John Loftus criticizes the Courtier’s Reply. How dare he? I thought it was Holy Atheist Writ by now.
But the Courtier’s Reply as an answer for theology needs to be discussed critically. First off, I do not expect anyone to understand any particular theology in order to reject it. We all do this easily. I doubt very much anyone understands all of the religions they reject. I don’t. No one does. We reject them all for the same reasons, because they have not met their own burden of proof. So I agree very much that neither PZ Myers nor Richard Dawkins needs to fully understand the various forms of Christianity in order to reject them all. They can certainly use the Courtier’s Reply, and for them it’s legitimate, as it is for me when rejecting Hinduism, which I know little about. Christians do not fully understand the other Christianities they reject, so why should anyone expect this from skeptics?
But here’s the problem. PZ Meyers and Richard Dawkins, and others, have the clout to recommend those of us who do understand the various Christianities that exist who know how to debunk them on their own terms. But perhaps, and I’m only suggesting perhaps, they are so committed to the Courtier’s Reply when it comes to their own lack of understanding of Christian theology that they don’t realize this will not do if they want to change the religious landscape. If they do, then may I humbly suggest they recommend the work of Biblical scholars like Robert Price, Hector Avalos, Bart Ehrman and others like them, as well as philosophers like John Shook, John Beversluis, Richard Carrier, Keith Parsons, Matt McCormick and others like them. But they can’t do it, because they are committed to the Courtier’s Reply, and that’s a shame. I can embrace the Courtier’s Reply when it comes to religions I reject. But given the power and influence of Christianity in particular, they need to recommend and embrace those of us who know it and argue against it. The Courtier’s Reply may some day be the blanket response to religion. It isn’t yet. Until then let them recommend those of us who do understand the dominant religion of our land, both philosophers and biblical scholars. It takes all of us together with all of our talents, all of our knowledge, and all of our abilities.
No, no, no. Loftus is making the same misinterpretation I’ve heard from creationists and theologians: that the Courtier’s Reply is a call for ignorance and an excuse for not trying to understand religion. It’s not. Rather, it’s an amusing way to tell someone that they haven’t established their premises (the existence of deities), and that all their phantasmagorical elaborations on their fantasies are irrelevant. Cut to the core issue; if you haven’t shown that Jesus even existed, it’s silly to be arguing about the color of his socks.
I have no disagreement with the approach of the scholars listed above; in fact, I’m a big fan, particularly of Carrier and Avalos. They’re taking a different angle: even if we set aside the fundamental fallacy of the premise, we can assay the ramshackle rationalizations and irrational excuses and shoddy scholarship and show that the whole construction is bogus from root to crown.
For me, the Courtier’s Reply is sufficient because I’m not wedded to any particular doctrine; it’s enough for me to see that the core is rotten and hollow. But I entirely agree that for most religious people, the existence of a god isn’t even an issue — it’s assumed and taken for granted. What most people have locked into their brains is a pattern of ritual and dogma and pseudohistory so intricate that it obscures the central assumption, and to chip through that we need Biblical scholars who grapple with the details.
We just don’t need Bible scholars who layer on more crud.