How Can We Decide Between Experts? Reviewing Mittelberg's "Confident Christianity" Part 10

I'm reviewing Mark Mittelberg's book Confident Faith. [See the "Mark Mittelberg" tag below for others]. Mittelberg had argued we need authorities since we cannot be experts in everything. So the "question is not if we'll be under authority, but which authorities we'll trust and respond to?" (p. 66) When some red flags go up we need to consider second opinions and better authorities. Trust! That is a key point. Who ya gonna trust?

I'm talking about experts with regard to the truth and their level of competence. What are we to do when experts disagree? How can we non-experts choose between experts? Do we have to be experts to choose between experts? There is a whole lot of literature to sift through on these questions.

Richard Feldman has argued that in cases of religious disagreement between epistemic peers who have shared all the same evidence, rationality requires them both to suspend judgment, regardless of how certain each of them thinks about the evidence. David M. Holley argues however, that from the outset the disagreeing parties involved "have reason to judge each other not to be epistemic peers, and that there is some evidence in many religious disagreements that is both relevant to the disagreement and impossible to fully share." This is a healthy debate between experts in philosophy. How are we to decide between them? It can be tough. Actually in this case, they can both be right. The factual question of whether there truly are epistemic peers who have shared all the same evidence is at issue. Feldman says yes there are, Holley says no there are not. On the factual question I think we're dealing with a continuum. On the one side there are recognized experts who are almost but not entirely epistemic peers, who have almost but not entirely shared evidence. On the other side there are people who are not epistemic peers much at all, who have barely little shared evidence. One of them could be an expert and the other a non-expert, or both could be experts in different fields, or both could be non-experts.

Skeptics have a major problem trusting authorities. That's what we're known for. We require evidence, objective evidence, sufficient objective evidence with sound reasoning based on this evidence before accepting a claim, any claim to truth. We don't want to rely on authorities or experts. We want everything that can be verified to be verified, or we suspend judgement. That means we don't trust people, or experts, unless they can show us the objective evidence. So only the evidence can change our minds.

Christians have a major problem with trust too, specifically conservatives. They have mostly been raised to trust the Bible and their God who supposedly revealed it. They've also been raised to be paranoid that the Devil is out there working his woe trying to deceive them and send them to hell. So anything that isn't consistent with their particular time-stamped interpretation of the Bible is to be rejected as a lie right out of the pit of hell. It's scary you see. Be on guard. Trust no one but your religious authorities, preachers, seminary professors, bishops and/or Popes. Scientists are not to be trusted for this very reason. Satan can fake or misrepresent or lie about the evidence by using scientists as his tools in his war against everything God loves.

Skeptics can be distrustful of everyone but the evidence. Conservative Christians can be distrustful of everything but their holy book. Am I right or am I right?

But what if it can be demonstrated that Christian scholars, many of them, mishandle the truth, misrepresent it, and are even dishonest with it? Then what? What if it can additionally be demonstrated that scientists care about the evidence? Then what? I'm going to make these two points in this post, saving some others for later.

People should not be trusted as experts who are not just wrong but incompetent and even dishonest with the facts. Agreed?

Here are a few examples:

Lee Strobel

Classical scholar Matthew Ferguson argues this is the case with Lee Strobel’s interview of Craig Blomberg on "The Historical Evidence for Alexander the Great versus that of Jesus of Nazareth" in “The Case for Christ”.

I found Blomberg making a rather egregious comparison. Apparently we have earlier and more reliable historical evidence for Jesus than even the famous Macedonian general Alexander the Great. After all, Blomberg (pp. 41-42) points out the following fact about the dating of the Gospels: “The standard scholarly dating, even in very liberal circles, is Mark in the 70s, Matthew and Luke in the 80s, [and] John in the 90s” of the 1st century. That’s roughly 40-60 years after the death of Jesus.

