Amateur Hour at Triablogue

Triablogue’s amateurs have compiled a supposed refutation of The Christian Delusion. Some uninformed bloggers are already hailing it as a “massive” and definitive refutation. Yet, even the most superficial look at Triablogue’s efforts reveals yet another instance of amateurs who don’t know enough to know that they don’t know enough about the topics they discuss.

Being merciful to DC’s readers, I will not provide an exhaustive catalog of Triablogue’s factual errors, illogical arguments, or misreadings of my chapters. I will provide a few samples within these categories:

A. The Credentials Card
B. Ill-read Reviewers
C. Misrepresented arguments
D. Misunderstood Arguments
E. The Ridiculous and the Mundane

I am a firm believer that an author should have expertise in the subjects on which he or she writes. Loftus has made a noble effort to include writers with graduate degrees or doctorates.

Nonetheless, Steve Hays (Infidel Delusion, p. 3) offers this observation concerning my critique of Paul Copan’s defense of Old Testament ethics and discussion of the Nazi Holocaust:

On a related note, not all of the contributors are writing within their field of expertise. For example, Avalos has a chapter entitled ―Yahweh is a Moral Monster. However, Avalos doesn‘t have a doctorate in ethics or bioethics...Likewise, Avalos has a chapter on ―Atheism Was Not the Cause of the Holocaust. However, Avalos doesn‘t have a doctorate in modern European history.

Apparently, it does not matter that Hays also does not have a doctorate in ethics or in modern European history, and so how is he able to evaluate arguments about these subjects? Nor does Hays seem to mind that Copan, who is the center of my critique of chapter 8 in The Christian Delusion, has no doctorate in Old Testament. Hays does not seem to mind that D’Souza lacks a doctorate in biblical studies, AND in ethics, AND in modern European history.

Furthermore, Hays’ comment shows only how little he knows about the study of ethics in academia. The fact is that few scholars who write on ethics or biblical ethics have a “doctorate in ethics or bioethics.”

Peter Singer, for example, who is called a “bioethicist” in Hays’ own section (p. 115), does not have a doctorate in ethics. The highest degree he lists on his own website is a B. Phil (1971): Peter Singer CV

Similarly, consider these well-known authors and works on ethics:

-Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. New York: HarperOne, 1996.

- Walter C. Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1991.

Kaiser has a Ph.D. in Mediterranean Studies from Brandeis. His website speaks of “graduate studies in Old Testament and ancient history at Brandeis University.” Kaiser Bio

Richard B. Hays lists a PhD. in “New Testament.” Hays Bio

Indeed, most biblical scholars who write on ethics develop that specialty within the context of their graduate work or as a subspecialty after their doctorate is finished. They become recognized by peer review. The same goes for many other areas that involve biblical studies, as is the case with my study of how Nazis used the Bible.

My work on biblical law, ethics and the Nazi Holocaust has been reviewed by other scholars, and so Hays & Co. are simply attempting to divert attention from the fact that they present no qualifications or expertise (e.g. peer reviewed writings) in these subjects whatsoever.

Paul Manata does not read very much, and here is the evidence (Infidel Delusion, p. 194):

Avalos looks at war and genocides in this chapter and doesn‘t show a familiarity with studies on war and genocide. For example, there‘s no interaction with David Livingstone-Smith‘s book The Most Dangerous Animal, no interaction with the works of R.J. Rummel, no interaction with Meic Pearse‘s The Gods of War, no interaction with Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing, by James Waller, and no interaction with Richard Overy‘s, The Dictators.

Manata completely ignores the fact that I already devoted part of a book (Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence [Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2005) to studies of war and genocide.

In Fighting Words, I discuss in great detail the types of arguments and studies (e.g., statistical studies that supposedly show religion is not a big factor in wars) that are found in books by Waller, Overy, etc. even if I did not cite those specific titles and authors. D. L. Smith’s book was published after my book, and so does Manata also require Smith to mention every previous book, such as mine?

Even James K. Wellman, who vehemently disagrees with my theory of religious violence, acknowledges (James K. Wellman, ed., Belief and Bloodshed: Religion and Violence Across Time and Tradition [Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007] p. 5):

There are a handful of theoretical explanations for religious
violence that have been put forward over the last century. Hector
Avalos’ Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence
(2005) does a comprehensive job of outlining the various
psychological, sociological, sociobiological, and humanistic
explanations for religious violence. There is no need in this
introduction to duplicate his efforts.

