For fun, I thought I’d share this write-up that I did over Winter break, especially given some of David Marshall’s recent activity in the blog sphere:
Recently this Winter break on Κέλσος, I have been critically interacting with the arguments of academic Christian scholars, such as Craig Keener (as well as preparing for my upcoming radio debate next month with Craig Evans). For all of my disagreements with these individuals, I nevertheless agree that they are qualified scholars (Keener with a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from Duke, and Evans with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Claremont). Beyond my disagreement with their arguments, my biggest concern with such Christian scholars is the faith-based universities that employ them. I think that the amount of money and cultural interest that is channeled into Christianity allows for a greater number of faculty positions, publishers, journals, and readers that are interested in Christian apologetics than what the subject academically deserves. For this reason, I do not think that faith-based universities deserve academic accreditation, or that Christian academic publishers should be considered as comparable to secular academic publishers. But, regardless, scholars like Keener and Evans are still scholars, even if I don’t agree with the structure of Christian academia. For this reason, I work to make my critical interactions with such Christian scholars civil and focused on arguments.
I mention the scholars above to strike a contrast with lay Christian apologists, especially those who write in an acerbic and polemical manner, who do not deserve to be considered academic scholars. One such lay apologist is David Marshall (Christ the Tao).
I was harassed by Marshall earlier last Summer, when I was in the middle of preparing for my Greek translation Ph.D. qualifying exam, which I successfully passed last year, due to a friend of Marshall’s asking him to comment on my blog. Marshall attempted to refute two of my essays, one of which has been accepted for presentation at the Pacific Coast Society of Biblical Literature regional meeting in 2016. As professor Hector Avalos has recently pointed out in “Why David Marshall Is Not a Biblical Scholar,” Marshall lacks academic training in biblical languages and shows little awareness of the scholarship pertaining to the issues that he likes to comment on and write about. Despite his lay status, Marshall tries to refute real biblical scholars like Bart Ehrman, and claims that they “make asses of themselves” and “scam their students.” Marshall also writes popular apologetics books like Why the Jesus Seminar can’t find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could.
Originally, after I wrote an online response to Marshall in July, 2o15, which exposed both his rude behavior as well as misinformation that he was spreading about me online, I intended to ignore Marshall for a long while from there on out. Recently, however, David Marshall made a statement about me in a comment on John Loftus’ blog on December 20, 2015, which was vehement enough to deserve mention (bolding is added):
The context of Marshall’s comment was him complaining about the fact that I banned him from commenting on my blog last Summer, after he made multiple violations of my ‘Comment Policy.’ Marshall has also been spreading more false information about me since our interactions over the Summer. Since he has made it clear that he plans to write more polemics against me, including a book chapter that he hopes will cause me “to hang myself,” I have decided to make a move in advance, during the last couple days of my Winter break, documenting Marshall’s false information and behavior online. See below:
The context of Marshall calling me a “simpleton” has a long history, but it goes back to an article written by biblical scholar Hector Avalos, titled “Alexander the Great, Jesus, and David Marshall: A Simpleton’s Approach to History,” in which Avalos responded to some of Marshall’s claims about the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection allegedly being as “historically” reliable as the evidence that Alexander the Great fought elephants at the Battle of the Hydaspes River. I later mentioned Avalos’ article here on Κέλσος, without specifically discussing the portions in it about David Marshall. Nevertheless, when he responded to Avalos on his blog, Marshall made his first online mention of me (bolding is added):
“I bring [this article] up now, because an historian-in-training named Matthew Ferguson — Celsus on Amazon, who I think has visited these pages before, to I hope his immense embarrassment — cited this article recently…”
Contrary to what Marshall had thought, however, I had never visited his blog before nor do I go by the user name “Celsus” on Amazon book review (Marshall appears to have inferred this, since my blog is named Κέλσος). Marshall contacted me in a comment on July 15, 2013, however, to ask if I was the user named “Celsus” on Amazon (bolding is added):
“Matthew: Hi! Are you the same fellow who posts on Amazon under the name of “Celsus?” … You cited one of Hector Avalos’ attacks on me … in effect Avalos admitted that “historical knowledge” is impossible … I’m not sure how far you want to follow him off that cliff. But as a young historian, I think you would do well to lean on a wider range of historians…”
Despite Marshall’s snarky tone, I was nevertheless polite in a response to his comment, in which I informed him that I never interacted with or discussed him online before:
“No, I am not the Celsus on your book review … Personally, I thought Dr. Avalos’ article was insightful and as a professor at Iowa State, he is hardly fringe. It looks like the article you posted largely straw manned him, but I am not going to get involved in a side argument about it for the present.”
I thought that this reply would clear up the matter, so I was surprised to later see, on August 30, 2013, that Marshall had written a blog post against me, titled “Matthew Ferguson (Celsus) on the ‘Marshall School of Apologetics.'” In the blog post, Marshall accused me of being the user named “Celsus” on Amazon, made a number of personal attacks against me, and even stated the following (bolding is added):
“Ferguson is that unfortunate type of ignoramus who is even ignorant of the fact that he is ignorant.”
