• David Marshall’s 144 Errors, Gross Exaggerations, Highly Dubious Claims, and Lack of Comprehension in Critiquing The God Delusion, Part 4

    #63 “All were then copied and recopied, through many different ‘Chinese Whispers generations” . . . (93)

    The scholarly consensus is in fact that the Gospels were written within the plausible life-span of Jesus’ first followers. Even John, probably the last written, was likely written in the 90s, when Jesus’ young disciple might have reached his 80s. There is nothing improbable about reports that the Gospels are based on first-hand and close second-hand information. And there is a great deal of internal evidence — the sort of evidence an author reveals without thinking — that this is so. The early church was a close-knit community, and it probably would have been impossible to circulate these documents without input from eyewitnesses. (See Why the Jesus Seminar can’t find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could)

    Even if you allow for the fact that myths and errors did not creep into any of the stories (as I’ve mentioned previously) it’s unlikely that any of Jesus’ followers were still alive after that time period since the average life span from that period was 46 so it doesn’t seem likely that any of the disciples were alive when the gospels were written. [18]

    #64 Was Jesus a copy-cat myth? “Robert Gillooly shows how all the essential features of the Jesus legend, including the star in the east, the virgin birth, the veneration of the baby by kings, the miracles, the execution, the resurrection and the ascension are borrowed — every last one of them — from other religions already in existence in the Mediterranean and Near East religion.” (94)

    Such theories have been popular since James Fraser included a volume on “dying and rising gods” in his popular late 19th Century classic of confused comparative mythology, The Golden Bough.

    But Jonathan Smith, University of Chicago historian of religion, explained the concept of “dying and rising gods” as follows, in the 1987 version of The Encyclopedia of Religion:

    “The category of dying and rising gods, once a major topic of scholarly investigation, must now be understood to have been largely a misnomer based on imaginative reconstructions and exceedingly late or highly ambiguous texts . . .

    “The category of dying and rising gods, as well as the pattern of its mythic and ritual associations, received its earliest full formulation in the influential work of James G. Frazer The Golden Bough, especially in its two central volumes, The Dying God and Adonis, Attis, Osiris. Frazer offered two interpretations, one euhemerist, the other naturist. In the former, which focused on the figure of the dying god, it was held that a (sacred) king would be slain when his fertility waned. This practice, it was suggested, would be later mythologized, giving rise to a dying god. The naturist explanation, which covered the full cycle of dying and rising, held the deities to be personifications of the seasonal cycle of vegetation. The two interpretations were linked by the notion that death followed upon a loss of fertility, with a period of sterility being followed by one of rejuvenation, either in the transfer of the kingship to a successor or by the rebirth or resurrection of the deity.

    “There are empirical problems with the euhemerist theory. The evidence for sacral regicide is limited and ambiguous; where it appears to occur, there are no instances of a dying god figure. The naturist explanation is flawed at the level of theory. Modern scholarship has largely rejected, for good reasons, an interpretation of deities as projections of natural phenomena.

    “Nevertheless, the figure of the dying and rising deity has continued to be employed, largely as a preoccupation of biblical scholarship, among those working on ancient Near Eastern sacred kingship in relation to the Hebrew Bible and among those concerned with the Hellenistic mystery cults in relation to the New Testament . . . “

    “All the deities that have been identified as belonging to the class of dying and rising deities can be subsumed under the two larger classes of disappearing deities or dying deities. In the first case, the deities return but have not died; in the second case, the gods die but do not return. There is no unambiguous instance in the history of religions of a dying and rising deity.”

    This quote is part of Glenn Miller’s devastating critique of such arguments, “Is Jesus a Copy-Cat Myth?” at www.christian-thinktank.com/copycat.html. It is odd that Dawkins should refer readers to Gillooly, who is not a recognized historian, as his only source; Miller sifts through the scholarship in depth, and devastating.