But what is the time gap for our earliest biographies of Alexander the Great? Here is where Blomberg makes an egregious error, stating (pg. 41):
“The two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch more than four hundred years after Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., yet historians consider them to be generally trustworthy.”
Really? You mean that in the literate Hellenistic world nobody bothered to write a biography of the Greeks’ greatest general, who conquered most of the known world, until four hundred years after his death? They even constructed a great library at Alexandria, and yet nobody thought to write a biography of the city’s founder? Wait a second…

Didn’t Alexander have a personal historian who traveled with him and wrote about his deeds during his campaigns? That’s right, Callisthenes of Olynthus (360–328 BCE) was Alexander’s official biographer, who wrote contemporary to his life (not half a century later). This is a piece of information that would be covered in any undergraduate course about Greek history. Oh, by the way, there were other authors, who were eyewitnesses and who wrote either contemporary to Alexander (356–323 BCE) or within a couple decades after his death. Just to name some others:

Anaximenes of Lampsacus (c. 380–320 BCE; Greek historian and contemporary)
Aristobulus of Cassandreia (c. 375–301 BCE; Greek historian and companion of Alexander)
Eumenes (362—316 BCE; companion and Greek scholar)
Nearchus (360—300 BCE; general and voyager under Alexander)

Hmm, so those are the writings of at least five eyewitnesses, three of whom were professional historians, who wrote about Alexander either contemporary to or within twenty-five years of his death (and there are more authors than just those who wrote about Alexander within that timespan). And yet for Jesus, we do not know of the writings of a single eyewitness or contemporary historian, nor do we know of any contemporary records for his life. The only known writings for Jesus within twenty-five years of his death are the non-forged letters of Paul, who was neither an eyewitness nor historian and who provides only a few biographical details about Jesus’ life.


Strobel’s write-up of the interview was not verbatim but rather heavily paraphrased and full of what were, in Blomberg’s view, oversimplifications. [Blomberg] told me his initial impulse when he saw Strobel’s draft was to edit everything for accuracy, but in the end decided to correct only the worst problems.

Unfortunately, Blomberg did not correct this oversimplification (and misrepresentation) in the statement about Alexander’s earliest biographies, which were not written “four hundred” years later, but during his lifetime. Nevertheless, the primary blame rests with Lee Strobel, whose book is chalked full of distortions and inaccuracies of this kind. As a former legal affairs journalist, I really have to wonder whether Strobel is really so incompetent at catching these critical details, or whether he deliberately puts out such overly-generalized half-truths merely to convert whatever layperson happens to be reading his book under the pretense of “evidence.”
Mark Mittelberg:

I'm doing a series of posts on whether we should consider Mittelberg an expert worth following, and so far it's not looking good. At all!

Simon Greenleaf was a luminary in legal jurisprudence during the early 19th Century. Mittelberg says he was a Jewish skeptic who "ended up becoming an ardent follower of Jesus" after being challenged by a student to consider the evidence for the resurrection, who subsequently wrote a book in defense of it. (p. 214) Not true.
Simon Greenleaf wasn’t an atheist; he wasn’t convinced by the evidence. He already believed and looked for support. Nowhere does he claim to be an atheist, nowhere does he claim this started off as an attempt to disprove the Resurrection. The testimonials and foreword in the 1874 version, make no mention of Greenleaf’s desire to disprove the Resurrection, nor his theistic belief being changed by the study. All the evidence we have demonstrates Simon Greenleaf was a lifelong Episcopalian! LINK.
Paul Copan:

Is God a Moral Compromiser?: A Critical Review of Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?” --By biblical scholar Thom Stark. This is an utter smack-down!

Underhanded Biblical Interpretation: Deuteronomy 25:11-12 in Context. --By Dr. Hector Avalos.

Paul Copan’s Moral Relativism: A Response from a Biblical Scholar of the New Atheism. --By Dr. Hector Avalos.

William Lane Craig:

Dr. W. L. Craig Caught Telling More Untruths: A Case Study in Theistic Apologetics. --By Dr. Hector Avalos.

Matthew Flannagan:

Dr. Flannagan Just Does Not Get it, The OTF Again and Again and Again.... --By John W. Loftus.

Dr. Flannagan Denigrates Science, Why Am I Not Surprised?

More Hand Waving From Matthew Flannagan on the OTF. --By John W. Loftus

Five Questions Matthew Flannagan Hasn't Answered. --By John W. Loftus. Even five years later Flannagan refuses to answer my questions! That's because he can't and he knows it.

David Marshall:

A Slave to Incompetence: The Truth Behind David Marshall’s Research on Slavery. --By Dr. Hector Avalos.

David Marshall and Guillermo Gonzalez: How Untruth Becomes Gospel Truth. --By Dr. Hector Avalos

Christian Apologist David Marshall’s Recent Behavior and Response to My Blog. By classical scholar Matthew Ferguson.

