Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dousing the Fireworks: Response to Zuckerman's Closing Arguments

There is a time-honored debating tradition known in some circles as the "Gish Gallop."  This involves throwing out a series of claims quickly, each of which demands a long response, for which unfortunately, there remains no time.  The Gish Gallop, named for creation scientist Duane T. Gish, comes perhaps most effectively at the end of a debate, when even less can be said.

Duane Gish
I don't know if that's what Phil Zuckerman had in mind with the final flurry of new arguments in his closing talk -- or maybe he had been suppressing all this, and just needed to get it out.  I compared it to the final rush of explosions at the end of a fireworks display, when everything goes up all at once.  I also promised, in my closing statement, that I'd answer his points later.  I meant now. 

So here's my point-by-point analysis of Zuckerman's Fireworks.  I'll put Phil's comments in orange, in honor of the holiday. 

Zuckerman: It's so weird when David picks and chooses his examples.  He didn't tell you about the Australian aboriginals, perhaps the most peaceful society ever known (among) humans.  An indigenous, non-Christian people, who were horrified by the acts of the missionaries.  So yeah, pick the Yanomamo, the most notorious violent people you can find in all of anthropology, but ignore the aboriginals.  Again, he's always taking the worst example, rather than admitting there could be hope elsewhere, and I don't know why.  I detect it's defensiveness.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What Does Secular Humanism Contribute?

During our debate two weeks ago, and afterwards, Phil Zuckerman generously admitted several times that Christianity had done the world a great deal of good.  He also challenged me to admit what good I might think Secular Humanism has done. 

Paul Kurtz, author, "What
"is Secular Humanism?"
I alluded to this a few times in the debate, but did not answer it in detail.  I emphasized that Secular Humanism is not the worst of all possible worldviews, which may have sounded to Phil like "damning with faint praise." 

Phil was mistaken in accusing me of "defensiveness" in "always choosing the worst example" of non-Christian traditions, however.  As those who have read them know, my books revel in the truth and beauty to be found in Chinese and other traditions, from an ancient and orthodox Christian perspective I call "fulfillment theology."  

Indeed, if I wanted to focus on the worst, I would never have asked Phil to share the stage with me!

But Christians have to be honest, too.   This can thus be the trickiest question from a Muslim.  "We admit that Jesus was a true prophet of God, the 'Messiah' and 'Breath of God' as the Qur'an says.  Why can't you be generous even to admit that Mohammed was a true prophet?"  Well, because I don't believe his message was true, and I don't think he was a very good man. 

So there has to be balance, and honesty. 

Final Arguments (Marshall-Zuckerman VI)

(Note: I haven't posted the audience Q and A portion of the debate yet, though that comes before final statements.  I may post that later, but I'd like to post this first, and then continue with my analysis -- including of the many claims Dr. Zuckerman made in his closing statement that I was not able to get to here, and promised to respond to later.  I have now posted the response to Zuckerman's final flurry of comments that I promise below.- DM)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

David Timms asks questions (Marshall-Zuckerman IV)

David Timms: News organizations remind us every day that our society seems to find new depths of dishonesty, violence, greed, sexual depravity.  How does your position offer hope for the future? 

Rebuttals (Marshall-Zuckerman III)

David Marshall

What does Secular Humanism contribute?   

I didn't know I was going to be asked to defend theocracy tonight.  And I didn't know I was going to be asked to attack democracy.
The Treaty of Tripoli was, as I recall, between the United States and the local government -- not a Caliphate, whatever the local government was, which was a Muslim government.   And the United States wanted to make it clear that America is not analogous to Muslim . . .
Let's go back (and do) a little history, again.  There's a fellow by the name of Brian Tierney who wrote a book called The Crisis of Church and State from 1050 to 1300.  And what he did was, he quoted what different people had said about Church and State and the conflicts between the popes and the church authorities on the one hand, and different governing authorities on the other.  And there are two verses that seem to crop up over and over again in these writings in the early Middle Ages.  And those verses are "My kingdom is not of this world," and "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." 
When we talk about "secular values," that's different from talking about "Secular Humanism."  I agree completely that democracy is probably the best -- well, I guess not completely, then -- that democracy is the best form of government.  But I would say that democracy grows out of something more grassroots than that, something within the culture itself.  The culture is influenced by religion.   
How Christianity Made Scandinavia

David Landes said "In the tenth century, Europe was just coming out of a long torment of invasion, plunder, and rapine, by enemies form all sides."  The Vikings were "So terrifying were these marauders, so ruthless their tactics (taking pleasure in tossing babies in the air and catching them on their lances . . . ), that the very rumor of their arrival" send everyone running.  (Wealth and Poverty of Nations, 29) 
A Muslim traveler visiting the Vikings in 922, the same century, said, "They are the filthiest of all Allah's creatures . . .  addicted to alcohol, which they drink night and day").  They left the poor to die, and they would have sex with a slave girl before sacrificing her, beating on their shields so the other girls wouldnt' hear.  And the king lived like Jabba the Hut. 
So 1000 years ago, the ancestors of modern Danes were sacrificing maidens and cruising the North Sea looking to pick up some monastic bling.  Now they're riding bicycles to flower shops in Copenhagen.  What happened? 
To make history very simple, and maybe overly simple, the Gospel happened. 
But here I agree with Dr. Zuckerman.  There was a disconnect over several centuries, a misunderstanding over the relationship between the Gospel and government.  First came a top-down Medieval Catholicism.  People didn't read their Bibles because they were forbidden to.  Then Lutheranism, and now the Bible was more important.  And then, Pietism. 
Eljas Orrman, in the Cambridge History of Scandinavia, says, "Christianity brought with it a new conception of responsibility for the poor and needy in society."  Hospitals and what-not.   
The murder rate in Stockholm in the  15th Century was about the same as New Orleans or Detroit today, 47 murders per one hundred thousand.  Then in the  16th Century, half that.  In the 17th Century, lower.  The  18th Century, 4, and then one, and then its slightly increased since then. 
What happened? 
According to Byron Nordstrom, "The Pietists' focus on the Scriptures and on compulsory confirmation (from 1726 in Sweden and from 1736 in Denmark) necessitated increased literacy."
Now it's interesting how often, when I'm reading Dr. Zuckerman's book, to see how many times Danes and Swedes themselves say, "Yes!  Our culture -- not our government . . . "
There's a distinction between government and society.  And what I'm arguing tonight, and maybe there's a little disconnect here, is society.  When it comes to government, I totally agree that it should not be a theocracy.  And I think the roots of that go back to the words of Jesus himself.  Yes, it needed to be developed.  And yes, there was also inspiration from the Greeks and the Romans. 
But there's definitely a continuity . . . For example, if you look at someone like John Witherspoon, who was also one of the most important founding fathers, who was James Madison's teacher at Princeton University. 
And the same thing in China, which I won't have time to get to tonight.  But maybe we'll continue this discussion, and see what we're connecting and disconnecting on, here. 