What was ironic about this statement is that it was actually Marshall who was the unfortunate ignoramus who was ignorant of the person he was attacking. I wrote a blog post in response to Marshall’s misguided polemic, which corrected his mistakes about my identity. At the time, Marshall apologized and then edited his post and removed my name. When later referring to this incident, Marshall stated (bolding is added):
Accordingly, Marshall’s original hopes that I would be “immensely embarrassed” appeared to backfire after this incident.
Marshall did not give up his attempts to attack me online, however. Later in a comment on my blog on June 28, 2015, which was posted on an essay that I had written about the literary genre of the Gospels, Marshall stated (bolding is added):
“[Y]ou have not yet really read the gospels in a serious way, however many times you have leafed through the texts … You also describe the gospels as “novels.” This is complete and utter nonsense … Anyone who reads the gospels and thinks it’s one of those, is, frankly, as blind as a bat … You’re still young, though … and you might just have a satori experience, by and by, and see what is standing in front of you, as Lewis put it, like an elephant a few yards away, in broad daylight.”
This second time I was far less patient with Marshall. In nearly every online interaction in which he had contacted me up until this point, Marshall had been rude to me. His statements, likewise, once more misrepresented my identity, since not only have I done more than “leaf through the texts” of the Gospels, but I have studied these documents in Greek (in addition to other ancient texts that I study in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew as part of my Classics Ph.D. program), in addition to taking graduate seminars in the New Testament and Christian origins. Marshall appears to have had a vendetta against me, however, ever since I mentioned the article by Hector Avalos that referred to Marshall, even though I did not specifically discuss David Marshall when I did so. I am also not entirely sure that Marshall even knows my true identity, even now, since he has also referred to me by the name “Matthew Fergusen” before when discussing me online (see here).
When I responded to Marshall for a second time on my blog, I was much less kind to him than before, and I also gave him a two week ban from commenting again for violating my ‘Comment Policy.’
David Marshall only became more aggressive and hostile after this incident, however. On July 11, 2015, Marshall wrote another blog post against me, titled “Matthew Ferguson helps prove the Gospels” (which he later removed from his blog, though a PDF can still be read here), in which he attempted to refute the essay that he had commented on. Marshall also posted a claim online that I am a Christ Mythicist, even though I have clearly stated multiple times on this blog that I believe in a historical Jesus, in which he stated that he likes to “squeeze” Mythicists. Marshall also told me to “manfully” defend my comments in response to him. Not only did I find this behavior to be rude, obsessive, and vehement, but as a Feminist, I also found Marshall’s language to be highly offensive.
Marshall began his second blog post against me with a section titled “My Initial Response,” in which he actually quoted the comment that he sent me which started our exchange. The fact that Marshall quoted this rude comment to me at the beginning of his response is perhaps the most honest thing that he had done up until that point in all of his interactions with me. Marshall wrote this response on July 11, 2015. However, on July 13, 2015, Marshall removed the post (you can still read a PDF copy here). His reason for doing so was the following (bolding is added):
“I posted a long critique of an attack on the gospels by a young Classics scholar named Matthew Ferguson. Quite a few people read the thing, though there were no comments yet. Looking it over this afternoon, I felt a twinge of embarrassment. The post was too disorganized, too rambling, and lacked some crucial empirical evidence. In some places my wording was a little too strident, as well … So I’ve moved that article temporarily back to “draft” mode. I’ll fix it up, and a deeper analysis of the some of the works Ferguson cites, and hopefully post it again within a day or two.”
Once more it seems that Marshall’s attempt to “embarrass” me had blown up in his face. Marshall did not stop there, however. Marshall later re-posted his response on July 16, 2015, this time under the new title: “How Matthew Ferguson Helps Prove the Gospels.” Although Marshall claims that he fixed some of his “strident wording,” his new post still included a ton of personal attacks against me. But most egregious of all, however, is that in this new post Marshall removed the first section, titled “My Initial Response,” in which he quoted the rude comment that he posted on my blog, which started the exchange. Instead, Marshall began his new post with a different section, titled “Response to Ferguson’s personal accusations.” In this new section, Marshall responded to my “harsh accusations” against him, even though he was the one who had started our whole online exchange!
I had finally had enough. On July 31, 2015, I posted a long response to Marshall on my blog, titled “Christian Apologist David Marshall’s Recent Behavior and Response to My Blog,” in which I corrected a slew of misinformation that Marshall had spread about me, and refuted all of the arguments that he had levied against my essays.