Why David Marshall is not a Biblical Scholar. --By Dr. Hector Avalos

A Refutation of David Marshall's Book. --By John W. Loftus.

Randal Rauser:

I Doubt Rauser is Even Trying To Understand Me. --By John W. Loftus.

Ten Lessons From Randal Rauser On How Not to Lose Gracefully. --By John W. Loftus.

Dr. Randal Rauser is a Liar! A Liar For Jesus. There is No Escaping this. --By John W. Loftus.

Victor Reppert:

Dr. Victor Reppert Is Our Gullible Person of the Day. --By John W. Loftus.


Triablogue Caught in a Web of Deception. --By Dr. Hector Avalos.

Dr. Avalos Responds to Triablogue on the Sargon Legend!

Dr. Avalos v. Triablogue: Moses is a Basket Case of Bad History.

JP Holding/Robert Turkel:

Dr. Hector Avalos Responds to JP Holding/Robert Turkel. This is an utter smack-down!


2) Mittelberg's Low Regard for Science

While Mittelberg is not necessarily anti-science, he does exhibit a dim view of science. For no scientist would ever stress the failures of science over the number of astounding successes it has had. I've highlighted this tendency to deny or denigrate science many times before. He says:
How many theories have we been adamantly taught, especially in the area of science, that later were revised or completely refuted? (Or perhaps a better question might be this: How many theories are we still being taught that are right now in process of being discredited?) The changes in prevailing paradigms are so regular and expected that one philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, wrote a fascinating book documenting this pattern. It's called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Unfortunately, many times the academic authorities fail to present their "truths" in light of the reality that scientific theories come and go." (p.64)
I have read Kuhn's book and studied through it during my time in a masters degree program with James D. Strauss, who often mentioned it. I'm no longer convinced Kuhn was correct, but I can assure readers that Mittelberg mischaracterizes what he says. Scientific paradigm changes are not "regular and expected" nor do "scientific theories come and go." One would think science is a bunch of guesswork by this short description, which should say something about Mittelberg's own expert credentials. Anyone who talks this way should not be our authority, period. All someone has to do is read through the 700+ paged book, New York Public Library Science Desk Reference showing us the results of science so far. And he or she will not talk this way again. The biggest most important scientific revolutions were from Aristotelian science to Newtonian science to Einsteinian science, something Stanley Jaki documented in his book, The Relevance of Physics (1966). Darwinian science was an important paradigm change as well, hailed as the most important discovery by many scientists. The rest of what scientists do is to be considered normal science, that is, science within these paradigms.

The truth is that scientific failures are not even considered failures, but a recognition that the science of yesterday was not yet complete. Paradigm changes are simply big changes in the previous paradigms. The previous paradigm wasn't false, but incomplete. So-called paradigms build on each other as science progresses. If you've never read much of Isaac Asimov's, read his essay called The Relativity of Wrong. It will forever change how you view science. He explains why the discredited science of the past is not to be considered wrong, but rather incomplete, by discussing the changing views of the shape of the earth, from flat to spherical to pear-shaped. The same things can be said about Newton's laws of motion as completed (not falsified) by Einstein's relativity equations. Newton's equations were not wrong, even though he didn't factor time into them, as Einstein did. They just don't work at or near the speed of light. No overturned theory here, you see!

Let me offer Mittelberg a test case on science. I edited the volume titled, Christianity in the Light of Science: Critically Examining the World's Largest Religion. Mittelberg and others should read it. Not because it's edited by me, but because in it are scientific experts. He should read it to judge their expertise. He should look for any signs of scientism, or naturalistic assumptions being smuggled in. In my Introduction I address these issues by denying they can be found and challenging readers to judge for themselves.

The table of contents:

Contributors to the chapters: (An asterisk indicates an author who is an indisputable expert for the topic, although I consider them all experts:

*Dr. Aaron Adair, is an assistant professor of Physics at Merrimack College, North Andover, MA., and the author of The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View (2013).
*Dr. Rebecca Bradley, earned a PhD in Archaeology from Cambridge University, and worked variously as an archaeologist in Egypt and the Sudan.
*Dr. Robert R. Cargill is Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at The University of Iowa, having earned a Ph.D in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from UCLA. He is a biblical studies scholar, classicist, archaeologist, author, and digital humanist. His research includes study in the Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, literary criticism of the Bible and the Pseudepigrapha, and the Ancient Near East
*Dr. David Eller earned a doctorate degree from Boston University in anthropology and taught anthropology in Denver, Colorado. He has written two textbooks titled Violence and Culture: A Cross-Cultural and Interdisciplinary Approach (2005); and Introducing Anthropology of Religion: Culture to the Ultimate (2007). He has published two books on atheism, Natural Atheism (2004); and Atheism Advanced (2008). His most recent work represents the culmination of twenty years of research on religion and violence: Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence across Culture and History (2010).
*Dr. Abby Hafer has a doctorate in zoology from Oxford University, who teaches Human Anatomy and Physiology at Curry College in Milton, MA. She’s a popular public speaker and author of, The Not-So-Intelligent Designer—Why Evolution Explains the Human Body and Intelligent Design Does Not.
Phil Halper is the producer of the popular youtube series “Before the Big Bang” which features interviews with some of the world’s leading cosmologists including Gabriele Veneziano (the father of string theory), Abhay Ashtekar (founder of loop quantum gravity) and Sir Roger Penrose (co author of the classic Penrose Hawking singularity theorems). He earned a degrees from Manchester University, Southampton University, and a diploma in astronomy from University College London.
*Guy P. Harrison has degrees in history and anthropology and has written several critically acclaimed books on skepticism and belief, including, 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a god (2008), 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian (2013), 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think are True (2013), Think: Why You Should Question Everything (2013) and Good Thinking: What You Need to Know to be Smarter, Safer, Wealthier, and Wiser (2015).
*Dr. Julien Musolino is a Franco-American cognitive scientist and an Associate Professor at Rutgers University, where he directs the Psycholinguistics Laboratory, and holds a dual appointment in the Department of Psychology and the internationally renowned Center for Cognitive Science. He is the author of over 30 scientific articles and his research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. He is the author of The Soul Fallacy: What Science Shows We Gain from Letting Go of Our Soul Beliefs (2015).
*Dr. Ali Nayeri received his PhD in Theoretical Physics from IUCAA in 1999. He was appointed as a Postdoctoral Associate at the Department of Physics at MIT for 2 years and as a Postdoctoral Fellow at MIT Center for Theoretical Physics for an additional year. Since then, he has been a Research Affiliate at MIT. He was also a Research Scientist and Visiting Professor at the Institute for Fundamental Theory at University of Florida. He is currently with the Harvard Physics Department in Cambridge, MA. His fields of research include Early Universe and Inflation, brane and string cosmology, Semi-Classical Theory of Gravity, and Alternative Cosmologies.
Sharon Nichols is a retired Assoc. Professor. Geography, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn Il., former President of the Illinois Geographical Society; a National Council For Geographic Education (NCGE) Outstanding Faculty, Distinguished Alumni, South Dakota State University and was awarded The American Heritage Award by Americans United for her part in an ACLU lawsuit against a 10 Commandments Monument in Haskell Co., OK.
*Joe Nickell has been called "the modern Sherlock Holmes." Since 1995 he has been the world's only full-time, professional, science-based paranormal investigator. His careful, often innovative investigations have won him international respect in a field charged with controversy. He has written numerous books, including Relics of the Christ (2007) and The Science of Miracles: Investigating the Incredible (2013).
Jonathan MS Pearce earned a degree from the University of Leeds, a PGCE from the University of St Mary’s, Twickenham and a Masters in Philosophy from the University of Wales, Trinity St David. Pearce has written Free Will? An investigation into whether we have free will or whether he was always going to write this book (2010), The Little Book Of Unholy Questions (2011), and The Nativity: A Critical Examination (2012). Working as a publisher and teacher, he lives in Hampshire, UK with his partner and twin boys.
*Dr. Robert M. Price, is a member of the Jesus Seminar and author of numerous books including Deconstructing Jesus (2000), The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition? (2003), The Paperback Apocalypse: How the Christian Church Was Left Behind (2007), Inerrant the Wind: The Evangelical Crisis of Biblical Authority (2009), and he co-authored with Ed Suominen, Evolving out of Eden: Christian Responses to Evolution (2013).
*René Salm is the author of The Myth of Nazareth The Invented Town Of Jesus (2008) and NazarethGate: Quack Archaeology, Holy Hoaxes, and the Invented Town of Jesus (2015). He maintains several websites including Mythicist Papers ( and
*Dr. Victor J. Stenger (1935-2014) was emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii. He was a prolific author with 12 critically acclaimed books that interface between physics and cosmology, and philosophy, religion, and pseudoscience. His 2007 book God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist was a New York Times bestseller. His last book was God and the Multiverse (2014).
Ed Suominen is a retired engineer (B.S.E.E., University of Washington, 1995), patent agent, and inventor with over a dozen patents. After 40 years as a Christian fundamentalist, he learned about evolution through some engineering work and underwent an intellectual awakening that resulted in the book Evolving out of Eden: Christian Responses to Evolution (2013), co-authored with Dr. Robert M. Price (2013).
*Dr. Valerie Tarico earned a doctorate degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Iowa and completed postdoctoral studies at the University of Washington. She is the author of the book, Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light (2010), and chapters in The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails (2010), The End of Christianity (2011), and Christianity is Not Great (2014) edited by John W. Loftus. She founded and writes regularly for online news and opinion sites including AlterNet and The Huffington Post. Her articles can be found at
What I said in my Introduction:
Herein in this volume is found the evidence, the scientific evidence, the evidence that can convince open-minded people. Open-minded people will be open to the scientific evidence. Closed-minded people won’t be open to it, but instead try to denigrate or deny it.

