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March 26, 2021

Atheist author and polemicist John W. Loftus wrote an article entitled, “Dr. David Madison, Debunker Par Excellence!” (3-25-21). His words will be in blue.

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I’m a big fan of former Methodist minister and biblical scholar Dr. David Madison, who no longer believes. He understands how best to debunk Christianity.

Really? I never noticed that. I have refuted his attacks on the Bible and Christianity now 44 times (without a peep in reply) and, frankly, it was always very easy to refute his nonsense: so weak and poor was the argumentation.

Madison expertly presents a cumulative case against Christianity, which is the best way to compel childlike believers to abandon their make-believe fantasies.

And I systematically present a cumulative case against his anti-biblical and anti-Christian fantasies and relentless excursions into myth and illogic. Real thinkers will prefer to read both sides of an argument, rather than just one. Let the best man win! On my blog, I cite tons of the words of my dialogue opponents, so readers can get their views directly, rather than from an opponent biased against them.

Everyone interested in investigating and analyzing the complete undeniable palpable falseness of Christianity should be reading Madison– and everyone should be interested! However, as Madison acknowledges, Christians “assuredly have a long history of not paying attention.” (p. 29) “Even if they’re not oblivious, they are just not interested.” 

Ah, I see. So it’s us Christians who are massively guilty of not reading critical atheist commentary; indeed, running from it. It’s true that many act in this way. Only so many hours in a day . . . But this is absurdly ironic, coming from the guy who has not the slightest interest in any critique of his own work, and from Loftus, who acts in exactly the same way regarding his anti-Christian polemics, too. Loftus expressly challenged me to read his book, Why I Became an Atheist and offer critiques of it. I did so and responded with ten critiques: all utterly ignored by Loftus.

After I had completed 34 of my 44 critiques of David Madison’s polemics, Loftus felt compelled to chime in at his blog, and wrote:

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. [he never did: almost needless to say]

See my extensive reply to this. Recently, I was indeed banned from Debunking Christianity, for the supposed reason of being “obnoxious” (so I saw Loftus comment on another atheist blog). “Obnoxious” is cowardly atheist code for “anyone who dares to 1) confront atheist arguments, and actually 2) refute them. That’s “obnoxious”. That’s being an uppity Christian, and it will not be tolerated by the supremely confident, unvanquishable intellectual titans Loftus or Madison. Such atheists have no interest whatsoever in critique of their charges, because that goes against the illusion of invincibility, you see. They do all they can to ignore such counter-arguments and pretend that they don’t exist. It’s bad for business to not do that.

He notes there are probably no atheist books on a shelf labeled “Our Atheist Critics” in Christian bookstores. 

I have scores and scores of articles dealing with atheist criticism of Christianity on my Atheism web page. There are many books that address so-called “Bible contradictions” from a Christian perspective. These are largely brought up by either atheists or theologically liberal Christians who no longer believe in the inspiration of the Bible. The most famous one is Gleason Archer’s New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Recently, I compiled in one place my own many refutations of alleged biblical contradictions. So at least some of us deal with “our atheist critics”: who in turn, ignore these efforts.

Still it’s my hope to introduce Christians and others to Madison, an ordained Methodist minister who became an atheist. They should listen to those of us who have left the Christian fold and found the intellectual freedom to follow the evidence wherever it leads, rather than remaining zombies who just quote-mine from the Bible and the diverse theologies developed from it. What did we learn on the way to heaven that caused us to walk away from any hope of seeing our loved ones again after we die? Surely Christians should want to read one story or two, along with the arguments that convinced us to leave the fold of our upbringing. Surely!

Yes, we should definitely do so, alongside replies to this bilge, such as my own. It will strengthen the faith of any Christian to see how abysmally weak arguments like Madison’s and Loftus’ and those of many other anti-theist atheists are. I write replies to atheist deconversion stories, also, to demonstrate how their reasons for leaving Christianity don’t hold up under logical or factual scrutiny, either. When I did this with Loftus’ deconversion story (a shorter article about it), he blew a gasket and after a very short time could only reply with “you’re an idiot!” and suchlike.

You get the idea. Really intellectual and objective stuff . . . And the reactions to critiques of atheist deconversion stories are always basically the same (I know, having written 30 or so of them): how dare any Christian closely examine atheist reasons for apostasy (i.e., regarding atheists who were formerly Christians). Anger and fury almost immediately surface; and the “fangs” come out (Loftus being the absolute worst case I myself have observed; he had skin so thin even an electron microscope couldn’t detect it). But hey: it’s all fair game. They go after our beliefs and the Bible; we in turn scrutinize their supposedly compelling reasons for unbelief and apostasy.

[after noting Madison’s degrees and languages that he speaks] . . . don’t tell me he’s ignorant. That option isn’t available to you.

Nonsense. He’s certainly ignorant about 1) what the Bible actually teaches, and 2) how to properly interpret the Bible. He is also terrible at logic. I repeatedly demonstrate these things, and there is a good reason why he utterly ignores all that. It exposes him.

It’s David Madison against all the Christian apologetics in the world down through the centuries, and my bet is on him, hands down, no iffs [sic] ands or buts about it. 

Yeah, he’s so superior to all of our combined efforts that he can’t bring himself to tackle even one of my 44 critiques. That’s surely and undoubtedly pure superiority and supreme intellectual confidence. I’ve never seen a clearer example of it!

So it’s no surprise that some atheists are looking down on people who debunk religion when compared to others who are trying to build a better atheist, humanist or secular society. We’re told the latter are doing the harder work, the necessary work and the more important work. Madison disagrees, as I do.

Yeah, me too. I say: do this all you like. It shows again and again (when apologists and others refute them) how exceedingly weak, miserable, inadequate, illogical, and pathetic the atheist anti-biblical arguments are. So this provides a service to the Christian community, insofar as they manage to read the critiques such as my own: that anti-theists do all they can to obscure and make sure that atheists never know of their existence: lest their own lies be exposed for what they are.

I have argued for a test to help believers examine their own faith fairly and honestly, seen in my book The Outsider Test for Faith.

I refuted this argument of his in September 2007 and again in September 2019: to stony silence and crickets each time.

I think his book and writings are doing what needs to be done to disabuse Christians of their faith. We cannot have a piecemeal approach to debunking Christianity, debunking one belief or doctrine at a time. We must assault Christianity as a whole with a cumulative case. Nothing else will do, even if it means we cannot be experts in every area we write about.

And Christian apologists must defeat and demolish these efforts. I try my best to do just that.

He Doesn’t Care That Much If Christian Intellectuals Take Notice. No doubt Madison would like it if they did, but he doesn’t really care since he’s dealing with deluded people, all of them in some measure. So it doesn’t matter what university they graduated from or how many degrees they earned. He doesn’t need their validation as a credential to be proud about. They’re all deluded. Why should we care about their intellectuals (or better, obfucationists [sic] ) so long as we’re reaching people?

Ah, exactly! This at least explains (along with sheer cowardice) why he ignores me. It goes against the plan: as I noted above. As long as Madison can fool and hoodwink people, then it’s in his interest to make sure that his rabid followers never see any replies to his bilge. By contrast, a true thinker welcomes critiques of his or her work; relishes the challenge to either clarify or retract, as they case may be. That’s how actual intellectuals (true to the essence of the category) function. But I am thankful for this transparent (and rare) exposition of how atheist anti-theist polemicists like Madison, Loftus, and many others actually go about their business, minus intellectual integrity.

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Photo credit: cover of John Loftus’ 2012 book from its Amazon page.
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Summary: I critique the hypocrisy- & irony-filled analysis of atheist John Loftus regarding the work of his colleague David Madison. Both men ignore critiques & relentlessly display “atheist cowardice.”
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January 19, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave is just being the aforementioned jerk . . . habit of inserting the worst assumptions into every gap he can find rather than make an honest attempt . . .  offensive and puerile tactics of belittling the writer because of what he imagines in the spaces rather than respond to what he actually reads in the words . . . Dave’s dishonesty . . .

Then he concludes:

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

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

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

You are an idiot! You never critiqued my whole deconversion story. Deconversion stories are piecemeal. They cannot give a full explanation for why someone left the faith. They only give hints at why they left the faith. It requires writing a whole book about why someone left the faith to understand why they did, and few people do that. I did. If you truly want to critique my deconversion story then critique my book. Other than that, you can critique a few brief paragraphs or a brief testimony, if you want to, but that says very little about why someone left the faith. You walk away thinking you have completely analysed someone’s story. But from where I sit, that’s just stupid. That’s S-T-U-P-I-D! If you truly want to critique a deconversion story, then critique mine in my book. I wrote a complete story there.

Dave, I can only tolerate stupidity so long.

I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. It’s a complete story. A whole story. It’s mine.

Do you accept my challenge?

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

1) First of all, why would you even want to have your book critiqued by someone whom you routinely call an “idiot,” an “arrogant idiot,” a “joke,” a “know-it-all,” and so forth? I’ve never understood this.

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

3) I have already long since taken up your “challenge.” I said many weeks ago that if you sent me your book in an e-file for free, I’d be more than happy to critique it. I won’t buy it, and I refuse to type long portions of it when it is possible to cut-and-paste. That is an important factor since my methodology is Socratic and point-by-point. I actually try to comprehensively answer opposing arguments, not just talk about them or do a mutual monologue. You railed against that, saying that it was a “handout.” I responded that you could have any of my (14 completed) books in e-book form for free.

