I said That former book is not as thorough or comprehensive in comparison to this new one.
So, if David thought it was comprehensive back then, what do you think he'd say now? I'm saying the case I make in my new book is overwhelmingly better.
Again, are you going to read it and critique it for yourself? Hey, I dare you! I bet you think you're that smart, don't ya, or that your faith is that strong--that you can read something like my book and not have it affect your faith.
If Christianity is true, then you have nothing to fear. But if Christianity is false, then you owe it to yourself to get the book. Either way you win.
And even if you blast my book after reading it here on this Blog, I'll know that you read it, and just like poison takes time to work, all I have to do from then on is to wait for a personal crisis to kill your faith.
Want to give it a go? The way I see you reason here makes me think it'll make your head spin with so many unanswerable questions that you won't know what to do.
But that's just me. I couldn't answer these questions, so if you can, you're a smarter man than I am, and that could well be. Are you? I think not, but that's just me.
—John W. Loftus
I’m sorry to disappoint him, but reading his book, Why I Rejected Christianity, didn’t have the desired effect.
Trying to review his book presents something of a dilemma. For there’s almost nothing he says that hasn’t been said before, said better, said by others.
Indeed, there’s precious little he says here that he and his fellow debunkers haven’t already said, either at DC or in the combox at T-blog, and, by that same token, precious little that my colleagues and I at T-blog haven’t already responded to at one time or another.
That’s what I expected before I read his book, and reading his book merely confirmed my expectations.
If this sort of thing is deadly poison, then all I can say is that it’s a very slow-acting poison, for I’ve been reading this stuff for years, and it hasn’t killed my faith or precipitated a crisis of faith or even raised a flicker of doubt.
Like small, incremental doses of venom, administered over time, the effect of this stuff is not to kill the patient, but to build up an immunity.
If it’s had any impact, the effect is rather the reverse. I’ve read books like this before. I always come away thinking to myself, “Gee, if this is the best they do, then they must be pretty hard up for excuses!” So, no, the encounter with his book did not precipitate any Exorcist-inspired head-twirling.
Instead of repeating myself, I’ll say a few things about each chapter and then link to material which my colleagues and I have posted on this subject.
Before he gets to his “cumulative case,” he tells his deconversion story. This reads like one of those talk-show confessionals in which the objective is for a motherly interviewer to ask her guest a series of touchy-feely questions about his abusive boyhood, until his breaks down and has a nice cry on national television, at which point her live, female audience breaks out in sympathetic applause and has a nice cry along with the weepy guest. Wacko Jacko meets Baba Wawa. At this point we have a commercial break for Kleenex.
But being the callous, uncaring guy that I am, I’ll skip over the three-hanky softening-up exercise and go straight for the “meat” of his case.
Well, “meat” may be the wrong word for what we find. More like soy substitute or Hamburger helper minus the ground beef.
1. The Outsider Test For Faith
His “outsider” test is predicated on social conditioning. Of course, an outsider is just as subject to social conditioning as an insider.
But one point of particular note is that if his argument for social conditioning is correct, then that is also an argument for cultural relativism, which is, in turn, an argument for moral relativism.
And if his argument commits him to moral relativism, then that disqualifies him from leveling moralistic arguments against the faith, such as the problem of evil.
So if we accept his argument in this chapter, then we must reject his argument regarding the problem of evil. He’s cut the ground out from under his own moralizing about the God of the Bible.
For more on the outsider test, see:
2. Faith & Reason
Since none of his models corresponds to my own position, there’s nothing in this chapter I care to rebut.
He has a very misleading summary of Van Tilian apologetics, as if this were a species of fideism.
In the course of this he also misrepresents St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 1-3.
And, like most critics, I also think he misses the point of Pascal’s wager.
It is quite important to clarify the relation between faith and reason, but I’ll reserve my own comments for his chapter on self-authentication.
3. The Christian Illusion of Moral Superiority
In this chapter he quotes the rather fideistic position of James Sennett, who lets the unbeliever off the hook.
The position you take on the rationality of Christianity versus the rationality of infidelity is very value-laden and person-variable. It has a lot to do with your own experience of intellectual doubt. It also has a lot to do with your theological tradition, as well as your religious epistemology.
Is unbelief due to a lack of evidence? Or is it due to a willful and spiteful repudiation of the evidence?
Is unbelief situated in the reason or the will?
Is Christian faith a leap into the dark? A makeweight? Or is it a combination of tacit knowledge and indirect knowledge?
There is no unanimous answer to such questions.
Loftus also quotes Sennett as supposing that unbelief can be rational given the number of brilliant unbelievers—an argument I’ve already addressed:
Loftus also ignores the question of whether evolutionary epistemology undercuts rationality.
He also brings up the Euthyphro Dilemma, which I’ve dealt with before:
Finally, he contents himself with saying that “there are several ethical systems of thought that do not require a prior belief in God, like Social Contract Theories, Utilitarianism, Virtue Ethics, Kantianism, and John Rawls’ theory of justice” (67).
There are several problems with this position:
i) To tick off a number of competing theories of secular ethics hardly adds up to a case for secular ethics. For one thing, they tend to cancel each other out.
ii) What does Loftus believe? Is he a moral realist or antirealist?
iii) If the former, then he needs to identify his own position and defend it.
iv) If the latter, then this undermines his appeal to the problem of evil, which he will later describe as the “rock of atheism” (238).
v) Loftus also ignores the secular argument for moral relativism.
Both sides share a dual burden of proof. The onus is on the Christian apologist to show that Christianity can underwrite moral absolutes while secularism (and other non-Christian alternatives) will undercut moral absolutes.
Conversely, the onus is on the atheologian to show that atheism can underwrite moral absolutes while Christianity will undercut moral absolutes.
And if he cannot establish the former, then he must relinquish appeal to the problem of evil unless he can mount a purely internal critique.
Even if such a critique could succeed, what’s the point? Suppose, for the sake of argument, that a secular relativist could demonstrate that Christianity also reduces to moral relativism.
All that would achieve is to show that believer and unbeliever alike are mired in quick sand.
For reasons I’ve already given, Loftus fails to make a cogent case against Christian ethics. And he further fails to make any sort of case for secular ethics, as I’ve discussed elsewhere:
And he never addresses the global scepticism implicit in evolutionary psychology:
So this chapter, which ought to lay the foundation for so much of what follows, is floating on thin air.
On second thought, “floating” is the wrong choice of words. “Falling” would be more accurate—as in jumping from a skyscraper.
4. Does God Exist?
This chapter is a hodgepodge. He begins by misattributing to Heidegger the Leibnizian question, “Why is there something rather than nothing at all?”—which suggests that he doesn’t know very much about either philosopher.
He mentions the Humean claim that if we could come up with just one minor improvement in this world, that would cast doubt on the goodness of God.
Of course, since we live in a fallen world, there’s plenty of room for improvement. The goodness of God is seen in the purpose for the fall as well as redemption.
The fact that the present state of affairs is less than ideal doesn’t cast doubt on God’s goodness, for goodness has a teleological as well as a temporal dimension. A better state of affairs may be less good at some preliminary stage, but better in the final phase—better than a lower, but uniformly good state of affairs. A trade-off between a lesser good for a greater number, and a greater good for a lesser number.
In any case, we’ve been over this ground with Loftus:
He raises various objections to the ontological argument. Yet the upshot of his objections is not that the argument is fatally flawed, but merely that it needs to be augmented by certain subsidiary arguments to justify its operating assumptions.
There are a couple of basic problems with dismissing the ontological argument:
i) This argument (or versions thereof) appeals to some fundamental, modal intuitions (e.g. necessity, possibility, impossibility) which we cannot very well do without. So it’s difficult to attack the particulars of the ontological argument without, at the same time, downsizing our metaphysical toolbox to an irrational degree.
ii) This argument also goes to the relation between thought and reality. That relation cannot be set aside accept on pain of global scepticism, which is self-refuting. So the critic of the ontological argument is like a man who burns his house down to rid of the rats.
For more on the ontological argument, see:
Loftus attacks the Kalam cosmological argument on the grounds that it commits the composition fallacy.
However, this criticism is inept. The Kalam argument isn’t inferring the contingency of the whole from the contingency of the parts.
Rather, it’s drawing a distinction between a concrete, potential infinite and an abstract, actual infinite. It then reasons that the universe cannot have an infinite past since an actual infinite is a given totality, whereas a temporal series is subject to increase over time.
He also complains on the grounds that the Kalam argument, even if sound, does not yield the God of the Bible.
This is true, but beside the point. If he can attempt to mount a cumulative case for atheism, then why can’t a Christian apologist mount a cumulative case for theism? Individual arguments would establish individual elements of the overall case.
He then attacks the Leibnizian version of the cosmological argument. This version is predicated on the principle of sufficient reason. He does this by attacking the application of PSR to the universe.
But this move comes at a cost:
i) If he denies PSR tout court, then his denial leads to radical scepticism, which is self-refuting. This is like decapitation to cure a headache.
ii) If he accepts the principle in general, but denies its application to cosmology, then he needs to explain why this exception is not an ad hoc restriction on the principle. Why would the principle be indispensable to little things, but expendable in relation to the really big questions?
iii) If PSR is inapplicable to the universe as a whole, then this invalidates the science of cosmology. But Loftus is going to need modern cosmology later on to attack Biblical cosmology.
So we see him playing both sides of the fence. He will say one thing in one chapter to attack one aspect of Christianity, while he will say the opposite in another chapter to attack another aspect of Christianity.
He also says that a theist does the same thing by treating God as a brute fact. Why should there be an eternal, self-existent Being?
But this is disanalogous. The Leibnizian argument is an argument from a contingent state of affairs. But God, unlike the universe, is not a contingent object or temporal process. Leibniz was quite clear on the difference between truths of reason and truths of fact.
So if Loftus is going to attack his argument, he will need to do much better than that.
Moving to the teleological argument, Loftus attacks the anthropic principle by quoting Carrier’s question: “Who rolled the dice that gave us our god, rather tan some other god, or not god at all…where [would] an orderly god come from?” (79).
But this is a category mistake, and a very maladroit mistake at that. The Christian God subsists in a timeless state of being. He doesn’t evolve into an orderly state of being from an initially chaotic state via a temporal process of becoming.
Loftus and Carrier are attacking a straw man. There is no attempt here to seriously engage the Christian proposition.
I’d add that rolling dice does not illustrate the emergence of order from chaos. The very fact that we can mathematically formulate the odds of any possible throw of the dice demonstrates an orderly state of affairs from the get-go.
And while there are certain extraneous variables which prevent us from knowing the outcome in advance, these variables are equally deterministic, viz. the initial position of the dice in the hand of the gambler, how far they’re thrown, at what angle, at what speed, gravity, the surface of the table, &c.
If we knew all the variables in advance, then we could predict the outcome in advance. So the illustration is completely law-like rather than chaotic.
Carrier also makes the inane assertion that the odds “become” very good when you will roll a particular sequence.
