Fractally Wrong

Have you ever noticed that it takes longer to correct someone who made a mistake than it took to actually make that mistake?

I think that’s why Thom Stark’s Review of Paul Coban’s Is God a Moral Monster? runs to 300+ pages, while the original book was only 252.

Coincidentally, this is the book that William Lane Craig held up in his debate against Sam Harris.

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The Oceanic Feeling
Bob Cargill on the Holy Grail
You Can't Keep a Bad Man Down
  • Mike

    Wow, Thom really took him to task… well, done. I saw Craig mention this book in his debate with Harris but didn’t have the chance to check it out. Good to know the rebuttal leg work has already been done!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    252 pages to say “YES”? He must have used a very large font.

  • The Other Weirdo

    My irony meter exploded. Right at the beginning, in the introduction, he commits the act that Richard Dawkins has accused apologists of committing. That is to say, he complains that people(New Atheists) are critiquing some weird, never followed or believed interpretation of the bible such as what’s written in the actual bible, as opposed to some lofty theology of men who have dedicated their whole lives to studying. He’s got it wrong, of course; it’s the other way around. The average Joe on the street doesn’t care about Baruch Halpern or Frank Moore Cross(the two names listed in the pdf), only the actual words in the Bible, and even that imperfectly.

    • Thom

      Other Weirdo,

      Your comment displays a great deal of misunderstanding, and completely mischaracterizes what I’ve said.

      You write, “he complains that people (New Atheists) are critiquing some weird, never followed or believed interpretation of the bible such as what’s written in the actual bible.”

      I absolutely did not say that. You’re putting words into my mouth. What I said is that the New Atheists’ criticisms of the Bible are very superficial compared to the criticisms leveled by critical biblical scholars.

      You continue, “as opposed to some lofty theology of men who have dedicated their whole lives to studying.”

      Again, that’s not at all what I said. Frank Moore Cross and Baruch Halpern are NOT theologians. They are biblical critics. They’re not in the business of defending the Bible, or the faith, or fancifully salvaging some sort of theology from the text. They are reading the texts as historians read texts, and are displaying all the elements (ideological and otherwise) at play in the texts’ composition. So again, you’ve mischaracterized my statements.

      My point was that the New Atheists’ criticisms of the Bible are only superficial; they remain on the level of the untrained reader. The REAL criticisms of the Bible, from trained scholars who know the comparative material, go MUCH deeper than the criticisms leveled by the New Atheists, and are much more problematic for the faith. My point was that the fact that Copan only addresses the superficial criticisms of the New Atheists, and totally ignores the serious criticisms of real ancient Near Eastern scholars, shows that Copan is in over his head and is looking for an easy win, which, as I also said, he failed to do even against the superficial criticisms of the New Atheists.

      I’m well aware that the “average Joe on the street doesn’t care about Baruch Halpern or Frank Moore Cross. In fact, that’s precisely what I said. People only read the popular critics, not the serious ones. But it’s the criticisms of the serious ones that Copan really needs to overcome if he hopes to defend the Bible.

      I’m not picking on the New Atheists. I don’t fault them for not being biblical scholars. I’m picking on Copan for taking the easy way out.

      • Jabster

        Can you define New Atheists for me?

        • Thom

          I was just going by Copan’s use. Dawkins, Hitchens.

          My review has nothing to do with the New Atheists. This is just like a paragraph from the intro, because Copan framed his book as a response to them.

          • Jabster

            Examples are not a defintion … if you’re going to use the term New Atheists several times in your post then I would expect you to be able to provide a defintion of what one is.

            • Thom

              I have no stake in defending the appropriateness of the term New Atheists. I’m just using it as Copan is using it. I don’t really care. Forgive me if you find it disagreeable. It really has nothing to do with my review.

            • Jabster

              I’m almost saying sorry here for being snarky (that’s the term used in the US is it not?) … but I get a bit peeved whenever I see terms bandy about like that … :-)

            • Thom

              I understand!

      • The Other Weirdo

        Perhaps I have misunderstood your meaning, and for that I apologize. On rereading the first paragraph on Page 5, I find myself unable to fully reconcile what I read there versus your response to me, above. I understand what you wanted to say, I’m just not sure you succeeded in that particular paragraph. Note that I’m only talking about that one paragraph and your response to my post, not the entirety of your article. Or perhaps I shouldn’t comment so soon after three hours worth of meetings.