Phil Zuckerman (Thanks to Richard Wilson for transcribing this)

If the argument is that Christianity has done a lot of good in history? Yes. I agree.
No argument. If the argument is that Christianity improves certain civilizations tremendously from
what they were before- no argument.  This is not a debate. I think the same thing could be said of Islam.
Did Islam improve the situation in the Arabian peninsula?  You bet. That's not what I'm here to debate tonight.
I was asked, "What is a better basis for a civil society?"
So, let's look at the situation right now. What demographic group in the United States is the most Christian?
And I'm measuring that by, church attendance, faith in Jesus, belief that the scriptures are of divine
inspiration or origin, frequency of of prayer.  Every measure you can think of.  What demographic group in this country is the most Christian. African Americans.  Now, what I'm going to say can be misinterpreted, and I hope it's not, but Dubois(?) would agree with me. What demographic group in this country faces the most problems.
Highest poverty rates.  Highest murder rates. Highest teen pregnancy rates. Highest diabetes rates. Highest unemployment rates. You name it.  So, do I think it's because they're Christian?  Of course not! It's- something else is going on.
What demographic group in this country is the least Christian? Jews, and Asian Americans. Jews deny the divinity of Christ outright, so there's no- and Jews are actually the most secular group in America today. So we have two demographics.  Asian Americans who do have a small proportion who are Christian but the majority are not, and they have high level of secular identification.  Jews and Asian Americans are doing the best in this country.
Educational attainment. Income.  Life expectancy. You name it. However you want to measure it. Now what's going on here? Do I think it's because they're not Christian?  Of course not.  How simplistic. How ridiculous.
But this should cause for pause. Something's going on here. Something other than Christianity would help us explain why these two groups are experiencing such different social realities. Let's broaden it.
PEW research gives us a lot of information. What are the most Christian states in this country?
Measured, again, by belief, behavior and belonging. Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma tied with Utah. These are the states with the highest murder rates. The highest poverty rates. Crumbling schools.
Underfunded hospitals. Highest murder rates. Highest obesity rates. You name it. However you like.
The least Christian states in America, again, measured by standard sociological measures of belief, behavior and belonging. Main, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Alaska, Oregon and California. Fairing markedly better on all these indicators. Not every single one, and these are averages and percentages.  Why? Is it because one's Christian and- No. I think something else is going on here, and what is that something else? Let's go to internationally.
The most Christian countries in the world today. Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, Rwanda, Columbia, Brazil, Peru, Ghana, Venezuela, Mexico, Jamaica.
The most secular societies today-  organically secular, meaning it's not being forced by some lunatic atheist dictator. Democratic societies that have given up their religion for the most part. Sweden, Denmark, Czech Republic, Japan, Canada, Norway, Finland, New Zealand, South Korea, Estonia, France, Russia, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Slovenia, Germany, Hungary, Great Britain, Australia, Belgium. Which set of countries is fairing the best? So you can take an individual demographic group, go to the states, or go internationally. We see the same correlation.
Those societies that are the most secular today are fairing the best on almost every measure. Compare Japan's murder rate to El Salvador's. Or Columbia's. Japan is one of the least Christian countries in the world.
El Salvador and Jamaica among the most. So if Christianity was the answer, we wouldn't see these correlations.
And granted they're just correlations, it's not causation. Something else is going on here. I agree that those countries that are doing well are coming out of a Christian heritage. I agree. But they are post-Christian now.
Society progresses. Society moves on. Society evolves. We know this. Do I think Christianity contributes much and continues to contribute much? You bet. And I don't want to see Christianity go away. I think Christianity has wonderful, wonderful, elements. I just don't want it to be 'the', 'the' basis.  Not 'a' basis, but 'the' basis, and that's what this debate has asked me to say. What would happen if we declared Christianity the basis of American civil society? I don't think it would be very pretty. Thanks you.
Next Up: Part III, Q and A. 
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
(Note: I either did not get or did not seize the opportunity to answer Phil's argument here during our debate.  I should have, but the timing was packed, and anyway, Phil vaguely argued correlation here, not causation, and that from what I call "satellite level," not from the ground level of real human lives.  I had, however, previously answered much the same argument by Zuckerman's coauthor, Gregory Paul, and by Gary Jenson, in some detail -- an answer the great sociologist Rodney Stark said he liked, and which I have now posted on this site as a long article entitled "Does Faith in God Up the Murder Rate?".  -- David) 

Peter Boghossian: Socrates or Sophist?

Peter Boghossian, A Manual for Creating Atheists (Pitchstone Publishing, 2013)

Let me begin this review (also on Amazon) with one of those enlightening conversations Portland State University philosophy professor Peter Boghossian is fond of. A Christian Scholar (CS; Boghossian is also fond of initials) who has studied Christian thought on the concept of "faith," watches a lecture by an atheist philosophy professor (PB) on the same topic. He sends him a polite e-mail, describing his relevant credentials (recently, author of "Faith Seeking Understanding," with leading Christian scholars contributing, blurbs from Yale, Penn State, etc), and suggesting a debate.

The following exchange ensues:

"Good morning!

"Yesterday I noticed on the website for John Loftus, that you had endorsed his new book on the "Outsider Test for Faith." I haven't seen the book yet, but I'm pretty sure he responds to my critique of the OTF in True Reason, somewhere in that book.

"I think I've also seen you make comments about "faith," with which I strongly disagree.

"Since we're both in the Northwest -- my home is east of Seattle -- I was wondering if you would consider a civil public debate on the topic of faith?" (Names titles of books, well-known scholars who have endorsed it, academic background.)

"Thanks much, (CS).

PB: "Answer this question: What would it take for you to lose your faith?"

CS is taken aback by the social minimalism -- no greetings, no explanation, no hint of civility. But he gulps, and responds guardedly yet still politely, aware of the need to define terms and ask questions before getting into details:

"Do we agree on what the word 'faith' means? Do you know what my 'faith' is, yet?"

"If the reasons I believe in God, and in Jesus Christ (or, say, that Io has active volcanoes), proved mistaken, and none better were forthcoming, then I think I would have little intellectual right to hold those beliefs any longer. But it is the very nature and grounds of faith, that I propose to debate."

PB: "This does not answer the question. Please answer the question or this will be our last communication. What reasons would have to be mistaken? Give me an example of a reason and how you know it would be mistaken. What would this look like?"

Now irritated at the undisguised rudeness, and the demand that arguments developed over hundreds of pages be reduced to a quick sound bite, CS checks PB's CV, finds a name there that may explain the fondness for questions, but not the discourtesy, and replies:

"Sorry, Peter, Socrates is a friend of mine. You're no Socrates.

"I'm duly warned off. I'll look forward to reading, then debunking, your book."

PB: "You're a fraud. Don't contact me again."

According to Peter Boghossian's A Manual For Creating Atheists, a dialogue should pass through four stages: (1) Wonder; (2) Hypothesis; (3) Q & A; (4) Accept or Revise Hypothesis.

In this case, the Q and A came first, but itself prompted wonder on the part of CS, and then a series of hypotheses. Why was PB so prickly? Is this his normal style of conversation? Is he unfamiliar with the social niceties, or does he habitually scorn them? Is PB, as they say in the professional literature, a jerk? Or just having a bad day?

And what did PB mean by diagnosing CS (PB is fond of medical lingo, too) as a "fraud?" Did he mean CS had not, in fact, written the books he claimed, and was not knowledgeable about what Christians mean by faith? If so, on what grounds did the "street epistemologist" deduce this? Mental telepathy, perhaps? Or did he mean that, without knowing what CS believed, or why he believed it, those beliefs must be wrong, and he must actually be aware of the fact that he is peddling falsehoods?

