall began that chapter with the following,

If the modern world is confused about anything, it is the idea that Christianity demands "blind faith."

That Christians have a soft spot (their heads) for faith unsupported by reason is a core tenet of the New Atheism. One of Daniel Dennett's chapters is called "Belief in Belief." "People of all faiths," he explains, consider it "demeaning" to ask God tough questions. "The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry." Christianity in particular, he asserts, is addicted to blind faith. He says this, ironically, without offering any evidence it is true - quoting no Christian philosopher, scientist, or theologian who thinks so.

In Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris calls faith "nothing more than the license religious people give one another to keep believing when reasons fail." The title of Harris's previous book, The End of Faith, set the point clearly in the wood. The first two chapters, "Reason in Exile" and "The Nature of Belief," pounded it home. Harris wrote, "It should go without saying that these rival belief systems are all equally uncontaminated by evidence." One blinks at this. Why should the claim that there is no evidence for religion "go without saying"- in other words, be accepted with no evidence? Harris continues:

Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.

If opinions need to be supported by evidence, let's begin with this one. How does Harris know Christians don't support their beliefs with evidence? Dennett cites Pascal, Dawkins cites Harris, and everyone takes this alleged Christian doctrine for granted, but no one cites any Christians! [emphasis mine] (15-16)

It’s clear that my interpretation of his goals were correct. It is a curious habit of Marshall's when critiquing arguments against his work to be very picky about exactly how someone describes his arguments. If they are not explained in exactly the way he wants, he claims you’re taking him out of context or don’t understand his argument! It’s preposterous to say the least.

I also would like to make the reader aware that it seems to me that Marshall has misunderstood Dawkins. Marshall likes to argue that Christians don't hold the view Dawkins ascribes to them, that they have no reasons for their beliefs. Marshall would like to argue that Christians do believe they have reasons for their beliefs, but he misses the point entirely. It's not a matter of if Christians believe they have evidence for their beliefs, it's about whether or not they actually do have factual evidence for their beliefs. Do Christians have any actual, fact-based reasons for their beliefs? Do they honestly look at all the evidence against their beliefs? No, they don't. That's the point (and this is the point I tried to get across in my review but Marshall ignored it).

Marshall argues above,

So one issue here is scientism, the idea that you can find truth purely through science, as opposed to broader methods of finding truth. The chapter is mainly philosophical, in other words, not about the empirical search for evidence to support the Christian faith.

Yes, and I explained in depth why his views about science and “scientism” were wrong, but he ignores everything I said in response! I argued in my critique that Christians did not have any evidence for their faith, and even how early Christians did not make use of any evidence for their faith.

Marshall continues,

Driving Miss Lazy

It is no great crime (I must admit) to misread David Marshall. What is troubling about many Internet skeptic is their apparent inability to accurately and fairly read what great Christians thinkers say, and respond to what they really argue, rather than a series of straw men. It might not be fair to call someone like Ken lazy -- he certainly works hard on his rebuttals. But like many such skeptics, again and again his criticisms suggest that he has not applied sufficient care to the first two phases of "read, mull over, and respond" that any serious critical encounter must go through.

Ken grossly misreads what great Christian thinkers say about faith , and also continues to badly misread my argument, at times. Since this is such a dominant, and debilitating, pattern, the rest of this post will mainly quote Ken, citing Christians, and show how he misreads us. I'm the first target:

"Marshall . . . goes through and quotes what a handful of christians, the bible, and other theologians have said about the definition of faith and that (sic) Dawkins must be wrong simply because no theists agree with Dawkin's definition."

But I don't say "no" theists agree with Dawkins' definition. In fact, I point out that in my survey of 76 Christians in conservative churches, one person did agree with that definition. I assume he or she was a theist. So, probably, did some of the tens of thousands in Michael Shermer's survey, which I also cite.

Note also how different this procedure looks, depending on whether you accurately understand my goal for this chapter, or accept Ken's misconstrual of it. Skeptics might see citing the Bible and theologians as a poor way to show that there is evidence for Christianity. But it's an excellent way to show what Christians think about the relationship between faith and reason, which is my actual goal, here.

