RaviWatch

Investigating the false claims of evangelist Ravi Zacharias

DETAILS AND DOCUMENTATION

1. "VISITING SCHOLAR AT CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY" - This is the most impressive claim in RZ’s very sparse academic resume. It is false and he removed it from his website bio shortly after I informed him that I had discovered it to be false.

Until I exposed him in the summer of 2015, RZ’s website bio at RZIM.org stated, "Dr. Zacharias has been a visiting scholar at Cambridge University."

In his memoirs RZ offers more details: "By 1990, the load of ministry had gotten so heavy that I decided to take a sabbatical for the first time since I had started in the ministry. I spent part of that year at Cambridge University in England with my family, and it was a very special time for us. I was invited to be a visiting scholar, and I decided to focus my studies on the Romantic writers and moralist philosophers." (Walking from East to West, at p. 205.)

RZ is frequently introduced at his university appearances as having been "a visiting scholar at Cambridge University." Here you can see the President of Liberty University introduce "Dr. Zacharias" as "a visiting scholar at Cambridge University" when awarding him an honorary doctorate in 2013.

The "visiting scholar at Cambridge" claim also appears on the jacket of RZ’s book, The Real Face of Atheism.

A Google search of ["Ravi Zacharias" "visiting scholar at Cambridge University"] reveals hundreds of pages in which the claim is repeated.

How do I know the claim is false? I contacted the University of Cambridge Office of External Affairs and Communications and asked whether Mr. Ravi Zacharias was ever a visiting scholar at their university. I was told in writing the following:

  1. "We can confirm that Mr. Zacharias spent a sabbatical term at Ridley Hall in the city of Cambridge."
  2. "Attending lectures and classes at the University of Cambridge whilst on sabbatical at Ridley Hall would not confer University of Cambridge Visiting Scholar status on a student. Ridley Hall is not a constituent part of the University of Cambridge and has different criteria for granting Visiting Scholar status."

Insofar as it is exclusively the province of the University of Cambridge to decide who constitutes a "visiting scholar" at their institution, I believe it to be established beyond dispute that RZ’s visiting scholar claim is false.

RZ has since withdrawn the claim from his website bio and replaced it with "visiting scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge." But why did he make the more prestigious (but false) claim in the first place?

(Curiously, I have been forwarded an email from Ridley’s Dr. Adrian Chatfield indicating that Ridley has "no ‘visiting scholar programme.’" Can it be that even RZ’s newly modified and more modest claim is itself misleading? Did RZ convert his "sabbatical" at Ridley into the more impressive sounding "visiting scholar" gig? RZ should have a letter somewhere in which somebody at Ridley invited him to be a "visiting scholar". (See p. 205 of his memoirs. "I was invited to be a visiting scholar.") I suspect he does not, and that the whole Ridley "visiting scholar" thing was also just more of RZ puffing himself. It would be easy for him to prove me wrong. I invite him to do so. I will leave this issue to the real journalists to pursue. The important thing is that RZ and I are in agreement; his Cambridge claim was false.)


2. "SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW AT OXFORD UNIVERSITY" - Oxford University has confirmed with me that RZ was never an employee of Oxford University. I have also confirmed that RZ was instead an HONORARY Senior Research Fellow at a place called Wycliffe Hall, a religious training school that is an "affiliated institution" of the University, but not one of the colleges that comprises Oxford University.

RZ added the word "honorary" to "Senior Research Fellow" at his website in the summer of 2015 after I informed about my investigation. He has since deleted the entire Senior Research Fellow claim from his website bio.

Here is an explosive admission of deceit by RZ. In a February 2013 interview with a Christian blog he said "If I’m in an academic forum, then the fact that I’m a senior research fellow at Wycliffe Hall Oxford University, that’s a credential with which I work in the academy." Apologetics315 interview (my emphasis.)

Here RZ admits to deceit; he presents an honorary credential as an academic one in an academic forum. (This, of course, is precisely what has done for years with his honorary doctorates.)

For my Oxford and Wycliffe correspondence and further details, see "Lying for Lord or Self" on YouTube.


