Reply to Anthony Toohey Re: His Deconversion (Part II)

Reply to Anthony Toohey Re: His Deconversion (Part II) June 26, 2019

For (fairly) necessary background, see:

Atheist Deconversion Story Series #1: Anthony Toohey [7-17-17]

Atheist Anthony Toohey Defends His Deconversion (Pt. 1) [7-21-17]

His deconversion is also discussed in this dialogue:

Atheist Deconversion: Dialogue #2: Jonathan MS Pearce [7-20-17]

Anthony has now responded (on 5-29-19) with his long-promised Part II. He didn’t make me aware of it. I ran across it in a search of materials having to do with me. It’s often the case that folks who respond to me don’t give me the courtesy of telling me about it (hence I will do searches to discover what is ‘out there” with reference to myself, because I like to have a chance to respond: as is only fair). Reading this Part II, one can see why: it is considerably more nasty and intolerant and “anti-theist” in tone than the previous installments. This happens with some atheists, and it’s most unfortunate.

In the following, I shall cite much of his Part II. His words will be in blue, his past words in purple, and my former words in green.


Two years ago (ZOMG, really?) I had the opportunity to share a distilled version of my deconversion testimony with the esteemed Jonathan MS Pearce at A Tippling Philosopher.

A Catholic apologist, Dave Armstrong, who frequents JMSP’s page wrote a response to my deconversion. I responded to the first part of this article shortly thereafter, but as often happens, the busyness of life took over and I never got around to completing my response.

One of my buddies, Don, happened in and noticed that I’d left the thread hanging, commenting on it, wondering if perhaps my journey had gone in a different direction. It hasn’t, it’s just continued on its course. So I thought I’d take a look at the rest and see where it goes.

In the next session he starts in on my wife’s part in the story.

And so this is the oft-heard story. Christians go to college, get confronted with skeptical or atheist professors, in a very lopsided scenario, and lose their faith, if they are insufficiently equipped (i.e., lacking in apologetics knowledge: my field) to take on skeptical challenges to it.

Rereading this, it might be that I left off because Armstrong exposes himself a rather a blowhard through this next section, if the previous section wasn’t enough. Later on he’ll go on a literally irrelevant screed about John Loftus and how “hypersensitive” he is. I think Dave might want to look at his own puerile, dismissive mode of argument before pissing and moaning about others’ responses.

It was not irrelevant at all. Anthony had written:

I read Loftus’s book. Another 20 pages of notes later I set down his book and realized that 1) I didn’t know what I did believe, and 2) I was sure it wasn’t the god of the bible.

Since Loftus played such a key role in his deconversion, he was perfectly “relevant” to the discussion. I spent merely two paragraphs noting my own experience with him. This was the first:

I do wonder why — if John Loftus’ atheist polemics are so compelling –, he is so extremely hyper-sensitive (and I do not exaggerate at all, believe me) to any critique of them? I have examined his “outsider test of faith” argument (ten years ago), some of his irrational criticisms of the Bible, and his story, and he went ballistic. This hardly suggests a confident atheism, willing to take on all critiques.

That aside, he stays true to form and assumes any details left out for brevity in a light most conducive to his own predisposition. His wholly unmerited and unflattering characterization of my wife’s capacity aside, he ignorantly assumes that she (and I, for that matter) was not an engaged and knowledgeable believer.

I simply noted that college students are often ill-equipped to take on the huge challenges to their Christian faith which regularly occur on college campuses. And it’s usually because of lack of apologetics: which is vastly different from claiming that someone is not “an engaged and knowledgeable believer.” It’s two different things. One could know a lot about their faith, but not be able to defend it, because apologetics is very different from creeds, confessions, and catechetics. Now it may be that I was wrong in my guess here. Anthony can correct me if so, and I will accept it. But I don’t see why he should be so offended.

A deconversion story is giving reasons why it is reasonable to leave Christianity. As one would fully expect, my replies to these deconversions is to show that the reasons for leaving were not rational or sufficient. So often, the atheist whose story is critiqued gets fighting angry. Anthony is no exception. I reply that if one is confident in his or her reasoning, that this would preclude anger at being critiqued. It would lead to a calm counter-rebuttal. Anthony gives it a good effort, but the continual anger and insults are most unimpressive, and do not further his case.