4) One wonders, however, with your manifest “gnashing teeth” attitude towards me, what would be accomplished by such a critique? You’ve already shown that you can’t or won’t offer any rational counter-reply when I analyze any of your arguments. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are ignorant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Will be Doing an In-Depth Series of Replies to Atheist John Loftus’ Self-Described “Magnum Opus,” “Why I Became an Atheist.”
I’ve been asking Loftus since 2006 [13 years!] to send me an ebook of his for free to review (while offering him any number of my books for free). He has always refused. I didn’t want to spend any money to buy one.
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I did a critique of one online version of his deconversion story in 2006. He kept insisting that to properly do such a critique, I had to order his book, where it appeared in its fullness.
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Lately, he has again acted like such an insufferable, pompous ass, as he has towards me these past 13 years (most recently censoring even bare links of mine to my replies to material on his website), that I decided tonight to purchase this book (revised version).
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I got it for $7.52 on Amazon, including shipping, for a used / very good condition copy. That won’t put me out. He’s been challenging and insulting me, so very well: I shall now devote my energies to replying to this book.
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If he is so momentously famous and important as he modestly claims he is, then my replies should get a ton of attention. That would be fine for my purposes, but as always, I’m not in this for the money. I’m simply providing rational replies to objections to Christianity. Whoever reads them, reads them. That’s not up to me. It’s not my concern. My job is to do the best job I can do, according to my capabilities.
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So of course, Loftus (full of vim and vigor and supremely confident of his beliefs) would certainly respond to such a vigorous critique, right?: since, after all, he had challenged me and others to do this very thing, and since he had written about a year-and-a-half earlier, regarding another Christian apologist:
[H]e needs to share a few Christian-to-atheist deconversion stories, or else, explain why the later deconversion stories have very little, or no evidential weight to them! If he’s honest that is. If nothing else, he should provide an Endnote acknowledging this additional issue with a reference for readers to look up. But then, who said apologetics was an honest enterprise? Not me.
Alrightey! So he made an honest man of me, and I have attained to the sublime levels of honesty and self-confidence that Jittery John Loftus has attained. So he will certainly defend himself now, right? Wrong! Here it is a year and four months later and I still haven’t heard a peep back from him. He’ still running and insulting, as always with me (these past 13 years). On 1-6-21 on his blog, he wrote about me: “I’ve had dealings with him. He’s obnoxious to the core whether it’s here or on his site. He’s unworthy of our time.” That’s anti-theist atheist-speak for “Man, I don’t know how to rationally overthrow his arguments so I better come up with a personal insult quick and pretend that that my critic’s profound ignorance and jerkhood is why I don’t reply!”
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Meanwhile, over the past two years and a few months I’ve also been systematically refuting his associate, Dr. David Madison, a former Methodist pastor who is the dominant writer on Loftus’ blog, Debunking Christianity. He’s been refuted no less than 44 times, with not a single word in reply. Instead, he issued the following jeremiad against me on 9-6-19 (not naming me, but it was clear who he meant, after 35 of my critiques):
This is a time of distress for Christian apologists. These are the die-hards who brag that they are devotees—in a professional capacity, no less—of the ancient Jesus mystery cult. They feel compelled to defend it at whatever cost. But times are changing, and they face challenges unknown to earlier apologists. . . .
So the burden of the apologist has become heavy indeed, and some don’t handle the anguish well. They vent and rage at critics, like toddlers throwing tantrums when a threadbare security blanket gets tossed out. We can smell their panic. Engaging with the ranters serves no purpose—any more than it does to engage with Flat-Earthers, Chemtrail conspiracy theorists, and those who argue that the moon landings were faked.
The five stages of Bible grief provide opportunities to initiate dialogue. I prefer to engage with NON-obsessive-compulsive-hysterical Christians, those who have spotted rubbish in the Bible, and might already have one foot out the door.
So once again, his comrade isn’t following Loftus’ advice, either. Why should he, since Loftus himself doesn’t? The game is to act all confident and triumphant and to challenge some of those ignorant Christians out there to take up the challenge of the deconversion story or the Bible-bashing obsession of a man like Dr. Madison. When someone takes up the challenge, both of ’em do absolutely everything they can to avoid any interaction.
Ten days earlier, on 8-28-19, Loftus himself had changed the rules of engagement for his forum, so as to deal with the huge “crisis” that my actually taking up his own challenge posed:
Some angry Catholic apologist has been tagging our posts with his angry long-winded responses. I know of no other blog, Christian or atheist, that allows for arguments by links, especially to plug one’s failing blog or site. I’ve allowed it for about a month with this guy but no more. He’s not banned. He can still come here to comment. It’s just that we don’t allow responses in the comments longer than the blog post itself, or near that. If any respectful person has a counter-argument or some counter-evidence then bring it. State your case in as few words as possible and then engage our commenters in a discussion. But arguments by links or long comments are disallowed. I talked with David Madison who has been the target of these links and he’s in agreement with this decision. He’s planning to write something about one or more of these links in the near future [he has yet to do so, now almost 17 months later]. So here’s how our readers can help. I’ve deleted a few of these arguments by link. There are others I’ve missed. If you see some apologist arguing by link flag it. Then I’ll be alerted where it is to delete it. What’s curious to me are the current posts he’s neglecting, like this one on horrific suffering. If he tackles that one I’ll allow him a link back.
Can’t be too careful if you get a Christian who is actually refuting your arguments! He must be silenced and mocked and dismissed in whatever way it takes: insults, ignoring, feeding frenzies in echo chamber comboxes, removing links informing your readers that he has refuted your right-hand man now for the 35th time . . .
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This is how Loftus and his anti-theist buddy Dr. David Madison actually act! So in light of this revealing background information, let’s get back to Loftus’ post that I was addressing at the top:
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What are these conversion stories evidence for? That people change their minds. We already knew this. But it’s worse than that. For as soon as Mittelberg uses conversion stories to bolster his case, it means he has to allow atheists to use their own deconversion stories to persuade people. When he does, it will provoke a debate over which side has the advantage, and Mittelberg will lose the advantage. All by themselves then, the fact that people change their minds provides no evidential weight in and of itself. But upon considering all other relevant things, ex-Christian deconversion stories have the evidential advantage.
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Yeah, that’s obviously the case, ain’t it, which must be the reason why Loftus has ignored ten critiques of his book-length deconversion, why his loudmouthed associate David Madison has ignored 44 rebuttals of his relentless Bible-bashing, and why fellow anti-theist atheist Bob Seidensticker (who directly challenged me to take up the burden of answering his charges) has now absolutely ignored no less than a remarkable 69 critiques of mine.
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Who could fail to be impressed by this confident performance?: three of the most vocal and influential atheists online have now ignored a total of 123 of my critiques!
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There are many Christian-turned-atheist deconversion stories, like those of authors Dan Barker, Hector Avalos, David Madison, David Chumney, Bart Ehrman, Valerie Tarico, Robert Price, Richard C. Miller, Marlene Winell, Edwin Suominen, Joe E. Holman, Stephen Uhl, William Lobdell, Jason Long, Charles Templeton, Kenneth Daniels, Bruce Gerencser, and myself to name a few off the top of my head (apologies to the many others I failed to mention).
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Perhaps Mr. John “You’re an idiot!” Loftus can be kind enough to let me know which of these will 1) not become furious if I critique their story, and 2) will actually respond and be willing to engage in written debate? I did critique Joe E. Holman’s story, right before I critiqued Loftus’ own, in October 2006.
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To highlight one of the less conspicuous deconversions is Dustin Lawson, a former protege of Christian apologist Josh McDowell. McDowell goes around to churches telling them to try to disprove Christianity. Well, Dustin listened to him and followed his advice! Guess what happened? ;-) Here’s a picture of us together, the apostates that apologists William Lane Craig and Josh McDowell would like to forget!
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Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll have to seek out this guy and see if he has more intellectual courage than Loftus, Madison, Seidensticker et al.
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Loftus then provides links to three sites that specialize in posting deconversion stories. I have bookmarked them and will be sure to check them out after the kind encouragement of Jittery John. Certainly, all these confident, oh-so-smart and superior atheists will warmly welcome any such challenge to their stories from a lowly Christian ignoramus like me, right?
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Our stories are not just personal feel good stuffs. We have the arguments too.
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Yeah, they have arguments all right. It’s just that they are terribly weak and I’ve never had any trouble exposing them for how fallacious, fact-challenged, and unconvincing they are. One is never more convinced of Christianity than after one sees how very flimsy and insubstantial the opposing arguments are, and how misinformed so many ex-Christians were of their faith (including Loftus himself) before they made the fateful decision to leave Christianity.
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Photo credit: cover of John Loftus’ 2012 book from its Amazon page.
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January 18, 2021

Even an unplugged clock is right twice a day. And it’s relentlessly wrong, too, for all but two minutes in a 24-hour day. Atheist author and polemicist John W. Loftus cited G. K. Chesterton in his article, Excerpt From “Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End” (3-24-20): “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” Then, lo and behold, he supported his own citation of this famous maxim by doing precisely that. He opined:

My specialties are theology, philosophical theology and especially apologetics. I am an expert on these subjects even though it’s very hard to have a good grasp of them all. . . . [a] theologically sophisticated intellectual . . .

Look at just a very brief listing of historic famous American atheist authors . . . Women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Ayn Rand. Men like Thomas Paine, Robert Ingersoll and Mark Twain, or scientists like the prolific Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan.

The only problem is that Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Thomas Paine, and Mark Twain were not atheists! Loftus got three out of eight (38%) wrong. This is rather elementary stuff. It’s tough to be this wrong in an age of almost instant verification or (disproof) with the remarkable searching capabilities of the Internet, and all the online books

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was (like Albert Einstein) a pantheist (“god is all”):

What we call God is the infinite ideal of humanity. The preposterous, ridiculous absurdity of supposing God so defined to be of the male sex, and to call God ‘him,’ does not need a word to make it apparent. This ideal which we all reverence, and for which we yearn, necessarily enfolds in One the attributes which, separated in our human race, express themselves in Manhood and Womanhood. . . .

The sun moon & stars the constellations the days & nights, the seasons…the centripetal & centrifugal forces, positive & negative magnetism, the laws of gravitation cohesion attraction are all immutable and unchangeable one & all moving in harmony together. God was to us sunshine, flowers, affection, all that is grand and beautiful in nature. . . .

I think the next form of religion will be the ‘Religion of Humanity,’ in which men and women will worship what they see of the divine in each other. (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, cited at Pantheism.com)

Thomas Paine was a deist. He stated in his work, Age of Reason (Part First, Section 1):

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. . . .

. . . man would return to the pure, unmixed and unadulterated belief of one God, and no more. [as a good and desirable thing]

. . . as if the way to God was not open to every man alike. . . .

No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if he pleases.

More evidence of Paine’s espousal of (non-atheist) deism:

Paine’s deism—the belief in God, but the eschewing of organized religion—is often erroneously confused with atheism. (Jonathan Marker, “Thomas Paine’s Attitudes Toward Religion Impacted His Legacy, Author Says”National Archives News, 10-18-19)

In The Age of Reason he advocated deism, promoted reason and free thought and argued against institutionalized religion in general and Christian doctrine in particular. (Wikipedia, “Thomas Paine”)

[T]he only true religion is Deism, by which I then meant, and mean now, the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues – and that it was upon this only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes of happiness hereafter. So say I now – and so help me God. (Thomas Paine, in The Theological Works of Thomas Paine, [1824], R. Carlile, p. 138)

For a man so frequently called an atheist, Paine shows a remarkable confidence in the divine order of the creation. . . . The Age of Reason is not an atheist tract, but a deist one. It combines scathing criticism of claims to authority for the bible by religious authorities, with an expression of confidence in a divinely ordered world, . . .

Although the later parts of Age of Reason descend into detailed interpretation and controversy, and lose much of their intuitive appeal, the first part is a powerful confession of rationalist faith in a divine creator whose design can be appreciated by man in the Bible of Creation, whose principles are eternal, . . . (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Thomas Paine”)

The only religion that has not been invented, and that has in it every evidence of divine originality, is pure and simple Deism. (Thomas Paine, The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, 2 vol., edited by P. S. Foner, Secaucus, New Jersey: The Citadel Press, 1945, Vol. I, 600; cited in the previous entry)

The Theophilanthropists: A society founded by Paine and others in 1797. It was one of the first ethical societies of the world. It came from the Greek and meant, love of God and Man. The society met in a circle or a ring which symbolized an unbroken or unending devotion to God. The spirit of humanity was the basis for a moral life on earth. Theophilanthrophy was rooted in the spiritual philosophy of the Illuminati that Bonneville brought from Germany. God was responsible for creating the universe but not responsible for man’s actions. Atheists are mistaken. They are short sighted because they ascribe everything they perceive to the innate properties of matter and ignore the rest by saying that matter is eternal. God creates everything, including the sun, stars, planets, etc. All the principles of science are of a divine origin. Those principles are eternal and immutable. They are immortal because they continue to exist after the matter that expresses them has dissolved. Man, being in the position to rationally apprehend these eternal principles, is himself immortal and his soul does not die when the body turns to dust. Man accounts to God for his belief and not to other men. The society studied Greek thinkers and poets as well as Confucius and other Chinese philosophers. The idea of the society was to encourage people to live a life of spiritual values and to come into harmony with God, Nature and Man. (James Tepfer, “The Religious and Political Philosophy of Tom Paine”; see much much more related material in this article)

Nor was Mark Twain an atheist. I have written about his religious belief in another article of mine. Philosopher David Hume was not an atheist, either (see the proof).

Related Reading

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Photo credit: Thomas Paine [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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September 11, 2019

This is the last of my ten critiques of Why I Became an Atheist, by John W. Loftus.

I first ran across former Christian minister 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.” 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.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques: just like Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus decides to 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.

*****

Judge Jephthah sacrificed his daughter to “God” (Judg. 11:39). Was the God of the universe really pleased at that? (p. 266). 

This is at least the second time that Loftus has brought this up in his book. Scripture repeatedly states that God disapproved of such acts as abominable, evil, and wicked. It couldn’t be more clear and definite than it is. But since Loftus can’t trouble himself to discover that, I’ve collected the passages in my paper on the topic: for folks who are actually willing to give the Bible and God a fair shake (rather than cherry-pick what merely appears to support his case, and ignoring passages that don’t.

The prophet Jeremiah did not like some of the scribes, so God told him [cites Jeremiah 8:7-9]:

Jeremiah 8:7b-9a  (RSV) . . . my people know not the ordinance of the LORD. [8] “How can you say, `We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But, behold, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. [9] The wise men shall be put to shame, they shall be dismayed and taken; . . . 

What did God just say to Jeremiah? He said lying scribes have falsely altered the law and that there are lies in it! Jeremiah even denies God instituted the priestly sacrificial system. God says through him [he cites Jeremiah 7:22-23, omitting the first part of 7:22, which I include]:

Jeremiah 7:22-23 For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. [23] But this command I gave them, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’

. . . Jeremiah “denies categorically that a command to offer sacrifice was part of the divine law at all,” [he cited Burton Scott Easton] even though in the book of Leviticus, Moses supposedly gave detailed instruction about who were to offer sacrifices, where they were to do so, and how. (p. 300)

Concerning Jeremiah 8:7-9, Pulpit Commentary explains:

Jeremiah is evidently addressing the priests and the prophets, whom he so constantly described as among the chief causes of Judah’s ruin (comp. Ver. 10; Jeremiah 2:8, 26Jeremiah 4:9Jeremiah 5:31), and who, in Isaiah’s day, regarded it as an unwarrantable assumption on the part of that prophet to pretend to instruct them in their duty (Isaiah 28:9). The law of the Lord is with us. “With us;” i.e. in our hands and mouths. (comp. Psalm 1:16). The word torah, commonly rendered” Law,” is ambiguous, and a difference of opinion as to the meaning of this verse is inevitable. Some think these self-styled “wise” men reject Jeremiah’s counsels on the ground that they already have the divinely given Law in a written form (comp. Romans 2:17-20), and that the Divine revelation is complete. Others that torah here, as often elsewhere in the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 1:10Isaiah 8:16Isaiah 42:4), simply means “instruction,” or “direction,” and describes the authoritative counsel given orally by the priests (Deuteronomy 17:11) and prophets to those who consulted them on points of ritual and practice respectively. The usage of Jeremiah himself favors the latter view (see Jeremiah 2:8Jeremiah 18:18; and especially Jeremiah 26:4, 5, where “to walk in my Torah” is parallel to “to hearken to the words of my servants the prophets.” The context equally points in this direction. The most natural interpretation, then, is this: The opponents of Jeremiah bade him keep his exhortations to himself, seeing that they themselves were wise and the divinely appointed teachers of the people. To this Jeremiah replies, not (as the Authorized Version renders) Lo, certainly in vain made he it, etc.; but, Yeabehold I for a lie hath it wrought – the lying pen of the scribes (so Authorized Version, margin).

