Matt McCormick offered a response to my second post (although it was posted in the first threaded discussion it seems to reference both articles). Here is what Matt said:
“Hi Randal. If you’re going to write another blog post about my argument, I’d encourage you to drop the personal attacks, the sarcasm, and the smugness. They aren’t conducive to anyone’s clear thinking about the matter. The mature thing to do would be to go back and remove all of that from the original post too.”
So Matt has charged me with the following: (1) making personal attacks, (2) being sarcastic, and (3) being smug. And he has asked me to edit those references out of my work.
First, I want to apologize to Matt for offending him. John W. Loftus is happy to trade rhetorical barbs all day long. But Matt is not John. And so I do apologize.
Second, in fairness I would point out the following, not to exonerate me but rather to call for a lesser sentence. First keep in mind that I was responding to an essay in a book calling for an end to Christianity. Given that I’m a Christian, it is not surprising that I return fire with both barrels. Second, I would point out that Matt occasionally was less than gracious in his description of my position. For example, he described my views as being “someone who thinks they can just magically sense historical events in their minds.” But I didn’t take offense at that. Rather, I pointed out how that description is not a fair representation of my position. Finally, I would point out that the tone of my second essay was already quite conciliatory. Consider the opening:
“After being ignored by all the essayists of The End of Christianity for so long it’s nice finally to get a little attention. And now Matt McCormick has responded to my critique … promptly … on a holiday (Labor Day) … courteously … with arguments. Looks like I hit the jackpot.
“Thanks for joining us Matt!”
I hope Matt didn’t think that was sarcastic. It certainly wasn’t.
Still, those points don’t excuse me. I am not perfect and I recognize how my initial review would have material that would have been a source of irritation to Matt. So now the question is how to make amends.
Contrary to Matt’s suggestion, I don’t think the way to respond is by editing the offending material out. Rather, I think it is helpful to use my own failings as a teaching moment. With that in mind I offer a series of retractions from my original review “The End of Christianity? A Skeptical Review (Part 9).” These are not retractions of substantial points but rather of presentation, illustration, et cetera. In each case I regret the original wording and thus have offered a revised statement. My hopes is that this is sufficient to make amends and move on to the substance of discussion as outlined in my second response to Matt “From Jerusalem to Salem.”
“McCormick is clearly trying to convey the impression that there is some reasonable doubt that Jesus existed. He reminds me of the Exxon scientist being interviewed on Fox News who can’t help but quip “assuming that climate change exists at all”. Hey Mr. Exxon, there is no doubt among scientists that climate change exists. And Professor McCormick there is no doubt among historians that Jesus existed.”
“McCormick is clearly trying to convey the impression that there is some reasonable doubt that Jesus existed. But historians as a group are as persuaded that Jesus existed as climatologists are persuaded that the climate is changing.”
“By expressing a lingering skepticism about the existence of Jesus McCormick handily demonstrates the confirmation bias at work. Lessons like this are pedagogically effective, for few students will forget the irony of a professor who rails against the confirmation bias while exercising that very bias. Well done Professor McCormick!”
“By expressing a lingering skepticism about the existence of Jesus McCormick demonstrates the confirmation bias at work. To be sure it is ironic when one rails against the confirmation bias while exercising that very bias.”
“On that count McCormick’s essay is a great failure.”
“On that count McCormick’s essay fails.”
“McCormick’s appraisal of rational belief has all the nuance of a student who just read Descartes’ “Meditations” for the first time. Now I admit that sounds harsh, but it is true nonetheless.”
“McCormick’s appraisal of rational belief lacks adequate nuance.”
“Like termites eating out a foundation that darned confirmation bias has eaten through the foundation of this essay. Although this is fatal to McCormick’s atheological apologetic it is a memorable lesson for the rest of us as we see first-hand the terrible havoc that unchecked confirmation bias can wreak on one’s scholarly work.
“Do not be a McCormick.”
“The confirmation bias has critically weakened McCormick’s argument.”
“First, you have to wonder about anybody who construes Kierkegaard and Tillich as sharing an epistemological agenda. And how could anybody put anti-realist Wittgensteinian views of doctrine (e.g. those of D.Z. Phillips) alongside Plantinga’s doctrinal realism?”
“Kierkegaard and Tillich are radically opposed on epistemological matters and Wittgensteinian views of doctrine are irreconcilable with Plantinga’s doctrinal realism.”