This “rotgut” from the professor is a survey of verifiable historical fact from Professor Brent Walters, a historian, theologian, lecturer, for six years host of the weekly show “God Talk” on KGO San Francisco, currently the Scholar in Residence at Trinity Cathedral in San Jose, CA, and recognized expert on early church history. Not, for example, some self-educated Catholic schlemiel with a blog.

And she was weekly inundated with Christian refutation. Dave hammers on as if we were pew-warming Catholics rather than committed Bible believers fervently studying and learning. If anything, she had received the Christian version for years and was only now getting a rational refutation of her indoctrination. I wonder Christians always think they should get extra chances to make their case?

Nothing here tells me whether his wife wasequipped . . . in apologetics knowledge”: as I put it. All we have is insults. That may amuse and impress the atheist “choir” but not the impartial, fair-minded, open-minded reader / inquirer.

One must read the best proponents of both sides of major disputes: not one side only or the best proponents of one side vs. the worst on the other (which is the usual atheist game: they love to wrangle with ignorant, uninformed Christians).

A sad and desperate mischaracterization of atheists. Unless, of course, he counts himself among the ignorant uninformed? Hmmm…

And it makes one wonder too, why the God who claims he is not a God of “confusion” or “disorder” would need someone running after you with a basket full of books of better authorities and refutations. You’d think an omniscient god would be a bit better at getting his message home.

Well, precisely because Christianity is a thinking man’s religion, not a simpleton’s game. My post, Why We Should Fully Expect Many “Bible Difficulties” deals with this line of challenge from atheists.

It’s times like this that I wish I could remember the specific questions she asked, because I’m fully confident we’d also get some pabulary hand-waving answer from Dave too.

I do think at least one of them related to the doctrine of Hell, its absence in the Old Testament, and its Hellenistic origins, but it’s been awhile…

She never went to church again. She announced she was agnostic and didn’t believe what I believed.

All we know about her story is that she heard some skeptical stuff, started asking “hard” questions that were unanswered. We don’t know whether she actually took the time to read good Christian apologetics or philosophy. Consequently, there is nothing there that should persuade any other Christian to cease being so.

I’ve answered this, but maybe this is also because it’s not her testimony. Jesus, this guy majors in all the minors. It really borders on some cousin to a “No True Scotsman” fallacy, and in assuming the worst possible scenario, he displays his desperate predisposition to what amounts to an ad hominem attack – make the person, my wife, in this case, out to be ignorant, to avoid the fact that there were serious, untenable problems with Christian doctrine that went unanswered by multiple Christian “authorities” and led her to actively and rationally abandon Christianity.

Again, as explained, it’s not an accusation of dumbfounded, stupefied ignorance, but of lack of apologetics training, which is extremely common in all Christian circles. Lacking it, Christians in college will be easy pickings for clever, sophisticated, well-equipped atheist or skeptical professors. That’s a stacked-deck scenario if there ever was one.

Next he jumps to the Outsider Test for Faith.

Holy smoke… where to start? Welcome to Whataboutism 101. First, this puerile (there’s that word again) screed crawls from the same gutter as the tired Christian fantasy that brings us the fake and cloying “Christian student shuts down Atheist professor” memes we’re so familiar with today. Universities, their students and professors are as diverse, individual, inquisitive, and downright different in myriad of ways. This mischaracterization of teaching staff as a monolithic anti-Christian conspiracy is worthless and beneath discussion.

Sam Abrams, on the Heterodox Academy website, wrote an article entitled, “Professors moved left since 1990s, rest of country did not” (1-9-16). He stated:

The Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA has been conducting triennial surveys of undergraduate teaching faculty for the past 25 years. The HERI samples are huge — tens of thousands of professors — and this is a robust and well-executed survey. The data is comparable and responsibly collected over a long period of time. The survey includes a question asking respondents to describe themselves using a 5-point ideology scale that offers these options: “Far left,” “Liberal,” “Moderate,” “Conservative,” and “Far right.” . . .

Figure 1 reveals a striking ideological change among faculty over time. While the data confirms that university and college faculty have long leaned left, a notable shift began in the middle of the 1990s as the Greatest Generation was leaving the stage and the last Baby Boomers were taking up teaching positions. Between 1995 and 2010, members of the academy went from leaning left to being almost entirely on the left. Moderates declined by nearly a quarter and conservatives decreased by nearly a third.