    Even if these stories predated the Gospels – and in his book, The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? Ronald Nash points out that most do not — showing that one event occurred before another and looks a bit like it, is not enough to demonstrate borrowing. It is common knowledge (Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade) that certain patterns repeat in mythology. As I argue in Jesus and the Religions of Man (9-12 and 259-305), “mythological motifs” are also common in known history. It is therefore no argument against the historicity of an event, that something similar is said to have occurred in a tall tale. (Nash exaggerates unnecessarily in his attempts to deny similarity between the Gospels and pre-Christian myth – his basic point is well-made, though.)

    I cover this argument in some depth in my review of Marshall’s book so I will refrain from dealing with it here.

    #65 What did “begat” mean? “Shouldn’t a literalist worry about the fact that Matthew traces Joseph’s descent from King David via twenty-eight intermediate generations, while Luke has forty-one generations?” (95)

    Not unless the literalist is also ignorant of ancient Hebrew or Greek convention. “X begat (egenneisen) Y” does not necessarily mean direct parentage: “descendent of” is a more accurate translation than “son of.”

    I don’t see how this harms Dawkins’ case since, if the lists are supposed to be describing an accurate story about Jesus and his kin, as apologists would have it, one would think the lists would be very similar but they are not. Not only are the numbers of generations vastly different, but the names are different. I don’t see how arguing that begat means something else changes anything.

    #66 “The four gospels that made it into the official canon were chosen, more or less arbitrarily . . . “ (95)

    The choice was not even remotely arbitrary. There are no other books in the ancient world that resemble the Gospels. No competitors to the canonical four have ever been found, or anything like them in all ancient literature. Texts that are compared to the Gospels, like the “Gospel” of Thomas, Judas, or Mary Magdalene, or Apollonius of Tyana, turn out, on close examination, to be worlds apart. (See Philip Jenkins, Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way, also my Why the Jesus Seminar can’t find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could and The Truth About Jesus and the ‘Lost Gospels.’”)

    Richard Dawkins is entirely correct. Even Christian apologist Josh McDowell agrees with Dawkins! McDowell penned the following list naming the criteria that was likely used to determine whether or not a book made it into the canon:

    1. Is it authoritative?
    2. Is it prophetic?
    3. Is it authentic?
    4. Is it dynamic?
    5. Was it received, collected, read, and used? [19]

    Each of these categories are arbitrary. If all of the gospel writers are anonymous how would those who voted know which ones to trust? All prophecies in the bible have been shown to be false, therefore we can rightfully reject that criteria. With the long time span between the events and their being recorded, as I’ve shown, there was more than enough time for errors or myths to creep into the biblical stories. Dynamic is a purely subjective criteria. Just because something is “dynamic” doesn’t mean it’s true. Finally, just because something is often repeated does not make it true. All these reasons for inclusion into the canon are very bad reasons indeed.

    #67 “out of a larger sample of at least a dozen including the Gospels of Thomas, Peter, Nicodemus, Philip, Bartholomew, and Mary Magdalen.”

    None of the extant writings mentioned here is a “Gospel” in any reasonable sense of the word. The word “Gospel” is used here to group wildly dissimilar texts. See chapter 4 of The Truth About Jesus and the ‘Lost Gospels,’” “There are no Gnostic Gospels,” also my detailed comparison of Thomas and the Gospels in Why the Jesus Seminar can’t find Jesus and Grandma Marshall Could.

    What is remarkable is that skeptics have been able to find no closer parallels than such works to the canonical Gospels. Thomas, the most often cited “parallel,”: (1) is a list of sayings, not a narrative; (2) 40% of which were borrowed from the Gospels, the rest containing little to nothing that even the work’s scholarly fans (like the Jesus Seminar) can honestly say came from Jesus; (3) shows no interest in Hebrew tradition; (4) presents a Jesus who shows no concern for the poor or weak; (5) tells no realistic stories about him; (6) offers no new ethical insights; (7) reveals no connection to 1st Century Palestine; (8) contains no “good news” (which is what “Gospel” means); (9) is clever in a Marin County hot tub philosophical way, but would bore a crowd of Jewish peasants to death; (10) shows Jesus healing no one; (11) nor doing anyone else any good, either; (13) nor ever receiving criticism; (14) nor, of course, dying or rising again.