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers concurs:

The meaning of the clause is clear. The sophistry of men was turning the truth of God into a lie, and emptying it of its noblest meaning. Already, as in other things, so here, in his protest against the teaching of the scribes, with their traditional and misleading casuistry, Jeremiah appears as foreshadowing the prophet of Nazareth (Matthew 5:20-48Matthew 23:2-26).

The phrase “made it into a lie: is, I think, obviously, referring to a corruption or distortion of a teaching or practice which was itself good. Hence, later Jesus cites the same Jeremiah with regard to corruption of temple worship:

Luke 19:46 “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.”

Jeremiah condemned this very thing elsewhere:

Jeremiah 2:8 The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’ Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Ba’al, and went after things that do not profit.

As to Jeremiah 7:22-23, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers states:

The words seem at first hard to reconcile with the multiplied rules as to sacrifices both in Exodus and Leviticus. They are, however, rightly understood, strictly in harmony with the facts. They were not the end contemplated. The first promulgation of the Law, the basis of the covenant with Israel, contemplated a spiritual, ethical religion, of which the basis was found in the ten great Words, or commandments, of Exodus 20. . . . The book of Deuteronomy, representing the higher truth from which Moses started (Exodus 19:5), and upon which he at last fell back, bore its witness to the original purport of the Law (Deuteronomy 6:3Deuteronomy 10:12). Its re-discovery under Josiah left, here as elsewhere, its impress on the mind of Jeremiah; but prophets, as in 1Samuel 15:22Hosea 6:6Hosea 8:11-13Amos 5:21-27Micah 6:6-8; Psalms 50, 51, had all along borne a like witness, even while recognising to the full the fact and the importance of a sacrificial ritual.

In other passages, Jeremiah is clearly fully supportive of the sacrifices of the Mosaic Law, including the priestly function (i.e., those who ritually offered the sacrifices:

Jeremiah 17:26 And people shall come from the cities of Judah and the places round about Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the Shephe’lah, from the hill country, and from the Negeb, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, cereal offerings and frankincense, and bringing thank offerings to the house of the LORD.

Jeremiah 33:18 and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn cereal offerings, and to make sacrifices for ever. . . . [21] then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers. [22] As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David my servant, and the Levitical priests who minister to me.”

Thus, our task is to interpret and understand Jeremiah 7:22-23 (which appears prima facie at odds) in harmony with those. It’s the biblical hermeneutical principle of “interpret less clear verses by more clear related passages.”

And this is pretty easy to do, simply by reading the progression of events whereby God delivered the law to Moses, and he delivered it in turn to the Hebrews:

Exodus 19:1-8 On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone forth out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. [2] And when they set out from Reph’idim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, they encamped in the wilderness; and there Israel encamped before the mountain. [3] And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: [4] You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. [5] Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, [6] and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” [7] So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the LORD had commanded him. [8] And all the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.

Note a few things about this. First of all, Jeremiah was citing by paraphrase (which was perfectly acceptable in ancient Hebrew culture), part of this passage:

Exodus 19:3, 5-6 . . . and the LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: . . . [5] Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, [6] and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. . . .” 

Jeremiah 7:23 But this command I gave them, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’

 

The second thing to note is the timing. This was before the law was delivered; even before the Ten Commandments were received. Therefore, it was before the time that God instructed the Hebrews through Moses, of the sacrificial system and laws. Hence, Jeremiah (far from denying anything in and of this whole process) accurately describes this particular moment in salvation history: “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices” (7:22).

The command described in Exodus and reiterated by Jeremiah was chronologically prior to the sacrificial commands (part of the overall Law). God gave Moses the Ten Commandments two days later (see Ex 19:10-12 ff.). The Ten Commandments themselves (Ex 20:3-17) did not contain anything about sacrifices. But God introduced it at the same time he gave Moses the Commandments:

Exodus 20:24  An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.

Again, this was two days after the simpler and broad ethical commandment that Jeremiah cites from Exodus in Jeremiah 7:23. It’s all explained by consulting the text in Exodus which Jeremiah cited. Once one does that , the supposed “problem” vanishes. Meanwhile, as Moses was on Mt. Sinai communicating with God, the people below decided to make an idolatrous golden calf (Ex 32:1-8). Moses’ “anger grew hot”, and he “threw the tables out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain” (Ex 32:19). Thus, the people still hadn’t heard even the Ten Commandments, let alone the sacrificial instructions. But they had heard the “pre-sacrificial” command that Jeremiah referred to (Ex 19:7-8, above).

Later, the text informs us that Moses made two new tablets for the Ten Commandments and went up on Mt Sinai again (Ex 34:1-4), where he communed with God for forty days and nights (34:28), and then communicated with the people, the Law that he had received from God (which included the sacrifices: Ex 34:32; 35:1). So where’s the beef?

Once again, context (mostly, simply reading the relevant passages involved) demolishes the “higher critical” anti-scriptural bloviations of the former Christian atheists, who seem constitutionally unable to comprehend and practice simple cross-referencing and consideration of textual context. It’s embarrassing to have to point this out 7,167 times. But such is one of the repetitive tasks of the apologist, in correcting folks who “will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings” (2 Tim 4:3).

I’m honored and privileged to have the opportunity to defend God’s inspired revelation, the Bible, over against those who seek to savage it without cause or reason.

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Photo credit: Jeremiah on the ruins of Jerusalem (1844), by Horace Vernet (1789-1863) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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September 10, 2019

I continue my critiques of Why I Became an Atheist, by John W. Loftus.

I first ran across former Christian minister 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.” 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.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques: just like Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus decides to 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.

*****

Loftus notes that the King James Version “used the word unicorn to refer to a beast in the Bible” (p. 263). Perhaps realizing how weak this argument is, he qualified: “at the very minimum, the King James translators were themselves believers in mythical beasts” (p. 263).

It’s irrelevant what some translators in 1611 thought. That error would be on them, not the Bible, if in fact, there is no linguistic basis for the translation. The latter is in fact the case. Bert Thompson, in his article for Apologetics Press, “Unicorns, Satyrs, and the Bible” observed:

[T]he Bible never “panders to pagan mythology” by incorrectly referring to non-existent, mythological animals as if they were real, living creatures. It is true that the word “unicorn” appears in the King James Version (nine times: Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9,10; Psalms 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; and Isaiah 34:7). . . . The editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica [wrote]:

Certain poetical passages of the biblical Old Testament refer to a strong and splendid horned animal called re’em. This word was translated “unicorn” or “rhinoceros” in many versions of the Bible, but many modern translations prefer “wild ox” (aurochs), which is the correct meaning of the Hebrew re’em (1997, 12:129).

In volume one of his two-volume set, Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, the late infidel, Isaac Asimov (who was serving as the president of the American Humanist Association when he died in 1992), dealt with the topic of the unicorn as it is found in the King James Version when he wrote:

The Hebrew word represented in the King James Version by “unicorn” is re’em, which undoubtedly refers to the wild ox (urus or aurochs) ancestral to the domesticated cattle of today. The re’em still flourished in early historical times and a few existed into modern times, although it is now extinct. It was a dangerous creature of great strength and was similar in form and temperament to the Asian buffaloes.

The Revised Standard Version translates re’em as “wild ox.” The verse in Numbers is translated as “they have as it were the horns of the wild ox,” while the one in Job is translated “Is the wild ox willing to serve you?” The Anchor Bible translates the verse in Job as “Will the buffalo deign to serve you?” . . .

When the first Greek translation of the Bible was prepared about 250 B.C., the animal was already rare in the long-settled areas of the Near East and the Greeks, who had no direct experience with it, had no word for it. They used a translation of “one-horn” instead and it became monokeros. In Latin and in English it became the Latin word for “one-horn”; that is, “unicorn.”

The Biblical writers could scarcely have had the intention of implying that the wild ox literally had one horn. There is one Biblical quotation, in fact, that clearly contradicts that notion. In the Book of Deuteronomy [33:17—BT], when Moses is giving his final blessing to each tribe, he speaks of the tribe of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) as follows: “His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns….” . . . 

Dr. Asimov was correct on all counts. The word re’em does refer to the wild ox, and is translated as such in almost all later versions of the Bible. The translators of the Septuagint rendered re’em by the Greek monokeros (one horn) on the basis of the relief representations of the “wild ox” in strict profile that they found in Babylonian and Egyptian art (cf. Pfeiffer, et al., 1975, p. 83). The charge that the Bible “panders to pagan mythology” cannot be sustained, once all the relevant facts are known. 

Loftus pokes fun of the supposed literal biblical belief in “Satyrs — creatures that were half man and half goat or horse (Isaiah 13:31)” (p. 263). The same article above disposes of this charge:

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word sa‘ir occurs some fifty-two times. It is related to the term se‘ar (hair), and generally means “a hairy one.” It is used, for example, to speak of the male goat that was employed as the Israelites’ solemn, collective sin offering on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16).

In two cases, however, the King James Version renders sa‘ir as “satyr” (Isaiah 13:21 and 34:14). But the specific context of both passages makes it quite clear that the term is being used to refer to the wild goats that frequently inhabited the ruins of both ancient Babylon and Edom. On two different occasions in the KJV, the word is translated “demon” (Leviticus 17:7; 2 Chronicles 11:15), where it denotes a pagan god in goat form (cf. the New International Version). In regard to 2 Chronicles 11:15, respected Old Testament scholar J. Barton Payne wrote:

Far from being mythological “satyrs,” as claimed by “liberal” criticism, the sirim appear to have been simply goat idols, used in conjunction with the golden calves (1969, p. 400).

It is evident once again that the Bible does not lower itself to superstitious mythology. “Satyr” is merely a translation error, not a case of “mistaken identity” wherein a mythological creature was thought by the inspired writers to be a living, breathing animal.

Loftus brings up “Leviathan” (p. 262) and “Behemoth” (p. 263) and taunts on the next page: “how can God defeat mythical beasts that do not exist?” According to New Bible Dictionary, Leviathan in Psalms 104:26 is “generally thought to be the whale.” In Job 41:1-34, “most scholars” think it is a crocodile. In other instances, the use is clearly symbolic. Smith’s Bible Dictionary essentially concurs:

In the Hebrew Bible the word livyathan , which is, with the foregoing exception, always left untranslated in the Authorized Version, is found only in the following passages: ( Job 3:8 ; 41:1 ; Psalms 74:14 ; 104:26 ; Isaiah 27:1 ) In the margin ofJob 3:8 ) and text ofJob 41:1 ) the crocodile is most clearly the animal denoted by the Hebrew word. ( Psalms 74:14 ) also clearly points to this same saurian. The context of ( Psalms 104:26 ) seems to show that in this passage the name represents some animal of the whale tribe, which is common in the Mediterranean; but it is somewhat uncertain what animal is denoted in ( Isaiah 27:1 ) As the term leviathan is evidently used in no limited sense, it is not improbable that the “leviathan the piercing serpent,” or “leviathan the crooked serpent,” may denote some species of the great rock-snakes which are common in south and west Africa.

New Bible Dictionary on “Behemoth” states that the word occurs nine times in the Old Testament, “and in all but one of these occurrences ‘beasts’, ‘animals’, or ‘cattle’ is apparently the intended meaning.” In Job 40:15, “the hippopotamus . . . seems to fit the description best.” The Catholic Encyclopedia (“Animals in the Bible”) agrees:

. . . generally translated by “great beasts”; in its wider signification it includes all mammals living on earth, but in the stricter sense is applied to domesticated quadrupeds at large. However in Job 40:10, where it is left untranslated and considered as a proper name, it indicates a particular animal. The description of this animal has long puzzled the commentators. Many of them now admit that it represents the hippopotamus, so well known to the ancient Egyptians; it might possibly correspond as well to the rhinoceros.

No necessary interpretation of mythical animals here . . . Loftus notes that the Bible references “dragons” (p. 263). Smith’s Bible Dictionary states concerning this:

The translators of the Authorized Version, apparently following the Vulgate, have rendered by the same word “dragon” the two Hebrew words tan and tannin , which appear to be quite distinct in meaning.

  1. The former is used, always in the plural, in ( Job 30:29 ; Psalms 44:19 ; Isaiah 34:13 ; 43:20 ; Jeremiah 9:11 ) It is always applied to some creatures inhabiting the desert, and we should conclude from this that it refers rather to some wild beast than to a serpent. The syriac renders it by a word which, according to Pococke, means a “jackal.”

  2. The word tannin seems to refer to any great monster, whether of the land or the sea, being indeed more usually applied to some kind of serpent or reptile, but not exclusively restricted to that sense. ( Exodus 7:9 Exodus 7:10 Exodus 7:12 ; 32:33 ; Psalms 91:13 )

The Catholic Encyclopedia (“Animals in the Bible”) has an excellent treatment of “dragon”:

It stands indeed for several Hebrew names:

Other places, such as Esther 10:711:6Ecclesiasticus 25:23, can be neither traced back to a Hebrew original, nor identified with sufficient probability. . . . Of the fabulous dragon fancied by the ancients, represented as a monstrous winged serpent, with a crested head and enormous claws, and regarded as very powerful and ferocious, no mention whatever is to be found in the Bible. The word dragon, consequently, should really be blotted out of our Bibles, except perhaps Isaiah 14:29 and 30:6, where the draco fimbriatus is possibly spoken of.

The word itself doesn’t have to necessarily refer to a mythical creature, and scientists at the time of the King James Version in 1611 referred to large serpents as “dragons.” Wikipedia in its article on dragons provides the etymology:

The word dragon entered the English language in the early 13th century from Old French dragon, which in turn comes from Latindraconem (nominative draco) meaning “huge serpent, dragon”, from Ancient Greek δράκωνdrákōn (genitive δράκοντοςdrákontos) “serpent, giant seafish”. The Greek and Latin term referred to any great serpent, not necessarily mythological.

Loftus brings up (p. 263) another mythical creature, the cockatrice. The King James Version uses it at Isaiah 11:8 and 14:29, and Jeremiah 8:17, but this may be considered eccentric usage, not followed by modern translations, which usually translate the Hebrew, Tsepha , or Tsiphoni, as cobra or asp (Is 11:8), and viper / poisonous snake / adder (Is 14:29). Catholic apologist Trent Horn adds:

While Isaiah and Jeremiah would have been unaware of the “cockatrice,” they would have known what a tsepha‘ was. This is the original Hebrew word used in passages like Isaiah 11:8 and it simply means “snake” or “viper.” Today, most modern translations render passages like Isaiah 11:8 in this way, . . .

Again, we need not posit any mythological animals here, either. 

Lastly, Loftus mentions “Fiery serpents (Deuteronomy 8:15), and Flying serpents (Isaiah 30:6)” (p. 263). The latter is also found in Isaiah 14:29, and the former at Numbers 21:6-8. Wikipedia has an excellent article, “Fiery flying serpent” that lists all these passages and provides an altogether adequate and plausible explanation (see further source information there):

Ronald Millett and John Pratt identify the fiery serpent with the Israeli saw-scale viper or carpet viper (Echis coloratus) based on ten clues from the written sources: the serpents inhabit the Arava Valley, prefer rocky terrain, are deadly poisonous, extremely dangerous, especially painful “fiery” bite, reddish “fiery” color, lightning fast strike, leaping/”flying” strike, and death by internal bleeding. A Roman account dated 22 AD about the deserts of Arabia indicates the presence of the saw-scale viper, reporting that “there are snakes also of a dark red color, a span in length, which spring up as high as a man’s waist, and whose bite is incurable.” Other candidates include desert horned viper (and close relatives) and the desert black snake or black desert cobra.

Wikipedia, “Serpents in the Bible” / section: “Fiery serpents” provides more relevant information:

“Fiery serpent” (Hebrew: שָׂרָףModern: saraphTiberian: sä·räf’, “fiery”, “fiery serpent”, “seraph”, “seraphim”) occurs in the Torah to describe a species of vicious snakes whose poison burns upon contact. According to Wilhelm Gesenius, saraph corresponds to the Sanskrit Sarpa (Jawl aqra), serpent; sarpin, reptile (from the root srip, serpere). These “burning serpents” infested the great and terrible place of the desert wilderness (Num.21:4-9; Deut.8:15). The Hebrew word for “poisonous” literally means “fiery”, “flaming” or “burning”, as the burning sensation of a snake bite on human skin, a metaphor for the fiery anger of God (Numbers 11:1)

“In the ancient world mythical beings populated the earth. The ancients believed in . . . [he provides a huge list of mythical animals] (p. 263). Yes, they did. For example, Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79) was a Roman author, a naturalist and natural philosopher. He wrote the 37-volume Naturalis Historia (Natural History), which became an editorial model for encyclopedias. Book 8, devoted to land animals, contained information about legendary creatures such as the Manticore, Basilisk, and Werewolf. He opined about the second:

It is produced in the province of Cyrene, being not more than twelve fingers in length. It has a white spot on the head, strongly resembling a sort of a diadem. When it hisses, all the other serpents fly from it: and it does not advance its body, like the others, by a succession of folds, but moves along upright and erect upon the middle. It destroys all shrubs, not only by its contact, but those even that it has breathed upon; it burns up all the grass, too, and breaks the stones, so tremendous is its noxious influence.

Pliny was the first to describe a mythical animal called the catoblepas “as a mid-sized creature, sluggish, with a heavy head and a face always turned to the ground. He thought its gaze, like that of the basilisk, was lethal, . . .” Herodotus, Ovid, and Virgil all wrote seriously about werewolves. Pliny “describes the [phoenix] as having a crest of feathers on its head” and  Tacitus thought its color “made it stand out from all other birds.”

Loftus concludes this surreal section with the misguided proclamation: What we find in the Bible is just more of the same (p. 263; italics his). Well, no, we do not. The ancient Hebrews (being a more sophisticated and advanced culture than say, the Greeks or Romans, who believed in all these mythical beasts), did not believe in mythical animals, as has just been comprehensively demonstrated.

Game, set, match.

I sincerely thank John Loftus for the opportunity to again defend the Bible against ludicrous charges. In 38 years of apologetics, I had never written about [alleged mythical] animals in the Bible. Now I have, thanks to his accusation. And so I’m very thankful to have demonstrated that yet another of the innumerable atheist bashings of the Bible is groundless.

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Photo credit: [Max Pixel / public domain]

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September 10, 2019

I continue my critiques of Why I Became an Atheist, by John W. Loftus.

I first ran across former Christian minister 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.” 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.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques: just like Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus decides to 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.

*****

The first thing we notice is that the Hebrew God is pictured with a body, just like the gods of their polytheistic neighbors. The gods of surrounding cultures had human and physical characteristics. There is no reason to suppose the Hebrews thought differently about their God fro what we read in the early parts of the Old testament. What we have in the Bible is an evolving understanding of the nature of God, so we find later statements to the contrary. In the New Testament, “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24). (pp. 259-260)

As to the “evolving God in the Bible” myth, see my papers:

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Did the Jews ever believe that God had a body? According to Encyclopedia Judaica (“Anthropomorphism”), no:
[I]t is accepted as a major axiom of Judaism, from the biblical period onward, that no material representation of the Deity is possible or permissible. . . . 
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The evolutionary approach to the study of religion, which mainly developed in the 19th century, suggested a line of development beginning with anthropomorphic concepts and leading up to a more purified spiritual faith. It argued, among other things, that corporeal representations of the Deity were more commonly found in the older portions of the Bible than in its later books. This view does not distinguish between the different possible explanations for anthropomorphic terms. It especially fails to account for the phenomenon common in the history of all cultures, that sometimes a later period can be more primitive than an earlier one. In fact, both personifications of the Deity as well as attempts to avoid them are found side by side in all parts of the Bible. . . . 
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More important from a theological perspective are the anthropopathisms, or psychical personifications of the Deity. Scripture attributes to God love and hate, joy and delight, regret and sadness, pity and compassion, disgust, anger, revenge, and other feelings. Even if one explains these terms as being nothing but picturesque expressions, intended to awaken within man a sense of the real presence of God and His works, nonetheless they remain personifications. . . . 
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Ultimately, every religious expression is caught in the dilemma between, on the one hand, the theological desire to emphasize the absolute and transcendental nature of the Divine, thereby relinquishing its vitality and immediate reality and relevance, and on the other hand, the religious need to conceive of the Deity and man’s contact with Him in some vital and meaningful way. Jewish tradition has usually shown preference for the second tendency, and there is a marked readiness to speak of God in a very concrete and vital manner and not to recoil from the dangers involved in the use of apparent anthropomorphisms. . . . 
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There is no evidence of any physical representation of God in Jewish history (in contradistinction to the worship of Canaanite and other foreign gods by Israelites). Even the golden calves of Jeroboam represented, according to the view of most scholars, only a footstool for the invisible God. In archaeological excavations no images of the God of Israel have been unearthed. . . . 
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Although Jews have speculated on the anthropomorphic nature of God, visible representation of the Deity was clearly forbidden by the Mosaic law.
See also my own papers: 
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According to the Bible, God has arms. God has ears. God has eyes. God has hands. . . . God even has nostrils. (p. 260)
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According to Loftus’ wooden literalism in biblical interpretation (very common among atheists), we’re to believe that the ancient Hebrews also thought God had wings (Ruth 2:12; Ps 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4), and/or looked like (take your pick), a cloud (Ex 13:21-22; 33:9-10; Num 12:5; 14:14; Dt 31:15; Neh 9:12, 19; Ps 99:7; Ezek 10:4, 18), fire (Ex 13:21-22; Num 14:14; Neh 9:12, 19; 2 Chr 7:1-4), or a burning bush (Ex 3:2-6). Even Loftus is not silly and foolish enough to believe that (I think!). So he is forced by logic to qualify his literalistic reading of descriptions of God.
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If we read these passages in light of the ancient embodied gods and goddesses in the polytheistic surrounding cultures, it becomes clear that the Hebrews thought their god had a body, too. (p. 261)
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This doesn’t follow. For the skeptical / atheist biblical “exegete” [cough / choke], everything is derived from surrounding cultures, and all is explained that way. It’s essentially the “anthropological” method of Bible interpretation. But Loftus is ignoring the stark difference between Hebrew monotheism and polytheism. Monotheism means what it means: one God, not many:

Deuteronomy 6:4 (RSV) Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; (cf. Mk 12:29; 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:5-6; 1 Tim 2:5; Jas 2:19)

Deuteronomy 32:39 . . . there is no god beside me . . .

Isaiah 37:20 . . . thou alone art the LORD. (cf. 37:16)

Isaiah 43:10 . . . Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.

Isaiah 44:6 . . . I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.

Isaiah 44:8 . . . Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any. (46:6, 9; Mal 2:10)

Isaiah 45:5 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; . . . (cf. 45:6, 22)

Isaiah 45:21 . . . And there is no other god besides me, . . . there is none besides me.

Isaiah 46:9 . . . I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,

In the first commandment we read, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” They were not to worship other gods, divine beings presupposed to exist by the commandment itself. In some of the Psalms we read only that the Hebrew God is the “God of the gods” (Ps. 86:8; 95:3; 96:4,9; 135:5; 136:2; 138:1). Why didn’t the text deny the existence of any other gods at this point? The Hebrews started out believing in a plurality of gods, which was progressively brought down to the belief in just one God. (p. 269)
Loftus, in his list of supposedly polytheistic Psalms, lists 96:4: “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.” He conveniently omits the next verse, which interprets this: “For all the gods of the peoples are idols; but the LORD made the heavens” (cf. 1 Chr 16:26). Psalms 135:15-18 also explains in context the reference to “gods” in 135:5, on Loftus’ list (see the almost identical 115:3-8 below). Other Psalms (contrary to Loftus’ groundless skepticism) refer to idols which are supposedly gods, but in fact are not:
Psalms 31:6 Thou hatest those who pay regard to vain idols; but I trust in the LORD.
Psalms 40:4 . . . those who go astray after false gods!
Psalms 97:7 All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols;
Psalms 106:36 They served their idols, which became a snare to them.
Psalms 115:3-8 Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases. [4] Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. [5] They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. [6] They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. [7] They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. [8] Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them. (cf. 135:15-18)
Encyclopaedia Britannica (“Psalms”) states:
The dating of individual psalms poses an extremely difficult problem, as does the question of their authorship. They were evidently written over a number of centuries, from the early monarchy to post-Exilic times, reflecting the varying stages of Israel’s history and the varying moods of Israel’s faith. 
King David reigned around 1000 BC. Even this renowned secular source holds that at least some of the Psalms date back to his period. If even some of the above passages are that old, this would completely overturn Loftus’ myth about the Jews being thoroughgoing polytheists at that time and for several centuries afterwards. The Psalms are solidly monotheistic, just as the Torah is.
When other “gods” are referred to in the Old Testament, this must consistently be understood as rhetorical only, since the same Old Testament (including in the Torah) states that they are not real:

Leviticus 19:4 Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 32:21 They have stirred me to jealousy with what is no god; they have provoked me with their idols. . . . 