In any case, not considering himself a fraud, as promised, CS purchased the book, which was by this time among the top 500 in America.

Manuel for Creating Atheists proved more interesting than that short conversation might have led CS to believe. Perhaps PB had been having a bad day. The book proved punchy, passionate, original, and respectful of the ancients (never mentioning, however, that Plato or Epictetus were infected by the epistemic pathology of theistic faith.) PB even offers a biting critique of multiculturalism and what he calls "academic leftism" that almost inspired CS to break out in a one-man football season, Seahawks-are-on-Monday-night-football-tonight wave.

This is, indeed, a manual for a new generation of skeptics. It has been field-tested by the philosopher himself in, it seems, every conceivable setting: in classrooms, with parents who complain about his attacks on religion in classrooms, on the phone, in prisons, by email (the first line of his response to CS's query turns out to be a set challenge that is part of a field-tested stratagem). PB even looks for empty seats on Southwest Airlines (center aisle!) next to people reading religious texts, to enlighten them. (Wonder again: is this man simply a pest? Worse than CS, even?)

PB's mission strategy devolves around asking a set of Socratic questions designed to relentlessly deconstruct what he takes to be the false epistemology of faith.

But what is faith? Here is the question, again, which elicited CS's original desire for a dialogue.

For it turns out that PB's book, and apparently his whole career as an atheist evangelist, are based on a remarkably bold, but quite hollow, bluff. This bluff involves defining "faith" as "pretending to know things you don't know."

And that is precisely what PB is doing.

Anyone who has read much in the Christian tradition -- and PB evidently has not, his bibliography is replete with first and second string New Atheists, he seems to assume Tertullian did say "I believe because it is absurd" and meant exactly that, and that Pascal wrote a "Wager" and said nothing more to support Christian faith intellectually -- will of course reject this definition with a groan and a sigh. But PB calls for an army of "street epistemologists," not new Socrates who will seek out the most famous thinkers in modern Athens and sincerely try to find out what they know. He is after low-hanging fruit, injured caribou at the back of the herd. People who do know the tradition, and its reasons, who contact him rather than the other way around, may be dismissed peremptorily and magisterially. And so PB sends his disciples into the highways and biways, to pester people into the Kingdom of Reason, (wonder again: will this make Southwest stock go up or down?), to teach what has already long been the defining delusion of the Gnu Age, what CS calls the "Blind Faith Meme." (Don't read Justin, Augustine, Aquinas, Ricci, Locke, Sherburne, McGrew, read Plantinga and Craig alone but take care not to buy their books and thus support their causes -- yes, PB can be that petty.)

Confronted with the Christian tradition, unlike Socrates, PB simply has not yet bothered to really listen. (Shouldn't that come before "Wonder?") This is evident in small things, such as PB's repeated mention of the Young Earth Creationist belief that the world is only 4,000 years old. That would be 6,000 years old: of course it's a silly notion, but get the numbers right, just so we know you're paying attention! PB cites few serious Christians, but works in Ray Comfort, Benny Hinn, Ted Haggard, and Deepak Chopra. So where does he get his information about religion? There are some interesting studies cited, and respectable skeptics like Pascal Boyer and Phil Zuckerman, but he also seems to rely heavily on such party-trick fanatics as Hector Avalos, Greta Christina, John Loftus, and Victor Stenger. He also recommends a "refutation" of theistic arguments by John Allen Paulos that CS found to be as embarrassing, groan-worthy a cavalcade of caricatures, tattered straw men, and ignorance, as one might fear between the covers of a single volume. (Even worse than The God Delusion.)

Which suggests that when it comes to Christianity, this bit of false humility would mark needed progress for PB:

"I only know that I know nothing."

In conclusion, let CS briefly explain what faith really means for Christians, since skeptics have been so badly mislead on this subject. (As Tom Gilson points out in another review here, several of us CSs have a book coming out later this year called True Reason, where this is demonstrated in some detail.)

Faith should be defined as "holding firmly and acting on what you have good reason to believe is true, in the face of existential difficulties."

Note that on this definition, which fits both New Testament usage and most Christian usage for 2000 years, and which is also affirmed (in CS' experience, which is wider than PB's) by most experienced Christians (not talking about lame caribou, here), faith is not a distinct epistemology, but along with reason, it's twin, one basis for all possible epistemologies.

There are, in short, four "levels of rational faith," and all sane people participate (critically, one hopes) at least in the first three: (1) one's own mind; (2) one's senses; (3) other people (PB is very confused on this head, not recognizing that most appeals to science as well as any old text like Acts of the Apostles or the Koran are in essence at least appeals to the authority of people, which can be warranted or not -- see Cold Case Christianity for an interesting discussion); (4) God or other super-human beings. All of these can and should be tested rationally, and perhaps in some cases rejected. (One may know that one is not thinking straight after too many beers.) All can at least potentially also be reasonably cited as sources of true knowledge.

But PB does not understand this, which makes this book an often interesting, sometimes rather crazed and epic, Hunting of the Snark. In short, until he begins to ask questions with the goal of truly understanding and not caricaturing so as to put notches on his belt and destroy that mythical monster, "Faith," PB will not be Socrates. He will remain a clever, but irritable, and often irritating, and intellectually irrelevant, sophist.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Myers, Coyne, and Loftus attack Secular Humanism! (sort of)

Two weeks ago in Roseville, California, I debated Phil Zuckerman on the topic, "Does Christianity or Secular Humanism provide a better foundation for Civil Society?"  Some parts of my performance were fumbling.  I think I won on substance.  Phil didn't even claim to debunk my arguments, and I'm not sure he made any real arguments for Secular Humanism of his own (as we'll see).  But the consensus is, he won on style.  And that means a lot in Show Biz. 

The atheist Blogosphere has now ridden to my rescue, however.  Several big name (I almost said big mouth) atheist bloggers -- PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, John Loftus, Tippling Philosopher, and the Friendly Atheist website, among others - have posted on the debate and its aftermath, often drawing "wider lessons" either from my alleged loss, or from Adventure's initial temerity in posting the exchange.  The guest poster on the Friendly Atheist site, Richard Wilson, who actually attended the debate, was polite, reasonable, and fair, even admitting that he had initially heard one of my arguments incorrectly.  By contrast, other secularist posters seemed to be doing their level best to support my fourth point in the debate:

Secular Humanism does not have a clear and independent record of building great societies, nor does it offer the best solutions to modern crises.  There are some troubling signs.

Consider the light that these comments by leading Secular Humanists, and  then their followers, throw on the potential their ideology holds for encouraging a rational, healthy, and neighborly public sphere. 

I.  John Loftus.   After announcing my supposed loss, John Loftus added, "David Marshall is a joke, folks, and this is my judgment apart from his debates."

You might think this odd if you had read John's communiques, asking me to co-write a book with him.  Or his requests that I offer a blurb for his books.  (A request he's given two or three times, one of which I was able to fulfill, since I liked that book.)

Would you ask someone to write a book with you if you thought that person was a "joke?"  Or would you want a clown's name on the back of your book, recommending it?  (Unless it were a book of jokes, or an illustrated guide to Big Tent circus acts?) 

Or would you tell someone whom you regarded as a "joke," "If I could write like you, I'd be the Stephen King of atheism?" 

