Answering Missionaries

May 25, 2006

Tackling the Butler and White team

Filed under: Addressing James White polemics,Dialogue/Debates,Shabir Ally vs James White — answeringmissionaries @ 3:07 am

Some time ago I had some exchanges with a few friends of Mr. James White, chief among them Mr. Fred Butler, and a few others, which are to be found here. Later, Mr Fred sought the help of Mr James White and posted a short reply to me.

Here I will attempt to deal with both Fred Butler and Mr. James White.

Before, I begin, I don’t have a very good opinion of Fred Butler and you can see the reason for it by going to the comments section of his debate review. Nonetheless, I will ignore those exchanges for now and just focus on Butler’s latest comments and offer a polite reply. On a positive note, I like the picture of mine Butler added to his blog (remember, me Rambo).

Butler begins by noting that he received the highest number of comments on his review primarily because of me. I am glad that makes him happy. Thereafter, he takes issue with my statement that Ehrman is one of the top textual critics in the world today, perhaps second only to Metzger. However, I don’t think that many scholars would dispute this. Afterall, Ehrman most recently acted as a co-author with none other than Bruce Metzger in the latest up-date of “The Text of the New Testament: It’s Transmission, Corruption and Restoration.” Moreover, Prof. Richard Hays describes Ehrman as America’s leading authority on textual criticism. It is also interesting to note that Butler’s favourite scholar, Daniel Wallace, himself describes Ehrman as “…one of North America’s leading textual critics…” Not only that, but Ehrman is one of the foremost and influential modern textual critic who has played a major role in demolishing the myth of “only the heretics” corrupting the text of the New Testament for theological and doctrinal reasons.1 Butler believes that I was “bothered” by his polemic that Ehrman was a “darling” for the media reporter who wants to do a “smear piece” against Biblical Christianity. Clearly, Butler has no love for Ehrman. But be that as it may, I merely made a factual observation, namely, that Ehrman is an authority in the field of textual criticism, second to none (perhaps only Metzger). This remains a fact no matter how much one may despise Ehrman.

Even more unpersuasive is Butler’s overly lame suggestion that Ehrman says what he says due to “anti-supernaturalist” reasons. That is to say, if Ehrman believed in the supernatural, then he would never ever have dared questioned the textual integrity of the New Testament writings. Therefore, the argument goes, it is because he rejects the supernatural that he questions the textual integrity of the New Testament! I don’t know about others, but I am not impressed with such logic since it makes no sense whatsoever. As I said elsewhere, many textual scholars are now increasingly questioning whether or not the “original” text can ever be restored or whether there was anything such as an “original text” to begin with, together with acknowledging the presence of substantial variations within the New Testament text. They do this not because of any so-called anti-supernaturalist presupposition, but solely based upon the examination of the data. Of course, there will be those who would disagree with certain arguments and analysis.

According to individuals such as Butler, everyone who dares disagree with their beliefs does so only due to their “presuppositions” and, God forbid, not because they have studied the data and have arrived upon a different conclusion, whereas the beliefs and conclusions of like minded evangelicals derive entirely from completely unbiased and careful examination of the data. Thus, everyone has presuppositions apart from, of course, Butler, White and fellow evangelicals. Butler and Co. are just honestly looking at the data without any presuppositions and biases. What is even more amazing is that these evangelicals really believe this. Self-deception is certainly their middle-name.

After much ad hominem, Butler proceeds to assert that Daniel Wallace has allegedly “dismantled” Ehrman’s arguments “years ago.” Of course, he does not inform us what “arguments” and chooses to keep the vagueness. Nonetheless, this assertion, no doubt, is a huge exaggeration. While it is true that scholars always squabble over the analysis and status of certain individual variants – and there have been scholars who have mounted contrary arguments against some of the individual variants discussed by Ehrman – there has been no “dismantling” of Ehrman’s main thesis presented in “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture,” namely, that proto-Orthodox Christians did alter the text of the New Testament occasionally for theological and doctrinal reasons. Butler also presents links to Wallace’s brief critical review of Ehrman’s latest book, “Misquoting Jesus…”, but that is irrelevant in this discussion. Nonetheless, in the future I will compose a review of “Misquoting Jesus” and will attempt to briefly deal with Wallace’s review since there are somethings within it with which I personally disagree as I feel that Wallace has either, on occasions, misunderstood what Ehrman said, or, unfortunately, deliberately twisted some of his arguments.