But unless the dice are loaded, Carrier is committing the Gambler’s fallacy, for there is no causal relation between one roll of the dice and another.
Carrier or Loftus would lose his shirt if they ever played the tables at Vegas.
Continuing with category mistakes, Loftus asks the reader what “experiment” would establish the self-existence of God?
He might as well as what “experiment” would establish the Mandelbrot set. Abstract objects are not subject to scientific testing. You’re not going to discover the Mandelbrot set in a test tube or petri dish.
Loftus then comes up with his really weird category of the “VOID.” He thinks there is a VOID “beyond” the confines of the known universe. He calls this “nothingness” the VOID. He then asks the reader of there is any law “in” the VOID that prohibits something coming from nothing.
But there are a couple of basic problems with this conception:
i) He is getting carried away with picture language. He seems to view space as a container. The universe lies “inside” the container, while whatever lies “outside” the wall of the container is the VOID.
But nothingness is not the same thing as empty space. Empty space is something. It’s has dimensions. An object can move through space. Up and down, backwards and forwards, or sideways. Outer space is a medium with certain tangible or definable properties.
The universe is not a bottle, sloshing around in a sea of nothingness. There is no boundary between something and nothing—as if nothing has a property of extension, surrounding an inner core of something. The distinction is between existence and nonexistence. Between what is and what isn’t, and not a bubble of being which is ringed by an infinite expanse of nonbeing.
There may be a picturesque charm to imagining the universe as a miniature world inside a snowglobe, but to raise this as a serious objection to the anthropic principle is operating at the level of a four-year old.
To ask whether any law within the VOID prohibits something coming from nothing is circular, for he has already defined the VOID as nothing.
So his query is a disguised form of the question: Does nothing prevent something coming from nothing?
In a sense, you can answer his question in the affirmative: “nothing” has no veto power, for nothing is just that—nothing.
Loftus keeps acting as if nothing is a special sort of something—which can, in turn, be the source of the universe.
One of his problems may be the linguistically naïve tendency to reify a non-referential expression.
We need words to designate negations. But negations do not imply a negative something—like antimatter. They are simply contrastive terms, without which we could not express certain ideas or relations.
There is no layer of nothingness beyond the “edge” of the universe. For the boundary is not a literal boundary, like a wall, with something on either side. Rather, it’s just a difference between physical existence and nonexistence.
Or perhaps he’s getting his notion from the mental image of an “expanding” universe. What is the universe expanding “into”? Like dropping a pebble into a pond and watching the waves ripple outward. But, of course, a pond is something—not nothing.
The proper question to ask is whether unreality can cause reality.
Can what is unactual actualize anything at all? But there is no what (“what” is unactual) to do the job. Only something already actual can actualize something else.
He then appeals to the model of the megaverse, and suggests that God is superfluous since there is a potentially infinite number of universes, and ours “just happened” to be the “lucky one” to yield intelligent observers.
But there are a couple of problems with this move:
i) It merely pushes the question back a step or two. In what (or whom) do these abstract possibilities inhere? Doesn’t possibility presuppose agency? Something actual which can make it happen?
What (or who) selects for one possibility over another, and instantiates that particular possibility?
What is a possible world if not a thought of a possible world? A thought of a logical state of affairs. Well, then, who is the thinker? Where does the concept come from?
There is more to the Leibnizian query than the general question of why there is something instead of nothing. There is also the specific question of why there is this something in particular rather than something else.
Raising the specter of possible worlds ups the ante for the atheist. He now has far more to explain, not less.
ii) Appeal to the megaverse is very controversial in physics. For one thing it’s inherently unverifiable. For another, it looks like an ad hoc expedient.
It also violates the principle of parsimony. Yet Occam’s razor is important in science, and often deployed by unbelievers against Christian theism.
If an atheist can postulate a megaverse to weasel out of the anthropic principle, then a theistic or creationist can play the same game.
He then attacks ID theory. One prong of his attack is to claim that probability arguments are misleading. He quotes John Paulos about the astronomical odds against being dealt a particular hand in a game of bridge. Yet, if one were dealt such a hand, it would be unreasonable to deny that concrete occurrence due to its abstract unlikelihood.
But aside from the fact that I don’t think this has much to do with the ID theory, it’s also going to undercut his argument against miracles.
When attacking ID theory, he treats frequency as irrelevant—but when attacking miracles, frequency suddenly matters.
He also raises the issue of suboptimal design as a defeater for the teleological argument. But I’ve dealt with that elsewhere.
As with the cosmological argument, he objects to the fact that the teleological argument doesn’t give us the God of the Bible. But the response is the same as before.
On p85 he cobbles together a string of random objections to the existence of God. For example, he says that our “entire” experience is that everything has a beginning and ending, or that “order grows incrementally.”
This simply disregards the status of abstract objects. Does the Mandelbrot set have a temporal origin or terminus? Does the internal order of the Mandelbrot set “grow incrementally”?
There are also problems with the way in which he defines the divine attributes. He defines divine eternality in temporal terms of everlasting duration rather than timeless terms.
This, in turn, will affect his objection to divine eternality.
He also acts as if divine ubiquity involves the literal presence of God in physical space.
That misrepresentation will also affect his objection to the omnipresence of God.
He denies that an omnipresent God can know “what time it is everywhere” since time is a “function of movement and bodily placement.”
It’s hard to know where to begin with such an objection because it is contains so many unspoken assumptions.
What is his theory of time? There’s more than one. And they carry different implications.
What does it mean to ask what time it is? Is this an objective feature of the universe? No. The time on a clock is a social convention, involving conventional units of time as well as a conventionally assigned relative chronology with respect to how we calibrate our time-zones and what set our clocks to.
Loftus is confusing the nature of time with the measurement of time. Confusing the intrinsic topology of time (if any) with chronometry. But a temporal metric is a social construct. While it may have a basis in the internal organization of time, it is not given in time. Rather, different divisions and starting-points are possible. We assign different units to time, different points of origin for a relative chronology or time-zone.
In addition, if Lotus subscribes to the theory of relativity, then there is no such thing as absolute time. No uniform frame of reference.
Loftus is also quite critical of OT and NT ethics. Mind you, he never gets around to mounting an actual argument. He acts as if it’s sufficient refutation to merely cite something he doesn’t approve of. That all he needs to do is quote a few “offensive” passages from the OT, and this cinches his case.
So all he’s really done is to beg the question in favor of his own moral compass.
And this is especially problematic given his argument for the “outsider test.” For if he’s going to invoke social conditioning and cultural relativism to underwrite the outsider test, then he thereby forfeits the right to impose his provincial, culturebound benchmark on OT law.
Furthermore, Loftus makes no effort to consider the rationale for various OT laws, or the practical alternatives, given the socioeconomic conditions of ANE culture.
I’d add that I’ve already been over this ground with him and others:
He then raises the odd objection that sin somehow ruins the perfect existence which God enjoyed before the foundation of the world. But if God is impassible, then it has no effect on him personally.
Loftus also fails to distinguish between need and desire. It is possible to act from a spirit of disinterested benevolence. Indeed, that’s the highest form of generosity.
Loftus then levels the peculiar objection that even if God were real, “he would only be the god of this one particular area of created reality (one or more universes). Other gods and created realities could exist in the great VOID, and as such it would no longer be a VOID in those areas where something exists” (86).
Was he on mushrooms when he wrote this? He has defined the VOID as nothing. So nothing would exist in the VOID since the VOID itself is nonexistent.
But if it’s no longer the VOID in those areas, then they would be part of the same created reality of one or more universes over which the one God reigns.
Finally, there are, as Plantinga has shown, many more theistic strategies at our disposal than the “big three”—ontological, cosmological, and teleological:
So Loftus hasn’t begun to scratch the surface.
5. The Problem of Unanswered Prayer
I’ve covered this issue elsewhere, so I’m not going to repeat myself here:
I will comment on several things, though.
He says it would be “a recipe for disaster” if God always gave us whatever we asked for.
That’s true. And, in that respect, Loftus has answered his own question.
He then says the Biblical promise of answered prayer dies the death of a thousand qualifications, and he proceeds to run through eight different solutions.
But some solutions are better than others. A more honest disputant than Loftus wouldn’t align every suggested solution, however poor, against us.
To string together a number of good and bad arguments, and then make then all count against the same thesis, is hardly an honest or rigorous procedure.
A more serious critic would sort them out in order to isolate and identify the best arguments, then ask if these solutions, whether considered separately or collectively, are adequate to the challenge.
If you want to do a decent job, you attack the strongest form of the opposing position—not its weakest form.
And then there’s the matter of how he deals with some of the better arguments. For example, one argument he mentions is the fact that not all answers to prayer on compossible. It two boys pray that God will give them the very same girlfriend, then the prayer is inherently unanswerable.
He says that “this qualification alone may cause hundreds of thousands of prayers to go unanswered” (90).
So what’s wrong with that solution? By his own admission, that’s a logical answer to the problem he posed. Not all possibilities are compossible. So many prayers go unanswered since many answers are incompossible.
Perhaps his objection is that God is making a promise he cannot keep. That God is boxed in by circumstances beyond his control, in which case he’s in no position to make such a promise in the first place. But if that’s the unspoken assumption which underlies Loftus’ objection, then it suffers from several flaws:
i) Loftus has set up a straw man argument by arbitrary prooftexting. He quotes a verse here, and a verse there, without bothering to consider the theology of prayer. But if you study the theology of prayer, then prayer is not unconditional. Only by ripping a verse from its contextual placement in the narrative theology of Matthew or John can you then generate this false expectation.
ii) God, in his providence, is responsible for what answers are possible, compossible, or incompossible. So God is not making a promise he cannot keep.
But his promise is a conditional promise, not an unconditional promise. So if a prayer goes unanswered, that’s not because God was unable to answer it, but because, in his wisdom and mercy, he was unwilling to answer it.
Some prayers are foolish prayers. Some prayers are sinful. Many prayers are simply shortsighted. It would be cruel to answer every prayer. To answer every prayer would be a curse rather than a blessing.
iii) Should God have made a world in which two boys will be smitten by the same girl? I’d like to see the argument for that.
Loftus mentions another solution: some prayers go unanswered because, were they all answered, they would precipitate in a prematurely realized eschatology.
A measure of pain and suffering is inevitable in a fallen world. The purpose of prayer is not to abolish the fall.
Loftus mentions this qualification, but he acts as if it isn’t responsive to the problem of unanswered prayer.
Likewise, he also mentions the that some prayers don’t fit into God’s timeline. Okay, so what’s wrong with this solution?
Perhaps his problem is that Loftus fails to distinguish between principled qualifications and ad hoc qualifications.
If the only explanations that a Christian apologist could offer are makeshift explanations, then this would, indeed, leave the original problem unresolved.
But some of the solutions which Loftus himself has mentioned are principled solutions. They are logical or theological solutions which make a lot of sense in their own right. So Loftus’ objection is quite unreasonable.
One suspects that his reaction is ultimately emotional rather than intellectual. He is bitter and disillusioned due to his own experience of unanswered prayer, which was, in turn, founded on a false expectation.