You don't suppose Loftus' "judgment apart from his debates" would have anything to do with the fact that I posted the most detailed critical review of his OTF book, taking it apart, on Amazon, do you?  (After which he posted a phony review of one of my books on Amazon, which he obviously had not read, and which he took down after I revised my review of his book a bit?)  Or with my recently demonstrating that all Loftus' criticisms of "Christian apologists," are credibly true about him?  (After which he swore at me, and seemed to swear me off?) 

So there's one of your new generation of Secular Humanist leaders, folks, creators of a new and better, post-religious civil society. 

2. Jerry Coyne.   Jerry doesn't remember me, and clearly hadn't seen the debate.  So his target wasn't myself so much as Adventure Church, and Christianity in general, as a threat to democracy.  Those who know him, can only find his sermonette deeply ironic:

This is why this form of Christianity is inimical to democracy.  I can’t imagine Zuckerman, myself, or any other debating atheist refusing to allow the debate to be aired—no matter how bad our performance was.

What I can imagine, is Jerry Coyne censoring Christians for posting on his blog while making too much sense.  That has happened to me.  You make a point there, several people throw wild criticisms at it and at you, you respond patiently, politely, and rationally -- and your response never appears. 

And in fact, I posted several times on that thread, including some innocuous "behind the scenes" explanations, but also criticism of Coyne.  Last I checked, none of it had appeared.

My friend Tom Gilson has seen worse.  Coyne is allegedly capable of posting comments that directly challenge Christians like Tom, then deleting his responses, making it appear that he is unable or too cowardly to reply.  And it seems Coyne is also engaged in what Tom describes as "witch-hunting," by seeking to pressure universities to cancel classes that fairly discuss evidence in nature for God.

So Coyne is being disingenuous.  Not only can he "imagine" censoring considered opposing arguments, he does it all the time.  He seems to be deathly afraid of an honest exchange of views. 

Which is more dangerous to democracy: a private religious institution that gets cold feet after a debate, for a few days, or an anti-religious scientist who can't handle disagreement on his own blog, and projects his bossy personality on the public sphere by getting public institutions to suppress Bad Think on campus?  And then brags about how he would never censor a debate? 

Coyne works himself into a fine lather:

Imagine what these Christians would do if they turned America into the theocracy they want!

The vast majority of Christians want no such thing.  And here Zuckerman's comments sail way past the evidence, as well:

They are indeed afraid to air the underling truth of my position: that no civil society can thrive if it does not exist upon a bedrock of democracy, and democracy is not a Christian value — it is not articulated anywhere in the Gospels, nor is it promulgated, in any way, by Jesus or Paul. Rather, democracy is a secular humanist ideal — something dreamed up and established by and for people.  (Coyne cites Zuckerman, from his blog)

Yeah, and Zuckerman himself admitted in the debate that the people who "dreamt it up" were Christians, not Secular Humanists. 

One might wonder here, not only about the charity of Zuckerman's Patheos conclusion, but also its rationality -- generalizing about Christians from the narrow evidential base of one church.  Reason is supposed to be high on the list of virtues for the Secularist Millennia. 

But Zuckerman was piqued, and can be forgiven a bit of venting.  Coyne has no such excuse. 

I explained, in the debate, how Christianity did indeed nourish civil society in the West, citing eminent historians who have examined the matter, and how the value of separation of Church and State derives in part historically from the New Testament.  I quoted two specific verses that were cited in the Medieval debate on this subject.  Zuckerman did not address this point. 

Protestant missions were also key to the spread of democracy around the world, as Singapore University sociologist Robert Woodberry points out:

Protestant missions are significantly and robustly associated with higher levels of printing, education, economic development, organizational civil society, protection of private property, and rule of law, and with lower levels of corruption. 

But a fellow who can't handle dissent on his own blog, or in state universities, wants to trash the entire Christian record, based on a few days' delay in releasing the tape of a debate? 

3. P. Z. Myers

PZ does remember me, and like John Loftus, seemed to relish the opportunity to get in a few digs:

Remember David Marshall? Christ the Tao? The last thread he commented in was this one, where he was his usual bumbling pretentious self, if you need a prod to the memory.

But his main target was Rick Stedman, the Senior Pastor:

So he was surprised that people pressured him to release the video. How disingenuous, especially given that before he revealed it, he had posted several one-sided rebuttals.  And now he has the gall to whine about ‘civility’!  You gotta give it to get it, guy.

And that, of course, is what PZ Myers is known for -- civility.   He is therefore highly qualified to preach it to others. 

If, that is, by "civility" you mean "the sadistic psychological disembowlment of posters, including atheists, who fail to toe the party line in all nuances and flavors of the day, for the ritualistic pleasure of cult members."  (See "P Z Myers, Guru of Hate.") 

And if by "civility" you mean, "launching civil wars among atheists so fierce that even John Loftus walks out on you." 

It has gotten so, that when an atheist points to Christian sins, often all one needs to say in response is

"Pharyngula" (the title of PZ's popular web site)

And the atheist will reply:


I'll take "bumbling" and "pretension" over that, any day. 

4. Shots  From the Peanut Gallery

Phil Zuckerman pointed to the (temporary) incivility of Rick Stedman, if that's how we should interpret it, and carelessly generalized from that to the Christian record as a whole.  He was ticked.  I don't really blame him.  PZ and Coyne gleefully follow his lead, harboring fewer scruples, therefore not needing any excuses for their pique. 

If one church, or one pastor, serves as an adequate evidential base to generalize about a billion or two Christians, why shouldn't we take three popular humanist bloggers and generalize about the probably smaller number of Secular Humanists?  And the influence these folks would have, with an increased quanta of power? 

Because it's still too small a sample.  However poorly other people act, one must still be fair and reasonable. 

But readers of Patheos, Deconstructing Christianity, Pharyngula, Why Atheism is True, and even a few on Friendly Atheist and Tippling Philosopher, also Amazon, seemed to feel no such constraints. 

a.  Saad M. Jafri, from New York City, posted a "review" of my book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism on Amazon, entitled "David Marshall is a coward -- getting churches to censor video of him losing debates."  In the "review" he said nothing about the book itself, but wrote:

My advice to David Marshall would be to not hide behind pastors' skirts in putting your own work, in practice, out there when you're upset that you've been outclassed.

You're as much a fraud as a coward.

I would recommend others to check out the article themselves at, concerning "the Grate Debate" held by Adventure Christian Church... and their cowardly censorship on behalf of this joke of an author.

I think Saad means "great debate."  A "Grate Debate" would be an argument over whether to burn cedar or pine in the fireplace.  He also probably meant to give the book one star, but gave it five stars by accident.  Of course he was also mistaken in thinking I asked Adventure not to release the debate. Zero for three. 

b. Gregory in Seattle

"You cannot have a contest of wits with an unarmed opponent like David Marshall."

Brilliantly original, Greg.  I hope you're not a cousin-in-law of that name and city.   

c. Caine, Fleur de Mal

"Remember David Marshall?"
"Yes, I do. Eeeuwerbleargh. Now I have to get this sour taste out of my brain."
Can't argue with that, sunshine. 

d. Zibble

"4 minutes in, Marshall calls North Korea a “secular society”. Welp, this guy’s a dumbass."

