Mitchell Rides Again
Mitchell Rides Again
After arbitrarily declaring victory and dropping out of the debate
on the Amalekite massacre (Spring 1994, p. 15), Lindell Mitchell
quickly fired off a letter to me after receiving the Summer 1994
issue. I thought that his letter, which was addressed to Farrell
Swill, deserves a page or two of its own rather than just a column
in "From the Mailbag":
I just received the most recent issue of your excuse for a journal.
As always, it is filled with distortion and deception. You know
that [you?] did not present an affirmative case in our debate.
We both know that you are unable to make an affirmative case given
your epistemological posture. You looked even more silly than
you normally do; and you were exposed in your own paper! The fact
that you have devoted so much space to our exchange indicates
how badly wounded you were.
I still want to see you produce objective quantifiable data, in
the absence of an objective standard of morality, which proves
that God was guilty of a moral atrocity in 1 Samuel 15. You did
not do it; your buddy Dave Matson did not do it; no one can do
it, because it is an asinine position.
You ran Patrick Phillips [sic] whiney [sic] letter but did not
carry my response, which you surely had. Are you scared Mr. Till?
What does his snotty letter prove? Did he produce the data which
would establish your position? I asked him to, but he has not
seen fit to produce the information required.
Your lead article is typical of the tripe you trot out to the
public. You assert that Jesus is a counterfeit and seek to establish
your assertion by telling us that Martin A. Larson says that there
were many virgin-born savior gods. So? What does that prove? Where
is the objective data? Where is the measurable information that
establishes the claim? If your claim were granted how would that
establish your assertion that Jesus is a fraud? Where do you sustain
your position in the absence of a standard?
Until you discover the concept of honesty and make some effort
to keep your word, I will not take you seriously.
Mitchell knows that I offered him an opportunity to respond to
my third article (Summer 1994) on the Amalekite massacre. The
article was sent to him in April to allow him time to write a
response before the printer's June 1st deadline, but he chose
not to accept the offer. Now that he has seen my article, he wants
to reopen the discussion, although the letter accompanying his
last submission clearly said that he was "closing the debate
on 1 Samuel 15 at this point" and that he "refuse[d]
to continue the discussion" (Summer 1994, p. 15). Anyone,
of course, is entitled to change his mind, and now that Mitchell
has reconsidered, I am more than happy to publish his letter.
There is absolutely nothing in it that I am "scared"
to let TSR readers see. On the other hand, I don't see the editors
of the fundamentalist papers that Mitchell writes for rushing
to give skeptics the opportunity to express their opinions on
the pages of those journals. I wonder why.
Mitchell referred to TSR as my "excuse for a journal";
however, this "excuse for a journal" does give a forum
to opposing views, and that is more than the Firm Foundation does.
Mitchell is a regular contributor and a member of the advisory
staff of this paper, so perhaps he will be willing to advise my
favorite editor Buster Dobbs to feature an exchange of views in
the pages of the Firm Foundation. If Dobbs is too proud to let
me be the representative of the biblical errancy view, I know
others who would gladly do it. However, until the religious papers
that Mitchell is affiliated with show a willingness to publish
both sides, he certainly has no room to criticize the editorial
policy of _The_Skeptical_Review_.
Mitchell asserted that "the most recent issue" [Summer
1994] was "filled with distortion and deception"; however,
he made no attempt to identify those distortions and deceptions
except for a brief reference to the lead article that I will comment
on shortly. Although some TSR readers may be perplexed by Mitchell's
refusal to discuss specifics, his tactic is very familiar to me.
I have debated enough Bible fundamentalists to know that their
tactics are based on question begging and unsupported assertions.
Mitchell has harped about my duty to "produce objective quantifiable
data," but he seems to think that he is under no such obligation,
that he can just assert anything he wishes and expect everyone
to accept it on his mere word. The mind of the Bible fundamentalist
is indeed a marvel.
Mitchell complained that I "did not present an affirmative
case in our debate," but I have to wonder where he has been.
His complaint that I cannot prove moral atrocity "in the
absence of an objective standard of morality" has been shown
to be without merit. How many times did I show that concepts like
good, bad, right, wrong, sorrow, happiness, beauty, ugliness,
etc., etc., etc. are merely abstractions that the human mind has
formulated from intellectual experiences? How many times have
I begged Mitchell, Lockwood, et al to tell us if legitimate concepts
of sorrow, happiness, or beauty can exist without the existence
of gods of sorrow, happiness, or beauty to issue objective standards
by which these can be measured? This argument has been put before
them repeatedly, but they have made no attempt to respond to it.
So until they do logically refute it, we are justified in assuming
that the same human intellect that can conceptualize abstractions
of beauty and sorrow can also conceptualize abstractions of good
and bad, right and wrong. If not, why not? Mitchell has never
answered that question.
In the "Editor's Note" affixed to Elizabeth Dyak's letter
(Summer 1994, p. 13), I pointed out that Mitchell admitted in
his first article that "(n)o one disputes" that the
Amalekite massacre was a "terrible calamity" (Winter
1994, p. 4). Note that Mitchell didn't admit that it was just
a "calamity"; he said that it was a "terrible calamity"
and that "(n)o one disputes that fact." Earlier in the
same paragraph, he referred to it as an "enormous tragedy,"
which was a graphic illustration of the "terrible cost paid
by a society that persisted in rebellion against God" (emphasis
added). In this paragraph, the abstractions were running wild
in Mitchell's article. Tragedy, calamity, terrible--these are
all abstract concepts, so what I want to know is how Mitchell
arrived at these descriptive conclusions about the Amalekite massacre
in the absence of objective standards of tragedy, calamity, and
terribleness against which to measure the events of the Amalekite
massacre? If somehow he was able to determine that it was a calamity,
when he has no objective standard of calamity to use as a measuring
instrument, then why can't I or any other intelligent person determine
that it was an atrocity, even though we may not have an objective
standard of atrocity (morality) to use in evaluating the act?
Before Mitchell talks about silliness, he should first take a
good long look at the absurdity of his own position.
If Mitchell wants to respond to this article, I will give him
the opportunity, only this time the offer is being extended with
a condition attached. To have his article published, he will have
to address the subject of the preceding paragraph. In other words,
he will have to tell us how he is able to determine tragedy and
calamity in the absence of objective standards of tragedy and
calamity. Then he will have to explain why human concepts of good
or bad, right or wrong, are invalid, whereas his concepts of tragedy
and calamity are valid. If he is willing to go this far, then
he shouldn't mind addressing another issue he has evaded. He should
explain to us how his objective standard of morality [the Bible]
can be used to find solutions to the many moral dilemmas that
our advancing technology is creating. If he isn't willing to confront
these issues, then his ideas deserve no further consideration.
Mitchell seems to believe that Martin A. Larson is the only authority
I could quote to prove that virginborn savior-gods flourished
long before Jesus allegedly lived. In reality, Larson was just
one source of many whom I could have quoted. The fact that virgin-born,
miracle-working, resurrected savior-gods were widely worshiped
in pagan religions long before the time of Jesus is so commonly
known in scholarly circles that I have to wonder what planet Mitchell
has been living on if he doesn't know this rather elementary fact.
Has he assumed that a "country preacher" has no need
to acquaint himself with religious history? Apparently so. I suggest
that Mitchell make a trip to his local library and check out a
book on ancient mythology or go to the card catalog and look for
books by Joseph Campbell. In the general encyclopedias, he can
look up specific names like Osiris, Dionysus, Perseus, Mithras,
Apollo, Tammuz, and Krishna. If he is serious about it, he will
have no trouble at all finding materials on the virgin-born savior-gods
whom pagans worshiped long before Christianity made its appearance
on the religious scene.
If he wants specific references that prove the mythological background
of the Jesus story, he might try _Mythology's_Last_Gods:
Yahweh_and_Jesus_ by William Harwood, _Jesus:_God,
Man,_or_Myth?_ by Herbert Cutner, _The_Myth_of_the
Resurrection_ by Joseph McCabe, _How_Did_Christianity
Really_Begin?_ by Howard Teeple, _Bible_Myths_and_Their
Parallels_in_Other_Religions_ by T. W. Doane, and _The
Diegesis_ by the Reverend Robert Taylor.
He will find plenty of material in these books to open his eyes
to the real origins of Christianity, and when he has finished
with these sources, I have plenty more to recommend to him. Mitchell
might be surprised at what he could learn if he should ever open
his mind enough to permit objective investigation.
I have to wonder why Mitchell focused on Martin A. Larson and
ignored the other references mentioned in this article. Did he
not notice the quotation from Justin Martyr, the early church
father who tried to convince the emperor Hadrian to believe in
Jesus on the grounds that virgin-born sons of the gods were commonplace
in the pagan religions? In view of the widespread acceptance of
these pagan saviors, Justin wondered why anyone should consider
it unreasonable to believe in just one more virgin-born savior-god.
Did Justin Martyr simply make this up or was it indeed a fact
that faith in virgin-born sons of the gods was very common in
The same article referred to Ezekiel's reference to the women
at the gate of Jehovah's house weeping for Tammuz (Ez. 8:14),
but Mitchell's letter didn't refer to this. Why? Since this is
a biblical reference to the worship of a Babylonian savior-god,
shouldn't it qualify as "objective data"? Or does Mitchell
now want to argue that the Bible doesn't represent objective truth?
Mitchell wanted to know how the granting of my claim that virgin-born
pagan saviors were worshiped long before Jesus would "establish
[my] assertion that Jesus is a fraud"? Is he serious? Does
he really expect us to believe that he can't see the damage this
would do to the claim that Jesus was the virgin-born son of God?
The matter is as simple as what I said on this subject in an earlier
issue of TSR: "(W)hen the study of ancient world literature
shows that an unusual event... seemed to have happened everywhere,
reasonable people will realize that it probably happened nowhere"
("Prophecy Fulfillment and Probability," Autumn 1993,
p. 9). So the problem with Mr. Mitchell's Jesus is that he was
just a Johnny-come-lately, who came along much too late for people
informed in ancient mythology to believe in him. Mitchell complained
that I did not publish his answer to Patrick Phillips' "snotty
letter," even though I surely had had his response in hand
at the time. The truth is that I did not receive a copy of Mitchell's
response to Phillips until after the Summer 1994 issue was ready
for press. I had set up this issue early so that I could take
it to the printer's before I left for my debate in Texas with
Jerry Moffitt. To include Mitchell's letter, I would have had
to pull some of the material to make space for it, and, as any
editor knows, that takes time, which I didn't have to spare, especially
for something no more substantial than the content of Mitchell's
response to Phillips. However, to prove that I am not trying to
evade anything, I'm going to publish Mitchell's letter. Here it
Your tender loving letter arrived today. It was most touching
and veritably dripping with gentle loving kindness. Reading it
made me feel so loved! Your concern for me was overwhelming.
You whined a lot about how good you are and how bad the Lord's
church is. You asserted that there are saved people who are not
a part of Christs' [sic] church, but you didn't offer any evidence
supporting that assertion.
It appears that one of your biggest mistakes was attending ACU
[Abilene Christian University]. They have produced confused misshapen
people for some time. I regret that you have been thus tainted.
I could not help but notice your failure to produce any empirical
data supporting traitor Till's assertions. Till agreed to offer
an affirmative case proving God guilty of moral atrocity in 1
Samuel 15. I obligated myself to deny his assertion. We agreed
to have two exchanges of 3000 words each. It was also agreed that
we would narrow the discussion to this topic. Till did not keep
his word (he never does), nor did he offer any affirmative case.
Instead he spent his time trying to muddy the water by posing
perplexing ethical questions having no bearing on the events of
1 Samuel 15. He tried to force me into the affirmative where he
could take pot-shots, which I refused to do. I insisted on seeing
his objective evidence for his assertion, and I still insist that
he produce it.
I pressed Mr. Till to make his case in a manner consistent with
his philosophical construct. He made no attempt to do so. You
should be able to see that. If he had been able to make his case
he wouldn't have hid [sic] behind a smoke-screen. I'm still waiting
for him to produce one shred of empirical evidence supporting
his position. Since you are so impressed with Till's position
perhaps you will take up the challenge and provide the data that
Till could not produce?
The point demonstrated in the exchange is that Till's epistemology
is flawed. The issue is meta-physical [sic], but he refuses to
admit the existence of anything beyond the material universe.
Yet he can't consistently follow his own philosophy. Further,
asking perplexing ethical questions does not establish his case.
I would have to be god to answer all questions. The fact that
I can't answer a question does not mean that there is no answer,
nor do such questions establish Till's case. Questions do not
establish anything. Please enlighten me concerning how asking
questions about things not remotely related to God's actions in
1 Samuel 15 somehow strengthens Till's case.
Till uses this ploy to cover his ineptitude. In fact, the questions
Till posed can be dealt with, but we were not debating those issues.
We agreed to debate the propriety of God's actions in 1 Samuel
15, which he did not touch. Why? He didn't touch it because he
could not. If you think my response is weak and inept surely you
can produce the data proving that God is guilty of moral atrocity
in ordering the destruction of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15.
All that I've seen from you thus far is condescending arrogance.
Please produce the empirical evidence for Till's case. If you
can do that I'll surrender my sword and retreat from the field.
However, the drivel you have produced thus far does not move me.
I hope that you do not continue to debase yourself by pandering
to traitors like Mr. Till. I pray that you will cease your rebellion
and return to the Lord's church. You now occupy the position of
a traitor to the Christian cause. Nothing could be more shameful.
We see the fundamentalist mind at its strangest in Mitchell's
response to Phillips. In the first paragraph, Mitchell began by
criticizing the tone of Phillips' letter, but he did this far
more sarcastically than anything Phillips had said. If writing
a letter that can be sarcastically described as "most touching"
and "veritably dripping with gentle loving kindness"
is wrong, then what makes Mitchell believe that he can write the
same kind of letter and not commit the same offense for which
he faulted Phillips?
Many readers will not understand why Mitchell believes that Phillips
had made a grievous mistake in attending Abilene Christian University.
Mitchell's church is being greatly troubled today by a widespread
trend to mollify its hardline doctrinal position. At one time,
all members of this church arrogantly believed that they were
the only true Christians on earth. All others--Baptists, Pentecostals,
Methodists, Lutherans, Con- gregationalists, Adventists, Presbyterians,
Episcopalians, and you name it--were all hell-bound. Even those
in the First Christian Church, who were doctrinally similiar except
that they worshiped with instrumental music rather than just a
cappella singing, were going to hell too. In recent years, however,
many Church-of-Christ members have begun to question the narrowness
of their position and have suggested that there may be saved Christians
in other denominations too. Some professors at Abilene Christian
University have taken the liberal view in this controversy, so
Mitchell, a preacher in the guardian-of-the-faith wing of the
church, quite naturally thinks that Phillips first went astray
when he enrolled at ACU. To TSR readers who have little or no
familiarity with the doctrinal silliness of the Church of Christ,
I will simply say that you should not try to understand the workings
of a mind like Mitchell's. I am just trying to explain the meaning
of some of the things he said in his letter.
In his letter to Phillips, Mitchell claimed that the "perplexing
ethical questions" I had asked in my articles did not "establish
anything." However, I beg to differ with him. The only way
that he or anyone can justify the Yahwistic atrocities of the
Old Testament is to argue that there is an objective morality
that emanates from the perfect nature of God, who has revealed
that objective morality to us in his word so that we will know
how to live moral lives. Since the perfect nature of God is the
source of objective morality, it would be impossible for God to
do anything wrong. All such talk, however, is speculative nonsense.
He harps about my duty to produce "objective quantifiable
data" to prove that the Amalekite massacre was a real atrocity,
but what about his duty to produce objective, quantifiable data
to prove the major negative argument (affirmation) that he has
resorted to in the debate? All he has done is assert and then
run on to the next assertion. He likes to talk about "objective
quantifiable data," so let's talk about it. Let's see his
objective, quantifiable data that proves his god Yahweh even exists.