    Marshall is simply assigning his own biased interpretations as to what a “Gospel” should be. In a similar manner, the criteria in this argument is purely arbitrary, just as the previous argument was. I’ve covered this argument in Marshall’s book.

    #68 Was Thomas Jefferson a time traveler? “It is these additional gospels that Thomas Jefferson was referring to in his letter to his nephew: ‘I forgot to observe, when speaking of the New Testament, that you should read all the histories of Christ, as well as those whom a council of ecclesiastics have decided for us . . . ” (95-96)

    In fact, most of the texts Dawkins mentioned were still buried in the Egyptian desert when Thomas Jefferson allegedly told his nephew to read them. Most would not be discovered until the 20th Century, especially 1945, when the cache at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt was uncovered. Jefferson could not have told his nephew to read any of them, apart from the “Gospel of Nicodemus,” a (mostly) 4th Century and rather inconsequential text that was popular in the Middle Ages.

    A minor error by Dawkins. But again, it hardly does anything to refute his over all point. This is so minor, and is another case of nitpicking, that I’m torn as to whether or not to count it as an error. Technically it is…so I guess I will. We’re now up to error number seven. Out of 68 so far. That’s not very good to say the least.

    #69 Where did you find those stories? “The Gospel of Thomas, for example, has numerous anecdotes about the child Jesus abusing his magical powers in the manner of a mischievous fairy, impishly transforming his playmates into goats, or turning mud into sparrows . . . It will be said that nobody believes crude miracle stories such as those in the Gospel of Thomas anyway . . . ” (96)

    What will be said that Dawkins and his publisher have got the wrong book. These stories appear in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, not in the so-called Gospel of Thomas.

    Marshall is correct. Add one more, though fairly harmless, error to the list, which now rises to a measly number eight.

    #70 Equal status gospels? “But there is no more and no less reason to believe the four canonical gospels.” (96)

    Nonsense. The four Gospels are more than a hundred years earlier. They confirm one another on hundreds of details. They are firmly based in a Jewish context. They offer geographical and physical details about 1st Century Palestine that have been confirmed. They show numerous internal evidences of truthfulness, as I and others have shown in great detail.

    None of these arguments apply to the Gnostic writings. In fact, as I point out, even radical skeptics like Elaine Pagels and the members of the Jesus Seminar sometimes admit to some of the historical advantages of the canonical Gospels implicitly.

    First of all, due to the haphazard way in which the canonical gospels were chosen (as I discussed earlier), who knows which of these teachings may have been the more accurate to what Jesus supposedly taught? Second, the gospels found at Nag Hammadi are not more than a hundred years older than the canonical gospels. According to Elaine Pagels they are dated to no later than 120-150, while the canonical gospels are dated within the time frame of 65-130, with most being dated no earlier than about 80. [20] [21]

    So, some of the Nag Hammadi texts are earlier. In fact, some scholars believe, such as Professor Helmut Koester, that “the collection of sayings in the Gospel of Thomas, although complied c. 140, may include some traditions even older than the gospels of the New Testmament, ‘possibly as early as the second half of the first century’ (50-100) – as early as, or earlier, than Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.” [22]

    Other than some of the general information about Jesus’s life and ministry, a great majority of the gospels are believed to be non-historical. Some scholars reject even those events as being even remotely accurate.

    #71 Are the Gospels legends? “All have the status of legends, as factually dubious as the stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.” (96)

    The claim that the Gospels “have the status of legends” has been decisively refuted. In What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography, Richard Burridge showed that the Gospels actually belong within the genre of bioi, or Greek style biography. His argument has been widely accepted. In Why the Jesus Seminar can’t find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could, (p. 181-201) I show that the Gospels enjoy many advantages even over other bioi, which make them MORE historically plausible, rather than less, than typical biography of the day.

    C. S. Lewis, the “best-read man” of his generation and an expert on myth and fantasy (and a big fan of King Arthur – even including Merlin in one of his space stories), wrote of the Gospel of John:

    “I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this.” (Fernseed and Elephants)

    As I said in the last argument, the gospels may have some historical accuracies. I covered this argument in more detail in my review of Marshall’s book.

