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Loftus Lies #23: Hypocrisy Re Deconversion Stories

Loftus Lies #23: Hypocrisy Re Deconversion Stories January 19, 2021

Atheist author and polemicist John W. Loftus wrote an article entitled, “The Evidential Value of Conversion/Deconversion Stories. Reviewing Mittelberg’s “Confident Christianity” Part 7″ (2-22-18). I will be responding to his arguments regarding atheist deconversion stories (which tell of how and why one left the Christian faith). His words will be in blue.

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I want to digress a bit for this post to discuss the value of personal conversion/deconversion stories. [Nomenclature: A conversion story is one which an atheist or nonbeliever becomes a Christian. A deconversion story is one in which a Christian becomes a non-believer or atheist.] . . . 

Mittelberg never tells any Christian-to-atheist deconversion stories. He just tells atheist-to-Christian conversion stories (plus Antony Flew’s story). Should we fault him for not telling any deconversion stories? Yes, I think so! For it means he’s not offering readers any evidence to consider, but rather trying to persuade them to believe based on the conclusions others reached. His faulty line of reasoning goes this: since atheist person X became a Christian, you should too. Why should that matter? He had asked readers to follow the evidence for themselves. But by putting forth several stories of skeptic/atheist conversions to Christianity he’s not actually presenting any objective evidence for the readers to consider. Instead, he’s presenting the conclusions of others about the evidence, which is arguing by authority, the very thing he questions later. He had also asked readers to follow logic. But by adopting the conclusion of others just because they adopted it is not logical. Why not just present the evidence? The stories are a propaganda technique designed purposefully to persuade.

In any case, if Mittelberg considers atheist-to-Christian conversion stories as some kind of evidence, he needs to share a few Christian-to-atheist deconversion stories, or else, explain why the later deconversion stories have very little, or no evidential weight to them! If he’s honest that is. If nothing else, he should provide an Endnote acknowledging this additional issue with a reference for readers to look up. But then, who said apologetics was an honest enterprise? Not me. Not from what I see.

This is absolutely fascinating. I say that specifically because I have my own history of interaction with John Loftus, and of dealing with many atheists, whose deconversion stories I have critiqued. I’ve done quite a few of these through the years (including John’s). One can check out the section “Atheist ‘Deconversions'” on my Atheism web page, plus other critiques of atheists to whom I’ve devoted sections on that page.

I can testify (no pun intended!) that absolutely nothing makes an atheist (at least of the anti-theist variety) more angry than having some Christian critique their deconversion. They especially hate and despise any insinuation at all that they may have left Christianity out of ignorance and false premises, rather than the claimed massive increase in knowledge and rationality.

Anthony Toohey is one of the few atheists who has ever troubled himself to reply back to one of my critiques (twice; I link to his second counter-reply). And of course, he is very personally hostile (the virtually universal response to my critiques). First, he refers to me as “simply a self-educated Catholic schlemiel with a blog,” then pours out the inevitable avalanche of personal insults:

Dave is just being the aforementioned jerk . . . habit of inserting the worst assumptions into every gap he can find rather than make an honest attempt . . .  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 . . . Dave’s dishonesty . . .

Then he concludes:

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 [Loftus] 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.

Believe me, this is absolutely typical of responses to critiques such as those I have offered. Most won’t write an entire counter-response, but there will be snipes in comboxes, and then feeding frenzies, where a bunch of atheists decide to go on the attack and anything goes. Note, however, how Anthony claims that I supposedly “won’t” read John Loftus’ book about his deconversion. Therein lies a tale, and is the main focus of this paper.

I first critiqued one online version of Loftus’ deconversion way back on 10-15-06. This is how Loftus responded:

You are an idiot! You never critiqued my whole deconversion story. Deconversion stories are piecemeal. They cannot give a full explanation for why someone left the faith. They only give hints at why they left the faith. It requires writing a whole book about why someone left the faith to understand why they did, and few people do that. I did. 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?

