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Holding's Hypocritical Zeal

Brett Palmer

James Patrick Holding is a Christian internet apologist and editor of the book, Shattering the Christ Myth, featuring essays written by other Christian authors answering the charge that Jesus was not a historical figure, but merely a "myth," a creation of fiction, upon which the Christian faith is based. According to fellow apologist Michael Licona, who wrote the Forward to Mr. Holding's anthology, "... debates over whether Jesus of Nazareth ever existed continue on the Internet. Most scholars ignore the discussion, regarding it as laughable ..." Outside the book, Mr. Holding's Tektonics Apologetic website hosts articles from Mr. Holding himself which address this Christ-myth problem, assessing it as a "staggering mistake." He has also authored articles published on other websites dealing with the topic. However, in his zeal to take down those who would promote the Christ myth, Mr. Holding missteps in trying to focus his crosshairs on the wrong person, showing that Mr. Holding is not always careful researching material for his articles. Exemplified in a piece published on the website Creation Ministries International (CMI)[1] November 21, 2008, Mr. Holding takes aim at world-renowned author, lecturer and evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins regarding Dawkins's own involvement with the Christ myth. In an article titled, "Dawkins' Ironic Hypocrisy," Mr. Holding accuses Dawkins of hypocrisy for "dismissing special creation as a minority, crackpot view" while apparently granting a "tacit endorsement of ... the 'Christ myth.'"

"Special creation" is the religious belief that the origin and diversity of life is the result of creative acts of God in which all living things were created separately. The belief is founded in a literal reading of the biblical book of Genesis in which the earth and the universe are said to have been created in six 24-hour days, and that land animals, sea creatures, birds and humans were all created on specific days in that so-called "creation week," appearing exactly as they look today. Evolution, as descent with modification, is rejected as unbiblical. Most scientists of biology ignore this belief, regarding it as laughable and wholly unsupported by the scientific data. It is an idea held mainly by Christian religious conservatives who also believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old and that Noah's flood was a historical event, responsible for certain geological features such as the Grand Canyon. Believers in special creation and an earth less than 10,000 years old are often referred to, and refer to themselves, as "Young Earth Creationists."

Mr. Holding begins his article lamenting the victimization of creationists at the hands of skeptics. Creationists, Mr. Holding writes, are "dismissed as a crackpot fringe that holds a minority position" and they are "ridiculed by popularist demagogues like Richard Dawkins." He complains "insulting rhetoric ... has [been] heaped upon creationists" by Dawkins, but Mr. Holding would like to turn the tables and "comment on what has become a rather stunning irony and hypocrisy that has emerged from the rhetoric of Dawkins." Dawkins had noted:

... science teachers in schools here in Britain ... are finding an increasing number of students coming to them and saying they are Young Earth Creationists. Now this is a belief that the Earth is only 6000 years old, and it is such a staggering mistake that it is very concerning to hear this. It is no small error—it is equivalent to someone believing, despite the evidence, that the width of North America from one coast to the other is only 7.8 yards.[2]

Mr. Holding wishes to point out that while "Dawkins and many others are quite frank in dismissing special creation as a minority, crackpot view ... when it comes to certain ideas that they find beneficial to their agenda, it doesn't matter at all whether those ideas are considered a minority, crackpot view by experts in other fields!" Mr. Holding is under the impression that he has caught Richard Dawkins in just such a hypocritical trap. While mocking special creation as a crackpot view, Mr. Holding believes Dawkins himself to endorse an equally (if not more so) lunatic idea, the subject of Mr. Holding's own special project: the Christ myth.

Mr. Holding begins his criticism of what he views as Dawkins's hypocrisy by noting that in Richard Dawkins's bestselling book, The God Delusion, "Dawkins says that it is 'possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all' and appeals to the work of G. A. Wells." However, "appeals to the work of G. A. Wells" is a bit misleading. Instead of "appeals" Mr. Holding may have more accurately used the word "refers." But that would not have suited his purpose of characterizing Richard Dawkins as finding appeal in the Christ-myth movement. While Mr. Holding does footnote the page from which he quotes Dawkins, he doesn't reproduce the context of the quote properly. Wells, Emeritus Professor of German at Birkbeck, University of London, is one of the best known and widely published promoters of the theory that Jesus is a mythical rather than a historical figure. Dawkins never endorses the Christ myth in The God Delusion (or anywhere else) and refers to G. A. Wells as merely an example of an author who has written on the subject. Here is the quote in full from Dawkins's The God Delusion, missing from Mr. Holding's article:

It is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all, as has been done by, among others, Professor G. A. Wells of the University of London in a number of books, including Did Jesus Exist?. (p. 97)

If Mr. Holding weren't so hell-bent on trying to score points by trying to hang one on the world famous atheist and skeptic Richard Dawkins he might have caught on.

