Saturday, August 16, 2008

The bizarre world of Christian apologetics

Glenn Miller is a Christian apologist, and his articles are often cited on the Internet as refuting sceptics.

It is interesting to see just what utterly bizarre and stupid things Christian apologists will say in their determination to defend their beliefs.

Here are two stories from a Holy Text.

The first is from Chapter 2 Verse 249 of the Quran , which is about the first king of Israel, called Talut in the Quran.

So when Talut departed with the forces, he said: Surely Allah will try you with a river; whoever then drinks from it, he is not of me, and whoever does not taste of it, he is surely of me, except he who takes with his hand as much of it as fills the hand; but with the exception of a few of them they drank from it.

So when he had crossed it, he and those who believed with him, they said: We have today no power against Jalut and his forces. Those who were sure that they would meet their Lord said: How often has a small party vanquished a numerous host by Allahs permission, and Allah is with the patient.

Here is the second story from a Holy Text.

It is from Judges 7:4-7 Read it and see if you can spot any similarities with the Islamic story.

Then the Lord said to Gideon, "The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Therefore it shall be that he of whom I say to you, 'This one shall go with you,' he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, 'This one shall not go with you,' he shall not go."

So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, "You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink." Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water.

And the Lord said to Gideon, "I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home."

There are quite a lot of similarities, aren't there?

Now let us enter the bizarre world of Christian apologetics.

Glenn Miller writes 'As a matter of fact, the ONLY points of continuity are (1) the mention of a 'hand' (even there it is used quite differently in each story!); and (2) the general motif that God can take on large armies with smaller armies (a general pan-cultural theme in no way implying borrowing!). At most we have a very vague similarity with the biblical passage.'

Yes, Christian apologists can read the two passages and declare that there is a very vague similarity and the only things they have in common are the mention of a hand and that God can take on large armies with smaller armies.

This is just totally bizarre, verging on the weird, yet Glenn Miller is recommended to me by many Christians!

The conclusion? Christian apologists are as nutty as a fruitcake.

Only a total dingbat, who has lost contact with reality, can read those two stories and say the only things in common are the mention of a hand and God taking on larger armies with smaller armies.

Of course, if you have to defend stories where the Creator of the Universe thinks a suitable test for people is if they lap water with their tongue , rather than cupping water with their hands, then losing contact with reality is easy to do.

Can anybody read the story from Judges without laughing at the idea that this is an inspired work, Holy Scripture that God wanted people to write and read?


Blogger James Garth said...

OK, for the record, here's Miller's complete article:

It's worth noting that elsewhere in the article, (in his notes made on May 23, 1999) Miller expands and clarifies his thoughts considerably beyond the short quote in bold which you have selectively provided.

I will attempt to paraphrase his thoughts as follows. Miller seems to wish to argue that:

1) The Talut passage is not a straight one-for-one borrowing of the Gideon passage

2) There are reminisces of the Gideon passage, but that these appear to have been modified by other borrowings.

3) That the 'hand' element does not provide adequate warrant to infer such borrowing by itself.

4) That the issue of Islamic borrowing from Jewish scripture and culture (including rabbinic tradition beyond the OT) is a fascinating and complex one, and that the possibility that the passage is a 'confusion' of the stories (implying some borrowings and definite modification or faulty memory) ought to be considered.

So, in general, I would be content to say that I concur with Miller's overall analysis, as paraphrased above.

However, I would disagree with him slightly regarding point 3), which
attempts to downplay the parallels due to the presence of the 'drinking from the hand' element.

This is a rather moot point. In point of fact I actually think that Miller understates the degree of similarity that exists. Obviously, far more than just the 'hand' element is present in this passage. (the river, the mass drinking, the culling of a large party to a small one, for example).

Personally, I find the hypothesis that the passage was constructed from an oral rabbinic tradition parallel to the OT to have some merit. Such a hypothesis would plausibly explain why much of the material in the Qur'an bears resemblance to the earlier Abrahamic traditions, yet diverges at several key points. It's an issue worth investigating further.

I must say though, I find Steve's conclusion that Miller is a "dingbat" to be puzzling.

I urge the casual reader to examine Miller's complete article in depth and then make an informed decision as to whether Miller is, in fact, as "nutty as a fruitcake".

