Hey atheist! Go read ________!

One of the most reliable hallmarks of debating with a theist is that sooner or later they're going to tell you to read some book or listen to some lecture or watch some film that, in their mind, fully supports their argument. It doesn't matter how well-read you are, because with many thousands if not millions of books arguing for a litany of theological views, there's always something out there that we haven't read.

In years past I spent countless posts countering arguments used by apologists like William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga. Eventually I was told, by several theists, that those guys weren't the really sophisticated theologians; I needed to study Thomism via guys like Ed Feser. I did, and found it to be as much a waste of time as any other line of theological thought. My fault, I was told, for not reading more of it and understanding it properly. As long as you disagree, you can never be well-read enough.

This evening, yet again, I was hit with this not once, but twice – first by someone who contact me via email claiming that the Shroud of Turin represents incontrovertible evidence of the Resurrection (emphasis mine):
I'm not surprised that a straight picture of Jesus Christ before there was a camera doesn't convince people, the same reason you swear logic and reason doesn't sway most believers. People believe what they want all the time, regardless of facts.
The Resurrection is a poorly supported doctrine? A question begging epithet, or non-evidenced assumption. Try "The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach" by Michael Licona, it has a recommendation from Yale, good evidence for the Resurrection without the Shroud.
This of course isn't the first time I've been told to read this book or that, and tonight I was even challenged by Randal Rauser to debunk, in the format of a comments section of a blog post, an entire field of religious thought encompassing dozens of possible points of view:


These kind of tactics are remarkably commonplace in my debates with theists, and I always find them to be ludicrous for the same reasons.

It's a given that none of us have the same background or education. We've all got a different perspective – however slight – formed from our unique experiences, education and critical self-reflection. The entire purpose of public discourse is to bring these perspectives together, with each interlocutor articulating his or her position as concisely and clearly as possible.

I don't know anything about the chap who contacted me via email. But Randal, for his part, is a professional theologian. Surely I'd be disappointed if I found that I was more widely read than he on various topics of theology and exegesis, since that is of course his field of expertise. But his education and experience ought to make it that much easier for him to concisely articulate the flaw in my objection and summarize why his particular point of view presents a more rational alternative. Instead, he challenges me to impugn an entire discipline of theology spanning centuries and about as many divergent viewpoints – as though if I am not as widely-read as he on this particular topic, I have no business making such objections. Those who've followed my discussions with Randal will not be surprised to see him stoop to this red herring yet again.

This tactic is designed not to clarify, share, and enlighten, but to stifle relevant skeptical inquiry and open public discourse. If one wishes to engage only with others who are comparatively read in the exact same topics, why engage in public discourse at all and not simply confine oneself to the enclave of Christian academia? I'm confident that I'm far more widely read than many Christian academics on science, philosophy of science, and secular philosophy; but you won't see me resorting to that as a crutch in our discussions (though, I ought to point out, the tactic certainly can be swung both ways).

When I participate in public discourse, I accept responsibility for articulating my own opinions clearly and concisely to the best of my ability. It's often said that if you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it well enough. Apologists, it seems, revel in the esoteric ambiguities of academic theology and unless you are part of the enclave – in which case, you are already convinced! – you don't understand it well enough to question it. How convenient it must be not to have to justify one's opinions!

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