        That said, however, I’m not convinced that the “New Atheists”–a strange term in any case–are in any way less qualified to level judgement against the bible(OT and NT) that scholars who dedicate their lives to studying–and critiquing–the bible in all its myriad forms, nor are their criticisms less deserving of consideration than those of the experts.

        We can all read the bible, from beginning to the end, all the passages without censorship, as easily as Richard Dawkins or Frank Moore Cross. Perhaps Mr. Cross has a deeper understanding of the bible than the rest of us, but the point still stands. Average Joe on the street doesn’t care. He reads the bible(if he even reads it) like the rest of us, based on what it actually says and puts a modern slant on its meaning, rather than subject the text to a deep-tissue massage the way the experts would, supposedly.

        Arguing that one critique is more superficial than others because its author is less qualified and thus should be easy target for ridicule as opposed to a more considered one by an expert which is somehow more profound and more deserving of attention and consideration feels rather elitist to me. We are not, after all, talking about a physics text that requires 5 PhDs and the sacrifice of five small goats to understand.

        • Thom

          I don’t deal with the New Atheists because I subject Copan’s arguments to the scrutiny of biblical scholars.

          I said on p. 5 that their frequent misunderstanding and superficial readings of the Hebrew Bible make them easy targets for ridicule, but I did not say that they never get anything right, nor did I say that they don’t have the right to engage in criticism. I’m not being elitist; I’m just holding Copan to a higher standard. He is well aware that there are better criticisms of the Bible than the ones made by Dawkins and Hitchens, but by choosing not to engage vocational biblical critics, he is fooling his readers into thinking that any refutation of a particular reading of the Dawkins and Hitchens has solved the problem. However, as I said on p. 7, “Copan committed so many unforced errors, the New Atheists slid by with an easy victory.” In other words, he failed to refute them on many occasions. Moreover, as I say on pp. 130-31, “Readers who don’t know any better, and are inclined to take Copan’s word for it, will know less about the Bible having read Copan than they would have had they read somebody like Dawkins or Hitchens on this point.”

          But I don’t think it’s true that the average Joe (Christian) will not care what Cross and Halpern and others are saying, once they are aware of what they’re saying. But Copan doesn’t make them aware, and that’s one of the things I criticize him for. He’s deceiving his readers into thinking that by answering Dawkins and Hitchens (which, as I said, he actually fails to do sufficiently), he’s won the game.

          And again, I didn’t say that Cross and Halpern and other biblical critics are more “profound,” as you put it, but that their criticisms of the Bible are much more thoroughgoing than those offered by Dawkins and Hitchens. And while you’re correct that we’re not talking about something quite as complicated as physics, there are issues with ancient Near Eastern texts that require a greater degree of sophistication than the average reader (due to no fault of his or her own) is going to be able to bring to the texts, as my subsequent critique of Copan’s book bears out. It’s not elitist to say this.

          Once again, I’m not picking on Dawkins and Hitchens. They’re often right. I’m picking on Copan for irresponsibly ignoring critical scholarship that most certainly goes beyond the criticisms that Dawkins and Hitchens offer, whatever the merits of their criticism may be. That said, Dawkins and Hitchens and other of the so-called “New Atheists” (I have no stake in defending that epithet) do sometimes get things quite wrong, due to their lack of familiarity with the materials. That’s not an insult; just a reality. No big deal. But Copan gets even more wrong than they do, and he has no excuse, because this is supposedly his vocation.

          No harm no foul. I’m just clarifying.

          • The Other Weirdo

            OK, that makes more sense to me now. I still disagree with the premise, but I understand what you’re getting at now.

            • Thom

              Fair enough. Thanks for the engagement! I appreciate it.

        • Thom

          Also please bear in mind that my primary intended audience in this review is Christians who have been persuaded by Copan. That’s because I don’t suspect that many non-Christians will have been persuaded by Copan. For that reason, putting a little distance between myself and Dawkins et al is part of establishing ethos. I’d emphasize different things if I were writing primarily to non-Christians.

          • Nox


            Just wanted to let you know I’m very much enjoying “Is God A Moral Compromiser?”. It’s quite refreshing to see a christian who is willing to be honest about some of the problems in christianity.

            • Thom


              Thanks very much.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Yes, I understand that you’re response has nothing to do with New Atheists, but I’m not sure how you can review a book that’s a direct answer to that very group of people(and I still don’t really what New Atheists means), and not deal with that group.

        • The Other Weirdo

          your, not you’re. D’oh!

  • Levi

    Thanks for pointing me towards this debate – I hadn’t come across it on this side of the pond!