    #72 “(The Gospel writers) almost certainly never met Jesus personally.” (96)

    This is by no means “almost certain.” As I pointed out above, almost all scholars place the writing of the four Gospels within the plausible lifespan of Jesus’ first followers. The early Christian community was small and close-knit. Mark could easily have been the young man mentioned towards the end of his Gospel, as many scholars think. John very likely was involved in the writing of the Gospel that bares his name — “beloved disciple” may well be his signature. Authorship cannot be proven, but both seem likely, and there is no positive reason to dismiss tradition in either case.

    On the contrary, as I showed earlier, evidence based upon average life spans casts serious doubt upon this claim. Second, Marshall’s appeal to tradition is an ignorant source of information. History has shown that the first Christians were not close-knit, but often argued with one another about which were the actual teachings of Jesus. This is why so many different sects developed even within the first few hundred years. [23]

    #73 “Much of what they wrote was in no sense an honest attempt at history . . . ” (96)

    Dawkins does not explain how he knows this. In fact, the Gospels bare numerous marks of being honest reports. Given the many internal markers of honesty — the willingness to show Jesus doing and saying embarrassing things, the harsh rhetoric directed at him, the inimitable genius of his language, and other markers I and others point to, at best Dawkins’ claim is dubious.

    Again, as I noted previously, Marshall is doing nothing but creating his own subjective categories that do not come anywhere close to proving that something is historically reliable. This is also known to be largely false. I cover this in my review of Marshall’s book.

    #74 Is the New Testament seen as reliable? “Although Jesus probably existed, reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the New Testament . . . as a reliable record of what actually happened in history.” (97)

    This is an exaggeration: some do, some don’t. And for those who don’t, as I show in my “Jesus Seminar book,” the skepticism often turns on a priori assumptions about the nature of reality, not on careful study of the evidence. I describe twelve assumptions that hobble members of the Jesus Seminar in the “search for the historical Jesus: “dogmatic naturalism, incoherent postmodernism, blinding prejudice, errors in understanding Christianity, confusion about time, trust in unreliable sources, poor logic, failure to engage contrary views, doubtful methods, literary dullness, tunnel vision, and use of false dichotomies.” (Why the Jesus Seminar can’t find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could, Introduction) Pagels and Erhman also fall victim to some of these misconceptions.

    Talk about a priori assumptions! If anyone is guilty of this it’s Marshall!

    It seems to me that Marshall is simply asking essentially the same question over and over here about the reliability of the gospels. I believe he does this just to arrive at an inflated number of “errors.” I’ve already addressed this in my review of Marshall’s book.

    #75 Are the Gospels pure fiction? The Da Vinci Code “Is indeed fabricated from start to finish: invented, made-up fiction. In that respect, it is exactly like the gospels. The only difference between The Da Vinci Code and the gospels is that the gospels are ancient fiction while The Da Vinci Code is modern fiction.”

    Not even Pagels, Ehrman, or Vermes go nearly so far. One clue that Dawkins’ is allowing his eloquence to run away with him is the fact that he has admitted the “probable” historical reality of Jesus. He presumably does not make that claim for Robert Langdon, the character played by Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code.

    See my comments about number 74.

    #76 What has history done to the New Testament since the 19th Century? “My whole worldview was condemned as ‘nineteenth century.’ A distinguished Cambridge geologist . . . justified his own Christian belief by invoking what he called the historicity of the New Testament. It was precisely in the 19th Century that theologians, especially in Germany, called into grave doubt that alleged historicity, using the evidence-based methods of history to do so. This was, indeed, swiftly pointed out by the theologians at the Cambridge conference.”

    Dawkins says theology has made no progress in 19 centuries. But here again, he tries to hitch a ride on the bandwagon of theological progressives.

    At the dawn of the 21st Century, N. T. Wright, whom Marcus Borg describes as the leading New Testament scholar in Britain, and philosopher Raymond Martin says offers “by far the most sophisticated” approach to history among early Christian scholars, and who taught at both Oxford and Cambridge, published 700 + pages of “evidence-based history” in the form of a book called The Resurrection of the Son of God. This book, and the ones that precede it or parallel it from historians who have come to similar conclusions, does not represent a return to a naive pre-modern orthodoxy, but a modern challenge that no appeal to 19th Century arguments (with which Wright is intimately familiar) are likely to assuage.

