Category Archives: Christian Delusion

Fishing for Compliments

In his most recent post, John Loftus said, “In the sidebar it may look as if I think highly of myself.”

I stopped reading after that because I was laughing too hard.  No, the appearance of John thinking highly of himself is not limited to the sidebar:

  • Its [The Christian Delusion] content is so daring and controversial that a desperate and hostile response from defenders of the faith is inevitable. (source)
  • Because of that book [Why I Became an Atheist] I was able to gather together some scholars to write chapters for The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails which is helping to significantly change the religious landscape. (source)
  • If you’re a Christian thinking about entering [an apologetics degree] program then simply ask them if they deal with my books. Any program worth it’s salt should do so. (emphasis in original, source)
  • [The End of Christianity is] an excellent book, which combined with its predecessor (The Christian Delusion) makes a decisive refutation of the Christian religion. (source)
  • Debating William Lane Craig: “What is Bill afraid of? He’s afraid of introducing me to his fan base. This is what I really think. He’s scared of me.” (emphasis in original, source)

And those are just a few examples.  I know more exist.  I believe the introduction to The End of Christianity contains a gem along the lines of “the gavel has come down, the case is closed, Christianity stands completely debunked.”

So John’s contention in that post that he isn’t now nor ever will be a celebrity is nothing more than false humility, the same sorts of mind games that insecure people fishing for compliments stoop to.

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Lack of Posting

It’s been a while since I’ve last posted, but I’ve still been hard at work.

Back in May of 2010, John W. Loftus began what he called a “reality check” series:

I’m going to start a series of posts describing what must be the case if Christianity is true. When done I’ll put them all together so Christians can see the formidable obstacles there are to their faith at a glance. (source)

In other words, assume:

  • Christianity is false
  • Naturalism is true
  • Liberal interpretations of archeology are accurate and they prove the Bible 100% false

Those, of course, are all prospects that must be argued rather than assumed, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  Loftus ended up with 30 propositions in that series and promised more as of 7/2010, but none materialized.

I had planned on answering all 30, even though I have noted several are not arguments and have no bearing on the truth of Christianity, nor on anyone’s interpretation of reality.  I think Loftus believes all are self-evidently nonsense, and once stated immediately show how false they are.  Which leads to a few questionable items, such as #2 — which is neither an argument nor a physical impossibility.  Rather, it is one possible interpretation of God, most often associated with open theism.

I had copied all 30 into an open document text file, did some fancy bells and whistles with formatting (I’m particularly proud of the cowboy hat graphic that accompanies each of the top-level headings, since Loftus’s trademark is the cowboy hat), and prepared to answer them.

Then did absolutely nothing.

Now, over a year later, I decided to dust off the e-book file and actually complete it.  I’ve been answering one or two at a time, and posting them on the e-book sharing site Scribd, under my account.  A link now appears under promotional links on the right, but here are the documents so far:

  1. Nature of God
  2. God’s Eternal Decree
  3. Nature of Satan
  4. The Fall
  5. Existence of Similar ANE Mythology Disproves the Bible

That’s what I have so far.  I may not have been active here, but I’m always writing.  Check those out and give me some feedback, as when I complete all 30 I’m planning on releasing a final e-book copy, collating the full collection.  Updated, of course, to reflect criticisms of my replies.

The Textbook Example of Strawman Arguments

A strawman argument is basically arguing against something that’s easier to debunk than what your opponent actually said.

For example, John W. Loftus calls this one of the most asinine claims made by Christians:

It’s claimed that people like Dawkins, or Hitchens, or Harris don’t know enough to reject Christianity. How much should a person know about a religion or the various branches of it in order to reject it? Really. I’d like to know. (source)

If that’s the way that Christians actually articulate this objection, then yes, that’s asinine!  However, I don’t think that anyone is saying this in spirit, even if they are in words.

What I think they are trying to get across is that Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris don’t know enough about Christianity to adequately criticize it.  Dawkins is the prime example–one of the arguments central to The God Delusion is the second grade retort, “Well, who made God then?”  That’s pretty sad coming from a man of Dawkins’s caliber.  He’s a decorated scholar and an eminent scientist; you’d think he’d realize that philosophy has long progressed past that point.

It’s undeniable learned scholars such as Dawkins venture into territory which they are not as familiar with as they should be before taking the plunge.  Maybe they know enough to confidently reject Christianity–they probably know at least as much about Christianity as I do about Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Roman Catholicism and I reject all of those.

However, before I try to criticize something, I attempt to become familiar with what it actually argues.  These guys don’t.  They stick to surface-level arguments and barely take a nick out of those.  Much of what they do is argue by outrage, which is the direct opposite of the rational inquiry that they always call for.

