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September 5, 2019

I first ran across former Christian minister and atheist John W. Loftus back in 2006. We dialogued about the problem of evil, and whether God was in time. During that period I also replied to an online version of his deconversion: which (like my arguments about God and time) he didn’t care for at all. I’ve critiqued many atheist deconversion stories, and maintain a very extensive web page about atheism. In 2007 I critiqued his “Outsider Test of Faith” series: to which he gave no response. Loftus’ biggest objection to my critique of his descent into atheism was that I responded to what he called a “brief testimony.” He wrote in December 2006 (his words in blue henceforth):

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. . . . I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. . . . Do you accept my challenge?

I declined at that time, mainly (but not solely) for the following stated reason:

If you send 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. . . . 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.

Throughout August 2019, I critiqued Dr. David Madison, a prominent contributor to Loftus’ website, Debunking Christianity, no less than 35 times. As of this writing, they remain completely unanswered. I was simply providing (as a courtesy) links to my critiques underneath each article of Dr. Madison’s, till Loftus decided I couldn’t do that (after having claimed that I “hate” atheists and indeed, everyone I disagree with). I replied at length regarding his censorship on his website. Loftus’ explanation for the complete non-reply to my 35 critiques was this: “We know we can respond. It’s just that we don’t have the time to do so. Plus, it’s pretty clear our time would be better spent doing something else than wrestling in the mud with you.” He also claimed that Dr. Madison was “planning to write something about one or more of these links in the near future.” Meanwhile, I discovered that Dr. Madison wrote glowingly about Loftus on 1-23-17:

When the history of Christianity’s demise is written (it will fade eventually away, as do all religions), your name will feature prominently as one who helped bring the world to its senses. Your legacy is secure and is much appreciated.

This was underneath an article where Loftus claimed: “I’ve kicked this dead rodent of the Christian faith into a lifeless blob so many times there is nothing left of it.” I hadn’t realized that Loftus had single-handedly managed to accomplish the stupendous feat of vanquishing the Hideous Beast of Christianity (something the Roman Empire, Muslims, Communists, and many others all miserably failed to do). Loftus waxed humbly and modestly ten days later: “I cannot resist the supposition that my books are among the best. . . . Every one of my books is unique, doing what few other atheist books have done, if any of them.”

These last three cited statements put me “over the edge” and I decided to buy a used copy of his book, Why I Became an Atheist (revised version, 2012, 536 pages) and critique it, as he wanted me to do in 2006. Moreover, on 8-27-07 he made a blanket challenge about the original version of this book: “I challenge someone to try this with my book. I might learn a few things, and that’s always a goal of mine. Pick it up and deal with as many arguments in it that you can. Deal with them all if you can.” His wish is granted (I think he will at length regret it), and this will be my primary project (as a professional apologist) in the coming weeks and probably months.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques. It’s what he’s always done with me (along with endless personal insults). I’m well used to empty (direct) challenges from atheists, based on my experience with Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus (for a change) decides to actually defend his views, I’m here; always have been. And I won’t flee for the hills, like atheists habitually do, when faced with substantive criticism.

The words of John Loftus will be in blue.

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John Loftus’ chapter 2 is entitled, “Faith, Reason, and My Approach to Christianity” (pp. 39-63).

It’s well beyond my purview and purpose in these critiques to tackle all of the various brands of philosophy of religion and strains and varieties of Christian apologetics. Reasonable Christians (and atheists) can differ in good faith about their relative strengths and weaknesses.

So I’ll confine myself to what I think are outright misunderstandings of misrepresentations of  Christian views: particularly as expressed in inspired Scripture. I agree with Loftus when he writes (p. 44): “I understand these are complex issues, which unfortunately, I can’t devote the needed space to . . .” He knows that this is a “large and lumpy” area of thinking; so do I.

I maintain a very extensive Philosophy, Science & Christianity web page, if readers want to see how I argue various positions, and how I come down on all the internal differences about how to defend Christianity and larger theism. I summed up on Facebook — in a very “nutshell” way — my overall philosophy of religion:

My Opinion on “Proofs for God’s Existence” Summarized in Two Sentences

My view remains what it has been for many years: nothing strictly / absolutely “proves” God’s existence. But . . .

I think His existence is exponentially more probable and plausible than atheism, based on the cumulative effect of a multitude of good and different types of (rational) theistic arguments, and the utter implausibility, incoherence, irrationality, and unacceptable level of blind faith of alternatives.

In my first installment, I noted how Loftus stated that “I present a cumulative case argument against Christianity. . . . I consider this book to be one single argument against Christianity, and as such it should be evaluated as a whole.” (p. 15; his italics)

I replied:

That’s exactly how I view my body of apologetics (50 books and over 2500 blog articles) in favor of Christianity and (in particular) the collection of diverse argumentation I have set forth in critique of atheism.

Just as Loftus considers his overall case against Christianity long and multi-faceted and complex (laid out in “one single argument” in a densely argued 536-page book); likewise, I consider my case for Christianity and against atheism to be very multi-faceted and complex and only able to be fully understood with very extensive reading of my 2500+ articles and 50 books (not all, of course, but quite a few!).

What our views have in common is that we both regard them as “a cumulative case.” There is no one single argument on either side (I think he’d agree, as I’m pretty sure would most atheists and apologists and philosophers of religion) that is a “knockout punch”. Loftus agrees, on page 54:

When it comes to Christian apologetics, the best approach seems to be the cumulative case method of the late Paul D. Feinberg . . . This best explains why there is no single apologetical approach that will cause people to convert, and it bets explains why there is no silver bullet argument that will convince believing Christians to abandon their faith.

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Scientific evidence, the evidence of the senses, and reasoning based on this evidence is what counts. (p. 44)

[W]hen I came to see things differently, sufficient evidence derived from science-based reasoning became the only game in town, so to speak, . . . the scientific method is the best (and probably the only) reliable guide we have for gaining the truth . . . (p. 57)

Here is where Loftus runs into what I consider to be insuperable problems, and self-refuting tenets. What he just described is empiricism, which is the philosophical outlook that senses and observations of physical things allow us to discover facts and truth. It’s fine as far as it goes (it’s the fundamental basis of science), but it just doesn’t go far enough or explain everything. There are many different ways of knowing (even mathematics and logic: both basic building-blocks of science, are axiomatic and non-empirical). We readily observe that this very sentence from Loftus is self-defeating:

1) He makes an epistemological statement about “what counts” [strongly implied, all that counts] in determining truth.

2) This very statement is not empirical. It is strictly philosophical, or metaphysical: about the relative value or worth of empiricism.

3) But if empirical observations are all that we can trust, and all that “count”, then his sentence has to be discounted, since it is not an empirical observation.

4) Ergo, it is self-defeating and self-refuting.

I’ve dealt with this false, misguided, tunnel vision “science only” or “scientism” mentality (very common in atheism) many times and from many different angles:

Atheist Myths: “Christianity vs. Science & Reason” (vs. “drunkentune”) [1-3-07]

Reply to Atheist Scientist Jerry Coyne: Are Science and Religion Utterly Incompatible? [7-13-10]

Christianity: Crucial to the Origin of Science [8-1-10]

Christians or Theists Founded 115 Scientific Fields [8-20-10]

Simultaneously Dumb & Smart Christians, Atheists, & Scientists [10-9-15]

Is Christianity Unfalsifiable? Is Empiricism the Only True Knowledge? [5-6-17]

Science, Logic, & Math Start with Unfalsifiable Axioms [1-6-18]

Science: “only discipline that tells us new things about reality” [???]: Scientism or Near-Scientism as a Very Common Shortcoming of Atheist Epistemology [8-9-18]

Rebuttal of Seidensticker’s Anti-Christian Science “History” [8-11-18]

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I have never thought that Pascal’s wager was a particularly strong argument: if an argument at all. But it is a clever thought experiment and something to definitely seriously consider. Again, this is beyond the purview of my purposes, so I’ll pass. Though I love Pascal (and Alvin Plantinga, Kierkegaard, William Lane Craig, the Late Norman Geisler, gary Habermas, and others he mentions in this chapter), I’m not here to defend every school and argument of the entire history of apologetics. I’m already devoting what will be many hundreds of hours to this long project. My purpose is to critique errors I see in Loftus’ own views, per my titles: “Loftus Atheist Error # . . .” 
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On pages 50-51, Loftus develops an interesting (though thoroughly fallacious and weak) “New and Better Kind of Wager.” He reasons that it would be a better state of affairs if God asked us “if we want to be born, knowing the risks involved”: including the calculus and consideration of a possibility of ending up in an eternal hell. “Why wouldn’t God give us a choice in the matter? It seems unethical for him not to do so . . . If I were given the choice, I would simply say, ‘No, count me out! Put me out of existence now.’ “
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This stimulates several responses in my mind (which is a major reason why I absolutely love dialogue and back-and-forth discussion: because it can do that):
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1) I think it’s foolish to imagine and posit that he himself and many or most people would choose to be annihilated rather than to live a life on the earth. There is no good reason to believe this, that I can see. It’s essentially the view that we would all commit suicide, given the choice in the beginning: except that it would be an assisted suicide, with God’s help. I see no indication — by analogy of how relatively few people commit suicide in this world — that many folks would make this choice.
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And if Loftus would have done so, then, by his own reasoning (and a reductio ad absurdum) he would have to argue that people (including he himself) should kill themselves today (if they thought there was a God and a hell, or even that both might exist), since the potentialities and hypotheticals remain the same. Atheist or no, the great bulk of people in the world are simply not that hopeless and nihilistic.  Of course, Loftus doesn’t believe in God, and all of this is a mere hypothetical and mind game. But he is attempting to make a reasoned argument against the biblical God, and this doesn’t succeed in that purpose at all.
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2) I note in passing (consider this a “footnote”) that it is highly ironic that a person who believes in legal abortion is making an argument that all of us: at the beginning of our existence, should be asked whether we want to live or not. To be consistent, the one who is pro-abortion and who has an abortion, would contradict this: all the more so in the atheist’s case, since they eliminate the only life that baby will ever have (there being no afterlife). If Loftus thinks “it seems unethical for him [God] not to do so” I don’t see how he can possibly favor legal abortion, since it is radically anti-choice for the baby about to be killed (and in atheist metaphysics and ontology, annihilated and made nonexistent forever).
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3) I submit that it is absurd for God to ask a question of a human baby (which would presuppose that God temporarily gave them a mind that could reason enough to even have such a momentous discussion) about these things, when there are so many unknown factors. Obviously, in Christian belief, God is omniscient, and He deems it a good thing for human beings to “be fruitful and multiply.” For God, and for us Christians and pro-lifers, who consider life infinitely valuable and priceless, the very scenario is meaningless. Of course, life and creation as a whole is good and wonderful, and it is better to exist than not to. This is virtually self-evident for all who haven’t committed suicide, and the extremely strong instinct to preserve our own lives is evidence of it as well.
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4) In making his argument, Loftus smuggles in many notions that are false premises, to start with: thus making his conclusion erroneous or at the very least, dubious and indefensible.
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a) He says “we might not be raised in the right Christian family and might therefore be sent to hell because of it.” This is silly, simplistic argumentation. Granted, we all can have good or bad influences in many ways, that was beyond our choice.  But in the end, the biblical view is that each individual is given enough grace and power to be saved, if they make that choice, and that each will be individually responsible:
Ezekiel 33:17-20 (RSV) “Yet your people say, `The way of the Lord is not just’; when it is their own way that is not just. [18] When the righteous turns from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, he shall die for it. [19] And when the wicked turns from his wickedness, and does what is lawful and right, he shall live by it. [20] Yet you say, `The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”
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Romans 14:10-12 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God;  [11] for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” [12] So each of us shall give account of himself to God. 
We’re not sent to hell, so much as we choose to go there, by rejecting God’s free offer of grace for salvation and eternal life in heavenly bliss:
Joshua 24:15 And if you be unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” 
b) [T]he odds, according to most evangelicals anyway, are that most of the people who are born in this world will end up in hell.
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First of all, Christian theology is not determined by a head count of evangelicals, but by Scripture and unbroken apostolic tradition, passed down. Appealing to what evangelicals think is silly on two levels: 1) it’s the genetic fallacy, and 2) evangelicals are only a portion of Protestants, who are a small minority of all Christians, now and through history (they didn’t even exist until the 16th century).
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Secondly, the mainstream Christian position is that we simply don’t know how many end up in heaven and hell, proportionately. Jesus said:
Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. [14] For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
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Luke 18:8 “. . . when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
On the other hand, in a recent argument that I came up with myself, I examined two of Jesus’ parables, which were about salvation and damnation, to see if they provided any clues about this, in a reply to atheist David Madison:
In the next chapter we have the great scene of the separation of the sheep and goats at the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). . . .  No indication in this text is given of relative numbers of the saved and the damned. In two of His parables nearby, however, He does give indication. . . . 
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In the parable of the ten maidens with lamps (Matthew 25:1-13), five were foolish and were damned (“the door was shut . . . I do not know you”: 25:10, 12) and five were wise and received eternal life (“went in with him to the marriage feast”: 25:10). . . . It’s a 50-50 proposition.
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The parable of the talents follows (25:14-30). Here, there are three servants, who are given five talents, two talents, and one talent [a form of money], respectively. The ones who are saved are the first two (“enter into the joy of your master”: 25:21, 23), while the servant with one talent, who did nothing with it, was damned (“cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness”: 25:30). So this parable suggests a 67% rate of final salvation and a 33% rate of damnation. 
Moreover, St. Paul expressly taught that even those who have not heard the gospel or Christian message could be saved, based on what they know (thus leaving open a wide potential for salvation indeed):
Romans 2:13-16  For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. [14] When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. [15] They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them [16] on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.  

Bottom line: we just don’t know for sure, but we know that there is grace for all and that there is significant indication that a huge proportionate number will attain heaven. In the end, each of us has to live our life and be judged as to how well we have done, by others, and by God.

c) “God should already know what the odds are and not choose that risk for us.”

This is what free will entails. God gives us all a choice: to follow Him and His moral laws or reject Him and go our own way. He can’t reasonably be blamed if we deliberately reject Him, in our free will. He thought that was better than a bunch of robots who could do not other than what He programmed them to do at every instant. I totally agree! I want free will to choose as I wish; not to have no choice and be totally controlled.

d) “And yet here I am, without any choice in the matter apparently condemned to hell.”

He is not “condemned to hell” at all. He has a free will and choice to repent and become a Christian again, and get on the road to salvation. What he says may be the Calvinist view, but of course they are a minority of a minority (with very few remaining adherents today), and not the be-all of Christianity. They believe in predestination to hell; virtually all other Christians today and throughout history do not. But even John Calvin stated that no one could know for sure who was among the elect. So Calvinists and fundamentalists can’t say John he is definitely hellbound, nor can I, nor can anyone else or he himself. If he repents, he can be reasonably assured that he is heaven-bound, provided he stays the course.

None of us could decide to be born into this earthly life (many now are prevented by abortion and infanticide from even having this life, whether they would have wanted to or not). Sorry, John: your parents thought your existence was a good thing. But we have a full choice as to where we decide to spend eternity., which is far, far more important if indeed we do have an eternal existence, since if that is the case, this life represents only an infinitesimally small portion of our entire existence (like one atom compared to the entire universe):

Psalms 39:4-5 “LORD, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is! [5] Behold, thou hast made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in thy sight. Surely every man stands as a mere breath! . . .” (cf. 39:11)

Psalms 144:4 Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow. (cf. 78:39)

James 4:14 . . . What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

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Loftus argues (pp. 59-60) that the Israelite worldview prior to the exile to Babylon (after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC) was polytheistic (just as neighboring cultures’ religious view was). Well, duh! This is why God judged them (through Nebuchadnezzar) in the first place: precisely because they had forsaken Him, and monotheism, and adopted polytheism and idolatry: directly and deliberately against what He had urged and commanded them to do, for their own good.

This was the prophet Jeremiah’s message of warning prior to the Babylonian exile:

Jeremiah 1:15-16 For, lo, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, says the LORD; and they shall come and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls round about, and against all the cities of Judah. [16] And I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have burned incense to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands. 

Jeremiah 7:9-15 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Ba’al, and go after other gods that you have not known, [10] and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, `We are delivered!’ — only to go on doing all these abominations? [11] Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, says the LORD. [12] Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. [13] And now, because you have done all these things, says the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, [14] therefore I will do to the house which is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. [15] And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of E’phraim. 

Jeremiah 11:9-13 Again the LORD said to me, “There is revolt among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. [10] They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words; they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant which I made with their fathers. [11] Therefore, thus says the LORD, Behold, I am bringing evil upon them which they cannot escape; though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. [12] Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they cannot save them in the time of their trouble. [13] For your gods have become as many as your cities, O Judah; and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to shame, altars to burn incense to Ba’al. (cf. 13:10; 16:11-13; 19:1-9; 22:8-9; 35:15; 44:2-6, 15-17)

God allowed the temple to be destroyed because He had had enough of the disobedience and idolatrous compromises and hypocrisy and empty worship of too many of the Jews who worshiped there. They had to learn the hard way (so often sadly true of human beings and whole cultures), and so off they went in slavery to Babylon.

But alas, here comes Loftus “informing”us that the 6th century BC Israelites were polytheistic, as were their neighbors, as if this is some startling new insight unknown to Christians (or Jews)? It’s almost comical. It doesn’t follow at all that the actual teachings preserved in the Old Testament and the very rich Jewish oral tradition were not known and taught back then (which is, no doubt, what Loftus is driving at or insinuating). They were, but they were rejected and not followed.

This, in fact, is the central theme of the entire Old Testament: the continual straying of the Jews, followed by judgment and renewal, and then cycling toward to rebellion again. It was still happening in the New Testament when most of the Jews rejected Jesus, Who was indeed their expected Messiah.