If he doesn't exist, then there can be no objective standard of
morality emanating from the perfect character of this deity. So
what is Mitchell's objective, quantifiable data that establishes
unequivocally that an objective standard of morality exists? What
is his objective, quantifiable data that will prove the Bible
is where that objective standard of morality has been recorded?
Where? Where? If he has such data, let's see it. If he doesn't,
then case dismissed. The matter is that simple, but he just can't
As for the relevance of my "perplexing ethical questions,"
I was simply trying to get through his thick skull to show him
the absurdity of his belief that the Bible is our guide to objective
morality. No two people can read the Bible and see it alike. That
can't even be done in the Church of Christ, which claims to be
the only true church. This church has split into so many warring
factions that it has become a joke, and each faction has resulted
from inability of the general membership to agree on the meaning
of some verse or two of scripture. Outside of the Church of Christ,
Christians are almost as badly divided. There are Baptists, Methodists,
Catholics, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, etc., etc., etc., and
within the denominational groupings, other divisions are very
much in evidence. There are United Methodists, Free Methodists,
Episcopal Methodists, and there are Southern Baptists, American
Baptists, Independent Baptists, Missionary Baptists, Bible Baptists,
Free Will Baptists, etc., etc., etc. All these divisions exist
because the members of these denominations can't agree on biblical
teachings. Yet they want us to believe that God revealed to us
in the Bible an objective standard of morality. This is the absurdity
that I have been trying to get Mitchell and Lockwood to see. If
God did indeed reveal to us an objective standard of morality
in the Bible, why wouldn't he have done so in a manner so clear
that we could all understand it the same way? The purpose of my
"perplexing ethical questions" was simply to demonstrate
the absurdity of believing that a book written many centuries
ago contains an infallible guide that can solve all of humanity's
moral problems. If such a moral code exists, why can't Mitchell
refer to it to answer my questions? He claimed in his letter to
Phillips that my questions "can be dealt with," so why
doesn't he deal with them and humiliate me even further than he
seems to think he already has? How long does he expect rational
people to buy his claim that he didn't answer the questions because
"we were not debating those issues." In truth, we were
debating "those issues," because we were debating a
topic concerned with moral conduct. If someone is going to argue
that killing babies nursing their mothers' breasts isn't morally
wrong because of some obscure notion dependent on the existence
of "objective morality," then he has an obligation to
demonstrate that objective morality does in fact exist. Mitchell
has evaded every demand that he address this issue. Who's Really
Mitchell insinuated in his letter to me that I did not publish
his response to Phillips because I was scared, so let's take a
look at the situation to see just who is really scared. I have
challenged Mitchell to an oral debate on the issue of Bible morality
or any subject related to Bible inerrancy, but he has refused
the challenge. He doesn't want to humiliate me publicly. Yeah,
Besides Mitchell, I have challenged many other preachers in his
church known for their debating skills, and only four of them
have accepted. I debated all four of them, and have tried to negotiate
return engagements with all of them. Only one has accepted.
In addition to these Church-of-Christ preachers, I have debated
Kent Hovind, a Baptist who lectures nationally on "creation
science," and Dr. Norman L. Geisler, whose reputation as
an inerrancy spokesman crosses denominational lines. I have challenged
both Gleason Archer and Josh McDowell to debate, and they have
both refused. Does this debating record sound as if I would be
afraid of someone like Lindell Mitchell? To put to rest any notion
Mitchell might have that I am afraid of him, I will renew my debate
challenge. If he will agree to debate the issue of Bible morality
or any topic related to Bible inerrancy or the existence of God,
I will gladly oppose him. The moment he sends me an acceptance
of this challenge, we can begin negotiating the time and place.
If he refuses this challenge, we will then have a pretty good
idea just who is afraid to defend his beliefs publicly.
FREE SUBSCRIPTION: A free one-year subscription to _The_Skeptical_
Review_ can be obtained by emailing [ref003]Jftill@aol.com or by writing to P.O. Box
717, Canton, IL 61520-0717.
File contributed by [ref004]Farrell Till; page
maintained by the [ref005]Internet Infidels.
[ref009]Copyright © 1995 [ref010]Internet Infidels.
HTML Reproduction Rights Reserved.