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   Print Edition: 1990-2002

James Patrick Holding,
the Want-to-Be Apologist

by Farrell Till

2002 / July-August

James Patrick Holding is a pseudonym used by Robert Turkel to write website articles in defense of biblical inerrancy. For some reason, he doesn't want his real identity to be known, even though almost everyone familiar with his attempts to reply to articles written by Jeff Lowder, Brian Holtz, Earl Doherty, and me (among other skeptics) knows what his real name is. His rationale for concealing his identity was that he worked as a librarian in a prison, so he was afraid that if he wrote under his real name, inmates upon their release might seek vengeance on him for "disciplinary reports" he had written. He was never able to explain why using a phony name to write internet articles, which prison inmates would have no access to, was going to protect him from vengeance seeking ex-inmates who from daily contacts with him while they were in prison already knew his real name.

With just a little internet snooping and help from others, I was able to find quite a bit of information about Robert Turkel. [Editor's note: Personal information regarding Robert Turkel which is included in the original printed version has been expunged from this online version.]

The website of this prison can be accessed here. A description of the prison is on this site.

This facility was originally established as a migrant labor camp, but more recently housed a bait farm and beverage distribution warehouse. In 1973 it was converted to house adult male inmates. It is designated to accept minimum, medium, close custody and all medical grade inmates. Lake C. I. provides academic, vocational and self- betterment programs.

This is certainly no description of a maximum-security facility like Pelican Bay, so I doubt that the staff members live in fear that they are putting their lives on the line just by showing up for work. I have suggested to Turkel that if he really does use a phony name because he fears that ex-inmates may come after him when they are released, then he should consider getting professional help for his irrational paranoia.

There are over 100 inmates throughout the United States who subscribe to TSR, so I would be interested in hearing their opinions about this excuse that Turkel has used for writing under a phony name. There is obviously some ulterior motive behind Turkel's pseudonym. All across the country, district attorneys prosecute criminal offenses and judges impose sentences on those convicted without hiding behind fake names, so if the danger that released inmates with grudges will come after public officials is so likely that Turkel felt he had to put a pseudonym on the apologetic articles he wrote, I wonder why district attorneys and judges don't use phony names or wear masks in court. I would be interested in hearing inmates and prison officials express their opinions on Turkel's attempt to justify concealing his identity with a pseudonym.

Since beginning his "apologetic" career as James Patrick Holding, Turkel was laid off his prison job, so around October 2001 he began looking for support to begin a full-time career as an internet "apologist." He still uses the phony name and seems rather put out when anyone writes something that refers to him by his real name, but if he is not now working in a prison and, hence, no longer writes "disciplinary reports" [for those who are late checking their books back in, I assume], why does he still cringe in fear that some vengeful ex-inmate is going to come after him?

At any rate, Turkel is now trying to sell himself as an apologist who deserves the financial support of Bible believers so that he can become a full-time defender of the faith. He has established Tekton Apologetic Ministries, for which he has received IRS recognition as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, and is soliciting contributions on its website here. In an article entitled "How To Help Support the Tekton Apologetics Ministry," which can be accessed here, he makes a plea for contributions on the grounds that "the majority of our support must come from the general public." It so happens that Skepticism, Inc., is also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, but if such a provision as this is a guideline that Turkel's "ministry" must adhere to, it has been added since Skepticism, Inc., received nonprofit approval on May 23, 1991. I have reviewed the approval documents sent to me, which outlined the guidelines that must be followed, and I have found nothing that states such a requirement. The guidelines, of course, allow contributions, but I see no provision that requires the majority of the organization's support to come from the "general public." Skepticism, Inc., has received contributions from supporters, but it has never solicited them. It has survived through the sale of subscriptions (which subscribers have always agreed were priced well below what they should be), unsolicited donations, and my own personal contributions. Periodic reports to IRS have been required, but in the forms I have completed, I never once encountered a question that asked if most of the organization's support came from the general public. I suspect that this statement in Turkel's plea for contributions was just his spin on IRS guidelines that was intended to make his readers think that their contributions are needed to help him comply with guidelines that he must meet in order to keep the nonprofit status of his organization.