After this response, Marshall received a flurry of negative criticism. Originally, Marshall tried to pretend that I had been rudely attacking him, even though any unkind things that I had said were clearly provoked by Marshall’s original comment on my blog, in which he started our exchange by insulting me. Fortunately, however, several commenters were able to see through Marshall’s thinly disguised deceit. One commenter remarked (bolding is added):
“You had to back pedal furiously to give Ferguson credit for his language skills. After first arrogantly claiming you had read all extant novels in ancient Greek then, after realizing how badly you’d stepped in it, admitting you only read “some Koine Greek”. And then, even more hilariously, you down played the skills needed to determine genre and said that “any good translation” would be sufficient. Consider for a moment, the possibility that it’s not Ferguson who is blind but the more likely probability that the “scholar” who has already decided what the truth is, is exhibiting confirmation and selection bias. Really. Consider it … If you don’t understand that you sneered at Matthew Ferguson, who is patently head and shoulders above you morally as well as intellectually, from your very first encounter you are truly one of the most delusional people I have ever met.”
So ends the previous exchanges that I have had with Marshall up until this point.
Since his embarrassment after our encounter, however, Marshall has attempted to spread more false information about me, which I will now address. I will start with Marshall’s blog post, titled “Reply to Matthew Ferguson I: On Scholarship and Genre,” which Marshall posted on August 3, 2015.
Marshall’s dishonesty about covering his tracks:
As I have said, when David Marshall posted his response to me, titled “Matthew Ferguson helps prove the Gospels” (which he later removed from his blog, though a PDF can still be read here), he began his response with a section, titled “My Initial Response,” which quoted his rude comment to me that started our online interaction. Marshall later took down this post, however, and then re-posted another response, titled “How Matthew Ferguson Helps Prove the Gospels,” in which he removed his original comment, and instead began the response with a section, titled “Response to Ferguson’s personal accusations,” responding to my “harsh accusations” against him.
In my subsequent response to Marshall, I called him out for this serious omission. In his more recent post, however, titled “Reply to Matthew Ferguson I: On Scholarship and Genre,” Marshall now claims:
“Ferguson repeatedly says or implies that I’m trying to hide or cover up my faults and errors: let those who are afraid that I am up to such mischief, read Ferguson’s critique for themselves, if they like. I don’t really mind.”
And yet Marshall has still failed to quote in his current post the rude comment, which he sent to me, that started our exchange! Considering that he had included this in his original post (which he then took down), Marshall appears to have purposefully removed this comment.
Instead, Marshall now claims:
“As for Ferguson’s own cheap shots, he doesn’t seem to recognize them as such.”
This is also a lie. I clearly state in my response to Marshall (bolding is added):
“I was not pleased with Marshall’s tone and attitude in this first comment, so I wrote him a comment in response that corrected his allegations about my academic background, and likewise responded to the points in his first comment. Admittedly, my tone was not friendly, and I did not “turn the other cheek” (Mt. 5:39) in responding to Marshall. But, unlike Marshall, everything that I stated in my response was true…”
These are important pieces of information for understanding the context of my response to Marshall, and yet Marshall has removed them from the re-posted response on his blog. That’s what I mean by “covering his tracks,” and Marshall is still not being upfront about this sequence of events.
Marshall’s obfuscation of what I said:
Some of the personal insults that Marshall threw at me in his first comment on my blog were the following (bolding is added):
“[Y]ou have not yet really read the gospels in a serious way, however many times you have leafed through the texts … You also describe the gospels as “novels.” This is complete and utter nonsense … Anyone who reads the gospels and thinks it’s one of those, is, frankly, as blind as a bat … You’re still young, though … and you might just have a satori experience, by and by, and see what is standing in front of you, as Lewis put it, like an elephant a few yards away, in broad daylight.”
In this comment, Marshall made (at least) three attacks against me:
- I have not read the Gospels in any serious way.
- I have only leafed through the texts of the Gospels.
- I am as blind as a bat.
Now, consider how Marshall next represents my response to him. I pointed out to Marshall that I am not only a Ph.D. student in Classics who studies ancient history, but I have also taken graduate seminars in the New Testament and Christian origins. That is studying the Gospels in a serious way, even if Marshall disagrees with my arguments. Now, notice how Marshall responded to this in his subsequent post (bolding is added):
“On the other hand, I think Ferguson was the first case in which (two years ago) I criticized someone who happened to share a pseudonym and a set of interests with my intended target, in lieu of the target himself, and also the first case in which I mistakenly described someone as a Christ-mythicist who actually was not. Those are serious blunders. As for describing Ferguson as “blind as a bat” in relation to the qualities of the gospels, I’m afraid I still think so, so can’t apologize for that — but that is not a “falsehood about identity,” it is a perception (accurate or not) about awareness. (I also think some more advanced and eminent scholars are just as blind, after all.)”
And yet I never claimed that Marshall misrepresented me for 3) calling me as “blind as a bat.” I stated that he misrepresented me for 1) claiming that I had not “read the Gospels in any serious way,” and 2) had only “leafed through the texts” of the Gospels. Very coy and sneaky obfuscation, David!
As for his claim about “more advanced and eminent scholars,” let’s rewrite what Marshall states to accurately represent what I had said. If Marshall were to claim that Bart Ehrman or Marcus Borg had only “leafed through the text” of the Gospels, or had not “read them in any serious way,” he would be misrepresenting their academic and professional work. It doesn’t matter if thinks they’re as “blind as a bat.” Marshall is merely obfusticating what I said here to disguise his own misrepresentation of me.
