A Response to Cliffe Knechtle’s Campus Apologetics

[As of June 20th, 2013, I have just learned that apologist Cliffe Knechtle has acknowledged errors in the 10/42 apologetic. I apologize for not mentioning Cliffe’s admission sooner, since he appears to have written it in 2012, but I just now learned of it. In his reply, Cliffe asks me a series of questions about the historical reliability of the Gospels, to which I reply.]

Cliffe Knechtle is not the most famous Christian apologist, and for the most part borrows his arguments from more prominent Christian authors, like William Lane Craig. I will say, however, that Cliffe does add a dramatic flair to the the usual apologetic slogans by accompanying them with prominent poses, a commanding voice, and a variety of facial expressions, ranging from friendliness to pensiveness to ridicule and condescension. Nevertheless, Cliffe has very little original material, and all of his arguments borrowed from higher-up apologists have already been rebutted in responses to these authors on counter-apologetics resources such as the Secular Web.

So why do I target Cliffe on this website? There are two main reasons:

1) Cliffe may not be a source for original material, but he does cultivate a sizable following on the Internet and on a number of university campuses. I consider Cliffe to be a “mid-level” apologist. He holds an M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and I am aware that he has at least the ability to read the Koine Greek of the New Testament (he may be able to read other biblical languages). He has also debated notable atheists Matt Dillahunty and Michael Newdow. For these reasons, I would say that Cliffe is “on the radar” in apologetic circles, but he is too far on the fringe to receive attention from higher-up skeptical articles. Likewise, I would consider myself to be a “mid-level” skeptic at this stage in my career. I hold an M.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient History, and I can read multiple dialects of Greek, as well as Latin and Biblical Hebrew. [I have, since writing this response, advanced to multiple years of PhD graduate school experience, which I discuss here.] Cliffe has received some skeptical review on Prove Me Wrong in the blog “Cliffe Knechtle Should Have Been An Actor,” which is a good start, but I would like to provide a more in depth refutation of his common arguments and expose the inaccurate information he gives to unaware audiences.

2) Cliffe provides a good visual representation of what happens to the apologetic slogans created by authors like William Craig and Gary Habermas, once they filter down through the lower levels and finally reach a lay, impressionable audience on the street. Cliffe specifically targets an audience of non-professionals. His arguments would be severely criticized at any mainstream Religious Studies department or non-conservative theological seminary, but his audience of young, mostly Christian college students seldom has the background to call him on his Sunday School-level representation of biblical scholarship. For both of these reasons, I think it will be good for people to have a real resource to see what Cliffe Knechtle is all about.

It has come to my attention that Cliffe has recently posted a video of his visit to the University of Arizona in October 2012. This video is of particular importance to me, since my friend Michael Torri confronted Cliffe during the visit and, taking my advice, filmed the interaction on a separate camera. Michael’s footage is precious, for as I have discussed before, Cliffe’s team selectively edits his videos to only show the parts that make him look good, while often misrepresenting his opponents’ statements. For example, Cliffe’s team failed to post an exchange between me and him in October 2010, where I severely cornered him on biblical scholarship and even got him to admit that he didn’t have a “water tight” case about the historical accuracy of the New Testament, and instead his crew merely posted a dialogue we had two days earlier, where they took one of my statements out of context to make it look like I was arguing simply about there being no contemporary “busts” for Jesus. Fortunately, my video response has refuted this misrepresentation. Cliffe has the right to edit these videos, of course, but I raise this point to make it clear that much of the material on Cliffe’s YouTube channel fails to represent these exchanges as they actually take place, and the portions in which Cliffe is refuted or makes mistakes tend to be omitted (as will be shown below).

Thanks to Michael filming the exchange without editing, however, we now get to see some of the material that Cliffe’s crew does not want to show on the Internet:

Cliffe’s Edited Version:

Michael’s Unedited Version:

Fact-Checking Cliffe’s Version:

There are about four minutes of footage here not in Mike’s version that I will now take the time to refute. Unless you want to see a sappy introduction about god’s love and watch and an incredibly cheesy opening clip, I suggest that you skip ahead to 2:02 in Cliffe’s video:

  • The attractive blonde woman at 2:02, I am happy to say, is my girlfriend Camille Mathieu. I have colored quotes, with Cliffe in red and everyone else in green, for clarity in the conversations. Camille raises a good point, “We don’t really have that great of sources for the life of Jesus.” Cliffe responds by saying there is a gap of 20 years between Jesus and Paul (a non-eyewitness who wrote theological epistles that are sparse of biographical information, discussed further by NT scholar Bart Ehrman in “Why Doesn’t Paul Say More about Jesus?” ) and alludes to the Gospels being written up to 60 years later. Cliffe (2:57) then makes an incredibly inaccurate statement, “There is nothing from antiquity that even comes close to that kind of gap.” Um, how about the historian Paterculus writing contemporary (no gap) to the emperor Tiberius? And what about the additional 14 other contemporary literary sources that mention Tiberius (see here)? There are 0 contemporary sources that mention Jesus. Cliffe’s next statement is even more widely inaccurate, “The gap between the events Herodotus, the Greek historian, wrote about is hundreds of years.” The main subject of the events Herodotus writes about is the Second Persian War (480 BCE), which he documented c. 430 BCE. That’s 50 years, Cliffe, not hundreds! I will grant that Herodotus’ (often inaccurate) history is about at the same gap as the Gospels from the events they describe. However, would Cliffe accept Herodotus’ claim (8.36-41) that, as the Persian army attacked Delphi, the temple armaments came alive of their own accord and defended Delphi (just like the 7th Harry Potter movie!), and later (9.120) that a group of Chersonese witnessed cooked fish resurrect from the dead? If Cliffe can accept these Pagan miracles, then I will accept his comparison of the Gospels to Herodotus.
  • Camille (3:10) proceeds to make another great point, “We don’t take a lot of what Herodotus said at face value.” Absolutely! Sorry Harry Potter believers… Cliffe’s next statement is bizarre, “Yeah, and Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars.” Caesar wrote autobiographical commentaries about his military campaigns that are obviously contemporary to his life. Um, sorry, Cliffe, what did you just say“There is nothing from antiquity that even comes close to that kind of gap.” Self-refute much, Cliffe?
  • Cliffe (4:05) next attempts to salvage the mythological content of the Gospels: “Now, how do you determine historicity?” He also asks that one be “consistent as you look through all of history.” Good question and point, Cliffe! My essay “Methodological Approaches to Ancient History” answers this exact question thoroughly and precisely shows how the Gospels are not historically reliable comparing them to other historical evidence! Cliffe offers his own four tests:
    1. “Internal Consistency.” The Gospels are so internally inconsistent that it’s (almost) surprising that Cliffe would even raise this. Two different genealogies for Jesus? Was Jesus’ ministry one year or three? The list could go on, but I recommend Dr. Bart Ehrman’s book Jesus, Interrupted for real scholarship on this issue, and also encourage people to read Dan Barker’s “An Easter Challenge for Christians” for how we cannot even internally construct Christianity’s resurrection event without contradictions. (See also my essay “Bible Contradictions: Why Are They There? What Do They Entail?”.)
    2. “Literary Style.” You mean hagiographies designed as Christian propaganda? I’ll quote Dr. Pheme Perkins from the Oxford Annotated Bible, “Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis. Their aim was to confirm Christian faith” (pg. 1744). Sorry, Cliffe, once more real scholarship is not on your side. Cliffe later says that the Gospels do not begin with “once upon a time.” Um, how about, “In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God” (John 1:1)? Cliffe even says that the Gospels read like “The New York Times.” Um, Cliffe, there were no newspapers in antiquity. I encourage anyone to accept Cliffe’s challenge, get a New York Time’s article and read it alongside John 1.
    3. “Archeological Evidence.” To affirm this, Cliffe says, “Are we talking about Jesus being born on the island of Atlantis?” Oh, so being born from a virgin woman is that much more believable? How about a fake census from Luke to get Jesus to Bethlehem? Once more, Cliffe is using the logic that because the Gospels refer to real places, the miraculous events within them must be real too. Applying the same logic: Harry Potter mentions London, therefore magic is true as well.
    4. “Manuscript Evidence.” Here Cliffe makes the amateur mistake of equating textual accuracy with historical accuracy. I cover this false equivocation in my essay “Leveling a Mountain of Manuscripts with a Small Scoop of Context.” Cliffe makes a big fuss about how we have a lot of manuscript copies of the New Testament (ignoring the millennium of Christians dominating the textual transmission that caused this). We have more manuscript copies of Vergil’s Aeneid than Tacitus’ Annals. So what? Does that make Vergil more historical than Tacitus? No! Counting later copies is an absurd argument for historical accuracy. Cliffe further claims that the New Testament manuscripts agree “to the infinitesimal degree.” For those interested in what a real scholar has to say about textual criticism, read Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus.
  • Next (5:50), Cliffe brings up the old saw that eyewitnesses would not have died for what they had seen, unless they knew that Jesus’ resurrection had been true. I refute this claim thoroughly in my essay “March to Martyrdom! (Down the Yellow Brick Road…).” Cliffe includes none of the details of these legendary church traditions. Does he believe that milk shot out of Paul’s neck when he was beheaded? How about that St. Philip destroyed a dragon temple at his crucifixion and slaughtered 7,000 men in the process? Ignoring the fact that we have no writings from any eyewitnesses of Jesus (we will cover this more later), Cliffe asks for “one example” of someone else who died for what they had claimed to have seen. Um, how about Joseph Smith? Should Cliffe now become Mormon? Once more, Cliffe has tailor-made a standard that he wouldn’t apply to the countless martyrdoms in the other religions throughout history.

Mike’s Unedited Version (I’ll note the material that Cliffe’s editing team left out):

From this point on, Mike’s video begins to coincide with Cliffe’s. There is an interesting separate part, however, at the opening of Mike’s video (0:04), where Michael asks Cliffe where we can see the full footage of his videos. Cliffe’s response here truly surprised me. He responds (0:23) that the full videos are on his website (they aren’t), and if you listen carefully, Cliffe’s camera man (0:26) has to inform him that the videos online are edited to 30 minutes long. Cliffe hasn’t even checked the content on his own website? On the one hand, I can’t blame him personally for editing the footage. On the other hand, how can you trust the integrity of a man who doesn’t even make sure that he is producing an honest final product? Sure, Cliffe doesn’t have to watch every edited video, but to not even know that the videos had been edited down to 30 minutes? As we have seen above (and will see more below), Cliffe has a very poor record checking the accuracy of his sources. Given Cliffe’s performance in checking neither the quality of the material he researches nor the online videos that are eventually made with it, I must say that Cliffe is the type of man to check neither his food nor his resulting waste for worms.

The following will cover the material that Cliffe’s editing team left out (in addition to what they included, but with context) during the discussion with Michael about the historical accuracy of the New Testament. As we will see, almost all of the excluded material made Cliffe look bad:

  • Picking up from Cliffe’s martyrdom argument (Mike’s video 1:40), Cliffe argues that eyewitnesses claimed to have seen Jesus resurrected in their writings. He ignores all of what mainstream scholarship has done to dispute these authorial traditions, so his audience is likewise not informed. Cliffe lists Matthew, 1 and 2 Peter, and James.
    1. The Gospel of Matthew: Cliffe does not, at first, acknowledge that all of the Gospels are anonymous in their composition and that their traditional authorial attributions only come from church fathers writing in the 2nd century. He has to be pressed on this point. Instead, Cliffe (2:04) boldly claims, “Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew.” Cliffe’s editing team leaves out Michael quoting (2:47) an actual scholar on this matter (and thus hides from its viewers that Michael was utilizing a scholarly resource), J.R.C. Cousland from the University of British Columbia: “The fact that the Evangelist was so reliant upon Mark and a collection of Jesus’ sayings (“Q”) seems to point to a later unknown author” (Oxford Annotated Bible, pg. 1746). Cliffe never disputes this fact that an eyewitness would not need to be reliant upon earlier writings if he were recording his own recollections, but he does say “Correct” when Michael asks if he disagrees with the scholarly consensus. Next, Cliffe tries to dismiss the scholarly source by saying, “Sir, I am sure that you can find many New Testament scholars who disagree strongly with each other.” Outside of conservative Christian universities, not really on this one, Cliffe. Instead, Cliffe finally insists, “You have to go back and study the source documents … you have to read the writings of the early church fathers.” Unfortunately, Cliffe appears to have done none of this! Cliffe (2:17) claims, “Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, Clement, bishop of Rome clearly talk about the Gospel of Matthew, they quote him!” Has Cliffe ever actually studied these sources? They quote the first Gospel anonymously, which actually supports the evidence that the Gospel was never written by an apostle but an anonymous, later person. Here are the passages that Cliffe is referring to: Ignatius quotes the first Gospel anonymously. See Matthew’s name in there? Likewise, Clement never attributed the first Gospel to an apostle. As Mike says correctly, “They quote the document,” but they don’t give an author. Incidentally, Camille actually does inform Cliffe on who the first source is to attribute the gospel to Matthew. Camille (2:10) accurately points out that the traditional authorial attribution of the anonymous first Gospel “comes from Papias.” Cliffe responds (2:15), “No, that’s not true at all!” Has Cliffe even read the fragments of Papias? “But about Matthew this was said, ‘Now Matthew compiled the reports in a Hebrew manner of speech.'” Of course, Papias is little more than a dubious gossiper, who elsewhere claims that Judas became wider than a chariot and so fat that he exploded. Hmm, reports in the Hebrew tongue? Unfortunately, our Gospel of Matthew is written in Greek and based on other Greek texts, but yet a later church father, Irenaeus, used the ambiguous statement in Papias to claim that the apostle Matthew wrote the first Gospel. So the whole authorial tradition really comes from Irenaeus, who was battling with other Christians in the late 2nd century over the canonical status of scripture and misreading a previous statement of Papias, which was already dubious. On a side note, Irenaeus wanted there to be four Gospels because there are “four winds” of the Earth. Yes, this is the logic and evidence behind how the biblical canon developed … and Cliffe wants to trust these people as sources? Clearly, he is only doing so to try to fit his weak martyrdom argument, because if he admitted that the Gospels come from later non-eyewitnesses, as most scholars agree, his whole argument collapses. For further elaboration on why the majority of mainstream NT scholars doubt the traditional authors and “eyewitness” status of the Gospels, see my essay “Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels.”
    2. 1 and 2 Peter: Cliffe lists these two letters, but he doesn’t elaborate further, which spares him from similar objections like above, because, unfortunately for him, 1 and 2 Peter are forgeries! That’s right, they are not only not written by Peter, but they are actually written by people lying and pretending that they are Peter! So Cliffe’s source here comes from outright liars. For information on this, I recommend Dr. Bart Ehrman’s Forged: Writing in the Name of God. To summarize briefly: Peter was an illiterate Galilean fisherman who spoke Aramaic. The vast majority of people in the ancient world were illiterate, and there is no way that an Aramaic fisherman would have been able to write elaborate Greek prose. However, Peter was a prominent church leader, so later authors forged letters and other works in his name to gain authority. If Cliffe wants to deny this, ask him if he believes that the apocryphal Gospel of Peter was written by Peter. What is further problematic is that these two letters do not even have the same forger! So Cliffe is quoting two liars here in an attempt to attribute a 1st century writing to an eyewitness of Jesus.
    3. The Epistle of James: Cliffe (1:50) claims “James was an eyewitness, sir, he was a younger brother of Christ … James wrote the letter of James.” Please point me to the part in James where the author claims either to be an eyewitness or the brother of Jesus? The epistle of James is written by a “James” and there were billions of them in that time period. The letter is either homonymous (“same named”) and just written by someone else named James, or, even if the author was trying to claim to be Jesus’ brother, James was likewise an illiterate, Aramaic-speaking Galilean, who would not have been able to write in complex Greek prose. In that case the letter would be pseudonymous (“falsely named”) and yet another forgery. Ehrman likewise discusses in Forged why the epistle of James was most likely not written by Jesus’ brother.
  • Next, Camille (4:31) points out how the terminus post quem (“time after which”) the Gospels were written is 70 CE, since the Gospels record the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 CE. Makes perfect sense: if you read something that refers to the destruction of the World Trade Center, would you assume that it was written before September 11, 2001 or after? Apparently, Cliffe (4:50) thinks it is a “philosophical presupposition” to use this kind of logic. Cliffe claims that Camille believes “there is no such thing as prophecy, the ability to see the future.” Well, yeah. Do we also have philosophical presuppositions that crystal balls don’t work for predicting the future? Or psychics? Or astrology? I’ll give another ancient example: the historians Tacitus (Ann. 6.20), Suetonius (Gal. 4), and Cassius Dio (64.1) all agree that the emperor Tiberius used his knowledge of astrology to predict the future emperor Galba’s reign. As Bill Craig likes to boast, we have independent attestation. I don’t believe that Tiberius did this. Why? Do I have to philosophically pre-suppose that astrology doesn’t work? No! It’s because astrology has never succeeded to predict the future in any reliable study and there is no valid explanation for how the movement of solar bodies affects the individual destinies of humans. Camille did not pre-suppose anything. Not believing in ancient prophecy is done on the grounds that there has been no evidence confirming that prophecy works today and it is likewise reasonable to infer that no such thing occurred in the past. The conclusion is reached a posteriori not a priori. If Cliffe would like to perform an experiment and give evidence under controlled conditions that one can predict the future, I would strongly encourage it, but like all apologists, he has an impotence to actually demonstrate miracles, and instead has to play games about how we only don’t believe in them, not from a lack of evidence, but because of “presuppositions.”
  • Cliffe (5:15) next tries to salvage a pre-70 CE date of composition of Acts by giving an analogy: “If you read a life of Abraham Lincoln that does not include his assassination, don’t you think that it is wise to conclude that it was written before April 1865?” Cliffe is making this argument to claim that Acts was written before Paul’s death, since Paul’s death (c. 67 CE) is not explicitly given a scene in the narrative. Nevertheless, Paul’s death is clearly alluded to in Acts 20:36-38, “When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.” This scene refers to Paul’s final departure from Miletus (where he is giving farewell to the Ephesian elders), which, if Paul were still alive, how can the author be sure that he won’t sail back to Ephesus tomorrow (or at least in a later part of his life)? Clearly the passage foreshadows Paul’s death and shows the author’s awareness of it. More to the point, the analogy is flawed: Acts is not a biography of Paul. Does Acts begin with Paul’s birth? No. So why should it end at his death? Acts records the rise of the early church and its eventual arrival in Rome. The narrative reaches its natural conclusion in Acts 28 when Paul reaches Rome and the new church begins there. There is no reason that it would have to go on to the later event of Paul’s death. Cliffe, in essence, is making an argument of silence, that simply because the document doesn’t explicitly mention something must mean that it happened before it. However, the same argument can be applied to Paul’s epistles: Paul never mentions or quotes anyone writing Gospels about Jesus. By the same argument of silence, the Gospels were written after Paul. Cliffe once more has a double standard here.
  • Cliffe’s crew next leaves out a rather weak part of Cliffe’s argument. Mike (7:15) next points out how, “The Gospels aren’t, as you say, historical narratives, they are hagiographies.” Wait, you mean the Gospels are theologically-biased hagiographies aimed at praising Jesus, filled with legendary elements, such as Midrash and ex eventu prophecies? Well, yeah. Cliffe (7:24) offers an even more weak historical criteria than the one he did in his edited version. He says the Gospels answer the questions, “At what time, in what place, with which individuals around, did this take place?” Well, let’s use those criteria elsewhere: Homer’s Iliad describes a war during the reign of king Priam, at Troy, about a conflict between Hector and Achilles. The Iliad is a historical narrative under these criteria. Cliffe fancies that he is able to talk about history?
  • Cliffe (8:40) next makes one of his biggest blunders to ever be caught on camera! His editing team completely left out Michael calling him on the inaccurate 10/42 apologetic! I had informed Mike and Camille in advance of my essay “Ten Reasons to Reject the Apologetic 10/42 Source Slogan.” Cliffe immediately tried to claim that there are only 10 sources for Tiberius within 150 years of his death, but 42 for Jesus, and Michael read (9:40) out the 33 sources that Cliffe missed for Tiberius in his wildly inaccurate statistic. I have seen a variety of Cliffe facial expressions, but never this one: dumbfounded. Cliffe never expected that someone would actually do their homework on his grand number. What is more embarrassing is that Cliffe wouldn’t even acknowledge that he had borrowed the statistic from someone else without checking its accuracy. Michael (10:20) asks, “Now, where did you get your number 10?” Cliffe replies with a statement implying that he himself had found the number: “From studying history, it comes out to about ten!” Mike then quotes Gary Habermas and Mike Licona’s Case for the Resurrection of Jesus and the very page (pg. 233) where the source came from. Cliffe’s response is odd: “No, I never read that book.” Maybe Cliffe had forgotten reading it, but I wonder if he actually didn’t even consult a book on the matter and merely picked it up from the online CARM website. Mike informs Cliffe that he may be plagiarizing and Cliffe’s response (11:00) reminded me of Bill Clinton, “I don’t have the book, I’ve never read that book!” Mike continues to press him, “How did you miss those thirty three sources, if you weren’t just copying someone else’s work?” Cliffe still has to keep up with the denial, “I’m sure that I miss many things in life … I try to get accuracy and I seriously question your list!” Why? On what grounds? Cliffe did none of the research and merely copied the number from someone else. So how would he know its accuracy? Then Mike points out, “If you had actually done the work, you would have heard of them.” Cliffe is more than free at any point in this dialogue to admit that he doesn’t remember where he heard the number. How does he respond instead? (12:17) “Yes! I sure have, and it’s been laborious, it’s been painful.” Seriously, Cliffe? How is it laborious to copy an inaccurate statistic from someone else? I’ll tell you what is laborious, Cliffe, having to do all the real research into the matter to correct the misconceptions you and other apologists are misinforming the public with on this nonsense. Needless to say, Cliffe’s camera crew cut this entire section of Cliffe being caught red handed from their version of the video. Had it not been for Mike preparing in advance, this blatant example of his dishonesty would never have been exposed to the public. What’s even greater is you can hear someone in the background (13:15) say, “Wow, he’s committed!” about Mike catching Cliffe. I must say, I am glad that got caught on camera.
  • The next part (13:35) moved on to the old resurrection debate about playing Clue with Jesus’ death. Cliffe asks Mike what he believes would be evidence that the resurrection happened. Mike is very clear: 1) “Eyewitness accounts” (we have already shown how there are none), and 2) “plus verifiable proof that it is possible.” I italicized “possible,” since the next several minutes are nothing but Cliffe running off on a tangent about how we can’t repeat historical events like Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. We do not need to repeat the exact moment an event happened to show that the event was possible through repeating the variables. Simply get a gun and shoot a pig’s head to see that firing a bullet into someone’s head is a possible way to kill them. Cliffe knows that he can’t repeat the variables of the resurrection, so instead he plays a game trying to argue that science can’t repeat history. Please keep Mike’s statement (13:44) in mind about where he clearly states that he wants evidence that it is possible for the rest of this section where Cliffe misrepresents him. Cliffe (14:14) claims, “There’s no scientific proof at all, sir, that John Wilkes Boothe assassinated Abraham Lincoln.” Once more, that’s not the same thing as scientific proof that it is possible for him to have done so. Mike responds, “You don’t think the body, the bullet, and the bloodstain are scientific?” Cliffe’s next response is ridiculous, “You have the body, the blood, and the bullet?” Mike responds hysterically, “Well, not on me!” *the crowd laughs* Cliffe keeps on going off about how science is only the repeatability of an experiment, ignoring Mike’s repeated reminder that he is talking about repeating the conditions. Does this paragraph sound redundant, yet? The video is worse. Cliffe (16:20) accuses Mike of being “intellectually dishonest” because he is “demanding scientific proof for an historical event.” Please refer back to Michael’s statement (13:44) and then assess who is being intellectually dishonest. Michael (17:04) repeats his statement, “I said I need scientific proof that it is possible for a resurrection, then you said that I need scientific proof that it was a resurrection. No, I’m asking for a different set of standards for a different type of study.” Can anyone call Michael the dishonest one here? Cliffe (17:35) goes into full ad hominem attack, “You are so intellectually hypocritical, it’s scary!” All this when Cliffe is the one blatantly caught on camera misrepresenting Michael (which his film team cut out). Finally, Cliffe (18:18) responds to Mike’s demand for scientific proof for the possibility of a resurrection: “Well that’s impossible!” *Ding* *Ding* *Ding*

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  • Does anyone see what the digression above was all about? Cliffe kept desperately trying to confuse the audience with the science vs. history tangent, to avoid having to address the real issue. At last, Cliffe (18:25) finally addresses the point, “It is a philosophical question you are asking.” This is the one part I partially agree with Cliffe on. There is no point in a theist arguing with an atheist about the historicity of the resurrection. None. The argument inevitably has to regress into a philosophical debate about super-naturalism vs. naturalism and the existence of god. So all of the debates with William Craig and Mike Licona about this issue are pointless. It only makes sense for a theist to argue with a fellow theist about the resurrection. Anything else with an atheist would have to become a separate philosophical debate. So it is foolish to put the label of “history” on any of this. However, Cliffe (19:30) is still wrong when he argues, “You have a philosophical presupposition of naturalism.” Once again, he is back to playing games about presuppositions. I will refer people to a good blog post on atheistlogic refuting this point: “There’s No Such Thing as Presuppositional Naturalism.” Cliffe’s point here is merely an attempt to reverse what is really a bankrupt element in his own presuppositional belief in theism. One does not propose naturalism a priori. Rather, when one looks at the world around us, and all we see are natural physical forces, then it is reasonable to conclude a posteriori that naturalism is the case. Nor is this conclusion some “watertight” box. If Cliffe can give demonstrable evidence of miracles and the supernatural, I would be more than happy to update my position. However, this is the very impotence that apologists have in being unable to give actual evidence. Instead, god and miracles are so absent from the world, that one has to presuppose theism, but the same is not true for the post-supposition in naturalism. Ultimately, Cliffe played games with history for this entire section of the video that I have just refuted, only to finally be pinned to the conclusion that it all really just comes down to faith in a supernatural worldview made up in ancient theology, which he presupposes is correct.

