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On Debating a Fundamentalist


I just came across a post by Kyle Butt regarding your debate with him in 2014:
He accuses you of “deception” and dishonesty. He says it is not credible that you spent much time writing books and going to debates, if it weren’t for the motive of convincing and persuading people that the Christian God doesn’t exist. He names you as someone who “has done as much or more than any single individual in modern times to destroy the Christian faith of literally thousands of people, young and old alike, across the globe.”



Wow.  I didn’t know about Mr. Butt’s post.   It is virtually beyond belief.   If it weren’t so outrageously funny, I would find it completely outrageous.

But look – maybe he doesn’t mean it seriously?  I mean, his rhetoric certainly seems serious.  But to say that I have “done as much or more than any single individual in modern times to destroy the Christian faith of literally thousands of people, young and old alike, across the globe” – really??  You gotta be kidding me!

On what basis does Mr. Butt make this claim?   I don’t know.  He doesn’t say.  But it ascribes to me way, way more power and influence than I have, I assure you.   The person who posted this comment asked me, in a subsequent email, if people ever write or talk to me to tell me they are either upset or happy that I caused them to lose their faith.  And frankly, I can’t think of anyone.  Maybe some have?  I really don’t know.   How does Mr. Butt know?  And how can *I* make someone “lost their faith.”  It’s not mine to give or take away.  People have their own views, based on everything they know and think.  If someone leaves the faith it’s not because someone else “made” them do it.

Very ocassionally (i.e., like once a month or so) I’ll get an email from someone who says that they appreciate my books because I articulate what they themselves have long been thinking but haven’t been able, until now, to put into words.   Sometimes people tell me that they were having serious problems with their faith and they are grateful for my honest dealings with the problems of the Bible or with the problem of suffering.

But to make me out as the Devil incarnate is really too much.  I’d like to know what grounds Mr. Butt has for asserting that I have ruined people’s lives – many thousands of people! of all ages!  across the globe!   Not just their lives, but their *eternal* lives!!  I myself, Bart Ehrman, am the reason so many thousands of people now are going to roast in hell forever!   Wow.   And there I thought I was just writing a book.

The entire post of Mr. Butt is very difficult for me to read.  Read it for yourself.  You (unlike I) might find it entertaining at least.  Two things struck me about it.  The first was Mr. Butt’s arrogant self-importance.  He really, really wants his readers to know that he was in a debate that was listened to by 100,000 people.  And he really, really, really wants everyone to know that even if he didn’t do as well as he would have liked in the debate (OK, he doesn’t concede this part J ), he certainly won and was right all along.   And not only was I, his devilish opponent, wrong, but I won’t admit I was wrong, because – this is a killer, and is the second thing that struck me – I refused to admit that I wanted to “win” the debate.

OK, so let me be as brutally honest as I can.   Mr. Butt didn’t believe me in the debate (why not just call me a liar to my face?!?)  (wait a second… I think he did!), and he won’t believe me now.  But let me say it again as forcefully as I can.  I don’t CARE if people agree with me and join with me in becoming agnostic.   REALLY!!!  I ABSOLUTELY don’t care!!  Mr. Butt does not, will not, or cannot believe me.  But it’s true.   I don’t care if you who are reading this, or anyoneI know, or anyone I don’t know, becomes an agnostic.

The reason Mr. Butt can’t believe me is because as a good fundamentalist, he thinks that ALL that matters is that people agree with HIM.  If people don’t agree with him, they are going to roast in hell forever.   For him, these are not merely issues of life and death, they are matters of eternal life and non-ending torture.   He can’t imagine talking about them without having as the one ultimate goal to save people’s souls and give them eternal life.

And if so if someone wants to talk about the problem of suffering in order to explain why it led to their agnosticism, Mr. Butt cannot believe – CANNOT believe – that the objective would be something other than to convert them to an agnostic point of view.

But that’s not my objective – OK, Mr. Butt, call me a liar once more!   And it never has been myobjective.

Why then do I talk about the matter, and have debates about the matter, and bare my soul publicly about the matter.? It is for a reason that Mr. Butt cannot understand or conceive, even when explained to him.  It is to get people to think.

Mr. Butt cannot understand this because he does not want people to think.  He wants to convince people that he’s right.  He wants to make people agree with him.  He wants to convert people.  He does not want them to reason through a problem, see its ins and outs, consider the pluses and minuses of the various positions, and come to a reasoned conclusion.  He is not interested in thinking and the possibility of various perspectives and views.  He is interested in everybody admitting that he was right all along and then joyfully joining his side.