First of all, as I show in my review, Marshall has taken Shermer out of context (and surprise, surprise, Marshall ignores this argument). Shermer was actually arguing the complete opposite, that Christians have no good reasons for their beliefs. At the end of the chapter in Shermer's book where Marshall read of this study by Shermer, Shermer writes, “If there is a God, the avenue to Him is not through science and reason, but through faith and revelation. If there is a God, He will be so wholly Other that no science can reach Him, especially not the science that calls itself Intelligent Design.” (emphasis mine)

Second, Marshall's informal poll means nothing since it ignores my very argument that I made in the review. Christians may claim to have reasons for their beliefs but this “evidence” is not actually evidence for their beliefs. They are mistaken because science disproves their reasons for belief.

Early Christian writers come in, next:

"Marshall also quotes a few early christian apologists as to their views on faith . . . . 'Origen . . . argued that there was good evidence (in archeology, history, miracles and prophecy) that the Christian faith was, in fact, reasonable.'

"It's odd, but Marshall doesn't even provide a direct quote for Origen so how can we truly know what Marshall is saying about him is accurate?"

Uh . . . By reading him? I take my readers for mature adults, and assume most have access to the Internet and libraries. I have read Origen, and found these arguments in his writings. I do not need to "prove" it: were I to make such things up, Dr. Paul Griffiths, Warren Chair of Catholic Thought at Duke Divinity School, whose blurb appears on the back cover of the book, would no doubt have caught me in some such errors, and boxed my ears.

"However, I do have a direct quote and it presents a much different view than Marshall claims. Origen said, 'We admit that we teach those men to believe without reasons.'"

Now the sad thing, here, is that rather than read Origen for himself, Ken's footnote shows that he is citing Richard Carrier's Not the Impossible Faith. Rather than box his ears, here is where I am liable to become "patronizing," and Ken, angry. Lesson number one for those who would pretend to the status of intellectual: READ THE DARN ORIGINALS!

Here is where Marshall has made some seriously dumb assumptions about me. I did read the originals! Unlike Marshall, I check my citations for accuracy.

What happens when we read Origen here in context?

Origen is debating the anti-Christian writer, Celsus. In chapter nine of Contra Celsus, Celsus is quoted as offering the following complaint:

"He next proceeds to recommend, that in adopting opinions we should follow reason and a rational guide, since he who assents to opinions without following this course is very liable to be deceived . . . he asserts that certain persons who do not wish either to give or receive a reason for their belief, keep repeating, 'Do not examine, but believe!' and, 'Your faith will save you!'"

Origen responds in part as follows:

"To which we have to answer, that if it were possible for all to leave the business of life, and devote themselves to philosophy, no other method ought to be adopted by any one, but this alone. For in the Christian system also it will be found that there is, not to speak at all arrogantly, AT LEAST AS MUCH OF INVESTIGATION INTO ARTICLES OF BELIEF, and of explanation of dark sayings . . . as is the case with other systems."

Did Richard Carrier forget to cite that part? I have not read this book, and am relying on Ken, here, so will remain agnostic. But having read others of his writings, I would not be too surprised.

The three chapters in which this conversation occurs are only a few short paragraphs long; if he weren't going to read the whole book, Ken should at least have read these paragraphs.

Origen is responding to Celsus' criticism here, that Christians take things on faith. His answer is four-fold:

(1) Christians who have the time and ability DO investigate "articles of belief" (still true);

(2) But most people don't have time or intellect to do that well (also still the case);

(3) Isn't it better that they believe on insufficient grounds, and have their characters reformed for the good? (which also remains a reasonable consideration);

(4) Anyway, Celsus, most people in your Greek schools also believe without doing all the research, so what are you complaining about? (Also still true of skeptical schools -- as Ken makes very evident here!)

Origen is being extremely reasonable, here. If skeptics misunderstand his argument, so much the worse for them, since modern skeptics could benefit from this good sense.

Both Ken and the uneducated Christians Origen referred to believe based on what other people say, rather than on first-hand investigation. The difference is, Origen seems to have cited his opponent more fairly than Dr. Carrier (or Ken, if the error is his) takes the trouble to do.