Were Dawkins to have been referring to books arguing against the Christ myth he very well may have mentioned Mr. Holding himself as an author on the subject. Dawkins might have written:

It is even possible to mount a serious, widely supported, historical case that Jesus lived, as has been done by, among others, James Patrick Holding of Tekton Apologetics website in his anthology, Shattering the Christ Myth.

Would this, in Mr. Holding's estimation, therefore make Richard Dawkins an advocate of his sort and style of apologetics, the existence of God, and Young Earth Creationism (even though we know Dawkins has stated the opposite elsewhere)?

Mr. Holding does begrudgingly acknowledge that Dawkins is not throwing his prestige behind the Christ myth by stating, "Dawkins himself apparently has not accepted the Christ myth as actually true. In The God Delusion, he says that Jesus 'probably existed' and leaves it at that." Well, in a book not arguing for the existence, or nonexistence, of Jesus, what else does Mr. Holding want Dawkins to say? Apparently, in Mr. Holding's estimation, it's not good enough to merely admit Jesus "probably existed." That is much too weak for Mr. Holding. And mentioning G. A. Wells in his book apparently makes Dawkins a Christ-myth sympathizer. It would appear by the tone of Mr. Holding's article that being a Christ-myth sympathizer is every bit as bad as one who has fully thrown in with the Christ-myth camp. That's enough to land Richard Dawkins on Mr. Holding's list of enemies of the Bible. Mr. Holding complains that by referring to G. A. Wells and saying that the idea can mount a serious case against a historical Jesus that this "grants the Christ myth a semblance of credibility" and "reveals a certain ironic hypocrisy in his criticism of creationists ... as a minority or crackpot view." I fail to see the link Mr. Holding is trying to draw, but what he does in his incredulous article is miss the point of Dawkins's criticism of creationism as well as draw attention to his own crime of hypocrisy.

In Richard Dawkins's criticism of special creation he is not rejecting creationism because it is a "minority" or "crackpot" view while at the same time side-glancing at the "Christ myth" as something with minor merit. Dawkins rejects creationism because it is demonstrably wrong. Indeed, there is not one shred of creationist evidence, not even a theory of creation outside a literal belief in the first chapters of Genesis. As mentioned, Young Earth Creationists, to whom Mr. Holding has hitched his internet wagon by submitting articles to sites like CMI and AiG[3], believe the earth is only about 6000 years old. They have absolutely no evidence to support such a position other than the Bible-only calculations of Archbishop James Ussher[4] and they do so in spite of the overwhelming evidence for an earth that is about 4,500,000 thousand years old! That is why Dawkins equates creationism of the sort endorsed by Mr. Holding to believing "that the width of North America from one coast to the other is only 7.8 yards." He is showing that these Young Earth Creationists are completely blind to the evidence of the enormous distance in time that the earth has been around by comparing such a gaffe to someone ignoring the enormous breadth of the North American continent.

Geology has mountains of solid, concrete evidence in its favor. It has been the bedrock of many other branch- and sub-fields of study including the science of tectonics. This can hardly be said of an appeal to the historical Jesus. Indeed, belief in a historical Jesus is not built around any hard material evidence whatsoever. There are no remaining notes from his days as a schoolboy. No contemporary inscriptions—made by friends or enemies—describing his exploits. No known burial place of Jesus. No headstone. No grave marker. No remains. No photographs. No YouTube videos. Nothing of the sort. The historical Jesus is implied mostly from clues in ancient literature. I challenge Mr. Holding, or any other similarly insulted creationist, to drag out something akin to a metamorphic rock, a stratified layer of earth, or a rift zone, in favor of the historical Jesus. They can't do it, and that's what fuels the Christ-myth movement. It is this lack of concrete evidence for either the historical Jesus or a young earth to which Richard Dawkins is making his judgment. There is a wealth of hard physical evidence that the earth is in the neighborhood of 4.5 billion years old. There is not a shred of hard, physical evidence that it is only 6,000 years old or that Jesus was a historical person (not that these ideas are wholly equivalent!). That is why it is ridiculous to accuse Dawkins of hypocrisy for labeling as "crackpots" those creationists who deny an old earth while nevertheless admitting that a case can be made for a nonhistorical Jesus. However, while a case can be made, Dawkins plainly acknowledges that he is unconvinced by the arguments in favor of the Christ myth and, as noted, plainly states, "Jesus probably existed."