Butler attempts to compare Wallace and Ehrman, trying desperately to argue that Ehrman is a “no one” whereas Wallace has all the authority. And yet, as we saw above, it is none other than Wallace who describes Ehrman as “…one of North America’s leading textual critics…” Butler mentions the fact that Wallace is the executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, that Wallace has direct contacts with the manuscripts and on and on. Well, Ehrman’s qualifications, status in textual criticism, and authority can be seen by others in his online CV. Moreover, Butler asks why I “ignore him”, that is Wallace? Well, when did I “ignore” him? I was aware of Wallace and his writings long before Butler brought him to my attention. Unlike Butler, who ignores mainstream scholarship and chooses only to ingrain his mind with a very narrow school of thought – conservative evangelism – I prefer to read as many diverse views and opinions as possible in order to better understand both sides of the arguments and then decide for myself. As such, not only do I actively attempt to read writings by Bloomberg, F. F. Bruce, Howard Marshall, Wallace, Josh McDowell, but I also read writings by Ehrman, Sanders, Vermes, Crossan and so on. Thus, I should be asking Butler, why does he close his eyes to mainstream scholarship? Is it because they do not support Butler’s presuppositions whereas Wallace does? Perhaps reading wider scholarship may enable Butler to improve the presentation of his arguments the next time he debates, no?

Moving on to a different subject, Butler objects to my factually accurate statement that the scholarly consensus accepts Q, which may have been a written document, oral traditions, or both. Butler says that just because the majority of scholars accept the existence of Q does not follow that they are right. But using a similar line of argument, just because the minority of scholars dismiss and doubt the existence of Q, it does not follow that they are right either. Now, talking about presuppositions, I am not an expert on Q and I will freely admit that I am not very well versed with the delicate arguments back and forth pertaining to its existence or the lack of it. Thus, I have no choice but to rely upon the experts. So when I see that the majority of scholars, the consensus actually, acknowledge the existence of Q, then the natural step for a person such as myself to take is to side with them, or to believe that they are likely on a more solid footing, since I figure that two heads are better than one. Thus, my position is a logical and a natural one, something which virtually all individuals would do when faced with an issue about which they know little. After reading some of the things written by Butler, I figured that he himself is not well versed in Q studies. However, he immediately dismisses the scholarly consensus and, instead, sides with a minority of scholars who dismiss Q. What does this tell us about Butler? Well, in my view, this indicates that he is the one who is more guided and influenced with presuppositions and a priori agenda. Because he does not want Q to be real, he will immediately side with anyone who would have an anti-Q argument to offer.

Having read some introductory discussions on the existence of Q, I believe that it is very likely that such an entity existed in the past. Although the arguments in support of Q are not as strong as arguments which demonstrate Marcan priority, the arguments in support of the existence of Q are still, nonetheless, quite strong, and thus the scholarly consensus upon its existence. Thus, it is quite far-fetched to label Q a “fantasy” or a “myth.” Butler may try to again invoke the shoddy and illogical argument that “they accept Q because of their presuppositions and anti-supernaturalist bias!” but it just won’t work. You cannot dismiss scholarship with such outrageously erroneous accusations. I would advice readers to have a look at a very clear and concise discussion on Q in Graham Stanton’s, Gospel Truth? New Light on Jesus and the Gospels, 1995, HarperCollinsPublishers. I mention Stanton because he is a very moderate scholar, a believing and practising Christian, one who accepts the general historical reliability of the Gospels. Thus, he has no “presuppositions” or anti-Christianity reasons to accept Q and you cannot just casually dismiss him with the “liberal” taunt. Here I quote just the author’s conclusion after discussing arguments for and against the existence of Q (p. 71):

The cumulative force of the argument for the existence of Q set out above is very impressive, but the case for Q falls short of absolute proof. Even the strongest supporters of Q accept that the hypothesis is less securely established than the conclusion that Matthew and Luke have both used Mark. As we noted, some of the phenomena can be accounted for by rival hypotheses. However, once the rival hypotheses are subjected to critical scrutiny, they turn out to be much less satisfactory than the Q hypothesis. So Q remains a valid working hypothesis for serious study of the Gospels.