[As a note too, I would never accuse Christian scholars such as Craig Keener or Craig Evans of only “leafing through the texts” of the Gospels and not “reading them in any serious way.” Despite my disagreements with these scholars on many points, I acknowledge that they have academic qualifications and have done serious work. I would recognize this about any individual who had gone through the requisite steps to become a scholar in such disciplines, regardless of my opposing views. Not only has Marshall failed to go through these requisite steps, but his own polemical attitude prevents him from recognizing individuals who have, when he disagrees with them on matters of dogma.]
Marshall has so confused and deceived his readers to the point that they don’t even seem to understand why I brought up my graduate work and language skills during our exchange. One commenter on Marshall’s blog wrote:
It appears that Marshall’s blog commenters have little idea of the original context that started our exchange. To clarify things, I went back to my response to Marshall, and added the following note in italics regarding my discussion of language skills (bolding is added):
“I should note that I do not pretend to be an expert in these languages or subjects at this point in my career, as I am still a Ph.D. graduate student at this point in my studies. Nor do I mean to imply that there are no scholars with equal or greater experience than I who may disagree with my arguments. There are a variety of different viewpoints, after all, in academia. However, Marshall attacks my credentials from his very first comment in this exchange, which is why I brought this up, especially since Marshall is less experienced than I on these subjects.”
Marshall also accused me of “throwing around my work experience” in his first response, when I was simply correcting his accusations that I had not seriously studied the texts, which I was writing academic papers about. And yet I only brought up this point because Marshall started our exchange by attacking my credentials. Apparently, correcting Marshall amounts to “throwing around” my graduate research.
Marshall’s ignorance of my Latin and Greek composition training:
I have discussed multiple examples above in which Marshall has confused and misrepresented my identity. In another statement that Marshall makes, however, it appears that it has still not fully sunk in for him what Classicists like myself do in our language study of Greek and Latin. Marshall states (bolding is added):
“Ferguson persists in identifying Lewis as merely an “English literature scholar.” But as I pointed out, Lewis was extremely well-read in ancient Greek and Latin literature. He even conducted a correspondence with Dom Giovanni Calabria in Latin. (Could Mr. Ferguson do that?)”
Why yes, David, I can write correspondence in both Greek and Latin! Not only did I take a graduate course on Latin prose composition in Spring 2011, studying Bradley’s Arnold Latin Prose Composition, as well as a graduate course in Greek prose composition in Spring 2012, studying North and Hillard’s Greek Prose Composition, but I also studied spoken Latin with one of the Pope’s former Latin secretaries, Reginald Foster, in the Summer of 2011.
Need further proof? Perhaps Marshall himself can translate some Latin correspondence that I had with a former colleague in August 2011. Here is the email that my colleague sent me:
“M. Progenius Terremptus Ti. Manlio Deodato s. d.
Maximas tibi gratias extendo quia pro me in classi Graeca docuisti hac aestate. Nobis autem negotiandum est stipendium tuum. Quomodo tibi placet stipendium sexcentorum denariorum?
Spero te cum P. Dilecto Opifice et discipulo tuo Cliff Vanell locuturum. Vale.”
And here is what I wrote in response:
“Ti. Manlius Deodatus suo M. Progenio Terrempto s.p.d.
Epistulam electronicam accipio laetissimus, sed mihi non opus est stipendio. Universitas mihi satis pecuniae iam solvit, et nihil egeo. Tibi et mulier et liberi sunt, verum ego modo cervisiae meretricibusque stipendium impendam.
Cum Cliff iam latine locutus sum, et mox cum Opifice. Omnes discipulos novos hoc anno hortabimur ut omnia lingua latina dicant. Ambules bene magister latinus in Scottsdale. Vale.”
Special comment policy: I banned David Marshall from posting comments on my blog earlier last Summer after repeated violations of my ‘Comment Policy.’ However, I will give David a chance to re-earn his commenting privileges. If David can translate my Latin correspondence above, and I grade his translation to the minimum standard of a B-, then David will be allowed to comment on my blog again.
David Marshall claims “a good translation will usually do” for studying ancient texts, but unfortunately now for David, no English translations of my Latin correspondence exist for him to rely on. If he wants to read what I wrote, therefore, he will need to roll up his sleeves and start doing actual Classical work. Let such a translation exercise be perhaps his first step on a long journey toward actually studying the ancient languages relevant to the topics he presumes to be qualified on.
[This offer expires in one week following the publication of this blog post, at 12pm PST on 1/10/16.]
Marshall fails to read an article that he claims I misquote:
Let’s move on now to another polemic that Marshall recently wrote against me. In a blog post, titled “History of Science trips up Matthew Ferguson,” Marshall accuses me of misquoting an article by ancient historian Richard Carrier–titled, “Christianity Wasn’t Responsible For Modern Science”–in The Christian Delusion. I wrote a brief post discussing Carrier’s article in 2013 . In his response, which Marshall wrote on November 6, 2015, he attempts to catch me in some “sloppy” quotations Carrier’s article. Carrier’s research in ancient history focuses on ancient science, which makes Carrier, unlike David Marshall, an expert on the subject.