His plea for money stated that Tekton Apologetic Ministries receives "referral fees through [its] association with Amazon.com in [its] Bookshop," but he quickly added that these earnings are "called ‘unrelated business’ income and cannot constitute the majority of this ministry's support." The message seems to be, "Please send your money so that I can make a living at this." He no doubt finds sitting home at his computer more enjoyable than writing disciplinary reports on prison inmates who dog-ear the library materials they check out.
No doubt Turkel will accuse me of impugning his motives, but unless his intention was to increase the flow of contributions to his "ministries," there was really no reason to apply for nonprofit status. I applied for recognition of The Skeptical Review as a nonprofit organization in order to get a substantial reduction in bulk-mailing rates, but when I learned that the post office would not issue a nonprofit mailing permit unless the organization was recognized by IRS, I then applied for and received 501(c)(3) status. After the mailing permit was received, I personally paid for all the mailings until subscriptions had increased enough to pay most of the costs. The nonprofit mailing rates decreased production costs enough that I could offer the paper at a rate of $4 per year when it was a quarterly and then $6 per year when it became bimonthly. At no time, did I ever solicit contributions, so except for the mailing advantage mentioned above, I would probably never have formed Skepticism, Inc. Turkel, on the other hand, doesn't publish paper editions of his articles, so he should have no appreciable mailing expenses. Even he stated in his website article that postage and supplies "should amount to less that [sic] $100 per year." He further stated in his plea for money that the cost of his website is just $35 per month, which is about $415 per month less than the monthly cost of dispensing TSR, so the yearly expenses for his website are rather minimal.

Why then does he want money? He has to want it for himself, and at one time he even said as much in his website article. He had set a goal of $28,000 to $29,000 per year in contributions to replace the salary he lost when he was laid off at the prison, but that part of the article has since been deleted. As the article now reads, his goal is to attract $70 to $80 as a "daily support requirement " that he will need "for full time operation" throughout the 365-day year. He set forth different plans in the article whereby contributors could pledge "daily sponsorships" of "70-80 dollars per year to support one day out of every year," and he will soon announce a program of half-day sponsorships. He even has a "PayPal" icon in the article, which contributors can click in order to authorize their pledges through Visa, MasterCharge, Discover, or American Express.

I'm not misrepresenting Turkel, then, when I say that his goal is to gather enough contributors to enable him to make a living writing his so-called apologetic articles. He is just what the world needs, another media evangelist urging people to send their money in. One has to wonder if this kind of enterprise will ever reach a point of diminishing return where there will be more of them than the public is willing to support. To increase his chances of joining the ranks of those who make their livings by pulling the wool over the sheep's eyes, maybe Turkel should put a catchy slogan in all articles on his website. How about, "Keep James Patrick Holding out of prison send your money now"?

The old Robert Turkel: From the time that Turkel first came onto the internet scene, he avoided situations that would put his apologetic "talents" to the test before informed opposition. He hunkered down on his own personal website, where he published "rebuttals" of anti-inerrancy articles under his pseudonym without giving his readers a chance to read both sides. Most website articles will include "links" when references to other articles are made so that readers can click onto the links, access the articles referred to, and then read what the authors said in the articles that are being criticized. This enables interested readers to study both sides of the question in dispute and form their opinions from having read what both disputants have said on the issue, but Turkel would put no links in his "rebuttal" articles. His tactic was to choose an article written in opposition to biblical inerrancy and then quote it selectively to give his readers the impression that he was giving the author of the article a sound thrashing, but his readers were never given the opportunity to see just how much Turkel skipped in his "replies." Some of us called him Robert "No Link" Turkel.

Turkel has recently indicated that he intends to change his ways and not just put links into his articles but also come out into an open forum and debate where readers will have the opportunity to see everything his opponent says rather than just what he selectively quotes. He is, in effect, claiming that there will be a new Turkel, but whether the new Turkel ever becomes a reality remains to be seen, because signs are coming in almost daily that his promise of change may be just talk.