So, at once, Manata shows himself to be an utter amateur, and poorly read on the subject of religious violence, genocide or war. In fact, I am not sure he has even read the books he lists.

Similarly, Steve Hays pontificates as follows on p. 115: “Avalos says, ―We must also recall that all the supposed crimes and wickedness of the Canaanite are narrated by their enemies, the biblical authors (224). There are archeologists like John Currid who‘ve corroborated these accounts (e.g. child sacrifice).”

But Hays has no expertise to judge what archaeological evidence does or does not “corroborate” biblical accounts of Canaanite behavior. Perhaps Hays missed the fact that I wrote a rather lengthy review of the supposed archaeological evidence for Canaanite crimes and wickedness. See: Creationists for Genocide

If Hays has such expertise, then he should tell us which specific pieces of archaeological evidence were the most impressive to him.

NOTE: I certainly respect Dr. Currid’s opinion, even if I disagree with him. Dr. Currid is listed as a Director of the Bethsaida Excavations Project (Bethsaida Excavations Project), a project with which I was briefly also associated. See Hector Avalos, “Bethsaida in Light of the Study of Ancient Health Care,” in Rami Arav and Richard Freund, eds. Bethsaida: A City by the North Shore of the Sea of Galilee, Volume 3 (Kirksville: Truman State University Press; 2004) 213-231.

I will give credit to Jason Engwer for at least being honest enough to say that he had not read some of the material to which I was responding (p. 192): “Earlier in this review, I said that I‘m not familiar with some of the Christians who are critiqued at length by the authors of The Christian Delusion. I don‘t have much familiarity with Dinesh D‘Souza‘s work, and I don‘t use the argument Hector Avalos is criticizing in chapter 14, so I don‘t have much to say about that chapter.”

Concerning my attempt to show the flaws of Copan’s argument for the superiority of biblical ethics, Hays remarks (Infidel Delusion, p. 110):

For the most part, his essay is a study in comparative cultural anthropology. He compares OT ethics with Hammurabic ethics. However, this doesn‘t show that Hammurabic ethics is morally superior to OT ethics, much less that Yahweh is morally monstrous. Rather, it merely documents some differences between Hammurabic ethics and OT ethics.

Hays does not appreciate these comparisons because he does not understand the nature of Copan’s arguments or my rebuttal of them. More schematically, Copan’s arguments may be described as follows:

A. Feature X renders laws morally superior.
B. Biblical laws have Feature X.
C. Near Eastern laws lack Feature X.
D. Therefore, biblical laws are morally superior to Near Eastern laws.

So my efforts were not so much to say that Hammurabi’s laws are morally superior in some “absolute” manner. Rather, my argument would be better represented as:

A. IF you claim that Feature X makes a law morally superior
B. Then, I can show you the existence of Feature X in
Near Eastern laws; AND/OR
C. Feature X exists in higher amounts/quality in Near Eastern
laws otherwise deemed inferior by Copan.

For example, Copan claimed biblical laws were superior because they are embedded in narratives, and he claimed that Hammurabi’s laws are not embedded in narrative. I simply showed that laws were also embedded in narratives (a prologue and epilogue) in Hammurabi’s Code, and so Copan was simply wrong.

So, to refute Copan, I don’t need to prove that Feature X actually makes laws superior by some objective moral standard. I just need to prove that WHAT COPAN CALLS a superior moral feature exists in non-biblical laws. That exposes Copan’s inconsistency and moral relativism concerning the usefulness of Feature X in evaluating ethical superiority.

Perhaps the most repeated claim by Triablogges is that one cannot judge morality unless one uses objective standards. For example, Hays declares (Infidel Delusion, p. 110):Finally, as a necessary precondition to demonstrate that Yahweh is morally monstrous, Avalos must be able to evaluate OT ethics (or NT ethics, for that matter) by reference to some objective moral.