It certainly looks like a very large change that happened in just 15 years. . . .

If we compare figures 1 and 2, we see that the professoriate was changing while the electorate as a whole was not. Professors were more liberal than the country in 1990, but only by about 11 percentage points. By 2013, the gap had tripled; it is now more than 30 points. It seems reasonable to conclude that it is academics who shifted, as there is no equivalent movement among the masses whatsoever.

The people who shape the minds of America’s students have long leaned left, on average. But students who entered college before 1990 could count on the fact that their professors did not all vote the same way or hold the same views on the controversial issues of the day. Students who arrived after 2005 could make no such assumption.

This data hardly suggests that such topics are “worthless and beneath discussion”. There is a strong and distinct bias among professors, and this is verified in many polls and surveys. I’m not talking about “conspiracies” but rather, verified sociological facts.

And nevermind that it’s wholly irrelevant to the story at hand, which is mine, which has nothing to do with:

  1. College: I wasn’t in college at the time of my deconversion, and in fact had one college age kid at the time.
  2. Community: During my deconversion (again – the topic at hand) I was entrenched in a staunch Christian community as my primary circle of influence. And even for my wife, at the time of her education, she was commuting 40 miles each way to attend class and come home to her family and kid and church. Peer pressure played literally zero role for either of us. In fact, our peer pressure was opposed to our conclusions, heavily, and with serious potential social and personal cost.

This is a non sequitur, since I wasn’t responding to Anthony’s deconversion at this point of the discussion, but rather, to his statement, “It is a fact that people, to an overwhelming degree, adopt the religious tradition of their culture. To them it is accepted fact.” I was turning the tables and arguing that the college environment is one in which the opposite tendency is overwhelmingly in play: skepticism and hostility to received tradition, including religion, is dominant, in a way that religiosity is dominant in Christian sub-cultures. And so people act accordingly: many who are Christians when they go to college lose their faith because of the hostile environment.

This is not my mere speculation, either. We can enlist sociological data to document it. Another article (from 2010) cited the same research institute noted above, with regard to this question:

According to a recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, the number of students who frequently attend religious services drops by 23 percent after three years in college. [source data] The research also confirms that 36 percent rated their spirituality lower after three years in college.

Another study, the “College Student Survey,” asked students to indicate their current religious commitment. Comparing the responses of freshmen who checked the “born again” category with the answers they gave four years later, we find that on some campuses as high as 59 percent no longer describe themselves as “born again.” [source data]  That’s a fallout rate of almost two-thirds!

Recently, the Barna Group reported on the spiritual involvement of twenty-somethings. The findings: only 20 percent of students who were highly churched as teens remained spiritually active by age 29. [source data]

  1. Reality: WTAF does this have to do with the Outsider Test for Faith? Atheism is the rejection of a proposition, in Dave’s case, the Catholic proposition. There isn’t anything to view as an “Outsider,” because there isn’t a positive assertion being made. If you have a hard atheist who insists they can prove there is no god of any kind, well, that’s on them. For the rest of us, we are atheist because, of all the gods so far on offer, they are found wanting in the light of rational inquiry.

I just explained why I argued as I did. Apparently my purpose and intent went right over Anthony’s head. I was doing a bit of sociology: which was my major in college after all, so he can’t make the swipe in this respect that I’m simply a “self-educated Catholic schlemiel with a blog.” But I don’t think one even needs a sociology degree or any degree to grasp the implications of polling data. I think any average student 12-year-old could do so.

I summarized my point concerning those in both camps (refusing to bow to the oft-seen atheist double standard):

Atheists like to think that they arrive at their view solely through reason, while Christians soak in theirs from their mother’s milk. But atheists are just as subject to peer pressure and environmental influence as anyone else. Most worldviews (whether Christian or atheist) are arrived at far more for social (and emotional) reasons than intellectual. I can’t emphasize it enough: “we are what we eat.”

I thought about truncating this whole section, but it’s worth seeing this irrelevant and simply dead wrong passage in its entirety, because it says a lot about Dave’s ability to address the matter and his tendency to deflect to run off on rabbit trails that aren’t relevant but that he apparently hopes will cloud any serious test of his particular faith.