Michael’s video goes on to a discussion about Hell after this, which is interesting, but my main point in this blog was to refute Cliffe’s misinformation and misuse of history. As has been demonstrated, almost everything Cliffe said in the video was either inaccurate, misrepresented, or an attempt to hide beliefs that are derived from faith. Cliffe provides a good example of what apologetics is and what it becomes when spoon fed to non-specialized people. Fortunately, Mike was there to record the footage that Cliffe left out so that I, someone who at least holds an M.A. on these issues, could get the chance to refute these crank historical arguments. But apologetics is really not about history. Cliffe could easily improve his methodology, but he won’t. Instead, his stage routine is little more than an effort to convert people to his religion, and he will hijack any more serious discipline that he can, such as history, to put intellectual trappings on what is really a matter of faith.

Cliffe reminds me of the Jim Cunningham character from the movie Donnie Darko, who argues that every problem in life could be reduced to a conflict between love and fear:

Jim has prominent poses, a commanding voice, and a variety of facial expressions to dazzle his audience. He reduces complex information down into a framed paradigm, where just obviously everything he says is true and everything to the contrary is false. Cliffe likewise dumbs down history before an impressionable audience, provides misinformation, confuses them about methodology, and ultimately sells a dishonest package to those not fully informed on these matters. Fortunately, many people who are not experts can still see through it. I have talked to a number of people at Cliffe’s events and they couldn’t explain all the problems as I did above, but they had to say that Cliffe sure came off a lot like a used car salesman. Cliffe merely provides a stage routine, a “dog and pony show” as my friend Mike later put it. What’s unfortunate is that he is paid to travel around the country and spread this misinformation, when there are no real historians, scientists, and philosophers funded to likewise follow and refute each of his bad points. Nevertheless, I will do what I can from my own background in Ancient History to correct these misconceptions and provide a free resource for people to see what Cliffe Knechtle is really all about.

-Matthew Ferguson

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12 Responses to A Response to Cliffe Knechtle’s Campus Apologetics

  1. Is your girlfriend also a history student?

    • No, she was an English undergrad and is now entering an M.S. program in Library and Information Science. Though, she also did a minor in Judaic Studies, and is familiar with other Jewish Messiahs.

      Unfortunately Cliffe doesn’t come to UC Irvine, and I haven’t had a chance to visit UofA again when he was there. I’d like to debate him again in person at some point.

  2. Pingback: Episode 40: Matthew Ferguson – Metaphysical Naturalism and Secular Humanism (Part 1) | NonTheology

  3. Pingback: Episode 41: Matthew Ferguson – Metaphysical Naturalism and Secular Humanism (Part 2) | NonTheology

  4. ratamacue0 says:

    I watched Cliff’s debates with Matt Dillahunty recently. I appreciate your additions to the conversation here.

    So all of the debates with William Craig and Mike Licona about this issue are pointless. It only makes sense for a theist to argue with a fellow theist about the resurrection, anything else with an atheist would have to become a separate philosophical debate.

    I think you’re right about the devolution into philosophical debate, but I dispute your assertion that they are useless. I did find such debates useful in my own research leading to my deconversion.

    • Hey Ratamacue0,

      It’s been a while since I wrote this response to Cliffe, but I do not regard formal debates about the resurrection to be useless (after all, I have participated in one myself). I think what I originally meant was that it is useless to argue that one can “historically” prove the resurrection. That question *must* devolve into a philosophical debate, so trying to claim that the resurrection debate is solely a historical question is useless.

      But holding debates is a good way to raise awareness about certain issues and to get the public interested in the key arguments. I do not think that debates resolve many arguments (though, Bill Nye did a good job of sealing the creationist coffin in his debate with Ken Ham), and there are many ways to manipulate debates with underhanded rhetorical tactics (e.g. the strategies of Cliffe that I point out here).