So how is it that this supposedly casts doubt on the Bible: when it is teaching exactly the same thing? I hope that Loftus will explain this if he ever interacts with these series of critiques of his book. I’ve dealt with this nonsense that the earliest “formal” Jewish belief (not what was always practiced) in the times of Abraham, Moses, and even into David’s time (1000 BC) was in fact, polytheistic, in two replies to atheist Bob Seidensticker:

Seidensticker Folly #20: An Evolving God in the OT? (God’s Omnipotence, Omniscience, & Omnipresence in Early Bible Books & Ancient Jewish Understanding) [9-18-18]
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In every case when it comes to my reasons for adopting my skeptical presumption, the Christian response is pretty much the same. Christians must continually retreat to the position that what they believe is “possible,” or that it’s “not impossible.” (p. 62)
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[W]e want to know what is probable, not what is possible . . . Probability is what matters. (p. 63)
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As I’ve already stated above, this is not my view at all. I’ll repeat my view again:
I think His existence is exponentially more probable and plausible than atheism, based on the cumulative effect of a multitude of good and different types of (rational) theistic arguments, and the utter implausibility, incoherence, irrationality, and unacceptable level of blind faith of alternatives.

One sees nothing of “possible” or “not impossible” here.  I’m arguing from accumulation of various arguments and probability (exactly as Loftus advocates) and also plausibility.

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Photo credit: John Loftus at SASHAcon 2016 at the University of Missouri; Mark Schierbecker (3-19-16) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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September 4, 2019

I first ran across former Christian minister and atheist John W. Loftus back in 2006. We dialogued about the problem of evil, and whether God was in time. During that period I also replied to an online version of his deconversion: which (like my arguments about God and time) he didn’t care for at all. I’ve critiqued many atheist deconversion stories, and maintain a very extensive web page about atheism. In 2007 I critiqued his “Outsider Test of Faith” series: to which he gave no response. Loftus’ biggest objection to my critique of his descent into atheism was that I responded to what he called a “brief testimony.” He wrote in December 2006 (his words in blue henceforth):

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. . . . I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. . . . Do you accept my challenge?

I declined at that time, mainly (but not solely) for the following stated reason:

If you send 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. . . . 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.

Throughout August 2019, I critiqued Dr. David Madison, a prominent contributor to Loftus’ website, Debunking Christianity, no less than 35 times. As of this writing, they remain completely unanswered. I was simply providing (as a courtesy) links to my critiques underneath each article of Dr. Madison’s, till Loftus decided I couldn’t do that (after having claimed that I “hate” atheists and indeed, everyone I disagree with). I replied at length regarding his censorship on his website. Loftus’ explanation for the complete non-reply to my 35 critiques was this: “We know we can respond. It’s just that we don’t have the time to do so. Plus, it’s pretty clear our time would be better spent doing something else than wrestling in the mud with you.” He also claimed that Dr. Madison was “planning to write something about one or more of these links in the near future.” Meanwhile, I discovered that Dr. Madison wrote glowingly about Loftus on 1-23-17:

When the history of Christianity’s demise is written (it will fade eventually away, as do all religions), your name will feature prominently as one who helped bring the world to its senses. Your legacy is secure and is much appreciated.

This was underneath an article where Loftus claimed: “I’ve kicked this dead rodent of the Christian faith into a lifeless blob so many times there is nothing left of it.” I hadn’t realized that Loftus had single-handedly managed to accomplish the stupendous feat of vanquishing the Hideous Beast of Christianity (something the Roman Empire, Muslims, Communists, and many others all miserably failed to do). Loftus waxed humbly and modestly ten days later: “I cannot resist the supposition that my books are among the best. . . . Every one of my books is unique, doing what few other atheist books have done, if any of them.”

These last three cited statements put me “over the edge” and I decided to buy a used copy of his book, Why I Became an Atheist (revised version, 2012, 536 pages) and critique it, as he wanted me to do in 2006. Moreover, on 8-27-07 he made a blanket challenge about the original version of this book: “I challenge someone to try this with my book. I might learn a few things, and that’s always a goal of mine. Pick it up and deal with as many arguments in it that you can. Deal with them all if you can.” His wish is granted (I think he will at length regret it), and this will be my primary project (as a professional apologist) in the coming weeks and probably months.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques. It’s what he’s always done with me (along with endless personal insults). I’m well used to empty (direct) challenges from atheists, based on my experience with Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus (for a change) decides to actually defend his views, I’m here; always have been. And I won’t flee for the hills, like atheists habitually do, when faced with substantive criticism.

The words of John Loftus will be in blue.

*****

John Loftus’ chapter 1 (pp. 21-36), is entitled, “My Christian Conversion and Deconversion.”

I could only wish that Christian apologists who write their apologetic books would do the same thing. I want to know what personal experiences they have had and how they interpret them so that I can be able to judge why they believe the things that they do. But they don’t generally do this at all. (p. 21)

Once again (as with this very series), I provide what Loftus himself calls for: extensive ruminations on my own past and why I came to believe as I did. On my Conversion and Converts (Catholic) web page I have many many papers about my change from evangelical to Catholic Christian, and also a ten-part, 75-page version that discusses my entire life with regard to my religious beliefs (and other ones), drawn from my book, Catholic Converts and Conversion (2013). I welcome anyone to analyze these conversion stories mine, provided they are civil. I would be more than happy — delighted — to interact with such efforts.

I . . . grew up . . . in a nominal Catholic home . . . Our family went to church, but we were a nominal churchgoing family, for the most part. I never experienced true faith growing up . . . (p. 21)

We’ll see how much he understood Catholicism before he rejected it. This is all he says about Catholicism (at least in this chapter), and later he recounts how he “accepted Jesus” (p. 23) as an evangelical and Pentecostal. I grew up in a nominal Methodist home, as I have written about in my 75-page account. I didn’t go to church at all for 12 years: from age  10 to 22.

He mentions (p. 23) that he read Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict and Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth around 1977: both books that I read, too, between 1977-1981, and that had a huge influence on me (especially the first one, which essentially launched me on my apologetics career). Then he mentioned (p. 24) that he read many books by Francis Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis (both heroes of mine as an evangelical, with Lewis remaining my favorite write these past 40 years or so). He says (p. 24) that he later came to reject all this. 

So he was reading some solid apologetics (minus Lindsey, which is but one version of eschatology and Bible prophecy speculation). I commend him for that. Most Christians never even get to that point, of reading why they believe what they believe (if they even know and can describe the “what”). He doesn’t give the reasons why he rejected these writers’ arguments. That’s okay; he’s just summarizing here. We’ll see if he does, later on, and how compelling his reasons to reject them are. He has to provide some reasoning in order for me to interact with and disagree with the reasoning. 

Loftus states that there were three things that changed my thinking (p. 26). One of these was an affair that he had while married. The woman later accused him of raping her (I’ll take his word that this was a false accusation). He takes the blame for it and says he did wrong, and I accept that, too. But I don’t accept his take that God was at fault for his own sinful actions. This is convoluted (not to mention, blasphemous) thinking. He wrote:

The biggest question of all was why God tested me by allowing her to come into my life when she did — if he knew in advance I would fail the test. (p. 28)

On the same page he says that he was “devastated” by “God not seeming to care about his wayward soldier.”

Why didn’t God do something to avert these particular experiences of mine, especially if he could foreknow that I would eventually write this book and lead others astray? (p. 33)

When God gave us free will, He did! It means what it means. A = A. He doesn’t orchestrate everything that happens from heaven, as if we are all robots and puppets. He doesn’t overrule our free will decisions (including evil ones).  But He does take bad things and bring good out of them:

Genesis 50:20 (RSV) As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Romans 8:28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

For Loftus to blame God for his own free will actions that were wrong, is outrageous. It’s as silly as people wanting to blame God for the Nazi Holocaust, when it was entirely the fault of naive, foolish human beings, and could easily have been prevented if folks had simply listened to the warnings for years of one Winston Churchill: who foretold the German military build-up and disastrous implications of same under the Nazis.

Loftus does rightly blame himself, too. But he feels that he has to blame God, too, and that’s just wrong. God had nothing to do with what he did. He’s not some cosmic puppet master with sinister intentions. So this becomes yet another of the innumerable confirmations of the saying, “all heresy begins beneath the belt.”

Note that I am not judging John Loftus personally, in the sense that he was already beyond all hope, etc. He mentions that Christians did that. If he says he repented and was sorry, I take him at his word, and am quite happy to extend forgiveness (as God would be, too; though many Christians may not do so). I object to his unfairly judging and blaming God. To me, it appears to be an unwarranted rationalization in order to reject God, as if Loftus were reasoning, “If God would do this, He is not worthy to be followed and worshiped.” But God never did it in the first place. That’s the lie.

While he [his cousin Larry] didn’t convince me of much at the time, he did convince me of one solid truth. When it came to the age of the universe, I could trust what science tells us, and it was undeniable that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old. (p. 28)

This has absolutely nothing to do with whether Christianity is true or not or whether God doesn’t exist, so it has no bearing on any serious reason to deconvert. The choice is supposedly between Christianity and science? That’s a fallacy. Most Christians accept this standard geology and indeed most even accept the theory of evolution in some form.

Two corollaries of that idea [the true age of the universe] started me down the road to being the atheist I am today. The first is that in Genesis chapter 1 we see that the earth existed before the sun, moon, and stars, which were all created on the fourth day. This doesn’t square with astronomy. So I began looking at the first chapters of Genesis, and as my thinking developed over time, I came to the conclusion that those chapters are folk literature – myth. . . . (p. 29)

Here we have something that can be analyzed, to see if it is any sort of legitimate rationale for rejecting Christianity. If Loftus is correct, Genesis has a glaring contradiction. If he is not, then a big reason he gives for his apostasy is shown to be much ado about nothing. I will now proceed to show why I believe the latter is the case in this instance.

Loftus assumes (as so many do) that Genesis was intended to be presented in some rigidly (modern) scientific, rationalistic framework, including a literal chronology of events, as it is written. But is this required by the text we have? No, not at all. And herein lies his fallacy and disinformation. He shows poor hermeneutical skills here. This never had to be a “reason” to make him start doubting the inspiration of Holy Scripture.

John H. Stek, in a book whose purpose is to examine the biblical account of creation from a scientific perspective, wrote about Genesis 1-2:

As representations of what has transpired in the divine arena, they are of the nature of metaphorical narrations. They relate what has taken place behind the veil, but translate it into images we can grasp – as do the biblical visions of the heavenly court. However realistic they seem, an essential “as if” quality pervades them.

. . . He stories “events” that are in themselves inaccessible to humans, inaccessible not only as information (since no human witness was there) but conceptually inaccessible.

. . . From the perspective of this account [Gen 1:1-2:3], these seven “days” are a completed time – the seventh day does not give way to an eighth . . . because this narrative stories unique events in a unique arena and a unique “time,” the lack of correlation between the chronological sequences of 1:1-2:3 and 2:4ff. involves no tension.


. . . The speculations that have continued to fund the endless and fruitless debate have all been triggered by concerns brought by interpreters to the text, concerns completely alien to it. In his storying of God’s creative acts, the author was “moved” to sequence them after the manner of human acts and “time” them after the pattern of created time in humanity’s arena of experience. (Portraits of Creation: Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World’s Formation, Howard J. Van Till, Robert E. Snow, John H. Stek, & Davis A. Young, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1990, 236-238)

Charles E. Hummel, in a similar book, further elaborates:

Our interpretation of a passage should also be guided by its structure. Narrators have the freedom to tell a story in their own way, including its perspective, purpose, development and relevant content. The importance of this principle comes to focus in the Genesis 1 treatment of time. The dominating concepts and concerns of our century are dramatically different from those of ancient Israel. . . . we automatically tend to assume that a historical account must present a strict chronological sequence. But the biblical writers are not bound by such concerns and constrictions. Even within an overall chronological development they have freedom to cluster certain events by topic. For example, Matthew’s Gospel has alternating sections of narrative and teaching grouped according to subject matter, a sort of literary club sandwich. Since Matthew did not intend to provide a strict chronological sequence for the events in Jesus’ ministry, to search for it there would be futile.

By the same token our approach to Genesis 1 should not assume that the events are necessarily in strict chronological order.


. . . Our problem of how the earth could be lighted (v. 4) before the sun appeared comes when we require the narrative to be a strict chronological account.


. . . The literary genre is a semipoetic narrative cast in a historico-artistic framework consisting of two parallel triads. On this interpretation, it is no problem that the creation of the sun, necessary for an earth clothed with vegetation on the third day, should be linked with the fourth day. Instead of turning hermeneutical handsprings to explain that supposed difficulty, we simply note that in view of the author’s purpose the question is irrelevant. The account does not follow the chronological sequence assumed by concordist views. (The Galileo Connection: Resolving Conflicts Between Science and the Bible, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986, 203, 209, 214)

So this “problem” that caused Loftus to begin an unbelieving, skeptical descent culminating in atheism, is in actuality no problem at all. He just didn’t look into the passage in the depth that it required.

The second corollary for me at that time  is this: If God took so long to create the universe, then why would he all of a sudden snap his fingers, so to speak, and create human beings? If God took his time to create the universe, then why wouldn’t he also create living creatures during the same length of time? (p. 29)

Speed is not indicated in the creation account of man. Genesis 2:7 says that “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground . . . ” I see no necessary requirement that this be instantaneous. It is not inconsistent with longer periods of time or possibly evolution. The text then says that God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life . . .” This might be taken to indicate that man had a soul (unlike the animals): “breath” being a common biblical metaphor for “soul”. One could therefore take a view that what became man could have possibly evolved and then God decided to create a soul in man that set him apart (and made him truly man, which would be a quick process as far as it goes).

Christians believe that this supernatural soul is a direct creation of God. You can’t see it in a microscope, etc. In any event, a quick creation is not required by this account; nor do all Christians believe that. As long ago as St. Augustine and later St. Thomas Aquinas, Christians theorized about a creation somewhat akin to an evolutionary process. so this, too, is much ado about nothing. If this is one reason why John rejected Christianity, it is an illogical one. He only rejected one small brand of Christianity.

God can do whatever He wants (whatever is logically possible). So why should this be a reason to reject Christianity, pray tell, or the accuracy and inspiration of the Bible? There is nothing here. Loftus assumed that a quick special creation was necessarily what the Bible teaches. It is not. His “objection” is one long irrelevancy.

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Photo creditJohn Loftus at SASHAcon 2016 at the University of Missouri; Mark Schierbecker (3-19-16) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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September 3, 2019

I first ran across former Christian minister and atheist John W. Loftus back in 2006. We dialogued about the problem of evil, and whether God was in time. During that period I also replied to an online version of his deconversion: which (like my arguments about God and time) he didn’t care for at all. I’ve critiqued many atheist deconversion stories, and maintain a very extensive web page about atheism. In 2007 I critiqued his “Outsider Test of Faith” series: to which he gave no response. Loftus’ biggest objection to my critique of his descent into atheism was that I responded to what he called a “brief testimony.” He wrote in December 2006 (his words in blue henceforth):

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. . . . I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. . . . Do you accept my challenge?

I declined at that time, mainly (but not solely) for the following stated reason:

If you send 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. . . . 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.

Throughout August 2019, I critiqued Dr. David Madison, a prominent contributor to Loftus’ website, Debunking Christianity, no less than 35 times. As of this writing, they remain completely unanswered. I was simply providing (as a courtesy) links to my critiques underneath each article of Dr. Madison’s, till Loftus decided I couldn’t do that (after having claimed that I “hate” atheists and indeed, everyone I disagree with). I replied at length regarding his censorship on his website. Loftus’ explanation for the complete non-reply to my 35 critiques was this: “We know we can respond. It’s just that we don’t have the time to do so. Plus, it’s pretty clear our time would be better spent doing something else than wrestling in the mud with you.” He also claimed that Dr. Madison was “planning to write something about one or more of these links in the near future.” Meanwhile, I discovered that Dr. Madison wrote glowingly about Loftus on 1-23-17:

When the history of Christianity’s demise is written (it will fade eventually away, as do all religions), your name will feature prominently as one who helped bring the world to its senses. Your legacy is secure and is much appreciated.

This was underneath an article where Loftus claimed: “I’ve kicked this dead rodent of the Christian faith into a lifeless blob so many times there is nothing left of it.” I hadn’t realized that Loftus had single-handedly managed to accomplish the stupendous feat of vanquishing the Hideous Beast of Christianity (something the Roman Empire, Muslims, Communists, and many others all miserably failed to do). Loftus waxed humbly and modestly ten days later: “I cannot resist the supposition that my books are among the best. . . . Every one of my books is unique, doing what few other atheist books have done, if any of them.”

These last three cited statements put me “over the edge” and I decided to buy a used copy of his book, Why I Became an Atheist (revised version, 2012, 536 pages) and critique it, as he wanted me to do in 2006. Moreover, on 8-27-07 he made a blanket challenge about the original version of this book: “I challenge someone to try this with my book. I might learn a few things, and that’s always a goal of mine. Pick it up and deal with as many arguments in it that you can. Deal with them all if you can.” His wish is granted (I think he will at length regret it), and this will be my primary project (as a professional apologist) in the coming weeks and probably months.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques. It’s what he’s always done with me (along with endless personal insults). I’m well used to empty (direct) challenges from atheists, based on my experience with Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus (for a change) decides to actually defend his views, I’m here; always have been. And I won’t flee for the hills, like atheists habitually do, when faced with substantive criticism.

The words of John Loftus will be in blue.

*****

I shall now make some replies to the Introduction (pp. 11-18 in the 2012 revised paperback).

In every chapter I have added to and strengthened my case, sometimes significantly. . . . In other words, it’s a much better book. (p. 11)

Excellent. Maybe this is the ultimate reason — in God’s providence — that I didn’t reply to the original edition. It was to be revised and improved twice. And I want to take on the best arguments that Loftus and atheists have to offer.

Unlike some skeptics who think that Christianity has been debunked so many times before that it’s now time to ridicule it, I still treat it respectfully. (p. 11)

That’s utterly apparent in his comment in his article dated 1-23-17: “I’ve kicked this dead rodent of the Christian faith into a lifeless blob so many times there is nothing left of it.” Looks like his views have, um, “evolved” since 2012. Lots of “respect” there, huh?

[B]elievers who honestly want to know if their faith is true should read the works of those who don’t think it is. You owe it to yourself to read firsthand what someone like me has to say.