Right. No need to explain further.

And again, he’s simply wrong about peer pressure and environmental influence. In fact, it’s stunning to me he can begin to say that if he takes any time at all to read and review deconversion accounts. Most of them are filled with social conflict and personal detriment because the person in question eschewed the peer pressure to toe the line and examined the faith without allowing those fears to get in the way or their inquiry.

The story of his wife (if not his own) was precisely in a college setting, which is hostile to Christianity. This was the context of my foray into environmental influences. As recounted by Anthony (not my speculation), her faith was “brought . . . deeply into question” as a result of one class in Religious History with one liberal pastor professor.

Conversely, the only way to objectively examine one’s atheism is to interact with an outsider from Christianity (someone like me, willing and able to do it) and examine your axioms and premises with the same level of skepticism that one treats Christianity. I am offering Anthony and any other atheist the opportunity to do that in this very paper.

LOL… No. The axioms and methodologies around examination of any set of claims are the same regardless of the claim. When and if I claim a proposition that I want Dave to believe, then will Dave have a basis to skeptically examine that claim with the same scrutiny that I assert he should examine any and every religion, especially his own. Dave belabors this tired fallacy that somehow atheism is a systematic belief system with a testable set of assertions and tenets.

Once again Dave mistakes brevity for absence, when this isn’t the case. The dichotomy (as in not false) between the teachings of Paul and Jesus is a well known and worn conundrum, and is the source of a number of books and articles. The concept that Paul is actually the founder of Christianity and not Jesus is also well-covered and much has been written about it. Dave shows either his own ignorance or his own denial – it matters little which it is, the outcome is the same.

Closer to my point, is that the sort of assurance and sin/body/soul relationship that is expounded in Romans 5 – 8 is different, or better said, absent from the supposed teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. I, and I know from my interactions with others that I’m not alone, could not find the solace in my struggles in the gospels that I could from Paul’s words. Compared [to] the Christianity you find both in my old Protestant circles and in Dave’s Catholic circles, there is a tremendous amount of theology and tradition that is wholly absent the words of Jesus as they’re allegedly reported in the Gospels. Also amusing is that Dave is a Catholic, which has a HUGE truckload of additive, extra-biblical tradition that it calls theology.

If Jesus truly was God, just his words, absent of everything else, should be enough. But instead it is the epistles of Paul (and whomever else was writing in his name) where we get much of our salvation, justification, and sanctification doctrines, among many other things. It’s disingenuous for Dave to wave his hands like this dichotomy doesn’t exist just because I didn’t take the time expounding on it.

It’s not a dichotomy; it is complementarity. As I stated before:

Jesus was the storyteller: more like a pastor (therefore, much better understood by the common man), whereas Paul was systematic and more abstract: like a theologian or academic: more like philosophy. 

There are tons of indications of the divinity of Jesus in His own words, and in the additional words of the Gospel writers,  as can be seen in my two papers (collections of hundreds of Bible passages): Jesus is God: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs and Holy Trinity: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs. Readers can simply search the names of the four Gospels in those two papers to find all of this evidence.

If Dave would take more time addressing what I actually wrote rather than what he wishes existed in what I didn’t write, we’d get much further.

Funny: I was thinking the very same thing about him.

“Knee jerk and simplistic.” The temptation to simply tell Dave to [expletive deleted] reaches its peak right about here. And he wonders why Loftus and others react poorly to him. Hey, Dave – it’s you, not us.

It’s obviously tough to have one’s intellectual odyssey critiqued, and some folks will lash out at that.

That said, I’ll simply point out that as soon as you can start dithering with scripture and decide something ridiculous can just be called allegory, well, then it all goes out the window. Special Creation, a Global Flood, giant Nephilim, talking snakes, talking donkeys, the sun stopping for 24 hours, the parting of the Red Sea, the Virgin Birth, the resurrection of Lazarus, the Transfiguration, the resurrection of Christ – these are all so ridiculously impossible that, using Dave’s methodology, we are free to relegate them to analogy to the point that the whole of Christianity can be seen as a construct of fantasy that has no real bearing on the lives of actual people other than perhaps an encouragement to not be a jerk.

Here Dave is just being the aforementioned jerk. I do go into more detail on my blog (linked near the beginning of the article,) but that account is twelve articles long, and I wouldn’t insist anyone read it except for the pedantic individual who once again wants to fill in gaps with their own imagination rather than address what’s written.

I certainly wouldn’t bother, after this farcical [choke] pseudo-“dialogue.”

Christ-on-a-pogo-stick… This is after a quarter century of indoctrination and study. I picked a book from literally one of the world’s most respected apologists, actually, two of them, as I recall that this particular book was co-written by Frank Turek. But allow me to stuff a small sampling of the some of the titles I’ve perused both before and after my deconversion:

[posts a picture of many books] This looks good. Of course, one would have to find out which were rad as a Christian, and which were read after leaving.

I couldn’t jam all these together with all the titles, but these are just on Kindle and don’t include my paper library.

Suffice to say that Dave’s continual attempts to paint both my wife and I as undereducated simpletons is egregious, offensive, and wholly unsurprising. He clearly has a habit of inserting the worst assumptions into every gap he can find rather than make an honest attempt to address potential issues with any sort of respect or reasonable dialogue.

That’s his theory, and I think it is a false one. My theory of why this is a very unpleasant exchange is because atheists are extremely sensitive to criticism of their deconversion stories. It’s been my universal experience, and I have examined probably well over twenty by now. I can fully understand (as a convert to Catholicism, whose own story has been examined by hostile parties many times) why they would be sensitive about it, but it seems to me that thinkers need to rise above that and accept these critiques as an opportunity to better understand and explain their journey out of the Christian faith.

Here he goes off on a screed about John Loftus, . . . 

For all of two paragraphs, as I have already clarified. “Screed” is defined as “a long speech or piece of writing.” Two paragraphs hardly  constitutes that.

. . . who wrote the pivotal (but not only) book that helped me free myself from religious delusion. Having perused (more than skimmed but less than thoroughly read) Dave’s linked articles, I don’t blame Loftus for pissing on him the way he did. I don’t think John would deny that he can be quick on the trigger when offended. The sad part is Dave’s absolute mystification as to why. But the same pattern of awful assumptions and placing his arguments in the gaps rather than in the substance is very much on display there.

Loftus’ feuds and spats with fellow atheists like Jeff Lowder and Richard Carrier hardly suggest that the problems here are only with Christians or only supposedly “jerk” Christians: that Anthony thinks I am. Nor does this theory of Anthony’s explain why atheist friends of mine whom I know in person, are virtually uniformly scornful of both  Loftus’ arguments and demeanor in debate. They are embarrassed by him. And if they’re telling me that, it’s pretty bad. It’s “damage control.” I know the feeling. There are plenty of Christians who embarrass me as a Christian, and I wouldn’t want to be associated with them in the slightest.

In conclusion, I don’t see anything here in this deconversion story that would compel anyone else to forsake Christianity. At best it is an account that raises serious questions about extreme fundamentalist Christianity, which I fully agree with. But since that is merely one fringe element of Christianity, it is irrelevant as to the truthfulness of larger Christianity, let alone atheism as a supposedly superior and more rational and cogent alternative worldview.

Suffice to say, I’m deeply unimpressed with Dave’s rebuttal, and especially with his offensive and puerile tactics of belittling the writer because of what he imagines in the spaces rather than respond to what he actually reads in the words. I think it would behoove Dave to assume the best in the gaps. Provide the (ironically named) benefit of the doubt to your interlocutor, because responding in that nature will either strengthen your arguments or show you why you should abandon them.

But I’m guessing this belittling trick has been working for him for too long to give it up now.

What I would classify as hard-hitting [but not personal] criticism, he can only characterize as “belittling.” This is unfortunate. But it’s becoming very familiar by now. And it demonstrates that many atheists can “dish it out but they can’t take it.” I wrote at the beginning of my critique (obviously to no avail):

I am not questioning the sincerity of these persons or the truthfulness of their self-reports, or any anguish that they went through. I accept their words at face value. I’m not arguing that they are terrible, evil people (that’s a child’s game). My sole interest is in showing if and where certain portions of these deconversion stories contain fallacious or non-factual elements: where they fail to make a point against Christianity (what Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls “defeating the defeaters”), or misrepresent (usually unwittingly) Christianity as a whole, or the Bible, etc.