Let’s take a look at Marshall’s accusations, since all of them can be addressed by simply reading Carrier’s article and my (short and old) blog post summarizing it:
1. Marshall accuses me of misquoting a statement by Carrier, in response to Alvin Schmidt, by claiming that Carrier was not responding to Schmidt directly:
“What is Carrier talking about? What does his first word, “this,” refer to? Is he rebutting Schmidt? Is he even rebutting the argument Ferguson cites from Schmidt? No, the antecedent from Carrier is more general … It is remarkably sloppy “scholarship” to begin such a harsh critique with a pronoun that seems to be directed at one set of arguments from one writer, but is actually referring to a general criticism with which it is not at all identical!”
Let’s take a look at what Carrier says, in context. Here is what is written at the beginning of the article by Carrier that I quoted. The article begins (pp. 393-394, ebook version) with two quotations, the second of which I quoted a selection from (highlighted in bold):
“As a new generation of historians, sociologists, and philosophers of science has proven, biblical religion was not the enemy of science but rather the intellectual matrix that made it possible in the first place. Without the key insights that Christianity found celebrated in the Bible and spread throughout Europe, science would never have happened … The evidence is incontrovertible: It was the rational theology of both the Catholic Middle Ages and the Protestant Reformation — inspired by the explicit and implicit truths revealed in the Jewish Bible — that led to the discoveries of modern science” (Robert Hutchinson, “The Biblical Origins of Modern Science,” pg. 139).
“Belief in the rationality of God not only led to the inductive method but also led to the conclusion that the universe is governed rationally by discoverable laws. This assumption is vitally important to scientific research because in a pagan or polytheistic world, which saw its gods often engaged in jealous, irrational behavior in a world that was nonrational, any systematic investigation of such a world would seem futile. Only in Christian thought, which posits ‘the existence of a single God, the Creator and Governor of the universe, [one that] functions in an orderly and normally predictable manner’ is it possible for science to exist and operate” (Alvin Schmidt, “Science: Its Christian Connections,” pg. 221).
Now, let’s take a look at what I quoted from Carrier, in context (highlighted in bold):
“These two quotes succinctly describe a new delusion creeping around the halls of conservative academia: the belief that Christianity not only caused modern science, but was necessary for modern science even to exist. As the story now goes, not only has Christianity never been at odds with science, but it was actually the savior of science, the only worldview that could ever make science possible. And that’s why the Scientific Revolution only ever sparked in one place: a thoroughly Christian society.
This is not only false in every conceivable detail but so egregiously false that anyone with even the slightest academic competence and responsibility should have known it was false. Which means it’s advocates, all of whom claim to be scholars, must either be embarrassingly incompetent, perversely dishonest, or wildly deluded…”
What, therefore, was the antecedent of Carrier’s “this”? Marshall only quotes:
“As the story now goes, not only has Christianity never been at odds with science and never impeded it in any way, but it was actually the savior of science, the only worldview that could ever make science possible. And that’s why the Scientific Revolution only ever sparked in one place: a thoroughly Christian society.”
And yet Marshall leaves out the crucial introduction to the same paragraph that links it to the earlier two quotes, one of which I quoted from Schmidt:
“These two quotes succinctly describe a new delusion creeping around the halls of conservative academia: the belief that Christianity not only caused modern science, but was necessary for modern science even to exist.”
So the antecedent of Carrier’s “this” clearly referred to the two quotes that Carrier had quoted at the beginning of the article. To call this a “sloppy” misquotation, I think, is quite a stretch, and Marshall is merely straining to find some trivial error to attack me on, even though Carrier is clearly responding to Schmidt in the selection that I quoted.
2. Marshall also states (bolding added):
“Furthermore, Carrier’s generalized argument, the one Ferguson agrees was wrong, was specific about praising Christianity as a necessary cause of science. But Schmidt merely says “belief in God,” which would include Islam, Judaism, many forms of Hinduism or Confucianism or Taoism, at least potentially. Whether Schmidt is right or wrong, anyone who fails to differentiate the two arguments, is a wretched scholar, at best. (If we grant that dishonesty is worse than stupidity and carelessness.)”
And yet Schmidt clearly states in the quote:
“Only in Christian thought, which posits ‘the existence of a single God, the Creator and Governor of the universe, [one that] functions in an orderly and normally predictable manner’ is it possible for science to exist and operate.”
And the title of Schmidt’s chapter is “Science: Its Christian Connections” in Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization. Marshall leaves out all of this context.
3. Marshall also claims that I actually contradict the conclusion of Carrier’s article. This is also false. In red below is the material that Marshall quotes from my blog post and in bold is the crucial material in the same paragraph that he leaves out:
“I also write this blog because I find one of the premises in this slogan to be so flawed that it needs to be addressed: apologists are often so imbued with a religio-centric worldview that they actually believe that the Pagan Greeks would have based their interest in science on their religion, as if one’s religion is their primary motivation for studying the natural world. Schmidt, for example, when stating that Paganism “saw its gods often engaged in jealous, irrational behavior in a world that was nonrational” confuses polytheistic religion with its myths and literature (does he really think Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a religious text?). Let’s grant Schmidt’s unwarranted premise that Pagan religion was nonrational; that would never impede science from flourishing in Pagan antiquity.”
