Frank Turek’s embarrassing details

Christian apologist Frank Turek has recently made a name for himself as the premier hate-martyr for the National Organization for Marriage. As part of their so-called Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance project, Turek recounts the tragic story of how he was let go as a consultant for Cisco and Bank of America after they discovered he had written a book about “How Same-Sex Marriage Hurts Everyone”. In reality, his views on homosexuality go far beyond merely opposing gay marriage, and he neglects to mention his history of claiming that gay people are “on the road to destruction”, that they “hate Western Civilization”, that they’re predisposed to “bad behavior” comparable to pedophilia and alcoholism, that they should be banned from the military, and that they’re “acting like racists” by seeking legal recognition of their marriages. Yes, these are the words of a man who presents himself as the victim here. Ironically, Bank of America had hired him to present a training seminar about adapting to diverse personalities in the workplace.

When he’s not angling to join the ranks of brave moral crusaders like George Wallace and Hazel Massery, Turek has made a living out of defending Christianity in books like “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist”. In the course of trying to convince people that the Christian faith is more well-supported than any other belief, he unleashes a particularly shameless argument. He calls it the “principle of embarrassment”, a phrase which he attributes to unnamed “historians”, but only seems to appear in the context of Christian apologetics, and was probably invented for that very purpose. Briefly, Turek claims that the authors of the New Testament included embarrassing details about themselves, such as failing to understand what Jesus was talking about, which they would have omitted if they were trying to pass off a fictional narrative as true. He contends that there would be no reason to make themselves look bad rather than good if they were making it all up. He also refers to this as “the duh factor”.

However, for any of these things to be genuinely embarrassing to their authors, they would first have to be true. And how do we know that they’re true? This would require that the New Testament is true. But the truth of the New Testament is exactly what Turek is trying to establish by citing these supposedly embarrassing details. If we don’t know that the New Testament is true, then we don’t know that the embarrassing incidents in the New Testament are true, either. And if we simply assumed that these details of the New Testament are true, then we could just as well assume that the entire New Testament is true, without having to appeal to any of these embarrassing details. With this oversight, Turek has failed to establish the truth of either.

More crucially, the fatal flaw of this criterion of embarrassment is that Turek and his fellow apologists do not have privileged access to this concept. They’re certainly not the most uniquely brilliant people on earth, and if they were able to imagine that such a standard could be used to judge the believability of a given narrative, then why couldn’t others realize this as well? Couldn’t they anticipate this principle, and thus account for it when writing these stories? If you want your fictional narrative to be seen as believable, then why wouldn’t you aim to fulfill this requirement? Even stories that are acknowledged as fiction from the outset still have to maintain a degree of believability by making their characters realistically flawed. Failing to do so, and instead writing all of them as utterly perfect, makes the story unrelatable and generally intolerable to read. Frank Turek was not the first person to discover this.

The real “duh” factor here is that he thinks he can pass this off as a compelling argument for Christianity – and the worst part is that maybe, he can. If it weren’t for people who are willing to accept anything they hear so long as it confirms their beliefs, Turek wouldn’t even have an audience for this tripe. He’s little more than a huckster peddling hollow justifications for faith to people who don’t know better, or just don’t care, all the while knowing that a child could poke holes in this. Now that’s an embarrassing detail.