The following is a guest post by Steve Baughman, otherwise known as the Friendly Banjo Atheist on YouTube. Steve was the first person to bring to the public’s awareness, the issue of Ravi Zacharias’ false academic credentials. To catch up to speed, check this article here. Since Steve’s initial video about Ravi’s fraud, there have been a lot of ‘excuses’ offered in the name of defending Ravi by those close to or working on behalf of his ministry. In this exclusive article, Steve responds to some of these defensive arguments and demonstrates without a doubt that Ravi has personally benefited from the use of fraudulent academic credentials. Perhaps though, what is most troublesome, is that Christians have chosen to defend Ravi, rather than calling upon him to be truthful and honest. Does this mean that Christians are willing to commit fraud, so as long as it benefits their faith?
STEVE BAUGHMAN RESPONDS TO NICK HILL AND PROFESSOR BEAU BAEZ
NICK HILL’S DEFENSE OF RAVI ZACHARIAS
Nick Hill’s defense of his former Christian apologetics teacher is full of facts. Almost all of them are irrelevant, and what is left is misleading, false or downright bizarre.
The first point misleads. Ravi Zacharias does not stand accused of specifically claiming to have a PhD. The accusation is that hepresents himself as one who has earned a PhD when he has not. For the specifics of Mr. Zacharias’ “Dr. Zacharias” behavior, see my reply to Professor Beau Baez below.
Nick Hill’s second is bizarre. The complaint against Mr. Zacharias is that nowhere at his RZIM.org bio does he disclose that his doctorates are “honorary.” Mr. Hill thinks this no problem. If we want to know if the doctorates are real or honorary, all we have to do is “google the titles and where he received them” and we can see that these schools do not offer academic doctorates. Thus, we would be able to deduce that Mr. Zacharias’ degrees are honorary.
One wonders how Mr. Hill can be serious that, in lieu of Mr. Zacharias simply putting the word “honorary” in his bio, we are to spend hours researching and visiting the websites of each school to see if they offer academic doctorates of the kinds Mr. Zacharias was awarded. I say “hours” because Mr. Zacharias does not list the names of the schools that gave him these doctorates, so we would first have to find that out somehow.
Third, and falsely, Mr. Hill tells us that during his sabbatical Mr. Zacharias “was supervised by a Cambridge scholar Dr. Jeremy Begbie.” Mr. Hill should know, however, that Dr. Begebie did not begin teaching at Cambridge until 1993, three years after Mr. Zacharias was his student at Ridley Hall. This information is publicly available at Dr. Begbie’s Duke University profile.
In his defense of Ravi Zacharias Nick Hill presents us with a fine example of the absurd and sometimes fact-adverse depths to which devotees of Ravi Zacharias will descend in defense of their guru.
PROFESSOR BEAU BAEZ’S DEFENSE OF RAVI ZACHARIAS
Law Professor Beau Baez does not fare much better. He offers five defenses of Mr. Zacharias. Each one is very easily dispatched.
First, Mr. Zacharias should not be held accountable when others loosely refer to him as “Dr. Zacharias.”
This is a straw man. The problem is that Mr. Zacharias actively promotes himself as “Dr. Zacharias.” We see it at his website, at his YouTube posts, in the jacket of his autobiography, and it seems that he even instructs his secretary to call him “Dr.” (When I called his office to speak to him, his personal secretary answered “Dr. Zacharias office.” You can too. (770) 449-6766. Ask to be put thru to Mr. Zacharias’ office.)
Second, it is not uncommon for people to call themselves “Dr.” based solely on honorary degrees.
The problem for Mr. Zacharias is that Mr. Zacharias uses the title “Dr.”in academic settings where it is very likely to cause some people (probably many) to believe he has earned an academic doctorate. It is undisputed that this is an ethically controversial practice,
It is undisputed that more people will falsely believe he has a PhD if he calls himself “Dr. Zacharias” than if he calls himself “Mr. Zacharias,”
Mr. Zacharias does not disclose at his website that the doctorate degrees are honorary,
The only conceivable benefit of using the “Dr.” title and failing to disclose the honorary nature of the degrees is that it bolsters Mr. Zacharias’ public image by leading many to think he has a PhD,
The potential to mislead can be greatly reduced by simply adding the word “honorary” to his bio and refraining from using the controversial title.
Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that even one of the institutions that gave Mr. Zacharias an honorary doctorate does not approve of the practice. In response to my inquiry, Asbury University informed me that, “As a general rule, Asbury University — which utilizes Associated Press style as its foundation — does not refer to a recipient of an honorary doctorate issued by the University as “Dr.”
Knowing the controversial nature of the practice and its potential to mislead, Mr. Zacharias continues to hold himself out to the world as “Dr. Ravi Zacharias.”
Third, Prof. Baez says “when I saw the degrees that he listed on his website I immediately recognized them as honorary degrees. I see no reason to list the obviousness [sic] nature of the degrees–he was not hiding anything.”
This is truly odd. Mr. Zacharias’s website says
“He has been honored with the conferring of six doctoral degrees, including a Doctor of Laws and a Doctor of Sacred Theology.”
That’s it! How was Prof. Baez able to “immediately recognize these as honorary degrees” when four of them are not even named? And how did he know that there was not a real doctorate amongst them?