My mistake.  North Korea is a Christian-murdering and torturing,slave society that hates God worse than Richard Dawkins after losing a debate with Ken Ham.  How could I ever describe it as "secular?"


e. Moarscienceplz

"Marshall cites Dan Brown as a character reference for Jesus! I next expect to hear that Jesus is alive and living in Boca Raton."

I said, "Jesus was the original feminist, as Dan Brown, ironically, put it."  The word irony is key, but was apparently lost on this listener.  And of course, borrowing a phraseology is not the same as citing a reference. 

f. Kevin Schelley

"Wow, Marshall seems to have a really hard time comprehending what Zuckerman was saying. How did he get that Zuckerman was saying that Marshall was supporting Gnosticism and Theocracy?"

And didn't Coyne use that exact word, theocracy, in his interpretation of Zuckerman's comments on Pantheos?  How is it that Coyne and I both made the same mistake? 

As for "Gnosticism," I was referring to Phil's claim that Christians don't care about our physical lives in this world, since we're so eager to get to heaven. 

g. Leftover1under

"On his site, Marshall makes the feeble claim about “having no influence in posting the video”.
“No influence” means he never asked the church to post it, and never will."

Uh, yes I did ask for its release, which is one reason Stedman gave for doing so. 

h. Closet Atheist

"I'm not trained in debate, but even I feel like I could have torn him a new * after he listed those 7 ridiculous 'gifts of the gospel.'  Feminism? Human rights? First healer? the red cross being Christian? The Christian capacity for % is the only thing in this universe that seems to be infinite."

One of the other infinites seems to be the atheist capacity for misunderstanding and misrepresenting.  Making a vast empirical argument for the impact of Christianity over 2,000 years in ten minutes, of course one needs to be simple -- thus the citations of eminent non-Christian historians that some posters complained about.  But I backed up all seven points, explaining what I meant.  And it should be clear that I in no way intended to say that, for instance, there had been no doctors in the world before Jesus.  That would be a very uncharitable hearing. 

Also, read up on the life of Jean-Henri Dunant, founder of the Red Cross. 

But we should be fair.  Some skeptics were far more gracious.  I mentioned the fair-minded report on Friendly Atheist, though I disagreed with its conclusion.  There were others, including an erstwhile critic who said some nice things in a hostile environment.   

But in the absence of real evidence for the proposition that Secular Humanism has made a seriously positive difference in society -- and as we'll see, despite three feints in that general direction, and much eloquence of speech, Phil Zuckerman really did not give any -- Gnu bloggers would do well to abstain from tipping the scales too much in the opposite direction.

It might even be a good demonstration of civility and rationality, to honestly consider the case I made for the good Christianity has done humanity.  (And I did see signs that a few may also be doing this, not excluding my esteemed opponent.) 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Phil's Opening Statement (Marshall-Zuckerman II)

(Continued from my opening statement.)

I agree!

Sorry to disappoint you. 

There was a lot there, David, that I would not take issue with.  And I'm happy to follow up on what that might be. 

First, thank yous.  Thank you to David Marshall for reaching out and inviting me here.  Thanks to David Timms, for helping with the moderation and all the preparation.  Thanks to Brian Harwick, and everybody else.  And I guess, thank you, for inviting me into your sanctuary.  I think it says a lot, and I really appreciate it.  And I think it's wonderful if we can get to talk to each other.  So I appreciate the chance.

Let me also further acknowledge -- David quoted me in one of my books -- there's a lot that I admire and respect about Christianity.  And if I had to pick three things that I think of when I think of Christianity, I would think number one of love.  I would think, two, peace, or non-violence.  And I would think three, forgiveness.  I think these are absolutely core elements of Christianity, I hope.  And I think they should definitely be at the heart of any civil society.  And I absolutely agree that Christianity has contributed much to civilization, in terms of moral progress.  And there's no question that Christians give more today in terms of charity, and volunteering, and service, than secular Americans. 

And in fact I would argue, I think, that this is a false premise -- Secular Humanism or Christianity, as a foundation for civil society.  Why do we have to pick?  I would think it would be wise to take the best from each: the best of Christianity, the best of Secular Humanism, to have as good a society as we can.  So I don't think it's an option we really have to face. 

But if I'm pushed, I have to choose, I'll go with Secular Humanism.  And to explain why, let me go back 200 years. 

1797.  The following declaration was proclaimed.  Quote:

"The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."

Now that was not Richard Dawkins beaming himself in a time machine back to 1797.  That was not Christopher Hitchens.  That was the president of the United States at the time, John Adams, who issued that legislation, Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, brought to the US Senate -- this is only ten years after the ratification of the Constitution -- and that declaration, that piece of legislation drafted by John Adams, was passed by the US Senate unanimously. 

Think about the Senate passing anything unanimously. 

Now you might say, "Oh, Phil, it was the start of things, they were probably passing all kinds of stuff." 

That's actually not the case. 

There had been 339 votes up to this point.  And of those 339, only three had passed unanimously, this being the third.  So only two previous. 

Wow!  The United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion, and our Senate, our founding fathers passed that unanimously. 


I mean, it's kind of funny-- they were mostly Christians!  I say mostly, but they were of varying hues.  Some were more deists, some were different types of Christians.

Why would a bunch of Christians creating a new society ratify that proclamation unanimously.  They wrote in their Declaration of Independence that there's a Creator who endows His creation with certain inalienable rights!  And yet, once freedom was won from England, once it was time to -- OK, we've declared our independence, now we gotta fight.  Now we've won our independence, now it's time to create a new society. 

How often does that happen in the world?  Where people sit together -- usually nations kind of come about over centuries in weird ways.  Here were people sitting at a table: "We're going to create a new society.  Us!  Let's do it." 

And what did they do?

They kept Christianity out of the Constitution.  They kept it out of the Bill of Rights.  And they declared, in the Treaty of Tripoli, that this is not in any sense founded on Christianity. 

The Constitution has no reference to Jesus.  No reference to the gospels.  No reference to Scripture. 

The Bill of Rights contains no reference to Jesus.  No reference to God.  No reference to the Scriptures.  Why?  Why would they do this? 

Well, for one thing, our founding fathers knew very well the damage that can come when you privilege one religion over another when creating a society. 

They remembered what happened in Europe.  For example, the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648, nearly all of Europe killing one another over whose version of Christianity was the right one, Protestants against Catholics.  Two Christ-centered faiths or traditions fighting for thirty years: somewhere between three and eleven million dead.  And if you know, the population was far smaller then.  That's a huge number.  In fact, the male population of Germany alone was reduced by half, in a thirty years war over Christ followers, killing Christ followers.

One hundred years before that, in France, Protestants and Catholics fought the French Wars of Religion in the late 1500s -- between two and four million dead. 

And that's just Christians slaughtering Christians.  You add the killings of Jews at the hands of both Protestants and Catholics, as well as religious wars over the Holy Land between Christians and Muslims, millions more dead -- our Founding Fathers wanted to avoid that. 

They saw what happened in the early colonies. 

The Puritans did create an explicitly Christian society in New England.  And what did they do?  Dissenters were expelled.  Roger Williams was expelled.  Ann Hutcheson was expelled.  If you didn't agree with their version of Christianity, you were executed.  Literally: four Quakers executed in Boston, in 1660.  Their crime?  Wrong kind of Christianity. 

So we get this Treaty of Tripoli. 

