A few days ago “Pitchman” posted the following comment on Bart Ehrman:
Ehrman is a liar. I personally heard him laughing at the people who invited him to come to church in Lawrence, Kansas, a couple of years back. (Lawrence is his home town.)
He said “Can you believe these people paid me to come here and show them how ignorant they are?”
…then his little chuckle…
The reason I’m bothering to comment on this comment is because I hear this charge a lot. That is, I often hear people accusing other people of being “liars”. And yet rarely do they have the evidence to back it up. This is ironic, for it opens the individual making the charge to the danger of being hoist with one’s own petard.
Here’s what you have to establish to show that someone is lying.
First, the individual stated that a particular claim is true while knowing that the claim in question is false.
Second, the individual affirmed that the claim is true with the intent of persuading others to believe it is true.
Those two points are more difficult to establish than you might think. And that alone should warn us away from throwing around the “lying charge” too lightly.
Even so, things are more complex still. You see the “So and so is a liar” charge is not merely appealing to 1 and 2. It clearly assumes something more because it is intended as an indictment on a person’s character.
Let me give you an example. Imagine that Don the Boy Scout leader has taken his kids camping for the weekend. Suddenly Bobby falls into a hole. As Don reaches down to help Bobby out of the hole he sees a rattlesnake in the hole a few feet away. Don knows that Bobby is terrified of snakes and if he is aware of a snake behind him he will panic and probably end up dead. At that moment Bobby hears the rattle. “What’s that Don?” he cries out.
Don lies. “Just my keys Bobby, just my keys. Now stay calm.” And with that Don helps Bobby out of the cave.
Don is a liar according to 1 and 2 because he uttered something false with the intent of getting Bobby to believe it is true. Let’s say that you were a witness to these events and the next week an employer asked you to provide a reference for Don. Would it be misleading for you to say “Don is a liar”? Of course, because the sentence would be clearly interpreted to mean not simply that there are occasions where Don knowingly affirms false propositions with the intent that others will believe they are true. Rather, it would be intended to convey a general indictment on Don’s character.
So it is with Pitchman. Calling Ehrman a liar clearly is intended as a general indictment of his character.
And what evidence has been provided? Assuming I believe Pitchman’s accounting of the events I hear nothing in the anecdote which would justify a general slur on Ehrman’s character. I’m not saying that Ehrman’s behavior was appropriate. I’m just saying that I don’t have adequate evidence from a single incident of rude behavior that Ehrman is worse than I am.
Let’s put this into some perspective. Back in 2004 a young man named Matt Starr shoved a four year old kid out of the way so he could grab a fly ball at a Texas Rangers baseball game. Unfortunately for Starr, his uncouth behavior was captured on the jumbotron. In a moment forty thousand fans were booing him and he’s still living with the fallout to this day.
Before we launch general attacks on the behavior of others, we should all contemplate how many people would be booing a day of our behavior broadcast on the jumbotron.