Loftus responds to my critique.

Since he explained why he would not be replying again on the comment thread at Debunking Christianity, I figured I would cross-post it here, so as not to leave anyone in suspense.

Loftus wrote:

Leah, I’m not interested. I don’t know who you are. I don’t care to discuss strategy online when this scholar is reading what we write. And I don’t care to discuss whose questions are better. I know what I’m doing. That scholar agrees.

Leah, had you said what you would ask and told us why there would be no problem at all. After all, we will debate 20 questions/ issues, so there is plenty of room to take up your issues. But what you did instead was to say you were embarrassed with my questions and you argued yours were better even though you were clueless as to who I was debating and what my strategy is. Then you had the gall to talk about how Christians will react to me, and how atheists should react to me when you had no clue how I would react to you.

Here’s what I predict based on cognitive dissonance theory. You will take up a personal campaign against me in order to prove yourself right. Facts do not change people’s minds. They only force people who are wrong to dig in their heels. Only people who are aware of what they are doing have a good chance to change it. Do you?

I don’t have any personal problem with Loftus, and, to the best of my ability, I’ve tried to focus on our difference of opinions, not on any personal or ad hominem attacks.  We’re playing for the same side, after all.

It’s frustrating that we didn’t manage to have a dialogue on this topic, since Loftus and I have near identical goals: we both think Christianity is false and that some of these beliefs have extremely destructive . Our approaches are opposed, but, in my mind, that’s all the more reason for us to have a conversation, since we both want to optimize our approach.  I would have liked to hear why Loftus had chosen the approach he did and whether he thought my criticisms were completely wrongheaded or whether he felt that the benefit of his approach outweighed the potential harms I discussed.  After all, until he replies, I’m going to keep on using tactics that he believes are counterproductive.

Since he’s embargoed the topic until he finishes the book, I’m glad to take it up with site visitors who disagree.  I’m confident we won’t spoil the debate by discussing it among ourselves; I think our arguments are strong enough to not need the element of surprise.

A final note, since this discussion became much more about possible rudeness than anti-apologetic best practices: whenever you’re reading my blog, please keep in mind Hanlon’s Razor and never attribute to malice what could be explained by stupidity or carelessness.  

If you find my comments wrongheaded or just plain disrespectful, please comment and give me the chance to correct myself.  I added an addendum to my first post when I realized that my use of the word ’embarrassed’ was making a much stronger, more confrontational statement than I intended.<

I am sorry, John Loftus, that I offended you.  That was not my intention, and I'm sorry that my comments in any way precluded a discussion, which was my actual goal.  If you decide you'd like to take up the question of tactics later, I'll be here.

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Becky@CookiesForAfrica

    As always, your humility and objectivity is the most compelling thing about this blog. It's why I keep reading. I'm a Christian and I admire you very deeply.