Because he used to use Mt 7:7 or Jn 14:13 as a lucky charm, then when the charm didn’t work, God let him down—which just goes to show there is no God.
Finally, he asks why we should even pray to God.
The very fact that he could ask such a question says a lot about why he became an apostate. Sure, God could provide for us apart from prayer, but that completely misses the social dimension of the Christian faith. God is not a vending machine.
6. The Lessons of Galileo, Science & Religion
Loftus makes the illogical claim that the centrality of the Atonement presupposes geocentricism.
Once again, he’s getting swept away with picture language, as if the metaphorical centrality of the atonement is bound up with the literal centrality of the earth vis-à-vis the physical universe.
It’s hard to know how to respond to such a juvenile argument. If, say, my emotional life is “centered” on my wife and kids, does this mean that unless the bank, barber shop, gas station, grocery store, and shopping mall encircle my home like a Ptolemaic star chart, then a trip to the gas station is an act of adultery?
One of the things you become aware of in reading his book is that it’s quite possible for a middle aged man with several seminary degrees to operate at the emotional level of a preschooler in Sunday School.
Loftus’ “God” was one part rabbit’s foot to two parts teddy bear. And when he came to the shocking realization that God is not a stuffed animal, he became an atheist.
According to Loftus, one of the “lessons” of the Galileo affair is “the belief that the universe operates uniformly by the same consistent pattern of laws…Any theory that contradicts this viewpoint should be judged on scientific grounds to be in gross error” (94).
Notice that what Loftus has given us is a circular proof for the uniformity of natural law. If you define science by appeal to the uniformity of natural law, then—by definition—any alternative viewpoint is scientifically erroneous.
What he is pleased to deem a “firmly established fact” is nothing more than a linguistic artifact.
This is ironic because he levels the same accusation against the ontological argument.
Loftus mentions some of the assumptions of science, including the belief in an external world—independent of the observer, as well as the uniformity and universality of natural law throughout the universe. In addition, he quotes the claim that human beings “invent abstract mathematics,” “making it up out of their own imagination” (97).
He then proposes a pragmatic justification for science.
But there are several problems here:
i) According to standard interpretations of quantum theory, reality does have a participatory aspect.
ii) Needless to say, any claim for the uniformity or universality of natural law is underdetermined by the evidence given the extremely small sample we have. The universe is a big place. Even more so if you bring in the concept of a megaverse, which Loftus has chosen to invoke to better evade the anthropic principle.
iii) If he’s going to claim that mathematical truths are a purely human, mental construct, then the external world has no extramental mathematical relations or properties. Just think about that for a moment.
iv) If a pragmatic justification for our belief in science is okay, then why is a pragmatic justification for our belief in God not okay? After all, both Pascal and William James have offered a pragmatic justification for religious faith. Why does Loftus operate with a double standard?
v) A pragmatic justification will work for technology. But theorizing is another matter.
a) Some sciences are more inferential than others. Further removed from the observable evidence.
b) False theories can be effective. Newtonian physics was effective. You can send a man to the moon using Ptolemaic astronomy.
c) Likewise, various medical therapies can be effective even if we don’t know how they work.
d) More than one theory can account for the same body of evidence. Due to empirical equivalence, the evidence alone does not select for any theory in particular. One can always make certain adjustments to bring the theory in line with the available evidence. Retrodiction.
Taking his cue from Kuhn, Suppe, and others, Loftus admits that scientific “facts” and observations are “theory-laden.”
Yet, in this same chapter and the next, he will revert to pre-Kuhnian positivism in his scientific critique of Scripture.
Loftus says that methodological naturalism is the operating philosophy of modern men and women. “We know how babies are made…why it rains…why trees fall” (98).
This is one of the reasons that Loftus is an apostate. He sets up a false dichotomy between natural causes and supernatural causes. He acts as if the Bible attributes every event to direct, supernatural agency.
It’s passing strange that he could read the Bible this way. Were Bible writers unaware of second causes? Didn’t they know where babies came from? Didn’t they know that rain came from clouds, that an ax could fell a tree, or a gust of wind blow it over?
Does he think that modern science discovered sex? If men and women in Bible times didn’t know the facts of life, then there would be no modern scientists for him to cite.
Scripture has a doctrine of ordinary providence. Of primary and secondary causation alike.
Loftus says creation science appeals to God because secular science has “too many problems to work out.” In other words, the God-of-the-gaps paradigm.
But I don’t think that’s an accurate characterization of creationism. It is, rather, a distinction between creation and providence. Of what is needed to put the system in place.
They don’t object to natural forces—given the existence of natural forces. But that doesn’t account for the origin of natural forces.
On p101, Loftus summarizes the evidence for the Big Bang. Two comments:
i) Many Christians believe in the Big Bang.
ii) If you read a book like God & Cosmos (Banner of Trust 2001) by John Byl, you’ll also see some of the difficulties with the Big Bang theory.
Loftus also summarizes the evidence for the conventional dating of the universe. Two more comments:
i) Many Christians accept the antiquity of the universe.
ii) Although, in this same chapter, Loftus pays lip-serve to the theory-laden quality of the scientific evidence, he casts that aside when he discusses issues like the age of the universe. I’ve discussed this elsewhere:
Loftus objects that if the earth is only “4,000 to 10,000 years old then only light from stars within that time frame could actually come from existing stars” (102).
I don’t know where he comes up with the figure of 4,000. The least lower limit for creationism is on the order of 6,000.
It is worth noting, though, that a parallel situation obtains in the case of the megaverse, which he himself appealed to. As Byl explains, “the many-world interpretation of quantum mechanics requires that, due to the observed interference of probability amplitudes, there are in reality many alternative histories that give rise to the present,” ibid. 198.
So even if creationism implicated an illusory prehistory of the world, an analogous phenomenon is implicit in a cosmological model with which Loftus is sympathetic.
In addition, Loftus appeals to the scale of the universe measured in light years to date the universe. But, in that cast, distant objects appear younger than the really are.
So on any reckoning, there’s going to be a gap between appearance and reality.
Let us also remember that, strictly speaking, objects have no apparent age. That’s simply an inference we draw from certain natural processes. We treat non-chronometric processes as if they were chronometric processes. There’s nothing necessary wrong with that, but by the same token, there’s nothing necessarily right about it either.
On p102, Loftus says that Bible “doesn’t claim to tell us how God created, but only that he did.”
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is true, then there is no conflict between Gen 1 and modern cosmology since, ex hypothesi, Gen 1 was never meant to tell us how the world was made.
So, if we grant his operating assumption, then Loftus’ scientific objection to Gen 1 is fallacious—fallacious on his own grounds.
Summarizing the position of Gosse, Loftus says that Gosse deployed his distinction between prochronic time and diachronic time to account for the fossil record and geological strata.
This is correct, but misleading. For while it is true of Gosse, it is not typical of modern-day creationism, which introduces some form of flood geology to account for the paleontological evidence.
Creationism continues to make some appeal to ideal time, but not to the same degree as Gosse.
He says that on the literal view, the sun wasn’t made until the fourth day. But this is a half-truth. For there is more than one literal interpretation of Gen 1.
Sailhamer believes, on syntactical grounds, that Gen 1 does not teach the creation of the sun on day four.
Likewise, John Walton (as well as Donald Wiseman) believes, on semantic grounds, that Gen 1 doesn’t teach the creation of the sun on day four.
Both alternative interpretations are equally literal inasmuch as they are based on the finer points of Hebrew grammar or lexicography.
On the next couple of pages he labors to equate Biblical cosmology with the triple-decker universe. I’ve written about this elsewhere:
He cites John Walton’s commentary in support of his claim. But it’s pretty clear that he’s never read Walton’s commentary. Aside from giving the wrong publication date, he attributes to Walton a position which he doesn’t take.
Loftus also says the Hebrews, due to their prescientific understanding of the world, could not have written about how God actually made the world. But, of course, this simply ignores the issue of inspiration.
In arguing for the antiquity of the earth, he appeals to Blocher. But Blocher is a theologian, not a scientist.
He also appeals to Davis Young. But this is from a debate between Davis Young and Steven Austin. It’s rather revealing that he would only give us one side of a debate.
He then says that he favors a literary interpretation of Gen 1, which he evidently equates with the framework hypothesis (106-107).
But if he rejects a literal interpretation in favor of a literary interpretation, then there can be no conflict between Gen 1 and modern science. So how does modern science disprove Gen 1? Poor little Loftus can’t grasp the consequences of his own position.
He then wheels out the old chestnut that Gen 1-2 are two separate creation accounts. But Duane Garrett, building on the work of Jacques Doukhan, has shown that Gen 1-2 form an intricate literary unit. Cf. D. Garrett, Rethinking Genesis (Mentor 2000), 193ff.
Loftus then argues for the numerological significance of the septunarian scheme in Gen 1. But no one has ever denied that Gen 1 foreshadows the institution of the Sabbath.
Finally, he also reiterates the old argument for the literary dependence of the creation account on the Enuma Elish.
Both this contention has been challenged by such scholars as John Currid, Kenneth Kitchen, and John Walton (all of whom I quote in my review of TET):
Loftus reproduces (without attribution) a diagram from Heidel’s comparative study: The Babylonian Genesis (Chicago 1963), 129.
But, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, if you actually read the full text of the Enuma Elish supplied by Heidel, it is clear that he is not getting Gen 1 out of the Enuma Elish, but the reverse: he is mentally mapping the sequence of Gen 1 back onto the Enuma Elish and fishing around for anything vaguely parallel in the Mesopotamian text. No one would ever come up with this diagram by reading the Enuma Elish all by itself.
7. Science & Gen 1-11
Having admitted, on p81, that he knows little about the creation/evolution debate, Loftus proceeds, in this chapter, to act as if he were qualified to address that very issue—his previous disclaimer notwithstanding.
For example, he says that “astronomy, geology, and anthropology show that the universe, the earth and humanity are much older than it allows” (110).
Does he really think that creation science is unaware of this objection? Does he really think that creation science has no answer to this objection?
For example, John Byl is an astronomer as well as a creationist who has a section on the age of the universe in his book, God & Cosmos, 189-202, while Kurt Wise is a paleontologist as well as a creationist who has a chapter on the age of the earth in his book, Something from Nothing (B& H 2004), 23-38. And, of course, evolutionary anthropology is bound up with the theory of evolution.
Now, Loftus may disagree with their argumentation, but the problem is that he fails to even engage the opposing argument.
For some odd reason, he also spends a lot of time on the story of Cain and Abel. What does this have to do with the science?
He believes that the mark of Cain is anachronistic since, at that time, there were not enough other people around to pose a threat to Cain.
Yet, just a few pages earlier, Loftus objected to the “mythical” lifespan of the prediluvians.
But you can’t very well object to both and still allege an internal conflict in the account.
If the prediluvians lived for hundreds of years, then the mark of Cain is proleptic (cf. 4:17,25-26; 5:4). So the account is entirely consonant on its own narrative assumptions.