Now we come to the final issue of our discussion. Recall that in his debate review, Butler clearly attempted to give the impression as if there were many Muslims who tried to trouble and heckle James White during the break-time. Let me quote what Butler had said (emphasis added):

    “James had his hands full with a vocal (and loud) group of Muslims yelling at him about some of the things he had brought out in his opening statement and his first rebuttal. I didn’t hear exactly what they were pestering him about, but they were emotional and animated in that Middle Eastern Arab way if you know what I mean: Voices were raising and hands were waving. It was as if we were all of the sudden at a bazaar in Damascus listening to a group of men haggle over the price of figs. As you can see by the picture, James did a good job holding his ground. The group was dismissed by a large staffer who muscled his way between James and the Muslims yelling at him. He hollers out, “Everybody back!” and the crowd was immediately dispersed. He stood by his table for the remainder of the intermission shooing away trouble makers.”

It does not take an Einstein to figure out what type of impression Butler was aiming to give – there was a “group” of Muslims who were “yelling” at James, a “crowd” was surrounding him and the Muslims were “emotional” in the “Middle Eastern Arab way” – whatever that means – and then this “group” was dismissed by a large staffer.

Out of curiosity I began making some enquiries. I asked Shabir Ally, via mail, who was close to the stage all the time during the break, thinking perhaps he might know something about the above incident. But Shabir Ally responded by saying that he didn’t witness any such incident and, perhaps, it could be that a few Muslims might have entered into an heated exchange with James White during the break time, which was soon resolved, and so not many people took notice of this minor unpleasant incident.

When I confronted Butler again, he made some changes his story and said that from his vantage point he could only see 3 individuals. Obviously, this does not constitute a “crowd” of Muslims. Moreover, Butler also said that the few Muslims were “loud talking” although not quite “yelling.” I think we can see that Butler was exaggerating in his review. Worst, he then began making comments about my culture, not knowing zilch about my race, as if he is an expert on it, and about the “Arab culture”, which were utterly racist. In his latest response, Butler again has a go with his racist comments by making a reference to my “kin folk”, knowing nothing about my race, claming that I am reacting from “emotion,” perhaps in that “Middle East sort of way” (news flash: I am not an Arab!) and keeps insisting, rather foolishly may I add, that he knows “more” about the “Middle Eastern culture,” as if he is an authority on it. On top of that, he labels his racist caricatures of other people as “light humour”! I won’t waste any more time with his ridiculous racist comments.2

Coming back to Butler’s exaggeration, we simply had this situation: a few Muslims, 3-5, at most, approached James White during the break-time and had a heated exchange with him regarding something White had said about Ibn Masud in the debate. This exchange lasted for a brief period of time, most of the debate attendees did not notice it, and the individuals were then told to move back by the staffer. Certainly, the way these individuals behaved was disgraceful and harmful for Muslims,3 but at the same time, it is also clear that Butler had exaggerated the saga for obvious reasons.

James White, who comes to Butler’s defence, only ends up confirming what I said above. White talks about a group of young Muslim indiciduals and one in particular, their “leader,” in his 20’s, who was quite rude towards him. Thus, a few individuals were rude towards White and shortly thereafter they were told to move back.

These individuals were upset at what James White had said about Ibn Masud 4 and they were asking White to offer the proper reference. To make matters worse, White could do nothing more than to refer them to a polemical Christian website. White argues that these Muslims were not interested in the truth since they appeared to believe that everything on this polemical website was wrong. But I do not find this to be a convincing argument since it is reasonable to be sceptical regarding the quality and accuracy of information within such a website. For instance, should we expect to find accurate statements about Jesus (P) in the Talmud? Or, do we research a religion, or an individual, by referring to those who openly oppose them and are quite hostile towards them? Moreover, White’s double standard and hypocrisy is also exposed. If White himself was truly interested in the truth then I wonder what he was doing scavenging for sources in a well-known and highly polemical website? Did White really expect it to contain “fair and balanced” information on the Quran? Could it be that White had already made up his mind before making any investigations and so decided to go to this polemical website hoping to find material that would agree with his presupposition and a priori agenda? I very much think so. In the near future I will deal with White’s polemics pertaining to Uthman and Ibn Masud in detail Inshallah.

White says:

    ”Yes, I saw “Rambo” appear on your blog. Now you see why I don’t have comments! There is a never ending supply of folks out there who have all the time in the world and a chip on their shoulder. I was going to comment on his reviews, both on your blog and elsewhere, when I realized once again the futility of such an attempt. Here is a man (I assume) who has not seen or heard the debate. He is going on second hand information at best, and yet, despite that, has already concluded that I am wrong about just about everything I had to say. To say the man is biased is to engage in understatement. Prejudice is closer, blind bigotry may well be right on. Hard to say.”