      I’m hoping, once I get my Ph.D., to continue engaging apologists in formal debates. Maybe, if William Craig is still around, I may debate him one day. That said, I think that written debates and arguments are more organized and are often more useful for conveying information. I also find that it is harder to use underhanded rhetorical tactics in written debates. So I will always regard written debates to be more critical and authoritative than verbal ones.

      That is my two cents about formal debates.

      • ratamacue0 says:

        Thanks for clarifying. I’m inclined to agree.

        About Ham on Nye: I was just being to question my beliefs (including young earth creationism) as I watched that. It struck me the extent to which they talked past each other, and it prompted me to further investigation afterwards. (These issues were arguably minor influences in my deconversion, though.)

        I’ve been reading a bit on your site, and I began to wonder if someday you might get to debate the great WLC. I’d be interested to see it. 🙂

        • Hey Ratamacue0,

          Any debate between Craig and I would be long down the road. I have four more years of grad school to complete (in addition to 3 more qualifying exams and a dissertation) before I will have my Ph.D. During that time and after I will also be writing more counter-apologetics material (including hopefully finishing my book planned on the subject in the next couple years). It would at least be half a decade or so in the future, and I do not know if Craig will be active then or wish to debate someone so much younger than him.

          Beyond that, Craig is a very skilled debater, and, although I was on the debate team in high school and have participated in two debates on the topic of apologetics since, Craig’s debate experience is much greater than mine. This does not mean that I think his arguments are very good. He is brilliant at using his first speech to throw out a bunch of questions that his opponent “must answer” (shifting the burden of proof onto the skeptic), while frequently poisoning the well, and framing things in manipulative ways to make his opponents look dishonest/hyper-skeptical. He is also very economical in using his talking points to make them take about 1/10 of the amount of time for him to state them as it takes the skeptic to unpack and rebut them. The result is that his opponent almost always runs out of time.

          That said, I have been thinking of ways to counter Craig’s resurrection debate routine. If the debate order was reversed, or the first speaker was chosen by the flip of a coin, I think it would pre-empt a lot of his tactics. Craig uses his first speech to shift the burden and saddle the skeptic with a bunch of questions to distract them from making their own case. In debates where he goes second (such as in the Kagan debate, although that one was on morality, not the resurrection), Craig does substantially worse, IMO. Likewise, the first thing that any skeptic needs to do in debating him on the resurrection is to restate the issue in more honest terms, and reframe things from the way that Craig has stated them. You basically have to go through all the major evidence and unpack the hidden premises, unqualified assertions, and false analogies that Craig slips under the table.

          For this reason, I think debating Craig requires a lot of skill in speaking, being able to time yourself, and being economical in how you use words/state arguments. Fortunately, the same is true in many ways for debating Cliffe. Cliffe is a sort of mini-Craig, so debating him has also given me good experience. But, were I ever to debate Craig, it would require a ton of preparation, and practicing rehearsing speeches/flowing arguments on my part. That would be very exciting, but also very challenging.

  5. Mike says:

    Well unfortunately your voice will be an opinion in the dark until you step up with the big boys like Mat Dillahunty, so at the moment “Nonsense remains nonsense”

    • Mike, in case you are unaware, I have had public debates with real scholars vastly beyond Cliffe Knechtle in their level of expertise. One is Craig Evans, who is the John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins at Houston Baptist University:

      https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/debates-2/

      Unlike Knechtle, Evans was also civil in this discussion and far more erudite. I left the University of Arizona the year after the 10/42 incident, and I haven’t had a chance to catch Cliffe on a visit to a college campus since. Nevertheless, I gave a friend of mine the information to debunk Cliffe, which he used the next year.

      As for “an opinion in the dark,” last year this blog got over 100,000 views. That may not be as much as what Cliffe gets on YouTube, but it is disseminating knowledge. As I work to get my PhD (which Cliffe does not have, nor Dillahunty), I also have to focus on graduate work, but I will be taking more steps to get the word out there as I continue study the ancient world and philosophy.

  6. “all of his arguments borrowed from higher-up apologists have already been rebutted in responses ”

    Yes, but so have the rebuttals themselves been rebutted!

    • Yep, and the rebuttals to the rebuttals have also been rebutted. That’s how debates work. What is important is that people get the oppurtunity to read the works of secular scholars who would not accept Cliffe’s claims in science, ethics, and history. Since his speaking engagements and YouTube videos seldom provide such an oppurtunity, I have provided them here. 🙂

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