3. In his autobiography RZ refers to Cambridge's Dr. John Polkinghorne as "My professor in quantum physics." (Walking from East to West at p. 205.) - This is a claim RZ repeatedly makes in his lectures.

See this YouTube clip, for example.

I confirmed with Cambridge via a Freedom of Information request that Dr. Polkinghorne taught no physics classes in 1990, the year RZ spent 2-3 months in the town of Cambridge. Dr. Polkinghorne's two 1990 classes were on Buddhism and on the Science/Theology dialogue.

I have also learned that Dr. Polkinghorne retired from physics in 1979 to pursue theological studies and become a priest.

In 1990 RZ did a 2-3 month sabbatical at a religious training institute, Ridley Hall, in the town of Cambridge. Ridley Hall has affiliations with the Cambridge University but the University has confirmed with me that Ridley is not a constituent part of the University. RZ tells us that while at Ridley "I decided to focus my studies on the Romantic writers and the moralist philosophers." During these 2-3 months, RZ also attended, on a part-time basis, lectures and classes at Cambridge University, wrote his first book (a non-scholarly work called A Shattered Visage), "return[ed] to the idyllic days of our early family life," acquired a new border collie, and went "strolling in the evenings and enjoying the surroundings of that magnificent campus." (Walking from East to West at pp. 205 - 207.)

And on top of all this he studied quantum physics "under" Dr. Polkinghorne.

An outstanding question is whether RZ ever even enrolled at Cambridge. This is very unlikely. His Ridley supervisor, Dr. Jeremy Begbie, told me "I arranged for Mr. Zacharias to attend lectures and classes at the University." Dr. Begbie refused to answer my follow-up question about formal enrollment. RZ's ministry has also repeatedly refused to answer this question.

I strongly suspect that a true answer would make RZ look like a fraud. Very few honest individuals would claim that auditing a class or two with a famous professor for 2 - 3 months on a very part-time basis entitles them to claim that they "studied under" that professor. But RZ does.

(Cambridge was unable to provide me information as to whether or not RZ had formally enrolled at the University.)

Now, even if, as seems unlikely, RZ had formally enrolled in a Buddhism or Science/Theology Dialogue class with Dr. Polkinghorne it would still be false to claim that Polkinghorne was his "professor in quantum physics." But RZ does just that.

(Incidentally, this whole issue of when one can claim to have "studied under" a famous person is a bit ambiguous. I took a full semester graduate seminar with a famous Princeton philosopher of science. I paid fees, attended classes, submitted papers and gave a class presentation. Still, I would consider it presumptuous to claim to have "studied under" this renowned scholar based on one semester. RZ, by contrast, construes ambiguity in favor of his public image.)

But if RZ had at least formally enrolled (and not merely audited), his claim would be slightly less outrageous (although the "quantum physics" thing would still get Five Pinocchios.)

He would have written a paper or two or sat for an exam, as opposed to merely warming an auditorium seat. Perhaps someone with a greater influence than I over RZ or his P.R. Manager can get him to answer this question. Did RZ formally "study under" Cambridge professors or just audit? And whatever the answer, the truth remains; RZ's claim that he studied quantum physics at Cambridge University seems to be a bald-faced lie.


4. "Chair of the Department of Evangelism and Contemporary Thought at Alliance Theological Seminary" - RZ was an associate professor at Alliance Theological Seminary for approximately four years beginning in 1980. While there he also held the NON-ACADEMIC "chair of Evangelism and Contemporary Thought."

After RZ left the Seminary he fabricated a more prestigious academic chair title for himself. He said that he had been the "Chair of the DEPARTMENT of Evangelism and Contemporary Thought." This claim appears at page 188 of his autobiography and in other writings.

The problem is that this department never existed. RZ simply made it up.

I tracked down RZ's immediate successor at the Seminary who told me that the Seminary was too small at that time to have "departments."

I also retained a private investigator who worked with the Seminary librarian to search school catalogs from 1980 to 1985. They found no evidence of such a department. The librarian told my investigator that it was unlikely the Seminary ever had such a department.

General Counsel for the Seminary refused to answer my question as to whether there ever was such a department. He also instructed me to refrain from contacting seminary employees to ask about RZ.