Steve may find it difficult to accept that intelligent and qualified people can review the same source material, yet make different inferences and come to different conclusions, but such is the nature of philosophical and historical inquiry. Again, I urge the passer-by to read through Miller's methodology and determine whether the claim that he is "utterly bizarre and stupid" holds up under scrutiny.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

For the record, I also had given the link to Miller's article. James does not need to imply I never had.

Even James , who praised Miller's article, can see that it is totally wrong that the only things the two stories have in common are 1) the mention of a hand and 2) the idea that God can take on bigger armies with larger armies.

Anybody who can read can see that anybody who thought that was a dingbat.

Miller does indeed waffle and contradict himslef.

Miller claims there are 'some borrwowings', when the idiot also said 'the details are not even remotely close enough to suggest literary borrowing'.

How utterly bizarre and stupid!

But Miller had to deny parallels in the Muslim passage, because he had to deny the equally obvious parallels in Miracles in the New Testament

So the rest of his article is also an application in denying the obvious.

1:30 AM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

For example, Miller claims the parallels between the New Testament miracle stories are grossly exaggerated and then claims 'There is all the reason in the world for Him to deliberately emulate OT stories, when the appropriate occasion arose, and this would certainly be no exception.'

Guess what?

Miller claims the parallels to Old Testament do not exist and that Jesus deliberately emulated the Old Testament stories.

What a dingbat!

1:32 AM  
Blogger Caleb Woodbridge said...

So we can't believe a story in the Book of Judges because the Quran may have plagiarised it? That argument seems the wrong way round to me...

Your point about applying consistent principles when evaluating whether a religious text has been plagiarised is in principle a good one, but there are plenty of reasons why we might expect Jesus' miracles to be similar to miracles in the Old Testament other than plagiarism, reasons that won't necessarily apply

If there is a God who remains the same, then we can expect that he might act in similar ways at different times, so that God should miraculously multiply food on more than one occasion in the Bible doesn't in itself suggest plagiarism.

If Jesus is the Son of God, then it would make sense for him to do miracles that identified him with God as revealed in the Jewish scriptures and with the patriarchs and prophets. Jesus would have good reason to emulate Old Testament miracles and actions in order to identify himself as the Messiah of Israel, the true prophet sent by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Also, it's not surprising that the Gospel writers would want to highlight these parallels by using similar language to record these miracles, to reinforce this very same point. That they carefully constructed their Gospels to communicate spiritual meanings needn't mean that these stories weren't based on eyewitness testimony - any reporter chooses the material they include and the way in which they present it to convey a certain "angle", whether they're editing live video footage in a modern newsroom or selecting stories gathered from eyewitnesses to Jesus' miracles in the first century.

Other differences exist between the New Testament and other religious writings. Whereas the Christian doctrine of inspiration is that the Bible is both divinely inspired and also written by human writers through their personality, perspective, knowledge etc., it's entirely in keeping with this that the NT writers would refer to the translation of the Bible they were familiar with, the Septugaint. Mormons claim that the Book of Mormon was revealed directly from heaven on gold plates, and was copied down by Joseph Smith, and so has no place for God to speak through a particular human being, and so the Book of Mormon's reliance on the KJV is not consistent with the Mormon view of the origins of their sacred book.

Applying the same principles to the New Testament and other religious texts still shows the New Testament to have more integrity as a piece of historical reportage.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

So all those people remembered to bring barley bread, and to fall at the feet of Jesus because that is what happened in the OT, and they wanted to help Jesus act out the OT stories?

And the bystanders knew to be ' astonished with all astonishment' where people in the OT were astonished, and to fear with great fear where people in the OT feared with great fear?

I guess Jesus must have handed out scripts to people to help him act out these OT stories.

And Jesus knew he had to sleep before a calming of a storm because Jonah was asleep before a storm was calmed?

While the disciples knew they had to start talking like characters from Jonah, otherwise Jesus would not have been able to prove he was God?

All this is just an insult to the intelligence.

As much an insult to the intelligence as claims that Joseph Smith piously translated the scriptures he was given into the only religious language he knew - that of the KJV.

How can people believe all this garbage?

9:08 AM  
Blogger James Garth said...