    Dawkins’ views about the New Testament do, indeed, require updating.

    This is ridiculous. Marshall cites a book by N. T. Wright about the historical reliability of the resurrection story as “proof” about the “true” history of Christianity. Wright’s book attempts to answer whether or not the resurrection actually happened and what Christians believed about this event. This is not history; it’s apologetics. The book edited by Robert M. Price and Jeffery Jay Lowder called The Empty Tomb does an excellent job of refuting these claims, including several by N. T. Wright himself.

    #77 “Unlike the cult of Jesus, the origins of which are not reliably attested . . . “

    Actually, they are. See Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.

    Strangely enough, Marshall provides no citation for this quote so it took me a little while to track it down but, as usual, this is another example of Marshall’s nitpicking. This stub of a quote can be found on page 202 of the 2006 hardback edition. This is where Dawkins uses the “cargo cults” as a modern day example of how fast a religion can develop out of mere myths and stories in order to demonstrate how Christianity could have also developed. Marshall hasn’t even bothered to tackle the main point of the argument, and he has once again blindly relied on an apologetic book as his source.

    I don’t have access to Blomberg’s book so I’m unfortunately unable to provide a rebuttal to his argument, but knowing how a typical apologist might answer the question I have no doubt that it’s faulty.

    #78 Was Jesus one of many legends? “Indeed, scholars such as Geza Vermes, Professor of Jewish studies at Oxford University, have suggested that Jesus was one of many such charismatic figures who emerged in Palestine around his time, surrounded by similar legends.”

    Strenuous efforts have been made to locate “similar legends,” but have failed. (See Philip Jenkin’s Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way, also my Why the Jesus Seminar can’t find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could, p. 141-201, also the chapter on John Crossan)

    The failure to find any parallel to Jesus that is remotely persuasive carries enormous implications, the flip side of which Dawkins points out. If another Jesus could be found, that would be a great victory for skepticism. But what if, the more one looks, the more the gap between Jesus and all ancient sages and healers grows? That, I argue, is what modern research on Jesus and his times has really revealed.

    I’ve covered this argument pretty extensively in my review of Marshall’s book.

    #79 Do Christians care about the historical Jesus? “Adherents of scriptural authority show distressingly little curiosity about the (normally highly dubious) historical origins of their holy books.” (233)

    Here we have two gross exaggerations. First, books on the “historical Jesus” sell pretty well; in some cases, better than they deserve. Secondly, it is a gross exaggeration to say “holy books” are “normally highly dubious.” Which ones? The Analects of Confucius? Letter to the Galatians? The Bhagavad Gita? No careful observer would generalize so glibly about so diverse a collection of texts: each has to be taken on its own historical merits, which at times are considerable.

    I have no idea what book Marshall was reading when he made the above comments but it wasn’t The God Delusion. On the cited page Dawkins is discussing how patriotism taken too far can blind a person just as badly as religion can cause a person to blindly kill for their leaders. He compares this with the authority of religions’ “holy books” and contrasts this with the fact that secular authorities sometimes convince people to kill. Dawkins mentions that if only people would think about how their books came to be they might not take them so seriously and kill, and commit other immoral acts, because of them. In addition, where did Marshall get Jesus from? Dawkins never even mentioned Jesus on that entire page.

    #80 Was heaven a useful tool of oppression for slave owners? “It is surely true that black slaves in America were consoled by promises of another life, which blunted their dissatisfaction with this one and thereby benefited their owners.” (169)

    It is unlikely this occurred to most slave owners. Colonial Quakers were heavily fined for trying to convert slaves. In Catholic colonies, where slaves were allowed to become Christian, they were treated with far more leniency than in British colonies. (Stark, For the Glory of God, 314-6. Also see The Truth Behind the New Atheism, 144-8, on the role Christianity played in the ending of slavery.) In The Christianization of Slaves in the West Indies, Jeffrey Padgett points out that Christian faith was seen as a threat to British slave owners there:

    Yet for resistance to succeed, the slaves needed to share some common values. Those slaves who were able to convert to Christianity were able to create such a bond through a common religion. In turn, this unity served as a way to resist the atrocities the plantation owners imposed on them. Thus, for many slaves, Christianization served as a means of resistance throughout the period of the slave trade . . .