I have no doubt that, in a slip of many tongues, Christians have probably said that the New Atheists don’t know enough about Christianity to reject it.  However, that isn’t correct.  These men don’t know enough about it to criticize it.  I have a feeling that, while the formulation may have been incorrect, the articles by my fellow apologists would clearly explain that these men have seriously misplaced criticisms due to profound misunderstanding of basic Christian doctrines, theology, or arguments.

And that makes this a strawman argument from John Loftus.

A Question for John W. Loftus

Positively shocking. Loftus cough out a dumb argument? Unheard of.

Referring to this article, where scientists have discovered a gene that predisposes people to promiscuity, Loftus says:

While it isn’t a forgone conclusion that people with this gene will cheat on their mates, the presence of that gene makes such a temptation harder to overcome. Imagine that, some people (half of us) have a harder time overcoming such a temptation and yet God supposedly judges us all equally. That doesn’t seem fair now does it? I wonder if the incarnate Jesus gave himself that gene since he was “tempted in every way, just as we are.” (Hebrews 4:15) 😉 (source)

This argument (if you can call it that) is absurd.

This actually helps my position on homosexuality. I’ve argued that it is probably inborn, but by virtue of being inborn doesn’t automatically make it desirable. Nor should anything become socially acceptable based entirely on the fact that it is inborn.

Infidelity is a negative trait. So are addictive patterns of behavior, like alcoholoism. As is rage. So are many genetic illnesses like Alzheimer’s, certain cancers, emphysema, and heart disease. All of these things are hardwired into genetics, and no one is trying to argue for society to unconditionally accept people subject to those things on the basis of a genetic predisposition.

Things that are inborn, however, are undeniably part of the self. And what does Jesus call us to do when we become his followers? Deny ourselves (Lk 9:23).

And, turning to Paul’s writings, we see that sin itself is inborn: it is nature as well as action. Otherwise, the whole concept of the Christian becoming a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) is meaningless drivel.

Loftus cranks out lots of posts, and most of them are mindless soundbite arguments. This is the dude who complained at Victor Reppert’s blog (in the comments here) that soundbites were all that comments allowed. Yet, when faced with the unlimited canvas of a blog post, he again argues by soundbite.

Perhaps that’s all he has?

It would seem since one of the arguments that he keeps harping on is that we can’t trust our brains to make sense of the world, since we approach everything with bias and defend that which we prefer to be true.

Which leaves us with a big question for Mr. Loftus:

Why should anyone believe that you offer the truth? You also approach with bias and defend that which you prefer to be true–being that you’re a human and accuse all humans of doing this. You admit it: “I have never claimed that atheists are more rational than believers” (source).

Old Post, but New to Me

Sometimes, I gloss over the really good posts in my reader with the promise that I’ll get back to them later. Which of course I seldom actually get back to them later. But in this case, I did and I’m glad.

Dr. Randal Rauser (who I’m mad at for this post describing the plot of the movie The Human Centipede, which I’m having a hard time getting out of my head because the very idea of one person eating then pushing excrement into the mouth of a second person sewed to their anus is really gross–and how does Dr. Rauser know the plot of that movie, anyway?) gave us insight into John W. Loftus’s character:

Every so often people provide challenges to our positions that we cannot seem to answer. So what are we to do? Concede the difficulty and work to revise or reject our position? Well we could do that, but nobody likes to eat crow. And we have our reputations to protect, don’t we? So I am grateful to John Loftus for providing an alternative. First, create a diversion; second, insult with a range of slurs; and third (and most interestingly) accuse of heinous actions in counterfactual situations. (source)

Sounds like Loftus to me. Dr. Rauser explains that he critiqued Loftus’s essay on the Problem of Miscommunication, and Loftus responded, cordially at first, but then Dr. Rauser backed him into a corner from which he couldn’t escape.

Rather than admit defeat and revise his argument, Loftus changed the subject completely, demanding a coherent theodicy from Dr. Rauser before he’d answer the simple question of what divine revelation should look like. In other words, what criteria would separate divine revelation from simple human meanderings?

When Dr. Rauser tried to get the debate back on track, Loftus called him a snake and a Pharisee, demanding he answer the irrelevant question.

Then, Loftus told Dr. Rauser that he would have lit the fire that burned Anne Askew.

So, to recap: irrelevant question, name calling, slanderous accusations. I’ll have to remember that for my current conversation with Doug Crews, in case Crews backs me into a corner (it doesn’t look like that is going to happen, but you never know).

The Post that Makes Me Want to Ask Lofus, “Are You Stupid?”