On a final note, Dave had already responded to Part 1 of this response when we were first interacting. I read it then, but have wholly forgotten it. I didn’t want to reread it and have any possible backtracking (of which I’m expecting little, but at least some) color my direct response to the rest of his initial post.

PS: Finally, regarding Loftus, I’ll leave his links and comments before, because I think they’re very telling to Dave’s dishonesty and even more illustrative of his tactics of sticking his assumptions into the gaps and using those moments to insult his subject, before pretending to be naive and innocent.

The main takeaway is that Dave is reading a deconversion story, and is mystified that in 2,701 words he can’t find a book full of arguments as to why Christianity is not to be believed. And he trashes John for it. John calls him stupid. I don’t think he’s far from the mark there, if we’re being honest. John’s challenge is for Dave to put his money where his mouth is and actually read the damn book. Dave won’t.

That’s not true. I was perfectly willing to read it and respond, if he would send me a free copy. But I wasn’t gonna buy it. He refused to comply with that request, so that was that. Get it straight! Here was the actual exchange from one of our farcical interactions (his words in brown):

You are an idiot! . . . If you truly want to critique my deconversion story then critique my book. Other than that, you can critique a few brief paragraphs or a brief testimony, if you want to, but that says very little about why someone left the faith. You walk away thinking you have completely analysed someone’s story. But from where I sit, that’s just stupid. That’s S-T-U-P-I-D! If you truly want to critique a deconversion story, then critique mine in my book. I wrote a complete story there.

Dave, I can only tolerate stupidity so long. I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. It’s a complete story. A whole story. It’s mine. Do you accept my challenge?

1) First of all, why would you even want to have your book critiqued by someone whom you routinely call an “idiot,” an “arrogant idiot,” a “joke,” a “know-it-all,” and so forth? I’ve never understood this. I have four published books (soon to be five). The last thing in the world I would want (on amazon or anywhere else) is for a blithering idiot to either praise or bash one of my books. I want respectable people to do so.

I have less than no desire in any of my dialogues to interact with the worst examples of opposing views. I want the best. Of course, if someone has a personal ax to grind, that’s different, isn’t it, John? If your goal is to embarrass and belittle someone who disagrees, then this would explain the big desire to wrangle with so-called “idiots.”

2) It is a hyper-ludicrous implication to maintain that deconversion stories are immune to all criticism simply because they are not exhaustive. It’s embarrassing to even have to point this out, but there it is.

3) I have already long since taken up your “challenge.” I said many weeks ago that if you sent me your book in an e-file for free, I’d be more than happy to critique it. I won’t buy it, and I refuse to type long portions of it when it is possible to cut-and-paste. That is an important factor since my methodology is Socratic and point-by-point. I actually try to comprehensively answer opposing arguments, not just talk about them or do a mutual monologue.

You railed against that, saying that it was a “handout.” I responded that you could have any of my (14 completed) books in e-book form for free.

4) One wonders, however, with your manifest “gnashing teeth” attitude towards me, what would be accomplished by such a critique? You’ve already shown that you can’t or won’t offer any rational counter-reply when I analyze any of your arguments. You didn’t with the deconversion thing and refused again when I wrote about God and time. On both occasions you simply made personal insults. There is no doubt about that. It’s all a matter of record.

Why should I think it would be any different if I were to spend a month writing a detailed critique of your book? Maybe then you would get so mad you would sue me for libel or hire a hit man? LOL

Guaranteed. If I were to be like Dave, I would use this gap of information as to why he won’t and insert “cowardice.” Goose, gander, innit.

Except that this is based on a lie about me: that I was supposedly unwilling to read his book. My offer stands to this day: if he sends me a free e-book copy, I will refute the “damn book” point-by-point. Loftus would sooner crawl on his hands and bare knees across a whole football field over burning broken glass before he’d ever do that. He made that crystal clear back in 2006, and I highly doubt that he has had any change of mind. If he has, then he can send it along (emboldened by your rapturous encouragement, no doubt). My email is apologistdave [at] gmail [dot] com.


Photo credit: wilhei (5-12-15) [PixabayPixabay License]


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