Yep. That’s what I’m doing. But I’m a professional apologist, with 38 years’ experience of intense and committed apologetics, including long and extensive interaction with atheist anti-theist polemics. If the average (often woefully theologically uneducated) Christian is to do so, I think it is wise and sensible that they read both sides simultaneously.

And of course, that is what I provide in my dialogues (and articles like this series), with massive input from my dialogue opponents. Only then is it fair and not a stacked deck. Then they can exercise their critical faculties to decide who presents a better and more plausible case. Loftus agrees that such a person should also read the Christian apologists too.

I would turn the tables on this sentiment and also note that it works both ways. To use his framework and switch it around: “atheists who honestly want to know if their rejection of Christianity is correct should read the works of those who don’t think it is. You owe it to yourself to read firsthand what an experienced Christian apologist who responds to your own challenge by critiquing point-by-point — which you claim that you welcome — has to say.”

Loftus talks a good game and would seem to agree with this in principle. But the proof’s in the pudding, isn’t it? The “pudding” is how he reacts when he starts to observe the scores of articles that will be in this series: vigorously but cordially taking on his best arguments, instead of fawning over them as unquestionable Gospel Truth: as he is treated on his own website among his fan club and echo chamber (the “choir”). 

If he follows his own noble, high-minded rhetoric about open-mindedness and evidence, etc., he would necessarily have to interact. But if those are mere empty words, only for show, he won’t. Time will tell! I’ll be reporting as to how he has responded or not, as I go along.

Loftus describes (pp. 14-15) how he started out Catholic, then moved through the positions of fundamentalist, moderate, liberal, deist, agnostic, an atheist, and that in the book he “roughly” focuses on evangelical Christianity.

Duly noted. I was an enthusiastic evangelical for 13 years and maintain my great admiration for that sector of Christianity, notwithstanding the usual principled disagreements that a Catholic would have, so that works for me. I will be incorporating Catholic distinctives in this series only where absolutely necessary to make a needed and effective counter-argument that Protestants would disagree with. This is my standard policy in dealing with atheist arguments.

Some of these chapters contain philosophical arguments while others are biblical in nature. (p. 15)

Cool! I love both, so this will be a good mixture.

I present a cumulative case argument against Christianity. (p. 15)

That’s exactly how I view my body of apologetics (50 books and over 2500 blog articles) in favor of Christianity and (in particular) the collection of diverse argumentation I have set forth in critique of atheism.

I consider this book to be one single argument against Christianity, and as such it should be evaluated as a whole. (p. 15; his italics)

This is precisely what I am doing. Obviously, most people wouldn’t have either the time or motivation (even if they had the ability) to deal in such comprehensiveness with a 536-page book, and I highly doubt that anyone has done so, for these reasons. But I have all those things — by God’s grace –, as a full-time apologist.

Loftus notes (pp. 15-16) that many Christian professors have struggled with significant doubts and crises of faith.

This comes as no big news flash. We’re well aware of that and most of us (including myself, but only very rarely, by God’s grace) experience it, to various degrees. St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) had long and agonizing stretches of the “dark night of the soul.” So have many other Christians. C. S. Lewis (in the view of most Christians, the greatest apologist of the 20th century) wrote almost an entire book about it (A Grief Observed). The book of Job is devoted to this very thing.

This is one major reason why apologists like myself do what we do: we grapple with the doubts and objections seek to provide acceptable and plausible answers or solutions to them. We help Christians to have a stronger faith, to know and to be able to defend their faith (1 Peter 3:15) and “survive” objections such as those that Loftus will be hurling throughout his book.

Atheists tend to view us apologists (to put it mildly) as mere rationalizers, sophists, and special pleaders (i.e., fundamentally dishonest), but what we do is every bit as intellectually honest and legitimate as what Loftus feels he is doing in this book. He is sincerely arguing a perspective of doubt against Christianity, and we are sincerely maintaining that Christianity is both true and rational, and can be fully, confidently accepted by “modern, civilized, scientifically literate people”: the same ones whom he claims ought to reject it (p. 15).

It’s all about (in apologetics and atheist anti-theist polemics) the arguments and their relative strength. Bring them on! I am interacting, and will with counter-replies. But we don’t know yet how Loftus will react.

The major reason why I have become an atheist is because I could not answer the questions I was encountering. (p. 17; italics his)

One of the major reasons why I became an apologist is to offer solid Christian answers to questions such as these, that are causing some folks (like John Loftus) to lose faith and to forsake Christianity.

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Photo creditJohn Loftus at SASHAcon 2016 at the University of Missouri; Mark Schierbecker (3-19-16) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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August 30, 2019

Atheist apostate John Loftus is an author and webmaster of the website, Debunking Christianity, where Dr. David Madison (another atheist apostate and anti-theist) posts his articles: usually critiques of portions of Scripture or figures like Jesus and Paul. I have responded to now 34 of those articles of his, and simply posted the links underneath each article of Dr. Madison’s, as a courtesy, in case he wants to reply (which he has not done thus far). This was utterly unacceptable to webmaster Loftus, and he spoke with authority on 8-28-19, saying he will not put up with these outrages of courtesy any longer! (his words below will be in blue):

The Rules of Engagement At DC

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. 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.
*****
Here was my reply, posted there (if it is allowed to remain):
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What a surprise. Funny, I was under the impression that it was common courtesy to let someone know that you offered a reply to their writing. I have not seen Dr. Madison’s email address listed, as far as I know (but I may have missed it). But for you, somehow that is “angry” and against your ethics. Duly noted.

*

From now on I’ll refute Dr. Madison’s arguments without letting him know. Hopefully, if Dr. Madison does actually reply to one of my counter-arguments (it’s now 34 with no reply), he will let me know. He’s more than welcome to post such a link on my blog. Thanks.

*

I’ve written on suffering and the problem of evil many times (posted on my atheist and philosophy & science web pages), since I regard it as the most serious objection to Christianity. In fact, my first interaction with you (John Loftus) was on this topic (“Dialogue w Atheist John Loftus on the Problem of Evil” [10-11-06] ).

The “angry” schtick is getting old real fast. Is that all you have in your arsenal anymore: a bald-faced lie? You were much more fun when you called me an “idiot!”

Lastly, few care about my replies to an atheist on my blog or my Facebook page. If my motive were simply to “plug [my supposedly] failing blog or site” this would be one of the last topics that would accomplish that. I get far more page views from writing anything about sex. This is not mere opinion. One can track actual page views at Patheos with Google Analytics.

When I look over the response for August, I indeed find that an article on masturbation received the most views, and more than twice as much as the #2 article, which was about a radical Catholic reactionary book. #3 was a paper about why C. S. Lewis didn’t become a Catholic. #4 and #5 were about holistic health (totally unrelated to apologetics). #6 is about how to receive Communion. #7 is another paper about masturbation, #8 (finally!) a reply to an atheist other than Dr. Madison. #9 is about Mary’s Immaculate Conception. #10 is about her Assumption. So that is one paper in the top ten devoted to atheism.

I have to get to #21 to even find one of the 34 replies to Dr. Madison (all written in August).

So much for your stupid theory. I’m not replying for hits or for money, but because I think it is a great opportunity to refute atheist polemics against Christianity. Period. This is what apologists do. I certainly make far less money than you do: ranting and raving and lying about Christianity and Christians.

*****

More comments that I also posted on Loftus’ site:

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I looked up Loftus’ “Comment Policy.” I saw nothing about not being able to simply post a link to a reply to an article posted at Debunking Christianity. It starts out as follows (all emphases in the original in my citations):

At Debunking Christianity I welcome most anyone to comment on what is written. I like the challenge of educated discussions between educated people. I think educated people can disagree agreeably. Only people not fully exposed to alternative ways of thinking will claim their opponents are stupid merely because they disagree.

I agree 100%. If only Loftus and his cronies would act according to these noble ideals. Here’s another excerpt:
Unoriginality. Your comments should be your own thoughts, in your own words. When quoting relevant material, try to keep the excerpts brief. Don’t say the same thing over and over again.
I haven’t quoted anything (which I am allowed to do), in simply posting links to my replies, underneath the articles I was replying to. It seems to me that Dr. Madison and others (if they actually believed in and practiced the ideal expressed above) would enthusiastically welcome my “alternative ways of thinking” as a golden opportunity to defend the superiority of atheist views and shoot mine down. But no, instead we get this censorship, no interactive replies at all (though now we’re told that one or two are finally coming) and the ever-present double standard and juvenile insulting.
Preaching. Theist commenters are welcome, but bear in mind that atheists do not gather here just so that we can be more conveniently proselytized. Attempts to sermonize or recite apologetics at us are frowned upon. A good rule of thumb is that if you want to have a genuine conversation with us, you’re welcome to stay; if you only want to convert us, you can expect to be shown the door.
I haven’t done this at all. I am replying directly (mostly point-by-point) to posted material on this site. This is “genuine conversation.” But so far, it is entirely a one-way “conversation.” One of the parties ain’t interested in defending his own arguments (nor is — how pathetic — anyone else here). But it’s on the way, I’m told. I eagerly look forward to it!
Soapboxing. Related to both unoriginality and preaching, this occurs when a person has a pet cause which is the only thing they ever want to talk about, regardless of the topic of the thread. If all your comments keep coming back to the same point, you’re soapboxing. Don’t do this.
I’m obviously not doing this either, since I am directly responding to material at Debunking Christianity. Many of the arguments I have offered in so doing, I never even thought about before. They were stimulated by the arguments of Dr. Madison. This is the beauty of argument and interaction. Christian arguments have been encouraged and strengthened by opposing arguments since the beginning. I love it! So I have mostly enjoyed replying to Dr. Madison. He has been gracious enough to provide a steady supply of fallacious or non-factual argumentation that is the perfect stimulus for an apologist who specializes in the Bible.
Imperviousness to reason. I expect that people who debate here will show at least some responsiveness to arguments raised against their position. If your typical response to a counterargument is to repeat your original argument in unchanged form, your presence will soon grow tiresome. Acknowledge the things that other people say to you and respond accordingly.

Again, this is exactly what I am not doing, in replying point-by-point to material on the site. If I received such replies (which happens only rarely), I would be ecstatic at the golden opportunity to clarify and counter-reply, and retract where necessary. But the response of my atheist friends is to flee to the hills, insult, and censor. It’s one of life’s mysteries. But hypocrisy, in any event, is certainly not confined to Christians.

Lastly, it is highly ironic and ludicrous that when I first started responding to Dr. Madison, I came to Debunking Christianity and tried in vain to engage in intelligent discussion. But as almost always in atheist forums, the folks weren’t interested in that. It was 100% insults and mockery and not the slightest interaction with my actual arguments at all, as anyone can see in my paper that documented what happened.

It was a carbon copy of the behavior that occurred in August 2018: a year ago, on Bob Seidensticker’s website (I have refuted 35 of his papers, too). They had no interest in rational discussion, either; only in insults and lying, and I was also banned.

Once that happened, I concluded (as I always have, in despair) that genuine discussion of opposing ideas is impossible on an atheist forum. I was tempted to not even post the links to my replies anymore, and to adopt the attitude of “to hell with ’em.” But my courteous instincts prevailed; only to at length get the above reply from Loftus.
*
Very well, then. If I can’t have an intelligent discussion on his site or any atheist one that I’ve ever seen, then I’ll simply refute atheist materials (including those from Loftus) and not let anyone know that I’m doing it. Atheists whose writings I critique can do what I do: run across critical materials in Google searches (which I do since I am virtually never informed when someone counter-replies to me).
*
In fact, I ran across this very article from Loftus, by accident, as I was looking through Dr. Madison’s writings. John Loftus seemingly had no intention of making me aware of it. Loftus did “reply” to me earlier, when he saw that I was critiquing Dr. Madison, and made these two comments (do they sound like a willingness to interact with opposing ideas?):
What does it say that you have about 46 comments for your last 20 essays? Given your mean spirited attitude, one probable interpretation is that your headlines grab attention from the massive amount of readers attracted to Patheos. But when people see how you treat others they leave you to your anger. And you are angry. That is clear. You hate people who disagree with you, which actually proves Dr. Madison’s point, that Jesus wants you to hate others in deference to him. Readers see this quickly then they go away.
*
Your speech betrays you. I can get a bit angry when purposely misunderstood by self-proclaimed know-it-alls like you. But you enter a debate angry! You write as if Dr. David Madison is a non-entity, a non-being, who is mere fodder for your supposed “superior” debate skills. I cannot convince you of this I’m sure, but that’s what I see, and it’s one good reason I ignore you.
*
What you’re doing is writing a book length response. Go ahead. Do that. We know we can respond. It’s just that we don’t have the time to do so. Plus, it’s pretty clear our time would be better spent doing something else than wrestling in the mud with you.
*
*****
And a third comment posted there:
***

As another Christian courtesy, I will go back and delete all my links posted here to replies to Dr. Madison, lest any atheist stumble, experience cognitive dissonance, or be scandalized and depressed by the horrific prospect of an amiable, non-“angry” expression of a different opinion [!!! gasp! shriek!] from a lowly, despised Christian apologist.

The Bible commands us, after all, not to do anything to make less confident folks stumble. I wouldn’t want to burst this blissful “bubble” you have made for yourselves, or to dissent from the groupthink that obviously reigns and dominates this echo chamber.

Thanks for letting me post this! How open-minded of you . . .

Thank you. One thing you should keep in mind is that wasting my time by having to explain my policies will get you banned. So what if I made an addition? Get over it.

I believe I zapped all of the horrifying, threatening links to my replies to Dr. Madison. If I missed one, please let me know and I’ll go delete it pronto. Thanks!

***

ADDENDUM (8-31-19) Without the slightest hint of the extreme and apparent (and pathetic) irony, Loftus put up a post on the same day, entitled, “Cameron Bertuzzi of “Capturing Christianity” Avoids Answering Questions.” Near the end, he states, “Your goal should be to answer their objections.” Man oh man, is this guy in a self-deluded bubble.

***
***
June 16, 2018

This came about in my combox after I posted a critique of a paper by John W. Loftus: The Census, Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem, & History: Reply to Atheist John W. Loftus’ Irrational Criticisms of the Biblical Accounts.  Loftus’ words will be in blue.

* * * * *

 

Dave, have you read any of my books yet? You should.

[Here they are:

Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Apologist Explains (2006)

Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity (2008)

Why I Became an Atheist: Personal Reflections and Additional Arguments (2008)

The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails (with Dan Barker, 2010)

The End of Christianity (scheduled for 26 July 2011) ]

No. I’d rather see you defend what you say in your innumerable posts. You’re gonna outwrite me! Very few do that! :-)

I gave you plenty to think about in this piece. You can choose to ignore it and join in on the mocking that they are now doing on your blog, or you can actually interact with a meaty, substantive critique. Maybe Christians have a valid point of objection once in a blue moon, huh? Maybe you got a few things wrong in your critique of the Bible? Is it possible?

Dave, do you agree with me that how we see any one particular issue depends on a whole lot of background knowledge?

Absolutely. I made note of that in the paper, in discussing the high importance of presuppositions.

If so, then in order for you see these things the way I do you need to understand more of the background knowledge I have that makes me see things the way I do. That can only be understood by reading my books. If you don’t want to I understand.

I don’t need to read a book in order to make it possible to engage in a dialogue with you on one particular topic (the Bethlehem thing). The thing that would most likely make me curious enough to read one of your books, would be to see you actually defend your opinions under scrutiny. But atheists, in my experience, have been mostly unwilling to do that.

And do you agree with me that Catholic biblical scholars are almost all liberals with regard to the infancy narratives? Debate them.

Wouldn’t surprise me. Liberalism has made huge inroads into Catholic biblical scholarship, for various reasons.

You made the claims. I disputed them. You can choose to not defend your positions if you like. It’ll be a matter of record here. We all have limited time. I understand that. I don’t have the time or desire right now to read your book(s). You don’t have the time or desire to respond to this critique.

There can be reasons other than inability or fear; I grant that. I would just like to see more dialogue take place. If not, then it is still worthwhile for me to “defeat the defeater” and show how atheist arguments fall remarkably short of their goals.

Now, if we had some understanding that if I read your book(s), then you would be willing to actually defend your views point-by-point, in a public written dialogue (to be posted unedited on my site) then I might very well be willing to do so.

I would be happy to respond point-by-point to portions of your books if you sent me the electronic text (i.e., in part). I ain’t gonna type all that out! If I recall correctly, I asked you this before and you refused. I might be thinking of someone else, though.

I continue to seek amiable, constructive dialogue with atheists. It may, indeed, turn out to be an unattainable goal, but I haven’t given up yet. I’m most interested in defending the Bible against all the onslaughts.

Dave, from past exchanges with you it’s not productive of my time to respond.

Your choice. I may still choose to do critiques, so if you want to leave your work undefended against them, that is up to you. You want me to read your books, but you ain’t interested in a dialogue.

I’ll send you my e-book, Science and Christianity: Close Partners or Mortal Enemies? for free if you like. Any atheist who asks for it can have it for free.

Dave, defend away. I know that’s what you feel you must do. As for an exchange on the issues I raise in my books, I cannot promise that. I wish I could, but I can’t.

All I’m saying is that you’ll find in my books why I see things differently. They probably won’t change your mind but people on both sides of this great divide of ours are saying they are the best out there.

Click on “John’s Three Books” on my blog and read the reviews. I would think if you wish to defend your faith you would want to tackle the best out there. That’s all.

Nothing personal, but if your arguments (what I’ve seen of them) are the “best” that atheism has to offer, that makes my day. :-)

Not that I ever thought atheism had anything to offer in the first place, mind you . . . If you’re the best at defending a falsehood, that ain’t much of a distinction in my book. E for effort, maybe . . .

I do appreciate your confidence. I would just like to see it expressed more concretely (rather than verbally only): with some substantive defenses against critique. Moreover, it’s easy to appear to be the World’s Greatest Expert when you are not interacting with criticism of your opinions. You can create your own little world and bask in the adulation of the choir . . .

Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what Dr. Dale C. Allison author of Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters said:

Forget Dawkins. If you are looking for a truly substantial, well-informed criticism of the Christian religion, this is your book. Defenders of the faith will do believer and unbeliever alike a disservice if they do not rise to the challenge and wrestle with the thought-provoking arguments of Loftus and company.

