Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Stark Raving Failure

I still have the heart of a mercenary now and then, so at this past weekend’s ISCA conference, I asked Paul Copan, “So, do you want me to take care of Thom Stark for you?”

Copan smiled and rolled his eyes a bit, and replied, sure, go ahead – I have a lot to do right now. That tells you just how worried he is about Stark as a threat.

So the next E-Block will begin a series on Stark’s reply to Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? – a book I rated fairly highly, though with some things I did not agree with and a couple of major things I would have done differently. In particular, it lacked something Stark also lacks noticeably in his critique: An awareness of the agonistic values of the Biblical world. (The difference being, that whereas Copan’s lack here simply made his case less strong than it could have been, it makes Stark’s reply look monumentally ignorant and bigoted, and far more dependent on emotion and pity at key points than rational argument. But more on that when we start his “treatment”.)

Stark’s attitude here isn’t an uncommon one. I’ve been dealing with a great many YouTube Skeptics of late whose assumption is that people of the Biblical world shared the same “keep living at any costs” values that they hold dear as modern Westerners. There’s an oddity there inasmuch as this group is also likely to hold to the view that people should be free to choose voluntary euthanasia if their suffering becomes too great to bear. I’m inclined to agree (and so am at least consistent where they are not), save that too often the modern Westerner thinks “suffering” means “I missed my favorite TV show too many times.”

Which raises the main point for today’s entry. Compared to Biblical peoples (and members of other agonistic societies), modern Westerners are wimps who arrogantly and ironically refer to agonistic peoples as barbarians because they aren’t wimps.

Agonistic peoples learned to endure physical pain and gained honor by having a stiff upper lip, so to speak. Modern people have a fit any time Junior skins his knee or they stub their toes.

Agonistic peoples for centuries barely had time for recreation and worked hard for a living, scraping by on daily survival. Modern peoples get honked off when the price of a movie goes up a dollar.

Agonistic peoples lived constantly with the threats of war, disease, hunger, and poverty. Modern people call someone “poor” who owns only one television set and drives a car that is more than 10 years old.

I’m only being a little hyperbolic here. But there’s a strong irony as well in the fact of modern wimps like Stark – who have never endured what could be called real suffering for any length of time -- judging and condemning those who lived in the ancient world because they were too violent, too profane, or too bold for their tastes. Yet if you plopped Stark down in 1400 BC anywhere in the world, he’d be dead within days because he had no idea how to live there.

One of my older cartoons illustrates this. I plopped one of my Skeptical nemeses back in time to that era, where he was assigned the task of digging a well. Simple enough, right? Not at all. Before that well was finished, he got thirsty. But having no water yet on his own assigned land, he had to borrow some from a neighbor. My narrative depicts him going to his neighbor, who insisted that to get water, he had to trade something of value to get it.

“What do you mean? I’m a human being in need,” I depict the Skeptic as whining.
“My family is also human and has needs, and they need that water,” the neighbor replied. “What’s your point?”

Yep. Welcome to the world of “limited good,” friend. We’re so used to having food, gasoline, and electricity at the touch of a button that it never occurs to us that ancient people had to struggle, work hard, and pay dearly for such things. They still do in many parts of the world – which says something about us when we are more worried about which SUV to purchase.

That’s part of the fun in taking down an arrogant barbarian like Stark who thinks so highly of himself, though. In my own little way, I’m going to bat for those whom he looks down his nose upon.

And I’m glad to be of assistance, too, Paul.


  1. From the same people with such a limited worldview and close-mindedness comes the Asian stereotype of varying negative proportions, e.g. they cannot understand why corporal punishment is accepted and condoned in my culture. Strangely, though they glorify samurai by portraying them as people who are so honor-bound that they are willing to kill themselves should they fail any task, they cannot extend the same view to those of the ANE. Perhaps this is due to how their view of the East is split from their view of the West?

  2. Maybe. Alternatively, it could just be that they think such things only happen in Clavell novels.

  3. It's highly telling if one's character when he pens a 308 page book review; Stark is simply obsessed with two things: himself, and, conservative (i.e., traditional) scholarship.

    I mentioned somewhere that the only people praising his tome are either fringe atheist bloggers and apostates -- an audience that says so much about the author, probably more than he's willing to realize.

    Can't wait to read your rebuttal, JP :)

  4. Cory, You wrote, "The only people praising Stark's tome are atheists and apostates." Are Gregory Boyd and Tony Campolo apostates? Did they leave the fold? What about Thom's biblioblogger reviewers? They include biblical scholars, grad students in biblical studies, and seminarians. Did they all leave the fold? Are they all "apostates?" Is anyone who is not an inerrantist equal to an apostate in your view?

  5. Edski, I normally kick you off here, but I'll let that stand to show how badly you pay attention. Cory is referring to the recent release to Copan, not Human Faces of God. I'll give you one message to show where Campolo and Boyd praised THAT book.

  6. And I'll give you one message in return, to point out that Stark's argument did not change from book to book. He also pointed out the fallacy of your "limited good" argument above, and you would have known Stark had already replied to it in fact in both of his books, if you'd have read them first.

  7. Dear Mr. Babinski:

    As JPH nicely pointed out, I was referring to Stark's book review, of which the preponderance of praise emanates from those who identify as either atheist or apostate. Of course, that does leave room for the exceptional case, but it does negate the rule.

  8. One message? Huh. Then you sent another. Well, no, it must be an impostor because you'd never lie about something like that. So I'll delete that one.

    But no, Edski, that parsing game won't work. Cory said, "praising Stark's tome" and that meant the one I posted on here. You replied with reference to Boyd and Campolo, who reviewed the former tome. That the arguments may or may not be the same is irrelevant; it said "tome," not "arguments".

    That kind of parsing may have saved you from cognitive dissonance as a fundy, Edski -- but these days, all it shows is that an open sewer has better moral character than you do.

  9. I wrote a 12-part review of Thom's "The Human Faces of God," the book in which Thom accused the biblical God of more than enough wrongdoing to have called for a book like Paul's - even though Paul may not have been aware Thom's book when he wrote his own. Thus "The Human Faces of God" has as much to do with the subject matter of Paul's book as Thom's review does - though the endorsers probably weren't looking at it that way.

    Thom's guiding position seems to be that where scholarship finds opportunity to portray either God's word or His nature as portrayed in that word as flawed, such opportunity ought to be pursued with vigor. For someone who says he is a Christian, and thus presumably wants to see the cause of Christ advanced, it is strange behavior.

    Thom's reaction to my review is here: