Some time ago, prominent atheist (and ex-Christian minister) John Loftus and I had a bit of a disagreement about the best way to debate Christians. Loftus said then that critics should wait to draw conclusions until he had the full list of questions posted. They’re up.
I’ve posted the list below with some comments interpolated in bold. If you want me to expand on one, say so in the comments, but I can only comment to a point, since I don’t know what kind of evidence either side is planning to muster. And I’d love to hear from Christian readers if you’ve struggled with any of Loftus’s questions or if his interlocutor is asking the questions that you’d put to an atheist. Here we go…
Who is this god and what did he command?
- The biblical concept of god evolved from polytheism to monotheism.
- The biblical god required human sacrifices for his pleasure.
- The biblical god commanded genocide.
I still think Old Testament attacks are of limited utility. Plenty of Christians have plausible enough defenses (some books are historically unverified, God was laying law down specifically for Jews at that time that was not meant as universal law, etc). Many Christians have higher levels of confidence in the New Testament, and are unlikely to be phased by OT problems. For total literalists, this line of attack makes more sense, but it’s not always worth arguing with them. If they are completely ignorant of the content of the Bible, perhaps, but, if not, the argument can feel like a fight with Bre’er Rabbit. Every time you try to throw a reductio ad absurdum, they’re delighted you finally understand their position.
God does not care:
- God does not care much about slaves.
- God does not care much about women.
- God does not care much about animals.
Anyone who believes about human exceptionalism can’t be expected to get too upset about that last one. I’ve heard Christian defenses of #1 (Paul isn’t expected to completely transcend his time, etc). I’m not always satisfied, but I also can’t claim that it’s my main objection to Christianity. Number 2 appeals more to me, both for the obvious reason, and because it’s a question that modern Christians need to address on a day-to-day basis, rather than a problem of finding historic justifications for past actions.
God is ignorant:
- God is ignorant about science.
- God is ignorant about the future
I don’t know what kind of argument Loftus is going to make in these sections. I assume #2 is about the way Jesus’s apostles had the impression that the Second Coming would occur in their lifetimes, which does seem problematic. He may have a different target in mind, though.
I’m less confident about #1, because, usually when I’ve seen these kinds of attacks, they’re about Genesis descriptions not corresponding well to the Big Bang, and Christians tend to cry “Metaphor!” or “Limited Understanding of the Mortal Transcriber of God’s Word!” (Admittedly, the second is more of a mouthful. But, again, I’m not really sure what the target is, so I could be totally off base.
God is incompetent:
- God is an incompetent creator.
- God is an incompetent redeemer.
I don’t know where these are going at all and my guesses are too wide ranging to speculate (problem of evil, maybe?). I’ll just place a bet now that ‘ineffable plan’ comes up somewhere in the answer.
So far Randal’s first three topics (i.e., canards) are:
- If there is no God then life has no meaning
- If there is no God then everything is permitted.
- Science is no substitute for religion
That last is obviously stupid. The contention atheists make is that some religious people try to use faith as a substitute for science, not that science has anything to say about religion (besides that some of its empirical claims are empirically false.
As for the first two, they are more interesting. The trouble is, that this argument never seems to get resolved, since both sides have different standards of what is required for a valid grounding of morality. (Or whether it’s necessary to fully understand the metaphysics to be able to understand moral law and act accordingly).