Notice the highlighted words?

If you consider yourself one of the defenders of the faith then according to Allison you’re doing us all a disservice if you don’t rise to the challenge.

Presumably you write on your blog for the same overall purpose of presenting atheism as the truth. So what is the huge difference between reading a post of yours there and critiquing it vs. reading your books and critiquing those?

If you’re not willing to defend what you write on your blog, to what purpose are the posts? Just preaching to the choir? Atheist backslapping and yucking it up about how “ridiculous” Christians are? You see yourself as the Pied Piper of Impiety or sumpin’?

If you won’t defend a blog post, then why would I think you would be willing to defend any portions of your books? I already said that if you sent me a chapter or two electronically, I would critique them line-by-line and you could show where my reasoning went astray. But you haven’t agreed to any of that yet. You just want me to read your books. No dialogue; no rational interaction . . .

I’m doin’ you one better: I’ll send you any of my books for free (e-books) and I’m willing to defend what is in them, too. Only two are really written with atheists directly in mind, though: the science volume and Christian Worldview vs. Postmodernism.

Dave, I’m not the World’s Greatest Expert. Sheesh. If you really want a respectful dialogue stop the misrepresentation.

That was a rhetorical exaggeration. You misunderstand the language of intellectual thrust and parry just as you do the nuances of biblical language. It’s all of a piece. Do you seriously think I literally meant that you think you are the World’s Greatest Expert on atheism? But you do have a rather high opinion of your own work, by your own humble admission: “people on both sides of this great divide of ours are saying they are the best out there.”

And if you paid attention I’m not preaching to the choir. Christian scholars also recommend my books.

How is that a counter-point at all? So what? I’m talking about whether you will defend your positions or not. So far you have consistently refused to do so with me. Perhaps it is personal in my case, as you alluded to.

Furthermore, in my books and on my blog I most emphatically do interact with the opposition.

Then why the reluctance to do so presently?

Stop your whining. I can only do what I can do and you are not on my “to do” list.

Didn’t take long for the fangs to come out, did it, John?

If you want to debate someone then debate your own Catholic biblical scholars on this particular issue.

Clever but fundamentally silly deflection . . .

Your views are out of step with biblical scholarship.

Liberal scholarship, not all biblical scholarship . . . and the latter is not confined to Catholics.

It’s not an atheist issue here. Liberals all say the same things.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks for confirming what I have said about liberals for many years. But why would the fact that you parrot liberals somehow make it no longer an atheist issue? I disagree with both of you. I have explained why. You want no part of an intelligent interaction along those lines. You might have to (horrors!) admit you actually made a mistake in your anti-biblical reasoning, and your choir and fan club over on your blog would be very disappointed and disenchanted to see that, since you guys ridicule and mock Christians as imbeciles and ignoramuses on a daily basis.

It’s called being a scholar and you are not one.

Never said I was, but nice touch. It you think it scores a rhetorical victory to note the obvious and the thing that I always take great pains to state myself, then be my guest. I fail to see why any serious thinker would be impressed with that.

The fact that I am not a scholar, nor as educated as you, seems to me, would be a good reason for you to blow my arguments out of the water, as the inept ramblings of an alleged “pretender,” but instead it is a pretext for your condescending refusals to interact, because I’m not worth your time. But you expect me to have plenty of time to read your book(s), since they are supposedly the “best” out there on atheism. We went through this schtick in our last runaround.

I have Dawkins and Dennett and Hitchens in my library. If I want to read the “best” of a bad lot, I’ll read those, not yours. At least not till you’re willing to defend your opinions in an honest dialogue . . .

Loftus made another reply on his blog, on 7 February 2011:
*

For everyone’s information there are a few reasons why I don’t bother with Dave Armstrong. We have a history. Do a search for his name here and you’ll see it back in 2007 I think. He comes across as someone who wants a civil discussion but when you disagree his fangs come out. Discussing something with him is like getting in a pigs trough and wallowing in the mire with him.

Like a few other wannabe apologists he will always have the last word. Because of that he will proclaim victory, hey, the person who has the last word is right, right?

He’s ignorant and unworthy of my time:

[makes a link to the post: “On Being Ignorant of One’s Ignorance and Unaware of Being Unskilled” (6-4-10), which includes the following comments:

So I’ll continually be bothered daily at DC by ignorant people who are unaware of their ignorance, especially Christians. That’s the nature of this beast. Worse off, they don’t trust me to tell them what they should understand. . . . For now I’m challenging people to consider whether they are ignorant/unskilled and unaware of it. Most Christians who comment here are. I would say this about them as a former professor of philosophy, apologetics, ethics, and the Bible. . . . But I do know this: I know a hell of a lot more than most people about Christianity. I am not ignorant when it comes to Christianity. I might be wrong, but I’m not ignorant, at least not as ignorant as most of the Christians who comment here. ]

Besides from this [sic] I got nothing bad to say about him.

More of the usual elitist condescension, in other words . . . And there is more of the same in a post entitled, Such Idiocy: I Do Defend My Views Against the Opposition (2-5-11):
*

There are several blog posts in criticism of what I’ve written that I have not attempted to answer. Because I choose not to do so the accusation is leveled at me that I don’t interact with the opposition. This is such idiocy that no wonder these people believe. Let me explain.

First off, in my books and in my substantive posts here I am most emphatically interacting with the opposition in every paragraph. Does this fact escape their attention or what? When someone makes this accusation then I know I chose correctly not to respond to them. For it confirms what I thought in the first place, that they are ignorant of their own ignorance. Their beef with me is that I ignore them. Well then, what they should do is write something that deserves my response. I have limited time. I can only respond to criticisms I consider important or substantive. I told one such person recently that “I can only do what I can do, and you are not on my ‘to do’ list.” [gives several examples of his defending his own views] . . . These are my choices. Have done then with such idiocy that I don’t interact with the opposition. I do so almost every day in everything I write.

Apparently the “ignorance card” is a droning theme for Loftus. Hence, these remarks from 12-23-10:
*

I just want to offer a shout out to the skeptics here who help in answering the personal attacks on me and the arguments of some utterly ignorant Christians. It means a lot to me, really. What buffoons some of them are. I have no clue what they hope to accomplish but they certainly view me as a threat, and of that they are right. It’s just that I’m reading what they write and it’s completely ignorant for the most part. I would’ve said that as a Christian professor when I was teaching apologetics. It’s a shame that with a Bible in hand they think they can answer us, isn’t it? They are unaware how ignorant they are. Is there anyone else out there who can reason with us? Oops, sorry, they’re all ignorant.

And in the combox (12-23-10):
*

[T]his is my conclusion and I’m putting it out there. Some people don’t like me saying it, but I think it’s true. I have spent almost my entire life wrapped up in Christianity, and spent nearly seven years online debating these topics, first on a Christian forum and then on this blog. I have heard nothing from any Christian that shows they understand what atheism is or why their faith is reasonable, nothing. I know what I’m talking about. I might be wrong but I’m clearly not ignorant.

***

(originally 2-4-11)

Photo credit: Carnival barker at the grounds at the state fair. Rutland, Vermont, September 1941 (Jack Delano) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

June 6, 2018

John Loftus runs the influential Debunking Christianity blog and has written several books that seem to have made quite a splash. His words will be in blue.

* * * * *

Former pastor John Loftus wants to be taken so seriously by Christians. And some do take him seriously (even Norman Geisler seems to). I was inclined to do so myself, until I ventured onto his blog last year and saw how he actually interacted with Christians (contrary to the noble, lofty sentiments of his blog’s stated approach to discussion).

Yet another forum that purported to abide by high standards of ethics in discussion, but in fact fails abominably in holding to them, or else enforces the rules (if at all) with a blatant double standard . . . I’ve seen it a hundred times, and (sad to say) Christian forums (Catholic and Protestant alike) do little better, if at all.

Blogs seemed to be on a higher level for a while, but now they seem to be rapidly going the way of the old discussion boards. Human nature, I reckon. It’s always been difficult to achieve a true, constructive dialogue, and it always will be, because people too often take such disagreement personally and don’t know how to do a dialogue (having never learned).

The apex of my experience at Debunking Christianity was when Loftus went ballistic because I (imagine this!!!) criticized his story of “deconversion” from Christianity. You would have thought it was the end of western civilization. He threw another hissy fit when I critiqued another argument of his, about God. This guy obviously can’t take any criticism. He’s clearly not interested in dialogue with Christians. But he loves to preach to us, because that is the one-way monologue that he prefers (more on that below). He has carried his love of preaching from the pulpit to atheist polemics.

Recently, after a similar ridiculous experience on the ExChristian.Net site (when I outrageously dared to critique the deconversion of the Grand Poobah there: Dave Van Allen), Loftus showed up on my blog and basically agreed with Van Allen that I “trolled” atheist sites (rather than attempting to engage in serious back-and-forth, socratic discussion, which is always my goal in conversing with anyone of different beliefs).

I documented how the charge of trolling was ludicrous, showing how I had stayed at Debunking Christianity for three and a half months, and had engaged in 19 major dialogues with several people. Many atheists (like many Christians and many human beings, period) don’t like it when you disagree with them and can give solid reasons why.

Loftus keeps harping on me to read his book, Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Atheist Explains. He has made the ludicrous claim that virtually any Christian brave enough to read it would almost certainly lose his faith (can you believe the hubris of that??!!). I have said that if he sent me a review copy, I’d be happy to do an extensive critique of the book.

He refuses, implying that I am simply looking for a freebie. For my part, I offered him a free e-book version of my book about atheism: Christian Worldview vs. Postmodernism, saying that this dispute was not about money, but about truth.

Anyway, when Loftus showed up on my blog, I was willing to give him another shot. After all, we all blow it sometimes and hopefully we learn from our mistakes and try to do better. He seemed serious and sincere, and wrote:

Many of our beliefs contain an irreducible personal element to them, and we subsequently have a strong tendency to rationally support what we have come to believe on less than rational grounds. Some feel the need to defend what they believe more than others, like you, and me . . . I have written some things on these issues. Take a good look at them. If you choose to respond let me know when you do. (9-29-07 on my blog)

I did make it clear, though, that if I were to do this, he would have to do a better job of interacting, and not erupt again in a spasm of irrational insult, as in our previous encounters:

Hope you are doing well these days. . . . What reason would I have to believe you could maintain your composure in a dialogue? You haven’t yet with me . . . I seek dialogue with people who don’t have to make everything personal and take everything personally. Perhaps you have undergone a major change of approach since our previous encounters? (9-30-07)

John Loftus replied:

I’m doing well, kind burned out right now, but thank you. You too. . . . Our testimonies merely share a personal story. You can liken them to people at AA meetings who share what alcohol did to them and why they are leaving it behind them. They contain arguments, of course, but they are also very personal. It’s hard not to react strongly when someone basically says we shouldn’t feel the way we do, because feelings are also expressed. Doing what you do gets a rise out of us because of this. The webmaster at ex-christian.net responded beautifully to your critique, I thought. I just think you would do better to deal with our arguments, the kind that I linked to earlier, that’s all . . . the reason you provoked my ire is that you came to DC and evaluated personal testimonies, not our arguments, and as I said these stories are personal. Just like Christian testimonies they express to the “choir” their initial reasons and they express their personal feelings about why they left the Christian faith. Cheers. Tell you what, deal with what I said here. (9-30-07)

Now, does that strike you as a sincere and fairly friendly challenge? If you agree, then you got the same impression that I received myself. So I resolved to make a response to the papers he asked me to look over, but not without trepidation (as it turned out, more than justified). I wrote:

The strong insults from John, as I recall now, actually began during this series on evil, before I ever critiqued his deconversion. So he was reacting emotionally to arguments other than simply his (as he says) simplified, less-serious-of-an-argument deconversion story. I’m willing to give his papers another shot, but the proof is in the pudding, as to whether an actual dialogue will occur, minus the extraneous, unhelpful elements of emotionalism and personal sensitivity. (9-30-07)

And so, last Sunday (the entire afternoon), I issued a careful, point-by-point reply (Reply to Former Christian John Loftus’ “Outsider Test of Faith” Series). I thought this would be a good start-up of a new discussion (anyone can read it and judge for themselves), if indeed Loftus were truly willing to do that. He asked me to reply to his stuff, and I did (despite our troubled past interactions, due to his hypersensitivity to any criticism). What more can one do?

The warning flags went up even before I had issued the new paper. Loftus (bless his ex-Christian heart) had to act like an idiot before he even saw what I wrote. He regurgitated on my blog:

I don’t care if you give us another shot. You were personally rude. You have all the answers. The rest of us are just dumb. Or you can help Scot out who earlier asked you to answer me. [indeed, I did that] You could just wait to see my book, Why I Became an Atheist due out from Prometheus Books at the end of February. No freebies, like you had asked for earlier. While my focus is on evangelical Christianity, your view won’t escape criticism either.  Cheers. (9-30-07)

One can only shake one’s head at such foolish stupidity. Like I said, Loftus wants so badly to be taken seriously, yet he seems paradoxically determined to destroy his own credibility with behavior like this. But this was only the beginning, pitifully enough, as we shall see. Now he has proved that he wasn’t even asking sincerely for me to critique his thoughts, and was merely playing games. I protested:

What a shame. And I thought it could have been a good discussion too. So many times with (usually angry, irrationally emotional) atheists, it is over before it even begins. He asked for a reply, I gave it, and before he even waited to see if I would reply or what I would say, he has insulted me as a pompous know-it-all. (9-30-07)

Rather than make the slightest counter-reply to my lengthy, substance-filled paper, here is how Loftus reacted:

I have answered your objections clearly and decisively in my book, which is being recommended by some interesting and important people. You seem to only be aware of my older book which is no longer available. [I merely used a photo of the older version because it had his picture on it] Get my present book. Or better yet, pre-order the Prometheus Books edition.

I’m not interested in giving out a free book to you, because I do not believe you will give it a fair hearing, and I certainly don’t think it will change your mind even if what I wrote is the truth, which I think it is. It’s a non-sequitur to argue that I won’t give you a freebie because I am interested in your money. I am not interested in your money, but I won’t buy my book (which is what I’d have to do), and give it to you. Maybe you can contact Prometheus Books and maybe you can have them send you a free copy for review. That’d be fine with me. (9-30-07)

And (as if I hadn’t written anything at all):

This post of mine is a good summation of what I’m arguing for. How exactly is it that what you just wrote refutes it? (9-30-07)

This seems to be a new pattern of atheist-Christian interaction, too (along with the angry atheist tendency and the ubiquituous charges that we are unalterably opposed to science and reason itself, are “insane” and “hateful” and need infantile “crutches” and so forth): Loftus himself asked me to respond to his reasoning in some particular papers, and I took my time to carefully do so, and then he acted like this. Loftus continued to relentlessly hound me to read his book (as if such pleas and provocations are what motivate me to write anything):

Dave, have you seen this? You really ought to take a good look at my book. People are being led astray from reading it, ya know. And you could set them straight. The longer you wait…..well, you know. (10-3-07)

I made the obvious response:

I made a lengthy critique of exactly what you wanted me to critique, and it wasn’t your deconversion. Ball’s in your court. Why should I move on to something else when that wasn’t yet responded to? (10-3-07)

That’s fine. I respond to your objections in my book, and it would take too lengthy of the comment space here to deal with what you wrote. If you don’t understand that, then fine. Cheers. (10-3-07)

I had had more than enough of this run-around-the-rosie silliness and folly by then, and blasted Loftus (with complete justification, as far as I am concerned):

Great. Next time you challenge me to respond to something you write, I’ll understand that you have no intention of counter-responding, and will take that into account as I decide what is worthwhile to spend my time on.

You act as if you’ve written nothing except your blasted book. You write tons on your blog, yet you act as if none of that ought to be critiqued or examined. We’re all supposed to accept it as Gospel Truth, and if we don’t, we get sent to your book because you are unwilling to give any answer to us mere mortals and can only preach to the choir on your blog.

That is intellectually unimpressive in the extreme . .. .

I gave it my best shot with a serious extended reply to exactly what you asked me to reply to. But you had ridiculously insulted me before I even completed my reply. And now this is how you respond.

One either wants to engage in true dialogue with competing ideas or they don’t. You clearly do not, and only want to preach (which makes sense, being a former pastor; you just changed congregations). (10-3-07)

Well, lo and behold, now new self-revelations from Loftus come out. He was never serious in the first place about wanting a reply, and was just playing games. In a word, he is a liar. He wrote on a thread at ExChristian.Net: the same one I participated in, in my visit there:

Dave Armstrong is not worth people’s time. He comes blasting in, we blast back, he demands an apology, we apologize, he accepts without doing the same, he moves on. So what I do is to challenge him to respond to an argument of mine. That keeps him busy for an hour or two or three. I figure the time it takes for him to respond keeps him out of my hair. But it does no good to dialogue with him, I’ve found. So when he’s done I thank him and refer him to my book. It’s fun really. Like I said, if he was worth my time I would dialogue with him. But he’s not for several reasons. (10-6-07)

There you have it, folks: the perfect, most appropriate, tragi-comic ending to the whole fiasco: Loftus wasn’t the slightest bit interested in dialogue from the outset. He was lying and attempting to manipulate my use of time, by pretending to want a dialogue when he really had not the slightest intention of doing so from the beginning. The behavior doesn’t exactly line up with the rhetoric . . .

Or else (since John Loftus is manifestly a liar, anything is possible now), he actually did want to dialogue, but saw my response and concluded that he had no decent reply, and so (as an evasion tactic) had to revise the history of what happened, to make out that he never did want to dialogue. Rather, he ventured bravely onto fellow atheist territory to announce further insults.

Either way, the man has amply proven how pathetic his personal ethics are, and what an intellectual coward he is. All he had to do was shut his big mouth for a few hours, read my lengthy, serious reply that he asked for, and make an intelligent, non-insulting counter-reply. That could have put us on an entirely different plane of discussion. It would have been a positive, hopeful thing. Something good may have actually resulted from it. But he just couldn’t do that.