I then contacted the President of the Christian & Missionary Alliance. (C&MA operates the Seminary). The Church's General Counsel responded and was unwilling to help me ascertain whether such a department ever existed. He also indicated that the Church would not comment on the RZ matter.

So we see the Church and its lawyers refusing to answer a simple question about whether there ever was a "Department of Evangelism and Contemporary Thought" at their Seminary. Cover up?


5. "I am an official lecturer at Oxford" where I lecture "three times a year." - RZ makes a fairly big deal about his position at the University of Oxford, mentioning it in his autobiography and in many press materials and in at least one interview on YouTube. But he held no position at the University. He was an honorary senior research fellow at Wycliffe Hall (an "affiliated institution" or Christian "private permanent hall" of the University), but Wycliffe informed me that although RZ had lectured at Wycliffe in the past he "has never held any formal teaching position" there. The University itself confirmed in writing that it has no record of RZ being on its payroll. I was able to confirm that RZ rented rooms at Oxford University's Queens College between 2009 and 2015 (per my correspondence with Oxford). Given RZ's lack of academic credentials it is most unlikely that his "three times a year" lectures at Oxford University are sponsored by the University or any faculty at the University.

I have made several requests to RZIM about this matter, and they have failed to reply. It remains for others to determine what exactly RZ means when he repeatedly claims to lecture three times a year at Oxford University.

To see him make the claim, check out this YouTube lecture.

I consider this one of RZ’s most serious ethical breaches, but it has been one of the most difficult to document. (It is like trying to prove a negative while the accused exercises his right to remain silent.) Perhaps others can urge RZ to clarify the capacity in which he lectures three times a year at Oxford University. Are these lectures sponsored by the University? Or did RZ just rent a room?


6. "Cambridge educated." - This claim is made by RZ’s Christian publishers in their official RZ bio.

The claim is misleading. See Item 4 above.

RZ spent many years taking classes at two un-prestigious and largely unknown religious schools. But he turns a single part-time term visiting Cambridge into "Cambridge educated."

I appreciate that RZ may (or may not) have worked very hard during those 2 to 3 months in 1990; but no honest person makes such an orgy of dilettantism the basis of their claim to being "Cambridge educated," nor permits their publisher to do so.

But RZ does.


7. "Dr. Zacharias" - For many years Mr. Zacharias has actively promoted himself as "Dr. Zacharias." He uses the title in press materials presented to college audiences where the title is widely understood to indicate that the bearer has completed doctoral studies. We also see it at his website, in his YouTube videos, in the jacket of his autobiography, and it seems that he even instructs his secretary to call him "Dr." when she answers the phone (per my call to his office.) Clearly, RZ takes his doctorhood very seriously.

RZ understands that his use of the title will mislead some people into thinking he has completed academic doctorate work. He also understands that the only benefit to using the term is self-aggrandizement. But he uses it anyway.

The fact is that RZ has no academic degree beyond a B.A. from the Ontario Bible College. (He also holds an M.Div. This is a professional degree, per my correspondence with the seminary that conferred the degree.)

After I complained in May and June of 2015, RZ reduced the number of references to himself as "Dr. Zacharias" in his website bio from 7 to 3. This a truly odd act of splitting the ethical baby. Why not just call himself "Mr. Zacharias"? That would mislead zero people. And what possible downside could there be?

This supposedly humble servant of Christ owes his flock an explanation beyond merely noting that it is fairly common for recipients of honorary doctorate to call themselves "Dr." (Yes, Benjamin Franklin did it. Billy Graham does it.) This won't do. ("Hey! Everybody’s doing it!" rarely does.) RZ needs to explain why he has used "Dr. Zacharias" in ways that are nearly certain to mislead some (many? most?) of his followers about his academic credentials.

In fact, RZ should explain why he uses the term "Dr. Zacharias" at all given that it is an ethically controversial and widely-criticized practice for which the only conceivable purpose is self-aggrandizement. Why not err on the humble side?

RZ continues the misleading practice, but now on a reduced scale.


