Thursday, February 16, 2006

Debunking Loftawful bunk

Thus far, the chief threat which John Loftus poses to the church is that Christian intellectuals will become cage fat from the yummy diet of intellectual junk food he’s been dishing up for our consumption.

We’ve never had it so easy. We no longer need to write original essays. We simply mouse over to his blog once a day, and he supplies us with all the honeyed corn mush we need to do a post of our own.

I’d advise my fellow bloggers not to become overly indolent from living off the fat of the land. Rather, we should squirrel away this bountiful summer’s harvest of warmed over chestnuts for the lean months to come. It’s just too good to last. Rationing is the only prudent policy. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”

Okay, now that I’ve set the table, it’s time for the Twinkies:

“Earlier I proposed something I called The Outsider Test for your faith, where I wrote: If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would be a Muslim right now, say it isn't so? That is a cold hard fact. Dare you deny it? Since this is so, or at least 99% so, then the proper method to evaluate your religious beliefs is with a healthy measure of skepticism.”

Isn’t this precious? Absolutely precious.

Any thoughtful blogger would first ask himself whether he was comparing the comparable.

Notice how Loftus goes straight from Saudi Arabian Muslims to American Evangelicals as if there were no material difference whatsoever.

Lets see now. Saudi Arabia is a theocracy. Islam is the state religion. It’s the creed of the media, academia, and judiciary alike. From TV to K-12.

What’s more, in Saudi Arabia they have a little thing called the law of apostasy. This means that if you openly defect from the faith, the state, free of charge, takes you to a barbershop and administers a rather radical haircut with a straight razor. It shaves everything away from the neck up—hair, skin, muscle, bone, arteries—the works.

So don’t you suppose that these two factors might just possibly account for the statistical correlation to which Loftus draws our attention?

And, needless to say, we have the very same type of religious social conditioning in the US as they have in Saudi Arabia, right?

If that part of Loftus’ comparison were insufficiently inept, there’s more. With Loftus it never rains, but it pours.

Precisely because Saudi Arabia is both a theocracy and a police state, we have not the slightest idea what percentage of the population really believes in this stuff.

But permit me to introduce my own comparison. Kuwait is another strict Muslim country with the useful restrictions. But when Saddam, who’s a secularist, “liberated” Kuwait, it was striking to see how many Kuwaitis were more than happy embrace all those decadent Western vices.

“There are so very many things we believe because of when and where we were born that an argument is made by moral relativists based on it, which is known to ethicists as the "Dependency Thesis (DT)" According to the DT our morals are causally dependent on our cultural context.”

Well, if that’s a good argument for moral relativism, then even if atheism were true, we’d be under no moral obligation to believe it, now would we?

But, once again, that passes right over Loftus’ own head.

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

Pause, for just a moment, to consider how cravenly anti-intellectual this is. Loftus is one of those intellectually-challenged individuals who takes refuge in a simple-minded security of a stipulative rule-of-thumb.

Instead of judging things on a case-by-case basis, and bringing what we already to know bear, he would have us feign that we know nothing at all, and treat every religion the same even though every religion is obviously not the same.

Question everything! Doubt everything!

Do you suppose that Loftus takes this same deceptively even-handed approach to the creation/evolution debate?

“To be an outsider would also mean we would have nothing at stake in the outcome of our investigations, and hence no fear of hell while investigating it all. These threats could hinder a clear-headed investigation.”

Now he’s gone from bad to worse. Not only should we pretend to doubt things we have no concrete reason to doubt, but we even should believe a palpable lie.

For we do have a stake, a very personal stake, in the outcome.

Suppose I’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I have two treatment options: (i) I can undergo conventional therapy. This will do me no harm, but it will also do me no good. It won’t cure me or kill me.

(ii)I can undergo a very dangerous experimental therapy. It will either kill me or cure me.

Now, in weighing the relative merits of these two treatments, should I pretend that I have nothing at stake in the outcome? Is that the rational course of action?

“The Christian must now try to make sense of this claim, coming as it does from an ancient supertitious people who didn't have trouble believing this could happen (Acts 14:11, 28:6), etc, etc.”

Superstitious? Isn’t that a pretty prejudicial characterization of the Christian option?

You see, underlying the pose of studied neutrality antiseptic scepticism, Loftus has already taken sides.

As a practical matter, it’s impossible to doubt everything, for we only find something doubtful in relation to something we do not doubt. I only doubt something because it comes into conflict with something else I already believe.

“You cannot start out by first believing the Bible.”

Why not? What if I do believe the Bible? What if I find it believable? Should I affect an artificial state of unbelief?

One of the tacit fallacies of Loftus’ position is voluntarism. He acts as if we choose what we believe the way we choose a box of cereal. There’s the aisle with one brand name after another. Make your choice

But, needless to say, that’s not how belief-formation works. We have no direct control over what we believe. Belief is not an act of will.

What we do enjoy is some measure of indirect control over some of what we believe by avoiding or exposing ourselves to the relevant evidence. We are predisposed to believe certain things when presented with sufficient evidence. It’s a pretty automatic and irrepressible process.

“And you'd initially be skeptical of believing in any of the miracles in the Bible just as you would be skeptical of any claims of the miraculous in today's world.”

