Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Debunking Reading Comprehension

John, John-boy Loftus has been kicking against the pricks in his most recent attempt to justify his unbelief. John-boy has many similarities to Homer's Cyclops. He blindly gropes around, trying in vain to grasp on to something which might make his voyage of unbelief more safe. But as Loftus sails through the seas of doubt he hears the sirens calling him to be rational. As John-boy sails towards the beautiful sounds which he thinks will give him comfort in his unbelief he finds that in seeking after rationality, and trying to maintain his unbelief simultaneously, he eventually crashes on the sturdy Rock of Christianity.

The latest example of Loftus' misuse of reason has been to undermine the faith by claiming that it arose from stupid and superstitious people. Since people in the days of Christianity were superstitious rednecks, then we can psychologize about why they believed the claims of Christianity. Loftus' argument is yet another example of the philosophically shoddy work he engages in - all in the name of rationalizing one's unbelief! Unbeknownst to Loftus, though, is that his blogs and arguments (not worthy of the name) serve to bolster the faith of Christians. To those who want to live a full and examined intellectual life, the requirement of Loftus to commit intellectual suicide serves as a useful barrier to those who would otherwise give his claims a fair hearing (fair in the sense that he has something substantive to offer).

Those who read Loftus' blog entry, as well as read the counters by Engwer, Hays, and myself, will be impressed with Loftus' amazing inability to comprehend the arguments of other’s. His post (above) is virtually irrelevant to the arguments we've put forth. He does not succeed in debunking Christianity, but in debunking reading comprehension. John-boy does not really offer hope that one can leave Christianity and keep his rationality, but he does offer hope that one need not be able to comprehend what one reads in order to get a Masters degree.

Before we look at Loftus' blog it will serve us well to look at an example of the distorted reasoning Loftus engages in. John, John-boy Loftus tells us that his rational reason for not believing in the miraculous claims found in the Bible is because,

"My views are based upon every waking moment of my life. I have never seen God's working or his miracles, so I am every bit rational to conclude he didn't work in the past. What's so hasty about that?"

Thus we see that Loftus reasons from his particular experience to the totality of experience. He asks, "What's so hasty about that?" He seriously does not believe that this is fallacious, yet he has told me that he teaches logic at college! We should all agree, though, that a fallacy has been committed. Loftus is making a claim about the totality of experience. He's making a claim about the totality of what has (or could have!) happened throughout history. The larger the claim the larger the sample should be. John's limited experience is not nearly enough to make conclusions about the totality of what has happened in the entire history of the planet earth.

Furthermore, this begs the question against the Christian worldview. All of creation and history testify to "God's working" in time. So, only if this were false could Loftus say that he's never “seen" God's working. Now, John-boy could be using "see" in a very restrictive sense such as: "I've never seen God's working like I've seen a construction worker working." But notice on this interpretation that John, John-boy Loftus is "every bit rational" to conclude that there are no laws of logic since he's never "seen" them in the sense that he's seen a construction worker working.

Now, Loftus continues to mock the Christian worldview, and uses as evidence against it, by arguing that it only arose because of the stupid, ignorant, and superstitious people that lived back then. But as Hays, Engwer, and myself have argued, we have superstitious people as well as skeptical people then as well as now. But let's look at some nasty problems Loftus creates for himself:

(1) Materialism sprouted out of ancient Greece by teachers like Democritus, therefore materialism is most likely false since ancient, stupid, and superstitious people believed it. Loftus may retort that materialism has become more refined than in the days of the atomists, but the same goes with Christianity. It's conception of miracles, along with a sovereign God who providentially governs all events, is more advanced than, say, Zeusian conceptions of deity.

(2) Loftus proposes what he calls an outsider test which says "that when examining any religious belief, skepticism would be warranted..." The problem here is that Pyrrho, that stupid, superstitious ancient started the school of philosophy known as skepticism. Indeed, Sextus Empiricus, in whom much of our knowledge of ancient skepticism is found, tells us of the five modes of skepticism. Those modes are: Discrepancy, Relativity, Infinity, Assumption, and Circularity. We see that Loftus' outsider test employs the first mode when he writes that we should be skeptical "since the odds are good that the [religion] you are investigating is wrong." Therefore Loftus should drop his Outsider Test since skepticism is something that arose from stupid and superstitious people. Loftus even uses an Argippian mode, which originated from an ancient.