Loftus also frowns on the implication of incest for the first generation of humanity. But there are several problems with his disapproval:
i) A moral objection is not a scientific objection. So what’s the relevance of this to a chapter on science and Scripture?
ii) Given his commitment to cultural relativism, Loftus is in no position to pass judgment on the social mores of the prediluvians.
iii) There’s a moral difference between intergenerational incest and intragenerational incest. The former is intrinsically evil, but the latter is not.
Intragenerational incest is imprudent over the long haul, due to the genetic defects which result from excessive inbreeding, but it is not inherently immoral, and there are circumstances under which it is licit.
Loftus also classifies the account of Cain and Abel as an “imaginative” or “folkloric” yarn.
But if, for the sake of argument, we treat this story and others in Gen 1-11 as imaginative fiction, then there is no possibility of conflict between Genesis and modern science. Once again, Loftus cannot grasp the implications of his own position.
On p114, Loftus rehearses the stock analysis of the Documentary Hypothesis in relation to the flood account.
What is noteworthy is that Loftus raises objections which Walton (315-316,319) and Wenham (e.g. 1:157,168-169) each address, and both commentators draw far more conservative conclusions than you find in Loftus.
Since these are commentators whom he himself adduces to bolster his case, it’s all the more striking that he passes over their answers in silence.
So the reader should be alerted to the fact that Loftus is not a trustworthy source of information. He plants the misleading impression that scholars support him when, in fact, they often oppose him.
And he also ignores other conservative commentators on Genesis, like John Currid, who is an expert on ANE language and literature.
He then raises the usual logistical objections to the flood account. Since I’ve written about this before, I’m not going to repeat myself here. But I’ll venture a few comments:
He asks how the ark could accommodate “every species”? But, of course, “species” is a modern, taxonomical term. The Bible doesn’t employ that classification scheme. Rather, it talks about natural “kinds,” which is a much broader category.
Moreover, only the land animals, as the Bible defines them, were taken into the ark.
He also says that archeology has failed to uncover any evidence of a global flood. But what evidence would we expect to find?
Surely not a worldwide flood deposit, for depending on the regional climate and terrain, natural erosion would wash away much of the evidence.
His primary objection is centered on the amount of water involved. But this objection is inconsistent in a couple of respects:
To begin with, John Walton has this to say:
“In 7:20 this phrase is difficult to decipher, largely because of the word that the NIV renders ‘depth.’ The Hebrew text says, ‘Fifteen cubits from above rose the waters, and the mountains were covered.’ It is therefore not at all clear that it is suggesting the waters rose fifteen cubits higher than the mountains…As an adverb modifying the verb ‘rose,’ it suggests that the water reached fifteen cubits upward from the plain, covering at least some part of the mountains,” 325-26.
So that’s quite different from the scenario envisioned by Loftus. Not water “miles” high, but about 22 ft. above ground level—if we multiply a cubit (approx. 18 inches) by 15.
I’m not claiming that Walton’s interpretation is definitive, but since Loftus is the one who referred the reader to his commentary in the first place, I’m merely following his advice. When is Loftus going to follow his own advice?
On a related note, when Loftus talks about the “pressure of the water six miles high (to cover the Himalayas)” (115), this is a very anachronistic reading of the text. Loftus is construing the text in light of modern geography, not ancient geography.
Yet Loftus is the one who is so insistent on how the Bible writers were allegedly committed to the details of ancient cosmography.
So why doesn’t he interpret the text according to ancient Near Eastern cartography and cosmography—instead of importing an Apollo 11 perspective into account? What were the limits of the known world around the time of Genesis?
Here is what the standard reference work has to say:
“Because The Sargon Geography equates the entire earth’s surface with the empire of Sargon of Akkad, the text provides a detailed geography of the earth’s surface. In the text, the earth’s surface includes all of Assyria and Babylonia; areas to the east of Mesopotamia as far as Marhasi beyond Elam and Anshan; territories along the upper Euphrates as far as the Cedar Mountain; the Cedar Mountain itself, areas beyond the mountains as far as the Mediterranean coast, including Tyre and Byblos; the Upper and Lower Seas; the lands across these seas, and Egypt,” W. Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Eisenbrauns 1998), 93.
“Sargon’s empire in The Sargon Geography, excluding the lands across the seas, corresponds to the continent on the World Map [See chap. 2, “The Babylonian Map of the World”]…In the east and west, however, the correspondence between the World Map and the Sargon Geography is not as clear…The western sections of the continents on both texts are not well-defined,” ibid. 93-94.
“Evidence from third millennium royal inscriptions and geographic lists suggest that the World Map and Sargon Geography present commonly-held views of the geography of the continent,” ibid. 321.
“Neither the World Map nor The Sargon Geography provide clear descriptions of the ends of the earth’s surface. On the map, an uncharted blank area stretches beyond the fare shore of the marratu and most distant points of the nagu. Similarly, the preserved portion of The Sargon Geography does not explain what lies beyond the distant lands of Dilmun, Meluhha, Anaku, and Kaptara. Such ambiguities and the existence of conflicting traditions concerning the ends of the earth’s surface reflect the fact that little was actually known about distant areas during antiquity,” ibid. 333.
So when a modern reader is reading the topographical or zoological descriptions in Gen 6-9, he needs to ask himself what these would have meant to the original audience. What would be the mental picture of an ANE reader?
When, therefore, Loftus poses logistical questions about elevation, biogeography, biodiversity, climatic adaptation, dietary specialization, or saline tolerance, he would, were he consistent, scale down his objections to the parameters of the narrative viewpoint or the expectations of the target audience.
But this would require a level of scholarly engagement and critical detachment of which Loftus is incapable.
And that’s not just a matter of answering Loftus on his own grounds. Such considerations are also pertinent for those of us who affirm the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture.
For we, too, must make allowance for how the text was meant to be heard. On the one hand, the narrator (whom I take to be Moses) of Gen 7-9 isn’t teaching a particular cosmography. He isn’t drawing an actual map of the world. He isn’t committing and his readers or himself to something like the Mesopotamian “Mappa Mundi” or Sargon’s Geography.
On the other hand, there’s also no reason to assume that his mental picture of the known world was more extensive than what you’d expect from a man of his time, educated in the Egyptian court.
Indeed, the Table of Nations (Gen 10) probably gives us a rough idea of the known world, as he understood it. What were the “mountains” he had in view? What were the animals he had in mind? Did he visualize the Alps? Did he imagine North and South America?
My point is not to make a case for a local flood over against a global flood. There’s a difference between original intent and logical implication. The scope event itself may well reach a threshold that exceeds the limited outlook of the narrator.
But this is the sort of data we need to begin with before we are in a position to extrapolate beyond the textual horizon. What did the original reader see, in his mind’s eye, as he read (or heard) this account? That supplies the point of reference as well as the point of departure.
The author is writing to a particular audience. What would they have taken him to mean? What image did these descriptions conjure up for them?
So we need to strike a balance between what was consciously meant and what was unconsciously implied.
At the same time, we must also make allowance for the fact that both our knowledge of modern geography as well as ancient geography are postdiluvian rather than prediluvian.
On a final note, it’s striking to observe the one-sided way in which the antagonistic model of Scripture and science is presented by unbelievers.
The antagonistic model was popularized by 19C writers like Draper in his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874), as well as White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896).
The basic thesis is that religion, which is another name for superstition, has been an obstacle to the progress of science, and—by that same token—has also been falsified by the stately progress of science. Likewise, modern-day writers like Sagan and Dawkins keep up the old swashbuckling tradition.
But have any unbelievers gone back through these seminal works to ask how much 21C has falsified 19C science? And given the “progress” of science, what is the likelihood that Sagan and Dawkins will look just as antiquated to a 23C reader as Draper and White appear to a 21C reader?
If the 19C science which falsified 19C theology has been falsified by 21C science, then where does that leave the antagonistic model?
To illustrate the same point using the flip side of the coin, way back in 1942, Cardinal Wiseman, as he was one day to be, issued his Twelve Lectures on the Connexion Between Science and Revealed Religion, wherein he presented a very erudite harmonization of faith and science.
How many of you have ever read this work? I didn’t think so.
Only a church historian would bother to read it since his harmonization is hopelessly obsolete. So the “progress” of science is a two edged sword.
Sagan used to brag about the “self-correcting” character of science. Well, gosh, that’s awfully nice to know—as long as you live on the right side of the self-correcting process. But how do you know which side you’re on?
8. The Strange & Superstitious World of the Bible
This chapter reads just like a chapter from Harry Emerson Fosdick. From start to finish, it’s a tendentious appeal to intellectual snobbery. Modern man has come of age. He can no longer bring himself to believe these Bronze Age fairy tales. And so on and so forth.
Like his treatment of OT law, Loftus feels that all he has to do is to merely cite a few miracles from Scripture, and that cinches his case.
No argument is needed to actually show that these miracles are unbelievable. Just point them out. Citation equals disproof.
And this exposes the vacuity of his intellectual pretensions. For while he assumes a pose of intellectual superiority, he never attempts to make a solid case for his assumptions. Not in this chapter.
So his intellectual affectations are, in fact, only so many silk stockings and powdered wigs to conceal the nudity of an anti-intellectual mindset.
He is simply playing to the galleries. It’s all about attitude. About shaming the reader into atheism rather than arguing the reader into atheism.
Forget about evidence. Just cultivate the sneering tone of Russell, Voltaire, Richard Dawkins, or Gore Vidal. Break out the snuff and pass the Grey Poupon.
In this pompous vein, he loves to assume the royal “we.” He takes it upon himself to speak on behalf of all educated intellectuals.
He never lets the fact that many Christians with advanced degrees from Ivy League institutions continue to believe these “unbelievable” things get in the way of his unctuous performance.
All this chapter boils down to is that he doesn’t believe in miracles. He substitutes opinion for argument.
I myself have run through a number of these examples, so I needn’t repeat myself here and now:
9. Pseudonymity in the Bible
Loftus assures us that “scholarship” has disproven the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. He then cites James Dunn to validate his claim. But Dunn is a NT scholar, not an OT scholar—much less a Pentateuchal scholar in particular. And all he gives us is Dunn’s bare opinion, bereft of any supporting argument.
He then points to a handful of apparent anachronisms to disprove Mosaic authorship. But the presence of a few anachronisms would not disprove Mosaic authorship. At most, they would only prove that certain archaic references had been updated, just as we no longer refer to New York as New Amsterdam or consult a 1950 World Atlas.
I’d add that not all of the alleged anachronisms are, in fact, anachronistic—as archeology has frequently shown.
Conversely, the argument from the presence of anachronisms cuts both ways. For if you date the Pentateuch to the Babylonian Exile or thereabouts, then instead of having a handful of scattered anachronisms—which are easily accounted for as a matter of scribal modernization—the entire Pentateuch becomes one massive anachronism. To take a few examples:
“All the evidence points to one incontrovertible fact: the author of the book of Exodus was well acquainted with the land of Egypt and with the wilderness areas of Sinai, Moab and Edom. And this is not a mere general knowledge but it extends to the very smallest of details,” J. Currid, Exodus (Evangelical Press 2000), 1:25.