I have read those passages. In fact, I read the entirety of Contra Celsus for my research for my review. What he was saying is that if it were possible to research your beliefs it would be a good method, but most don’t have the time so we must rely on the testimony of others. How is this an admission of favoring rational investigation? It’s not. It’s the lazy way out. Talk about “driving miss lazy.”

Origen even admits this in the following section, confirming my interpretation. He says, “In the next place, since our opponents keep repeating those statements about faith, we must say that, considering it as a useful thing for the multitude, we admit that we teach those men to believe without reasons, who are unable to abandon all other employments, and give themselves to an examination of arguments; and our opponents, although they do not acknowledge it, yet practically do the same.” (emphasis mine)

Marshall’s hubris astounds me. He makes assumption after assumption about me, and his claim that this passage supports an investigative state of mind is outrageously ignorant.

Marshall seems to believe that if a writer or the bible mentions the words ‘reason’ or ‘investigation’ he seems to think “Ah ha, Christians do favor rational inquiry!” However you must take the writers in context. What investigative methods does any Christian say they’re using? What reasons do the Christians Marshall cites give for why they believe? In the cases of those Marshall cites and other Christians I’ve read about (in Richard Carrier’s excellent book Not the Impossible Faith) their only source is the bible, but did they investigate whether or not the scriptures they based their beliefs on were true, or accurate? No.

The same is true of Justin Martyr:

"As for Justin Martyr, Marshall neglected to quote the following from the twenty-third chapter of his First Apology . . . "

Ken then cites a long passage from Justin Martyr that, while popular among some critics of Christianity, is not very relevant to the topic. This is a famous passage in which Justin Martyr proposes what neo-pagan "scholars" Freke and Gandry call the theory of "diabolical mimicry:" that the devil planted fake stories (myths) about an incarnation, to pre-empt the real incarnation. It's a silly theory, but Justin's critics often seem to quote-mine it without reading Justin for themselves and gaining the many valuable insights Justin offers elsewhere, as I argued in part 3 of this earlier post. And that's a pity.

Only the last few lines that Ken quotes seem relevant to the issue I'm talking about in this chapter -- and they supports my claim, and undermine those of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Arizona Atheist:

Justin Martyr: " . . . they have caused to be fabricated the scandalous reports against us of infamous and impious actions, of which there is neither witness nor proof -- we shall bring foward the following proof."

Arizona Atheist: "But what 'proof' is he referring to? Nothing but the bible. Throughout his Apology the only 'proof' he cites is scripture. Justin Martyr's argument summed up is not one of inquiry and evidence, but one of blind faith that the scriptures are true, and that's what he used as 'evidence,' when he never checked the reliability of such writings to begin with. According to Richard Carrier:

"You can read Justin's two apologies back to front and never once find any other methodological principle or source of his faith [other than the scripture]."

That's curious, because I find another methodological principle (or, rather, empirical method) in the very second chapter of the Apology, which I cited, and which Ken objects to, and in the chapter that follows it.

It’s funny, but it looks like Marshall just admitted I was right! That Justin did not appeal to anything but the bible. But, Marshall claims Justin used another “empirical method.” Let’s see how “empirical” it is...

Here's the bit I cited:

"Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honor and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions."

What is he talking about? What methodology is he pushing, here? Read the Bible, and see? No:

"For we have come, not to flatter you by this writing, nor please you by our address, but to beg that you pass judgement, after an accurate and searching investigation, not flattered by prejudice or by a desire of pleasing superstitious men, nor induced by irrational impulse or evil rumors which have long been prevalent, to give a decision which will prove to be against yourselves. For as for us, we reckon that no evil can be done us, unless we be convicted as evil-doers or be proved to be wicked men; and you, you can kill, but not hurt us."

The inquiry here is judicial and historical. The question is whether Christians are "evil men," whether they in fact commit the crimes they are accused of. (Much like the claim that a certain Norwegian mass-murderer really was a "fundamentalist Christian," as often alleged.)

"Do the investigation!" Justin is saying. His address is to the emperor (chapter 1), and he is asking for a JUDICIAL review, not a Bible study. In fact, he has not even mentioned the Bible, yet.