But this only shows that Hays completely misunderstood my argument, especially since Hays also noted this statement of mine (Infidel Delusion, p. 110): “Avalos says, ―‘As an atheist, I don‘t deny that I am a moral relativist. Rather, my aim is to expose the fact that Christians are also moral relativists’”

So, if I conclude that Christians are moral relativists, then clearly I am saying that CHRISTIANS ALSO CANNOT EVALUATE ETHICS BY REFERENCE TO SOME OBJECTIVE MORAL STANDARD.

However, Triabloggers cannot seem to recognize that there is a difference between CLAIMING to have objective moral standards and those standards actually existing. Indeed, Triabloggers offer no evidence that there are such things as “objective moral standards” beyond their own say-so or the say-so of biblical authors.

So, my argument is not necessarily: “Yahweh is monstrous according to objective standard X.” Rather, my argument is better represented as: “IF you regard Action X as morally evil, then Yahweh also endorses/accepts Action X.”

For example, I show that Yahweh also endorses or approves the same types of laws Copan calls immoral in other cultures (e.g., genocide, infanticide). I show that Yahweh sometimes prescribes laws akin to the types of laws that render other gods as moral monsters in Copan’s eyes.

Misunderstanding the claims of relativist ethics also makes Triabloggers think they have triumphed by showing some sort of self-referential incoherence within moral relativism. Thus, Manata says (Infidel Delusion, p. 122):

Next, Avalos claims that there are only two types of people in the world.
1. Those who admit they are moral relativists; and
2. Those who do not admit they are moral relativists.
I am in group (2). But so what? No realist or objectivist would ―
admit they are moral relativists. Avalos probably meant to add ―“but really are” to the end of (2).

I don’t need to add “but really are” to my #2, because I already made clear that even those who claim to be following objective moral values are not doing any such thing.

I already showed in the same chapter that all supposedly “objective moral standards” are actually tautologies such as: “X is objectively evil because X is objectively evil.” You cannot rationally differentiate this from its opposite: “X is not objectively evil because X is not objectively evil.” I had already explained that adding God does not change that at all. For example:

A. “X is evil because God says X is evil” dissolves into:
B. “Whatever God says is evil should regarded as evil because whatever
God says is evil should be regarded as evil.”

Those circularities do not constitute proof that there are objective morals because I can show how they all dissolve into tautologies. There is no “objective” evidence given by Manata for why anything God says should be regarded as good or evil. There is no “objective” reason given by Manata for why the word of a creator should be regarded as good or evil.

Thus, all Triabloggers are doing is precisely this: “I value what God says because I value what God says.” But did they prove that this should be an objective moral standard? Of course not. It is just their say-so. And who made up the rule that the only type morality has to be objective or absolute?

That is why it is also absurd to say that relative morality = no morality. Relativists simply have a different definition of morality: “Moral actions are those that accord with our individual and group interests and values.”

Given that definition, my argument is that we create needless problems for our own safety and well-being when we base a moral system on unverifiable causes and consequences as opposed to verifiable causes and consequences. I illustrate this idea with the following example:

A. I have to kill person X because Allah said so.
B. I have to kill person X because he is pointing a gun at me.

In Case A, I cannot verify that Allah exists and said anything. In Case B, I can verify that a gun is pointed at me. I’d rather live in world where B is the case and not where A is the case. But Manata responds (p. 122):

This is ridiculous. This says nothing for a moral system. Where is the normative claim? Besides being ambiguous vague (what if the person pointing the gun at Avalos is a policeofficer?), these examples have nothing to do with morality. Furthermore, as an admitted relativist, there is no objective moral difference between A and B. Both A and B are equally moral.

Manata does not integrate fully my conditional statement quoted on p. 112 of their supposed refutation: “if the word ‘moral’ describes the set of practices that accord with our values, and if our highest value is life, then it is always immoral to trade real human lives for something that does not exist or cannot be verified to exist.”

If I value living in a world where I am not going to be killed because people get it in their heads that they are following orders from beings I cannot verify to exist, then I will like B. If Manata doesn’t value living in such a world, then I suppose he won’t have any objection to some Jihadist who believes Allah wishes him to exterminate Manata.

Manata also misses the point that a police officer can be verified to exist and treated accordingly. Allah’s will and wishes, however, are unverifiable. Can Manata really not see the difference?