Just read what I have to say before you start quoting 1 Peter 3:15 at me.

This post from Debunking Christianity may just be the height of John W. Loftus’s stupidity. In a short space, Loftus asks questions that just prove that he is not just ignorant, but willfully ignorant (and that’s the worst kind of ignorant). The crux of his argument:

Christians have faulted the so-called New Atheists with ignorance. They do the same thing with me. If only I knew this or that I would see the error of my way and believe again.

He closes appropriately, “Surely the theist cannot possibly demand that nonbelievers must know all that can be known before their rejection of religion is warranted.” No, we can’t ask for that, since we ourselves can’t know everything there is to know to accept our position as rational. But, that’s not really the focus. The focus here is the naivety and outright stupidity of the so-called rhetorical questions being asked. Let’s look at them:

How much philosophy should Richard Dawkins know to rationally reject religion?

He doesn’t need to know any philosophy to rationally reject religion, but if he’s going to write a book for the general populace using naturalism to debunk philosophical arguments of the existence of God, he ought to at least study his philosophy and learn what philosophers, both ancient and modern, have to say on the philosophical points he wishes to raise.

Had he done so, he would have known that “Who designed the Designer?” is a naive and silly question often asked by second graders who fail to distinguish between the heavenly and earthly realms. If God was a material entity, originating in a created plane of existence, then he would require a designer. However, he transcends the universe itself, existing outside of time and space, and therefore doesn’t require a cause the way a material entity or event does. Without the constrains of time, a cause-and-effect chain isn’t necessary to bring about a desired result or to create a being, event, or formation. God is, and always will be.

How much science should Christopher Hitchens know?

As above, to reject religion he doesn’t need to know. But, if he’s going to write a book that logically debunks religion with science, he ought to be familiar with his subject matter.

How much Bible should Daniel Dennett know?

Depends. If he’s going to write a book about the Bible, its history and construction, and contrast that with evolutionary development, then he ought to know quite a bit about the Bible.

How much theology should Sam Harris know?

If he’s going to argue the morality of Christian theology, he ought to have a basic grasp of it. He also ought to have a basic grasp of the cultural morality of the time in which the Bible was written. However, he doesn’t have even a 101-level grasp of any of those things and therefore shouldn’t argue it. Of course, that hasn’t stopped him from writing three books on those exact topics.

How much should we know to rationally reject religion? How much? What if we know very little? What if all we know is that God did not save our child and she died from Leukemia?

Let’s say all you think you know is that God couldn’t save a child from leukemia. Before you conclude that religion is stupid, don’t you think that you should at least investigate what a learned theologian may have to say on that matter, instead of just going the completely emotional route?

Here’s John being extremely inconsistent again. Atheism is a reasoned conclusion, religion is being biased and defending what you prefer to be true. But if you reject God solely on the basis of your child’s untimely death from leukemia, that is taking your visceral, emotional reply to a tragedy and rather than applying your mind to the task of weighing evidence or considering arguments, you shut your heart down to any possibility of God because you’re mad at him.

Exactly like my three-year old when she doesn’t get her way.

What if a scientist rejects religion because s/he cannot adequately test supernatural hypotheses?

What if a historian rejects the claims of a religion because as a historian s/he must assume a natural explanation for the events in the past?

Are they culpable for doing so when this is all they know to do? 

Yes, they are culpable.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Rom 1:20-25)

Everyone knows about God. Everyone can see God’s eternal nature and divine power. These folks are using their professions to hide what they know to be true under a thin cloak of pseudo-rationality. That’s willful rejection of God, gross idolatry, and a major sin.

When can it be said that a person can rationally reject a religion?

I don’t know the answer to that. But the rejections of religion that I’ve seen are emotional rejections of God because of anger directed at God, or disgust at the behavior of Christians. Not exactly rationally concluded atheism, is it?

I’ll let you know when I actually see a rational rejection of religion. I have yet to come across any.

Loftus Writing a Book with a Christian Scholar

If you’ve been following John W. Loftus’s blog, you know that he’s now writing a debate book with a Christian scholar. It looks like it’s going to be pretty shallow, at only 160 pages. Each debate is going to be less than 2000 words, with 750 words each presenting affirmation and denial, then a 100 word rebuttal each, and finally a 50 word conclusion each.

The good news is that Loftus is softballing questions to the unnamed scholar. The first three questions are:

  1. The biblical god ruled over a pantheon of gods and had a wife, Asherah.
  2. The biblical god required human sacrifices for his pleasure.
  3. The biblical god commanded the genocide of whole people groups.