And why is that? Because I am an “idiot” (as he has called me in the past) and “not worth people’s time”? Or is it because he cannot answer a serious Christian objection to his skeptical atheist nonsense? You decide. I have laid out the history of what happened, so you can use your critical faculties and decide what has gone on here. For my part, I think the truth is plain to see.

My blog is all about friendly, open, honest, mutually respectful dialogue and hearing both sides. I debate all kinds of belief-systems, and have engaged in somewhere between 450 and 500 dialogues (I no longer keep track, but I know it is at least 450). But Loftus and Van Allen and their blogs are not about that. They are about preaching to the choir, mocking and trashing Christians and Christianity and emotional backslapping and warm fuzzies: one atheist to another.

One can still find fair-minded, rational atheists (like Jim Arvo and Huey Heard) even on blogs like these. But for every one of them there are at least nine (vocal) insulting, irrationally angry or mocking atheists / agnostics / skeptics. And it is almost impossible to talk intelligently with an Arvo or a Heard without a bunch of patronizing nitwits trying to butt in and immediately bring the discussion down to the mudslinging pit.

But as soon as Heard came over to my blog, such a normal conversation was entirely possible and we actually came to a refreshing friendly agreement and a measure of understanding.

***

(originally 10-4-07)

Photo credit: Fight with Cudgels (1823: detail), by Francisco Goya (1746-1828) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

February 14, 2018

Former Christian pastor, now atheist John W. Loftus is a big name now in the atheist world, with lots of books, and his popular blog Debunking Christianity. The following is drawn from remarks made on his blog. His words will be in blue. His older words will be in purple, and my past words in green.
* * * * *

Here are my own shots at solving the problem. I don’t claim all that much for them, except that I think they exhibit some degree of thought and that they’re not lightweight, breezy attempts at solutions. The latter debate I consider one of the best I have had with anyone: Christian or atheist (I wonder if Mike is still around on the Internet these days?):

“Christian Replies to the Argument From Evil (Free Will Defense): Is God Malevolent, Weak, or Non-Existent Because of the Existence of Evil and Suffering?”

“Dialogue With an Atheist on the “Problem of Good” and the Nature of Meaningfulness in Atheism (The Flip Side of the Problem of Evil Argument Against Christianity)” (vs. Mike Hardie)

These constitute one Christian attempt to grapple with the problem. I am more than willing to defend my points of view and even to admit that I have no answer in particulars if that is the case (or to retract particulars if that is required, too).

Best wishes to both sides in the debate, and let it be a fair fight!

Dave Armstrong, I skimmed through the essays on your Blog and what I saw what [sic] that you simply do not understand the problem.

You can’t determine that by skimming long papers on such a weighty topic. The least you could do is show me what you claim I don’t understand: educate the ignorant and get them up to speed.

I saw no interaction with David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion on this, and that only takes you up to the 18th century.

Hume believed in a deity of some sort (though not the Christian God), so whatever he concluded about evil did not, obviously, make him an atheist (and that is far closer to my position than to yours). Many people seem not to know this, but there it is. See my paper: Was Skeptical Philosopher David Hume an Atheist?

Christian philosopher Dr. James F. Sennett has said: “By far the most important objection to the faith is the so-called problem of evil – the alleged incompatibility between the existence or extent of evil in the world and the existence of God. I tell my philosophy of religion students that, if they are Christians and the problem of evil does not keep them up at night, then they don’t understand it.”

I agree completely, which is why I made a very similar comment on this blog recently. Just three days ago, I wrote in a thread under one of your posts:

I think I glanced at your deconversion. Wasn’t the problem of evil key? I consider that the most serious objection to Christianity (though, not, of course, fatal at all, as you’d expect). So while I could still quibble with that, it would be in an entirely different league from the sort of shallow stuff that usually constitutes reasons for deconversions.

You know how that goes: there are reasons that one disagrees with, while considering them highly respectable and serious and worthy of attention, and others which are downright frivolous and trivial or plainly fallacious.

Obviously, you missed that, or you wouldn’t quote my own belief back to me. And so your next statement becomes literally, nonsensical, since you thought that I would disagree with what Sennett said, but I do not; therefore, you are the one who doesn’t understand my position on this (whatever you think of its merits). And of course, understanding of opposing positions is fundamental to any decent dialogue.

Dave, YOU don’t understand the problem. Sorry to tell you this.

See the above remarks. I’m willing to interact with anyone who wants to show me where my reasoning went astray in my long paper on the subject. If you decline, that’s fine. Perhaps someone else would be willing to do so.

I find it humorous, too, that I cited very long passages from St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. If I don’t understand the problem, then neither do they, so the result would be that two of the very greatest thinkers in Christian history don’t have a clue about the problem of evil; only atheists do. Or else they understood the problem but I didn’t, even though I cited them in agreement. That brings us back to the logical nonsense of me agreeing with and citing people who understand the problem, yet I supposedly do not.

Right. I think you need to give it another try. I couldn’t care less whether you want to dialogue with me on this subject (or any other) or not (I manage to find many dialogue partners; no problem); but I would expect of you something better than this flimsy sort of response and misrepresentation of the position of Christian opponents.

I’ll be dealing with your deconversion story (as much as I can find online), and when I do that, I won’t misrepresent or breezily dismiss what you believe. But if you misunderstand Christian doctrine (as almost inevitably happens in any such cases that I have examined), I will certainly point that out.

[see: Critique of Atheist John W. Loftus’ “Deconversion” Story [10-15-06]

*

*
In any event, I won’t approach your writing with this silly attitude of “I skimmed your [long, involved] papers and you just don’t get it, so I won’t spend any time giving you the courtesy of showing you why you don’t understand the problem; instead I’ll quote Christian philosophers to you who say exactly what you said in a comment under a post of mine three days ago — as if you would disagree with them.”

C’mon; certainly you’re capable of much better than that . . . and if you aren’t, then hopefully someone on this blog is. I started out here in high hopes that good dialogue could be had! I haven’t given up yet . . .

* * * * *

I did notice your comment about evil, but even though you said this doesn’t mean you understand the depth of the problem. 

Even if that is true (which I deny), you give me no reason why you think this is the case.

I was in a hurry at the time I skimmed through your papers. I’ll look them over again. 

Thank you.

But anyone who attempts to deal with the problem of evil who mainly uses Augustine and Aquinas isn’t caught up to speed on the whole debate since Hume. 

I didn’t primarily use them. Above I made the point that if you want to play the “ignorance” game, you’ll have to include Aquinas and Augustine and I don’t think many people will buy an interpretation that they were ignoramuses, no matter what period they happened to live in.

And anyone today who wants to comment on the debate who doesn’t take into consideration William Rowe’s, Paul Draper’s, Michael Martin’s, Quentin Smith’s, Bruce Russell’s and Theodore Drange’s arguments still doesn’t understand the problem.

This is irrational. One doesn’t have to read all the philosophers to have any intelligent comment at all on a topic. That is simply academic elitism, and I don’t play that game. I’m not an academic and don’t claim to be. I’m a Christian apologist. But to say not only that someone can’t have a constructive, decent dialogue on a topic unless they’ve read a, b, c, d, etc. but that they can’t even comprehend the depth of the problem of proposed difficulty, is sheer nonsense.

Granted, the more one reads on anything, the better prepared and informed they will be, but you aren’t just saying that: you make out that reading these guys is an absolute requirement to even have the discussion or be regarded as a worthy dialogue partner/opponent.

In effect, then, this reduces to: either one has to know all the ins and outs of philosophical minutiae or else one can’t sensibly discuss the problem of evil at all. I vehemently deny this. I may not know all the intricacies of all these arguments as well as you do (freely granted), but that doesn’t mean I can’t spot a flaw in the arguments that I can read and comprehend as well as anyone else. Since I am a Socratic in method, that’s mainly what I do, anyway.

Even Alvin Plantinga thinks it is perfectly reasonable and rational for a Christian to hold certain beliefs without knowing all the ins and outs of the current philosophical discussion. And he is no slouch, as I have heard many atheists agree. He opposes academic elitism and snobbery, as I do.

When my debate transcript and video are made available you’ll see a glimpse of what the problem really is all about.

I see. So being a Christian apologist and having regarded the problem as a very serious and worthy objection for 25 years isn’t sufficient to have any inkling of the depth of the problem. I have to see your video to get a glimpse of how ignorant I really am.

I had so much more to share if needed, too. 

I’m sure you did. So did I when I wrote my papers.

Until then I wish you well. You’re a bright thinker, and I look forward to dialoguing with you on this issue in the future. 

Not if the requirement is to read a bunch of atheists first. If you want to discuss one such paper by one of these guys, great. I’d be happy to do that, anytime. I’d even gladly read, say, long online articles by each of these folks (but not books). And I would reply to them unless I felt that it was too philosophically technical and out of my reach in that sense.

And dialogue on this issue I will. But do me the favor first in reading up on the modern debates, okay?…that is, if you haven’t already.

I’ve read plenty on the topic. One can always read more. I don’t have unlimited time to devote to one topic. The apologist (esp. the Catholic apologist) has many many issues to write about and defend. You can wait till I read the books you think I should read if you like. In the meantime, I will start responding to comments I find here. If you want to counter-respond, fine; if not, fine. It’s of little concern to me. I dialogue with whomever is willing to do so, and I critique whatever I think is worthwhile to critique, whether the person is willing or able to reply back or not. Usually people can’t defend their own viewpoints; that’s been my experience.

Dialogue it is then! Forget my deconversion story. I know what you’ll say about science and Genesis 1-11, since you’ve already written about that.

Then I’ll skip that part and deal with others, but it will be dealt with (especially after the ridiculous, intellectually triumphalistic remarks you made about it that I saw cited at Steve Hays’ site):

[I’m saying the case I make in my new book is overwhelmingly better.

Again, are you going to read it 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.]

I would reply briefly that if all it takes (in the sense of immediate cause) to “kill” someone’s faith is a personal crisis, then obviously such a person did not understand the intellectual reasons for why they are a Christian in the first place, since if they had, a mere crisis would not have the effect of transforming one into an atheist, as it is merely an emotional reaction and not a rational one. This rather proves the point that the atheist objections tend to come down to, in the end, emotional and irrational factors. That’s why they’re so big on the problem of evil. It’s a very serious objection, as I’ve stated above and have always thought, but on the other hand, it’s also very rich in possibilities for emotional exploitation, rhetoric, polemics, and so forth, because everyone feels so strongly about suffering and evil.

***

[two days later]

Hitler is either “allowed” by necessity of human free will or else we have no free will.

This is a false dichotomy. 

Well, it is an argument from plausibility, based on the more involved logical background arguments of Alvin Plantinga.

Didn’t God harden Pharoah’s heart?

No. This is another instance (one of many I have documented) of atheists not properly understanding the Bible and how to sensibly interpret it. Shame on you, as a former pastor, with a multiple Masters degrees in theology, as this is a rather simple matter.

When the Bible says that God did this, it is in the particular sense of “God allowed the Pharaoh to become hardened of his own accord, then used it for His purposes, to free the Hebrew slaves.” In other words, it is a typically vivid, pungent, dramatic Hebrew way of speech: “God did it [in the sense of it being ultimately used for His purposes, in His providence].”

Because it is pre-philosophical language, all that is bypassed and the writer just says “God hardened Pharaoh.” But nevertheless, other passages give the true sense, so it can be better understood. Thus, the literature teaches by deduction what might be expressed in more logical-type language all in one sentence.

Accordingly, we have the Bible saying God hardened Pharaoh, many times (e.g., Ex. 4:21; 7:3,13; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8 etc,), and even hardening the Egyptians (14:17), but it also says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex 8:15; 8:32; 9:34; 1 Sam 6:6).

Furthermore, it simply states the fact of hardening without saying who did it (Ex 7:14,22; 8:19; 9:7,35) and that one shouldn’t harden one’s own heart, as a generality (Deut 15:7; Ps 95:8; Heb 3:8,15; 4:7).

The obvious, straightforward way to interpret all this data is as I have done. It is not contradictory: neither internally, nor with regard to the problem of evil. One understands this insofar as one also is familiar with the Hebrew oft-poetic, non-literal manner of speaking.

If you want to directly compare that world with human beings, and make us merely an evolutionary development of it (i.e., in a completely naturalistic sense; I am not condemning theistic evolution), then you have huge problems of your own, since how can you argue that cannibalism is more wrong for human beings than for animals (especially in a eat-anything-to-survive environment, such as the famous Donner party)? Atheists will play games and make out that people are qualitatively different, but this is nonsensical within your paradigm, which has man evolving directly from this same animal kingdom, wherein survival of the fittest is the natural order of things.

This is irrelevant to the theistic problem of evil. It’s a red herring, for it sidetracks the problem of why God set up predation in the natural world. 

I was simply responding to your statement: “In the natural world something must be killed so that some other carnivore can eat. This is the world your God set up.” I didn’t claim that it had anything directly to do with the problem of evil. It was, in effect, a footnote.

We could deal with this issue, if you want to do so sometime, but let’s stick to the issue at hand. 

Gladly. Like I said, I was simply responding to what you wrote. It didn’t sidetrack me.

Why didn’t God make us vegetarians? There are naturally existing vegetarian animals.

He did, originally (and some Christians adopt this view on Christian grounds, though it is tough, since Jesus ate fish). Christians usually argue that meat-eating was a result of the fall and not the ideal situation. The fall was as a result of free will; hence not able to be blamed on God (that only applies to supralapsarian Calvinism: itself a small minority of a minority school).

That makes him worse than Hitler by a long long shot.

Really? I don’t see how:

1) God allows free will.
2) Free will entails the possibility of rebellion and evil.
3) Hitler ushered in one such massive societal rebellion against civilization and evil campaign.
4) God is to blame for Hitler’s evil because He allowed free will.
5) Man isn’t to blame for Hitler’s evil, even though he had the capacity to prevent it altogether.

Could God have given Hitler a heart attack and end the war? 

Certainly. The fact that He didn’t is no proof that He isn’t good, if some other plausible scenario can be imagined, consistent with His goodness.

Could utopian, naively pacifistic, Fabian socialist, occult- and sex-obsessed Englishmen in the 1930s have stopped the German military build-up, which was obvious? Yes. Can God be blamed because they didn’t? Nope. Can WWII be directly blamed on their failure to see the writing on the wall? Yes, of course.

You can’t start a war if you don’t have the military weaponry to do so in the first place, it seems obvious to me. But all you want to do is blame God because He didn’t strike down the madman. Isn’t it better for us to do that: does the parent have to do absolutely everything for his child when the child is capable? Clearly not. You act like human beings are like babies who can do nothing; hence God must do everything by way of preventing any evil.

This is a clear case where He didn’t have to do so. Men could have done everything necessary to prevent it. And in fact we did end it when we woke up to what was happening; after London was bombed, etc. Self-interest and self-defense. Pearl Harbor quickly got isolationist America in the war, didn’t it? Prior to that even London being bombed wasn’t enough. That wakes people up fast and motivates them to do what they avoided doing previously. 9-11 did the same in our own time, but it didn’t take long for certain schools of thought to put their heads in the sand again and pretend that fighting back isn’t necessary.

If so, he could’ve stopped a thousand Hitlers.

Yes; no argument there. The question at hand is whether He must do so in order to be believed to be as Christians think Him to be. We say no.

This is irrational. It makes no more sense to blame God for the evil choices of creatures he created free than it does to blame a good parent for sins of a child of his or her own volition, committed after the parent trusted the child to be responsible with its freedom. You can’t blame one being for the sins of another; at some point there is individual responsibility. That’s why it is ridiculous to blame God for Hitler.

If a mother gave a two-year old a razor blade she would be held culpable. And if she sat by and did nothing while my older brother beat me to death she could be considered an accomplice.

That’s correct. But in the case of the two-year-old, the mother is clearly culpable because the child isn’t old enough to know that it could be harmed by a razor blade (till it starts cutting, that is, then it can figure out some causal relationship, I think). That just proves my point that you are irrationally regarding the human race and adults with brains and responsibilities for free actions, as the equivalent of babies in diapers, with rattles rather than adult brains and the capacity to make intelligent and virtuous choices.

The other example at least makes a little sense (though you didn’t give an age of the brothers). There I would say that this is our responsibility as humans: to prevent harm insofar as possible. As for God in this analogy, I could easily argue that He set the world in motion and allowed free will because He wanted us to be responsible and to do good ourselves, not rely on Him to automatically make every situation we have screwed up right again. In effect, it is allowing His grown-up children to look after themselves. That’s what the analogy of God to parents involves, too.

Now God can intervene at times, but it’ll be the exception, just as a parent would assume that children of a certain age should be able to get along without killing each other. The human race knows more than enough to stop warring with each other and butchering children in their mothers’ wombs, but it doesn’t because of sin.

What’s so complicated about knowing that it is bad to start killing each other for greedy reasons or sexual “freedom” or no reason at all in many cases? We can solve that ourselves, but evil and the propensity of man for evil makes what should be simple, impossible to achieve in fact.

I don’t see that God is under an absolute obligation to rectify things that we have screwed up. He has promised a better world that He will rule, where all things will eventually be made right. That’s more than enough, in my opinion. We don’t even deserve that. We all should be condemned to hell for our corporate rebellion, but God in His great mercy gives us a chance to repent and be saved.

But even if that made any sense, why do you atheists not give God any credit for all the good which comes from free will? If you want to hold Him accountable for all the bad things that men do to each other, or the natural events that can hardly be otherwise in a sensible, orderly universe, then how come you never give Him any credit for anything?

Because there is so much unalleviated suffering in the world we just don’t think there is a God.

That didn’t answer my question. I agree there is a lot of evil and that it is a difficulty to understand. I asked why you never give God (even a hypothetical God, for the sake of argument) any credit; only blame for bad stuff that is often clearly man’s fault?

Hitler’s Germany was a Christian nation and all you can do is to ask about Hitler from my perspective?

The people may have been, but the regime was not, by any stretch of the imagination. It was a grotesque mixture of corrupted romanticism, paganism, and occultism. The Final Solution was not justified on Christian grounds.

So I suppose American slavery was not justified on Christian grounds either? 

No; it certainly was. But wrongly so. Biblical servanthood (and often, pagan servanthood) is not nearly the same thing as American slavery was. The Bible condemned the oppressive sort of slavery. Ever heard of the Exodus from Egypt? That’s why black slaves often saw that as an analogy: God desired them to be free, just as with the Hebrew Egyptian slaves. It was only the characteristic of greed that caused Christians to justify such outrages.

But that was a clever way of switching the subject, wasn’t it? Perhaps you hoped that I wouldn’t notice, or that readers wouldn’t? Ah, but not when I point it out.

Who speaks for Christianity? 

Another rabbit trail. I would say as a Catholic, that the pope does, preeminently.

You? 

I do, insofar as I am a Catholic lay apologist devoted to defending Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, and representing the beliefs of that system to the very best of my ability, and in submission to its authority.

Based upon hindsight?

Based upon the history of Christianity, the Bible, Church authority, authoritative apostolic tradition, and reason.

If He stopped Hitler by the miraculous and abrogation of his free will, then we would have a world where no one was free, and every bad, evil thing is immediately prevented

False dichotomy. You’ve just got to stop thinking in terms of extremes and clear black and whites here. 

It’s not extreme. It is a conclusion based on an unspoken chain of reasoning (and a sort of reductio ad absurdum). You guys say God should intervene practically at every turn, and prevent all these evils. If He can do so once, then (according to you, it seems), He ought to do so massively, in every case, since why would one be more worthy of attention than another? Why should God not immediately heal a child’s scrape or a hang nail or a blister or pimple if He is required to alleviate every misery known to man, in order to be believed for what He is?

There is no sensible stopping point. So I say it is most logical to believe that He simply lets the world operate according to the laws of nature and the results of human free will, with only rare miraculous intervention (yes, even up to and including Hitler).

The other sort of world makes no sense to me. It really doesn’t. But heaven makes sense to me. That is different precisely because to enter it we had to pass some sort of test, and accept the grace that God gave us in order to be saved. Then we can have perfect happiness.

God clearly directed free willed creatures in the Bible, it’s claimed, so why not do something about the horrendous evils which lead atheists to say he doesn’t exist if God wants us to believe? 

Precisely because those same free willed creatures are able to alleviate most suffering themselves. Atheists will find reasons not to believe no matter what. We maintain that there is more than enough evidence for theism and Christianity. That’s why many thinking people accept it and why atheism has always been a minority viewpoint even in western civilization, with all its marvelous intellectual and technological, artistic and musical and architectural achievements.

God makes your task harder and harder all of the time. I don’t envy your task here. 

I’m doing fine, thank you. I’m not trembling under your supposed profundities of anti-Christian argument, as you seem to think we all will, if we read your stuff. To the contrary, invariably when I take on opposing arguments, my faith grows stronger. It happens every time, and is one of the blessings of professional apologetics. I get to make the arguments and get the added bonus of having my faith strengthened by observing how the non-Christian arguments routinely fail to hit their mark and achieve their purpose, or to see how they are downright fallacious.

But God could avert these tragedies, if for no other reason to help you out in explaining why evil exists.

I think whatever the reason is that He allows them (and I believe Christians probably have a pretty good idea at least about some possible reasons why He does so), it wouldn’t be for any reason so trivial as that.

You say my moral code is subjectively chosen? Well then, where does your God’s moral code come from?

It’s eternal. Therefore, it “comes from” nothing. It always existed in God. God is Love. Yours is certainly subjective because you can’t create an absolute larger than yourself and applicable to all, no matter how hard you try. That has to come from a Being Who transcends creation and mankind itself.

That’s of course another subject, and I consistently refuse to be drawn off-topic while an important, meaty debate is already taking place. But some day I’d be happy to.

***

(originally 10-11-06)

Photo credit: John Loftus at SASHAcon 2016 at the University of Missouri (3-19-16). Photograph by Mark Schierbecker [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

***

November 16, 2015

. . . And of Course, “Jittery John” Again Explodes . . . 
 Volcano
[Flickr /  CC BY 2.0 license]
(11-30-06)
“Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.”

Job 38:3 (RSV)

“Pour forth the overflowings of your anger, and look on every one that is proud, and abase him . . . bring him low; and tread down the wicked where they stand.”

Job 40:11-12

 

This amazing display of condescension came about after I commented on a post from atheist John W. Loftus (author of a bunch of books and webmaster of the influential Debunking Christianity website), having to do with whether God was in time or not. John has a history (with me, at any rate) of flying off the handle, rather than presenting rational counter-replies, when some criticism is offered. The classic case was when I dared to offer criticisms of his deconversion story. His reaction has to be seen to be believed.

I had hoped that (with the passage of time) he had gotten over this skittishness and hair-trigger defensiveness and condescension where I am concerned, but alas, it was not to be. He has even “upped the ante” and continued a stream of insults toward me, for (quite outrageously) being and acting like a Christian confident in his faith and able to defend it. In the past, he has called me a “joke” and an “arrogant idiot” among other things. He has yet to retract any of the epithets.

Now, I’m the first to gladly assert that his reaction should not be seen as one that typifies atheists, or disproves any particular atheist version of reality. Neither is true. But that is not my purpose at present; rather, it is to show how even intelligent people (John has two masters’ degrees) can become utterly irrational and unreasonable when confronted with criticism of their arguments, and how harmful this is to the intellectual endeavor. This is how not to do it, folks!

There is also some considerable humor and amusement to be enjoyed (the section about “obvious”); I simply couldn’t resist. He laid himself out wide open on that one; provided the rope to hang him with. John’s words will be in blue.

* * * * *

. . . look these arguments up before you comment further. Please do my readers a favor here. Read up on this topic before you continue to waste space. Let other more informed people comment.

ME: On the other hand, it is obvious that God must be outside of time, if one accepts the description of Him that the Bible offers.

That he walked in the cool of the Garden of Eden? That he showed Moses his back side? That he appeared to Abraham? That he changed his mind? That he visited us in Jesus? You are ignorant if you think what you just said is obvious.

. . . Anthropomorphism. That saves you, doesn’t it? Then show me one verse in the Bible that could not have been written by an ancient superstitious person. Just one. Show me where there was a prediction of the computer chip, or a vaccine for Polio. Show me where God told people about the vastness and age of the universe.

ME: I suspect you are slanting his full argument. If he is orthodox, he would not put it in such despairing terms.

Read it yourself. Why is it that you distrust what I say? If you distrust what I say then why bother to comment on this at all? Just say you don’t believe he said this and move on.

[I didn’t say I distrusted it, only that there was possible bias in presenting the Christian’s argument]

Dave, you present your uninformed arguments as if everyone should agree with you, and that is what I object to.

You used the words “obvious” and “obviously” twice in this last comment alone, when not even all Christians will agree with you, much less atheists. Why do you continue to insist that the things you believe are obvious? That’s what I think is ignorant of you, for if they were obvious no one would disagree.

But that’s not all. You state “it is nonsensical and utterly illogical.” You state “This is radically unbiblical,” and “impossible exegetically.”

You annoy me, not because of your arguments, but because of your ill placed confidence. Any educated person would not state the things you do with such arrogance. That’s all.

Besides, it does nothing for your argument to add the word “obviously” to it. And if you were informed as you say about this, then you would know that such interpretatons are not impossible since Christians themselves think otherwise.

I mean, really, 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.

You keep being personally insulting, John, and I’ll keep making arguments (just like when I critiqued your deconversion). People can see through that.

If I’m as big of a dolt and an ignoramus as you endlessly contend, then surely you’ll be able to blow my arguments out of the water.

But of course, since you’re far less “confident” than I am, this handicap (or virtue, depending on one’s point of view) would OBVIOUSLY present an opposing counter-weight to your doing so.

Which scholar, for instance, would you point to who says his arguments are obvious?

I don’t know who’s a scholar or who isn’t, but I’ll use examples from this very blog:

Obviously, the problem is that each author of the various books treats ‘Faith’ as something differently.

(DagoodS, 11-1-06)

(I won’t argue whether such a conception of “degrees of individuality” is “true or not” in a philosophical sense, which will obviously get us no where, since how could one prove any of my assumptions above at all)?

(Ed Babinski, 10-20-06)

Obviously, this passage presents some theological difficulties for early Christians. This passage seems to run against the notion that Jesus is God.


(Bill Curry, 11-6-06)

. . . God must take the sum total of His wrath out on the most unworthy recipient, a wholly guiltless individual, who also happens to be Himself? Why is such a belief necessary? And why do Christian creeds insist on the necessity of such a belief, when it obviously does not appeal to all, nor even make sense to all?

(Ed Babinski, 10-20-06)

Conclusive proof that the Bible is NOT inerrant. [title] . . . The God who created the Universe, stars, planets, and our own Sun, obviously wasn’t aware of the very astronomical phenomena he created.

(Desolate-Paladin, 6-21-06)

Steve is obviously committing a fallacious appeal to authority, considering he hasn’t yet even evaluated my writing in order to refute it on the grounds of “no formal credentials”.

(Daniel Morgan, 5-11-06)

The Establishment Clause is best understood by the Lemon Test. This situation fails the test on obvious grounds, . . .

(Daniel Morgan, this very day: 11-30-06)

The message was as obvious as anything, but I tried to look for answers. I read up on the responses from all the theological camps, from the conservatives (Blomberg, Marshall, McKnight, Wright, Witherington) to moderates (Meyer, Brown) to the Jesus Seminar.

(exapologist – almost a scholar, going for his doctorate in philosophy, 9-9-06)

Rather it is a book easily proven to be filled with errors and of obvious human origin.

(s burgener, 11-5-06)

Now let’s say a Calvinist offers an answer and is unconvinced by any of my replies. I never said I could convince those who hold to absolutely idiotic beliefs such as this one, that they are wrong. Any thinking person not already blinded by their faith would see the obvious and serious problem here.

(John W. Loftus, 10-15-06)

[I]t is apparent that upon careful examination, several fundamental elements of the Christian faith do not stand up to outside critiques, or even, in some cases, to several passages in the same book. In the case of the ‘virginal birth’ and the accompanying prophecies, it is obvious that the two critical parts of the faith of Christianity can not logically coexist. But then, logic is not what religion is based upon.

(C.J. Baserap, 5-14-06)

But here’s one scholar, at least: William Lane Craig:

There’s another version of Dr. Ehrman’s objection which is even more obviously fallacious than Ehrman’s Egregious Error. I call it “Bart’s Blunder.”

In this paper, presented by you (6-6-06), you yourself state that Craig is a pretty decent scholar, not an idiot and deluded and presumptuous fool like you think I am: “Craig understands symbolic logic, and uses it to his advantage whenever he can. . . . Craig does a masterful job of it.”

Since Dr. Craig used the outrageous word “obvious” with regard to one of his own arguments, or regarding the “obviously fallacious . . . Egregious Error” [his capital letters] and “Blunder” of an opponent, then he, too must be (as you say I am) “the answer man. Everyone else is ignoring the obvious . . . the hallmark of an ignorant and uneducated man.” Nice little foray into symbolic logic there, John . . .

And again you (5-7-06) cite NT scholar James Dunn (one whom Ed Babinski has tried to cite against my position):

“John’s Gospel is ‘obviously different’ [Dunn] from the other three earlier Gospels in terms of style and content.”

So there is another “ignorant and uneducated” scholar, using this dreaded word “obvious” and thus proving that he has no business commenting on anything at all, with such unmitigated gall and hubris, leading him to possess such inappropriate confidence!

Okay Dave. Fine. Where do you get the time to search these things out? For me to answer you I would have to search out the context of every one of these uses of “obviously.” But let me guess. Craig does this only in debates for rhetorical effect. Others were talking about their own notions and personal experiences. Still others are indeed fairly obvious.

They’re what???!!!

There are other usages you pointed to which I’ll let those who used them speak for themselves. But if I’m arguing against a viewpoint that I know my opponent doesn’t agree with, or if I’m arguing a minority viewpoint, or a contestable viewpoint then it’s ignorant to use the word for anything contestable, especially as much as you use it. And even when you don’t use such a word it’s in the whole tone of what you write.

For instance it is “obvious” to me that Christianity is false.

It’s what???!!! But of course, this is not an arrogant use of the word; only when I use it to defend Christianity. Curious logic . . .

That’s my personal belief, and it’s proper to use this word to describe my personal feelings about Christianity. But to say it’s “obvious” that Christianity is false in an argument that attempts to show another person that it’s false, is ignorant, unless done for rhetorical effect, which is merely rhetorical and has no force at all. Ehrman could’ve simply said “this is not obvious to me.”

That’s interesting. So to describe an argument as “obviously wrong” is insufferably arrogant, but to utilize a number of different arguments to make a statement describing one’s conclusion that an entire religion is obviously false, is perfectly prim and proper. It’s a silly distinction. Just let people say what they want to, and give them the freedom to use whatever words they wish. John finds my style offensive and overly-confident. I find his insulting and condescending. Does he really think my being confident that an argument is “obviously wrong” is more offensive than him calling me an “arrogant idiot” and all the additional insults (most aimed at my knowledge and intelligence) seen presently?

I am annoyed by people like you, and it may be a personality problem. I’m annoyed with pompous self-righteous know-it-all’s, especially when I know they don’t.

See, there you go! LOL Yet another to add to my collection. So John lectures me about supposed attitudes, using examples that don’t prove his point, and then absolutely proves that his attitude is far worse than mine, by any objective criteria.

And that is how you come across. Now it might go over well with your supporters and visitors to your site, but not here. Here you will find people who disagree with you a lot more often.

Not only do you think you’re right when you haven’t read the relevant literature. 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. And in my book that reveals you are an uneducated, ignorant, arrogant know-it-all.

What I am probably going to do is to delete these comments tomorrow so that we can start this discussion all over again. You may copy them if you want to, but they are off track.

Yes, of course (precisely why I knew I had to preserve them). I suppose I would do the same thing, if something made me look like a fool, as this stuff does regarding John.

[to someone else]:

I think people who argue in the manner I see over at Triablogue [an anti-Catholic site], and even Dave Armstrong to some degree, don’t care about us as persons. They only want to show to others, whom they do care for, that we are wrong. Many of them think we are ignorant or willfully ignorant deceivers who don’t care about the truth at all. So they treat us like non-persons.

Yes, of course. I disagree with a position, and this sort of hyper-paranoid tripe is what I get back. But John is clearly (whoops, OBVIOUSLY) showing tons of “care” for me as “person” when he uses the following descriptions (all now a matter of record):

you continue to waste space

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.

I think people who argue in the manner I see over at Triablogue, and even Dave Armstrong to some degree, don’t care about us as persons.

Many of them [implied, including me] think we are ignorant or willfully ignorant deceivers who don’t care about the truth at all. So they treat us like non-persons.

(all on 11-30-06)

Not bad for a day’s work, especially for one who is lecturing another about how to treat folks respectfully. What else has John said about me in the past?:

Dave, as I read this [my critique of his deconversion] I thought to myself, he doesn’t think of me as an equal. He looks down his nose at me. As I’m writing he looks for loopholes. He doesn’t think I was sincere. I’m probably not even a person to him.

You’re a joke. I’m surprised you have an audience. You’re also a psychologist, eh? Wow! . . . Again, you’re a joke.

. . . that quite frankly is stupid of you.

You’re a joke, and I just don’t have the time to teach you what you need to understand.

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.

You have shown yourself to be non-objective with me and to parade before the ignorant how smart and how much more faith you have than I did.

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.

(10-16-06; wow, it’a close call between these two insult-days. I give the nod to 10-16, though, because I love “arrogant idiot” and “joke” the best)

October 9, 2015

MtStHelens

Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption (1980) [public domain / Pixabay]

* * * * *

John W. Loftus runs a large and influential site, Debunking Christianity, and has authored many books of atheist polemics. Previously I had posted my critique of Loftus’ online “Cliff’s Notes” deconversion story, which detailed his odyssey from a Christian pastor to atheism. I also have posted about his ridiculous response to my critique. In that he characterized me as an “idiot . . . joke . . . pompous ass . . . self-assured arrogant idiot . . . ignorant and uneducated . . . self-righteous know-it-all . . .” This was all from nine years ago. After this remarkably petulant display, I had little interest in replying to his writing anymore.

I also had constructed another post on my old blog, from comments, but these were lost (it was the old Haloscan system). Tonight while perusing Debunking Christianity I found a thread that probably contains a lot of what I had formerly posted. It’s entitled, My Deconversion Story — Criticized (10-16-06). Loftus wrote:

Dave Armstrong criticized my deconversion experience here. Please note my comment afterward. Does anyone understand why I don’t bother to respond in detail to such drivel? He wants to fault me. So why bother dialoguing with him about it? No matter what I say, I’ll be wasting my time. Oh, but I wish rather than fault-finding some Christian would seek to understand. But they cannot try, even though on any other issue of disagreement intelligent people will try. It’s called respecting people as people, and Dave’s Christianity does not do that with people who don’t agree with him.

And in comments:

I know there are a few Christians who visit here regularly who knew me when I was a Christian. They could easily dispell [sic] the false assumptions and distortions Dave writes about. Why? Because they know/knew me. But to do so they would have to reveal their names, since an anynomous poster would be dismissed out of hand. And they have reasons for not doing so. Suffice it to say that I was every bit the Christian that Dave now claims to be, except that I was a much better apologist than he. He can dispute this all he wants to, since he doesn’t know me. Fine. I can say no more. . . . 

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. I’m an easy target, because they simply didn’t know me. People like Dave would’ve looked up to me back then, but he has the audacity to go around claiming he is superior to me in both intelligence and with a deeper faith. I seriously doubt that he is, given what I’ve read from him. I was a much better apologist than he is now. And there probably are people smarter and with a deeper faith than I had too, so that doesn’t bother me. It the self-assured arrogant idiots out there, like Dave, who prefer to proclaim off of my personal experience that they are better than I. The fact is they do not know this! I’ll say it again. They do not know this!

I showed up in the comments. I’ll post that below. First, I’d like to cite a few Loftus utterances from posts on his blog that indicate what appears to be a great deal of manifest arrogance on his part (the very thing he accuses me of):

In a post (dated 8-18-15) about his hostility towards atheist Jeff Lowder (who believe that Christians should be approached respectfully), Loftus gives a marvelous display of modesty and self-effacing humility:

. . .  the whole reason my writing gets such wide acclaim is precisely because I do understand Christianity.

