Why McGrath Should Honourably Step Down From the Debate

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by Neil Godfrey

Dr James McGrath blogs as the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University. That is how he identifies his blog — it is the blog of the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University. So he writes as a professional, a public intellectual, and it is to the standards of professional scholarly discourse and the responsibilities of public intellectuals that he must be held to account.

If a judge or prospective jury member is known to have a conflict of interest or deep-seated prejudice that will inevitably affect their ability to approach the trial appropriately they have a duty to step aside. We like to imagine we have moved on from the days when an accused would be condemned whether they sank or swam.

So when McGrath

  • publishes an Amazon review of a book before he has read more than a small fraction of it,
  • and when he says he knows he will find an argument implausible before he even reads it,
  • and when he says he should not explain fairly or fully an argument that he detests because he fears someone might think favourably of it — thus conceding he does not respect his readers and lacks confidence in the power of reasoned arguments,
  • and when he finds himself incapable of thinking someone can present a mythicist argument with sincerity and honesty — that such a one is either incompetently deluded or a blatant liar
  • and when he refuses to respond (except with insulting barbs) to questions and posts addressing the discrepancies between what he says about Doherty’s arguments and what Doherty actually does write

then it is time he admits that he is no longer thinking of his opponents as normal, healthy, fellow creatures with whom he can have even a normal healthy human rapport. Every attempt at communication will inevitably be governed by feelings of contempt that scarcely will be hidden as innuendo and ad hominem inevitably surface.

When one reaches that point then one owes it to everyone to admit that one is biased beyond reason and incapable of engaging in a genuinely respectful and fair discussion.

At the very least McGrath has an obligation, if he continues to vent his spleen on Doherty’s book, to preface each post with a notice that he is a believing Christian and that he despises mythicism and does not believe in giving it a fair hearing because it only deserves to be treated with contempt.

It is also time other academics stood up in defence of professional standards and the social responsibilities of public intellectuals to promote tolerance, understanding, reasoned argument and civil discourse. There are many levels at which Bonhoeffer’s famous words must always operate: Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.


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Neil Godfrey

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0 thoughts on “Why McGrath Should Honourably Step Down From the Debate”

  1. The good doctor writes, “I do not recognize myself in [Neil’s] accusations.” Let’s assume that’s a sincere statement.

    So it must have been his evil twin who wrote the Amazon precognitive review of Earl’s book. And when he regularly debunks arguments that Doherty does not make, it must not be through malice but rather through incompetence. And when he refuses to summarize Doherty’s points accurately before arguing against them, it isn’t because of spite but because of a lack of ability.

    Finally, when McG says (as he did today) that Neil is either “extremely adept and cunning” or “out of his mind,” it is not because he is struggling to find the proper insult, but because he truly is in over his head. Since he cannot follow the arguments, he cannot decide if they’re very clever or the product of insanity.

    This is all the more reason for other scholars who know the poor fellow to intervene.

  2. McGrath has insisted that the reason we cannot accept mythicism is because the arguments are implausible. He even says in his latest review that he does not have to wait to read what he says are central arguments in later chapters of Doherty’s book before knowing that they are implausible.

    So when I attempted to point out what Doherty actually wrote in his chapter 7 and attempted to demonstrate its plausibility, McGrath did not deny it sounded plausible. But what was the response? Scoffing and insult. Anyone who makes an argument for mythicism sound plausible is a charlatan in McGrath’s mind.

    He even justifies his own failure to deal with Doherty’s arguments by calling them nothing more than “an attempt to wrap that “case” in enough packaging that readers will not notice what it is they are being sold.”

    So it is clear that reasoned discussion on this issue with McGrath is impossible. He has no place in the debate.

  3. I wrote that McGrath says he knows he will find an argument unpersuasive before he reads it. I was referring to McGrath’s review of chapter 9 where he wrote: “I know that Doherty will later in the book offer his own implausible attempt to eliminate any trace of a historical Jesus from these passages.”

    McGrath has since defended himself against this by explaining: “@Neil Godfrey, no, I know that when I have read ahead to the pages Doherty cross-refenced later in the book, he offers weak and unpersuasive arguments, and nothing that makes his case seem more persuasive in this edition of his book than in the earlier one or his online sources.”

    I responded: “Well that’s an explanation now but not once have you indicated in your reviews that you read ahead, but you have always said that you will wait, like Doherty, till you come to that bit. True?”

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