When it was pointed out that Muslims could also appeal to Allah to kill, Steve Hays tells us (Infidel Delusion, p. 115): “That doesn‘t mean Allah has the prerogative to issue these directives. Whether a deity has the right to tell us what to do depends on the nature of the deity, and our obligations, if any, to the deity.”

And just who is going to decide which deity has the prerogative to issue those directives? Are these not human judgments? All Hays is saying is: “I believe Allah does not have Right X because I believe that Allah does not have Right X.”

Such reasoning was repeated when I pointed out that any god in the ancient near East could accompany laws with a formula such as: “I am Shamash” (analogous to “I am Yahweh” in biblical law). Hays, however, seems to just assume his god exists (Infidel Delusion 115): “We could say Shamash is the true god if it‘s true to say that Shamash is the true God. But unless Shamash is truly the true God, so what?”

But we can apply Hays’ argument to Yahweh: “Anyone could say Yahweh is the true god if it’s true to say Yahweh is the true God. But unless Yahweh is truly the true God, so what?” The problem, of course, is that Hays cannot grasp that BOTH the Yahweh and Shamash worshipper can say the same thing, and it does not make it true.

It’s strictly Hays’ human judgment no matter which God he thinks is authorized to do anything. Thus, Hays only proves the point that he is a moral relativist insofar as whatever he thinks is right is what he then ascribes to the deity he favors on the basis of moral criteria he preselected. He cannot show that any morality is coming from outside of his own judgments.

If Triabloggers object that relativist morality then becomes chaos, the same applies to theistic morality because not everyone will ever agree on what God said or wants. It is just that atheists spend time arguing about things that can be verified to exist, and theists argue about things that are not verifiable.

On a more empirical and historical level, Triablogue’s brand of supposedly objective ethics have been shown to be completely contradictory. After all, the following have been advocated AND opposed by those who say they believe in God or objective ethics:

A. Genocide
B. Rape
C. Homosexuality
D. Adultery
E. Infanticide
F. Biocide (Noah’s Flood)

Indeed, even today there are self-described Christians who believe abortion is murder, and self-described Christians who think it is not. So how are theistic ethics less chaotic? Whether you believe in God or not, the practicality of any moral system will ALWAYS depend on how much agreement or power of enforcement it has.

Here, I offer brief comments on some of the more humorously simplistic arguments in The Infidel Delusion.

1. Abortion = 100% Salvation Rate
Copan’s defenses of child-killing in the Bible often centers on how those children were better off because they went immediately to heaven. I pointed out that such defenses actually made a fantastic argument for abortion because only abortion provides a 100% salvation rate, while allowing those children to be born and grow up means risking an eternity in hell. In his immense wisdom, Hays responds (p. 117):

But even on its own terms, that would be a very shortsighted argument for abortion. Far fewer humans would be saved over the long haul. For a 100% abortion rate would quickly result in the extinction of the human race. If there‘s no replacement rate, there‘s no salvation for future generations. Only the aborted generation would be heavenbound.

But how does Hays know how many generations God has in mind for human existence? After all, if God decided to end the world tomorrow, would Hays say: “God, you can’t do that because there are still future generations to be saved”?

And the reverse can also be true: Future generations might be damned even more if allowed to be born. After all, does Hays show the same concern for generations that were born before Christ’s salvation arrived? Doesn’t God care about all those generations who perished unsaved before Christ? And how did Hays specifically calculate the proportion of saved to damned in his soteriology?

2. p. 112: “To my knowledge, he also supports racial preferences (in what is euphemistically termed ―affirmative action.”)
Where does Hays get this information? Where have I said that I support “racial preferences”? Can he produce a quote of mine to such an effect? In fact, I have been known as an opponent of racial preferences. Yet, this sort of undocumented blather passes for argumentation repeatedly at Triablogue.

I don’t necessarily mind amateur bloggers who are cognizant of the level from which they speak. The greatest disservice to Christian apologetics are amateurs who don’t know enough to know they don’t know enough to evaluate the topics they discuss. My advice to Triabloggers: Arm yourselves with sound training and education and return when you are ready for prime time.

1. Do you think killing infants is always wrong? Yes or No?