I think we agree on the point that Miller understates the similarities in the Talmut/Gideon passage. (point 3)

Where we disagree is the remainder of the analysis. (points 1-4). I think that these points seem quite reasonable on their own merits.

With regards to Jesus' potential emulation of OT miracles (or 'echoes' as it has been put), Miller's article makes two essential points; firstly that the degree of similarity is not so straightforward as to postulate a direct lifting from the OT as the 'obvious' solution. His analysis seems sensible to me; there are similarities, but there are discontinuities too, and these are highlighted and evaluated.

His second point is that there exists a wide list of potential live options for accounting for the similarities (at one point he provides a list of seven options). That Jesus sought to deliberately echo the OT in order to enhance his messianic claims is but one of these options. I agree that it is reasonable to leave this one on the table in any analysis.

Given these complexities, I certainly don't believe that any cognitive dissonance need exist in drawing different conclusions regarding the origin of the story in the Qur'an and the origin of the miracle stories in the NT. It is quite possible that the former may be a mild confusion of an earlier OT story based on a parallel rabbinic tradition. It's equally possible that the NT miracles may have occurred precisely as they are presented, and that Jesus' motivation for doing so may well have been to echo the OT (in addition, it must be said, to introducing a proliferation of completely new phenomena, for example the multiple exorcisms that exist in the Markan account. Clearly these were not 'lifted' from the OT, so I'd be interested in your thoughts as to their origin)

Based purely on the evidence we have in front of us, I see nothing preventing someone coming to such a conclusion.

Finally, if I may make a suggestion, have you considered the possibility that throwing around rhetorical quips like 'dingbat' actually may serve to indirectly undermine your hypotheses rather than enhance them? It's the sort of thing I might expect to hear from a thirteen year old posting on youtube, but certainly not from a respected scholar in the mould of a Ruse, Martin or Nielsen. Surely you must agree that it's hardly the paragon of civilized scholarly discourse!


12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have to say i agree with James here - it's very undermining to your argument. If you decide to engage with people like Glenn Miller, then this implies a certain respect… otherwise you wouldn’t even bother to engage with them. So to then through out rhetoric like ‘dingbat’ in essence… ‘you’re all nut cases’ , implies a desperation in your argument, which isn’t needed. Because, I actually agree with your analysis. But unless you can show respect to your opponent, then you are forever preaching to the choir

3:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

… like it or not there are more intelligent people than you or me who believe that the Bible, Koran, Torah etc etc are literal and reliable reportage.

I think your critic of NT Wright/Miller is a useful contribution to the debate … but I think the bigger issue is along the lines of … OK Mr Wright … what happens if im not as smart as you, and can’t realize that the bible is reliable? Does that exclude me from grace? Or should I just accept the bible.. even though im unconvinced? Should I lower my reliability criteria ? in which case whats to stop me accepting Koran, scientology etc etc? is becoming a Christian just a mater of being smart enough to realize the bible is reliable…. ? hmmm

3:31 AM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

I think somebody is a dingbat who can read those two passages and declare that the only things they have in common are 1) a hand and 2) small armies taking on larger armies.

Sorry if that is too honest for you.

3:41 AM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

The Christian defenses are
1) Jesus deliberately copied the OT miracles to show he was god
2) Some miracles are not obvious copies, so they can't be fake stories.

Producing 2 different, contradictory defenses is called 'making it all up as you go along'

There is no rationale here, other than a naked desire to say anything at all which defends the anonymous, unprovenance stories in the believer's chosen Holy Text.

3:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It’s nothing to do with honesty, it’s to do with respect. Dingbat is just another way of saying moron or idiot – its not descriptive, its just flinging insults.

It is possible to disagree with Mr Carr, and still be sane.

Issac Newton believed that a man called Jesus Christ, turned water to wine and made the lame walk. Dingbat? Give me an example of a Christian who you don’t think it’s a Dingbat, and why

4:58 AM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...


Anybody who can look at those 2 passages and say that they only have in common a hand and small army taking on a bigger army is a moron.

But of course, Miller is not a moron.

He is simply a denier, in the same category as a Holocaust-denier.

And like Holocaust-deniers, his job is to deny the obvious, no matter how absurd it makes him look.

6:01 AM  

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