Isaiah 37:19 . . . for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone . . .

Isaiah 42:17 They shall be turned back and utterly put to shame, who trust in graven images, who say to molten images, “You are our gods.”

Isaiah 44:10 Who fashions a god or casts an image, that is profitable for nothing?

Isaiah 44:15 . . . he makes a god and worships it, he makes it a graven image and falls down before it.

Isaiah 44:17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol; and falls down to it and worships it . . . 

Isaiah 46:6-7 Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship! [7] They lift it upon their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble.

Isaiah 48:5 I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, `My idol did them, my graven image and my molten image commanded them.’

Habakkuk 2:18 What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For the workman trusts in his own creation when he makes dumb idols!

(cf. Ex 32:1-8 [golden calf] and New Testament: 1 Cor 8:4-6 [“so-called gods”]; Gal 4:8 [“beings that by nature are no gods”]) 

If the ancient Jews (in their codified religious writings) rejected polytheism, why is it out of the question that they would reject a corporeal God as well (God with a body)? They clearly went their own way. If we are to speculate about and posit supposed similarities and causative factors with regard to other cultures, we have to also take into consideration stark contrasts.
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But Loftus also needs to seriously consider the stark, strict ancient Hebrew prohibition of all images of God. Now, if in fact they believed that God had a body (which Loftus — not understanding anthropomorphism at all — seems to think is self-evident from the Bible), why would this be? An idol would simply be a visual representation of God, just as Christians have crucifixes and statues of Jesus, as aids in worship (which we say are permissible because of the Incarnation; God became man).
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It all seems perfectly natural and permissible to me: if that were the case. Why would there be such a strict, binding prohibition? Obviously, it’s because God was communicating that He did not have a body: that images of Him would be distortions of reality. Here are the prohibitions:
Exodus 20:4 [Ten Commandments] You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; (cf. Dt. 5:8)
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Leviticus 26:1 You shall make for yourselves no idols and erect no graven image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land, to bow down to them; for I am the LORD your God.
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Deuteronomy 4:16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, (cf. 4:23, 25)
As the Encyclopedia Judaica stated (above): “There is no evidence of any physical representation of God in Jewish history (in contradistinction to the worship of Canaanite and other foreign gods by Israelites).”

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Photo credit: Clandestino (4-23-15) [PixabayPixabay License]

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September 9, 2019

I continue my critiques of Why I Became an Atheist, by John W. Loftus.

I first ran across former Christian minister 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.” 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.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques: just like Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus decides to 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 6 is entitled, “The Lessons of Galileo, Science, and Religion” (pp. 127-145).

The amount of error in the usual atheist analysis of “science and Christianity” is so vast, and the misrepresentations and often deliberate, glaring historical omissions so innumerable, that I could literally write for a week about them. But I have neither the time nor the energy, so I will have to make a relatively limited reply. For a much different view: a thinking Christian approach to science, see my extensive web page on science and philosophy, and my book, Science and Christianity: Close Partners or Mortal Enemies? (available for only $3.99 as an e-book).

Neil DeGrasse Tyson . . . [said] “I have yet to see a successful prediction about the physical world that was inferred or extrapolated from the content of any religious document. . . . Whenever people have used religious documents to make detailed predictions about the physical world they have been famously wrong.” (p. 132)

Atheist Bob Seidensticker, in one of his countless trashings of Christianity, taunted:

10. Germs? What germs?

The Bible isn’t a reliable source of health information. . . . physical health and basic hygienic precautions are not obvious and are worth a mention somewhere. How about telling us that boiling water minimizes disease? Or how to site latrines to safeguard the water supply?

Five minutes searching on Google would have prevented Bob from spewing more ignorance about the Bible. The Bible Ask site has an article, “Did the Bible teach the germs theory?” (5-30-16):

The Bible writers did not write a medical textbook. However, there are numerous rules for sanitation, quarantine, and other medical procedures (found in the first 5 book of the OT) . . .

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818 –1865), who was a Hungarian physician, . . . [He] proposed the practice of washing hands with chlorinated lime solutions in 1847 . . . He published a book of his findings in Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever. Despite various publications of his successful results, Semmelweis’s suggestions were not accepted by the medical community of his time.

Why was Semmelweis research rejected? Because germs were virtually a foreign concept for the Europeans in the middle-19th-century. . . .

Had the medical community paid attention to God’s instructions that were given 3000 years before, many lives would have been saved. The Lord gave the Israelites hygienic principles against the contamination of germs and taught the necessity to quarantine the sick (Numbers 19:11-12). And the book of Leviticus lists a host of diseases and ways where a person would come in contact with germs (Leviticus 13:46).

Germs were no new discovery in 1847. And for this fact, Roderick McGrew testified in the Encyclopedia of Medical History: “The idea of contagion was foreign to the classic medical tradition and found no place in the voluminous Hippocratic writings. The Old Testament, however, is a rich source for contagionist sentiment, especially in regard to leprosy and venereal disease” (1985, pp. 77-78).

Some other interesting facts regarding the Bible and germ theory:

1. The Bible contained instructions for the Israelites to wash their bodies and clothes in running water if they had a discharge, came in contact with someone else’s discharge, or had touched a dead body. They were also instructed about objects that had come into contact with dead things, and about purifying items with an unknown history with either fire or running water. They were also taught to bury human waste outside the camp, and to burn animal waste (Num 19:3-22; Lev. 11:1-4715:1-33; Deut 23:12).

2. Leviticus 13 and 14 mention leprosy on walls and on garments. Leprosy is a bacterial disease, and can survive for three weeks or longer apart from the human body. Thus, God commanded that the garments of leprosy victims should be burned (Lev 13:52).

3. It was not until 1873 that leprosy was shown to be an infectious disease rather than hereditary. Of course, the laws of Moses already were aware of that (Lev 13, 14, 22; Num 19:20). It contains instructions about quarantine and about quarantined persons needing to thoroughly shave and wash. Priests who cared for them also were instructed to change their clothes and wash thoroughly. The Israelites were the only culture to practice quarantine until the 19th century, when medical advances discovered the biblical medical principles and practices.

4. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine” (born 460 BC), thought “bad air” from swampy areas was the cause of disease.

See also: “Old Testament Laws About Infectious Diseases.”

Seidensticker continued:

Let me close with a paraphrase of an idea from AronRa: When the answer is known, science knows it. But when science doesn’t know it, neither does religion.

That’s not true. As shown, Hippocrates, the pagan Greek “father of medicine” didn’t understand the causes of contagious disease. Nor did medical science until the 19th century. But the hygienic principles that would have prevented the spread of such diseases were in the Bible: in the Laws of Moses.

[R]eligious beliefs are always the ones that have been forced to integrate with science, and not the other way around, so why not just admit science sets the boundaries for what we believe? (p. 134)

I just showed numerous examples regarding germ theory, disease, and medicine, that already put the lie to this broad claim. Another example that readily comes to mind would be Big Bang cosmology. The consensus among scientists before that came around was the steady state theory of cosmology (an eternal universe). Even Einstein accepted that. Then a Belgian Catholic priest by the name of Fr. Georges  Lemaître (1894-1966), who was also a mathematician, astronomer, and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Louvain, developed the Big Bang Theory. The Wikipedia article on him states:

He was the first to identify that the recession of nearby galaxies can be explained by a theory of an expanding universe, which was observationally confirmed soon afterwards by Edwin Hubble. He was the first to derive what is now known as Hubble’s law, or the Hubble–Lemaître law, and made the first estimation of what is now called the Hubble constant, which he published in 1927, two years before Hubble’s article. Lemaître also proposed what later became known as the “Big Bang theory” of the origin of the universe, initially calling it the “hypothesis of the primeval atom“. . . .

At this time [1931], Einstein, while not taking exception to the mathematics of Lemaître’s theory, refused to accept that the universe was expanding; Lemaître recalled his commenting “Vos calculs sont corrects, mais votre physique est abominable (“Your calculations are correct, but your physics is atrocious”). . . .

After Hubble’s discovery was published, Einstein quickly and publicly endorsed Lemaître’s theory, helping both the theory and its proposer get fast recognition.

That is all scientific work, so how does it tie into the Bible (which — we agree — is not and was not intended to be a “science book”)? Well, the Bible taught ex nihilo creation:

Genesis 1:1 (RSV) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Thus, in this instance, science had to adjust to a long-held tenet of Christianity, rather than vice versa, and what John Loftus claimed above (falling into the trap of asserting a universal negative again) is a falsehood. The agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow (1925-2008) observed about this:

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries. (God and the Astronomers, 1978)

Now we see how the astronomical evidence supports the Biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and Biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy. (The Enchanted Loom, 1981)

As Richard Carrier says, “Theologians have been wrong every time so far. Why keep betting on them?” I just don’t see why we should. (p. 135).

Really? I’ve already provided several contrary examples. Loftus and Carrier need to get up to speed and to stop saying dumb things. Here’s another example that runs counter to their bigoted proclamations. Aristotle thought that time extended to an infinite past and into an infinite future. But Christian theologian St. Augustine (354-430), according to the Stanford University web page, “Spacetime Before Einstein”:

. . . put a theological twist on Lucretius’ argument for the relational nature of time in his Confessions, emphasizing that “God created the world with time, not in time”. Time came into existence along with matter, in other words — a viewpoint that interestingly foreshadows the one held by big-bang cosmologists today.

Eric Rosenfield, in his article, “An Analysis of the Concept of Time in the Confessions, Book 11 by Augustine of Hippo” elaborates:

In 1917, Albert Einstein completed work on the General Theory of Relativity, one of the rules of which states that time is fundamentally bound to matter and gravity, and that without matter there would be no time. Oddly, this concept was presaged almost 1,300 years before that when Bishop Augustine of Hippo (later St. Augustine) put forth the idea that when God created the Heavens and the Earth, he created time itself as well. Before Augustine, no one that we know of had tried to consider “time” as being something changeable, something that could start and stop; after all, we always perceive time as moving forward, and contemplating temporality as being finite or malleable seems unnatural, and the implications headache-rousing. Plato and Aristotle both regarded time as being infinite. Yet it was Augustine’s application of the methods of the principles of Grecian philosophy and reason to the Christian concept of God that forced him to arrive at his conclusions. . . .

[W]hat’s really strange about Augustine’s interpretation of the eternal nature of the Beginning is that, when taken entirely apart from the Bible, it resonates not only with Relativity (Augustine saying that for the Word to happen in time there must have been something that experiences time being roughly analogous to Einstein saying that matter and time are linked, and without one you would not have the other) but also with modern Big Bang Theory. Briefly, according to Big Bang Theory, because matter and time are so inextricably bound, when all the matter in the universe was compressed into a single point it formed what’s called a “quantum singularity” in which, the math shows, the curvature of time and space became infinite. This means the Big Bang singularity exists at all times at once, in all places at once much like Augustine’s God – the singularity that created the universe is all around us, all the time, forever.

Isaac Newton was still getting it wrong some 1300 years later, according to Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (“Time”):

In about 1700, Isaac Newton claimed future time is infinite and that, although God created the material world some finite time ago, there was an infinite period of past time before that.

But Loftus cites Richard Carrier’s whoppers again (one of many dumb things Carrier has uttered, that he chose to include in his book):

“Christianity was bad for science, it put a stop to scientific progress for a thousand years, and even after that it made science’s recovery difficult, painful, and slow.” (p. 141)

Right. He must live in an alternate universe. I have documented “33 Empiricist Christian Thinkers Before 1000 AD”As one example among many, both Augustine and Aquinas opposed astrology. On the other hand, many great early scientists (also Christians) were obsessed with astrology, including Galileo, Kepler, and Tycho Brahe, while Isaac Newton (an Arian) was fascinated with alchemy.

For examples of “scientific Christians” long before modern science was born, see Hermann of Reichenau (1013–1054) and Adelard of Bath (c. 1080-c. 1152). When modern science did get off the ground, of course it was Christianity that was overwhelmingly in the forefront of that. Christians or theists founded 115 scientific fields. There were at least 244 priest-scientists. And here are 152 lay Catholic scientists. 35 lunar craters were named to honor Jesuit scientists.

*

The so-called “Enlightenment” (the supposedly “reasonable” people), by contrast, murdered Lavoisier, the father of chemistry, and several other prominent French scientists and philosophers (namely, Philippe-Frédéric de DietrichNicolas de CondorcetJean Baptiste Gaspard Bochart de SaronGuillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, and Félix Vicq d’Azyr). The murderous spree against scientists was later revived by the Soviet and Chinese atheist Communists.