Let me first of all thank James White for reading what I had to say on Butler’s blog. Second, while he is correct to note that, at the time, I had not seen the debate, for some strange reason it was impossible for White to figure out that I was only commenting upon the statements presented by some reviewers, both Patrick Chan and Fred Butler, and not the entire debate itself. I presumed that these Christian reviewers would accurately represent some of the arguments White had made in his debate with Shabir Ally. Therefore, what is supposed to be “wrong” if I replied to some of the things they said? Afterall, I made it quite clear that I was not commenting upon the debate, naturally because I had not seen it at the time, and that my purpose was to only respond to some of the things these reviewers had brought up.

Finally, if I was a woman then I would most probably have used the name Ramboess or something along those lines.

White also said:

    ”But one thing is for certain: I gave up worrying about mud-slingers like Rambo many years ago.”

I have no idea where “mud-slinger” came from since I did not make any offensive comments about White and, in fact, had appreciated his polite behaviour on more than one occasion. I think White is angry for no reason 😦

Well, this is the end of my reply to Butler and White. My next aim is to write a detailed review of the debate, examine both sides in detail and then offer my conclusion. In this detailed review I will also engage with the claims made in a number of Christian reviews. So, hopefully, you will find the review much informative.

Bubye!

Notes

1. See, Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption Of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, 1993 Oxford University Press.

2. This is what I said in my final reply to the racist comments heaped by Butler (made spelling and some grammatical corrections):

Fred, it’s not working despite your desperate attempts of transforming 3 individuals into a “crowd” and “group.” And now your comments are beginning to reveal your true colours. Your exaggerations are exposed and your wiggle-duck-n-dive manoeuvres don’t impress me much. As I said, if at all, 3 individuals during the break time might have entered into a heated exchange with White, something which didn’t catch the attention of that many people anyway, and you blew that entirely out of proportion. And with your recent barrage of racist comments, I have even little reason to trust you. I will keep this reply short and later, once I view the debate for myself, I will then write a detailed review of it together with a detailed point by point critique of your review and challenge you to defend your claims in the open.

No, my contacts and I do not have a “different definition” of what is sober and civil. So let’s get that straight. Loud talking and finger wagging are most certainly not considered “sober” and “civil” in my culture, so, with all due respect, I suggest you stop giving me this racist bull about my culture as if you are some sort of an “expert” on it or else I have pretty much to say about your “Christian” and “American” culture I see on the Jerry Springer show 🙂 You clearly know next no nothing about other cultures, particularly the Arab, Pak-Indo cultures, and thus your comments are just laughable and border on the absurd. So much for your “intimacy” with Muslims. In my culture, “finger wagging” on someone’s face and “talking loudly” are deemed as rude and offensive behavioural traits and quite disliked, as in all other cultures. Muslims, who come from diverse cultures and backgrounds, are also humans you know and the vast majority are very polite. And please, stop with your ridiculous racist demonisation of Arabs and their culture. I just can’t believe you spent any time with them after reading your stereotypical, anti-Semitic and highly offensive descriptions of their “culture.”

And no it is no “honour” thing with me regarding this matter, so I can’t see how you concluded “obviously” in this regard. You don’t even know my race, my nationality, my culture, and yet you are convinced you are an Einstein on my culture and know its inner workings! Arrogance or something much worse? The later I think. I simply contacted other debate attendees who contradicted much of what you said, which then lead me to logically conclude that you were exaggerating – overstating what was, at most, a minor incident, which was not reflective of the behaviour of the Muslim audience.

Nonetheless, I will get back to you in a while with a very detailed paper to your polemics so prepare yourself for that 🙂

3. It is my view that Evangelical Christians, who generally are very hostile towards Muslims, love for such incidents to take place so they can proclaim “look, evil Muslims, this is how they behave!” Muslims who attend such debates need to keep their minds cool and avoid all such incidents; otherwise you give hatemongers the fuel to attack Muslims.

4. White quoted from a polemical outdated Christian writing the claim that Ibn Masud was allegedly beaten up and died shortly thereafter. On top of that, White then gave the wrong reference when he resumed his talk after the break. Of course, Muslims were right to be upset since White relied upon a polemical second hand source to quote an incident which virtually no scholar deems authentic. Nonetheless, there was absolutely no justification for these Muslims to being rude towards White.

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