How can people deny science, you ask?  Sean B. Carroll, a professor of molecular biology and genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, tells us. An article he read in the journal Pediatrics sparked his thoughts, which was titled “Chiropractors and Vaccination: A Historical Perspective” [April 2000, Vol. 105 / Issue 4]. The article traced the roots of anti-vaccination among chiropractors to its founder, Daniel David Palmer in 1865, and highlighted this same attitude among practitioners in the last few decades. In the 1950’s for instance, many chiropractors denied the science of Polio vaccinations, but were proven wrong since Polio was eradicated in the United States because of them. The article goes on to offer the six arguments they have used to deny the science of vaccinations for a century.
After reading it Carroll saw a general pattern among science deniers. Carroll said, “I could superimpose those arguments entirely upon what I had been reading from the anti-evolution forces.” The six chiropractic anti-vaccination arguments can be seen as “a general manual of science denialism” he said. He saw that “to deny a piece of science there was sort of common playbook, a common set of tactics.” In fact, “You could throw any argument at me about evolution, climate change, etc, and it would be in one of these six bins.” Here they are:
1) Use anything to cast some small measure of doubt on the science, no matter how small, disregarding that the probabilities are very high.
2) Question the motives of scientists, saying they are motivated by profit or some other underhanded reason.
3) Magnify any disagreements between scientists by citing gadflies as authorities who represent a tiny minority.
4) Scare the hell out of people by exaggerating the potential harms or risks in accepting the science.
5) Appeal to the value of personal freedom by claiming no one should be compelled to accept the science.
6) Object that the science repudiates some key point of philosophy or theology, which Carroll says is one of the most important tactics of science denialists. On this he quotes creationist Henry Morris who said: “When science and the Bible differ, science has obviously misinterpreted its data.” [For more see:, or Google “Sean B. Carroll at Science Writing in the Age of Denial” April 23, 2012.”].
These are the arguments, or tactics of closed-minded people who seek to denigrate or deny science. None of them do anything of the sort. They are all efforts in argument substitution, where someone substitutes an argument when the evidence shows otherwise. But they aren’t really even legitimate arguments, but rather informal fallacies, where rhetoric itself substitutes as argumentation. They’re rhetorical bluffs, or rhetoric without substance. For instance, in denying what I call the evolutionary paradigm (or theory, or fact) many believers object that if evolution is true there can be no morals. Whether that’s the case or not is being debated of course, but even if true the issue of morality, or the lack thereof, has nothing to do with the objective overwhelming evidence for evolution. Either the evidence is there or it’s not, and it is. So don’t accept the tactics or rhetoric of science deniers if you want to know the truth. Follow the evidence instead.

As to my offer to allow Mittelberg to respond to my review in total or in parts, I am sincere. As evidence I have allowed several Christian scholars and apologists to do so, seen right here.