“As Garrett has argued in Rethinking Genesis, the Pentateuch shows no knowledge of later Israelite experience over the centuries in the land of Canaan; all its five books are consistently anticipatory, looking forward to occupying the promised land just as they at points look back to bondage in Egypt—but they are always in between Egypt and Canaan in their perspective,” D. Stuart, Exodus (B&H 2006), 29, n29.
“The language of the book [of Leviticus] presupposes a wilderness setting for many of the laws. For example, worship is in the tabernacle and not the temple; lepers had to remain outside the camp and not outside the city (13:46); and the people dwelled close to the shrine (17:1-9). When laws intended for the settled nation are discussed, they are introduced with a statement that God is bringing them into the land (14:34; 23:10). If the book did not have the wilderness wandering as the setting, these expressions are hard to explain,” A. Ross, Holiness to the Lord (Baker 2002), 34-35).
“The material in the Book of Leviticus is not suited to the later exilic or postexilic period of the nation’s history. For example, taking Leviticus in its wider context (i.e., as part of the Priestly writings) yields the improbable scenario in which the nation in exile longs to return to their land but instead receives instructions to build a portable shrine for the desert (Exod 25-31), ibid. 35.
“Late Biblical Hebrew is characterized by the number of its borrowings from Persian. None of these occur in the Pentateuch, not even in P. Were P composed in the Persian period as is widely assumed, Rendsburg concludes, we would expect to find at least a few of the Persian words so prevalent in Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, and Daniel,” ibid. 39.
“The non-Israelites with whom Moses and the Hebrews had contact were all familiar peoples who lived in the Sinai wilderness, Canaan, or Transjordan. There is no event recorded in the book of Numbers that could not have been known to Moses in the second millennium BC. The ancient Near Eastern evidence now available supports the claim of the book to authenticity and origin in the Mosaic era,” R. K. Harrison, Numbers (Baker 1992), 21.
“The personal names (and to a lesser extent the place names) provide indicators that correlate best with the second millennium BC. It is not clear how these names can otherwise be explained. Further, their presence attests not only to an antiquity but also to a close correlation in place and time with what the surrounding narratives purport to describe. Thus the Egyptian context of the exodus produces Egyptian names from the Late Bronze Age. The generations immediately before and after Abraham yield names related to north Syrian in the early second millennium B.C. Biblical traditions about the Anakim correlate with the influence of Hurrian onomastica in Late Bronze Age Canaan. This can hardly be coincidental or the product of a postexilic Jewish scribe grafting on an old list of names to a newly invented story. Further, these are not only personal names of major figures, such as Moses. In many cases the name-bearers are mentioned once or twice in the Bible and play a tertiary role in the narrative Thus it seems unlikely that these names would have been preserved outside the narratives in which they presently occur (Hess 1997). The agreement of the personal names with the periods that the narratives in which they are embedded purport to describe lends credence to the antiquity of the narratives themselves,” R. Hess, “Language of the Pentateuch,” Dictionary of the Pentateuch, T. Alexander & D. Baker, eds. (IVP 2003), 496.
For additional resources, cf.:
G. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody 1994)
K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003)
_____. “Genesis 12-50 in the Near Eastern World,” R. Hess et al. eds. He Swore an Oath (Baker 1994), 67-92.
From the Pentateuch Loftus moves, predictably enough, to Isaiah. Quoting Dunn once again, he says “the message of Second Isaiah would have been largely meaningless to an 8C Jerusalem audience. It is so clearly directed to the situation of the exile” (151).
But this objection is flawed on several grounds:
i) It neglects the nature of visionary revelation. Isaiah was a seer. He is not merely predicting the future, but peering into the future. He “sees” or (more properly) foresees the future as a present reality—both in time and place. This is how he actually experiences divine revelation.
ii) No, Isaiah 40-55 isn’t directly germane to the situation of the preexilic community. But that misses the point. It’s meant to be relevant to the situation of the exilic community, but what makes it relevant is its status as a preexilic oracle of their exilic condition. Why should they believe that their exile will ever come to an end? Because Yahweh is a God who declares the end from the beginning. This is a recurring theme in Isa 40-48.
They know that God will deliver them because they know that God predicted their captivity long before. By knowing and controlling the future, he can make good on his promise.
iii) As one commentator also points out, “It is commonplace to ask if a prophet could or, more importantly, would predict an event a century and a half after his own time and then take his stand within that future even and look further forward still, another seventy years on!…It is important to remember, however, that the ‘200 years’ is our contribution to the discussion, not Isaiah’s. It comes by our hindsight, not his foresight. He says nothing of it and, for all we know, knew nothing of it,” A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah (IVP 1993), 28-29.
From there, Loftus then moves, ever predictably, to the book of Daniel, claiming that it’s bilingual composition reflects composite authorship and a Maccabean provenance. However, scholars like Kitchen and Archer have argued that the Aramaic of Daniel is characteristic of 6C Aramaic rather than the 2C Aramaic. Cf. G. Archer, “The Aramaic of the Genesis Apocryphon Compared with the Aramaic of Daniel,” J. Payne, ed. New Perspectives on the Old Testament (Word 1970), 160-69; “The Hebrew of Daniel Compared with the Qumran Sectarian Documents,” The Law & the Prophets, J. Skilton, ed. (P&R 1974), 470-81; K. Kitchen, “The Aramaic of Daniel,” D. Wiseman, et al. Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel, 35-44.
In addition, does anyone believe that Loftus favors a Maccabean date on linguistic grounds? Who does he think he’s kidding? It’s all about the possibility of prophecy. Knowing the future.
Same thing for his rejection of Jonah (128ff.). It really boils down to his denial of the supernatural.
Loftus also mentions the Septuagintal interpolations. But he admits that this is no part of the Jewish canon.
He then brings up the subject of OT and NT apocrypha. Regarding the OT apocrypha, the time frame for the material is evidence against Loftus rather than for him.
It dates to the Intertestamental Period. Far from the phenomenon of Intertestamental pseudepigrapha supplying any corroborative evidence for the pseudonymity of various OT books, it proves the very opposite: such material could only crop after the cessation of prophecy and after the foreclosure of the OT canon.
In addition, our copies of the LXX date to the Christian era, so they do not attest to the state of pre-Christian Jewish belief vis-à-vis the OT canon.
Greek interpolations to the book of Daniel or pseudepigrapha from the Intertestamental period do not afford any evidence whatsoever for the practice of “amending” the books of the Jewish canon. To the contrary, this is ex post facto literature which must treat the finality of the Jewish canon as sacrosanct, and therefore introduce new material through the back door.
As to NT apocrypha, this material dates to the mid-2C at the earliest. And there’s no evidence that the church ever attempted to consciously canonize pseudonymous works. To the contrary, the history of the NT canon shows us that the church was quite intolerant of pseudonymous literature. That’s why certain books were contested.
Then, in a truly eccentric move, Loftus classifies textual interpolations as examples of NT pseudonymity.
He then asks why they were accepted as Scripture for so long? One reason is because the church lost sight of the primary sources when these interpolations were translated and later codified in the Vulgate.
Loftus also cites Jude 9 14, which allude to Jewish pseudepigrapha. The question, though, is what this usage meant to Jude and his audience. Beckwith classifies that material as “narrative haggadah—edifying, but not necessarily historical,” The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Eerdmans 1986), 403, while Bauckham compares the practice to the Qumran sectaries:
“It is clear that the Qumran community read and valued a wide variety of apocryphal or pseudepigraphal works, including the Enoch literature. On the other hand, it is a notable fact that not only are the community’s commentaries on Scripture, the pesharim, commentaries only on books which belong to the canon of the Hebrew Bible, but also formal citations of Scripture in these and other works of the community are confined to the books of the canon,” Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (T&T Clark 1990), 226.
Bauckham later distinguishes between the canonical books—which were read in synagogue, and the OT apocrypha—which were not (229f.).
So, from what we can tell at this distance, Jews drew certain firm distinctions which made sense to them—even if they’re somewhat obscure to us.
Loftus also cites 2 Tim 3:8-9. But this is simply a traditional designation, like “Dives” (the anonymous rich man in the Lucan parable).
Strikingly, Loftus classifies the Gospel of Matthew as pseudonymous.
This departs from liberal custom, which ordinarily classifies Matthew as originally anonymous, and attributes apostolic authorship to pious tradition.
So is Loftus claiming that the Gospel of Matthew originally circulated under that very title, but was really written by someone else?
He then quotes Robert Price as denying the traditional authorship since Matthew makes use of secondary sources: “It is inconceivable that an eyewitness apostle would not have depended upon his own recollections” (155).
To begin with, Markan priority is just a hypothetical solution to the synoptic problem.
But even assuming Markan priority, why is that “inconceivable”?
Let’s remember that Matthew was a minor apostle. The Gospel of Matthew isn’t famous because its author was a famous apostle; rather, its author is famous because his Gospel made him famous.
Would it be inconceivable, or even unlikely, within a Jewish milieu, fir one Bible writer to borrow from another? But Bible writers borrow from one another all the time.
At one level, the entire Bible instantiates a literary tradition. The intertextuality of Scripture is pervasive.
Given, moreover, the Jewish standard of legal evidence, involving two or more witnesses, why would Matthew hesitate to add his testimony to the testimony of Mark, in a form of multiple and mutual attestation?
Given the fact that Mark was a native of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), he was probably an eyewitness to the ministry of Christ in Jerusalem.
Give the further fact that Mark’s own home as one of the founding house-churches in Jerusalem (see above), if not, indeed, the First Church of Jerusalem (probably the Upper Room), then he would also be custodian of apostolic tradition; for he had the means, motive, and opportunity to interview the Apostles—including Matthew! Is this a case of Matthew quoting Mark? Or is this a case of Matthew quoting Mark quoting Matthew? Written>written>oral?
At this distance we cannot reconstruct all of the details. But that’s the point. Apostates like Loftus and Price make these snap judgments about what is possible without bothering to enter into the cultural and communal mentality from which the documents arise.
Loftus then brings up the silly argument of Price regarding 1 Cor 15:3-11. I’ve discussed that in my review of TET.
Finally, he classifies 2 Peter as pseudonymous due to the linguistic and stylistic differences with 1 Peter.
But there are several problems with this argument:
i) Does he believe that 1 Peter is authentic? If so, then this is a primary source document attesting the death, resurrection, and ascension of the historical Christ.
ii) But if he regards 1 Peter as pseudonymous as well, then he can scarcely use the non-Petrine style of one document to prove the non-Petrine style of another document.
iii) The whole notion of a Petrine style treats Peter as if he were a trained rhetorician, like a professional essayist or novelist, who labored to cultivate and refine a distinctive style—to better find his own literary voice.
But the author of Hebrews is the only self-conscious stylist among the NT writers.
For that matter, many professional writers aren’t all that stylish or distinctive. How many of the contributors to Newsweek or Time magazine or USA Today have an unmistakable prose style?
How many preachers do you know who have a distinctive style of writing? If you were to remove the names, and compare ten different sermons by tend different preachers, could you tell that they were written by ten different preachers?
iv) In addition, we don’t know that Peter wrote his letter from scratch. Assuming that he was a man of modest education, he may have redacted a preexisting source. Copied some stock phrases while working in his own ideas—like one of those form letters.
It’s funny how often the higher critics assume that some anonymous editor redacted apostolic tradition. But why couldn’t the process work in reverse? That a man like Peter, who may have had a fairly fluent command of street Greek, but was less at ease with the formalities of the written word, made selective use of certain literary models or sources at his disposal?
In fact, this is more than theoretical. For there is probably some sort of literary dependence between 2 Peter and Jude. The only question is the order of borrowing. Scholars are divided.
For all we know, they may have borrowed from each other, comparing notes—like two students collaborating on a term paper.
The members of the early church were a close-knit community, and not a bunch of hermits.
Another possibility is that both writers were using a common source, whether written or oral. Given the degree to which the primary source was rewritten, the style of the primary source would affect the style of the secondary source—2 Peter and/or Jude.
Luke is another example. His style is varied because he adapts his style to the style of his source material.
As I said before, Bible writers are generally allusive of one another, as part of an ongoing literary tradition.
And the only reason we recognize Biblical allusions is because we have the Bible. But there may be many literary allusions in Scripture which are lost to us because the secondary sources are lost to us. Yet they are coloring the language of the inspired writer.
10. Archaeology, Exodus, and the Canaanite Conquest
Loftus admits that he “hasn’t done a lot of study in this area (157), but he doesn’t allow his self-confessed ignorance prevent him from penning a whole chapter on that very subject.
Loftus is clearly a man who begins with his conclusion, and then goes scrounging around for any supporting evidence he can scrape up.
His argument in this chapter is an argument from silence. But that’s problematic on several grounds:
i) If it’s a question of archaeological confirmation, then why does he limit himself to the Exodus and Conquest, while ignoring other historical books of Scripture which enjoy more direct corroboration? Why wouldn’t that factor into his overall evaluation? So he’s being very selective, choosing to attack the Christian faith at what he perceives to be its weak points rather than its strong points even where these are all of a kind.
ii) Likewise, his treatment is utterly one-sided. He quotes the minimalists, but not the maximalists. He raises objections that have been addressed in the conservative literature. Were he an honest truth-seeker, he would read both sides of the debate, instead of quoting from only one side, as if all we had were questions without answers. Here’s some of the standard, moderate to conservative literature on the topic at issue:
J. Currid, Exodus (Evangelical Press 2000-2001)
R. Hess, Joshua (IVP 1996)
J. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt (Oxford 1996)
—————. Ancient Israel in Sinai (Oxford 2005)
J. Hoffmeier & A. Millard, eds. The Future of Biblical Archaeology (Eerdmans 2004).
K. Kitchen, On The Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003)
V. Philips Long et al. eds. Windows into Old Testament History (Eerdmans 2002).
I. Provan et al. A Biblical History of Israel (WJK 2003)
D. Stuart, Exodus (B&H 2006)
I myself have discussed the Exodus in some detail:
Loftus then asks the reader why the Exodus is hard to date. Isn’t the answer self-explanatory?
We don’t have a common, continuous calendar reaching all the way back from the present into the past. Attempting to reconstruct an absolute or relative chronology for the ancient world is a very complicated process, with spotty evidence and many variables.
Loftus then raises an old objection involving the size of the Israelite population. Two comments are in order:
i) By any reckoning, the survival of the Exodus generation was never dependent on the natural resources of the Sinai, but sustained by the supernatural providence of God. That is explicit in the account.
So the inhospitality of the Sinai, far from being an oversight, is a presupposition of the narrative—for that occasions the necessity of divine intervention to provide for the needs of the Exodus generation.
ii) The Hebrew terms have more than one meaning, and can be renderd by several orders of magnitude lower than the figures given by Loftus, which go back to Reimarus. It’s striking that Loftus would depend on an 18C Bible critic for his information.
By contrast, consider the detailed and up-to-date studies on this exact question by:
J. Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai, 153-59.
D. Stuart, Exodus, 297-303.
11. Historical Evidence & Christianity
One of his basic objections in this chapter is that historical evidence can only achieve probability rather than certainty.
But his objection is flawed:
i) Even if the evidence were probable rather than certain, so what? Why hold religious belief to a higher standard of than scientific belief?
A large part of his case against the Christian faith is predicated on scientific evidence, yet, by his own admission, scientific evidence is merely probable.
ii) There are several lines of evidence feeding into Christianity. It isn’t limited to historical evidence.
iii) When he talks about historical evidence, he is really talking about a historical reconstruction. But Bible history is not the same thing as historical reconstruction. In the Bible we already have a historical record of events. The reader is not having to reconstruct the events from piecemeal evidence.
iv) Apropos (iii), there’s a difference between a historical record and corroborative evidence.
v) The assumption that we can even probabilify an event is a value-laden assumption which depends on a particular worldview. Christianity, with its doctrine of divine creation and providence, has a basis for doing so; secularism does not:
vi) Appeal to uncertainty is a double-edged sword. If he is going to claim that Bible history is uncertain, then, by the same token, historical objections to Bible history from extrabiblical sources are equally uncertain.
Loftus remarks on the “paucity of evidence for a great part of the past” (161).
Yet, in the immediately preceding chapter, on the Exodus and Conquest, he deployed the argument from silence in just the opposite way—as if we should expect to find a lot of corroborative evidence for these events.
Loftus repeats some of his stock objections to the biblical worldview, viz. the source of epilepsy, disease, rain, and pregnancy.
But as I’ve said before, this is a straw man argument. The Bible does not attribute every illness to possession or divine judgment.
Such elementary ignorance of Scripture is one reason that Loftus is an apostate. There are all these remarkable gaps in his knowledge of Scripture and Christian theology.
Then, when his false expectations were dashed by sorry experience, he turned his back on God. Instead of correcting his erroneous assumptions, he lost his faith in a faulty preconception, which he identified with Christianity.
Loftus appeals to pragmatic justification to warrant methodological naturalism. Once again, he’s repeating himself.
But Christians have no problem with natural causes. The real question is whether a natural cause is always the best explanation for a given phenomenon.
For example, there are times when possession has more explanatory power than brain chemistry. When possession can account for more of the symptoms. When exorcism has greater curative power. The late Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who was a brilliant physician as well as a brilliant preacher, has an insightful discussion of this issue:
“Body, Mind and Spirit,” Healing & the Scriptures (T. Nelson 1988), 141-173.
Loftus then says: “if such an assumption [i.e. methodological naturalism] has had so many successes in science, then why not apply that method to history as well? And modern historians have done just that. When looking into the past they assume a natural explanation for every historical event” (164).
Several basic problems here:
i) He is building on a false premise.
ii) Notice how he presumes to speak on behalf of all modern historians. Do all contemporary Jewish or Christian historians assume that every historical event has a purely naturalistic explanation? Do church historians or students of ancient history like George Marsden, Mark Noll, F. F. Bruce, Edwin Yamauchi, Paul Meier, Iain Provan, and Kenneth Scott Latourette make that assumption?
iii) The obvious reason that a historian should not assume methodological is because a historian ought to be getting his information from historical sources. That’s what makes him a historian. That’s what distinguishes him from a scientist.
And that includes testimonial evidence to the occurrence of paranormal or miraculous events.
To summarily dismiss all such testimony would mean that a historian is no long doing history. He isn’t listening to his informants.
Rather, he is practicing methodological naturalism under the guise of historical investigation.
If you’re really doing history, and credible witnesses report a supernatural event, then you can’t automatically set that aside and still claim to be a historian. Either the historical record is your primary source of information or not. If not, then drop the pose of writing history.
This is one of the problems with methodological naturalism, whether applied to science or history. The method is prejudicial and stipulative. Instead of discovering the truth on the basis of open-minded observation, it assumes in advance of the empirical data what is possible or not. It dictates to reality what reality is permitted to be.
So the method is viciously circular. The method filters the evidence. It dictates what will count as evidence. It screens out any awkward evidence which doesn’t support its preconceived theory.
Loftus discounts the NT because it was written by believers. But don’t most historians believe in what they write? Don’t they believe that the events in question happened the way they report them?
Or would Loftus prefer a historian who doesn’t believe in what he says? By his benchmark, a historian is trustworthy to the degree that he doesn’t trust his own account of events.
What Loftus obviously ignores is the question of how the NT writers became believers. What evidence brought them to their faith in Christ?
Elie Wiesel is hardly impartial about the Nazis when he writes about life in the concentration camp,? Does that make him unreliable?
No. To the contrary, he formed his views on the basis of first-hand experience.
If we were to judge Loftus by his own yardstick, then he would be unbelievable. For a large part of his book is autobiographical. And he has an ax to grind. He writes about his Christian experience and subsequent apostasy to justify his subsequent apostasy.
So this is hardly an impartial account of his life and thought. His polemical bias is pervasive.
Therefore, does Loftus invite the reader to apply his yardstick to his own story? If so, then the standard is self-refuting. If not, then why the double-standard?
Loftus also brings up the issue of extrabiblical miracles. This is another odd lacuna in his grasp of Scripture and Biblical theology.
For some strange reason, which he never bothers to explain, he assumes that the possibility of extrabiblical miracles is incompatible with Christian theology.
But I and others have discussed his misconception, as well as his paradigm-cases:
He then says “the modern historian lives in the modern world, a world where miracles and supernatural events simply don’t take place. At least, that is his experience, as well as my own experience” (165).
Notice how he presumes to speak on behalf of all modern historians. Has he done a survey? Has he sent out a questionnaire to all modern historians?
How is he in any position to speak to the personal experience of all modern historians? Where is his evidence for this sweeping assertion? Loftus can’t possibly know what he’s talking about.
He then accuses the Christian of vicious circularity: “The Christian looks at history using the Christian framework (or worldview) to do so” (166).
But this is simplistic:
i) It ignores the fact that many Christians are converts to the faith. They didn’t come to the faith by initially assuming a Christian outlook.
ii) Not all circularities are vicious. Epistemic circularity is virtuous if you have no practical alternative.
iii) Likewise, some worldviews have more explanatory power than others.
12. Do Miracles Take Place?
I’ve written a fair amount about miracles, both in my review of TET, as well as on my blog, so I’m not going to go over all the same ground here:
Loftus raises a number of “scientific” objections to miracles. What are we to make of this objection?
i) At most, this objection would merely beg the question in favor of science. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that miracles are unscientific, that doesn’t tell us in which direction to resolve the conflict. Should we deny the miraculous or modify our model of science?
ii) In what sense are miracles unscientific? One of Loftus’ problems is that he fails to define and defend what he means by natural law. But the status of natural law is a metascientific question rather that a scientific question, and different philosophers of science give different answers.