. . . someone like myself who, a) has a wide breadth of knowledge, b) has more degrees in the areas Lowder knows something about than he and two of his cheerleaders combined (namely Jim Lippard and Bradley Bowen), and c) has more years thinking and reading about these issues than any of them have been alive.

From all I can see Lowder and his all male white philosophy student cheerleaders lack the breadth I have, and that is more important than having depth. It’s the breadth of knowledge I have that causes me to object to the value they place on the philosophy of religion (and to call for its end in the secular universities). But in fact I have studied it in depth as well. I don’t think the philosophy of religion is that important precisely because I’ve studied it in depth, just as I don’t think the philosophy of science is that important . . . 

It’s the breadth of knowledge I have from years of thinking and reading based on a good solid foundational education that makes the difference. I had more class work with leading evangelical and Jesuit thinkers, theologians, historians, and philosophers to earn my three master’s degrees–including a year and a half of Ph.D. work–than most Ph.D. programs require. [As for the dissertation requirement, just think of my book “Why I Became an Atheist” which is called “a monster of reason and logic” by others]. . . . 

Another divide between us is that Lowder too often disingenuously acts as if he wants an honest dialogue with theists when the real goal is to be respected as more important than he really is (*cough* a self-proclaimed philosopher). With me I don’t need to do this because I have the credentials, the knowledge, and a body of acclaimed work. I can honestly argue for my conclusions without worrying if I’m doing so in a way that will get me respect. [As far as respect goes just look at the authors who wrote chapters for me, and/or wrote blurbs for my books and/or asked me to write blurbs for their books.]

Prominent atheist Richard Carrier wrote a blistering critique (8-21-15) of Loftus’ silly feud with Jeff Lowder. Loftus showed up, offering one of his by-now patented reply-but-not-a-reply evasions:

There is already too much ignorance here for me to respond to, from both you and your commenters. I could respond to everything you and they have said, easily.

Just as he could have responded “easily” to my critique, but somehow never could find the time to do so . . . Carrier made the obvious point at the end of the combox:

And people need to understand if they publish something in public, they get criticized in public. They don’t get to control their critics.

Meanwhile, on his site Loftus blew a gasket and descended to virtual paranoia in this breathtakingly ludicrous reply to Carrier’s article:

Richard Carrier seems upset by my comment above and has said he was going to write a post on it. Who sent it to him? Grimlock? Why do people desire to stir up trouble? Why do others bite? Rather than commenting here to keep this between ourselves, or emailing me about it, Richard decided to escalate it into a blog post with a huge audience, one I don’t have. It must be nice being right about everyone he writes about. Why it’s as if they don’t have brains. Many of his readers may conclude I’m a piece of shit based on just one comment on a blog with over 5000 posts, and about whom I have seven published books. Never mind the damage. Doing so produces drama and drama produces hits, which in turn produces advertiser money which goes into Richard’s pocket. Okay. I guess. . . . 

My dispute is not with him, but with Jeff Lowder, whom I consider to be both dishonest and a hypocrite. . . . 

I knew in advance Richard was writing his post about my “weird” “flameout currently going on” so I emailed him, asking “Do you care to talk?’ No response. So Richard’s problem solving skills are on display. I think he is too smart for his own good. What that means is that Richard is smart enough to justify almost anything, and that’s a recipe for, well, justifying almost anything for personal gain, even though others who are not so smart can see exactly what he’s done, arguing for that which benefits him personally.

I have no ill will toward him. I do toward Jeff Lowder.

I guess anyone who critiques Loftus (even a renowned and credentialed fellow atheist) gets the “you think you’re a know-it-all!” treatment, just as I did nine years ago. In another post (3-6-13), Loftus whines like a six-year-old not picked for a sandlot baseball team, over Dr. William Lane Craig (a philosopher one of the best Protestant apologists and debaters) doesn’t want to debate him. It’s embarrassing to read.  He states:

. . . how many of his debate opponents have written and/or edited the number and quality of books that I have? Reasonable readers can decide for themselves whether I’m a worthy foe.

He goes on and on about how several other people think he is the cat’s meow, and how many blurbs for books he has written (!!!). Then in the comments, after being asked why Dr. Craig won’t debate him, Loftus offers this unbelievably self-important reply:

My best guess is that he really fears me, that is, at a minimum he fears my influence. He does not want to introduce me to a larger audience. He never fears doing that with any of the other atheists he has debated.  Yes, Ray, I’m that good! Have you read any of my works yet? You should!

Wow!

But back to my critique of his deconversion and his hysterical replies.

Ironically, in the combox of Loftus’ post (the one I mentioned at the top), even two atheists came away with a vastly different perception of my critique than Loftus did. Matthew wrote: “the tone of Dave’s critique is a bit pleasant and not really nasty, . . . Dave Armstrong seems a likeable kind of a guy.” Likewise, “whizler” opined:  “I don’t believe Dave Armstrong’s response was directed at you personally. . . . My advice: don’t take it personally. While you may be the putative target, it’s a different audience Dave is speaking to.” Here are my comments in the combox:

I don’t regard faulty premises and thinking as necessarily a character flaw: only if it was deliberate, and I didn’t claim that John’s errors were that.

The apologist’s main audience is the Christian, because they are the ones I am trying to equip to have a rational, defensible, plausible, cogent faith. I don’t expect to persuade any atheist. If it happens, it’s an extra “bonus.” My job is to defeat the “defeaters,” as Alvin Plantinga would say.

If John Loftus must take that personally, when it has nothing to do with that at all, and must do so in every conceivable universe, so be it. His hyper-sensitivity and ultra-thin skin are beyond my control, and I think at least two people here can see that (for which I thank them).

If we want to talk “personal”, just count up all the name-calling, epithets and rank insults John has made towards me. All I’ve done is basically protest against those and called for calm, rational discussion minus those silly distractions.

It occurred to me that if John Loftus is so much sharper than I am, and so much of a better apologist for the faith he later abandoned, then why is it he fundamentally misunderstands the role of the Christian apologist and who it is they primarily write for?

* * * 

1) We’re all sinners. No one is any better, at bottom, than anyone else. Whatever good is in us is because of God’s grace, not our inherent superiority to someone else.

2) I simply disagree with your positions and your denigration of Christianity. Your position is not you. If you write about such things publicly, then do you not expect that Christians will respond to them? You actually encouraged me to respond to your deconversion, so I did.

3) Your problem (at least insofar as this version of your story suggests) is intellectual, not a matter of dishonesty. Bad premises lead to bad conclusions. I didn’t see anything that would bring any Christian doctrine into question at all. Sorry, that’s my honest opinion. Or am I dishonest?

4) Well, I know one thing: you are extremely sensitive to Christian critiques, even when done respectfully and not attacking you as a person or immoral scoundrel, etc. I can understand that, but it has the effect of alienating those (such as myself) who simply don’t have the attitudes you are attributing to them.

5) I understand that many Christians have treated you rottenly. I’ve seen some recent things that shocked me and were terrible witnesses to Christianity. That’s contemptible. But I am not among them. I don’t share their attitudes. I never said you were especially evil (more than any other sinner, of whom I am foremost) or damned, etc. Catholics (to their credit, and we have many faults, believe me) generally don’t do that. We leave those judgments up to God.

6) You think I’ve attacked your person? Good grief. You should see the amazing things that are written about me. And the worst comes from fellow Christians (some of them even Catholics).

7) Now get this straight, John (in big capital letters):

I *****DO***** CONSIDER YOU TO BE A SINCERE AND HONEST AND THOUGHTFUL PERSON. 

Got that? Now if you say I am lying, then obviously all discourse is over. But it wasn’t because of me. God is my witness for that, and also (since you think He doesn’t exist) all who have read our exchanges.

8) If I didn’t take you seriously, I would simply ignore you, just like I do (almost always) the anti-Catholics, liberal Catholics, [radical Catholic reactionary] Catholics, flat-earthers, etc. You have it exactly backwards, and it is amazing how often you do that.

9) I was simply replying to the reasoning you gave. Sorry you don’t like that, but this is how intellectual exchange works. It’s astonishing to me that you have such a thin skin, especially since you have an academic past. Are you truly this unable to withstand any critique? If so, then I suggest to you that you don’t encourage a person to analyze your deconversion, if this is how you’re gonna react. It’ll keep your blood pressure down to an acceptable level.

10) If I failed to give you sufficient benefit of the doubt, I apologize. I thought I had done so, but maybe not. One can always be more charitable, no doubt.

11) It has little to do with how “smart” or “stupid” one is. Rather, all Christians must be equipped to deal with objections or they will be in trouble. I’m writing this paper mostly for the benefit of Christians, so I can help them avoid your sad fate.

12) It’s partly intellectual and partly a loss of faith. No Christian can believe apart from God’s grace and his own faith. This is what we believe. I’m sorry if it offends you to state it.

13) Of course there are hundreds of particulars I don’t know about. I’d have to see those to comment.

14) If your brief deconversion is so woefully inadequate, why put it on your blog at all? Of what good is it if it doesn’t explain 1/100th of your journey? Why don’t you take it down? It will actually mislead people, if it is so bad and utterly incomplete. . . . take the Reader’s Digest version down since no one can understand you without reading your book. I find that strange. I don’t require someone to read any of my books before they would have the slightest inkling of the cause of my conversion. They can learn that in about 15 pages. Anyone who has a head on his shoulders should be able to summarize complex reasons into an abridged version. This is the heart of what it means to be a good teacher. In my upcoming book [The One-Minute Apologist] I had to take major Christian doctrines and distill the defense of them into two pages each. This was very difficult! I think you could do similarly with your deconversion: certainly in 20-30 pages folks could get the main reasons for it.

15) I would be happy to read it [John’s book] and reply, provided I get it in html or Word or some computer format, for free. I also would need to see some semblance of open-mindedness and good-natured spirit of dialogue from you before I would even consider spending that much time. I spent four hours last night. To answer your book with another million objections to Christianity would take possibly an entire week or more (if I were to devote myself to a thorough dismantling of the atheology therein). But if all you intend to do is call me a “joke” and spew a bunch of paranoid nonsense, as here, forget it. My time is too valuable for that sort of silliness.

16) I just think it’s very sad that an intelligent person like you can offer nothing but mockery and name-calling when someone gives you a (I think) thoughtful critique of your deconversion. You should welcome the opportunity as a chance to disprove Christianty by disposing of the critique. Instead you take the fool’s way out of epithets and irrational dismissal and false attribution of any number of mythical characteristics to your dialectical opponent.

No one is impressed by that. I don’t think even your fellow atheists (at least the more rational, less emotional ones) would be all that heartened by this pathetic performance (if not downright embarrassed).

I think you can do a whole lot better than this. You have three Masters degrees, for heaven’s sake. If you can’t even respond rationally and calmly to a critique of this nature then all that does is confirm in our minds all the more that the basis of your conversion was not so much rational as it was emotional and non-rational (or that you are so insecure in your atheism that perhaps your conscience is being troubled by criticism of it and you are on your way back to Christianity). You know the old saying: “the drowning man fights the hardest right before he succumbs.”

Is that the impression you wanna give? “Come to atheism, for all the wrong reasons or none at all, or just because of sheer emotionalism! If anyone questions my ‘reasons’ I’ll pretend he thinks I am a dishonest, rascally idiot, call him a ‘joke’ (three times) and dare him to read to read my book so I can ignore his critique and mock him again!”

If atheism is true, my friend, it ain’t gonna be because of this kind of reaction. Nor will these melodramatic histrionics convince anyone.

17) I did no psychology. I never attempted mind-reading. It’d be awful nice if you pointed out where you thought I did this. But something I did is obviously extremely threatening to you. A guy as educated as you becoming literally unhinged over a simple Christian response to your deconversion? Something’s going on. I have no clue what, but I am experienced [enough] to identify an extremely irrational reply when I see one. I realize others are personally attacking you at the present time, but it doesn’t follow that this was my motivation or intention. It was not at all.

18) I responded to the words you wrote. Apparently that is a novelty to you. I think it is rather humdrum and ho-hum: one guy responding to another, after being asked to do so.

19) [John] To think you could pompously proclaim you are better than me is beyond me when you don’t know me.

Where did I do that, pray tell? For the life of me I don’t remember doing so.

20) So let me get this straight. You claim I think I am “better” than you, when I don’t at all. Then you take the false premise and build a castle of sand atop it: now it is supposedly a defensive mechanism I use. And this after you have been bitching about me supposedly doing inappropriate psychoanalysis of you. That’s precious.

21) I can’t comment on something you write? I didn’t exceed any proper bounds. I simply replied to what was there. There is always some speculation with conversion stories. I don’t think they have to necessarily be outrageously presumptuous, as you seem to think.

22) [John] No freebie book for you either (Are you in the habit of asking for handouts? Then take up a collection).

No skin off my back. I’d be glad to give you any of my 11 e-books for free. I wouldn’t even consider it a handout. I would consider it part of my duty as an apologist.

23) For that matter, don’t reviewers of books get them for free? Think of all the free advertising on a Catholic site John could get. What a golden opportunity! But are reviewers’ copies considered “handouts”? 

24) If I ever see John’s book for a quarter at an AAUW book sale, I’ll pick it up. But my budget is too limited to buy atheist books: especially from those currently with an axe to grind against me.

I also responded to another atheist on my blog:

What truly baffles me about all this hysterical response is: how do you atheists expect a Christian apologist to respond to a deconversion story? I defend Christianity (I myself happen to be a professional apologist, in fact). 

This sort of story starts with the assumption that it gives a rational basis for the rejection of Christianity. Obviously, then, my task is to show how the reasons given fail in their purpose. What do you expect? That I’ll say, “well, reasons 4, 12, and 23 are compelling against Christianity. Therefore, I resign my vocation as an apologist immediately and reject Christianity”?

How ridiculous will this become? Of course I will disagree with the reasons offered, as long as I remain a Christian and an apologist. If I didn’t, I would be in the wrong line of work. This is some terrible, unspeakable crime, that an apologist is an apologist, and a Christian a Christian (hence reasons like one)?

What is so scandalous and outrageous about an apologist for position x showing how the reasons person y (former adherent of x) gives for rejecting x are groundless or insufficient as a basis for rejecting x?

What did you expect? I gave my reasons as to why I thought they were insufficient. Atheists do this to Christians all the time. Actually, you do a great deal of non-rational stuff, whereas my reply was strictly within the bounds of reasoned analysis. 

You subject us to endless mockery, assume that we are ignoramuses, make fun of our worship and most deeply-held beliefs, call us “insane” (I’ve seen that more than once at Debunking Christianity), cut down the God we believe in, belittle Jesus by saying He didn’t even exist, attempt to rip the Bible to shreds, make out that Christian biblical ethics are utterly abominable (John did that this very day at Triablogue), and on and on and on. There is no end to it. And don’t try to deny it. Proof is abundant and easily obtained.

Yet if we dare turn the tables and simply disagree with your ideas, then all hell breaks loose. It’s Chicken Little. I don’t buy it. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. You can’t take your own medicine. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

How does it help your case to shamelessly lie about opponents? Whether I am an arrogant SOB or not is for others to judge. I say I am confident. Admittedly it is a fine line sometimes between that and arrogance. But for John and others to say that I have hatred or think he is an evil person or damned and all this rotgut that I supposedly think, is completely groundless, unethical and uncalled-for. 

As I’ve found in other such conflicts (the bane of the apologist’s life — and often sadly coming from fellow Christians), once the irrational anger sets in, then even conciliatory explanations are disregarded and themselves mocked and assumed to be insincere. 

I’ve stated repeatedly that I bear no ill will against John, that it isn’t personal, that I don’t think he is an especially “bad” person (since we Christians think all men are fallen sinners). I’ve tried to explain how Catholics don’t judge a person (even an atheist or former Christian) as damned. We don’t have the Calvinist view that someone who rejected faith necessarily could never have had it. So I don’t have to deny this in John’s case.

So am I to be believed or not? Why do you want to make something a rotten ugly thing when it is simply an honest disagreement? What is so difficult about this to understand? I wrote about your own deconversion story and you didn’t hit the roof and immediately vomit up gallons of personal attacks and knee-jerk reactions against me. You did nothing. How preferable and dignified compared to John’s hyper-sensitive, hysterical “reply”!!!

I note once again that John asked me to respond to his deconversion after he saw that I did so with you. Man, next time I’ll think twice before fulfilling an atheist’s request to critique some writing of theirs . . . I don’t suffer the folly of groundless attack in place of reasonable discussion very well at all. Only my enjoyment of the absurd, ironic humor of it all saves me from lots of potential sins in reacting to this hogwash . . . 

 

September 25, 2015

OutsiderLoftus
Book by H. P. Lovecraft, 1939 [Flickr / CC BY 2.0 license]

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(9-30-07)

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John Loftus is a former pastor and the webmaster of the Debunking Christianity blog. This reply is at his request. I give him points for originality, if little else. John’s words will be in blue.

* * * * *

John provided a general post that linked to other individual ones (I won’t give all the URL’s; the previous link gives those). In later ones, he merely repeats many of his arguments, so I need not cite everything. I will be meeting the basic arguments head on.

Here’s the short version of my argument. It begins with these four propositions:

1) Religious diversity around the globe is a fact—many religions can be found in distinct geographical locations in the world.

Sure.

2) There are no mutually agreed upon tests to determine which religion is true.

To some extent this is correct; however, at least for the western religions, there are several tests from various fields of study (natural science, archaeology, textual analysis, historiography, philosophical arguments, etc.) that can be brought to bear. Those from these traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) hold lots of tenets along those lines in common, and so can compare the relative strength of their religious claims.

Eastern religion is another story, and the presuppositions and conception of God is so different that it is difficult to test or examine rationally by these same standards.

3) Religious apologists all claim they are correct and they reject all other distinctive religious beliefs but their own.

We all believe what we believe (religious or no) and believing one thing precludes believing simultaneously in another that contradicts it. Most religious people will readily admit, however, that many beliefs in other religions are similar or identical to their own. All religions and indeed ethical systems (whether religious or not) have great commonalities. This was a central thesis of C.S. Lewis’s book The Abolition of Man.


4) All religions seek to answer life’s most important questions in a believing communal social environment where the adherent is encouraged to believe and discouraged to doubt.

Sure. This is done in varying degrees of plausibility and rationality, but as a generality it is true.

These four facts form the basis of the argument. Okay so far? I think these facts are undeniable.

#2 is questionable to a significant extent, as argued. #3 must be seriously qualified.

So if you want a deductive argument expressing this inductive argument of mine, here it is:

p -> q:

If 1-4 is true, then it’s probable that people adopt their religion based upon “when and where they were born.”

They often (even more often than not) do do that; no argument there.

p:

1-4.

.: q:

Therefore, it’s probable that people adopt their religion based upon “when and where they were born.”

Based upon 1-4, it’s highly probable religious adherents will not investigate their faith dispassionately.

That’s exactly right. That is a major reason why I do apologetics. Religion needs to be held with a great deal more rationality and self-conscious analysis for the epistemological basis and various types of evidences for one’s own belief.

They will use reason to solidify and support religious beliefs arrived at prior to rationally examining them. And because there isn’t a mutually agreed upon scientific test to determine the truth of any religion, therefore social/political and geographical factors heavily influence what religion one adopts.

Again, this is undeniably true (except for the “testing” part). Of course it proves nothing whatsoever about the strength of relative truth claims, so I don’t see that it has much value except as a rather self-evident bit of sociological observation.

This conclusion is the strongest in those communally shared religions where doubt places the adherent in danger of hell, as well as the fear of losing the friendship of the religious community he or she is involved in.

Or places folks in danger of their lives if they dare dissent (or at least losing many freedoms, and their personal reputation), as in many Muslim countries, or Communist nations.

This conclusion leads to the presumption of skepticism when investigating any religious faith, including one’s own religious faith; for it’s probable that the adherents merely adopted their faith based upon “when and where they were born.”

I believe everyone should study to know why they believe what they believe. On the other hand, I deny that there is no religious knowledge or evidence other than these hard proofs from scientific inquiry. There are also highly complex internal or instinctive or subjective or experiential factors that have been analyzed at great length by philosophers like William Alston (see Alvin Plantinga (“properly basic belief”). Those are huge discussions, but not to be dismissed as irrelevant to the present line of inquiry.

John Loftus, in a second post, presents a typically presuppositionalist, Van Til-like excerpt from Paul Manata (who frequents Steve Hays’ Triablogue site). But before looking at how he disagrees with it, it should be known that most non-Calvinist Christians also disagree with this outlook concerning the relationship of faith and reason, and unbelievers and believers. In other ways, there is common ground with what is called “evidentialist” apologetics (my preferred brand). Alvin Plantinga shows one way of achieving a semi-synthesis.

I’ve written papers specifically denying (based on the biblical data) that atheists must be evil and immoral, and affirming that any individual atheist can possibly be saved in the end. I’ve also strongly denied the notion that any atheist who says he was a former Christian must be lying, since it is considered impossible. That is biblical hogwash.

Does this description of the thinking of an unbeliever confirm or deny what I have been saying, that Christianity must devaluate philosophy in favor of believing in historical knowledge of a “special revelation” in the Bible?

It confirms it but only in a very limited way, since this presents the viewpoint of only a small minority of Christians: strict Calvinists (mostly fundamentalists). Not even all Calvinists would take this strict of a view. Loftus makes a mistake very common in the atheist / agnostic / skeptical literature: confusing just one small sector of Christianity with the whole. It’s essentially a straw man because it is even less than a “half-truth” if we go by numbers of (thinking, informed) Christians proportion-wise who think like this.

And if a Christian must place reason below his faith, then how can he properly evaluate his faith in the first place, since the presumption of faith we start out with, will most likely be the presumption of faith we end with?

A Christian doesn’t have to. The Bible doesn’t teach this in the first place. The largest and most continuous Christian tradition (Catholicism) would flatly deny it. So do the majority of Protestants and Protestant apologists.

Since the presumption of faith we start out with is something we accept by, what John Hick calls, the “accidents of history” (i.e., where and when we are born), how likely is it that the Christian will ever truly evaluate his or her faith?

Many (and probably most) Christians never do that; I agree. Again, there is a reason why I have devoted myself to apologetics. If even an atheist thinks Christians should reason more about their faith, then it is obvious that the work of apologetics is crucial.

I would say, though, that there is a version of this “become whatever your surroundings dictate” argument that can be turned around as a critique of atheism. Many atheists — though usually not born in that worldview — nevertheless have decided to immerse themselves in atheist / skeptical literature and surround themselves with others of like mind. And so they become confirmed in their beliefs. We are what we eat. In other words, one can voluntarily decide to shut off other modes and ways of thinking in order to “convince” themselves of a particular viewpoint. That is almost the same mentality as adopting a religion simply because “everyone else” in a culture does so, or because of an accident of birth. People can create an “accident of one-way reading” too.

My position, in contrast, is for people to read the best advocates of any given debate and see them interact with each other. That’s why I do so many dialogues. John Loftus could write these papers, and they may seem to be wonderfully plausible, until someone like me comes around to point out the fallacies in them and to challenge some of the alleged facts. Read both sides. Exercise your critical faculties. Don’t just read only Christians or only atheists. Look for debates where both sides know their stuff and have the confidence to defend themselves and the courage and honesty to change their opinions if they have been shown that truth and fact demand it.

How is it possible to rationally evaluate the Christian faith when the Christian can only do so from within the presuppositions of that faith in the first place–presuppositions which he or she basically accepted by the “accidents of history.”

This is basically what the presuppositionalists do, but that is rejected by the majority of Christian thinkers today and throughout history. John’s critique applies only to them and to fideists and pietists who deliberately underemphasize or reject reason. it certainly does not apply to all of Christianity. The irony is that he makes a critique of something where I as a Christian and an apologist can largely agree with him. We disagree mainly on whether the critique affects Christianity as a whole or only one small — mistaken — school within it.

So let me propose something I call The Outsider Test: If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would be a Muslim right now, say it isn’t so? That is a cold hard fact. Dare you deny it? Since this is so, or at least 99% so, then the proper method to evaluate your religious beliefs is with a healthy measure of skepticism.

Yes, it’s true. Most people believe in religious matters what they were born into. But of course, many change their minds later on. And we must also take into account variations within religions. In my case, for example, one could say “sure, you’re a Christian because most Americans claim to be so.” True enough on one level, but it is false insofar as it would presuppose that I am a Christian only because of this factor and no others.

In fact, I have made up my mind as an individual and often changed my opinions. I was born into a liberal Methodist family. I never resonated with that much, and stopped going to the Methodist church when I was ten. I then became a “secularist” or “practical atheist” for about eight years. That went against my background because both parents and all four grandparents were Methodists. I then converted to evangelical Christianity at age 18. There wasn’t much of that in my larger family, either. And at length I converted to Catholicism at age 32. There were virtually no Catholics in my extended family. So I was making decisions on my own regardless of what folks around me believed (particularly in my Catholic conversion). Therefore, this whole analysis doesn’t really apply to me, if we examine it closely and take it a step deeper and out of the broadest generalities.

Test your beliefs as if you were an outsider to the faith you are evaluating. If your faith stands up under muster, then you can have your faith.

That is essentially what I am doing in my numerous posted debates (more than 450 as of this writing; perhaps nearly 500 by now. I stopped counting). I interact with people who don’t agree with me, all the time., And so I am exposed to their premises and worldviews and in a good place to judge if it is superior to my own. Obviously I haven’t been dissuaded of Catholic Christianity yet. And I can demonstrate to anyone why, by directing them to my debates with atheists and Protestants (i.e., anyone non-Catholic).

If not, abandon it, for any God who requires you to believe correctly when we have this extremely strong tendency to believe what we were born into, surely should make the correct faith pass the outsider test. If your faith cannot do this, then the God of your faith is not worthy of being worshipped.

I agree that every Christian should have a reasonable faith, that can withstand rational and skeptical examination. I do this myself and I write so that others can share in the same confidence and blessing that I receive as I do apologetics and interact with other people of different beliefs.


What we believe does not depend entirely on where we are born. It also depends on when we were born, and what beliefs and conditions were there when we grew up. What would you believe if you were born during the Middle Ages, or during the Ancient superstitious days before the rise of modern science, Frontier days in America, pre-civil war days in the South, and even pre-depression era days, WWII days, Vietnam protest days, the greed decade of the 80’s, and the microchip and cell phone revolution now? Is human reason that malleable? I think so.

None of this means there isn’t any truth, moral or otherwise. But this is known as the Dependency Thesis, whereby what we believe depends upon these factors world-wide. Yep, that’s right, world-wide. And while it doesn’t prove anything about truth itself, it should give us all pause to consider the factors of where and when we were born, and whether or not we properly are evaluating our faith.

All true, again. And I agree that “it doesn’t prove anything about truth itself”. I have long accepted the sociological basis of much actual belief, on account of my reading of social analysts such as Thomas Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) and Michael Polanyi. See also psychiatrist Paul Vitz’s analysis of the familial background of many famous atheist figures. This also is a result of my degree in sociology and minor in psychology.

There are so very many things we believe because of when and where we were born that an argument is made by moral relativists based on it, which is known to ethicists as the “Dependency Thesis (DT)” According to the DT our morals are causally dependent on our cultural context. Even if the relativists are wrong in the very end, they make an extremely powerful case which should give the over-confident Christian a reason for a very long pause, if nothing else.

I don’t see why. Every person is responsible for his own intellectual advancement. The trouble is that public education is so rotten today that young minds aren’t formulated in ways that would further this end. They are spoon-fed secularist propaganda bleached of any Christian influence whatsoever, and then given a massive sophisticated dose of anti-Christianity in college (so that many students lose their faith because they are so overwhelmed and unprepared), as if this were a fair, intelligent way of going about things. They are what they eat too.

That’s why secularists are so intent on removing any vestige of Christianity from education, because they prevail only by people being ignorant of alternatives and being presented one side only. I was a thoroughly secularist pro-choice, pro-feminist, political and sexual liberal coming out of high school. I would have repeated the party line impeccably (in marvelously blissful ignorance). But when I started reading some materials with a different perspective during my college years and shortly afterwards (Christian, politically conservative, pro-life), then my opinions changed because I had a rational basis to compare one view with another, rather than ape propagandistic slogans learned by rote repetition (which is much of liberal, secularist education these days).

The Christian believes God is a rational God and that we should love God with all of their minds. The Christian is not afraid to examine his or her beliefs by the test of reason because he or she believes in a God of reason. A small minority of Christians even believe Logic and reason presuppose the Christian God.

So what’s the problem here? Why aren’t Christians posting by the droves and saying, “Fine, I have no problem with The Outsider Test?” Why not?

Because they are insufficiently acquainted with historic Christianity, biblical Christianity, and historic apologetics. They are fair game to eventually lose their faith, or else possess such a weak, mangled, ineffective faith that they make no practical difference to anyone around them, as potential “witnesses” of the truth of Christianity.

An outsider would be someone who was only interested in which religious or nonreligious view is correct, and assumed from the start that none of them were true–none of them!

But there are no absolutely clean slates. This is where I would disagree, based on the analyses of people like Plantinga, Alston, and Polanyi (the latter almost singlehandedly dismantled logical positivism).

An outsider is a mere seeker who has no prior presuppositions about any faith, or no faith at all. To be an outsider would also mean we would have nothing at stake in the outcome of our investigations, and hence no fear of hell while investigating it all. These threats could hinder a clear-headed investigation.

I deny the premise, and so am skeptical of this scenario; however, I do believe in being as objective and fair as we possibly can be, even given our inevitable biases and belief-system that cannot be erased merely by playing the game of philosophy and supposed extreme, dispassionate detachment.

What exactly is wrong with this? While I know it may be impossible to do, since we all have presuppositions, what’s wrong with striving for this as a goal that can only be approximated?

I agree, if qualified like this. Good.

If Christianity wins hands down in the marketplace of ideas, like so many seem to indicate, then why not mentally adopt this test? Christians shouldn’t have any problems doing this, right?

Amen! I try to do it by my debates, such as the present one. I think Christianity wins in any such encounter. It’s always been my experience.

The outsider test would mean that there would be no more quoting the Bible to defend how Jesus’ death on the cross saves us from sins. The Christian must now try to rationally explain it. No more quoting the Bible to defend how it’s possible for Jesus to be 100% God and 100% man with nothing left over, by merely quoting from the Bible. The Christian must now try to make sense of this claim, coming as it does from an ancient superstitious people who didn’t have trouble believing this could happen (Acts 14:11, 28:6), etc, etc. Why? Because you cannot start out by first believing the Bible, nor can you trust the people closest to you who are Christians to know the truth. You would want evidence and reasons for these things. And you’d initially be skeptical of believing in any of the miracles in the Bible just as you would be skeptical of any claims of the miraculous in today’s world.

This is a description of apologetics, pure and simple. Thanks for confirming the value of what I have devoted my life to.

. . . we would do well to question the social conditions of how we came to adopt a particular religious belief in the first place, that is, who or what influenced us, and what were the actual reasons for adopting that belief in its earliest stages.

I agree wholeheartedly.

If you’ve read my Conversion/deconversion story, I had no initial reasons for adopting the Christian faith, except that everyone I had ever met believed. The reason I adopted it in the first place was because of social conditions–no one I knew doubted it and I concluded at the age of 18 that therefore it must be true.

My story was precisely the opposite. I was so utterly ignorant of Christian theology at age 18 that I didn’t even know that Christians believed Jesus was God in the flesh. I arrived at all my Christian beliefs by my own deliberate study. I had gotten secularism crammed down my throat in Detroit public schools and Wayne State University in Detroit. I had to “even the score” a bit by my own study of the theistic intellectual tradition. That was a bit tough to do in a fair way, given, for example, that there wasn’t a single theist in the philosophy department at Wayne when I was there and took five courses or so.

. . . . there are no empirical tests to finally decide between religious viewpoints.

This is simply not true. There are a number of evidential or empirical tests that Christianity and other religions can be subjected to. The argument from biblical prophecy offers a chance to test by real, concrete historical events whether the predictions were accurate or not. A study of Jesus’ Resurrection, that involved a dead body and a rock tomb guarded by Roman soldiers, provides hard facts that have to be dealt with and explained somehow. The cosmological and teleological theistic arguments offer hard scientific facts and details that are rationally explained as suggesting a God. All miraculous claims can be examined.

In the Catholic tradition, there are many eyewitness accounts of people being raised from the dead (St. Augustine, for example, attested to this). There are all sorts of miracles. For example: the incorrupt bodies of saints. If you can take a dead person out of their grave twenty, fifty years or more after their death, and the body has not decayed, and it is because they were a saintly person, then that is hard empirical evidence that confirms Christian, Catholic teaching. You have the mystery of the stigmata, that could be seen in, e.g., St. Padre Pio, who died in 1968. There is archaeological evidence confirming the claims of the Bible. Etc., etc.

Skeptics thumb their nose at all of this but it is not nearly so simple. There are unexplained phenomena here that have to be accounted for. We have our interpretation, but the atheist puts his head in the sand and claims that it’s all impossible because of their prior axiomatic beliefs that all miracles are impossible because they “go against science ” (itself a blatant fallacy). Hence John writes“Christians believe God did miracles in the ancient past (but we see no evidence he does so today, which is our only sure test for whether or not they happened in the past).” And that is considered “open-minded” and intelligent.

A believer in one specific religion has already rejected all other religions, so when he rejects the one he was brought up with he becomes an agnostic or atheist many times, like me.

We need not reject all other religions in toto; just aspects of them that we believe to be untrue. For example, Confucius taught excellent personal ethics. A Christian would disagree with very little there. We have no objection to Jews following the 613 commandments of Mosaic Law or keeping kosher. Buddhists are often pro-life, and teach about personal asceticism something not unlike Catholic monasticism. Muslims still have kids, are against abortion and premarital sex and pornography. All great stuff.

You quoted Paul, for instance. Why should I believe what an ancient superstitious person believed and said?

Here is the classic atheist condescension and double standard. We’re supposed to sit like eager baby birds receiving regurgitated worms from their mother’s beak, in hearing atheists lecture us about the Bible and how stupid and contradictory it is, and how dumb our interpretations are. John cited the Bible and beliefs stated in the Bible all over his main post. But the Christian is not allowed to cite the Bible in his replies (???!!!).

Thus John waxes indignantly: “Deal with the argument. The Bible means nothing to me.” Well, how the hell is a Christian gonna be able to respond to an argument of biblical skepticism and alleged contradictions by not citing the very Bible that was critiqued? It’s irrelevant whether John accepts it or not or puts it on the level of Mein Kampf or Aesop’s Fables. It’s our view that is being critiqued and so we have the task of defending the Bible. And in order to do that one must cite it! Good grief . . .

The condescension towards the Apostle Paul, who was one of the most educated and philosophically nuanced men in the ancient world, and a brilliant writer is, of course, completely out of line and ridiculous; a quintessential example of atheist chronological snobbery.

For the outsider test to fail the test of the Bible you must first establish the trustworthiness of the Bible to tell us the truth. I’m proposing a test to see if the Bible should be trusted in the first place. How do YOU propose we test it? Could you please explain to me why you might use double-standards when testing it against other religious books?

That’s super-easy: we test it like any other source of history: through historiographical scholarship and archaeology. The Bible has been tested again and again in this fashion and has proven itself accurate, insofar as it reports historical, geographical, biographical details, etc.

Wholly apart from religious faith, then, we can establish that it is a remarkably accurate document that can be trusted to accurately report things. That’s the bare minimum. Once supernatural events are being discussed, the argument must be made on an entirely different plane: legal-historical evidences, philosophy, etc. But the Bible is not untrustworthy on the basis of inaccuracy of things that can be empirically verified.

That’s enough for now. If John wants to engage in further dialogue, minus the acrimony that has plagued our previous several attempts, I’d be happy to. Many areas here can be unpacked and elaborated upon in great depth.

[Loftus has never replied, these past almost eight years]




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