In the next chapter, he makes the nature of the inquiry, and of Christian reason, even more clear:

"We demand that the charges against the Christians be investigated, and that, if these be substantiated, they be punished as they deserve . . . But if no one can convict us of anything, true reason forbids you, for the sake of a wicked rumor, to wrong blameless men, and indeed rather yourselves, who think fit to direct affairs, not by judgement, but by passion."

This is crazy. As I said before, Marshall finds a passage speaking of an ‘investigation’ and he jumps all over it like a bitch in heat. What Justin is talking about is an investigation into the alleged crimes of Christians, not evidence for their beliefs!

I could go on with such quotes: Justin risks boring his readers by repeating himself at length, to make his demands clear in these first chapters: he wants rumors about crimes allegedly committed by Christians investigated, feeling confident that such investigations will clear them. He appeals as well to philosophy, which he opposes (along with piety) to "violence and tyranny."

Yes, please don’t go on because you’re just making yourself look foolish. Again, what evidence does Justin cite for his religious beliefs? The bible, and Marshall did nothing to refute this.

In the following chapter, Justin also appealed to the philosopher Socrates, whom Cynics, Stoics, and Peripatetics alike often appealed to as an example of true philosophy and nobility. Reason (Logos) prevailed among the Greeks, and took form among the Barbarians, in the person of Jesus, by which we repudiate the immoral acts imputed to the gods, he argues.

So in the first five chapters of the book, Justin in fact appeals not once to the authority of the Bible, but to three independent sources of knowledge: judicial review (historical investigation), philosophical reason, and moral understanding of which Greeks are also assumed to be aware. Carrier is dead wrong, and leads readers like Ken off a cliff, here.

Justin does cite Scripture, beginning in chapter 15, not because he thinks it will automatically be seen an authority for pagans, but to explain and demonstrate the wisdom of Christian teachings. In chapter 15, for instance, he quotes Jesus on chastity, then makes an empirical claim that can ONLY be proven by sociological investigation, which he recommends:

"And many, both men and women, who have been Christ' disciples from childhood, remain pure at the age of sixty or seventy years; and I boast that I could produce such from every race of men. For what shall I say, too, of the countless multitude of those who have reformed intemperate habits, and learned these things."

Carrier cannot have read the Apology carefully. He was apparently looking for something, and found what he was looking for. I could go on, and there is much more of interest to say about Justin's methodology. But this is enough to make my point: Justin clearly did not believe in "taking things on faith" in Dawkins' sense of "believing without evidence." That definition, from Justin's point of view, would have been nonsense, but almost decribes, unfortunately, the procedure Arizona Atheist appears to have followed here.

As I’ve shown, it was Marshall who interpreted Justin incorrectly. After all, Marshall has just proven true what Sam Harris has written. He said, “Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.”

Exactly. Did Justin give any evidence for his religious beliefs? No. Did he give reasons for other beliefs aside from his religious ones? Yes. That’s the point. It’s not that Christians never rely on evidence in their lives, but that when it comes to their faith they fail to rationally investigate their reasons for belief. Marshall has just proven Harris’ point without even meaning to. Judging from this, it seems clear to me that it's Marshall who badly misunderstands when the New Atheists say that Christians have “blind faith.”

Misquoting Jesus

Ken then attempts to show that my argument that the Bible supports reasoned faith is "selective," and flies in the face of "much evidence." He tries to make this case by citing four NT passages that I supposedly overlook, and claiming that I "misrepresent" "some" passages, of which he names Isaiah 1: 18. He also attempts to rebut my argument that Doubting Thomas actually involves an appeal to reason, not "blind faith."

I find it hilarious how he mentions these arguments but declines to deal with them, using this last section instead to disprove the few bible passages I cite to show the bible demands blind faith.

I'll deal with the five "new" passages Ken cites as positive evidence for his views. If those don't help him (and they don't), there's no sense in looking further.

1 Timothy 6:3-4: "If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and the constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain."