The idea that someone doesn’t much care which side you take so long as you are more thoughtful about it is completely beyond Mr. Butt’s imagination (such imagination as he has). That’s the difference between a university professor and a fundamentalist Christian apologist.

I will say this – to one *extremely* limited sense there is a single aspect of Mr Butt’s view that I would agree with.  There is ONE form of “thought” that I wish we could get rid of.  It is the arrogant, rigid, and dogmatic kind of fundamentalism that Mr. Butt represents.  When I say that I don’t want to convert anybody to agnosticism, I really do mean it.  But I do indeed want people not to be fundamentalists.

Otherwise, I don’t care if people are Christian (even evangelical Christian), Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, agnostic, atheist, pagan, or anything else.   As long as they are thinking and thoughtful (which is another way of saying non-fundamentalist) – that is all fine by me!   For Mr. Butt, that is inconceivable.  Literally.

For my part, I would like to dispel ignorance.  Mr. Butt doesn’t care about ignorance.  He would be perfectly happy for a person to be as ignorant and dumb as dirt, so long as they agree with his doctrines of God, and Christ, and salvation.   I am just the opposite.  If someone is a Christian, I want them to be a knowledgeable and thinking Christian.  Or Jew.  Or Muslim.  Or pagan.  Or agnostic.  Or atheist.   The world would be a happier and better place if we got rid of fundamentalist stupidity and ignorance, and became a more thoughtful and thinking place.  Beyond that, I really don’t care.



Did Nazareth Exist?
Debates For A Price



  1. Avatar
    Stephen  February 21, 2015

    Part of the problem – maybe the whole of the problem – is that to the fundamentalist mindset one is either actively supporting their view of religion or actively opposing it. They simply cannot wrap their heads around the idea of disinterested and dispassionate inquiry. And of course attacking your motives is simply a smokescreen to shift the focus away from them having to actually respond to your ideas.

    There’s a quote attributed to e. e. cummings I believe –

    “f you make people think they’re thinking they’ll love you but if you actually make them think they’ll hate you.”

  2. Avatar
    Judith  February 22, 2015

    You are enabling those of us whose family and friends are fundamentalists to stand strong as a different kind of Christian. When we can no longer believe every word in the Bible was inspired by God, then through your books, debates and blog a more realistic basis for our beliefs can be established. With every opportunity I let people know I am blogging with Dr. Bart Ehrman. Some seem horrified once they look you up. Others are interested.

    I could not be who I am now without you and your excellent brave work.

  3. Avatar
    Jason  February 22, 2015

    I know we’re all thinking it and probably going to make the same joke, but…
    This guy is such a butt.

    • Avatar
      mrsamisme  February 6, 2017

      Indeed. But, I would have chosen a different word starting with A!

  4. gmatthews
    gmatthews  February 22, 2015

    I didn’t care for debate in high school so I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but in reading what he wrote I didn’t entirely understand his reasoning. He was talking about how you were trying to appeal to people’s emotions with your arguments, but based on the way he described it I didn’t see it that way at all. What he says about your arguments seemed pretty logical to me. One thing about fundamentalists that irks me is that they don’t use logic when thinking about religion. The way they view the creation of man God must have given us a brain and therefore we have the ability to reason because we need a brain for that. Why would God give us the ability to reason if it allows us to reason that he doesn’t exist? And, if we can reason how can they come up with something as preposterous as his statement that “objective morality exists therefore God exists”? Even before he mentioned it my first thought was that not all cultures have the same moral values and sometimes they are diametrically opposed between cultures, but then he went on to say that you brought that up. Brilliant point….

  5. Avatar
    Jim  February 22, 2015

    Well I’d say that you might have contributed to my becoming an agnostic. I asked myself; was I going to listen to an NT scholar, or was I going to listen to just any butt that came along? 🙂

  6. Avatar
    magpie  February 22, 2015

    Unfortunately, there are some people who have convinced themselves so thoroughly of the need to maintain a certain facade that you will never persuade them through reason and fact to change their minds. I believe it is a combination of a mental obsessive compulsive disorder and narcissicism. Truly a mental illness when carried to this extent. “If I am wrong then I am nothing, so I must be right and you must acknowledge that or I will continue repeating my demands until you agree with me.” It is a sad way to live.

