I’ve noticed something very interesting in my many conversations with conservative Christian apologists: If a conservative Christian such as myself deconverts from “the Faith”, it is never because he or she made this decision based on a thorough, rational evaluation of the evidence, in their view. No. It is always because the deconvertee was a “fundamentalist”. What is a fundamentalist? A fundamentalist is a knuckle-dragging literalist who believes that every sentence in the Bible was dictated by God himself, and, that every narrative in the Bible must be accepted as historical fact. If the Bible says that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, then dog gone it, Jonah really was swallowed by a great fish. To believe that the Jonah and the Fish Story is allegorical, is heresy.
So when an ex-conservative Christian, such as myself, attempts to engage these Christian apologists regarding the evidence for their supernatural-based belief system, they immediately throw up a wall: “You are still a fundamentalist. You may be an atheist, but you still think and read the Bible as a fundamentalist. (Christians can safely ignore anything you have to say!)”
I suggest that this is nothing more than the use of the Straw Man Fallacy. It is a strategic, defensive ploy to discredit and if possible destroy the critic in order to avoid dealing with his or her legitimate criticisms of their belief system. They attack the critic to shut him or her up and to convince less indoctrinated Christians reading the conversation to ignore anything that the “knuckle-dragging” atheist has to say. And this doesn’t just happen to me. The same accusation is made against other former conservative Christian deconvertees, including New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman! Anyone who has read Ehrman’s blog knows as a fact that he is not a fundamentalist. Many atheists, in particular mythicist atheists, find his objectivity very annoying.
Here is a recent example of a conservative Christian apologist’s use of the Strawman Fallacy against me:
Conservative Christian apologist: I’ve found that Fundamentalists–be they Christian Fundamentalists or atheist former Fundamentalists [like you, Gary] , are really obsessed over the idea of EYEWITNESS testimony [for the Gospels]. But the fact is…
Gary: Question, several times now you have referred to me as an “atheist fundamentalist” yet I am not a mythicist. I even believe in the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb. This infuriates many of my atheist friends who feel that my position on this issue gives undue credibility to the supernatural claims of Christianity.
I have been banned from mythicist atheist websites because I persist in asking these mythicist atheists this question: “Why do you accept majority expert opinion in most areas of your life but reject it when it comes to the historicity of Jesus? Aren’t you being inconsistent? Aren’t you behaving just like many conservative/fundamentalist Christians whom you condemn for their “biased” positions?” This very much upsets them and they either ask me to leave or they ban me for “enabling the Christian worldview”. So would you kindly give an example of what a non-fundamentalist atheist would look like? Or do you believe that all atheists are “fundamentalists” simply because, by definition, all atheists deny the existence of your god?
Apologist: I never said you were a mythicist. Mythicism is to history what flat-Eartherism is to science. It has to do with the basic way you read the Scriptures. You, like Bart Ehrman, Dan Barker, and a lot of former Fundies-turned-atheists, still approach the Bible with the same mindset and fundamentalist assumptions regarding a wide range of things. And just for the record, mythicists like Carrier have just taken many of Ehrman’s claims to their logical conclusions.
Gary: “It has to do with the basic way you read the Scriptures.”
I read the Gospels as first century works of Greco-Roman biography. I neither accept all stories within those books as statements of historical fact nor do I reject all stories as fiction. I accept the majority consensus of scholars regarding what is and what is not historical. How is that fundamentalist?
Apologist: As I’ve said before with your comments on Brown and Wright–you take what they say and contort them to fit with your conclusions. They would not agree with your conclusions concerning the Scriptures because they were never Fundamentalists. As you say on your blog, you grew up a Fundie, you consider yourself having “escaped Fundamentalism.” I’m just telling you that your basic approach to all this is still determined by that very thing. It still is the lens through which you view things. Example: Richard Dawkins is clearly an atheist, but one of his big beefs with the Bible/Christianity is that Genesis 1-11 contradicts science. That assumption: that Genesis 1-11 is even trying to do science/history–is largely a Fundamentalist presupposition. His jumping off point in his critique is that of a very Fundie way of viewing things. I submit you do that too. You can’t help it–you grew up in all that. It simply affects the way you view things, even now, when you have rejected the Christian faith as a whole.
And so, when you keep saying that you simply accept the majority consensus of scholars–sorry, you really don’t. The conclusions you come to are not the majority consensus. They are the consensus of a certain segment of scholars. Anyway, no need to go round in circles on this.
Gary: I don’t think you can give even ONE example where I have contorted Wright or Brown’s statements. I never said that either one of them doubts that the Gospels contain at least some eyewitness information. I never said that either one of them doubts that there is sufficient historical evidence to believe in the resurrection. What I said is that Wright does not believe that anyone knows who wrote the Gospels. Simply stated: He does not believe that there is sufficient evidence to state as an historical fact that Matthew, John Mark, Luke, and John the Apostle wrote the Gospels. Therefore, to believe in the traditional authorship of the Gospels if even conservative scholars like NT Wright reject it is fundamentalist thinking. I never said that Wright does not believe that the eyewitnesses including Paul listed in the Early Creed did not see a body. I simply stated that Wright believes that this conclusion cannot be based solely on the meaning of the Greek word “opthe” used in First Corinthians 15.