Our founders knew that if you privilege one religion over another, your society will be divided, and they wanted to avoid that. 

What did they want to establish? 


Democracy!  Government for and by the people!  Government by the consent of the governed! 

It's my argument tonight -- at least the first of them -- that civil society cannot be good, cannot be healthy, cannot be free, if it's not founded on a bedrock of democracy.

You can't have a healthy civil society in North Korea.  You can't have a healthy civil society in Stalinist Russia.  You can't have a healthy civil society under fascism.  You must have democracy!  It's a necessary condition of a good civil society. 

We, the people.  We, the people!  You can't have a more secular assertion. 

It's just us!  No reference to a God.  No reference to a deity.  No reference to a devil.  We.  Us.  We the people. 

Democracy is not taught in the Christian Scriptures.  Jesus does not preach democracy.  Paul does not preach democracy.  In fact, if I may -- sorry, hope it's OK if a heathen like myself quotes the Scriptures -- Paul taught, "The authorities that exist have been established by God.  And those in power should be obeyed.  Do not rebel against those in authority, because God has put them there."  That's from Romans 13. 

Well clearly our Founding Fathers didn't agree with Romans Chapter 13.  They didn't think King George ought to be obeyed.  They didn't think King George was placed there by God.  And they rebelled!  In violation of that Scripture. 

And they created a society based not on Christian doctrine, but this-worldly, secular values, secular principles, and secular ideals. 

In the Bill of Rights, they spoke of Freedom of Speech.  I don't find that in my New Testament.

They spoke of Freedom of the Press.  I don't find that in my Bible.

Freedom of Assembly!  Freedom of Religion!  No unreasonable searches and seizures!  The right to bare arms!  This is the blueprint of a healthy civil society, as we are the benefiters of.  It's secular principles -- non Scriptural, non-Biblical, just some guys sitting around saying, "How do we want to have a good society."  They created this wonderful country. 

And so my first argument is, you can have no civil society without democracy.  Democracy is not an explicit Christian value, but a secular value: something created by humans, for humans.

I was never taught about the Treaty of Tripoli in school.  I'm glad I know about it now.  And if there's one thing I can get across to you tonight, is that I hope you'll go back and read it, and just ponder what that means for our Founding Fathers to affirm that unanimously. 

Now, I have philosophical reasons why I think Secular Humanism is the better choice.  I have plenty of sociological reasons.  But I think I'll stop with my political reason, and we can get into the other material in the Q and A.  And I do thank you for listening.  I hope I haven't offended.  Thank you. 

Next: Initial Rebuttals.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Were the Early Christians Gullible Dweebs II? (to Hedrick, Carrier, Avalos, and Price)

Here's an old article I posted at some years ago.  Since people are still making use of Richard Carrier's deeply flawed arguments that early Christians were gullible and credulous, and that's why they believed, let me reproduce it here, so I can point it to people who are fooled.  (See Part IV, if you're in a hurry.)   

This discussion began when a grad student in philosophy named Landon Hedrick posted a critique of a comment I made in The Truth Behind the New Atheism about what Christians mean by "faith."  The topic was the Resurrection.  Hedrick invited three historians or Bible scholars who are radical critics of Christianity to comment: Richard Carrier, HectorAvalos, and Robert Price.  (All of whom I have debated, before or since.)  All three agree with Hedrick that early Christians lacked good grounds for faith.
These three have become popular among skeptics lately. (All three, for example, contributed in various ways to an upcoming anthology called “The Christian Delusion,” which I was asked by the editor to blurb.) They have respectable credentials, and offer some of the most radical criticisms of Christianity on the market.

Landon began by courteously introducing me. He then gave a bit of history to our dialogue. I’ll skip the first few paragraphs and begin with a few words on Carrier's Sense and Goodness Without God. Then I'll address his critique of my book and response to these gentlemen's skeptical critique of early Christians. 
Pardon the occasional jumps in formatting and spacing: this is from a PDF, and resisted adjustment. 

I. On Richard Carrier’s approach to the Bible 

Landon Hedrick: I . . . began recommending to Marshall that he pay

more attention to Richard Carrier's work (especially his criticism of
Christian apologetics). He eventually did take me up on that challengeand purchased Sense and Goodness Without God, though his initial response to one section of that book left much to be desired. I continued encouraging him to read further and he finally did offer some meatier critiques. I may post about some of these later, but for now I'll simply link to what he thinks is one of his best critiques.

DM: Here were my conclusions after reading the first two chapters of Carrier’s book. They were, I still think, born-out by the rest of the book, and provide a useful précis of Carrier’s approach to Scripture:

"Richard Carrier finds great eloquence and deep wisdom in the (Taoist classic) Dao Dejing. He apparently fails to find any of that in the Bible, pointing only to irrational thinking and poor writing. But THE SAME wisdom, presented in equally eloquent, and far more vivid terms (and sometimes almost the same words!), is in fact present in many key passages of the Bible. Carrier is, therefore (whether through bias or incompetence), probably a poor reader, when it comes to the Bible. His starkly black-and white but informed rhetoric favor the former explanation. The rest of his argument is therefore probably best read with strong skepticism, but not without hope of finding some things of value."

II. Hedrick’s critique of The Truth Behind the New Atheism

LH: Today, however, I want to resurrect some of my old comments on
his book The Truth Behind the New Atheism. I informally reviewed the
book in Amazon forums, giving it 3.5 stars. But there were still plenty of significant problems with it, in my opinion. His writing was often vague (especially when discussing the issue of the Bible being inspired by God),full of irrelevant comments and needlessly abstract metaphors, and peppered with unwarranted claims.

DM: As a philosopher, Landon apparently prefers a drier form of
exposition. I don’t stake a position of Biblical inspiration in this book, because I am writing a response to Dawkins and Co on behalf of Christians in general. I do recommend the perspectives of C. S. Lewis and Nicholas Wolterstorff as alternatives to the “fundamentalist” positions the New Atheists prefer to attack.

Finally, few of my claims were “unwarranted,” though Landon may not always be aware of the warrant, as we will see.

LH: One in particular that jumped out at me was on page 17, where
Marshall writes that the disciples of Jesus were given "enough firsthand
evidence of his resurrection that they were willing to die for him."

This wasn't the first time I've heard such a claim, as it's been repeated

endlessly by Christians who defend their faith. For example, in his book
More Than a Carpenter, Josh McDowell asks "who would die for a lie?"
The implication of that question is that, since the disciples were in a
position to know whether or not Jesus was resurrected, and since they
were willing to die for the belief that he was, then he really must have been raised from the dead.

Response: There are two major initial problems with Landon’s comments here. First, the claim he is responding to is off-hand in the context of the book – far from being one of my main points, it is only fourteen words long, and of tangential significance in its original context. Second, Landon has, no doubt unintentionally, changed the meaning of the original contextualized comment dramatically.