8. RZ "holds three doctoral degrees." - This claim appears on the jacket of his book New Birth or Rebirth, as well as in his author bio at Penguin and Random House. At his own official bio he similarly claimed to have multiple doctorates and failed to disclose that they were merely honorary.

In describing his "doctorates" at his website bio, the word "honorary" did not appear until October 2016, days after I launched my "Ravi on the Run" video on YouTube. And even there we saw how much RZ despises "honorary" when applied to his precious doctorates; after my October videos came out, RZ added a "shortened version" of his bio to his website. This section contains the word "honorary." But as of today’s date (November 18, 2016), RZ still cannot bring himself to add "honorary" to his full bio. He has it quarantined off in a newly-added short section!

This is truly odd. But lest one think I am reading too much into RZ’s "honorary" phobia, there is more. When I first complained to RZ’s apologetics school, the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics, about their failure to disclose the honorary nature of their founder’s degrees, they did what all honest people would do; they added the word "honorary" to RZ’s doctorate at their website. But then a few weeks later the word disappeared. When I re-complained it, they re-added it. And there it remains today.

I cannot tell if this is comedic or psychotic. It is at least one or the other. There is, after all, a major difference between honorary and earned doctorates, and it is incumbent upon the holder of the honorary kind to disclose that they are honorary (if he or she chooses to disclose such things at all.) There is a simple way to do this; put the word "honorary" in your bio. What harm (other than perhaps to one’s ego) could possible come from full and honest disclosure? There should be no controversy about this. It's a no-brainer.

But RZ’s resistance to having his loudly-trumpeted doctorates rendered merely "honorary" is so strenuous that it leads him into bizarre behavior like that described above.

For further documentation see: here and here.


9. Ravi claims he won the "Asian Youth Preacher Award" at an international preaching competition.

Ravi tells us in his autobiography that in 1965 he won an international youth preaching competition. He describes the event in great detail and speaks of "young people gathering from all over India and Asia" for the annual event which was hosted by India that year. (p. 127.) In his publicity materials and other writings he claims that the award he received was called the "Asian Youth Preacher Award."

I became suspicious when I googled "Asian Youth Preach Award" and found that the award appeared not to exist anywhere except in connection with Ravi himself.

Fortunately, in his autobiography Ravi names three of the judges at the competition, Don Engram, Jay Kesler and Sam Kamaleson. I contacted all three of these men and each told me that this competition was India only.

Ravi simply made up the international part. This explains why his "Asian Youth Preacher Award" exists nowhere other than in his own writings.

Ravi failed to respond to my request for comment.

Here is my video on the subject.

10. In RZ’s autobiography he says, "I have spoken on almost every major campus - Berkeley, Princeton, Cornell, you name it." (Walking from East to West at p. 209.) - Apart from the bravado on display here, the claim implies that RZ receives multiple invitations from prestigious university faculties to share his expertise with them and their students.

It appears, however, that RZ’s college lectures are mainly (almost exclusively?) either self-organized or pursuant to invitations from student clubs.

In any event, RZ makes it very difficult to know the truth about this. Take for example his video "Ravi at Princeton University" from April 17, 2013.

Was this an invited talk from a faculty at Princeton? Did a student group invite him? Or did RZ simply do what he has frequently done at Oxford University, rent a room and make a speech? Given RZ’s total lack of academic credentials it is almost certain that this Princeton appearance was either a vanity gig or a student group invitation. But RZ makes it hard for us to tell.

This is a matter about which a qualified journalist with access to RZ might wish to pursue.


11. "Recognized authority on comparative religions, cults, and philosophy." - This is how RZ is described on the back cover of his book New Birth or Rebirth as well as in his Random House author bio.

I think I can safely say that this is just false. I will grant that RZ has significant knowledge of cults. But far as I have been able to ascertain, his career is entirely devoid of any of the indicia generally required to make one a "recognized authority" in comparative religions or philosophy.

He was the "chair of Evangelism and Contemporary Thought" at a place called Alliance Theological Seminary, an evangelical training institute (whose current Dean falsely states in the opening page of the school’s website that "Constantine declared Christianity as the state religion in 325 A.D." Sorry, I couldn’t resist. It’s not a low blow; it tells us something about the intellectual standards at this school.)

