That’s “A. K. M. Adam,” Not “Scott Adams”

I have neither the time nor the foolishness to devote a lot of time to responding to Scott Adams’ recent forays into the field of theory-of-religion; a comprehensively prudent blogger would just say, “Discuss among yourselves.”

Lacking that degree of prudence, I may simply observe that mockery doesn’t constitute the acid text of sound teaching; humor depends to a very great extent on the observer’s unquestioned premises. A clever humorist ought to be able to wangle some absurdity out of almost any worldview — provided it’s one that neither s/he nor their auditors take quite seriously. By the same token, the unwillingness to see this or that as funny doesn’t necessarily make an audience “humorless” or over-serious. We can devote serious attention to the claims that [other] religious stances entail, but japery won’t be our best guide to evaluating the characteristics that our inquiries bring to the surface. (One may plausibly doubt that there’s a shared array of criteria by which we could reach judgments more useful than “That’s close to what I already believe” — but that’s not the point just now.) I share some of Adams’s distaste for a “respect” that precludes critical analysis, but I doubt that he has demonstrated the keen insight into religious phenomena that would warrant our taking his proposals as a guide to what we might do by way of mutual criticism.

My confidence in Adams as a thoughtful interlocutor diminishes inasmuch as his comments on scholarly rock star Bart Ehrman’s latest book suggest that he’s not the most attentive reader on the block. While I have not read Ehrman’s book, I would be surprised if he ascribed the vast range of transcriptional errors we see in the manuscript history of the New Testament to “semi-literate opinionated morons” (Adams’s report on Ehrman). If Adams wants to know “what the real argument is” relative to doctrines of Scripture and textual transmission (and the relation of biblical texts to factual error), he might begin by reading contemporary sources more carefully.

3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I haven’t read it either (I’m a scholar! I have no time to read!), but have paged through it a bit. Ehrman does indeed suggest that some of the earliest scribes were semi-literate, or really illiterate by our standards, able only to copy and not to understand the words they were writing. Moreover, he goes on a bit about the early Christians generally being not “wise of the world” and from an uneducated underclass. While I wouldn’t translate the latter as “morons,” I would certainly give Adams “semi-literate” and I don’t think “opinionated” is pejorative. But then I wouldn’t :).

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