Notice, once again, how slanted this is. See where he places the burden of proof. The onus is always on the Christian. His show of Cartesian scepticism is suspiciously one-sided, no?

This is not an outsider’s test. This is a test in which an atheist has loaded the dice.

You should only be initially sceptical of miracles if you have some positive reason for your initial scepticism.

What Loftus is really saying, once you scrub away the make-up, is that you come to the Bible assuming that atheism is true.

And observe, once more, the mindless procedure of treating unlike alike.

Why should I be equally sceptical of every modern miracle? Stop and think how deeply irrational it is to treat every reported miracle the same way, even when every reporter and reported event is not at all the same.

Loftus is an atheist because Loftus is a simpleton.

“The presumption of The Outsider Test would be that since there are so very many religions, and with so many people believing in a particular religion because of “when and where they were born,” that when examining any religious belief, skepticism would be warranted, since the odds are good that the one you are investigating is wrong.”

Note this fact-free classification of world religion, as if we were playing the odds with a bag of identical marbles.

Let’s take the world’s top five religions. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are all related. The NT lays claim to the OT while the Koran lays claim to both the OT and the NT.

On that common authority-source, there’s a very direct method for falsifying the contenders. Is Christianity the fulfillment of OT Judaism? Is Islam the fulfillment of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures? It’s an exegetical question.

That’s a natural way of narrowing the search parameters. This does not, of itself, verify the remaining option, but it narrows the field. You falsify as much as you can, then verify what’s left over.

As to Hinduism and Buddhism, these are religious which make very ambitious metaphysical claims. Claims about the afterlife, past and future.

But how are they in any position to speak knowingly and truthfully? These are not revealed religions. They do not invoke the existence of an omniscient and omnipotent God to disclose this information. Their conception of the divine is, at best, impersonal and pantheistic.

So their only fallback would be to the use of reason in order to prove karma, Nirvana, and reincarnation.

And since theist and atheist alike regard the evidence adduced in favor of these dogmas as inadequate at best, and conflicting at worst, the atheist has no cause to hold that against us.


  1. Aren't you the first ones to argue that we see things from within a set of presuppositions?

    This is not about who's intelligent or smart. It's about different ways of seeing thigs, according to you, yourselves.

    So why do you act and write as if this is a matter of intelligence, or my lack of it?

    This just seems inconsistent of you.

    But does anyone here deny that cultural conditions will likely (but not in every case) determine our beliefs? Mexicans will become Catholics, people in the heartland of China will become Buddhists, and people born into Jewish families in Israel will become Jewish in their theology?

    This is the basis of my test. Do you deny this?

    One guy responded to this test by saying that since none of us deserves to be in heaven, "if I'm born a Muslim, then to hell I go."

    But think of this. According to him our sins send us to hell, but where we are born send us to heaven! Poppycock...again.

  2. Did Loftus' cultural conditions "determine" his beliefs? if so, he has no *reason* to think they are true. if not, then he thinks we can transcend culture, but he doesn't allow this for the Christian. More hypocrisy from Loftus.

  3. Did Loftus' cultural conditions "determine" his beliefs? if so, he has no *reason* to think they are true. if not, then he thinks we can transcend culture, but he doesn't allow this for the Christian. More hypocrisy from Loftus.

    In the first place, I never said one's cultural conditions "determine" one's beliefs. Should I now blast you for ignorance, or hypocricy, like you do so often to me?

    I recognize that what I believe is also influenced by when and where I was born, along with my own particular experiences within the confines of this cultural experience which we both share, dominated by Christian thinking.

    I'm merely admitting a fact. I'm admitting that it is extremely difficult to transcend one's own cultural context, especially when we have no empirical test that can help us today with religious beliefs. Why won't you admit what I do? It's nearly undeniable except to people with agendas like yours.

    If I did believe our cultural context "determines" our beliefs, then what we find in the world is exactly what we should find in the world. What's your explanation for what we find around the globe?

  4. Wow, John.

    Virtually every post on this site seems to have a personal attack toward you embedded in it, and virtually every post attacks non-belief via special pleading, ad hominem, and appeals to emotion and/or authority.

    Steve is probably the worst of the bunch -- he's obviously highly intelligent, and well-trained in debate and apologetics, but he's also so blind to the fact that yes, if he were born in Saudi Arabia, he'd be a practicing Muslim. Yes, if he were born in Sweden, he'd likely as not be an atheist. Yes, if he were born in Bolivia, he'd likely as not be a Roman Catholic.

    How can this be disputed?

    Is it not obvious that the religion of one's parents is virtually guaranteed to become one's own religion during one's formative years? Is it not just as obvious that one's experiences will necessarily shape the strength or weakness of one's conviction in that religion?

    To miss this point is to miss the point of the Outsider Test, and to miss the crucial fact that the vast majority of religionists proclaim their own pet religion for no rational reason whatsoever -- they were born into it, had sufficiently positive experiences with it, and they presuppose its truth at every turn.

    If your religion fails this test, then your religion is effectively invalid. If it cannot consistently convert persons of all educational backgrounds, presupposed religious upbringings, and life experiences, demonstrably moreso than any other arbitrary religion, then it is no better than a placebo religion.

    Anyway, this blog is so full of hate-mongering and vitriol that my further participation is unlikely (beyond reading the twenty or so tabs I have open -- Steve really likes to read his own thoughts, eh?).