But I have been unable to find any indication that RZ has ever delivered a paper at a scholarly conference, nor that he has any peer-reviewed publications, nor any discussion of his ideas in academic philosophy, and in my own studies in the philosophy of religion he does not even register a ripple.

Insofar as being a "recognized authority" in an academic field would require some showing of academic achievement in that field, RZ’s claim appears to be another example of him putting his public image ahead of the truth.


12. RZ claims credit for the idea of The Veritas Forum - In his autobiography RZ says of the Veritas Forum, "The idea of the forum was born out of a discussion I had had in an elevator with a businessman from Ohio,..." (Walking from East to West at p. 208.)

This is false. The Veritas Forum was fully underway before its founder, Kelly Monroe, ever heard of RZ. Ms. Monroe carefully and in great detail discusses how she came up with the idea for Veritas while she was at Harvard. She did not hear about RZ until he was suggested as a speaker for the Veritas inaugural event. Prior to that RZ was "unknown to us." (Finding God Beyond Harvard at p. 56.)

This one is no big deal in and of itself. But it is illustrative of RZ’s willingness to distort the truth in service of his public image. And that is a big deal.


THE RZIM LETTER TO PASTOR MICHAEL ANTHONY

The below RZIM letter, which I mention in the film, was passed on to me by the nationally known Pastor Michael Anthony of Godfactor, who told me that he found the letter "extremely satisfactory."

Here is RZIM responding to Pastor Anthony after the pastor inquired about my allegations:

The numbers in parents refer to my comments immediately below the letter

We, at RZIM are committed to engaging in productive communication with anyone interested in learning more about the Christian faith (1), but an inevitable part of any public witness is that it provokes criticism from those who disagree with the message. Unfortunately, there are people who want to specifically discredit and mislead others about Ravi Zacharias and the ministry of RZIM. By their own admission, they are hostile toward evangelical beliefs. Some are offended by the gospel itself and the stand we have taken on certain issues. With that in mind, they want to try to prevent the free expression and discussion of the Christian faith, whereas others harbor a deep sense of hurt from some previous negative experience of the church or from interaction with believers.(2)

When we are confronted with false accusations, we always endeavor to respond to them carefully and with love. We are very conscious of the importance of being accurate in the way we present our team and its work, and on the rare occasions that we are made aware of something that is either ambiguous or inaccurate, we always make sure that we correct the information as a matter of urgency.(3)

The convention on honorary doctorates varies from institution to institution, but they are often conferred in recognition of an individual’s contribution to a particular field. So you can use the title without claiming that it is an academic one. Nevertheless, to try and avoid any confusion, all official biographies of Ravi Zacharias clearly state that while he received a Masters of Divinity from Trinity International University and went on to hold the Chair of Evangelism and Contemporary Thought at Alliance Theological Seminary for a number of years, the doctoral degrees conferred upon him were honorary from some very fine schools in Canada and the US.(4)

Regarding Ravi Zacharias’s time of study in Cambridge, below is a statement from Professor Jeremy Begbie:

"I can confirm that Ravi Zacharias was a visiting scholar at Ridley Hall Cambridge in 1990, under my supervision. His courses included guided research with Dr. Begbie, lectures from resident and visiting instructors in the Romantic writers, lectures at the University’s Divinity School from Don Cupitt, additional courses in quantum physics with Dr. John Polkinghorne, and studies in world religions with Dr. Julius Lipner and others." (5)

Professor Jeremy Begbie
Senior Member, Wolfson College, University of Cambridge Formerly Associated Principal, Ridley Hall, Cambridge

Additionally, while he was registered at Ridley Hall, which was at that time affiliated with Cambridge University, all of Ravi Zacharias’s courses were at the Cambridge University colleges and with University professors, under the supervision of Jeremy Begbie. Many of the students at Ridley Hall, as is the case with many of the private halls at both Cambridge and Oxford, take course work that is accredited through the University and under university faculty. So the statement that he was a visiting scholar at the university is a totally accurate statement. Ridley Hall is where he was registered. All courses were at various colleges of the university. (6)

Please stand with us as we continue to commend the gospel message in the public square around the world.