I am revising this section of my article to show that Turkel's promise to allow his ideas to be scrutinized by informed opposition in an open-forum debate may just be damage control. On the day that I revised this section, I received a 216-K reply to Turkel that was written by Brian Holtz on the so-called "trilemma" issue parroted by biblicists who claim that Jesus was either "liar, lunatic, or lord." Holtz's detailed reply to Turkel's efforts to defend this illogical position can be accessed here. It reveals that Turkel has refused not only to put links in his "rebuttals" of Holtz's articles on this subject but also refuses to reveal Holtz's name to his readers. Turkel refers to Holtz as "our critic," so he apparently fears that if he refers to his "critic" by name, some of his gullible readers may actually have enough internet savvy to do a search and find the articles that Holtz has written on this subject. Turkel undoubtedly realizes that his position can't withstand that type of scrutiny, so he continues to dig in on his own little website where he can enjoy being the big fish in the little pond. If he ever comes out into the open to submit his "apologetic ministry" to informed review, even some of his readers may begin to see that he isn't quite the defender of the faith that he appears to be when he is preaching to his choir. That is a risk I am sure he doesn't want to take, especially now that he has lost his day job and is trying to find contributors who will support him in his ambition to become an on-line Gleason Archer or Josh McDowell. The trouncings he would inevitably take in open-forum debates on the internet just wouldn't look good on his resumé.

I am very sure that Turkel realizes all this, and that is why he avoids links on his website and, at times, even hides the name of his opponents just as he tries to conceal his own name. After receiving Holtz's article, I e-mailed Turkel to ask if he intended to post Holtz's article on his website or at least give his readers a link. Here is the answer I received.

A link for Mr Crybaby H.? Of course not. He is even more silly than you are. And twice as obnoxious, and three times more deluded about his own self-importance (5/20/02).

I told Turkel that my policy in The Skeptical Review has always been to publish the articles of biblical inerrantists so that readers can see for themselves just how ridiculous they can become in their desperation to defend their inerrancy belief. I suggested to Turkel that if Holtz is even half as incompetent as he claims, he should put Holtz's article on his website and let readers see for themselves just how silly he is. As I write this, Turkel hasn't yet indicated to me what his reaction to my suggestion will be. I predict that the new Turkel that he has been promising us will turn out to be the old Turkel, and his readers will never see Holtz's rebuttal. He will remain Robert "No Link" Turkel.

A new Turkel? For several years, I have occasionally received messages from Turkel admirers, who chided me for not answering articles about me that they had read on his website. I would forward to them copies of replies that I had written to a Turkel article, and inform them that for several years I had periodically challenged Turkel to defend biblical inerrancy in an open-forum internet debate where readers could see everything that both sides said on the issues and not just what Turkel would selectively quote from articles that he was "refuting." I would tell the writers of these queries that Turkel had refused those challenges, and then I would ask them to contact him and urge him to accept my challenge. I recall only one time that I received a reply to these materials, and this fellow had the integrity to tell me that after reading my responses to Turkel, he could see that I wasn't the incompetent klutz that Turkel had depicted on his website.

I have no way of knowing how many of these contacts acted on my request and urged Turkel to accept my challenge, but recently there have been indications that Turkel may be feeling the heat and now realizes that his continual rejection of the challenges may be making him look bad, because he finally published on his site the semblance of an acceptance of my challenge. This "acceptance" can be accessed here. Turkel's acceptance had conditions attached to it that were so patently absurd that he has since retreated from most of them. One condition was that I would have to pay 90% of the cost of maintaining his website, which would be 90% of $35 per month or $378 per year ($31.50 x 12), and would have to pay it eight years in advance. In other words, Turkel was saying that he would debate me on my site and his if I would just agree to pay him $3024 before the debate begins. (I guess his plea for money in the article mentioned above isn't bringing in the $80 per day he needs to be a "self- supporting" apologist.) I informed Turkel that I would pay a proportional cost of his website for as long as the debate continued, but that I certainly would not pay for eight years in advance. He has since informed me that he will debate me on a "neutral" site but will not post the debate on his own site, so this advanced-payment condition has been dispatched to the trash can where it belonged in the first place. But wait a minute! I have to add a comment to this paragraph. I just received a message from Turkel in which he informed me that the "neutral site," which he had arranged to post the debate on, will no longer be necessary, since I am going to publish it on my site. He said that he would put links to it on his site, but who knows what he will be saying by the time this article goes to press?
Another ridiculous condition to Turkel's "acceptance" was that I would first have to defend what I said about Marco Polo in "Did Marco Polo Lie?" (TSR, July/ August 1996, pp. 1, 11). Although Marco Polo was only incidental to the thesis of my article that had ruffled Turkel's feathers, I immediately accepted this condition, after which he wrote to tell me that he had another condition. While I was defending my Marco-Polo article, I would not be permitted to refer to the Bible, Christianity, inerrancy, or religion. My article had been written to illustrate how historians apply the same critical standards to ancient secular documents that they use to evaluate biblical claims, but Turkel wanted a provision in our debating agreement that would prohibit my referring to the Bible, inerrancy, Christianity, or religion as I defended what I had said in an article that pertained to the Bible, inerrancy, Christianity, and religion. This left no doubt that he wasn't about to enter into any serious debate on this or any other issue.