  • Anonymous


  • Dominick Lawton

    So I've got a question which I'd love to see you write a full-on post about, if you've the time or inclination, because it's preventing a lot of the things you and Loftus have been tossing back and forth with each other from cohering in my head. (Also, to engage with the actual main substance of the post, Loftus is being really whiny and unimpressive here.) The question is the following: to what extent is it actually meaningful to talk about an atheist "side" to this debate? Your own inclinations, from the last couple posts, seem a bit contradictory:1) Atheism, at its core, is a pretty basic and uninteresting belief (not even a "belief system"), which says that there's no God and that's that. There are a lot of different places you can go, in terms of metaphysics, morals, etc., from here, which prevents an atheist dogma from forming in the way religious dogmas readily do. (Assuming here that 'dogma' isn't an inherently pejorative term.)2) On the other hand, you and Loftus, despite the fact that you presumably disagree in a lot of your positive beliefs (and, based on this spat, evidently disagree about how best to approach discourse), are allies when it comes to *confronting Christianity*, because you both think it's harmful in similar ways. You don't have much in common to defend, besides the relatively uninteresting statement "there is no God", but you have a good deal in common to try and tear down, and for similar reasons.3) So if the primary area where you and Loftus overlap in such a way that it makes sense for you to talk about being disappointed by the way in which he "represents your side" is that you both want to convert the opposition away from their current belief system, not that you want to convert them towards a different one on which you both agree, then doesn't it make sense for any kind of atheist "movement" or "side" to rely primarily on negative rhetoric and gotcha-arguments? The most damning criticism of that type of discourse is that it's good at knocking people off their guard and demolishing your opponents' arguments, but makes no effort to offer, defend, or elaborate upon any kind of positive alternative; still, if there *is* no positive alternative that unites atheists, and an atheist group position can only be said to exist insofar as atheists agree they want to intellectually discredit Christianity (or whatever) because it's harmful, then why is this a problem? Atheists can still articulate their own particular positive belief systems when not operating under the auspices of The Movement At Large.I imagine you have an answer to this, and it's just a piece of the puzzle that hasn't come up in any of your previous posts, but I'd be very curious to know what it is. (And I do realize that you're a strict small-o objectivist, and that you think there IS only one truly correct positive atheistic framework, but since that's a truth that happens to include atheism rather than an Atheistic Truth, it seems peculiar to me to see it as What Atheism Should Mean rather than just How Things Are.)

  • Dominick Lawton

    …I had a super-long comment that Google ate, in an intensely frustrating fashion, so I'll try and boil it town to a sentence this time to stave off disappointment: much of what you've said in your last few posts makes a lot of sense to me, but there's a piece of the puzzle that's missing and that I'd like to get your thoughts on. If atheism, in and of itself, is a fairly slim and uninteresting belief (which, as an atheist, I think it is), and the interesting bit comes from the positive framework you build on top of your atheism, then what does it actually mean to talk about any atheist "side" to this debate that defines itself positively rather than negatively, as furthering an intellectual position rather than trying to tear down the other side's because you think it's dangerous? The only thing that really seems to unite you and Loftus in any meaningful way is that you both find Christianity dangerous for similar reasons, which is totally fine, but doesn't strike me as enough to define an "atheist movement" or "atheist side of the debate". When you talk about being disappointed at how Loftus' questions represent "our side", are you talking about anything beyond "people who intellectually oppose themselves to Christianity"? If so, given the relative lack of *inherent* content to atheism, how substantially can that "side" be defined and still be identified by the label "atheist"?

  • Dominick Lawton

    …and, as it turns out, both comments came through, and now I just look like someone with a verbosity fetish. Shhhh.

  • Matt

    Hi Leah,Loftus is sort of an atheist Jeremiah figure. He's calling everyone of faith to repent and turn to atheism and they're just not listening to him. He's as sure of his beliefs as the biblical prophet was that Israel had turned away from its god and yet is not getting the prophetic respect he deserves. It's not surprising to me that he's not interested in dialogue with you because his whole "no one listens to facts" line makes rational discourse irrational and point scoring (like ambushing people with surprise questions) the only important thing.I would have to say, though, that if he got in a one-on-one conversation with the average-joe American Christian he could really upset their faith. He seems to be more going after them than the types of Christians you engage in dialogue with.One thing that confuses me: Loftus solicited questions on the internet. If they're supposed to be such a big secret why have people post questions you might use online? Why post some of the ones you have picked online?PS I don't know if you've seen it yet but he accepted your apology.

  • Charles

    I find it funny that both 'sides' are predominantly filled with people that think the single point of the existence of god is so all important that any other differences and/or similarities can be overcome. I have read Catholic apologists, and know many others would always say that all sects of Christianity fundamentalist or otherwise are clearly closer allies than atheists. But as this blog, your views on morality (and frankly mine) demonstrate – this clearly isn't always the case. Personally I have grown tired of the evangelical form of 'new' atheism, and find it far more interesting to engage various peoples in a non-antagonistic way (at least recently!)

  • Anonymous

    When you are arguing a position. As much as humanly possible leave "emotions" out of it.~temporaryDana