Ken does not explain why this passage is supposed to support the contention that faith, for Christians, is supposed to be blind. Paul (if it is Paul) seems to be preaching against loud-mouths, sophists ("quarrels about words") and con men. He is not saying that faith should not appeal to rational support. Earlier in the letter Paul warns against an unhealthy interest in "myths and endless genealogies," which are hardly the definition of rigorous empirical investigation.

But granted, there is some possible ambiguity in this passage. The next two passages Ken cites, however, even more completely undermines his interpretation.

This passage in 1 Timothy is explaining how one should not seek answers outside of what Jesus says. He is saying not to question the dogma of Christianity. That's why it supports the argument for “blind faith.”

1 Corinthians 15:11 Paul says, "...this is what we preach, and this is what you believed."

How remarkable that Ken would cite this passage!

Is Paul saying, "Just close your eyes and believe that Jesus rose from the dead?" Not at all! He is making a bold historical and empirical argument for the resurrection, here. Paul preached that something dramatic had happened. Jesus had appeared to Peter. He then appeared to the Twelve. Then to more than 500 "brethren" in one shot, most of whom were still alive. Then he appeared to James, the apostles, and finally to himself.

"If Christ has not been raised," Paul continues, "our preaching is in vain, and your faith is also in vain."

Plus that would make us a bunch of miserable liars, who are wasting our lives preaching what we have not in fact witnessed.

Nothing further from "blind faith" could be found than this passage. It remains, in fact, a strong piece of historical evidence for the resurrection, cited in every serious debate on the topic. (NT Wright's discussion of the passage in Resurrection of the Son of God, for instance, is some 40 pages long!)

If Marshall didn't have such “blind faith” in what he calls “human testimony” he'd see that this passage supports the fact that Christians did not do any fact checking. Did Paul ask those who supposedly saw Jesus? No, he is simply reporting what he had heard, in other words, on hearsay! How does Paul know those individuals saw Jesus? He doesn't. Therefore, this passage is a perfect example of “blind faith.”

2 Corinthians 5:7: "We live by faith, not by sight."

Never trust a seven word phrase snatched out of context. Paul here is talking about life after death, which indeed we have to trust God -- who has shown Himself worthy of that trust, as Paul recognizes and explains many times, including in the dramatic conclusion of Paul's previous letter to the Corinthians, already cited.

Read the story of how the Corinthian church started, in Acts 18, and one finds that Paul was "reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Gentiles."

That doesn't sound like the church began in an appeal to blind faith, either.

Marshall’s argument is absurd. Tell me, please, how Paul knows there is a life after death? And Marshall even says in his response how “we have to trust God,” but trust is not synonymous with knowledge, or investigation. Carrier discusses Acts in his book Not the Impossible Faith on this issue so I won't cover it. I've already shown how Marshall’s interpretation was wrong again.

Luke 1:18-20 tells how Zechariah asked god (sic): "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man an my wife is well along in years." Because he questioned god, he was punished by being made a mute."

How is this supposed to undermine my case? The man was talking with an angel! Isn't the appearance of an ancient a palpable form of evidence?

Zechariah was punished (mildly) for disbelieving not without evidence, but with evidence. And the punishment itself was a further form of confirming evidence, as was his later cure. Ken is flailing, here.

If anyone is “flailing” with their explanations it's Marshall. Read the story: when Zacharias asked god for evidence he was punished for asking for that evidence! That's the point of the story! It is wrong to ask for evidence for something. In addition, it should be obvious to any rational person that this verse isn't describing an actual supernatural event, it's just a story relating a message to those who hear it. And what is that message? Don't ask questions! Just believe for belief's sake. This is why it supports the view of “blind faith.”

Romans 1:17 it is said that "The righteous will live by faith."

Yes, of course! But the issue here is what Christians mean by "faith."

And what does Paul mean? Happily, he gives some indications in the very next verses . . . also some warnings for the likes of Arizona Atheist:

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God has made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse . . . Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools."

I'm sorry to say, that seems to appliy here, quite well.

I do suppose that particular passage “begs the question” but as I've shown here, “faith” did not mean to check the facts, but quite the opposite. More importantly, Marshall has not given a single bible verse that supports this view that Christians rely on evidence for their beliefs. Rather than myself being the fool I believe I've successfully demonstrated that the only foolish one is Marshall.