Marshall leaves out the fact that I pointed out how Schmidt is defining Pagan religion in terms of its *mythology*. However, actual Pagan *theology* was far more complex. I not only discuss these nuances in my review of Zaidman and Pantel’s Religion in the Ancient Greek City, as well as my essay “Missing Religious Ontologies in Ancient Polytheism,” but I have also been accepted to present an academic paper at the American Academy of Religion Western region annual conference on the topic of Pagan theology, in April of this year.
Richard Carrier likewise explains, however, how Schmidt is mischaracterizing Pagan theology. Here is what Marshall quotes from Carrier:
“Most intellectual polytheists believed in a Creator who had intelligently ordered the cosmos, that this order could be discovered by the human mind, and that such discovery honored God. Scientists like Galen and Ptolemy were thus motivated to pursue scientific inquiry by their religious piety . . . ” (407)
And, indeed, this contradicts Schmidt’s claim that the Paganism “saw its gods often engaged in jealous, irrational behavior in a world that was nonrational,” when Pagans such as Galen and Ptolemy did not see it that way. This corresponds to what I stated about how the features of Pagan *mythology* should not be confused with Pagan *theology*.
Marshall also sarcastically states:
“How silly of those Christian apologists who think religion is so darn important that it might have actually inspired the ancient Greeks in how they explore and understand the world!”
And yet, a fuller reading of Carrier’s article (pg. 403) reveals the fact that many Pagans did not turn to religion or theology, but rather to inherent nature, to provide a basis for their scientific study:
“But that the universe is rational is observed. So it doesn’t have to be proven. Such a belief requires no faith or theology because it rests entirely on evidence. Pagans responded to this *observation* in either of two ways: exactly the same way later Christians did, or exactly the same way modern atheists do. Neither marked any impediment to science.
Those who *didn’t* believe in intelligent design had to explain where all this observed consistency and order then came from, which compelled them to scientific inquiry, precisely to discover the real causes. Hence ancient doubters and pantheists, like Strato, Erasistratus, Epicurus, or Asclepiades sought explanations in the inevitable interaction of natural laws and forces. They didn’t use our ‘law’ metaphor but only others instead, like ‘physical necessity’ and the ‘inherent nature’ of things, but these amounted to the same thing: objects floated on water, for example, because of the inevitable interaction of innate forces in a discernible pattern. No God needed. No belief in Creation required.”
And so, when I stated:
“[A]pologists are often so imbued with a religio-centric worldview that they actually believe that the Pagan Greeks would have based their interest in science on their religion, as if one’s religion is their primary motivation for studying the natural world.”
Carrier, indeed, listed many other Pagans who did not base their scientific inquiries on their theology — such as Strato, Erasistratus, Epicurus, or Asclepiades. In other words, Pagan theology was not a necessary groundwork for many Pagans to explore science, just as I stated in this blog post, titled “Neither Paganism Nor Christianity Was Responsible for Science.”
Marshall concludes his polemic with the following condescension:
“Some days I think defending Christianity against the sort of critics it faces these days is Just. Too. Darn. Easy. All one has to do, 90% of the time, is read their sources more carefully than they do themselves.”
I encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about Marshall’s dishonest tactics, and his amatuer apologetics, to read John Loftus’ “When Will Apologist David Marshall Learn He’s Out of His League? Never?,” which also includes links to other blog posts that document Marshall’s dishonesty, and his trolling of other blogs over the last several years.
Straight from the horse’s mouth:
But you don’t have to take it from me. I emailed Richard Carrier himself to ask whether I had misquoted his article. Here is what Carrier replied with:
“I confess I can’t even reconstruct what Marshall’s argument is. Obviously you are not misquoting me. I do indeed mean by “this” the whole argument of Schmidt (and Hutchinson and Stark and Jaki and all their ilk). And as you point out Schmidt certainly means Christian monotheism. He could hardly not, since the SR did not occur under Judaism for thousands of years, nor Islam in all its history, so he can’t claim mere monotheism causes science. He needs Christian theism to be the cause. And in any case, my chapter goes on to refute even that generic claim (there were atheists doing science before any creationist monotheism dominated society, and they had fully logical motives to do so that show no theism is required either: pp. 406-07) … You haven’t been unfair in representing this as the case and as my argument.”
Well, so much for David’s attempt to misrepresent my quotations. In fact, his failed effort to do so will now become yet another example of his dishonest lies about me. But, I am hardly the only secular blogger that Marshall has played these games with. Carrier likewise remarked:
“He tried this with me, with his long rant after our debate. [Richard Carrier’s debate with David Marshall, by the way, can be viewed here.] I just didn’t respond. I sparred with him on Amazon reviews for a while until it was obvious to all and sundry he was a dishonest ass. But then I gave up. He has since mostly forgotten about me (or whatever nonsense he babbles, it doesn’t get to my notice). But you can’t always ignore these guys. And sometimes taking them on produces valuable writing you can use again later. So work it your way.”