Are there natural laws? If so, are they descriptive or prescriptive and/or proscriptive?
iii) How would a miracle undermine science? At most, it would mean that some, but not all, events are scientifically explicable.
Is Loftus claiming that science can’t explain anything unless science can explain everything? If so, where’s the supporting argument for such an ambitious claim?
iv) To say that a certain phenomenon is scientifically inexplicable doesn’t mean it’s inexplicable, simpliciter, but merely that it’s inexplicable on scientific terms.
For example, a metaphysical realist would say that abstract objects are scientifically inexplicable inasmuch as they belong to a differ domain. But this doesn’t mean that abstract objects are inexplicable, simpliciter.
Rather, the methodology must be adapted to the nature of the subject-matter.
We can still employ science to classify and analyze scientific phenomena without assuming that all phenomena belong to the category of scientific phenomena.
Loftus then claims that a Christian “won’t believe any miracles that attest to the major truth-claims of other religions” (174).
But there are a several problems with this assertion:
i) Do all, or even most, miracles, attest a truth-claim? We would need to distinguish between brute miracles and miraculous attestation.
ii) What religions are we talking about? What specific candidates for competing miracles are we talking about?
Loftus doesn’t give the Christian anything concrete to respond to.
iii) What is the quality of evidence for any particular miracle?
iv) Does the religion in question have the metaphysical machinery to generate miracles?
v) What is the relation of this rival religion to Christianity? Is it a Christian heresy? Does it claim the Bible as a rule of faith? If so, is it consistent with Scripture?
Loftus also says that many NT metaphors are “distasteful to modern sensibilities (e.g. blood sacrifice)” (170).
i) What’s the relevance of this to miracles?
ii) Blood sacrifice is not a metaphor. In Scripture, it really happens, viz. the Cross, the OT sacrificial system.
iii) Given his commitment to cultural relativism, how does the fact that these theological “metaphors” offend modern sensibilities count against them?
He then relates an alleged conversation he had with William Lane Craig in which Craig supposedly admitted that Hume is irrefutable.
A couple of problems:
i) Not surprisingly, Craig has written quite bit about Hume’s celebrated essay on miracles. And he certainly doesn’t treat Hume’s objection as irrefutable in his published writings.
ii) Why should we take Loftus at his word? Why should we believe that this conversation ever took place?
Loftus doesn’t think the reader should believe that various conversations attributed to Jesus in the Gospels ever occurred, but he expects the reader to believe his own reported conservations.
But why is he any more believable than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?
Loftus is hardly an impartial reporter. He has an agenda. He writes as an advocate rather than a disinterested observer.
He offers no multiple-attestation for his exchange with Craig. Were there any witnesses? Were they cross-examined?
Loftus then spends a lot of time on the claim that the question of miracles is contingent on the prior question of God’s existence.
But this is fallacious. For it confuses the order of being with the order of knowing. While the occurrence of a miracle is ontologically contingent on the supernatural, it is not epistemologically contingent on the supernatural.
Put another way, while the possibility of miracles assumes the prior existence of God, it doesn’t assume prior belief in the existence of God.
Suppose I’m an atheist or agnostic. I think I have certain evidence for believing in metaphysical naturalism. Or maybe I believe it by default, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary.
Then I observe a miraculous event. In that case, I have to reexamine the evidence for my original position. My metaphysical assumptions were underdetermined by the evidence, for here’s a piece of evidence which undermines my metaphysical assumptions.
At best, my commitment to metaphysical naturalism was predicated on certain provisional reasons which are subject to revision.
After all, Loftus is the one who reduces everything to mere probabilities and degrees of belief. In that case, a commitment to metaphysical naturalism or even the weaker thesis of methodological naturalism can never be more than tentative and perennially conditional.
Finally, Loftus raises an objection to divine agency, which is a special case of the standard objection to dualism: how can mind interact with matter?
But I and others have discussed this before. Lotus broaches this objection as if the dualist is speechless. But the dualist has often answered this objection:
And because he chooses to ignore the answers, Loftus loses by default. If you raise an objection that’s been answered, and you ignore the answer, then the burden of proof is back on your lap.
13. The Self-Authenticating Witness of the Holy Spirit
This chapter is primarily an attack on William Lane Craig’s appeal to the witness of the Spirit.
To the extent that the quoted material is representative of Craig’s full-fledged position, then I agree with Loftus—up to a point.
Mind you, if Loftus got into an actual debate with Craig over this issue, things might take a decided turn for the worse where Loftus is concerned.
That said, the provincial aim of this chapter, by its tight focus on Craig, severely limits the scope of the critique. Loftus is targeting one man’s view. But this leaves the larger issue untouched.
The larger issue is the argument from religious experience. Here we need to distinguish between defensive and offensive apologetics. In doing offensive apologetics, we generally trying to find common ground with the unbeliever, or challenge his methods and assumptions.
But the reasons we give in offensive apologetics are not the only reasons, or even, of necessity, the primary reasons for why we believe.
They are simply the reasons that lie above the surface of Christian experience, within public view.
Yet there are also a number of reasons that lie below the surface. To which only an insider is privy—which involve the privileged access of B individual. Personal experience is just that—personal. A largely unique, private, and—on that account—intransmissible experience.
To begin with, we need to define the “witness of the Spirit,” for this is not self-explanatory.
The phrase is basically a Pauline concept or category. And it has its parallel in the Johannine category of regeneration, although regeneration is a broader category.
In my opinion, the witness of the Spirit is not a separate line of evidence. Rather, it’s a result of regeneration, effecting the removal of moral and emotional impediments to the preexisting evidence.
Before this act of renewal, we were in a state of defiant denial. But when the Holy Spirit restores the will, we are made receptive to the truth. He restores our natural and spontaneous belief-forming faculty.
The formation of belief is a relation between a predisposition to believe the evidence and exposure to the relevant evidence. When presented with suitable evidence, belief is involuntary and automatic as long as our cognitive faculties are functioning properly, as they were deigned to perform.
Second, what is the evidence? Here I’d draw a distinction common to Cardinal Newman, Michael Polyanyi, and Basil Mitchell. As Mitchell expresses the issue:
The conception of reason presupposed by the familiar contrast between reason and faith is made explicit in the well-known statement by W. K. Clifford: “It is wrong, always, everywhere and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. It follows that, in order to be rationale, one must:
• have sufficient evidence for what one believes
• be prepared to produce the evidence on demand
• proportion one’s confidence in the truth of the belief to the evidence as it stands at the time of speaking.
We are so used to this conception of reason that we often fail to notice how remote it is from the way people actually think. No one was more aware of this or criticized it more effectively than John Henry Newman. Newman had encountered it in Locke and had commented: “He (Locke) consults his own idea of how the mind ought to act, instead of investigating human nature as an existing thing, or as it is found in the world.” When he examined the way we actually think, Newman noticed a number of things:
Much of our reasoning is tacit and informal. It cannot be neatly displayed as a set of conclusions derived by a straightforward process of inference from clear-cut premises. Rather: “it is the cumulation of probabilities, independent of each other, arising out of the nature and circumstances of the particular case which is under review; probabilities too fine to avail separately, too subtle and circuitous to be convertible into syllogisms, too numerous and various for such conversion, even were they convertible.”
B. Mitchell, Faith & Criticism (Oxford 1994), 10-12.
This is what lies below the surface. Some of that evidence can be brought to the surface. But the more we formalize the evidence, the less evidence we have to formalize. So there’s something of an inverse relation between reflective and prereflective knowledge.
Not only is our pretheoretical knowledge far more extensive than our efforts to prove it, but the very effort to prove it, to turn the intuitive insight into analytical hindsight, is a reductionistic process which filters out a lot of probative evidence. What comes out is a fraction of what went in.
That is why it’s possible for a Christian layman, who may not be terribly articulate or intellectual, to have a rationally compelling faith. He simply knows a lot more than he can ever put into words. And this is still the case, to a lesser extent, for a Christian philosopher.
It’s a mistake to confuse proof with knowledge. Proof presupposes knowledge, but knowledge need not presuppose proof—although a process of proof can be a way of learning something which one did not know before.
Loftus quotes Paul Feinberg as saying: “The problem arises with this approach in apologetics because the task is not simply to defend believers’ epistemological rights to believe, but to convince those who are not believers that the Christian understanding of God and reality is true. That requires a third-person perspective” (183).
But one could turn this around: the task is not simply to convince those who are not believers that the Christian understanding of God and reality is true, but to defend believers’ epistemological rights to believe. That requires a first-person perspective.
You need to combine both approaches: defensive as well as offensive apologetics.
Self-authentication was never meant to be of evidentiary value for an outsider. But this doesn’t render it valueless to an insider.
Loftus then says that the Christian God is “just too complex of an entity to believe in” (184).
But this is an assertion, not an argument. How does he define complexity? What is his threshold? Why is a certain level of complexity excessive to be believable? Is the Mandelbrot set just too complex of an entity to believe in?
Loftus also says that “all knowledge comes with some doubt because we are absolutely certain of nothing” (185).
Of course, this statement is self-refuting, for if we can be absolutely certain of nothing, then the statement that we can be absolutely certain of nothing is, itself, an uncertain claim. Pity that Loftus is too obtuse to see the obvious. For more, see:
Another problem is his use of the word “knowledge.” But if we “know” something, then we cannot be wrong about what we know to be true.
We can only be wrong about what we merely believe to be true, where belief falls short of knowledge.
He then says that we can “pragmatically justify our senses in that they help us to get along in life fairly well” (185).
But there are a couple of problems with this claim:
i) Utility proves utility, but it doesn’t prove truth.
ii) There’s also the question of whether evolutionary psychology removes the preconditions of sense knowledge. Can we trust the product of a mindless process? Even if certain adaptations confer a survival advantage, natural selection is not truth-conducive. It doesn’t select for true beliefs. Cockroaches “get along in life fairly well” without entertaining any true beliefs about the world around them.
14. Was Jesus Born of a Virgin in Bethlehem?
I’ve already blogged on the nativity of Christ:
15. Was Jesus God Incarnate?
Loftus says that the “deification of Jesus took at least 70 years among ancient superstitious people” (190).
But there are several problems with this claim:
i) It assumes, without benefit of argument, the late dating of the Gospels.
ii) It also assumes that the divinity of Christ is not already on display in the Synoptic Gospels.
iii) It ignores the high Christology of the Pauline epistles, Hebrews, 1 John, and Revelation.
Loftus tries to date the Gospel of John “very late” by appeal to the recurring phrase “the Jews.”
But as Keener concludes, after a detailed analysis, this usage is deliberately ironic. Cf. K. Keener, The Gospel of John (Hendricksen 2003), 1:214-228.
As usual, Loftus fails to keep abreast of standard scholarship.
I also agree with the arguments of John Robinson and Paul Barnett for a pre-70 dating of the Fourth Gospel. Cf.:
P. Barnett, The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years (Eerdmans 2005), chap. 14; J. A. T. Robinson, The Priority of John (Meyer-Stone Books 1987). But a later date is still consistent with Johannine authorship.