As to (1), that is a big fat NEGATIVE. The people of Israel often worshiped Asherah (a Canaanite fertility goddess who also governed prosperity, I believe), and perhaps some of them may have believed that God took her as a wife. But the heretical beliefs of any religion do not define that religion.

The monotheism of ancient Israel (and most probably Abraham’s own journey to monotheism) didn’t conceive of God as a single entity or being. Rather, God was a plurality of powers. In polytheism, each discrete deity of a pantheon had a portfolio: a set of related areas of mortal life which that particular deity oversaw. Zeus, for example, ruled the skies, thunder, and lightning. Hades ruled death. Aphrodite ruled love and beauty, and her son Eros was responsible for matchmaking and sex (Eros is where we get our word erotica). When Abraham journeyed to monotheism, he (and people who followed after him) saw God the might of heavens (like clouds, thunder, and lightning) as an aspect of God. Similarly, death, love, beauty, matchmaking, and sex were all aspects of God. So, in our Greek example, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Eros were all seen as discrete powers, but unified in essence, purpose, and intelligence. They wouldn’t have individuality, but would be part of the divine.

This means that the Israelites didn’t see anything specifically wrong or blasphemous about worshiping the gods of the Canaanites, since these gods were seen as aspects of the One, True God of Israel. But in the Law, God through Moses sought to correct that way of thinking by forbidding Israel to make images of things on earth (you can’t worship nature, trees, or animals) and in heaven (forbidding both ancestor worship of oriental religions and the polytheism of most ancient cultures). God didn’t wish to be thought of as a set of individual entities, but as One.

As difficult as this is to wrap our modern minds around, it proved even more difficult for the Israelites to grasp. Hence, other deities (especially Canaanite deities) were worshiped throughout Israel. Asherah was by far the most common. The Bible makes repeated references to this, and consistently condemns it.

Whatever Loftus’s source for (1), it isn’t the Bible. The Bible is the infallible rule of faith and practice, and nowhere in it do we find a hint that God married Asherah. Nor do we find this alleged Israelite pantheon. Viewing God as the unity of intelligence and purpose behind a plurality of powers doesn’t make the Israelites into polytheists. Judging the whole of an ancient religion by its heretics is also dangerous. When Loftus was a Christian, I’m sure that he would take great exception if an opponent were to judge him by the tenets of Marcionism.

I’ve repeatedly said that (2) is just false, and I would love to see a biblical challenge to it. I’ll save you time: there ain’t one. God forbid human sacrifices. Yes, the Israelites often practiced them (I’ll even grant the famous story in Judges, but you have to show me where God accepted the sacrifice explicitly or implicitly without appealing to an argument like, “God is omniscient and omnipotent and could have stopped it if he wanted to”). But, as I stated in (1), you can’t judge a religion by its heretics. Every religion has them, but don’t use their practices to condemn the religion as a whole, especially when there are clear, unambiguous biblical mandates against human sacrifice.

We’ve also addressed (3) so many times that I don’t even want to get into it again. No one is innocent before God; we are all sinners, worthy of death and deserving of hell. Life, also, isn’t a guarantee. Nothing in the Bible promises that humans won’t be the victims of murder, genocide, war, or a tragic car accident. Whether we die in our beds of old age with our families around us, or by application of a strangle wire after being raped for the two previous hours, we will die. For good or ill, it is our destiny, and has been since Adam first ate the fruit of the forbidden tree.

God is perfectly able to judge guilty sinners as such and even use a human war machine as that people’s undoing. And that’s exactly what we see in the commanded genocides. Indeed, we see similarities in all deaths; it is all God’s judgment upon a sinful people.

Really? This is Your Argument?

John W. Loftus and company occasionally have excellent arguments against Christianity. They put up nuts that are tough to crack individually, and other nuts that are tough to crack cumulatively. I want to start by giving them props for those excellent arguments.
And then, other times, they put out completely stupid arguments. Loftus more than the other guys. Case in point:

Yahweh did not exist. He is much too tribal of a god, created the world in conflict with the sea God Rahab, married to Asherah, accepted child sacrifice, commanded genocide, forbid worship of all other gods (didn’t deny their existence), and chose Israel like the others gods did to other nations.

All of this crap has been answered before. Let’s break it down:

  • Created the world in conflict with the sea god Rahab: Water was present at the moment of creation (see Gen 1:2), and Rahab was a sea goddess described in period literature. Personifying the waters with a pagan goddess in this way would emphasize God’s power over the elements and his superiority to other gods. Since the Bible elsewhere makes it clear that God is the only god in existence (see below, and check the apocryphal book Wisdom 13:1-19), this isn’t a stamp of approval on the existence of Rahab, just strong poetic language.
  • Married Asherah: Asherah was a popular goddess among ancient Israel, but there is no biblical evidence to indicate that she ever married Yahweh. The fact that she is worshiped is no surprise; there is much in the texts that indicate Israel repeatedly worshiped other deities. As I mentioned above, the writers of Psalms and Job even worked the sea goddess Rahab into their imagery of the creation of the world. There is nothing significant in calling attention to a specific deity that they worshiped in spite of God’s command not to.
  • Accepted child sacrifice: What? Have you read Genesis 22:1-19, where God stops Abraham from doing the deed? If that isn’t enough for you, try Leviticus 18:21, 20:1-5 and Ezekiel 20:31. That Solomon re-instated child sacrifice is considered by the Bible writers to be a major downfall in his kingdom. And before you bring up Judges 11:29-40, show me where in the text (a) she was actually killed, and (b) God accepted and approved the sacrifice. Even though the language is unclear (probably intentionally), I can grant that (a) could be true, but I’ve searched very carefully and know for a fact that (b) is not in the text.
  • Commanded genocide: No, he pronounced judgment on a sinful people worthy of his wrath. Big difference. Murder, by the way, is wrong. But, if taking a life is justified (sin = death, see Gen 2:16-17, 3:17-19; cf. Rom 5:12, 14, 6:16, 23, 7:5, 13; 1 Cor 15:56; Jms 1:15), then it isn’t murder, is it?
  • Didn’t deny the existence of other deities: Really? Are you reading a different Bible than the one I have in my hand? The biblical authors say God is the only deity in Deuteronomy 4:39 and 1 Kings 8:20; God himself declares it so in Isaiah 44:8, 45:5-6, 14, 18, 22, 46:9 and Joel 2:27; and an Israelite lauds Jesus for teaching that God is the one and only in agreement with Scripture in Mark 12:32 (and Jesus tells him that heaven is close for him).
  • Predestination: It’s God’s perogotive to do what God will (Rom 9:18), choosing to save people at his will and pleasure to bring him glory. Unfortunately, apart from that drawing, no one can know God (Jn 6:44). So the wonder isn’t that only a few are saved, the wonder is that any are saved.

Thom Stark (a Christian, I believe) claims in the comment section of the post that all of these claims about Yahweh are true. I haven’t read his book–though now I want to–but I’ll bet his sources for this information didn’t come from the Bible. The authors may have, as Stark claimed, believed some of the things that appear above, but they are not present in Scripture. It’s a moot point–Scripture is our measure for truth about God, not what the authors of it believe.

The actual point of the post is to say that if Yahweh doesn’t exist, then God doesn’t exist. That’s bad logic. The God that Christians worship is the Creative force of the Universe, and is identified with the ancient name YHWH (or “Yahweh”). That is Hebrew for “I AM,” which is taken to mean, since names in ancient literature are allegorical, that God simply is, that he exists necessarily outside of nature, time, and space, and through him (and for him) the universe was created.

Showing that the ancient Israelite deity YHWH never existed isn’t tantamount to showing that a divine being, held to exist by any theistic religion, never existed. It means that YHWH may never have existed, but since Jesus did exist and claimed to be descended from, co-existent, and co-eternal with the One, True God–so you still have to do something with Jesus.

Sorry, this kind of fails.

We Can’t Win, Apparently

Loftus once wrote:

We abhor someone who is supposed to decide between two parties who also has a conflict of interest. That person could be a trustee of an estate, a judge, or a principal. We want a fair and impartial judgment. We want a fair ruling. So arguing against the Outsider Test for Faith is like arguing against a fair and impartial ruling. It is to argue against what is intuitively obvious to everyone else and consequently makes believers look very bad, because we abhor what they try to argue against. That is, even arguing against the OTF tells an outsider there is something badly wrong with the Christian faith. (source)

So, we can’t win. If we ignore the test, that proves its validity. If we engage the test, that proves its validity. From this point forward, John is no longer allowed to talk about how religion can’t be falsified.

Another E-book Refutation of TCD

J.P. Holding, Nick (aka ApologiaPhoenix) and others have joined together in another e-book refutation of Loftus’s The Christian Delusion. I have no other details, other than the title appears to be The Cowboys Who Talk Through Their Hats.

 

As with most of Holding’s new material, it probably won’t be free. Holding’s work (especially his e-books) is very reasonable (usually given away free with a subscription to his E-block newsletter–$8 for an annual subscription), however, and is worth it. I have a lot of respect for his Theology Web cohorts that contribute to the work as well.

Hopefully this is out soon and is of the quality that I come to expect from Holding’s work.