The subject of the chapter is the meaning of faith, not evidence for the resurrection. More specifically, I am responding to Dawkins’ claim that for Christians, faith means believing “not only in the absence of evidence, but in the teeth of evidence.” Here’s a fuller version of the passage Landon debunks. I had just quoted scientist Hubert Yockey, who cites the story of “doubting Thomas” to argue that Christianity promotes “blind faith.” These two paragraphs are my reply. I’ll put a slightly longer version of the passage Landon objects to at the end in red:

“The story of doubting Thomas is often cited to prove Christianity demands blind faith. When the other disciples reported they had met the risen Jesus, Thomas (true to character as

developed in the Gospel of John) found the story hard to swallow. ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails . . . and put my hand into his side, I will not believe,’ Thomas famously retorted. When he met Jesus he was told, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands, and reach here your hand and put it into My side, and do not be unbelieving, but believing. By contrast, Jesus blessed those who do not see, and yet believe. Dawkins cited
the same text in The Selfish Gene: ‘Thomas demanded evidence. The other apostles, whose faith was so strong that they did not need evidence, are held up to us as worthy of imitation."

“There are several problems with taking this passage as a general repudiation of critical thought.

First, Jesus did give Thomas – and the other disciples – enough firsthand evidence of his resurrection that they were willing to die for him . . . Second, Jesus often did miracles, calling them ‘signs,’ which . . . show strong evidence of historicity . . . “

So the issue here is not, contra Hedrick, the resurrection. Nor is it the value of evidence for the resurrection. The issue is what Christians mean by faith, and how Christians should interpret a key passage of Scripture theologically. In that context, my comment disproves the point Dawkins and Yockey are trying to establish. The passage shows Jesus giving the disciples first-hand evidence of his resurrection. That is the main point,

and from within the discourse of Christian theology – which alone is the issue here – it is sufficient to undermine the “blind faith” interpretation of this passage.

The words Landon cited are part of a throw-away a fortiori argument.

That leading disciples died for a faith that was supported by evidence is not a major argument here, but seems well established from several early sources.

But the basic problem with Landon’s criticism is that he has not read my comment accurately – perhaps because he himself has been focused on the issue of evidence for the resurrection. My comment is about the Christian idea of faith.

Worse, all four skeptics badly misread the early Christians on the same subject, as we will see.

III. Faith and the Resurrection

LH: New Testament scholar Robert M. Price gives an
immediate counterexample by referring to Joseph Smith, writing that "non-Mormons believe he had concocted the whole Mormon religion, yet he was willing to die for it.  Does that make it true?"

DM: This is a deeply flawed analogy. Joseph Smith died when a lynch
mob broke into the prison where he was being held, and he had a shootout with them. He was imprisoned after followers wrecked a press that criticized him. There is no sign he went to death willingly. Anyway, Joseph Smith was well-rewarded in this life for his fables. I would not think to dispute the proposition that a man will risk death for sex – it
is the
theme of much of world literature, from the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Iliad to half the movies on TV.

Landon: Nevertheless, some sort of deeper analysis of the issue is

DM: Indeed!

Landon: Putting the argument into a logically valid form, it looks like this:

(1) If the disciples of Jesus were willing to die for their belief that he was resurrected, then they must have had good evidence that he was.

DM: I made no such claim. Jesus in fact DID give the disciples evidence
that He had risen, but I didn’t claim that was a necessary condition for them being willing to die.

(2) The disciples of Jesus were willing to die for their belief that he was

This appears true.

(3) Therefore, the disciples must have had good evidence that Jesus was resurrected.
Again, Landon makes my argument work to an historical conclusion that was in fact its theological premise. I am not here trying to establish that the disciples had good reason to believe – I am assuming it to show that the Christian idea of faith involves reason.

IV.  Just How Gullible Were the First Christians?  (And are modern skeptics?)

Landon: “If David Marshall, Josh McDowell, or anybody else could show
that (1) and (2) are true, then it would follow that the disciples had
good evidence for the resurrection of Jesus--which entails that there is
good reason to believe that Jesus was really raised from the dead (since having good evidence for something is a good reason to believe it). Can David Marshall show that the premises of the argument are true?

“Regarding (1), he would have to show that it would have taken good

evidence to convince the earliest disciples that Jesus really was raised from the dead.  Of course, it would take good evidence to convince the scientific community that somebody was resurrected, and I would be impressed if someone like James Randi was given enough evidence that he was willing to die for such a belief . . . But what reason do we have to think that ordinary first century Palestinians would have required good evidence to believe such a thing? Were they generally skeptical people who would have demanded solid evidence before believing extraordinary stories?

“The New Testament itself seems to refute this notion. Acts 2: 1-42 says that Peter gave a speech to a large group of Jews, and on the basis of what he said, (note: Landon’s emphasis) three thousand people converted that day."

DM: In other forums Landon has shown that he can read carefully. But here Landon misreads Luke even more badly than he misreads me. It wasn't just a sermon.  Peter referred to the widely-recognized miracles of Jesus (“as you yourselves know”), the eyewitness news of a resurrection that had just happened 40 days before in that very city, and spectacular signs that had just happened in front of everyone – tongues of fire falling on the disciples, them preaching in dozens of languages. Is it really likely that it was just on the basis of what Peter SAID that some of his audience converted? Certainly that is not what Luke is trying to convey! Landon appears to have read this story with no attempt to enter into it, as if it were a fictional anecdote told in the course of a philosophy paper.

LH: “If it were the case that people, in general, were skeptical of claims about extraordinary events, then why would such a large number of people believe the resurrection merely on the basis of Peter's speech?

Note the word “merely” here – underlining Landon’s original  misreading of the text.

Historian Richard Carrier writes of this passage:

"’Thousands of people, we are told, decided to convert immediately. Not a single one of them checked a single fact. These converts do no other research, make no other inquiry, make no effort at all to interrogate Peter or any other witnesses or check any of the material facts. The authorities are not consulted. No one asks to hear Joseph of Arimathea on the matter, or indeed any other Christian besides Peter. They simply trust what Peter says -- which is woefully ambiguous and short on details." 

DM: I’m afraid what this proves, Landon, and not for the first, or the tenth time, is that you should be careful when reading Richard Carrier.  He has again led you off a cliff, intellectually speaking. His comments here are, again, patent nonsense. These people convert based on (a) remarkable miracles enacted before their eyes; (b) knowledge of more such miracles, (c) the passion, and witness to the resurrection, (d) and only then, Peter’s powerful sermon.

LH: “Of course, Marshall could claim that Carrier is reading too much into the text here, because it doesn't explicitly say these things about the converts."

DM: Actually, the problem is he’s reading too little – he’s overlooking the

most patently obvious things about the scene Luke describes. To rework an apt metaphor from C. S. Lewis, he’s tripping over a herd of elephants in the room in his eagerness to pick fern seed out of the carpet.

In order to make such a colossal misreading, one has to remove oneself from the scene. One wonders if, having misread Acts so badly, Dr. Carrier EVER enters into an ancient text realistically.

Landon: “Or look at all of the other examples from Acts that Carrier
provides in the above link. The author of Acts records numerous
conversions where people hear a speech, see some sort of healing
miracle, and are convinced that Christianity is true (i.e. that Jesus rose
from the dead).”

DM: Here Carrier moves from a single text in Acts, to Acts as a whole.

And here his error is multiplied many times over.

Actually, the response to Christian sermons in Acts is far more mixed, and often less positive. Usually the positive response is more like, “We’d like to hear more about your beliefs.” Or “they earnestly studied the Scriptures to see if these things were true.” The negative responses begin with scoffing, and end in stoning, beating, imprisonment, etc.