Since I was eager to get Turkel into an open-forum debate on biblical inerrancy, I agreed to accept this restriction if after the Marco-Polo strawman had been put to rest, he would then debate multiple propositions directly related to biblical inerrancy. I agreed to affirm this proposition: "Everything that Farrell Till said about Marco Polo in the July/August 1996 issue of The Skeptical Review was factually correct." Turkel immediately began to wiggle. In a reply to my proposal of this proposition, he said, "I know you want an expansion because it enables you to take refuge in vagueness and distractions rather than employing specifics, but that dog won't hunt with me. I know how you operate, and[,] Fife, I'm nipping it in the bud" (e-mail dated 4/29/02). That was the sum total of his reply to this, so what he meant by it is anybody's guess. I was never able to figure out how he could construe an offer to defend everything I had said about Marco Polo to be "an expansion" that would enable me to "take refuge in vagueness and distractions." Such a complaint would be in order if I had agreed to defend only some of what I had said about Marco Polo, but how could he object to my willingness to defend everything I had said about Polo? I suspect that when I accepted his challenge, he felt the pressure to say something but really didn't know what to say. He had insisted that I defend what I had said about Marco Polo in the article in dispute, and when I submitted a proposition that obligated me to defend everything I had said about Polo, he sent me the ambiguous reply above just to delay getting serious about negotiating an agreement. Turkel has since dropped the Marco Polo matter and has said that he wants to debate the issue of Yahweh's land promises to the Israelites. I informed him that this was acceptable to me but that we would need to agree on addition propositions, which we would debate after this one had been discussed. Trying to pin him down to other propositions has since proven to be somewhat like nailing Jello to a wall. I have proposed a proposition on the general inerrancy of the Bible, and he has not sent me a reply. I have proposed propositions on the fulfillment of Isaiah's and Ezekiel's prophecies against Babylon, Tyre, and Egypt, but all he has indicated is that he will agree to debate the Tyre prophecy. When I asked him why he would defend Ezekiel's prophecy against Tyre but would not defend his prophecy against Egypt, he informed me that there is "insufficient data." I tried to pin him down on specific details in Ezekiel's prophecy against Egypt. Would he, for example, agree to affirm that Egypt was once made desolate and uninhabited for a period of 40 years, during which no foot of man or beast passed through it, as prophesied in Ezekiel 29:11-12? Turkel skipped over this part of my letter without comment. I have asked if he will agree to debate the historicity of the biblical account of the wilderness wanderings, the character of God as depicted in the Old Testament, the resurrection of Jesus, the virgin birth of Jesus, and the historicity of biblical miracles, but Turkel has dismissed all of these inquiries as matters that he will not discuss until we have debated the land-promise issue. He talks boldly on his website in articles that he knows will be read primarily by his admirers, but when he is out of that pond, he flips and flops and finds all kinds of excuses not to defend his biblical beliefs in an open forum where he will have to confront informed opposition.

Those who are assisting me in switching TSR to an electronic format hope to have the website in operation by August, at which time this article and all others in this issue will be posted. I plan to write replies to some of Turkel's articles on his website, and these too will be posted here. Whether the promised "new" Turkel will put links on his site so that his readers can see these rebuttals remains to be seen. I predict that he won't.

I apologize for the space devoted to a would-be apologist whose bark is worse than his bite, but he makes a lot of static boasting on his closed forum. What the eventual outcome of Turkel's recent claims that he will at least give his readers links so that they can see what his opponents are writing in reply to his rantings remains to be seen. One day he says one thing the next day he says another. As this article goes to press, Turkel has retreated from a promise to reach a written agreement, which would include precisely worded debate propositions, and has said that he will go after me on his own without an agreement. He says that he will reply to my article "Yahweh's Failed Land Promise," which can be accessed here. He won't put my article on his site, but he has said that his reply will link to my original article. If he keeps this promise, his readers will see him get his nose wiped clean, because much better apologists than he is have tried to resolve this discrepancy. They couldn't do it, and he won't either.

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