The Sound of Silence
The Sound of Silence
An old Simon and Garfunkle song spoke of the sound of silence,
a term that is becoming more and more descriptive of the way that
Christian fundamentalists are choosing to respond to the evidence
that disputes the Bible inerrancy doctrine. Long-time subscribers
to The Skeptical Review know that we have always had an editorial
policy that grants equal space to inerrancy believers who want
to respond to our articles. In view of their dogmatic claim that
the Bible is the inerrant word of God, one would think that there
would have been a mad rush by fundamentalists to take advantage
of our offer so that they could enlighten us silly skeptics who
reject the inerrancy doctrine, but instead they have consistently
run from the opportunity to present their evidence to the hundreds
of atheists and skeptics who subscribe to our paper.
First, there was Wayne Jackson, editor of Christian Courier and
co-editor of Reason and Revelation, whose pro-inerrancy articles
in these publications were often quoted, reviewed, or reprinted
simultaneously with our rebuttal articles. We always sent him
advanced copies of any such article with an offer of equal space
if he wished to respond. All of these offers were met with the
sound of silence. He has the truth, and there isn't a chance in
the world that his position is wrong, yet he has no interest in
using a forum that would give him an audience of hundreds that
would otherwise be unavailable to him. He prefers preaching to
the choir in journals that go primarily into homes that are already
convinced that his inerrancy view is right. That doesn't make
a lot of sense.
Next came Lindell Mitchell, who tried his luck at vindicating
God for ordering the massacre of babies. We all remember what
happened to him. After two articles, he unilaterally declared
victory and dropped out in a flurry of insults and assurances
that he would not continue the discussions ("From the Mailbag,"
Spring 1994, p. 15). Well, he is back in this issue with letters
that editor Farrell Till has responded to (see pages 2-4), which
response Mitchell has again declined the opportunity to reply
to. In a letter to Till after receiving an advanced copy of this
article, he made it clear that his reaction will be only partial
It is tempting to let you sink back in the cesspool of obscurity
you deserve. However, because other "free-thinkers"
accept some of your absurd quibbles uncritically, I plan to deal
with them in the Firm Foundation occasionally. Your name and location
will not be used, but you will find it interesting (August 9,
See what we mean about preferring to preach to the choir? Mitchell
is vitally concerned about "free-thinkers" who uncritically
accept Till's absurd quibbles, but he chooses to "deal with
them" in a religious journal that is read primarily by members
of his own little faction rather than in TSR, where the impeccable
logic in his arguments would be seen by hundreds of "uncritical
freethinkers." Does he seriously believe that freethinkers
are so "uncritical" that they won't see right through
a rationalization as transparent as this one? The man doesn't
have a leg to stand on, he knows that he doesn't, so he is desperately
groping for some face-saving way to get out of a situation he
wishes he had never gotten into.
Viewers who have watched the tapes of the Moffitt-Till Debate
saw Moffitt's moderator, Marion Fox, assure the audience that
he was going to write an article "in the next few months"
that would respond to the contradiction pointed out in "No
Bastards Allowed" (TSR, Spring 1994, pp. 7,12,16). This announcement
came after Till had presented the problem during the debate and
challenged the bevy of preachers in the audience to give a satisfactory
explanation of the problem before the debate was over. Not a single
preacher spoke to Till about it, but at the beginning of the third
session, Fox announced that he would write the article and went
on to say that there were some "good answers" to the
problem. Although Till spoke up from his seat and assured the
audience that he would publish the article, as this issue goes
to press, nothing has been heard from Fox concerning these "good
answers" to the problem, even though more than just "the
next few months" have gone by. So the sound of silence continues
In the same debate, Moffitt interrupted one of Till's speeches
and announced that he would debate the prophecy issue. An on-the-spot
agreement was reached to have a written debate on the subject,
and the tapes show Moffitt assuring Till that he would arrange
his work schedule so that he could resume a written debate that
he and Till already had in progress on the inerrancy issue, finish
it, and then begin the one on prophecy. At that time, it had been
over two years since Moffitt had last contributed a manuscript
to the debate already in progress. As this edition of TSR goes
to press, six months after the oral debate, Moffitt still has
not written another manuscript for the inerrancy debate, so, needless
to say, the prophecy debate is nowhere close to starting. The
sound of silence is beginning to scream in Portland, Texas.
So what is happening here? Why would Mitchell choose to expose
Till's "absurd quibbles" for the benefit of "uncritical
freethinkers" but do so in a journal that few freethinkers
will ever read? Why would Fox announce to an audidience of fundamentalists
that he would write an article that would give some "good
answers" to a contradiction Till had alleged and then not
write the article? Why would Moffitt stand up before the same
audience and announce that he would debate Till on the prophecy
issue and then not do it? Well, logicians have an expression that
explains it. It is called "playing to the gallery,"
i.e., saying what the debater knows will have a strong emotional
appeal to his audience. When Mitchell publishes his "exposure"
of Till's "absurd quibbles" in a one-sided religious
journal, he will be preaching to the choir. His readers will lay
the paper aside thinking, "Wow, Brother Mitchell sure ripped
that atheist to pieces," but they will never hear the evidence
that supports Till's position.
The fundamentalists in the audience who saw Fox's and Moffitt's
performances left the debate thinking that their preachers were
going to put another atheist in his place. Most of them will never
realize that their beloved preachers merely played to the gallery
and then responded with the sound of silence when it was time
to make good their promises. Like Mitchell's Firm-Foundation readers,
they will never hear the other side of the issue or even know
that their men copped out.
So what are these inerrancy champions up to? They would never
admit it, but it seems to be what was, strangely enough, expressed
in another old song. They want to "hang on to what [they've]
got." They know that their position is too untenable to persuade
objective minds to accept it, so they have adopted a holding-action
strategy. They will take on an adversary now and then in public
debate but not to try to reach the undecided or the openly skeptical;
they will just play to the gallery and hope to hang on to what
they've got. It's a free country, so they may do as they please,
but our mail suggests that their strategy isn't working. Little
by little, they're losing ground.
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