MY COMMENTS ON THE RZIM DEFENCE LETTER

This letter shows that Ravi Zacharias is willing to deceive even his fellow Christian clergy in defense of his public image. But seeing that requires careful reading

(1) Well, not really. RZIM was very gracious and communicative with me until June 18, 2015, the date on which I shared my Cambridge finding with them and asked for comment. On that date they instantly ceased all communication with me. Embargo! Then, after 14 months of ignoring 100% of my numerous inquiries, on September 18, 2016 they wrote me and made the outrageously false claim that they have answered "all the questions you have posed in numerous previous email exchanges."

The email trail won’t lie, and they have the same access to it that I do. It will show, as one of many examples, that they ignored my March 10, 2016 inquiry about whether RZ enrolled at Cambridge or merely audited. Might they kindly answer it now?

(2) The suggestion that I am trying to "prevent the free expression and discussion of the Christian faith" strikes me as a desperate diversionary move by RZIM, especially since they know that I post videos on YouTube that specifically encourage discussion of the Christian faith.

(3) If the suggestion here is that after 25 years of thinking himself a former "visiting scholar at Cambridge University" an Internet banjo atheist finally helped RZ see the truth, they should come out and say so, rather than hiding behind the vague language they employ in this paragraph. But they will then have to deal with the following fact. In the summer of 2015 I was contacted by a concerned Christian named Tom Lunol, an articulate gentleman from Southern California with an advanced degree in computer science. Mr. Lunol informed me that around 2004 or 2005 he contacted RZIM several times to complain about the misleading Cambridge claim. Mr. Lunol felt that his complaints went nowhere.

I also made three or four attempts to contact Dr. Paul Copan, a respected Christian philosopher who was with RZIM from 1998 - 2003. I asked Dr. Copan if, while at RZIM, he had been aware of concerns about RZ’s exaggerated Cambridge claim. Dr. Copan ignored each of my emails. Given that a simple "No!" would have sufficed, I am suspicious and I encourage journalists on the religious beat to follow up with Dr. Copan about this. paul_copan@pba.edu www.paulcopan.com

(4) This is RZ at his worst. There can be no reason for omitting "HONORARY" other than to mislead. And RZIM has offered none. The talk of "conventions" is a sneaky diversion from this awkwardly inescapable fact. With the release of this film I expect RZ to add the word "honorary" soon. But we shall see. (It’s been 1.5 years since my video calling him on this misleading practice.)

The suggestion that RZ is concerned to "avoid any confusion" about his doctorates is laughable given his practice of allowing his publishers to simply state that "Zacharias holds three doctoral degrees," and his practice of calling himself "Dr. Zacharias" before university students, many of whom he knows will assume that he holds an academic doctorate. Details about the ethical protocols as they relate to RZ’s use of "Dr." are in my first YouTube video "Ravi Zacharias Misleads."

BTW, he takes his "Dr." title, when I called to speak to him his personal secretary answered "Dr. Zacharias’ office." RZ seems to take his "Dr. Z" title very seriously.

And what’s with allowing a major Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson, call him "Cambridge educated" in its author bios?

(5) Jeremy Begbie is a fine scholar and musician who is now at Duke. Dr. Begbie refuses to go along with RZ’s "visiting scholar at Cambridge University" nonsense, and I read his comments in this letter to confirm that RZ’s claim was bogus. In his own professional practices Dr. Begbie draws a clear distinction between his employment at Ridley and his later employment at Cambridge University

It is unfortunate that Dr. Begbie does not wish to tell us whether RZ formally enrolled or merely audited at Cambridge. It is not that enrolling would have made RZ a "visiting scholar at Cambridge," but that merely auditing would make this letter even more dishonest than it already is. Perhaps some real journalist can find out.

(6) This paragraphs is insulting to its intended readers and to Cambridge University. It assumes that nobody will notice that Cambridge has already spoken to the issue. It also presumes that Ridley folks get to pronounce their own criteria for what makes them Cambridge University visiting scholars. RZ’s Ridley Hall supervisor, Dr. Jeremy Begbie, appears to see through this ploy. Good for him.