And let’s not overlook the persuasive power of a good healing. Even with that, the folks in Lystra ended up stoning Paul and Barnabas. But let Carrier hang himself with a little more apostolic rope before we explore the full folly of this position:

Carrier writes: "Never once does Acts report anyone checking any facts pertinent
to the Resurrection before converting. To claim they did such checking, but that Acts simply doesn't say so (not even once), is circular reasoning... Indeed, Acts rules out any such tactic, since Acts says again and again that conversions are won on the very same day the gospel is preached--there are rarely any delays of days, weeks, or months, as would be required for evidence to be gathered, witnesses sought out and questioned, and letters exchanged. And even when any such duration is mentioned, there is still no indication that any such efforts were engaged in that time. None at all."  

DM: Carrier seems to hold an unreasonable image of what itinerant evangelism is like. I have done a little of it. It usually involved a lot of critical questioning. Of course the audience doesn’t immediately run out and set sail for Israel to check sources. But it is simply untrue to imply they treated the claim of the resurrection uncritically. They engaged the witness, the person who had claimed to see the risen Christ. Personal testimony IS evidence for most of us when the witness seems credible –and we know that Paul often spoke of how he met Jesus. No doubt later some had opportunities to talk with more witnesses, as other apostles filtered up from Palestine – Jews seem to have been fairly mobile within the Hellenistic world, as Rodney Stark shows in Cities of God. More generally, Carrier’s depiction of evangelism in Acts is simply false.

Acts is full of arguing and reasoning.

Believers "refute" or "baffle" (συνεχυνεν, 9:22) opponents, "debate" (συνεζητει, 9:29); "speak effectively" (λαλησαι ουτως ωστε πιστευσαι,14:1) and "prove" (διακατηλεγχετο, 18:28).   These are verbal marks of pervasive, many-sided appeals to evidence (signs, natural theology, the resurrection). 

Why would that be necessary if ancient audiences were so gullible?  And indeed, read Acts -- or the gospels -- carefully, and you find audiences are NOT that "eager to believe," even with all the miracles. Jesus is, for instance, subject to all kinds of criticism in the gospels.  As I put it in Why the Jesus Seminar Can't Find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could,

"All four gospels contain nit-picking, suspicion, entrapment, barbed comments,
and angry denunciations, directed by respectable citizens at Jesus. He is accused
of being a commoner, a sinner, a ‘Samaritan and a demon,’ of breaking Jewish law,
the Sabbath in particular, not paying taxes, lack of education, blasphemy, insanity,
and black magic.”

Their categories might be a little different from those of Richard Carrier, but to claim the gospels portray the ancients as gullible rubes who lap up any wild superstitious claim without reason,  is, well, a wild and superstitious claim.
LH: “It is hard to believe that Marshall would want to claim that the
disciples were paradigm examples of skeptical thinkers--and I don't
imagine he would actually claim this (though he does seem to think
that there is good historical evidence that they were pretty skeptical).”
DM: I don’t “seem to think it,” Landon. It’s one of the most obvious characteristics of the Gospels and Acts. Read them through ans underline expressions of doubt, and appeals to reason and evidence.

Don’t overlook any more elephants – they have a habit of stepping on the toes of people who aren't paying attention. 

LH: “Surely Marshall knows that there have always been people who will believe things without good evidence.”

DM: Yes, and unfortunately you and Richard Carrier seem to be two of them, in this case. You’ve followed Richard in falsely asserting that Peter persuaded his audience in Acts 2 purely by the power of rhetoric, even though spectacular miracles are recorded in vivid detail in that very same chapter. And then you follow him in overlooking the many expressions of skepticism, doubt, and critical thinking that pervade the writings of the evangelists.  

LH: “Some of the most confident Christians I have encountered cite
nothing other than the scriptures (and, sometimes, the inner feeling of
the Holy Spirit) for their belief that Jesus conquered death. And people in
the ancient world were no different. If anything, they were even more
gullible, and less skeptical.“

DM: Do you recognize the trick you’ve just played? You went from “some Christians” to “people in the ancient world.” In other words, you’re specific in the first case, and general in the second – without warrant, and overlooking evidence for skepticism. You also casually dismiss both the good sense of ordinary Christians (a common failing among academics) and the probative power of the Christian Scriptures, which I defend in (the title is relevant here) Why the Jesus Seminar can’t find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could.

LH: “So even if it is true that the disciples were willing to die for their
faith, that does not entail that they had good evidence for it.

DM: Here you take yet another false step. A few people in Acts expressed faith quickly, as a few do in itinerant evangelism – Luke gives a very realistic account. But you have
neglected to point out the basis for their faith, which is not just words, but powerful
supernatural signs, in most cases. You’ve also leaped from “express belief in” to
“die for.” Luke does not say these people died for their faith right off the bat.

I think you have Josh McDowell wrong, too. It’s been a decade or two since I read
him. But as I recall, his argument is that “Lots of people die for a falsehood. But
no one dies for what they know to be a falsehood.” In other words, the disciples
claimed to have seen Jesus, and were in a position to know if they really had or not.

It is hard to understand why they would die for what they were in a position to
know was untrue. That’s McDowell’s argument – not that willingness to die in
itself entails warrant for faith.
LH: “Biblical scholar Hector Avalos confirmed this to me, writing:

"There is a lot of evidence that people did believe in resurrections with very little
evidence, and one is in Mark 6:14-16 where it states that Herod was convinced
that John the Baptist had resurrected. Note how little evidence he needed to believe that.

Apparently, Herod just "heard" about miracles, and witnessed nothing himself."  
DM: Now here’s an interesting argument. Avalos takes Mark’s account of
Herod’s REMARKS at face value – though it could hardly have been firsthand.
Yet he rejects his account of the most climactic weekend of his life – the passion of Jesus and apparent resurrection. Apparently third-hand rumors of off-hand comments from a single Gospel are worthy evidence, when they support your view, but plausibly first-hand reports of the most cataclysmic event in Mark's life, confirmed by other early reports, should be thrown out, when they undermine it.
But I don’t think this scene much supports Avalos’ point, anyway. Herod has murdered John, against his will. He’s feeling guilty, like Hamlet’s uncle. In response to rumors of Jesus’ miracles, he makes a revealing comment – perhaps he has heard a rumor about Jesus bringing other people back to life. Whether or not he believes it, is another matter.  

LH: Robert M. Price, in a private communication, revealed another
important point:

"One must keep in mind the great power of "cognitive dissonance." History has shown that there is pretty much no extreme people will not go to in defending that which they have a great stake in. If you had spent decades defending the proposition that Jesus rose from the dead, even if you had originally merely surmised or guessed it, even had you made it up, you might well give your life than back down from the claim, to save face, because otherwise your life would be revealed as one big joke, and some people simply cannot live that down."

DM: Price’s words cut both ways, since Christians and atheists are made out of the same mortal cloth. But given the manifest and chronic mis-readings chronicled above, the skeptics here might usefully apply this to themselves first. There’s plenty of cognitive dissonance in evidence in comments by skeptics here. They badly misread not only a minor point in my book, and a major argument by Josh McDowell but, more importantly, repeatedly misrepresent the central texts they attempt to comment on. They fail to recognize enormous and obvious facts that stand directly in front of them,
like elephants in full trumpet – Pentecost, miracles, the fact that Christians offered numerous rational reasons for belief that are still convincing today, and the deeply expressed and still familiar skepticism of their 1st Century audience.