  7. Avatar
    prairieian  February 22, 2015

    To build on the argument that you have articulated, among the things I find puzzling about the Fundamentalist perspective is their concern with me. Salvation is described as a personal relationship with God, through the one and only way, through Jesus. However, it is “personal”. Therefore, it is between me and God. No one else has a role. I will think things through and come to what conclusions I come to, but the responsibility for my thoughts, and where those thoughts might lead, remains with me, no one else. And, thank you very much, I don’t want anyone’s interest, let alone interference, in my salvation. To allow such is to take away from the personal aspect of salvation or non-salvation (damnation, I guess).

    I will strive to keep thinking about these things, but I certainly do not want Fundamentalists praying for me, or expressing concern for my salvation. Salvation is my problem, not theirs.

    There is a stunning arrogance with those who have all the answers. It is not attractive and it is anything but compelling.

    Unfortunately, the study of religious matters is evidently not received by the non-academic world as being just another “subject”. This reality is much to be regretted and is the author of a disproportionate amount of suffering in the world. I cannot imagine a personal, caring God, should she exist, can be remotely pleased with how her creatures are behaving.

  8. Avatar
    Jim  February 22, 2015

    Well spoken. Thank you for your candor.
    I am very appreciative for your helping me appreciate the Bible with a much greater depth of understanding.
    Most noise usually comes from the shallow end of the pool (borrowed fom Bishop Spong).

  9. Avatar
    Lehrerin1  February 22, 2015

    A breath of fresh air here in the Bible belt……yes, there is a Bible belt in NW USA…..where Kathy McMorris Rogers is from with her Christian Bible school education……so scary!

  10. Avatar
    doug  February 22, 2015

    If Mr. Butt was happy with your views, you’d know you weren’t doing a good job. Please keep up your good work. And if you get to hell before me, please save me a good seat!

  11. Avatar
    toejam  February 22, 2015

    It’s a tough call whether or not it’s worth debating fundamentalists. In the creationist-evolutionist “debate”, you see people like Richard Dawkins refusing to debate them on the grounds that it gives them undeserved air-time. I.e. It looks impressive on their CV that they have debated Richard Dawkins! Wow! They must have some clout behind them!! And that’s a fair point from Dawkins. But on the other hand, people like Bill Nye see it as a valuable opportunity to express the power of the evidence & argument that supports evolution to a community who may not be aware just how overwhelming it is and whose only “understanding” of evolution is the misrepresentation that they’ve been taught by their fundamentalist pastors. So given that you do debate fundamentalists occasionally, have you considered the Dawkins position that debating them may in fact be giving them undeserved air time? And why do you side for the latter? (I’m not sure where I would stand if I were in your position)

    • Bart
      Bart  February 23, 2015

      It’s a constant debate with my self. Maybe I’ll post on it at some point.

      • Avatar
        Hon Wai  February 24, 2015

        Maybe set a precondition for debate with a fundamentalist that he (interestingly enough, all the well-known names in fundamentalist circles are men) has a sense of humour.

      • Avatar
        Judith  February 27, 2015

        Maybe you do it to keep lighting that one candle wherever and whenever you can…

        • Avatar
          Judith  February 27, 2015

          The 2/27 comment about lighting that one candle is supposed to be after your 2/23 “It’s a constant debate with my self” comment. Somehow it ended up in the wrong place. Sorry.

    • Avatar
      rburos  May 26, 2016

      Excellent point. I always fall on the side of don’t give nuts free air time. Bill Nye was wrong to promote himself by using Ken Ham, especially knowing he wasn’t going to change any minds. The problem with fundamentalism is that by their rules they are rewarded by ignoring data, so giving them a platform is just showmanship y nada mas.

  12. Avatar
    Robert  February 22, 2015

    One question–why do you bother debating with people like that?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 23, 2015

      I may post on that sometime.

      • Avatar
        Judith  February 24, 2015

        If you do, Dr. Ehrman, keep in mind there are some fantastically wonderful fundamentalists. My sister and brother (I could never call that beloved brother-in-law anything but a real brother to me) are fundamentalists to the extreme. He is a Gideon. She lives to serve in any and every way possible as does he. He says if you cannot trust that the Bible is the Word of God, what can you trust. She says we cannot understand the mind of God and that’s why there are things in the Bible that cannot be explained. These are extremely well educated people.

  13. Aleph82
    Aleph82  February 22, 2015

    “Orthodoxy means not thinking–not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” – Winston Smith

    Quoting from Orwell today (or well, anyone) risks making you sound boring rather than profound, but it was so appropriate I couldn’t resist. There’s a personal irony I found in this post: your books and the others they have led me to have softened my atheism considerably. I’m not a believer, and I doubt I ever will be, but I no longer feel the need to “convert” people or ridicule their faith. That behaviour now seems unnecessary and tacky.

    Today I rarely mention my atheism save for posts like this or when I’m accused of being a Christian apologist by mythicists. A happy by-product of this newly found timidity is an exponential expansion of my dating pool. Highly recommended.

  14. Avatar
    Rosekeister  February 22, 2015

    “Bart D. Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Destroyer of the Christian Faith and the Devil Incarnate.”

    If this continues, your name will be similar to long royal titles like the Queen of England and you will be able to name any fee for speaking. It has also just struck me that you could probably raise money selling t-shirts with your picture on the front and the above title on the back. Both believers and nonbelievers would buy them although for different reasons. There are websites where you can design t-shirts, coffee mugs and any number of items for sale and then link the the blog to them.

  15. Avatar
    Hank_Z  February 22, 2015

    Terrific response, Bart!

    Any chance you’d give me permission to post the question and
    your response on Facebook? Or make it available to “share”?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 23, 2015

      Sure, go ahead, as long as you credit the original source.

  16. Avatar
    Jeff  February 22, 2015

    Very, very funny. And by the way Bart, since you have such powers, according to Butt, how about using it on those #15 ranked Tarheels?

  17. Avatar
    Jim-Prup-Benton  February 22, 2015

    Well put. I might be tempted to ask if there aren’t certain concepts in certain religions that make the sort of attitude and thought you look for difficult to nearly impossible. For example, that “Doubt is, in itself, sinful” — too often seen as a corollary of ‘Salvation by faith alone.’ That might be for another time.

    But there is one attitude that is even worse than the fundamentalist one, and that is the attitude that ‘anyone who disagrees is part of the conspiracy’ — for religious people with the frequent implication of a ‘Satanic conspiracy.’ That’s the one that makes any communication impossible as long as it remains.

    I am, instead of following through on this now, going to take advantage of a general offer you made and drop a totally off-topic question into the thread to reach you and hopefully to get an answer. But I realized earlier that I had heard of the “Church in Jerusalem” and the “Church in Rome” and of Paul’s many churches, but had never heard of a “Church in Galilee.” That’s where the ‘witnesses’ were, the ones who actually heard Jesus preach, who had seen what ever tiny kernel of truth was blown into the ‘wonder stories’ and who had followed his teaching without literally following him to Jerusalem. You’d think it natural that this might even be the numerically largest church for the first decade or two. After all, Jesus was only in Jerusalem for a few days, of preaching, at a time of celebrations and rituals and, almost certainly confusion. (And wouldn’t it be likely that many preachers would head to Jerusalem for the Passover — and compete with Jesus?)

    Wouldn’t at least one apostle — all of whom were Galileans — have returned home and attempted to set up a church where Jesus actually walked? Yet I know of no mention of such a Church — admittedly what I know is far from complete. Is there any mention or other textual or architectural evidence showing if such a church actually existed — and if not, has anyone ever asked why.it made so little impression.

    • Avatar
      Wilusa  February 24, 2015

      I hope Bart will reply to this! Seems like a great question, that I’ve never thought of.

      • Bart
        Bart  February 25, 2015

        sorry — what’s the question?

        • Avatar
          Jim-Prup-Benton  February 25, 2015

          I DO tend to be long-winded and lose people, sorry. The question is why we never hear of, and what we know of a Church in Galilee. Again, it seems obvious there would be one, but is there any record of one?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 28, 2015

            From the NT period? No, not really.

        • Avatar
          Wilusa  February 25, 2015

          The one Jim-Prup-Benton asked, about why we’ve never heard of a Church in Galilee.

  18. Avatar
    Seeking1  February 22, 2015

    Amen! Mr. Butt…very appropriately named.

  19. Avatar
    sashko123  February 22, 2015

    I just listened to this debate on YouTube. To Butt, the human sense of injustice is stronger evidence for the existence of God (i.e. Yahweh) than all of the physical evidence consistent with his non-existence;. I’ve come to think that if God does not intervene, he is at least irrelevant if not imaginary. What sense is there in debating fundamentalists whose ironclad proof of God’s existence is premised upon a nonfalsifiable assertion — objective moral values exist! Really?? Wow.

  20. Gary
    Gary  February 22, 2015

    I just finished watching the entire three hour debate. It made me think if I went to heaven and spend eternity listening to him….well that sounds like hell to me!

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