    While some West Indian slaves opposed European Christianity, many more would eventually come to adopt and adapt at least some of its elements. Missionaries from the Moravians, the Baptists, and the Methodists all engaged in the process of Christianization in the West Indies. By the middle of the eighteenth century, Moravian chapels and mission houses were in populated areas of many of the British-controlled islands. Missionaries argued to planters that slaves needed religion and that planters too would benefit from the conversion.

    However, many planters felt that the conversion of their slaves would jeopardize their own position of power. Richard Ligon’s firsthand account of planter life in the West Indies reveals evidence of this feeling as early as the mid-eighteenth century. His account, A True and Exact History of the island of Barbados, contains a passage where Ligon is speaking to a planter about his wishes to convert one of the planters slaves (Sambo) to Christianity.

    “I promised to do my best endeavor; and when I came home, spoke to the master of the plantation, and told him, that poor Sambo desired much to be a Christian. But his answer was, ‘The people of the island are governed by the laws of England, and by those laws, we could not make a Christian a slave. I told him, ‘My request was far different from that, for I desired to make a slave a Christian.’ His answer was, ‘That it was true, There was a great difference in that,’: But, being once a Christian, he could no more account him a slave, and so lose the hold they had of them as slaves, by making them Christians; and by that means should open such a gap, as all the planters in the island would curse him. So I was struck mute, and poor Sambo kept out of the Church.”

    The planters who opposed the conversion of their slaves feared the possibilities of a Christianized slave, and resented the idea of sharing their religion with a heathen. During the era of the slave trade, many whites claimed that slaves were not capable of understanding Christianity. However, many were afraid that if their slaves received education they would demand their rights as human beings. For slaves to be kept in bondage, they needed to be kept in ignorance. And so, many planters believed that the teaching of Christianity would undermine the whole institution of slavery. The planters who were cruel and barbarous towards their slaves feared conversion the most. They feared the vengeance of their slaves if a revolt were to take place. Those who lived in the West Indies had witnessed the Haitian Revolution where the white French population on the island had been wiped out by rebelling blacks. The planters feared that this could happen on their island if slaves were given the notion of equality through religion, or the promise that eternal life awaited those martyred to the cause of freedom and equality on earth.

    Many planters who opposed conversion also did so because they resented missionaries. Christianized slaves sometimes looked to white missionaries for protection when their master was angry with them. Female slaves in particular faced sexual advances from their masters. Those who had internalized European Christianity’s ideas about sexual purity now had another reason to reject such advances, even at the risk of infuriating violent white men. Often, females would seek the support of the missionaries and some preachers in turn denounced the planter, sometimes publicly, as a sinner and a rapist. This sort of activity brought violence down on some missions. Notable islands where persecutions of missions and Christianized slaves occurred include Dutch St. Eustatius and British St. Vincent. Both islands suffered for many years and the violence there included public floggings and hanging of converted slaves.

    I cite an essay by Hector Avalos that refutes all of Marshall’s arguments about slavery in my review of his book.

    From what I’ve read about slavery and Christianity (and I’ve read quite a bit), the Christianization of slaves was common in the West Indies and they often did this in order to make the slaves more submissive. One of the sources Marshall cites is actually a tiny essay titled The Christianization of Slaves in the West Indies and it is literally only ten paragraphs long and I can find no information about Jeffrey Padgett’s credentials so I’m highly skeptical of this source. [24] I have no idea how reliable the books were that Padgett gleaned his information from. The books in his bibliography are very much out of date with the latest one being 1989 and the earliest 1673. Clearly, historical investigation into the practice of slavery has advanced since then.

