A note from Paul Copan:
New Zealand theologian and philosopher of religion Matthew Flannagan is a good friend of mine. He and his wife host an excellent blogsite—MandM. Knowing that the kinds of comments Stark made in reply to me sounded much like what Matt had experienced, I asked Matt to comment on his previous exchanges with Thom Stark. This is what he wrote.
I still have not yet read Stark’s lengthy “review” of your book, but I do plan to respond. I have dipped in a bit, and it looks like more of the same stuff he wrote on his blog and in his emails to me. What you have written [in response to Stark] looks good, and it will be great read alongside Richard Hess’s response.
Here is a brief overview of my interchange with him.
Sometime after I wrote a post on the Canaanite issue I was made aware of a post called “The Flannagan Delusion” by Thom Stark. The post not only called me “deluded,” but it contained nasty vitriol, speculated on and dissected my alleged motives, and distorted my position significantly. Stark did not respond to the line of argument I had made in the article he was responding to. Instead he had put together a series of statements I had made in comments boxes on other issues and tied them together and presented them as my position on the Canaanite issue.
The post was part of a series with snarky titles in the same vein as “The Flannagan Delusion”; “Attack of the Clowns” was one. In each case Stark speculated as to what other positions I held and attacked my basis for holding them even though I have never written on these issues. He continued to ignore my central argument. He attacked my scholarly credentials; he stated I was not an Old Testament scholar and that my ideas were such that anyone in the field would recognise them as terrible. The problem was I was not doing Old Testament Studies in the piece he was responding to; I had engaged in Old Testament Ethics—these fields overlap, but they are not the same. I have a PhD in Theology specialising in Ethics. Stark, at the time, had a Bachelor of Divinity; so this ad hominem argument cuts both way.
Stark accused me of incompetent translations of texts. When I pointed him to museums and Egyptologists whose translations I had used, he said they were poorly translated as well. Then on another forum he would back-pedal and say the opposite. Every time he actually responded to an argument, rather than dismissing it with ad hominems, he nearly always attacked a subtle misrepresentation of my views. This was pointed out to him numerous times and when it was, he would change what he said to a different misrepresentation and launch another ad hominem based on this new straw man.
He also made fairly sweeping statements about the field of Philosophy of Religion, another area I specialise in alongside Ethics, that according to Stark’s CV he does not. Stark appeared to be using an historical critical method that treated the text as a collage of different human authors writing at different times. I was adopting a more Canonical approach where one treats the final form of the text as having a single divine author. These approaches have different hermeneutical implications. When I pointed out some underlying philosophical and epistemological differences behind these methods and why I adopted the ones I did, he dismissed the work of leading philosophers without argument and would, mistakenly, suggest they were fideists. When I tried to explain to him that the dialectical context required that I make certain assumptions, he simply reasserted his position and accused me of being dishonest.
He then responded to some other writings I had made on divine command meta-ethics where again he misrepresented my position and this time attributed to me a stance I was arguing against. He made sweeping comments about the literature and simply asserted that experts agreed with him. Being thoroughly read up on the literature on this topic, and being published in it, I knew his claims were simply false. I tried discussing this with him but it was futile. After several days of pointless and frustrating exchanges where I felt Stark was being quite rude I got a very cordial email from Stark apologising; he said he thought it had got out of hand and offered to take the blog posts and comments down; I then discovered that the blog posts had disappeared from the web and cannot be located on any wayback engines or caches; they have vanished without a trace.
I began an offline dialogue with him which began civilly but quickly degenerated into the same pattern from Stark. Misrepresentations, sweeping assertions, and claims that people who disagreed with him were not really credible scholars while those who did were. He finally broke the conversation off claiming I was a fideist and a liar.