If one Googles “Doctor of Sacred Theology” and “Doctor of Laws” one immediately learns that these are often demanding academic degrees in both the United Kingdom and the United States (the two countries where Mr. Zacharias spends most of his time).
These are not “immediately recognizable” as honorary degrees.
Now, in fairness to Prof. Baez, he has indicated to me in correspondence that “When I see that many doctorate degrees I immediately conclude that they are honorary degrees. Two earned doctorate degrees is fairly unusual, let alone anything beyond that. ”
But this argument is also odd. Prof. Baez assumes it to be common knowledge that “conferring of six doctoral degrees” means they areall honorary. But why does he assume this?
A casual investigator trying to ascertain Mr. Zacharias’ actual credentials might find that Allam Iqbal holds 17 PhDs from top universities, and that Viva Luxme has earned 15!
I do not know if this is information or misinformation. But that comes up when one searches. And it gives the lie to Prof. Baez’s apparent assumption that we are all like him and “immediately recognize” that “conferring of six doctoral degrees” means that all were honorary.
What conceivable reason could Ravi Zacharias, or his people, have for not simply adding the word “honorary” to his bio, other than to mislead?
Fourth, Prof. Baez tells us that “it is possible that Ravi was unaware of the loose affiliation Ridley now has with Cambridge University.”
By way of brief background, Ravi Zacharias has very thin academic credentials. He has a Master’s Degree in Divinity and no academic publications to his credit. The crown jewel of his academic bio is the claim, which he has loudly made for the past 25 years, that he was once a “Visiting Scholar at Cambridge University.” Without that claim he is just another circuit rider with a preacher’s degree and a load of political connections.
I investigated and found the Cambridge claim to be false. The true fact is that in 1990 Mr. Zacharias did a sabbatical at a relatively unknown place called Ridley Hall, which was affiliated with Cambridge, and that while at Ridley he “attended” some classes at Cambridge. Cambridge University confirmed that Mr. Zacharias was never a visiting scholar at Cambridge University.
I then informed Mr. Zacharias of my intent to go public with this information if he could not explain himself. Several days later he withdrew the “Visiting Scholar at Cambridge University” claim from his website bio.
Prof. Baez now asks us to believe that perhaps Mr. Zacharias was confused and honestly thought that being on sabbatical at Ridley Hall and attending classes at Cambridge University entitled him to claim that he was a “visiting scholar at Cambridge University.”
This is very charitable to Mr. Zacharias. But why should we assume “good faith” on Mr. Zacharias’ part here? We may acknowledge the affiliation between Ridley Hall and Cambridge University just as we may acknowledge the affiliation between, say, Babson College and M.I.T. The fact remains that any Babson student who claims to have been a “visiting scholar at M.I.T.” merely by virtue of that affiliation and attending some classes at M.I.T. would be subject to academic discipline for C.V. fraud.
To make matters worse, I was not the first to raise the Cambridge problem with Mr. Zacharias.
I have a devout Christian colleague who several years ago developed suspicions about Mr. Zacharias’ Cambridge claim. He informs me that he made several inquiries of Mr. Zacharias’ ministry about the matter and eventually RZIM stopped replying. My colleague then stopped pursuing the matter.
I must also note that Mr. Zacharias’ supervisor at Ridley Hall, Dr. Jeremy Begbie, makes a very clear distinction in his C.V. between his duties at Cambridge and his duties at Ridley Hall.
Should we not expect similar integrity and clarity of understanding from Mr. Zacharias? After all, this was an impressive claim to be making. Are we to believe that Mr. Zacharias just never noticed its falsity until a banjo playing atheist on the Internet threatened to expose him?
Finally, Prof. Baez notes that “From what I understand, as soon as any question was raised about his credentials he quickly clarified them on his website.”
That is not quite accurate. Mr. Zacharias did remove the false Cambridge claim. But he continues to refer to himself as “Dr. Zacharias” in his videos and at his website, where the word “honorary” remains tellingly absent.
Prof. Baez asks us to be charitable and to not impute ill motives to Mr. Zacharias. We can agree that charity is a good policy. But it cannot be disputed that what we see with Mr. Zacharias on the “Dr. Zacharias” issue is (at very best!) a willingness to construe an ethical gray area in a way most conducive to his public image. It also cannot be disputed that his practice of calling himself “Dr. Zacharias” is more likely to mislead large numbers of people than “Mr. Zacharias” would. But he chooses to do it anyway.
Such a demonstrated preference for public image over truth makes it more likely that on the “visiting scholar at Cambridge University” claim Ravi Zacharias simply chose to mislead the public because it made him look good and he thought he could get away with it. And he did, for 25 years.
Steve Baughman is an attorney and banjo teacher in San Francisco. He is known on YouTube as The Friendly Banjo Atheist who first exposed the misleading claims Ravi Zacharias made about his credentials. Mr. Baughman first contacted Mr. Zacharias’ ministry with his concerns in May, 2015. All references to Mr. Zacharias’ website are as of 10/27/15.
Steve can be reached through his Friendly Banjo Atheist channel at YouTube or by email at FriendlyBanjoAtheist (at) gmail (dot) you-know- what.