    Regardless, the fact is that Marshall is flat out wrong about Christianity not being used to make slaves more submissive. Allow me to quote David Brion Davis:

    “Even most English opponents of the abolitionists approved the Christianization of slaves, and even the bishop of London thought that slaves should be taught how to read and thus gain access to the Bible. And as the London Missionary Society recruited young artisans like John Smith to spread the word of God among the ‘heathen’ in Demerara and other forbidding colonies, the young evangelical missionaries were exhorted to teach all slaves to obey their masters and to never in any way endanger the public ‘peace’ and ‘safety.’” [25]

    Furthermore, here is more evidence of that which Marshall ignorantly denies. In a book consulted by many plantation owners, Cotton Plantation Record and Account Book, it suggests to overseers that, “You will find that an hour devoted every Sabbath morning to their moral and religious instruction would prove a great aid to you in bringing about a better state of things amongst the Negroes.” [26]

    The conclusion is clear. Christianity was promoted to make slaves more submissive as Dawkins rightly argues.

    #81 “Christianity, too was spread by the sword, wielded first by Roman hands after the Emperor Constantine raised it from eccentric cult to official religion, then by the Crusaders, and later by the conquistadores and other European invaders and colonists . . . ” (37)

    This qualifies as gross exaggeration, with some truth, and a lot of error, mixed in.

    Stark argues in The Rise of Christianity that about a tenth of the Roman population had embraced Christianity by the time of Constantine. The Pro-Christian policies of later emperors – not so much Constantine himself – corrupted the church, but in the following centuries, converts still mostly came into it willingly, not under duress. While acts of force were sometimes employed to spread the faith in Europe (most notably by Charlemagne), the primary vehicles of conversion were (1) preaching and (2) marriage, especially of Christian women to pagan kings. (See Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion.)

    The Crusades were not undertaken to spread Christianity, but to defend Greece against 400 years of Muslim attack, and maintain an open corridor for pilgrims to the Holy Land. (Read for example the speech of Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont, available in The First Crusade: The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Material.)

    During colonial times, only rarely was Christianity spread by the sword. (For example, in Goa in India.) Sometimes colonial powers BANNED Christian missionaries. Dr. Rochunga Pudaite notes that in the hills of Northeast India, where he grew up,

    “Most Indians who have been told that the colonial rulers wanted to convert us will find it incredible and incomprehensible, but it is true that the British rulers burnt the bamboo churches my father had built, and banned taking freewill offerings to support pastors.” (Introduction to Vishal Mangalwadi, The Way to Dignity and Liberty.)

    With few exceptions (the conquistadores perhaps the most notorious – gold and the quarrel with Islam seemed to have warped their thinking), Christianity has spread peacefully, or in the teeth of violent opposition.

    I agree that part of the motivation of the Crusades was to gain back stolen lands, but some of them were clearly used to spread Christianity. According to Christopher Tyerman, an authority on Medieval History, the Baltic Crusades during the second Crusade were used to spread Christianity, despite “the Christian prohibition on forced conversion.” [27]

    Another expert on the Crusades, Thomas Asbridge, explains how conversion wasn’t “an essential element of crusading ideology” at first, but later on it did play its role, as Tyerman explains above. [28]

    #81 Is the Irish conflict purely religious? “In Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants are euphemized to ‘Nationalists’ and ‘Loyalists’ respectively.” (21)

    It is no “euphemism” to call the combatants in Northern Ireland “nationalists” and “loyalists.” One side favors the cause of Irish nationalism, the other is loyal to Great Britain. Many of the protagonists were not even religious: one “Protestant” ex-terrorist told me he and his terrorist friends had only ever used the name of God to swear. When he became a Christian in prison, both “Catholics” and “Protestants” turned against him. The old joke about “Protestant atheists” and “Catholic atheists” (which Dawkins himself refers to later) was not just a joke.

    This is not to say religion had nothing to do with the struggle; but to refer to “nationalists” and “loyalists” in northern Ireland is to make out there was no tribal or national issues involved as well – though they were at least as important, if not more so.

    Marshall has goofed on his numbering and listed 81 twice, but to make things easier on me I will continue with Marshall’s numbering system.