A common question that I have noticed among multiple scholars who take the time to even discuss Marshall is whether there is any value in responding to him. For example, Hector Avalos likewise remarked:
“One may ask why real experts devote any time to Marshall’s writings or comments. The answer is that Christian apologetics is primarily an authority-based system. Therefore, to undermine Christian apologetics it is necessary to expose the lack of credentials and expertise by apologists. Second, Marshall does represent the way many believers think and reason. Therefore, refuting Marshall’s arguments is, in effect, refuting the arguments of thousands or millions of others who use similar ones. I usually challenge such pseudo-scholarship on a case-by-case basis. There are just too many Marshalls in the world for one person to refute them all.”
I myself have waited a good several months to respond to some of Marshall’s lies against me, since I don’t think that he deserves attention taken away from my graduate work. But, I have chosen to respond to him at the end of my Winter break, so that people can see the kind of lies that such Christian apologists use to target secular graduate students and secular professors who dare to hold to non-apologetic positions.
A former colleague of mine, who is now a Ph.D. graduate student in Ancient History at the UNC-Chapel Hill, and who also helped me identify factual errors in Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, told me years ago that he would never dare to go into Biblical Studies. His reasoning was that secular scholars have to deal with so much harassment from online apologists, such as David Marshall, that doing honest work in the field is a much greater hassle, than it is for areas such as Roman political history, for example, which are less likely to clash with the dogma of religiously motivated apologists.
Nick Peters’ Comment:
One piece of advice that I will give to other Christian apologists, who are seeking to engage in more constructive dialogue, however, is to avoid David Marshall and to not trust what he writes on his blog. You may run the risk of yourself being misinformed. On this note, I will now also respond to one of the comments of Marshall’s third attack against me, written by Nick Peters, whom I had a recorded debate with a couple years ago. Peters writes:
Here, Peters is repeating a common apologetic slogan, spawned by William Craig (here) and Alvin Plantinga (here) before him, which claims that atheists like Richard Dawkins don’t understand the concept of divine simplicity. However, Peters doesn’t seem to know that I have written a response to Craig and Plantinga already on this point, whom Peters is repeating.
I’ll cut Peters slack here, and not describe this statement as misinformation, since he only says “I suspect there will be no interaction with Thomists on this point.” But, Peters is wrong to think that I have not studied and written about Aquinas and the concept of divine simplicity. In fact, I have read Aquinas in Latin, since I first studied him as an author when I was learning spoken Latin under Reginald Foster, one of the Pope’s former Latin secretaries, in the Summer of 2011.
Let’s looks at what I wrote on September 29, 2015 about Aquinas’ notion of divine simplicity (I do not blame Peters for being unaware of this):
“ The concept of divine simplicity is discussed by medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica, part 1, question 3. There are eight articles for this question, in which Aquinas discusses the simplicity of God. Aquinas argues that God is simple because (1) God does not have a body, (2) God is not composed of matter and form, (3) God is the same as his essence or nature, (4) God is his own existence, (5) God does not belong to a genus, (6) there are no accidents in God, (7) God is not a composition of parts, and (8) God does not enter into composition with other things.
I do not think that any of these attributes, however, apply to the argument that Richard Dawkins is raising with Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit. Dawkins is not arguing, for example, that God is a body composed of matter and form. This is how William Craig misinterprets Dawkins argument when he states:
“[A]s a mind without a body, God is amazingly simple. Being immaterial, He has no physical parts.”
Rather, Dawkins is not saying that God is complex because he is composed of material parts, but instead that God is complex because of his intelligence. For complex biological organisms to be explained as the creation of an intelligent designer, we first have to assume a more complex intelligence capable of designing such complexity. In this way, Dawkins is arguing that God is teleologically complex, not that he is physically complex.
Dawkins argument can be broken down nicely by a distinction between Platonic teleology and Aristotelian teleology, offered by philosopher André Ariew in “Platonic and Aristotelian Roots of Teleological Arguments” (pp. 8-9):
“[W]e can distinguish two distinct conceptions of teleology in Aristotle’s writings and at least two sub-categories:
I. Agency-centered teleology:
Behavioral. Activities undertaken for the sake of something, which may be either a state or further action.
Artifactual. Activities undertaken for the sake of producing an object of a certain sort (artificial).
II. Teleology pertaining to natural organisms.
Formal. Biological developmental processes that occur for the sake of self-preservation or preservation of the species (form).
Functional. Parts of organisms that are present for the sake of the organism possessing them.
I and II are distinct notions of teleology … Agent-specific teleology (I) is purposive, rational, and intentional, and represents external evaluation. The goal is the object of an agent’s desire or choice … Teleology pertaining to natural organisms is distinct: non-purposive (though seemingly so), non-rational, non-intentional, and immanent — that is, an inner principle of change. The goal is not an object of any agent’s desire.”
What Dawkins is arguing is that it is a far simpler explanation that complex biological organisms are formal and functional, rather than the product of some agency-centered teleology, like God. This kind of simplicity, as a theoretical virtue, is discussed by philosopher Graham Oppy (The Best Argument Against God, pp. 13):
“If everything is equal, we should prefer the more simple theory to the less simple theory. If everything else is equal, we should prefer the theory that postulates fewer (and less complex) primitive entities.”
What Dawkins is arguing, therefore, is that theism posits a more complex primitive entity, in the form of God’s intelligence, when creationists, for example, appeal to God’s design to explain biological complexity. However, the formal and functional features of evolution (following Aristotelian teleology) are far less complex than the behavioral and artifactual features of intelligent design (following Platonic teleology). In this way, God’s intelligence and agency is more complex than unguided evolution, which does not imply that Dawkins is arguing that God is complex in the sense of being a body made of physical parts.”
Clearly I am addressing the Thomists on this point, despite whatever Nick suspects about “atheists online.” I have also written more about Summa Theologica in this this essay, which I published on September 28, 2015.
My advice to other apologists, like Nick Peters, is to not trust what David Marshall says. He is not an honest, moral, or credible individual, and if you rely on his claims, you run the risk of yourself being misinformed.
Marshall’s violent imagery describing me:
The extent of Marshall’s character attacks against me have reached such a point that he has even used violent imagery to describe his hopes about my future. This brings us back to the comment that David Marshall wrote about me recently on John Loftus’ blog, on December 20, 2015, which prompted me to write this current response:
Marshall is not the first Christian apologist that I have found to use violent imagery to describe what he would do to non-Christians. For example, a friend of mine a couple years ago recorded some videos of a Christian street preacher, named Clarence ‘Bro’ Cope, in which Clarence stated that he would “slit” my friend’s “throat” and personally drag and throw him into Hell (you can see it for yourself in the video at 2:45).
Contrary to Marshall’s morbid fantasy, however, I doubt that I will commit suicide after he writes yet another polemic against me in his new book. At most, Marshall’s attacks are merely tedious collections of misinformation and garbled analysis. Refuting such pieces has little to do with arguments and much more to do with corrections. One commenter on my blog, after reading my previous exchange with Marshall, remarked:
“Your exchange with Marshall reminds me of how I often feel after giving extensive corrective remarks on a poorly written paper I am grading. I am deeply perturbed that I have clearly invested far more time and effort in correcting the paper than the student spent in vomiting it out in the first place.”
And, indeed, as a graduate student and college instructor who has graded numerous freshmen papers and assignments, I can completely agree with this assessment. Who knew that grading college freshmen would ever prepare me for dealing with Christian apologists like David Marshall?
Marshall’s hypocritical complaints about rude comments:
Perhaps the most hypocritical of David Marshall’s behavior, however, is that he complains when other people write critical comments on his blogs. Marshall accuses me of “censoring” him, after I banned him from my blog due to multiple violations of my ‘Comment Policy.’ And yet, when a commenter named Garrett recently wrote a critical comment on his own blog, here is how Marshall responded:
Do as I say, not as I do. Is that how it works, David?
As I have stated, I would advise all Christians, including those who have sympathies with apologetics, to avoid David Marshall (he blogs at Christ the Tao). If you choose to read his misinformation, you are putting yourself at risk for being misinformed.
But, furthermore, I will give two other reasons why reading David Marshall is a waste of time:
1) There is much higher quality apologetics material that is out there. I will be holding a future debate with evangelical scholar Craig Evans later this year, for example, who, despite my disagreements with him, is several light years ahead of both Marshall’s knowledge and integrity. Regarding other Christian apologists, who are of higher caliber than David Marshall, one commenter on my Facebook page over the Summer remarked:
2) David Marshall does not represent the behavior, honesty, or integrity of all Christians. In fact, he represents the bottom of the barrel of what modern Christendom has to offer. If Jesus taught, “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12), then just consider how this ethic reflects on David Marshall. David’s modus operandi is to rudely insult those who do not convert to his religion, and then to claim that he is being hit with “harsh accusations” when they respond to his rude behavior.
But, David Marshall does not reflect on the behavior of all Christians. A distant relative of mine, who is a Christian and read about Marshall’s vitriolic behavior against me over the Summer, remarked on Facebook:
And I couldn’t agree more. There are many more thoughtful and ethical Christians out there than what David Marshall represents. As such, reading David Marshall is not just a waste of time for (both secular and Christian) scholars, but for ordinary Christians as well.
 Note, I edited my post, “Neither Paganism Nor Christianity Was Responsible for Science,” on September 29, 2015, to remove and polish some content, such as a reference to a pineapple that referred to a picture in a previous post that I had written. These edits were complete the September before Marshall wrote his response to this blog on November 6, 2015. Since Marshall refers to the pineapple in his response, however, he may not have seen the newer version. I do not blame Marshall for this small issue. I did not change any of the other material that Marshall quotes, however, and misrepresents in his response.