In each case, Ken simply misreads what he wants to deconstruct. In most cases, he baldly, palpably, grossly misreads. (Or perhaps, in some cases, not read at all, but relied on unreliable sources.) He reads me wrong: far worse, he twists the plain words of Justin, Origen, St. Paul, and St. Luke.

In each case, the passages he thinks prove that Christians affirm blind faith, when read in context, show the opposite. Justin was in fact arguing from judicial inquiry, history, and Greek philosophy.

But that, I think, will be enough for one day. It is hard to find a single passage, so far, that Ken has read accurately.

Such misreadings are common among evangelical atheists on the Internet. They seem to share some preconceived notion about Christianity that they want to affirm. Seeing themselves as intellectually superior due to their reliance on "science" and lack of belief in "god" (the grammatically-incorrect lower case is de rigeur), and following lazy writers like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers who think true skepticism means adopting a bold pose, they rush into fields of which they know little, like Red Guard city slickers trying to plant rice for the first time. They assume that their superior assumptions about life will make up the difference, or that people won't check the originals for themselves. Maybe the Internet makes them lazy. Maybe they've grown used to quote-mining, not really reading, books. Even when they do read, their hostility and lack of practice in pondering contrary arguments, determines what they will and will not see, and what flavors of mud will be splattered on their faces, by the end.

Professing to be wise, they become fools.

How did Paul know?

As I've demonstrated here, if anyone does not properly investigate their beliefs it is David Marshall. I've demonstrated his amateurish and silly interpretations of the bible and Christian thinkers.

I did not 'seek out' these verses to justify my “belief” in “blind faith,” but because the evidence so strongly swings in that direction that is the only conclusion I can possibly come to. David Marshall has utterly failed to cite any passages from any Christians or the bible in support of his mistaken notion that Christians rely on evidence for their religious beliefs, or that early Christians relied on his confused interpretation of faith.

I'm glad that Marshall has finally decided to answer at least a small part of my critique. I've been asking him to do so for several years but he has always declined.

Once I'm finished with my final version of the review I will post it. I've discovered even more dishonest interpretations of the bible and of Christian thinkers this time around and I am sure that this final edition of the review will be the best one yet. In nearly every section of the book I deconstruct his arguments and show why his case is horribly argued.

But until then, I am very pleased with how well my arguments fared and how well they withstood his entirely misguided counter-attacks. I think something Vox Day has said sums this up well: “the best strategy is an incompetent enemy,” and they don't come much more incompetent than David Marshall.


  1. Great article. I would also add even though it seems Marshall is a complete moron, I think there is something more sinister in his response, which I am certain stems from his personal investment in the matter, too bad he is not invested in truth itself.

    The passages clearly demonstrate your perspective, and are quite telling about the philosophy which went into the biblical text. Thanks.

  2. What I want to know is, can he define and explain what faith is? I would be very curious about this. I have yet to hear any definition of faith that wasn't either superficial and incomplete (belief in things not seen- what things not seen? how do you choose which things not seen to believe in?) or circular (I have faith in God because I have faith in God).

  3. Philosopher's Mess,

    Thanks! I completely agree with you, and you're welcome. I'm glad it was informative, but I can't take all the credit. I read Richard Carrier's Not the Impossible Faith and read what Carrier had to say about them. I then found Justin's and Origen's writings, and some of the bible passages, and read them for myself to see if I agreed with Carrier. I did. :- )


    Hi, thanks for the comment. I actually have his definition of faith right here. It's in his book. He actually gives two different ones.

    1. “Sticking to what you have good reasons to think is true, in the light of difficulties.” (24)

    2. “In the Christian sense, faith means courageous trust in an object one has good reason to see as credible.” (27)

    Speaking of Marshall's book I'm nearly finished with my new review. I posted it a bit early but will finish the last two chapters very soon. The Truth Behind the New Atheism: A Refutation

  4. "2. “In the Christian sense, faith means courageous trust in an object one has good reason to see as credible.” (27)"

    So according to him, I have faith in Carl Sagan?

    Another failed definition, I'm afraid.


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