(3) The belief that one species became another species (evolution) can be found first in Anaximander. Anaximander believed that fish evolved into men. Thus Loftus should regard the theory of evolution as myth since it originated with stupid, ancient, and superstitious people.

(4) Logic was first formalized by Aristotle. Thus John, John-boy Loftus should reject Aristotelian logic (in tota) since it originated with an ancient, superstitious Greek. Indeed, all forms of formal logic were birthed by Aristotle, thus John should reject logic.

Having embarrassed Loftus thoroughly let's now turn to his most recent blog entry. Loftus writes,

"Many Christians claim that ancient people were not that superstitious compared to our own age. They do this in order to help bolster the purportedly historical claims of their faith."

No, we do it because it's correct. As Steve Hays told you before you wrote this: "People are no different today than they were in the past. You have credulous people today, just as in the past. You have skeptical people today, just as you had in the past." As Engwer told you before you posted this,

"Remember, the issue here isn't whether twenty-first century people have some advantages over first-century people. In some ways, they do. Similarly, in some ways forty-first century people will have advantages over twenty-first century people. They'll probably have better technology, more advanced methods of research, etc. We don't conclude that forty-first century people therefore can dismiss what twenty-first century people reported by making vague references to the alleged gullibility of twenty-first century people."

And as I cited for you before you posted this,

"Just like our own culture today, the ancient world was an intellectually mixed-bag. Like us, it had its share of superstitious and mystically minded people; as we do, it had people whose thinking was ignorant, misinformed, lazy, stupid, illogical and silly. But also like our own age, the ancient world had plenty of people who were skeptical and cynical. (Indeed, those were even the names for two prominent schools of ancient Greek philosophy in the period of the New Testament!) Plenty of people in the ancient world were critically minded about reports of natural wonders and magical powers. Many not only doubted claims to miracles and found them incredible, but even precluded the very possibility that such things could occur."

Thus we see that rather than debunking Christianity you're debunking people's confidence in your ability to comprehend what you read. The rest of Loftus' post takes an example of someone who Loftus says was superstitious and then uses that to conclude that the vast majority of people, save a few, were superstitious idiots. Aside from this being another hasty generalization, the problem is that none of the people Loftus is arguing with deny that you'll be able to cite examples of superstitious people. Indeed, we admitted that there were superstitious people back then. But, for every "superstitious" person you can cite, I'll cite "rational and skeptical" people. Just like today, for every "rational and skeptical" person you find, I'll fine you two to one of the other.

What's more embarrassing is that Loftus'own blog just posted on how gullible and scientifically backwards the majority of people are. We live "in a society where a large majority of the population has no grasp on basic scientific principles and methods..." Look at what Loftus' fellow self-debunking buddy, "Brother Danny" concludes,

"So there's always plenty of superstition to fill in people's heads when knowledge and reason are absent. I don't see religion going away anytime soon, so long as general scientific illiteracy abounds and pervades."

Thus it looks as if Loftus' own team can't get on the same page. But(!), it's worse than that. John, John-boy Loftus argues that today is not like the ancient days, where superstition prevailed. In Engwer's com box Loftus writes: "Just ask yourself, is there anything like that in today's world?" Got that? Loftus is asking whether the majority of people are superstitious today, but then in "Brother Danny's" post Loftus writes,

"Prof James Strauss has documented that whenever there is a crisis in the dominant metaphysical belief system of a western culture then people will gravitate towards the occult, and all kinds of superstitious beliefs looking for answers. We are in such a crisis now."

Thus we see the utterly confused mind of Loftus. When he argues with us he says, "are there any superstitious people now?" But when he strokes his buddy's ego he agrees by writing about how many superstitious people there are now! So many that we are in "a crisis." This is the effects of the fall on Loftus' mind. Loftus continues to make himself, and team atheism, look like the ancient dummies he rails against.

Next thing we know Loftus might agree with Democritus and tell us that the soul is really "fire atoms." He already agrees with Anaximander in saying that men evolved from other species. He already agrees with Agrippan skepticism. Thus it looks like we have a case of projection here. Loftus is a modern-ancient and he’s projecting his gullible and naïve intellect on Christians!

Lastly, what's worse is that Loftus' post is totally disanalagous. He uses a non-Christian's belief to argue that the Christian's beliefs must have been equally superstitious. This would be like me saying that atheists believe stupid things because some deist said something stupid.

We can all agree, then, that this is yet another example of the absurdity of Loftus' "arguments" against the faith. Loftus continually helps the Christian cause by giving concrete evidence, empirical evidence if you will, of the Psalmist's claim:

Psalm 14:1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.


  1. Paul,

    Great points, and I really liked the one about Anaximander.

    May I suggest you lay off the use of condescending nicknames like "John-boy"? I have encouraged certain unbelieving friends to keep track of the convo between you guys and the Debunkers, and I believe the witness to the unbelievers reading (if not to the Debunkers themselves, who clearly need no additional impetus to mock) is damaged when such pejoratives are used in a gratuitous manner.


  2. Paul,

    Thus we see that Loftus reasons from his particular experience to the totality of experience.
    Isn't this really about Hume's PoI, which clearly divides believers, of all stripes, in a supernatural ontology from materialists/naturalists? The uniformity of nature (UN) and the openness to scientific examination of alleged violations is the crux of my position, but I can't speak for John.

    Now, Loftus continues to mock the Christian worldview, and uses as evidence against it, by arguing that it only arose because of the stupid, ignorant, and superstitious people that lived back then.
    I haven't read the other posts by fellow triabloguers, but let me systematically categorize "ancient superstitions" versus "modern superstitions". Do we agree that scientific knowledge usurps superstition? Do we agree that someone who subscribes to the UN and does not believe any event cannot be explained via naturalism is antithetical to superstition? Good. Now, I would simply argue that proposed "holes" in the UN can either be patched via the natural worldview or via any of the various supernatural ontologies. We should make a line of demarcation there. If you agree, then we must agree that categorically speaking, the number of ancient peoples with a strictly natural worldview, who subscribed to the UN, was incomparably small relative to today. Therefore, the number of peoples across the line, who subscribed to one of the many pseudo-explanations of myth, lore, and miracles to plug in the holes of their knowledge, [qualified that we're talking about myth and lore that incorporate gods, supernatural entities and events, etc.] were hugely disproportionate to today. Simply put, then number of materialists/skeptics then, compared to now, is pitifully insignificant.

    The schools of the Cynics and Skeptics made up what fraction of the world at the time? The disproportionate writings we have from them are representative not of their size, but of their historical place within the "ancient enlightenment" of Greece, and the abundant literature poured out at the time (relatively speaking) from all schools of thought there. As a proportion of the worlds' population, these schools were insignificant.

    Therefore, probabilistically speaking, John is justified in saying that the category of "ancient peoples" is not fallaciously equated with "superstitious" peoples. You put the word stupid in, but I disagree. I don't think John used that word either.

    But let's look at some nasty problems Loftus creates for himself
    You proceed to examine ancient beliefs and disregard them on the basis that they are ancient. John disregards superstition, characterized by a supernatural ontology and disbelief in the UN. Obviously, the bedrock of the UN is the foundation for materialism, so I don't see how you can justify calling people who subscribe to it "superstitious". By default, it would seem, people who disregard miracles and agree to the UN are non-superstitious. The same goes with skeptics. If they require evidence to believe that the UN is violated, doesn't that make them the opposite of gullible, naive, or superstitious? Isn't that where the term "enlightenment" and the phrase "the age of reason" come in: where superstition is abandoned?

    I don't really see your "divide and conquer" strategy working here:
    "So there's always plenty of superstition to fill in people's heads when knowledge and reason are absent. I don't see religion going away anytime soon, so long as general scientific illiteracy abounds and pervades."
    And the average American scientific illiterate today, compared to 2000 years ago, is still extremely less superstitious, in that they at least almost universally acknowledge the UN, excepting only miracles done by their preferred god. The good news is that the number of gods has shrunk, leaving less "alternative explanations" for our gaps in knowledge and proposed violations of the UN. As silly as people are today, with 60% believing in ESP and 32% in lucky numbers, compare that to the ancient world's various superstitions, or even our modern-day third-world countries, and what would we see, percentage-wise?

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Paul, why do I have to follow you around from one site to another to respond--all of us. Post your replies in one place, please.

    That first paragraph of yours was very well written. I wish I put as much time into metaphorical language as you and Steve Hays do, but then I focus on substance. Danny has already addressed your points. And rhology made a good point: Do we call you stupid?

    But three things. Hasty generalization? Someday I'm going to make a post on the truth about the informal fallacies, which you seem to banter around like a sophmore in High School. I don't say miracles cannot occur, only that in my day an age we have a better understanding of natural law than they did because of the rise of science. And I live in this world where miracles don't happen, so I conclude that it's very doubtful that miracles have ever occurred. This is all I know, living when and where I do. It is the experience of my whole life.

    Another thing. I never said nor did I indicate that I do not believe what ancient intellectuals said merely because they lived in the ancient world. But if I were to take the time and tell you about the other things these people believed you'd laugh at their stupidity--Aristotle in particular.

    Lastly, if our world goes the way of the occult and superstition lasting up to a century or more, then my arguments will lose their force because more and more people will believe in miracles, and argue that if they happen today then they happend in the past too. But in so doing they are arguing in the same manner that I am when I argue from my own experience to the past. Besides, these arguments of mine held sway in the 18th century when there wasn't such a crisis, and they will hold sway again after the crisis is over, even if they still hold sway with scientifically literate people today. But the people in the early 1st century faced a culture in crisis too, so it's no surprize they would see demons and miracles and incarnations everywhere.

  5. I started reading this blog mainly to try to figure out the believer's perspectives, with respect to the folks over at Debunking. The last few posts, while they may have something worthwhile to say, have also been so juvenile that I really don't CARE if you have anything useful to say. "John-boy" makes you look like one of the many know-nothing bullies that just wants to use language as a weapon, not a tool for understanding. I'll leave you to your games, and check back another time when, hopefully, you've decided to join the adult table.

  6. Jeff, here are some comments over at Paul's blog that you may be interested in reading, since he posted this there too:

    Anonymous said...
    Which Bible translation has "fool" in italics in the final verse quoted?

    Or were you just employing one of your not so subtle jabs?

    The love of Christ flows from you Paul. I repent, and want to be on your "team!"

    Wed May 03, 08:32:21 PM PDT

    Alvin Sanders said...
    Greetings and salutations.

    I have been going through a crisis of faith over the last several months. There was a time when I really believed the Bible, the prophets, the evangelists, even the psalmists. I still do believe, or at least, I still want to. Needless to say it has been a traumatic upheaval for me, both mentally and emotionally. Psychologically I would say it's like trying to walk without gravity. I confess it is desperate for me, and I confess that it is my own failures that have lead me down this dark path of uncertainty and fear. I know that I cannot do this alone, but I am disheartened, let down even, when I read things like the one you have published here, Sir. I'm sure you could make your points using a more edifying tone, could you not? You seem as angry as I am disheartened, for your pain is strong in your words. I don't really know what to make of our respective plights, but I don't think the condescending tone you choose to put into your writing will help those who are lost, or are in danger of becoming lost.

    Just some thoughts for you to consider. I don't mean to judge or offend. I realize you are intelligent and have some amazing points to make. But I don't detect a spirit that I could really call Christian here.

    Wed May 03, 08:50:41 PM PDT

    Paul Manata said...
    And that addressed my argument how, exactly?

    I'm sorry your American sensitivities are offended. I promise that I'll envoke the "love of Christ" in my next response to Loftus. I only ask for your help. Should I refer to Loftus as:

    a) A whitewashed tomb

    b) A brood of vipers

    c) The son of the devil

    Or, is it okay if I use sarcasm, as you did? Or, do you get to use sarcasm because you have no moral foundation but becaause I'm a Christian I, for some reason, can't use sarcasm to make a point?

    Oh, I know, maybe if I posted my blog entries anonomously then I could get away with sarcasm?

    Lastly, I provided empirical evidence of the truth of theism. Isn;t that what you want? So it looks as if empirical evidence won;t even convince you.


    Wed May 03, 08:51:43 PM PDT

    Paul Manata said...
    Alvin Sanders,

    First, I'm sorry for what you're going through and I'll pray.

    Second, you need to repent and trust in Christ.

    Third, even if I was being "un-Christian" that does not mean my argument was false.

    Fourth, there is biblically warranted times for sarcasm, I just employed one.

    Fifth, I try not to be more holy than Jesus and Paul. They mocked their opponants when the times called for it. Loftus is just such an opponant.

    Sixth, I'm not angry at all. In fact, I laughed most the time I was writing this entry.

    Seventh, make sure you comment on Loftus' blog about him telling me I would beat my wife, we don;t want double standards around here.

    Eighth, yu'll have no excuse before the Father when you stand at the judgment seat of Christ. You will not be able to use "mean" Christians as an excuse for why you apostasized.

    Ninth, Hebrews 10: 26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay,"[d] and again, "The Lord will judge his people."[e] 31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

    Tenth, please repent. Turn to Christ during your times of trouble. Remember that just because you can't wrap your finite, fallen mind around something does not mean that that something is false.

    Wed May 03, 09:00:49 PM PDT

    Jimmy Li said...
    ALvin, I'm going to be praying for you

    Thu May 04, 01:37:40 AM PDT

    Anonymous said...
    Thanks, Paul. I love forward to you "envoking" the love of Christ in your next post about John.

    "You shall know them by their fruits."

    Case closed.

    Thu May 04, 03:36:50 AM PDT

    Paul Manata said...

    So I gues you're saying you couldn't know Jesus and the Apostle paul by thier fruits?

    What a silly theory it is which kicks Jesus out of the group he's named after.

    Thu May 04, 07:09:54 AM PDT

    Anonymous said...
    Paul said:

    So I gues you're saying you couldn't know Jesus and the Apostle paul by thier fruits?

    I say:

    I can read of the kindness of Christ, and the apostle Paul....they had a balance represented in the texts. You do not appear to have this. All I read from you is the bile of Christianity, with no love evident. All I can go on is what I read from you.

    "You will know them by their fruits."

    Thu May 04, 07:49:12 AM PDT

    Paul Manata said...
    but you're taking but a few of the things I write directed against apostates, who are dealt with differently.

    You obviously have not read all the posts here, seen me intereact with "honest" questioners, or seen me interact on the outside.

    So, if someone just read Jesus', Paul's, etc's., harsh words they could conclude that Jesus wasn't a Christain.

    So I guess what you're saying is that you make it a practice to rush to judgment and leave out relevant details?

    Jon-boy really isn;t that bad, is it? It has satarical force to it in that Loftus passes himsefl of as someone who was extremely well educated in Christian circles. He uses that as a means to dissuade others from the faith. My posts serve to undermine his self-promoting that he's "the man" because he was trained under Craig, got a masters, pastored churches and teaches philosophy.

    Anyway, I appreciate that you're allowed to use sarcasm but I'm not. As I said, maybe I could do it if I were anonymous. If people don;t know who you are then I guess the rules don't apply.

    Logs, eyes, and all that stuff...

    Thu May 04, 07:57:56 AM PDT

    Anonymous said...
    Perhaps you could point me to some of the online writings you've done that display the loving/positive aspects of Christianity, that would show the 'spirit of christ' working thru you? That would help. I've seen your writings/comments on a number of blogs, and I've never seen anything but bile/sarcasm/pride from you, especially when dealing with those you are supposedly supposed to be the 'light of the world' to.

    Thu May 04, 08:08:44 AM PDT

    John W. Loftus said...
    This exchange I just read was priceless. Your tone and manner of speaking got in the way of what you were saying that no one yet has addressed your points. I knew if I gave you enough rope you'd hang yourself. ;-) And I do detect some of your humor when you write. You do write well, and I don't mind the sarcasm so much. Others do Paul, so be gentle with me, okay, for their sakes. Maybe now I'll go on the's just not my nature to do that except to point out that you do have an angry streak given your background.

    I actually think we could have a good discussion over a beer if we lived closer.

  7. wow, your attack of john really turned me off to your arguments against his arguments. i came to your site excited to read good debate, but instead read a very "un Christian," sarcastic, rude, and childish response. also, i'm not trying to figure out if john, or you, is better educated or anything, i'm just looking for logical arguments and evidence.
    i am curious about verses that say christians are supposed to treat "apostates" differently. are "apostates" different than enemies?
    i'm sad for your lack of kindness and that your rudeness gets in the way of your debating.