Galileo, on the other hand (the only example of a “scientific martyr” that we ever seem to hear about) lived his life under house arrest in luxurious palaces of his supporters. Galileo and other scientists of his general time, got many things wrong, too (just as some in the Church had, in condemning Galileo’s premature overconfidence).

The Catholic Church produced modern science, including heliocentrism (formulated by the Catholic Copernicus). One (sub-infallible) Catholic tribunal at one point of our history, got science wrong (while a pious Catholic who was wrongly persecuted: Galileo, got some major things right, but also other things wrong, and another Catholic, St. Robert Bellarmine, had the more modern, accurate understanding of scientific method).

As for heliocentrism, it need not be pointed out that Nicolaus Copernicus was the key figure who changed that, and he was a Catholic cleric, and his work was enthusiastically supported by the pope of the time and the Church (though later with Galileo there were some silly things said). Even a cursory glance at Wikipedia (“Heliocentrism”) reveals that Catholics were forerunners of heliocentrism:

European scholarship in the later medieval period actively received astronomical models developed in the Islamic world and by the 13th century was well aware of the problems of the Ptolemaic model. In the 14th century, bishop Nicole Oresme [c. 1320-1382] discussed the possibility that the Earth rotated on its axis, while Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa [1401-1464] in his Learned Ignorance asked whether there was any reason to assert that the Sun (or any other point) was the center of the universe. In parallel to a mystical definition of God, Cusa wrote that “Thus the fabric of the world (machina mundi) will quasi have its center everywhere and circumference nowhere.” . . .
The state of knowledge on planetary theory received by Copernicus [1473-1543] is summarized in Georg von Peuerbach‘s Theoricae Novae Planetaru (printed in 1472 by Regiomontanus [1436-1476] ). By 1470, the accuracy of observations by the Vienna school of astronomy, of which Peuerbach and Regiomontanus were members, was high enough to make the eventual development of heliocentrism inevitable, and indeed it is possible that Regiomontanus did arrive at an explicit theory of heliocentrism before his death in 1476, some 30 years before Copernicus. . . .
Science wasn’t content to accept the notion that epilepsy was demon possession or that sicknesses were sent by God to punish people. (p. 142)
*

The entry on “Health” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology reveals that ordinary medicinal remedies were widely practiced in Bible times. There wasn’t solely a belief that sin or demons caused all disease (as Bob Seidensticker often implies in his anti-Christian writings, and in this paper: “According to the Bible, evil spirits cause disease.”). There was also a natural cause-and-effect understanding:

Ordinary means of healing were of most diverse kinds. Balm ( Gen 37:25 ) is thought to have been an aromatic resin (or juice) with healing properties; oil was the universal emollient ( Isa 1:6 ), and was sometimes used for wounds with cleansing wine ( Luke 10:34 ). Isaiah recommended a fig poultice for a boil ( 38:21 ); healing springs and saliva were thought effectual ( Mark 8:23 ; John 5 ; 9:6-7 ). Medicine is mentioned ( Prov 17:22 ) and defended as “sensible” ( Sirach 38:4). Wine mixed with myrrh was considered sedative ( Mark 15:23 ); mint, dill, and cummin assisted digestion ( Matt 23:23 ); other herbs were recommended for particular disorders. Most food rules had both ritual and dietary purposes, while raisins, pomegranates, milk, and honey were believed to assist restoration. . . . [St. Paul: “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments”: 1 Timothy 5:23]

Luke’s constant care of Paul reminds us that nonmiraculous means of healing were not neglected in that apostolic circle. Wine is recommended for Timothy’s weak stomach [St. Paul: “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments”: 1 Timothy 5:23], eye-salve for the Thyatiran church’s blindness (metaphorical, but significant).

Doctors today often note how the patient’s disposition and attitude has a strong effect on his health or recovery. The mind definitely influences the body. Solomon understood this in several of his Proverbs: written around 950 BC (Prov 14:30; 15:30; 16:24; 17:22).

Rest assured that science is not infallible, either, and has taught atrocious things (even in the 20th century) like Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man as authentic hominid fossils (one was a hoax and the other was an ancient pig’s tooth), eugenics, and phrenology.

Albert Einstein (a sort of pantheist or panentheist) cared very little for the materialist / atheist scientific mindset:

My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we can comprehend about the knowable world. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God. (To a banker in Colorado, 1927. Cited in the New York Times obituary, April 19, 1955)

Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe — a spirit vastly superior to that of man . . . In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort . . . (To student Phyllis Right, who asked if scientists pray; January 24, 1936)

In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. (to German anti-Nazi diplomat and author Hubertus zu Lowenstein around 1941)

Then there are the fanatical atheists . . . They are creatures who can’t hear the music of the spheres. (August 7, 1941)

In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views. (c. 1941)

***

Photo credit: Fr. Georges Lemaître: father of Big Bang cosmology, around the mid 1930s [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

September 9, 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.

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 5 is entitled, “Does Morality Come from God?” (pp. 103-126).

Christians claim their moral foundation is superior to others in that their faith provides the only sufficient standard for morality. Other moral systems either do not, or cannot provide one. (p. 103)

This is simply untrue. To the contrary, we believe in natural law and conscience, and believe that it is innate in all human beings, and put there by God. St. Paul appears to teach this in Romans 2, and we have no less of an apologist than C. S. Lewis stating:

I send you back to your nurse and your father, to all the poets and sages and law givers, because, in a sense, I hold that you are already there whether you recognize it or not: that there is really no ethical alternative: that those who urge us to adopt new moralities are only offering us the mutilated or expurgated text of a book which we already possess in the original manuscript. (Christian Reflections, chapter four, “On Ethics” [1943?])

(1) The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of planting a new sun in the sky or a new primary colour in the spectrum.

(2) Every attempt to do so consists in arbitrarily selecting one maxim of traditional morality, isolating it from the rest, and erecting in into an unum necessarium. (Christian Reflections, chapter six, “The Poison of Subjectivism” [1943])

I noted in installment #4 of this series how Lewis compiled a list of common ethical precepts in different moral / religious systems:

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. Anyone can word-search the free online version for “Appendix Illustrations of the Tao” to find many examples of commonalities in ethics. For example, Lewis found the Golden Rule in the Analects of Confucius: “Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.”

It’s been argued that Confucianism is not even (technically) a religion, and that it is either a form of atheism, or that — for all practical purposes — an atheist could at least consistently practice it. The Wikipedia article “Confucianism” explains:

Tiān (天), a key concept in Chinese thought, refers to the God of Heaven, the northern culmen of the skies and its spinning stars, earthly nature and its laws which come from Heaven, to “Heaven and Earth” (that is, “all things”), and to the awe-inspiring forces beyond human control. . . . 

The scholar Ronnie Littlejohn warns that Tian was not to be interpreted as personal God comparable to that of the Abrahamic faiths, in the sense of an otherworldly or transcendent creator. Rather it is similar to what Taoists meant by Dao: “the way things are” or “the regularities of the world”, which Stephan Feuchtwang equates with the ancient Greek concept of physis, “nature” as the generation and regenerations of things and of the moral order.

Lewis is very widely considered the greatest Christian apologist in the second third of the 20th century. G. K. Chesterton (most would agree) filled that role in the first third. And he concurs with Lewis:

It seems to me that the mass of men do agree on the mass of morality, but differ disastrously about the proportions of it.  The difference between men is not in what merits they confess, but what merits they emphasise. Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable. (Illustrated London News, “The Proper Emphasis in Morality,” 10-23-09)

Christianity satisfied the previous cravings of mankind. (Illustrated London News, “The Neglect of Christmas,” 1-13-06)

Nobody ever disputed that humanity was human before it was Christian; . . . One of the chief claims of Christian civilisation is to have preserved things of pagan origin. (The Superstition of Divorce, 1920, chapter six)

Now, if the great Chesterton and Lewis and even (I contend) St. Paul all agree with this natural law which is universal and innate in all human beings, and enshrined in the conscience, I think we can safely say that Loftus has grossly misunderstood, if not misrepresented, this aspect of Christian belief as regards morality.

Loftus’ caricature above might apply to the fundamentalist Christianity that he (and so many other atheists) came out of, but not to the vast mainstream of thinking man’s Christianity. He would do well to better comprehend the latter, or else he should change this book’s subtitle to “. . . Rejects Fundamentalism” rather than “. . . Rejects Christianity.”

I agree (over against divine command theory) with Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland, cited in the book (p. 105): “Morality is ultimately grounded in the nature of God, not independently of God.”

In a quick potshot against the Bible’s moral injunctions, Loftus notes, “the man would be the domineering patriarchal head of the house in which a wife is to ‘obey’ her husband just like Sarah obeyed Abraham (1 Pet. 3:6).” Of course, Loftus conveniently omits the next verse: “Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are joint heirs of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered” (RSV). Dr. Scott Hahn in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, comments: 

Genesis gives no indication that Abraham, for his part, lacked respect for Sarah or considered her a mere slave under his authority. . . . the weaker sex: The statement is made in reference to a woman’s physical constitution, not her moral character or intellectual ability. Because a man’s natural strength exceeds that of a woman, the husband is called to honor his bride, lest he misuse his physical advantage to intimidate or abuse her.

And as to “submission” we should also briefly consider the “classic” passage: Ephesians 5:21-29. Paul makes a general statement to all Christians:  “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). Then after saying “Wives, be subject to your husbands” (5:22): the passage so despised by radical feminists and atheists alike, we see what he commanded the husbands to do: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” (5:25).

This is a far more difficult command. The husband has to love the wife like Christ loved, which is the royal commandment: “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). And how does Jesus love His disciples? He washed their feet (Jn 13:5). Then He explained to them:

John 13:13-17 You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. [14] If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. [15] For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. [16] Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. [17] If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 

This is the furthest imaginable thing from a husband “lording it over his wife” or abusing her as an inferior. Jesus elaborated on this same theme:

Matthew 20:25-26  . . . “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. [26] It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant,” 

This is true Christianity: not the caricatures of the skeptic and the atheist polemicist. Loftus took his shot by citing one passage out of its overall context of biblical teaching on marriage (which I provided in a nutshell form). He knew he could get “mileage” out of it. All he sees is legalistic bondage and oppression. The true teaching, on the other hand, is a beautiful partnership (not an ugly thing), with the husband (of the two partners) having the greater responsibility to serve his wife.

Now, do Christians husbands habitually fall short? Of course; this is the human condition (it’s why we continually need grace, the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, and a Savior). But Loftus attacked the biblical teaching on marriage, and I have shown how it was unwarranted. 

Loftus soon moves onto a long laundry list of alleged characteristics of God (especially as revealed in the Old Testament), claiming that Yahweh, the God of the Bible, is a “moral monster” (section title on p. 108). It’s a full-fledged attack upon God Himself: arguing that He is evil and wicked (like Satan).

Since this sort of thing is often the “passionate heart” of much anti-theist atheist polemics (what they feel is one of their “silver bullets”), and because the portrayals are so unjust and outright twisting of biblical teachings, I would like to spend considerable time on it. Fortunately, I have already dealt in depth with many of these “anti-God” claims in other papers, and so can simply link to them, where applicable.

[T]he biblical God, Yahweh, is a hateful, racist, and sexist God . . . (p. 108)

He customarily punishes people, even babies, for the sins of others beginning in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:16-18) . . . (p. 108)

This gets into original sin, which is a long discussion, but suffice it to say that Christianity believes that the fall of man was a corporate one:

1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 

We all rebelled through Adam’s disobedience (Adam represented mankind), and we all can be saved (sufficient grace is available) through Christ our savior. So in that sense it is not judging one person for the sin of someone else. When it comes to the actual sin that each person commits, Scripture makes it clear that we’re all accountable for our own sin and no one else’s:

Deuteronomy 24:16 The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin. (cf. 2 Ki 14:6; 2 Chr 25:4)

Jeremiah 31:30 But every one shall die for his own sin . . .

Ezekiel 18:19-20 “Yet you say, `Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. [20] The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. 

[H]e punishes . . . the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren of the parents who worship other gods (Exodus 20:3-5) . . . (p. 108)

I have dealt with this very passage in depth.

He even makes the parents of Jerusalem cannibalize their own children . . . (Jeremiah 19:9) (p. 108)

Jeremiah 19:9 And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and every one shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.

Bible scholar E. W. Bullinger explains this in his 1104-page tome, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (London: 1898). It’s also available for free, online. He explains the linguistic factors that explain this odd verse (pp. 823-824):

4. Active verbs were used by the Hebrews to express, not the doing of the thing, but the permission of the thing which the agent is said to do. Thus: . . . 

Ex. iv. 21. — ” I will harden his heart (i.e., I will permit or suffer his heart to be hardened), that he shall not let the people go.” So in all the passages which speak of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. . . . 

[I have written about this at some length, showing how all the passages taken together indication God’s permission, not causation]

[ . . . ]

So the A.V. Jer. iv. 10. — ” Lord God, surely thou hast greatly deceived this people ” : i.e., thou hast suffered this People to be greatly deceived, by the false prophets, saying : Ye shall have peace, etc.

Ezek. xiv. 9. — ” If the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet “: i.e., I have permitted him to deceive himself.

[the previous chapter 13 describes the “foolish prophets” (13:3) who “prophesy out of their own minds” (13:2), who have “spoken falsehood and divined a lie; they say, ‘Says the LORD,’ when the LORD has not sent them” (13:6). God is “against” (13:8-9) “the prophets who see delusive visions and who give lying divinations” (13:9). Clearly God utterly opposes them, and 14:9 is non-literal metaphor for God allowing them to prophesy falsely]

Ezek. XX. 25. — ” Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good ” : i.e., I permitted them to follow the wicked statutes of the surrounding nations, mentioned and forbidden in Lev. xviii. 3.

Jeremiah 19:9 utilizes the same figure of speech. In similar cross-references (Dt 28:53-57; Lev 26:29; 2 Ki 6:26-29; Ezek 5:10; Lam 4:10), it’s clear that God is not in favor of cannibalism, but rather, is describing free will sinful actions of the Israelites. Jeremiah 19:9 has the same meaning, but contains the figure of speech, so it can be misinterpreted, as Loftus and other atheists have done for their purposes: not understanding this aspect of Hebrew literary genre.

Many other passages that Loftus cites in order to indict God have to do with judgment, including the death penalty in many cases regarding Jewish Law: which God as the prerogative to do. This is perfectly plausible and understandable, by the analogy of human laws and judges who enforce those laws. I’ve written about this many times:

God’s Judgment of Humans (Sometimes, Entire Nations) [2-16-07]

“How Can God Order the Massacre of Innocents?” (Amalekites, etc.) [11-10-07]

Did Moses (and God) Sin In Judging the Midianites (Numbers 31)? [5-21-08]

Israel as God’s Agent of Judgment [9-28-14]

Is God an Unjust Judge? Dialogue with an Atheist [10-30-17]

God’s Judgment of Sin: Analogies for an Atheist Inquirer [9-6-18]

Did God Immorally “Murder” King David’s Innocent Child? (God’s Providence and Permissive Will, and Hebrew Non-Literal Anthropomorphism) [5-6-19]

Madison vs. Jesus #9: Clueless Re Rebellion & Judgment [8-7-19]

David Madison vs. Paul and Romans #11: Chapter 11 (“Scary” & “Vindictive” Yahweh? / Endless Stupefied Insults of God / Judgment Explained Yet Again) [8-30-19]

Loftus argues that hell is unjust and indefensible (pp. 108-109). I’ve written about that many times, too:

Dialogue w Agnostic on Basic Differences and Hell [5-17-05]

Replies to Some Skeptical Objections to the Christian Doctrine of Hell (“Religion Is Lies” website) [5-24-06]

Dialogue w Atheists on Hell & Whether God is Just [12-5-06]

Hell: Dialogue with a Philosophy Graduate Student [12-26-08]

Dialogue: Hell & God’s Justice, Part II [1-2-09]

Can Hell Actually be Defended? My Shot … [10-7-15]

A Defense of Hell: Philosophical Explanations of its Plausibility, Necessity, and Factuality [12-10-15]

Exchanges with an Atheist on Hell & Skepticism [12-17-15]

Hell as a Deterrent: Analogy to Our Legal Systems [10-3-18]

Loftus (p. 109) goes after references to slavery in the Bible. I’ve dealt with that, also:

*
*
Loftus claims that God favors rape (p. 109). No, He does not, as I have explained: Seidensticker Folly #6: God Has “No Problem with Rape”?  On the same page, he attacks the divorce of foreign wives (Ezra 10:1-19, 44; cf. 9:1-2, 14-15). But God had forbidden this practice, due to the influence of false religions which the foreign wives adhered to (e.g., Dt 17:17, Neh 13:23-28). That‘s why they were sent away.
*
Loftus falsely claims that God commands child sacrifice (p. 110). This is sheer nonsense, which I have refuted. He cites Exodus 22:29-30 and Ezekiel 20:25-26 as supposed proofs of this. The argumentation here is among the most shoddy and embarrassing of Loftus’ long list of alleged errors and eisegesis of Holy Scripture. Amy K. Hall at the Stand to Reason blog demolishes this very argument (citing Loftus’ use of it), and shows that all that was meant was a dedication or consecration of the firstborn child to God.
*
The Ezekiel passage uses the same figure of speech seen above, in the discussion of Jeremiah 9:9, and in fact, the scholar and expert on biblical figures of speech, E. W. Bullinger, included this very passage, in what I cited from him (see above). See a long list of biblical condemnations of child sacrifice (and abortion, which is a species of that).
*
Loftus (p. 111) goes after the story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac. I’ve written about it. Nor can God be blamed for Jephthah’s daughter (same page).  Loftus argues (p. 111) that the prophet Micah is advocating child sacrifice (Micah 6:6-8) . He’s not at all. Pulpit Commentary explains:
Micah exactly represents the people’s feeling; they would do anything but what God required; they would make the costliest sacrifice, even, in their exaggerated devotion, holding themselves ready to make a forbidden offering; but they would not attend to the moral requirements of the Law. It is probably by a mere hyperbole that the question in the text is asked. The practice of human sacrifice was founded on the notion that man ought to offer to God his dearest and costliest, and that the acceptability of an offering was proportioned to its preciousness. The Hebrews had learned the custom from their neighbours, e.g. the Phoenicians and Moabites (comp. 2 Kings 3:27), and had for centuries offered their children to Moloch, in defiance of the stern prohibitions of Moses and their prophets (Leviticus 18:212 Kings 16:3Isaiah 57:5). They might have learned, from many facts and inferences, that man’s self-surrender was not to be realized by this ritual; the sanctity of human life (Genesis 9:6), the substitution of the ram for Isaac (Genesis 22:13), the redemption of the firstborn (Exodus 13:13), all made for this truth. But the heathen idea retained its hold among them, so that the inquiry above is in strict keeping with the circumstances.

We even read where the King of Moab sacrificed his son, which caused the Israelites to retreat in defeat. Moab’s sacrifice created a great “wrath” (ketzef) . . . indicating that his sacrifice caused some divinity to act on behalf of Moab (2 Kings 3:26-27). (p. 111)

I dealt with this very passage when fellow Bible-bashing atheist Bob Seidensticker tried to eisegete it:

There is nothing whatsoever in the text about some supposed defeat of God (Yahweh) by a false Moabite god. . . . Nor is it proof that God turned against Israel / Judah simply because the word “wrath” (RSV) is present (KJV: “indignation”). Bob assumes that too. The Hebrew is qetseph, which is usually used of God’s wrath, but not always, and not necessarily. For example, Esther 1:18 (RSV): “This very day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will be telling it to all the king’s princes, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty” (cf. Ecclesiastes 5:17). It can also be plausibly interpreted as the wrath of the king of Moab against Israel. The Bible refers (RSV) to “a king’s wrath” twice (Proverbs 16:14; 19:12).

The translation of 2 Kings 3:27 that Bob uses is the NET Bible: a relatively obscure translation. It’s very unusual (perhaps even singular) in that it inserts “divine” into the passage, making it definitively a case of God’s wrath against Israel. But I can’t find any other translation that does this. No one need merely take my word on this. They can consult the online pages with multiple translations of the passage (one / two) just as I did.

God’s prohibition of child sacrifice as an outrageous abomination is very clear. I found 18 passages concerning this in my paper, The Bible’s Teaching on Abortion. Jesus compared the ancient sacrifice of children to hell itself (particularly, child sacrifice to Ba’al or Molech).

Seidensticker ignored this counter-argument, as he has 34 more of my papers that respond to his arguments. Loftus gets in a dig against Jesus, implying that He was a bigot, and he employs an old atheist chestnut (these things are simply recycled over and over) that distorts a Bible passage, as usual:

[H]e also called a Syrophoenician woman part of a race of “dogs” and only begrudgingly helped her (Mark 7:24-30). (p. 123)

Mark 7:25-30 But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet. [26] Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoeni’cian by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. [27] And he said to her, “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” [28] But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” [29] And he said to her, “For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” [30] And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

Apologists Eric Lyons and Kyle Butt thoroughly dispense of this “objection” (complete with a good dose of sorely needed humor) in their article, “Was Jesus Unkind to the Syrophoenician Woman?”:

To our 21st-century ears, the idea that Jesus would refer to the Gentiles as “little dogs” has the potential to sound belittling and unkind. When we consider how we often use animal terms in illustrative or idiomatic ways, however, Jesus’ comments are much more benign. For instance, suppose a particular lawyer exhibits unyielding tenacity. We might say he is a “bulldog” when he deals with the evidence. Or we might say that a person is “as cute as a puppy” or has “puppy-dog eyes.” If someone has a lucky day, we might say something like “every dog has its day.” Or if an adult refuses to learn to use new technology, we might say that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” In addition, one might say that a person “works like a dog,” is the “top dog” at the office, or is “dog tired.” Obviously, to call someone “top dog” would convey no derogatory connotation.

For Jesus’ statement to be construed as unkind or wrong in some way, a person would be forced to prove that the illustration or idiom He used to refer to the Gentiles as “little dogs” must be taken in a derogatory fashion. Such cannot be proved. In fact, the term Jesus used for “little dogs” could easily be taken in an illustrative way without any type of unkind insinuation. In his commentary on Mark, renowned commentator R.C.H. Lenski translated the Greek term used by Jesus (kunaria) as “little pet dogs.” . . . Lenski goes on to write concerning Jesus’ statement: “All that Jesus does is to ask the disciples and the woman to accept the divine plan that Jesus must work out his mission among the Jews…. Any share of Gentile individuals in any of these blessings can only be incidental during Jesus’ ministry in Israel” . . . 

Consider that Matthew had earlier recorded how a Roman centurion approached Jesus on behalf of his paralyzed servant. Jesus did not respond in that instance as He did with the Syrophoenician woman. He simply stated: “I will come and heal him” (8:7). After witnessing the centurion’s refreshing humility and great faith (pleading for Christ to “only speak a word” and his servant would be healed—vss. 8-9), Jesus responded: “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (vs. 10, emp. added). . . . 

[see my related paper, David Madison vs. the Gospel of Mark #7: Ch. 7 (Gentiles) ]

What many people miss in this story is what is so evident in other parts of Scripture: Jesus was testing this Canaanite woman, while at the same time teaching His disciples how the tenderhearted respond to possibly offensive truths. . . . 

Before people “dog” Jesus for the way He used an animal illustration, they might need to reconsider that “their bark is much worse than their bite” when it comes to insinuating that Jesus was unkind and intolerant. In truth, they are simply “barking up the wrong tree” by attempting to call Jesus’ character into question. They need to “call off the dogs” on this one and “let sleeping dogs lie.”

***

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]

***

September 9, 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.

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 4 is entitled, “Does God Exist” (pp. 79-102)

The atheist maintains that the material universe either popped into existence out of nothing, has always existed, is self-caused, or is just a natural brute fact arising form the laws of physics. . . . Atheist philosopher Quentin Smith claims that our universe came “from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.” He argues that the universe caused itself to exist. (p. 79)

This is one of the very best arguments against atheism (simple and elegant). Even Loftus concedes on the same page that this view is “extremely unlikely — or possibly absurd.” Granted, he also thinks the view that “Something — anything — has always existed” (which would include an eternal God) can be described in the same way. But it’s quite notable and in my opinion, a huge concession in holding that atheist explanations of the existence of the universe are no more plausible or likely than the traditional Christian belief in creation of the universe (all things) by God.

Thanks, John! I’ve been making the same argument for at least 30 years: contending that both competing views of the origin of the universe (theistic and atheistic) cannot be absolutely proven, and require axioms: in effect, “faith.” Atheists routinely claim falsely and groundlessly that their view of ultimate origins is rational, “scientific,” and requires no faith, whereas ours (here it comes!) is irrational, anti-scientific (or at least non-scientific / non-empirical) and requires unsupported blind faith. Loftus cuts through that pretense, and I appreciate it. It’s a breath of fresh air. Both sides necessarily entail unproven axioms and non-empirical (purely philosophical and/or religious) starting-points.

[the classic ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments (dealt with in pp. 81-97) are far too involved to delve into for my purposes, and others do a far better job, anyway, so I will leave the defenses of these three classic arguments up to them. Loftus mostly summarizes both espousals of these arguments and criticisms of them (i.e., he does little more than “survey the literature” from a thoroughly biased atheist perspective). I agree that none of them absolutely prove God’s existence. But considered together, I think they raise many troubling objections for the atheist to consider, and that the cumulative evidences suggest that God’s existence is far more probable and plausible than His non-existence]

I’m not certain some kind of god doesn’t exist. I just don’t think so. (p. 97)

Fair enough. There is still a little door open to convince him of God’s existence, then.

[T]his [the teleological / design argument] was the same argument that convinced a possibly stroke-affected Antony Flew to become a deist before he died, after being possibly the leading atheist thinker of the last century. (p. 97)

I’ve been looking and looking, with all the search capabilities of the modern Internet, and I can’t find anything about Flew having had a stroke at all: let alone one that would affect his reasoning, so that he would become a deist. I’d love to know where Loftus discovered this alleged bit of information, and how verified it is. The closest I got was a reference in the Wikipedia article about Flew, that referenced “an article in The New York Times Magazine alleging that Flew’s intellect had declined due to senility,  . . .”

Following the link to the article (dated 4 November 2007), I see that the words “senility” or “senile” never appear in it; nor does “dementia.” It makes passing references to his “memory failing” / “his powers in decline” / “halting” diction and a mind “in decline” (he was  then 84). But all this — even if true — is far, far from alleging the serious claim that a stroke affected his philosophical reasoning ability. So where did Loftus acquire such a belief: even if it is only speculative?

The same article notes that well-known atheist Richard Carrier wrote to Flew in 2001, and that Flew replied on the 3rd of September:  “I have for a long time been inclined to believe in an Aristotelian God who (or which) does not intervene in the Universe.” He was at that time 78, so whatever “a long time” means, it is clear that the essence of his change of mind was not “before he died” (implied: right before; stroke or no). Nice try!

Thus, to uphold this hypothesis, one would have to establish that Flew suffered a stroke before whatever year his “Aristotelian god” inclination began (a “long time” before he reached age 78: so he himself stated). It doesn’t look very hopeful. But  atheists had to come up with something to discredit Flew’s newfound belief (I documented a good deal of this at the time in a discontinued paper of mine), and so Loftus gives us this nothing burger.

[following an argument from Richard Dawkins] Of course, if evolution is unguided, then God doesn’t exist.” (p. 97)

This doesn’t follow at all, and is a strikingly weak argument to make. There is no necessity that I can see for God (if He exists) to be compelled to “guide evolution.” If God is only a deist-type god, a la the “late period Flew” or David Hume (who accepted a form of the teleological argument), then by definition He would not guide it, since deism posits a God Who creates and then withdraws from any governance or supervision of His creation (His providence and sovereignty are denied). But even a full theistic and biblical God wouldn’t have to literally guide evolution (however such a thing is construed). He could simply have put the potentialities into matter that would enable it to evolve and bring about all that we see today. St. Augustine was pondering that live possibility 1600 years ago.

This God . . . had a body that needed to rest on the seventh day and was found walking in the “cool of the day” in the Garden of Eden . . . Still later, the God of the Bible was stripped of physical characteristics and became known as a spiritual being (John 4:21-24), although he may have been thought of as an embodied God when impregnating Mary . . . (p. 102)

Loftus, like probably 50 other atheists I’ve interacted with, doesn’t have a clue about biblical anthropomorphism and anthropopathism. This is part of the profoundly ignorant (almost universal) atheist misunderstanding of the many biblical literary genres and ways of expression. It’s all the more case if an atheist came out of fundamentalism, since they never understood or fully understood these factors even as a Christian.

This also gets into the related involved topics of theophanies and the angel of the Lord [see section II, part 3 in the link, and see also a second article] as God’s representative, which I have written about. It’s not likely that Loftus has much of an understanding of these matters, and the standard Christian / biblical view that God the Father is invisible: at least not from these particular out-to-sea “parting shot” statements in this chapter. We’ll see if he exhibits any better understanding of these more advanced matters in theology, as we proceed through the book.

It’s beyond ludicrous to claim that Christians ever believed that a supposedly physical God the Father impregnated Mary (best I can tell, this is what Loftus meant). In Christian belief from the start, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18: “she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit”: RSV): and a spirit is what it is. The Holy Spirit is immaterial and He has no body. So this is truly beyond the pale. Bringing about a miraculous pregnancy in Mary no more requires a “physical” God the Father or Holy Spirit than creation does. Loftus is just pulling these things out of a hat.

Lastly, Loftus is getting way ahead of himself in bringing up trinitarianism in a chapter about the theistic arguments, since virtually all Christians would readily agree that those arguments do not establish a trinitarian God (though they are consistent with that). Rather, the Holy Trinity is revealed in God’s inspired revelation: the Bible. It’s not the conclusion of a philosophical argument.

***

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]

***

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.

*****

John Loftus’ chapter 3 is entitled, “The Outsider Test for Faith” (pp. 64-78).

Loftus summarizes this argument of his as follows:

(1) Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their upbringing and shared cultural heritage.

(2) [T]o an overwhelming degree, one’s religious faith is causally dependent upon cultural conditions.

From (1) and (2) it follows that:

(3) It is highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false.

Given these odds we need a test, or an objective standard, to help us determine if our inherited religious faith is true, so I propose that:

4) The best and probably the only way to test one’s adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism one uses to evaluate other religious faiths.

. . . I’m not arguing that religious faiths are completely culturally relative and therefore all false because of religious diversity. I’m merely arguing that believers should be very skeptical of their faith because of these cultural factors. . . . (p. 65)

If you were born in Saudi Arabia you would be a Sunni Muslim right now.  . . . If you were born in the first century BCE in Israel, you’d adhere to the Jewish faith, and if you were born in Europe in 1200 CE, you’d be a Roman Catholic.. . . In short, we are overwhelmingly products of our times. (p. 66)

At the very minimum, believers should be willing to subject their faith to rigorous scrutiny by reading many of the best-recognized critiques of it. For instance, Christians should be willing to read this book of mine and others I’ve published. (p. 68)

[T]hey can no longer start out by believing that the Bible is true . . . nor can they trust their own anecdotal religious experiences, since such experiences are had by people of all religious faiths who differ about the cognitive content learned as the result of these experiences. (pp. 68-69)

If after you have investigated your religious faith with the presumption of skepticism, you find that it passes intellectual muster, you can have your religious faith. It’s that simple. If not, abandon it. (p. 71)

I answered an earlier version of Loftus’ argument in September 2007. The following draws heavily from that article of mine.

I fully agree with the “rational self-examination” core of this argument. It’s a major reason why I do apologetics. Religious views need to be held with a great deal more rationality and self-conscious analysis of the epistemological basis and various types of evidences for one’s own belief.

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.

Many (and probably most) Christians never do the recommended self-examination of their faith and its basis; I agree. Again, this is among the many reasons why I have devoted myself to apologetics. 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 become “convinced” 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 competent advocates of any given debate and see them interact with each other. That’s why I do so many dialogues. John Loftus wrote these papers and books, and they might 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. Inquirers need to read both sides and exercise their critical faculties (not just Christians or only atheists). The most fruitful, helpful debates are those 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.

It’s true that most people believe in the religious view that they were born into. But of course, some (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 (mostly Canadian) 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.

I’m not saying that my type of path is anywhere near the norm, but I am saying that there are (who knows how many?) folks like me to which this “test” doesn’t apply. We didn’t adopt our religious views simply because of what the majority of people around us believed, or because it was what we were raised in. We thought it through and came to our own conclusions.

Another relevant factor to consider is that many beliefs in other religions are similar or identical to Christian ones. This would cause this argument to have to be qualified, since the “diversity” is not as great as it may seem at first glance. 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. Anyone can word-search the free online version for “Appendix Illustrations of the Tao” to find many examples of commonalities in ethics. For example, Lewis found the Golden Rule in the Analects of Confucius: “Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.”

We need not reject all other religions in toto; just aspects of them that we believe to be untrue. For example, 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 lots of children (like American Christians used to), and are against abortion and premarital sex and pornography. All great stuff . . . 

Lewis’ argument, and one often made by Christian apologists, is that such commonality is an an indication of the truthfulness of those tenets which are widely held in common. If virtually every religious (or conscientious atheist) person in the world believes in some form of the Golden Rule, then that is evidence that the Golden Rule is likely true. If diversity suggests much falsehood (as I agree it does), then commonality suggests much truth in play.

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. I have also 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. 

Every person is responsible for his or her 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 any alternative. 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), my opinions changed because I had a rational basis to compare one view with another, rather than merely aping propagandistic slogans learned by rote repetition (which is much of liberal, secularist education these days).

But (back to Loftus’ argument) 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 single-handedly dismantled logical positivism). We can be sure that the alleged “neutral skeptic” has a complete set of predispositions, biases, and even some prejudices: as we all do to one degree or another. 

I do, however, 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.

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 with a fine-toothed comb.

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 beliefs 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.

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. I have compiled some evidence for scientifically verified miracles at the Marian shrine in Lourdes, France.

Skeptics thumb their noses 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 simply cannot happen because they allegedly “go against science ” (itself a blatant fallacy). 

As for believing that the Bible is true: we test it like any other source of history: through historiographical scholarship and archaeology. The Bible has been verified again and again in this fashion and has proven itself highly accurate, insofar as it correctly 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.

Loftus has never replied to any of these arguments of mine for almost twelve years (except with personal insults towards me). He claims that Christians have offered no good replies to this argument. I believe that I have offered some (that’s for readers to determine).

Bottom line: everyone is in this same boat (as Loftus agrees). We all have to / should / must examine why we believe what we believe. The Outsider Test is almost an apologia for Christian apologetics: when applied to Christianity. In a large sense, he almost makes my case for me. His arguments apply to those who are ignorant of apologetics and rational defense of their views. Loftus even rather dramatically concedes:If after you have investigated your religious faith with the presumption of skepticism, you find that it passes intellectual muster, you can have your religious faith” (p. 71). I couldn’t agree more!

It’s undeniably true (believe me, I know, in my profession) that most people, whether religious or atheist, don’t think very much about their worldview, and why they believe in God or disbelieve in His existence. Oftentimes, they don’t even know what they believe. This will be the case all the more as western culture continues to become more and more postmodernist, relativist, nominal as to religion and metaphysics and “ultimate questions of meaning,” and subjective. Religion and atheism both are often regarded as merely subjective and “personal” matters: for which (it is falsely claimed) no objective criteria of truth or falsity are relevant or even possible.

Moreover, the same dynamic that Loftus critiques as to Christians is seen in nations that are becoming predominantly atheist / non-religious. Folks who are born into those environments will (statistically, as the trends continue) be far more likely to grow up as good card-carrying  atheists (simply due to happenstance and where they were born), who think far more like Loftus does than like I do. Hence, we might observe, as a prime example, what is happening in England. An article in The Guardian (11-14-18) about falling Church of England attendance, noted:

Figures published by the British Social Attitudes survey in September showed that affiliation with the C of E was at a record low, at 14% – and down to 2% among young adults. More than half the population said they had no religion.

So millions who happen to be born in England are far more likely than those born in America, to be nominal about religion or atheist. And the vast majority of these won’t be able to defend their positions against examination, just as most Christians also cannot. They couldn’t care less about discussing it at all. Even atheists who are supposedly able to do so (polemicists or “apologists” for their “cause”), rarely interact with serious Christian critiques. Why?

The entire argument can be thrown back onto Loftus and atheists. Why are they so unwilling (like most Christians) to subject their views to scrutiny? Why do they confine their online discourse almost solely to cheerleading “groupthink” echo chambers: their own comboxes, where they can safely “preach to the choir” and quickly gang up on anyone who enters and dares to dissent form the party line? Why did Bob Seidensticker, who runs the popular Cross Examined blog, completely ignore 35 direct critiques I have made of his arguments (after he challenged me to write them)? Is this being intellectually deficient and/or dishonest, as Loftus charges Christians who act the same way? Does this extraordinary, determined reluctance suggest a lack of confidence in his own views?

Why has Dr. David Madison, who blogs on Loftus’ own Debunking Christianity site, also utterly ignored 35 of my critiques against his atheist articles, that aggressively attack Christian beliefs? The same questions apply to him, just as Loftus applies them to Christians who can’t rationally explain why they believe what they believe. Goose and gander. Meanwhile, I’m here doing exactly what Loftus calls for (and what I have done since 1981, as an apologist): subjecting my views to scrutiny and examination through multiple hundreds of dialogues, and extending the same courtesy to atheists (who almost universally refuse to respond to such inquiries). In other words, they act exactly as most Christians do in this regard.

And if John Loftus also chooses to ignore these critiques of his book (that he challenged me to do way back in 2006, and boldly challenges anyone and everyone to do), he will help to prove my point, too. We have to look at what both Christians and atheists do; not just what they say, and claim to believe, just as Jesus rebuked His proclaimed followers who were being hypocritical:

Luke 6:46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” 

Christians have no monopoly on either ignorance or hypocrisy. Loftus talks a good game. He writes well and articulately presents his case. Now let’s see if he can back up his own rhetoric with defenses of his views, as they are seriously examined (just as he examines and rejects ours).

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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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