    I would agree that there are political issues interwoven with the religious issues, however there are distinct religious issues at play. [29] Marshall did not seem to read Dawkins’ book very well since on page 259 Dawkins mentions these conflicts and admits to the partially non-religious aspects of these conflicts.

    #82 What should a public polemicist learn from rude critics? “I receive a large number of letters from readers of my books, most of them enthusiastically friendly, some of them helpfully critical, a few nasty or even vicious. And the nastiest of all, I am sorry to report, are almost invariably motivated by religion.”

    If Dawkins says he is sorry that the most abusive letters he receives are from believers, let’s be charitable and assume he really is sorry. Given that he spends the next two pages quoting gleefully from nasty letters to atheists (“I’d love to take a knife . . . “), one suspects his sorrow is not unmitigated.

    What is surprising is that the world’s most famous atheist seems to want us to draw a conclusion about Christians from the fact that a few daft believers have sent him angry correspondence.

    Who does he suppose sends hate mail to Christians who argue against atheism?

    Here’s a bit of feedback I received recently:

    “You are a pathetic idiot who understands neither Christianity, science or is capable of logic. You are a vile, evil person who lies and cheats for a dollar. If there is a hell (which there isn’t), you’ll surely rot there.”

    And here’s another, with more sense of romance, though the author has a proven tendency to try to destroy those he criticizes:

    “It’s a pity that I can’t employ capital punishment to cure permanently your delusional mind, preferably by offering you as potential chow to a hungry python, crocodile or Ken Ham’s T. rex (If Ham ever succeeds in cloning one.).”

    I’m not as well-known as Richard Dawkins, of course. If he has to quote letters to his skeptical friends to fluff out his pages of Christian stupidity, then people are being much nicer to radical critics of Christianity than they are to relatively mild critics of the “New Atheism.” I’m not making a case against atheism in general based on the anger of a few bitter and pathetic people, however.

    I agree that people on both sides of this debate sometimes get emotional and sometimes say things in the heat of the moment. However, something I’ve noticed about atheists and Christians is that the Christians usually throw the first insult and are much more nasty than atheists in general. Of course this is just from my personal experience and what I’ve heard from others, but it’s still a viable source of information at least to a degree.Finally, I’d say this is clearly another case of nitpicking.

    #83 Do atheists ever blow up cultural icons? “I do not think there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca — or Chartres, York Minster or Notre Dame, the Shwe Dagon, the temples of Kyoto or, of course, the Buddhas of Bamiyan.” (249)

    In response, let me direct Dr. Dawkins to the 20th Century. Obscure the century of our birth may seem to him, but he would do well to attend to it. The Chinese are still cleaning up from the “Red Guards,” radical followers of Mao and vocal atheists if any ever walked the earth. The Red Guards did their best to destroy thousands of years of Chinese religious treasure. I’ve photographed a few instances of that destruction on visits to China: old temples and churches were particularly hard-hit. (Some are still being used for warehouses, apartments, or hospitals.)

    Nor, of course, did Soviet atheists keep their hands of the priceless artistic and spiritual treasures of Mother Russia.

    I’d have to agree with Marshall here. Amazing. He’s managed to find nine genuine errors.

    18. Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False?, by Richard Carrier, Chapter 7, Footnote # 31 – accessed 4-10-12

    19. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, Vol. 1, by Josh McDowell, Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1979; 29

    20. The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels, Random House, 1979; xvi

    21. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ – accessed 4-10-12

    22. The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels; xvii

    23. The Faith: A History of Christianity, by Brian Moynahan, Doubleday, 2002

    24. The Christianization of Slaves in the West Indies – accessed 4-10-12

    25. Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World, by David Brion Davis, Oxford University Press, 2006; 215

    26. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present, by Howard Zinn, Harper Perennial, 2005; 177

    27. The Crusades: A Very Short Introduction, by Christopher Tyerman, Oxford University Press, 2005; 47

    28. The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land, by Thomas Asbridge, Ecco, 2011; 38

    29. Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence across Culture and History, by Jack David Eller, Prometheus Books, 2010; 228-232

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist