Monday, August 18, 2008

Jason Engwer's Apologetic Methodology: Insult and Obscure

I'm sort of dialoging with Jason Engwer at Triablogue. It's a very disjointed exchange, because Engwer doesn't comment at DC where the initial blog entry that started the exchange is placed. He responds at Triablogue. But he won't allow me to reply at Triablogue. So I've been responding at DC. The reason for this is that I'm banned at Triablogue.

One shining example of my irresponsible behavior that resulted in my being banned can be found here. I've now learned that there are other "criticisms" beyond my citation of Clement in that thread that justify my being banned, but I'm not being told what they are. There is a lot of vagueness in the explanation. This gives the appearance that the reasons have been explained without actually having to explain them.

But whatever. This is not an important issue. But what I notice is this same methodology (vague references to other links where answers are supposedly offered) is the same methodology Jason often uses in other debates.

For instance, in one of my posts I mentioned that Christians purged many heretical documents, which could plausibly explain why we don't have as much information about the variety of views from ancient Christians as we might otherwise have. Jason replies that these claims of mine were answered long ago in threads I abandoned, such as here and here.

I went ahead and read through the first link, where I encountered statements such as the following:

As I told you in the previous thread I linked to above, the fact that such things have to be explained to you is ridiculous. It’s even worse when you continue to misrepresent the subject after having had these things explained to you in another discussion.

I had to wonder if Jason is capable of alternative explanations for why so many people "abandon" discussion with him. I've wondered about this before.

Anyway, back to the supposed "replies" to my claims. In this thread Jason had asked me why Christians didn't continue to forge documents in the name of Paul beyond the time of Marcion. Why even stop? I replied that maybe people did and the orthodox tradition destroyed the evidence. The documents found of Nag Hammadi show a variety of views about Jesus unknown to us moderns until relatively recently due to the (temporary) successful Christian suppression.

Jason's response is far removed from the point I'm making. "Are you suggesting major revisions of Roman history, since Romans sometimes burned evidence? Or U.S. history? What are Constantine's motives? Why would people in the time of Constantine reject books that are accepted by the mainstream? Do you know how hard it is to cover up evidence of widely accepted documents?"

I truly believe that his is pure obscurantism. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Jason just doesn't know what I'm saying. But I've seen this before and at this point I just kind of say forget it. I'm not taking the time to clarify what I'm really saying. Because I kind of think he knows, but doesn't want to address it.

So this is not even a response to my point in that thread, let alone a response to what I'm saying now. But Jason points to this like it's relevant, when it wasn't even relevant in the first place.

This is his method of reasoning. In this same thread where he says he replied to my comments about Nag Hammadi he similarly points to other threads where I'm supposedly answered on other topics.

Jason-You're repeating what you said earlier about Roman Catholic support for my position on Ignatius, but you aren't interacting with what I said in defense of my position in my last post on the subject.

Jon-What in the thread you linked to is in any way relevant to my point (once more for emphasis because you often miss my point) that forgery is all over the Ignatian Epistles as all sides agree, so this means we need to approach them with skepticism. I think you are again waving towards a website that contains supposed refutations that really aren't there.

He had said I'd been answered, so I went through the thread to see. There was nothing. And when I asked him to show me which arguments addressed mine he ignored the question.

Similar methodology can be found here.

Jon-He's certainly talking about figures of speech, but that's not all he's talking about. Here is some relevant information from Carrier.

Jason-Carrier's claims are addressed by Roger Pearse in the material I linked to. You need to interact with what Pearse has documented rather than repeating what Richard Carrier said.

I spent the next two threads trying to get Jason to show me where this argument from Pearse was. He refused. There was no argument.

What about the second thread where Jason claims he replied to my point about Christians destroying evidence? I read that one from top to bottom, holding my nose through comments such as the following:

I'm not going to take the time to write out and discuss all of the relevant passages for somebody as irresponsible and dishonest as you are. You've wasted my time and the time of other readers more than enough already.

There can only be one reason why anyone would cease responding to Jason, right? His arguments are just unanswerable.

Anyway, what of his "replies" to my statements about Christian censorship and purges? The subject doesn't even come up. Are there some comments in that thread that are relevant to my statements about Nag Hammadi? We're not told. But Jason would have us conclude that I've been refuted anyway I suppose.

And once again within this very thread we do see more of Jason using this methodology of "I've answered you elsewhere" and when challenged he goes mute. Here is what is offered.

Jason-You keep repeating objections we've already addressed without attempting to interact with what we wrote in response previously.

Jon-Are you referring to this link here:

where you put forward your gross straw man characterizations of the skeptical position as if it entails that gullible people would never consider evidence? And when I asked you to show us where Loftus had argued in that way you resolutely refused to answer, time and time and time and time again, and then finally appealed to something John didn't write until after your gross straw man characterization? Is this the thread where I need to "interact" with what you wrote previously?....Are you here again proceeding with this misrepresnation and denying that Benny Hinn's followers are also concerned about evidence, or are you again very vaguely appealing to a link with lots of comments and asserting that some sort of refutation of my point is contained within it if I'd only look hard enough? If so, where is this supposed refutation? Show me what you said in that link, and how it is a refutation of what I have here.

Another method of obscuring that is even better than pointing to threads (which can be read and shown to be irrelevant) is to point to books that are not readily available to your opponent. We see this also from Jason in various threads, including the very thread I'm currently discussing. He points to a book from Jefford, and when I reply that I don't have the book, so I can't evaluate the claim, he says:

"your unwillingness to consult that book wouldn't refute my citation of it."

Well, OK. But when we can see how fast and loose Jason is with threads which he claims "reply" to arguments I've made, does it really make sense for me to invest in these books which Jason says reply to my claims? What kind of confidence can I put into assertions like that? I'd need to know that Jason is trustworthy when he claims a source refutes my argument, and I find that he is not.


Vinny said...

I periodically get the urge to comment on one of Jason's post, but I usually get over it pretty quickly. Life is too short, particularly when there are so many places where the issues are discussed civilly. (That is also why I don't bother with TheologyWeb.)

BTW, thanks for alerting me to the Habermas article where he discusses his sources. I finally got around to using it in a post on my blog.

Jon said...
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Jon said...

I want to add some additional material that responds to more of the substance of Jason's most recent reply to me.

I had suggested that we don't know exactly what the earliest disciples' views about the resurrection might be. For all we know they held to an unorthodox view. Perhaps a spiritual view. In fact texts attributed to Peter and Paul suggest this with such statements as "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (I Cor 15:50) and that Jesus was "put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit (I Pet 3:18). Early texts attributed to eyewitnesses never make the claim that the eyewitnesses saw Jesus as physically raised. Only later ones (Matthew, John) do.

Jason responded that we should see "more" evidence that they held such a view in the historical record if it were true. I pointed to the Acts of Peter, which has Peter specifically assert that Christ was raised spiritually, not physically.

Not good enough of course for Jason. He needs more. How much should we expect? Under my hypothetical scenario the stream of tradition that ultimately lead to orthodoxy was opposed to the early eyewitnesses. Can we really judge exactly how successful we would expect the orthodox stream to be at creating a false impression of the early eyewitnesses views?

Let's be honest. You can hardly even trust newspaper reporting from today, let alone claims of the powerful orthodox tradition that had a clear agenda of wiping out traces of views they opposed.

My only experience with newspaper reporting was when I was part of the wrestling team in high school. The coach was quoted in a manner that was somewhat embarrassing to the team, and at our next practice he wanted to let us know that he had been badly misquoted. What if multiple newspapers actively tried to portray my coach falsely? Would he have been able to convince us that it was a false portrayal? Maybe not.

Jason's position is that if tradition began ascribing false beliefs and teachings to the early eyewitnesses, they'd have risen up and corrected things. I call this his "myth busters" view. I've shown with the example of Sabbati Sevi that we have examples in history that directly contradict his claims. I've shown repeatedly that Jason's response to this claim completely misses the point. See here and here.

I had also asked why the myth busters didn't appear when the gospel accounts contradicted one another. He says gospel harmonies and other sources did that very thing. Really? Is he talking about Tatian writing in the 5th century? Because I don't think Tatian would qualify as an eyewitness or contemporary. If he's going to appeal to Tatian, why not also appeal to Gleason Archer or Josh McDowell? What we have here are vagueries. We need specifics.

I had provided a link showing that these questions had been asked of Jason before and he didn't attempt a rebuttal. He says that my charge is "false." I post below the contents of his rebuttal to my questions.

Given how much of our material you've ignored, you're not in a position to act as though it would be unreasonable for us to not answer your questions. I doubt that you've made much of an effort to research the issues you asked about. When I addressed your claims about Biblical errors in our discussions on Greg Krehbiel's board, you kept moving on to other alleged errors after the previous ones were addressed, without much of an effort to interact with what I had written. I don't have the time or desire for a repeat of that process.

I say this is not an attempt at a rebuttal. He says it is. You be the judge.

Jason says that it's ridiculous to "compare" the resurrection with details about contradictions. Contradictions in narratives are relatively insignificant, so we might not expect the myth busters to come out for these issues. I don't think the issues such as the day Jesus died or who saw him first would really be insignificant to early Christians. Additionally, we have to evaluate the myth busters claim based upon something, and we obviously can't use the very thing in dispute, because that would involve question begging. The fact is I have concrete examples of where the myth busters would be expected on Jason's view, yet they don't appear. Jason has pure speculation.

Jason says there's far more evidence for belief in the physical resurrection than a non-physical one. Isn't this exactly what we would expect even if the early eyewitnesses didn't hold to this view if the orthodox stream did?

I pointed out that I Cor 15 doesn't tell us that the eyewitnesses experienced Jesus in a physical way. He says that my reading is less natural. The reasons he offers simply do not lead to this conclusion.

Jason claims my positions are already refuted in previous discussions. I've shown above that Jason's claims about others having already been refuted is often just false, and other times obvious to him and those that think like him only and not the rest of the world. I also think he demonstrates poor contact with reality when he makes these types of assertions all the while giving the appearance that he is unaware of his own biases in evaluating these questions. Is he really the best judge of who it is that has been refuted and who hasn't in a debate that he's engaged in?

Jon said...

Yeah, I know what you mean Vinny. I'd prefer to find a place that was more civil, but I find that a lot of places that are more civil also tend to back down a little. Many of my arguments at places like that just go unanswered. So I'm not learning as much. It's not so much that I'm out trying to convert people as it is I just like learning about this stuff.

Jason at Triablogue is pretty tenacious. He doesn't let things go. He at least throws something up in reply. In fact he usually won't allow anyone else to get the last word. So I know I'm going to get something in response. At some point the substance dries up, and it's at that point I know I need to move on if I want to continue to learn, so I do. If I could find some people that were tenacious, but also gracious, that would be ideal.

Vinny said...

And I know what you mean Jon. I want to hear the strongest answer to my argument, too. It would be nice to think they are backing down because my argument is so good but I try to avoid falling into that kind of thinking.

Jon said...
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Jon said...

Jason has gotten lucky. I mistakenly said that Tatian was from the 5th century when in fact he's from the 2nd. Phew. Now Jason has cover to ignore the many errors, misrepresentations, and fallacies that I've documented here and in other posts. He's also pointing to other errors I made long ago. This error doesn't affect my argument about Jason's myth busters view of early Christians, just as my error about the dating of the Easter controversy was irrelevant. This doesn't matter. This is about throwing as much sand as possible into the air and disappearing into the cloud.

I give Jason credit for his knowledge of church history. He knows it better than I do. He does not know logic as well as I do.