At the time I declined. Here is an abridged version of my explanation why:

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.

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. 

Loftus, around this time, made a challenge to a Protestant who had critiqued his shorter deconversion story:

Again, are you going to read it [his book, Why I Am an Atheist] and critique it for yourself? Hey, I dare you! I bet you think you’re that smart, don’t ya, or that your faith is that strong – that you can read something like my book and not have it affect your faith.

If Christianity is true, then you have nothing to fear. But if Christianity is false, then you owe it to yourself to get the book. Either way you win.

And even if you blast my book after reading it here on this Blog, I’ll know that you read it, and just like poison takes time to work, all I have to do from then on is to wait for a personal crisis to kill your faith.

Want to give it a go? The way I see you reason here makes me think it’ll make your head spin with so many unanswerable questions that you won’t know what to do.

But that’s just me. I couldn’t answer these questions, so if you can, you’re a smarter man than I am, and that could well be. Are you? I think not, but that’s just me.

Yet one of Loftus’ droning complaints about me is that I am way too confident! I never claimed that someone would inevitably become a Christian or a Catholic Christian upon reading any of my books or many online papers! Then he sent his potshots my way again:

You’re a joke. I’m surprised you have an audience. . . . To think you could pompously proclaim you are better than me is beyond me when you don’t know me. It’s a defensive mechanism you have with people like me. . . . It’s called respecting people as people, and Dave’s Christianity does not do that with people who don’t agree with him. . . . I’m just tired of pompous asses on the internet who go around claiming they are superior to me in terms of intelligence and faith. Such arrogance makes me vomit. . . . self-assured arrogant idiots out there, like Dave, who prefer to proclaim off of my personal experience that they are better than I. (all on 10-16-06)

Six weeks later (11-30-06) he railed against me again:

You are ignorant

you present your uninformed arguments as if everyone should agree with you

Any educated person would not state the things you do with such arrogance.

with you there is no discussion to be had for any topic you write about.

You are the answer man. Everyone else is ignoring the obvious. And that’s the hallmark of an ignorant and uneducated man.

I am annoyed by people like you, . . . pompous self-righteous know-it-all’s

Now you are attempting to defend the arrogant way you argue.

You’re just right about everything, or, at least you always come across that way.

you are an uneducated, ignorant, arrogant know-it-all.

So, anyway, this is how John Loftus: the Great Unvanquishable Christianity-Killer and Self-Proclaimed Very Important Atheist Author replied in this fashion to my critique of his story. Does that strike anyone as confident and assured that he was on the right side of the debate and had the better arguments? Yeah, that was my impression, too.

It was in June 2019 that Loftus friend Anthony Toohey confidently proclaimed that I “won’t” touch Loftus’s book, Why I Became An Atheist (the implication being, of course, that was scared and/or unable to do so). I explained why I didn’t. The main reason was that Loftus refused to send me a free PDF copy of the book, so I could deal with it point-by-point without having to type War and Peace.

But I changed my mind on 9-1-19, writing on Facebook:

I Will be Doing an In-Depth Series of Replies to Atheist John Loftus’ Self-Described “Magnum Opus,” “Why I Became an Atheist.”
I’ve been asking Loftus since 2006 [13 years!] to send me an ebook of his for free to review (while offering him any number of my books for free). He has always refused. I didn’t want to spend any money to buy one.
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I did a critique of one online version of his deconversion story in 2006. He kept insisting that to properly do such a critique, I had to order his book, where it appeared in its fullness.
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Lately, he has again acted like such an insufferable, pompous ass, as he has towards me these past 13 years (most recently censoring even bare links of mine to my replies to material on his website), that I decided tonight to purchase this book (revised version).
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I got it for $7.52 on Amazon, including shipping, for a used / very good condition copy. That won’t put me out. He’s been challenging and insulting me, so very well: I shall now devote my energies to replying to this book.
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If he is so momentously famous and important as he modestly claims he is, then my replies should get a ton of attention. That would be fine for my purposes, but as always, I’m not in this for the money. I’m simply providing rational replies to objections to Christianity. Whoever reads them, reads them. That’s not up to me. It’s not my concern. My job is to do the best job I can do, according to my capabilities.
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So of course, Loftus (full of vim and vigor and supremely confident of his beliefs) would certainly respond to such a vigorous critique, right?: since, after all, he had challenged me and others to do this very thing, and since he had written about a year-and-a-half earlier, regarding another Christian apologist:
[H]e needs to share a few Christian-to-atheist deconversion stories, or else, explain why the later deconversion stories have very little, or no evidential weight to them! If he’s honest that is. If nothing else, he should provide an Endnote acknowledging this additional issue with a reference for readers to look up. But then, who said apologetics was an honest enterprise? Not me.
Alrightey! So he made an honest man of me, and I have attained to the sublime levels of honesty and self-confidence that Jittery John Loftus has attained. So he will certainly defend himself now, right? Wrong! Here it is a year and four months later and I still haven’t heard a peep back from him. He’ still running and insulting, as always with me (these past 13 years). On 1-6-21 on his blog, he wrote about me: “I’ve had dealings with him. He’s obnoxious to the core whether it’s here or on his site. He’s unworthy of our time.” That’s anti-theist atheist-speak for “Man, I don’t know how to rationally overthrow his arguments so I better come up with a personal insult quick and pretend that that my critic’s profound ignorance and jerkhood is why I don’t reply!”
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Meanwhile, over the past two years and a few months I’ve also been systematically refuting his associate, Dr. David Madison, a former Methodist pastor who is the dominant writer on Loftus’ blog, Debunking Christianity. He’s been refuted no less than 44 times, with not a single word in reply. Instead, he issued the following jeremiad against me on 9-6-19 (not naming me, but it was clear who he meant, after 35 of my critiques):
This is a time of distress for Christian apologists. These are the die-hards who brag that they are devotees—in a professional capacity, no less—of the ancient Jesus mystery cult. They feel compelled to defend it at whatever cost. But times are changing, and they face challenges unknown to earlier apologists. . . .
So the burden of the apologist has become heavy indeed, and some don’t handle the anguish well. They vent and rage at critics, like toddlers throwing tantrums when a threadbare security blanket gets tossed out. We can smell their panic. Engaging with the ranters serves no purpose—any more than it does to engage with Flat-Earthers, Chemtrail conspiracy theorists, and those who argue that the moon landings were faked.
The five stages of Bible grief provide opportunities to initiate dialogue. I prefer to engage with NON-obsessive-compulsive-hysterical Christians, those who have spotted rubbish in the Bible, and might already have one foot out the door.
So once again, his comrade isn’t following Loftus’ advice, either. Why should he, since Loftus himself doesn’t? The game is to act all confident and triumphant and to challenge some of those ignorant Christians out there to take up the challenge of the deconversion story or the Bible-bashing obsession of a man like Dr. Madison. When someone takes up the challenge, both of ’em do absolutely everything they can to avoid any interaction.
Ten days earlier, on 8-28-19, Loftus himself had changed the rules of engagement for his forum, so as to deal with the huge “crisis” that my actually taking up his own challenge posed:
Some angry Catholic apologist has been tagging our posts with his angry long-winded responses. I know of no other blog, Christian or atheist, that allows for arguments by links, especially to plug one’s failing blog or site. I’ve allowed it for about a month with this guy but no more. He’s not banned. He can still come here to comment. It’s just that we don’t allow responses in the comments longer than the blog post itself, or near that. If any respectful person has a counter-argument or some counter-evidence then bring it. State your case in as few words as possible and then engage our commenters in a discussion. But arguments by links or long comments are disallowed. I talked with David Madison who has been the target of these links and he’s in agreement with this decision. He’s planning to write something about one or more of these links in the near future [he has yet to do so, now almost 17 months later]. So here’s how our readers can help. I’ve deleted a few of these arguments by link. There are others I’ve missed. If you see some apologist arguing by link flag it. Then I’ll be alerted where it is to delete it. What’s curious to me are the current posts he’s neglecting, like this one on horrific suffering. If he tackles that one I’ll allow him a link back.
Can’t be too careful if you get a Christian who is actually refuting your arguments! He must be silenced and mocked and dismissed in whatever way it takes: insults, ignoring, feeding frenzies in echo chamber comboxes, removing links informing your readers that he has refuted your right-hand man now for the 35th time . . .
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This is how Loftus and his anti-theist buddy Dr. David Madison actually act! So in light of this revealing background information, let’s get back to Loftus’ post that I was addressing at the top:
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What are these conversion stories evidence for? That people change their minds. We already knew this. But it’s worse than that. For as soon as Mittelberg uses conversion stories to bolster his case, it means he has to allow atheists to use their own deconversion stories to persuade people. When he does, it will provoke a debate over which side has the advantage, and Mittelberg will lose the advantage. All by themselves then, the fact that people change their minds provides no evidential weight in and of itself. But upon considering all other relevant things, ex-Christian deconversion stories have the evidential advantage.
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Yeah, that’s obviously the case, ain’t it, which must be the reason why Loftus has ignored ten critiques of his book-length deconversion, why his loudmouthed associate David Madison has ignored 44 rebuttals of his relentless Bible-bashing, and why fellow anti-theist atheist Bob Seidensticker (who directly challenged me to take up the burden of answering his charges) has now absolutely ignored no less than a remarkable 69 critiques of mine.
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Who could fail to be impressed by this confident performance?: three of the most vocal and influential atheists online have now ignored a total of 123 of my critiques!
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There are many Christian-turned-atheist deconversion stories, like those of authors Dan Barker, Hector Avalos, David Madison, David Chumney, Bart Ehrman, Valerie Tarico, Robert Price, Richard C. Miller, Marlene Winell, Edwin Suominen, Joe E. Holman, Stephen Uhl, William Lobdell, Jason Long, Charles Templeton, Kenneth Daniels, Bruce Gerencser, and myself to name a few off the top of my head (apologies to the many others I failed to mention).
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Perhaps Mr. John “You’re an idiot!” Loftus can be kind enough to let me know which of these will 1) not become furious if I critique their story, and 2) will actually respond and be willing to engage in written debate? I did critique Joe E. Holman’s story, right before I critiqued Loftus’ own, in October 2006.
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To highlight one of the less conspicuous deconversions is Dustin Lawson, a former protege of Christian apologist Josh McDowell. McDowell goes around to churches telling them to try to disprove Christianity. Well, Dustin listened to him and followed his advice! Guess what happened? ;-) Here’s a picture of us together, the apostates that apologists William Lane Craig and Josh McDowell would like to forget!
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Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll have to seek out this guy and see if he has more intellectual courage than Loftus, Madison, Seidensticker et al.
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Loftus then provides links to three sites that specialize in posting deconversion stories. I have bookmarked them and will be sure to check them out after the kind encouragement of Jittery John. Certainly, all these confident, oh-so-smart and superior atheists will warmly welcome any such challenge to their stories from a lowly Christian ignoramus like me, right?
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Our stories are not just personal feel good stuffs. We have the arguments too.
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Yeah, they have arguments all right. It’s just that they are terribly weak and I’ve never had any trouble exposing them for how fallacious, fact-challenged, and unconvincing they are. One is never more convinced of Christianity than after one sees how very flimsy and insubstantial the opposing arguments are, and how misinformed so many ex-Christians were of their faith (including Loftus himself) before they made the fateful decision to leave Christianity.
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Photo credit: cover of John Loftus’ 2012 book from its Amazon page.
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