21 April 2014

Arguing with brick walls

Please, dear readers, hold me to this: I'm done with Randal Rauser. I deleted the link to his blog from my bookmarks and I'm going to try my best to resist the temptation to engage with him.

I was originally introduced to Rauser by some readers who suggested that he might be a worthy interlocutor given his knowledge of philosophy and his generally liberal brand of Christianity. But y'know, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me seven or fifty times, and... well, I dunno.

Remember when I did a partial review of his book on Heaven? I had asked four questions about the logical coherency of Heaven on his blog, and he claimed that his book answered them. So, kindly, I blew $9 on a book that's about on the level of literary and scholarly prestige as The Poop That Took a Pee and, not surprisingly but still kind of disappointingly, his book didn't actually answer any of those questions – at least one wasn't even discussed at all.

I wrote a fairly lengthy review of this, elucidating my four questions and explaining in painstaking detail why I thought Randal's arguments fell short. Randal actually replied:

...which he finished with, "I look forward to engaging your review at more length in my blog in a few days."

Hmm, seems like we're off to a good start. That didn't last long though, as Randal was butthurt at my alleged lack of charity because I used the phrase "making shit up" with regard to some of his "theories" about Heaven. I used the phrase because, as I explained in detail in the post, I literally could find no justification at all for him to be making the claims he did, or specifically why they couldn't be substituted with a variety of other arbitrary claims. He could have addressed the substance of that objection, but no... he just continued to whine about my uncharitable tone. Soon enough he'd dedicated a whole blog post to calling me "ignorant", which he deleted and replaced with a totally disingenuous "new direction" in which he promised, in so many words, to quit being such a damn dickhead. He never got around to "engaging [my] review at length", and my four questions about Heaven remain unanswered.


That should have been all the indication I needed to stay away from his inane blog but, like a tawdry ex-girlfriend, it's sometimes difficult to stay away. Today Randal and I got into it after I left a mildly snarky comment on one of his more sincere-sounding posts. Basically, I pointed out that many liberal Christians have accepted that most of the Old Testament is not historical. The Creation, the Fall, the Flood, Cain and Abel, the Tower of Babylon, the Exodus, the patriarchs, the genocide of Canaan, etc. These passages are interpreted non-propositionally – that is, they don't represent factual historical accounts, but allegorical frameworks that illustrate man's attempts to understand God within a contemporaneous context. So, I reasoned, if such a view of the Old Testament is acceptable, why not the New Testament? Why can't Jesus' resurrection be viewed as such?

Randal himself endorses such a non-propositional view with regard to at least parts of the OT. He rejects inerrancy and literalism, which means he must take a non-propositional view of pretty much all of Genesis. And he's spent several posts discussing his view of the slaughter of Canaan, for which he takes a similar view.

So, this seemed like a reasonable line of questioning with regard to the consistency of his own views. I wanted to know why Randal would or would not think that a non-propositional view of the New Testament was problematic when he endorses such an approach with at least some major parts of the Old Testament. In other words, what's the criteria for determining the appropriate hermeneutic to apply?

Did I get a straight answer? 


Randal objected to my claims that a large number of liberal Christians and/or a consensus of historians view the OT in this way. But of course, he had to throw in a little condescension:

When I replied that this is a "deflection without substance", he accused me of insulting him:

In Randal's bizarre world, it's not an insult at all to tell someone that they lack an ability to interact with their interlocutors, that they're exhibiting "striking" ignorance. But boy golly, don't go telling someone their argument was a vacuous red herring. That's a personal insult! And I can't help but wonder why he thought the red herrings he interjected with were "substantial concerns". One is a flagrant distortion of what I said, another is an uncharitable semantic dig, and the third... well, Randal and I must do teh maths differently, because I count only two objections. But I digress...

So, the discussion clumsily progressed and Randal wanted me to prove my claims about historians and the non-historical nature of most of the Old Testament. Pardon me as I post the whole comment...

Randal puts on a facade of dispassionate critical rigor, but he's pulling a cheap apologetic trick. 

Firstly, he can always reject my findings simply by claiming that the "specific guild" of historians I've referenced provide an incomplete or irrelevant picture of the field. I was, of course, talking about secular historians.

Secondly, he assigns an arbitrary number to the term "consensus" and challenges me to show that that specific percentage of historians support my view.

Problem is, as Randal full well knows, polling data of historians on these issues is practically non-existent. I'd love a PhilPapers-style survey about Biblical historicity, but that does not exist.

What does exist is a general consensus among scholars that can be discerned from reading the works of notable scholars in the field. I provided a couple of references: I hand-typed a quote from a book of mine (Biblical History and Israel's Past), and mentioned The Bible Unearthed. Both are highly regarded scholarly works that are themselves painstakingly researched to provide an accurate picture of the current consensus on Biblical historicity. While perhaps not quantifiable in the way Randal rather arbitrarily demands, it nontheless provides powerful evidence in support of my argument.

Randal responded with wholesale dismissal, peppered with his usual petty condescension (which of course is totally not insulting at all, because that would be uncivil):


Throughout this conversation (such as it was), I reiterated my topical question several times, saying (for example):
I'm sincerely asking you why you could not apply a similar hermeneutic to the New Testament that you do to the book of Joshua, and as I'm guessing you most likely do for all of Genesis and (hopefully) Exodus.
Of course, Randal never engaged the question, not even remotely. Instead he maintains a facade of faux civility while peppering his posts with condescension (I've gone so far as to document some of his incessant dickery), deriding me as ignorant for having even raised the issue at all.

So, I had an epiphany. Why am I bothering with this asshole? He's clearly obsessed only with "winning" an argument, and has zero interest in constructively engaging his interlocutors in relevant critical discourse (his conversations with others on that post quickly fell by the wayside as his critics laid into him). His actual arguments are incredibly juvenile, only making it to his blog because he was weaned in the circle-jerk of academic theology, and he's regularly embarrassed by the many intelligent atheists who frequent his blog. For some reason he chases after me in a relentless assault of patronizing digs and red herrings. Maybe I get under his skin, or maybe I just egg him on; suffice to say that if he truly thought my challenges to him were worthless, he'd just ignore me altogether.

Now, I respect that Randal is an expert in theology, despite the fact that I think that's like being an expert in homeopathy or acupuncture. I respect that there are certain terms and concepts he understands better than I do being that he's an expert in that particular discipline. But, that's why I engaged him. Because presumably someone who is an expert in their field will have concise, thoughtful answers to curious critical thinkers. Clearly I'm holding him to a standard he cannot meet, though I've never thought it to be a particularly high one.

So, I'm done. Randal is a bullshitter in the true Frankfurtian sense of the term, a venerable master of the Courtier's Reply. He debates with others only to gain a rhetorical advantage, with no regard to whether his arguments are consistent or whether he's even engaging the relevant topic at hand. In short, he's exactly like damn near every other self-important apologist I've run across. He fancies himself an expert in academic philosophy despite having no published work in academic philosophical journals. He chastises others for speaking out of turn with regard to theology or philosophy, but regularly demonstrates ignorance as he confidently opines on cosmology, evolution, sociobiology, and cognitive sciences. Like William Lane Craig – another great charlatan – Randal's field is theology, and his own brand of it is so confused that he can't answer the simplest of questions without drowning himself in antagonism and hubris. Such a proud fool is not worth engaging, and I regret only that I didn't come to this realization sooner and save myself the agitation.

Anyway, I feel better after a good old fashioned rant. Back to regular bloggery...

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