Further, Dawkins' point in the section of The God Delusion[5] in which he mentions the Christ-myth movement and G. A. Wells, was to explore the various arguments which appeal to certain "evidences" for God's existence. In part he examined the Bible as providing evidence for the existence of a deity. If the Bible can be used as evidence of the historical claims that it makes, so the argument goes, then it might be a good source of evidence for God's existence since it claims both historical reliability and reliability as a product of God's divine hand. However, Dawkins concludes that the Bible is not a reliable historical record and thus should not be used as evidence for a supreme supernatural being. After using the Christ myth as an extreme example of how questionable the Bible's historical claims can be, Dawkins concludes his search for reliable evidence of God's existence in that chapter, "I shall not consider the Bible further as evidence for any kind of deity." While admitting that the Christ myth does posses legs—at least for a short sprint—Dawkins himself believes Jesus to have been a historical person. Unfortunately Mr. Holding completely misses the point and goes on in indignation as if Dawkins had written the Foreward to Acharya S' next book[6]. So, where's the hypocrisy? I completely fail to see it.

Mr. Holding goes on to observe, "Dawkins also made an appearance in a 2006 film titled The God Who Wasn't There, created by apostate Brian Flemming. The God Who Wasn't There argued vociferously for the 'Christ myth,' including the even more absurd proposition that Jesus' life story was derived from accounts of pagan deities. While Dawkins did not address the existence of Jesus in the film, that he even appeared in it amounts to him giving the film and its main ideas credibility." Saying Richard Dawkins "made an appearance" in Flemming's film is a bit misleading. The film was never played in movie theaters and is available only on DVD. After the conclusion of the documentary, which covered various topics including the Christ myth, and problems with religion and atheism in general, there is an option on the DVD to hear interviews with various people that didn't make it into the film proper. This is where Dawkins makes his "appearance," which is a voice recording of a brief six-minute telephone interview with Mr. Flemming regarding Dawkins' theory of "memes." In chapter 11 of his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins coins the term "meme" and defines it as "a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation." He goes on to give examples of memes as "tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation." So, his "appearance" in Flemming's film is merely his voice taped during a phone conversation with Flemming during which the filmmaker asked Dawkins if it were possible to create a meme which would overcome religion. In no sense was the interview with Dawkins about the Christ myth, nor did Dawkins even vaguely comment on the idea at all. It was merely an addition to the overall theme of atheism which underpinned Flemming's film. It was a wholly appropriate, general addition to the film, and in no way acted as, or appeared as, a specific endorsement of the Christ myth.

Later in his article Mr. Holding also states, "Dawkins of course is far from the only advocate of evolution to be a victim of this ironic hypocrisy ... Many of Dawkins' own fans, likewise, can be discovered to endorse the Christ myth." In the first mention of Dawkins in relation to Flemming's documentary, Mr. Holding admits offhandedly that Dawkins "did not address the existence of Jesus in the film." And, indeed, as I demonstrated above, in no sense can Dawkins' phone conversation as part of "bonus material" for the DVD be construed as an endorsement of the Christ myth. However, in the quote directly above, Mr. Holding fully associates Dawkins with endorsing the Christ-myth idea. This is just patently dishonest.

What we also see in Mr. Holding's discussion of Richard Dawkins in association with Flemming's film is that Holding is trying to score points by engaging in the age-old fallacy of guilt by association. Mr. Holding claims that Dawkins' "appearance" in The God Who Wasn't There was evidence of Dawkins' own endorsement of the Christ myth. The film's title, by the way, seems far more indicative of atheism, generally, and not a reference to the Christ myth, specifically. Indeed, the film covers more than just the Christ myth. Coming at this from a similar angle, it can be noted that Mr. Holding's article appears on a website strongly arguing for Young Earth Creationism. In fact, a contributing author to Mr. Holding's own apologetic website, Lita Cosner[7], owns an article on the site, too, which ferociously attacks the idea of old-earth creationism[8] (i.e., creationism which accepts a 4.5 billion year old earth). Can we therefore conclude that Mr. Holding is a Young Earth Creationist? One would think that this would be a reasonable assumption even though Mr. Holding never offers a defense of Young Earth Creationism itself nor mentions his endorsement of the idea at all. In fact, Mr. Holding has stated that he does not "really care if the earth is billions of years old."[9] He has stated he's a Young Earth Creationist by "default." So, should we consider him a hypocrite because he gives (more than) a "tacit endorsement" of Young Earth Creationism by writing defensive articles for websites like CMI and AiG and in turn hosting articles for authors who are themselves rabid YECs but is not necessarily one himself? And while his articles do not advance arguments for a young earth—in the same manner that Dawkins's discussion of memes in Flemming's film did not advocate for, or even address, the Christ myth—Mr. Holding's articles nonetheless appear with other articles which do. Yet he, himself, is not so committed to the YEC argument and is merely one (a YEC) by "default"?[10] Mr. Holding is a "default" Young Earth Creationist while Dawkins is an advocate of an old earth, and an evolutionary biologist by training, education and degree. Mr. Holding wouldn't lose any sleep over flip-flopping to Old Earth creationism while Dawkins flatly states that he thinks Jesus was a historical person. Who's the real hypocrite here?

Mr. Holding goes on to say that Richard Dawkins "praised [Flemming's movie] warmly in The God Delusion, despite its crass errors." But, "praises it warmly" implies Dawkins endorsed the film as he would the discovery of yet another transitional fossil, nailing shut the coffin on creationism. What Dawkins wrote regarding the movie was that it was "a sincere and moving film advocating atheism." (p. 211) I had never heard of the film until I saw it mentioned in Mr. Holding's article so I borrowed it from my local library. It's quality was not much above some productions I've seen posted on YouTube and while it's certainly not a scholarly film and I can't agree with everything it proposes, I agree with Richard Dawkins that it was a sincere effort, one of the few advocating for—not just the Christ myth—but the occasional destructiveness of religious fundamentalism and the positive aspects of atheism, generally. I don't see how admiring a film turns one into a hypocrite if one disagrees with one of the premises in the film but admires the film overall. I thoroughly enjoy Cecil B. DeMille's Ten Commandments and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (for wildly different reasons), but I certainly do not endorse them as historically or scientifically accurate and have never said as much. In similar fashion I don't see that kind of hypocritical endorsement from Dawkins for Flemming's film that Mr. Holding apparently does. Dawkins does not say that The God Who Wasn't There was a groundbreaking film, finally destroying the "myth" of the historical Jesus. Indeed, all he says is the film was sincere and moving. You can say someone is "sincere" about something and that person can still be wrong. I believe Mr. Holding is sincere when he states that David Rohl "kicked the doors" off old-school biblical research and helped verify the historicity of the story of Jericho. He's wrong, of course, as I detail elsewhere[11], but being sincere and being wrong are not mutually incompatible. Dawkins did not write that Flemming was spot on in his film about historical Jesus research. He speaks only of Flemming's sincerity regarding his appeal to atheism. Atheism certainly does not depend on a mythical Jesus.

The hyperexcitability some Christian apologists display toward the Christ myth is rather uncomfortable to watch. It's as if getting everyone to agree on Jesus's historicity is tantamount to agreeing that the New Testament was right all along about what it claims, and that Jesus did indeed die for the sins of humankind and we should all be very grateful that he did. Acknowledging a historical Jesus is not the same as worshiping him as a god, although some apologists act as if it is.

But this is getting rather off-track. Dawkins does not reject creationism because it's a crackpot or fringe idea. It's a crackpot idea, and Dawkins rejects it as such, because it's incompatible with what we know about the world through true scientific research. In the end, Mr. Holding is trying to argue that because Richard Dawkins mentions G. A. Wells in his ground-breaking book, The God Delusion, he therefore endorses the Christ myth—even though in the book Dawkins states Jesus "probably existed" and was therefore not a fictional creation. Furthermore, Dawkins also appeared in a movie that, among other things, discussed the Christ myth. And while it is true that Dawkins's segment as part of "bonus material" to the film had nothing to do with the Christ myth, Mr. Holding believes the fact that Dawkins and the Christ myth were both found on the same DVD equates to Dawkins endorsing the Christ-myth movement. While Dawkins is a first-rate, highly educated and experienced evolutionary biologist who is abundantly qualified to comment on the lack of science in Young Earth Creationism, Mr. Holding believes he's nonetheless a hypocrite for saying creationism is crackpot while at the same time not being a member of the Christ-myth movement. But Mr. Holding believes in a lot of things contrary to plain evidence, Creationism (Young Earth or Old) being first and foremost. Why should his beliefs about Richard Dawkins be any more rational?

NOTES:

[1]. Creation Ministries International (CMI) was originally part of the larger creationist organization, Answers in Genesis (AiG). According to Wikipedia, "In late 2005/early 2006, the US and UK offices [of AiG] had differences in operating philosophy with the Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, and South African offices and removed themselves from the international group. Since the US office managed the website for the entire international group and took the "AiG" name with them, the latter four offices were forced to rebrand under the name Creation Ministries International (CMI)."

[2]. Richard Dawkins: "Growth in creationist beliefs a problem for schools," The Scotsman, 2 April 2008, quoted from Mr. Holding's article.

[3]. The list of articles Mr. Holding has produced for CMI include:

  • Is the 'erets ("earth") flat? Equivocal language in the geography of Genesis 1 and the Old Testament: a response to Paul H. Seely
  • Response to Seely's criticism of above
  • Is the raqiya' ("firmament") a solid dome? Equivocal language in the cosmology of Genesis 1 and the Old Testament: a response to Paul H. Seely
  • 'Not to be used again': homologous structures and the presumption of originality as a critical value (PDF or HTML)
  • Quotations in the New Testament: Do they mean that the quoted book is totally authoritative?
  • Debunking the Documentary Hypothesis (review of The Inspiration of the Pentateuch by M.W.J. Phelan)
  • Roger Bolton Discovers Sliced Bread: Answering 'Rival to the Bible'
  • Does Genesis hold up under critic's scrutiny?
  • Does the Bible teach error?
  • Dawkins' Ironic Hypocrisy
  • What should we think of new or trendy Bible translations?
  • Newsweek's Gay Apparel: Lisa Miller's Travesty of Exegesis
  • Please Pardon This Interruption: Review of Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman

[4]. James Ussher was Archbishop of Ireland in the 1650s. Using biblical passages with clues to the number of human generations since Adam and Eve he was able to calculate that creation, as described in Genesis, occurred in 4004 BCE (roughly 6000 years before the present day). Providing evidence that Young Earth Creationists today still accept the calculations of Ussher, apologist author and creationist Larry Pierce writes in an article published on the AiG website, "Understanding the assumptions with which he began his calculations (particularly the one we should all begin with, namely that God's Word is true and reliable), we can readily understand how he arrived at his date for creation. In fact, if one assumes that there are no deliberate 'jumps' or gaps in the later genealogies (for which the evidence in my view is inadequate), then his date is a perfectly-reasonable deduction based on his detailed knowledge of and reverence for the Word of God."

[5]. See pages 92-97, the section titled "The Argument from Scripture" in The God Delusion.

[6]. Acharya S is the pen name for D.M. Murdock who is a vocal advocate of the Christ-myth hypothesis. He is held in deep contempt by James Holding who has authored numerous articles rebutting Acharya S's claims. According to Wikipedia, Acharya S has "authored three books and operates a website named Truth be Known. She believes Christianity is founded on earlier myths and the characters depicted in Christianity are based upon Roman, Greek, Egyptian, and other myths."

[7]. See "An Apology: The Case Against Atheism: Atheism does untold damage to our society. A Christian's Response" and "Honor and Group Orientation in the New Testament World" both on Mr. Holding's website.

[8]. See "A pathetic case for an old earth."

[9]. Skeptic Farrell Till hosts and moderates an email discussion group known as The Errancy List. A member of the list forwarded an exchange he had with Mr. Holding which read, in part (email addresses and name of member blocked):

From: James Patrick Holding
Date: Tue, May 5, 2009 at 7:38 PM
To: Jxxxxxxx Wxxxxx

Actually,
I don't mind if people want to be theistic evolutionists, nor do I really care if the earth is billions of years old. I default for a YEC view but it wouldn't break my leg if any view other than purely materialist evolution were true.

[10]. I'm certain there are fans of Mr. Holding's work who like mint ice-cream. Should we then believe Mr. Holding likes mint ice-cream, too, even though he may have stated he prefers chocolate?

[11]. Speaking of Mr. Holding's endorsement of David Rohl, isn't it more than a bit hypocritical on his part to be going on about reputable historians when he uses such a marginal source to buttress an argument? Not one single reputable archaeologist gives Rohl's "New Chronology" any respect. But this doesn't stop Mr. Holding from plugging him in when needed.

SOURCES

Dawkins, Richard The God Delusion (2006) Houghton Mifflin

Published:
  2009-11-25

Categories:
  Christian Apologetics

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