Scholar Reza Aslan Has A Cross to Bear, And It's Fox News
Reza Aslan has to explain The Genetic Fallacy to idiot and FoxNews.com interviewer Lauren Green.
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
-C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
In a recent FoxNews.com video (which you can watch at the bottom of this article), scholar and bestselling author Reza Aslan recently did an interview with anchor Lauren Green about his new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. It started, shall we say, inauspiciously.
"I want to be clear about this: You're a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?"
Aslan takes a minute to raise his eyebrows in disbelief, looking as tired as taken aback, before patiently explaining to her that he if she is to question his credentials, he has plenty of ammunition in reply, as a scholar of religion, a holder of four degrees in the subject, including a P.H.D., a fluent translator of Biblical Greek, and an academic who has been working in the field for twenty years. He is a person with all of those credentials, he says, "who just happens to be a Muslim."
Aslan, in response to her obviously defensive attitude, also makes a point of telling her that "anyone who thinks this book is an attack on christianity has not read it yet."
Green must have been impressed by this elementary information about Aslan's credentials, but completely misunderstood its importance, because she counters by trying to assert that some scholars also disagree with Aslan. His response is basically a shrug, because, as he is about to explain, the content of an argument, not where it comes from, is all that matters.
Since Green at this point thinks that having a job at a university an expert makes, she hits him with the damning criticism that Dr. William Lane Craig wrote one sentence disagreeing with him. William Lane Craig's Wikipedia page, which is unflagged for errors, describes him, with citation, as a "Christian apologist." He is a man who distorts the history of philosophy to serve his preconceived and superstitious and completely unbending beliefs in the historical truth of large swaths of Christian scripture. (While we're on the subject of Christian apologists, I can't help but note how great it is that his name is Aslan.)
Aslan, rather than continuing Green's non sequitur by going on talking about himself, asks that any criticisms of the historicity of his claims be made in light of the 100 pages of notes and citations which make up the last third of the book.
So the middle of the interview is inauspicious as well.
At this point, Aslan get a little bit more animated (not that he is not animated throughout; his indignation and explanation are pitch perfect for the duration). So he presents the meat of the issue:
"Well, I mean, it's pretty clear that there are those who do not like the book, who are unhappy with it's general arguments. That's perfectly fine. I'm more than willing to talk about the argument of the book itself, but I do think it's perhaps a little bit strange that rather than debating the argument of the book, we are debating the right of the scholar to actually write it."
The issue that Reza Aslan's very righteous indignation comes down to is this: Informal Logic describes a fallacy, The Genetic Fallacy, which fallacy is committed when the speaker of a proposition, not the content of a proposition, is used to support or to deny the claim. It's a very easy fallacy to dispel. All that you have to do to understand that the genesis of an argument is irrelevant to the veracity of the argument is to imagine one thing: Somebody with questionable credentials saying something true. If you can imagine that Osama Bin Laden said that two plus two is four, or that a mentally handicapped person asserted that Mozart was a composer, then you understand why moral and intellectual authority do not necessarily imply that an argument is correct or is incorrect.
Aslan takes great pains to try to explain this to her. He brings up his credentials as a scholar, and that he has noted his own faith to inform readers of his point of view on the second page of the book to placate her mistrust, even though he shouldn't have to. (By the way, I am a third of the way through the book right now, and am happy to report that I haven't noticed any agenda at all other than scholarly interest and a search for truth.)
But the most emphasis Aslan lends to a phrase during the entire interview is when he mentions that there is no problem with a Christian scholar writing a book about Muhammed. To imply that such a book is impossible without bias is a problem, he says, because it says that that the Christian cannot write a scholarly book "by definition". As we saw in the examples above about Bin laden and Mozart, it is of course perfectly conceivable that somebody of a faith could make true statements. So there goes that argument.
But Green cannot get her head around this issue. So she clarifies exactly what sort of ignorant she is by making an analogy: "That's like having a democrat write a book about why Reagan wasn't a good Republican; It just doesn't work."
To take up the mantle of her silly argument, here are some facts: Reagan raised taxes, more than doubled the deficit, illegally financed international gangsters, was divorced, rarely went to church, all but founded the gun control movement, and made no major policy decisions in support of the pro-life movement. Who am I to say that?
Who cares? It's true. Facts are facts.
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