Regarding Brown, I never said that he doubted the historicity of the bodily resurrection either. However, I did provide quotes in which he states that he does not believe that the Gospel authors were eyewitnesses or even associates of eyewitnesses. He believes that they were individuals one or more generations removed from the alleged events they describe. He also believes that there is a good deal of embellishment (non-historical, fictional) narrative in the Appearance Stories.
I suggest that you are using the term “fundamentalist” as a foil; as a straw man. I will bet that you label all skeptics and atheists as fundamentalists. Is it possible that you do this in an attempt to convince naive Christians, in particular, younger Christians, reading your blog to shut their ears to anything that any skeptic has to say. Is the evidence for your position so tenuous, that you must destroy the critic to protect it?? If your position is as strong as you believe it to be, there is no need to demonize skeptics. Let the evidence speak for itself.
Apologist: Apparently, you do want to go in circles. You quote Wright about the authorship of the Gospels–he says we don’t know for sure, but he also acknowledges that M,M,L,J were named such by the early 2nd century. There is nothing that says they couldn’t have been actually written by MMLJ; there is nothing other than the testimony of early 2nd century Christians like Papias that says they were definitively written by MMLJ. You take that and then proceed to suggest that the Gospels WEREN’T written by MMLJ. And you use that to then say, “Ha! Not eyewitnesses! Ha! The resurrection accounts were later embellishments to what was originally just visions and dreams!” No evidence for any of that, and you are going far beyond what the evidence actually says.
Brown and Wright acknowledge that the Gospels are ancient historical biographies, not modern biographies. They weren’t trying to do straight chronology; they had artistic freedom to shape their biographies in the form of a story. You then take that as if they are saying, “Oh, some parts are historical, but some parts are fiction.” And then, since you are now an atheist and obviously reject any suggestion of healings and supernatural events on the basis of your presupposition that there is no God or anything “supernatural” to begin with–you proceed to go through the Gospels and suggest you know which parts are “fiction” (i.e. the healings/supernatural stuff) and which parts are “history.” Wright and Brown would never take things that far, and yet you are appealing to them in an attempt to justify your own conclusions.
That’s what I’m saying. I’m not demonizing you–I’m simply pointing out what you are doing.
…And I’m sure you’re looking for material for another post on your blog. Have at it. 😉
Gary: You are Straw-manning again.
“There is nothing that says they couldn’t have been actually written by MMLJ”
I never said that the Gospels could not have been written by MMLJ. Experts, even the majority of experts, can be wrong. I simply stated that most scholars do not believe that MMLJ were written by eyewitnesses nor associates of eyewitnesses, and therefore doubt the traditional authorship of the Gospels.
“there is nothing other than the testimony of early 2nd century Christians like Papias that says they were definitively written by MMLJ. You take that and then proceed to suggest that the Gospels WEREN’T written by MMLJ.”
Strawman. Show me ONE quote where I said that the Gospels were NOT written by MMLJ. I never said any such thing. I simply quoted the majority scholar opinion on the authorship of the Gospels. I suggest you are intentionally distorting my views in order to discredit me, thereby allowing you to avoid dealing with my criticisms of your beliefs.
“And you use that to then say, “Ha! Not eyewitnesses! Ha! The resurrection accounts were later embellishments to what was originally just visions and dreams!” No evidence for any of that, and you are going far beyond what the evidence actually says.”
Again, you are mischaracterizing my statements. What I am suggesting is that since the authors of these books were not eyewitnesses or even associates of eyewitnesses, according to the majority expert opinion, the question should be asked: what parts of these Appearance Stories come from the mouths of eyewitnesses and what parts are embellishments? If even conservative Christian scholars like Mike Licona and Raymond Brown admit that there are non-historical narratives in the Appearance Stories, how can we know what is fact and what is non-fact? How do we know then if the original appearance stories involved sightings of a literal walking, talking body or simply the sightings of a body in dreams, visions, trances, false sightings, or illusions? That is a far cry from “The resurrection accounts were later embellishments to what was originally just visions and dreams!” That is a statement of fact. I made no such claim. I simply suggested a possibility.
“you proceed to go through the Gospels and suggest you know which parts are “fiction” (i.e. the healings/supernatural stuff) and which parts are “history.” Wright and Brown would never take things that far, and yet you are appealing to them in an attempt to justify your own conclusions.”
Where did I ever make such a categorical statement of fact??? It has always been my stated position that it is IMPOSSIBLE to disprove the existence of the supernatural. Why do you do this? Is your position that weak?
Debate responsibly, my friends. Truth is at stake.
End of post.