Loftus denies the Johannine authorship of the Fourth Gospel due to the difference in style and content between the Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels.
But it isn’t clear what supplies the basis of comparison. For liberals also deny the traditional authorship of the Synoptic Gospels.
So, for this objection to get off the ground, Loftus would have to assume that the Synoptic Gospels are faithful custodians of dominical tradition, due to their traditional authorship, in order to compare and contrast their authentic preservation of dominical tradition with the “unhistorical” theology of the Fourth Gospel.
But the Christology of the Synoptic Gospels is already way beyond what Loftus is prepared to credit. So he’s boxed himself into a doozy of a dilemma.
He then cites a number of liberal or left-leaning scholars who deny that Jesus would have said what he’s reputed to have said about himself in the Fourth Gospel.
It’s ironic how credulous a sceptic like Loftus is when it comes to liberal scholarship, A true sceptic would never accept the intellectual conceit of critical scholars who act as if they are in a privileged position to know what “really” happened or tell us what was “really” said two thousand years ago.
While they deny that the Gospels preserved eyewitness testimony, they assume the pose of an eyewitness, setting the record straight.
In some ways I’m more sceptical than Loftus. I’m far more sceptical of attempts to reconstruct the creative process some 2000-3000 years after the fact. This is one reason I see limited value in detailed harmonizations.
The difference in style and content between the Synoptic Gospels and the Fourth Gospel is entirely in line with the historicity and Johannine authorship of the Fourth Gospel.
The reason for the difference is due in large part to omissions and additions.
There is, on the one hand, the omission of parables, exorcisms, and pronouncement stories, as well as certain events in the life of Christ, such as the nativity, baptism, temptation, transfiguration, institution of the Lord’s Supper, and agony in the Garden.
On the other hand, there’s additional material on the early Judean ministry of Christ, as well as more discourse and less narrative.
There are many possible reasons for these omissions and additions, and more than one reason may, in fact, be operative:
i) Since the Synoptic Gospels already cover much the same ground, it would be superfluous to go over the same ground for a fourth time.
ii) The Gospel writers choose their material with a view to the needs of their respective audience, and the audience varies from one Gospel to another.
iii) John has his own areas of special interest.
iv) As an apostle in general, and a member of the inner circle in particular, John had a lot of original material to contribute.
v) As a practical matter, there was a word-limit on how much material an individual scroll could contain.
In order to add a lot of new material, it would sometimes be necessary to omit a lot of old material.
Although it was possible to go to a second or three scroll, many ancient books did not survive precisely because they were too wordy to conveniently transcribe.
vi) Even the Synoptic Gospels are quite selective in their coverage, and often rearrange the material topically rather than chronologically.
vii) We also know from the way NT writers quote OT writers, that NT writers felt free to paraphrase or gloss the primary sources they cite.
viii) The original audience for Johannine discourse differs from the original audience for Synoptic discourse. As one scholar explains:
“The Gospel itself presents us with a lengthy example of discourse material conveyed just to the disciples in an ‘in house’ setting (Jn 13-17), and even goes so far as to suggest that while Jesus used figurative and metaphorical speech in such a context, he also ‘spoke plainly’ and elucidated the meaning of such of such symbolic language as well (cf. Jn 16:25-29). This bears a striking similarity to the independent testimony of Mark that Jesus explained the mysteries of the kingdom and of his metaphorical wisdom speech to his disciples ‘in-house (cf. Mk 4:34 and 4:10-13). By the criteria of multiple attestation we must take this suggestion of in-house explanation of Jesus’ public teaching seriously. I would thus suggest that the discourse material in the Fourth Gospel has as its ultimate source this sort of setting, when Jesus explained himself to his disciples in private, and that the evangelist has portrayed this kind of discussion in Jn 13-17. In addition, he has taken some of these private explanations and appended them to the sign narratives and public logia of Jesus in Jn 2-12 in order to explain the signs by means of the discourse material,” B. Witherington, John’s Wisdom (WJK 1995), 37.
Since the Johannine discourse was originally addressed to a different audience, with a different purpose, that would explain the stylistic difference, as well as the difference in content.
And John has, in turn, modeled the style of the narrative material, as well as his own editorial comments, on these dominical speeches.
This would also explain why, while the Fourth Gospel is the most “theological” of the canonical gospels, it is also the Gospel which supplies the reader with the most background information or circumstantial detail to contextualize the speeches and events.
Loftus then lodges a logical objection to the Incarnation: “how can one person bet truly and fully God, and at the same time truly and fully a man” (196).
i) The Incarnation does not predicate divine attributes of the human nature, or human attributes of the divine nature. Rather, it attributes both sets of properties to a complex person. To say that B is to A, and C is to A, does not imply that B is C. So Loftus is committing a level-confusion.
ii) It’s true that we don’t know, at a theoretical level, just how, exactly, the two natures of Christ unite in one complex person. But that does not amount to a contradiction.
To the contrary, in order to posit a contradiction you would indeed need to know just how, exactly, they are interrelated in order to demonstrate that their alleged relation is incoherent.
iii) But at a practical level, we do know how the two natures are united in one complex person, because we see Jesus in action throughout the Gospels. We can observe the effect of the Incarnation, even if the underlying relation remains mysterious.
Loftus also says that “to be tempted would entail having thoughts about sinning” (198).
But this fails to draw a couple of basic distinctions:
i) There’s a difference between thoughts of sin and sinful thoughts.
ii) Temptation is not necessarily a temptation to sin. There are other forms of temptation.
For example, there are occasions when I have the opportunity to go beyond the call of duty. And yet I’m under no moral obligation to go beyond the call of duty. For were I duty-bound to do it, then it wouldn’t go beyond the call of duty. So it is not a sin to refrain from performing a supererogatory work.
To take an illustration, should I jump into the water to save a drowning swimmer from a rip current?
That depends. I would be risking my own life to save his life.
Suppose I have a wife and kids to support. I’m tempted to refrain from attempting to rescue the drowning swimmer because I have a prior and higher obligation to my family.
When the NT talks about the temptations of Christ, these are not temptations to sin. These are not sinful thoughts.
Rather, they are temptations to forgo his redemptive mission.
But since his redemptive mission is an act of mercy, he is under no moral obligation to go through with it.
To be merciful is to go beyond the call of duty. So what makes the temptation tempting, in this instance, is not that it’s sinful, but that it isn’t sinful. You could walk away from the challenge scot-free. So why put yourself through that ordeal if you don’t have to?
16. “Why Did Jesus Suffer?
Loftus’ primary target in this chapter is the Anselmian theory of the atonement along with penal substitution.
He defines the Anselmian theory as involving the principle that “since the satisfaction must be in proportion to the amount of sin, and the amount of sin is infinite” (200).
i) ”Infinite” is a slippery term. What kind of infinite? Potential? Actual? Qualitative? Quantitative?
ii) Since the Bible doesn’t frame the atonement in terms of infinitude, I don’t feel bound by this formulation.
He then quotes Michael Martin’s critique of the Anselmian theory as involving the notion of God’s “wounded pride.”
But, of course, this is not Anselm’s theory, but a polemical caricature.
Loftus then says: “In our modern society we punish people in a humane way. We don’t flog them…or tar and feather them for public disgrace…We put them in jail to keep them from hurting more people, and we do so to deter others from a life of crime. Then there is the motive of simple retaliation—retribution, or just deserts. Some are arguing that such a motive is unethical and unbecoming of a humane society, especially when it comes to capital punishment. Now my point here is to ask which motive is it that God has which makes him a just God when he punishes us, if in fact we deserve it?” (201).
i) Given his commitment to cultural relativism, who is Lotus to say that modern jurisprudence is superior to earlier models?
ii) I can think of instances in which a public flogging or tar-and-feathering would be much more effective than jail time.
iii) In my opinion, we should scrap the prison system. Offenders who commit property crimes should be forced to make financial restitution (e.g. indentured service), while incorrigible offenders or those who commit major crimes of violence should be executed.
Our current system is both unjust and unmerciful. It is unmerciful to the victim while it generally fails to exact retribution on the offender.
iv) What makes God just is his exercise of retributive justice.
Loftus asks, “Can it really be true that justice demands I suffer for all eternity in hell for one little white lie?” (201).
This is a straw man argument.
“Who creates the demands of justice, anyway? (201)”
The principle of retributive justice is not a divine fiat, but the necessary consequence of a divine attribute. Given that God is just, then an injustice demands retribution.
“Did Jesus suffer an infinite punishment for our sins”? (202).
As I said before, since I see no scriptural reason to cast the question in terms of infinitude, whatever that may mean, I see to reason to answer the question accordingly.
“If the cross was needed to pay the punishment for my sins, then how can God really be a forgiving God” (202).
It’s very revealing that man with several seminaries degrees can’t answer that question.
Simply put: God is forgiving towards the redeemed by being punitive towards the Redeemer.
Mercy takes one object, and judgment another. So there’s no contradiction here since forgiveness and punishment correspond to two different parties.
Is Loftus so dense that he can’t draw such a simple distinction?
“If we die outside of faith in Jesus, what kinds of reasons would God have for punishing us when we die?” (203).
Let’s see…maybe because we’re sinners?
Once again, why can’t a man with several seminary degrees answer his own question?
Sinners aren’t damned because they disbelieve in Jesus. Rather, they’re damned because they are sinners.
To say that you can only be saved by believing in Jesus does not imply that you can only be damned by disbelieving in Jesus. While disbelieving in Jesus is a sin, it is not the only sin.
“Maybe God punishes us when we die to deter others…[or] maybe God punishes us in order to teach us to do better” (203).
No, the moral warrant for hell is retributive justice, not remediation or deterrence.
Loftus then quotes John Hick as saying: “the idea that guilt can be removed from a wrongdoer by someone else being punished instead is morally grotesque” (204).
But this substitutes opinion for argument.
Even at an intuitive level, his objection is unconvincing. Take the case of friendship. Friendship is based, in large part, on favoritism.
I’ll do a favor for a friend that I wouldn’t do for a stranger. And because I’ll do a favor for a friend, I also do a favor for a friend of a friend, even if his friend is not my friend.
Let’s say that John is my friend, and Jim is John’s friend, but Jim isn’t my friend.
Let’s also say that Jim wrongs me. John, our mutual friend, then intervenes. He asks me, as a special favor to him, to overlook the wrong done to me by Jim. And let us say that, as a good friend, that I accede to his request.
Notice the principle of moral transference. John is acting on behalf of Jim, and in his place. And I treat Jim as if he were John. I’m doing it as a favor for John, but Jim is the beneficiary. My friendship with John is credited to Jim’s account.
Is this morally grotesque? Hardly. This is something we expect from a friend. It’s the basis of friendship.
17. Did Jesus Bodily Rise From the Dead?
I’m going to skip this chapter, not because it’s unimportant, but because it’s so important that I’ve already written a whole book on these sorts of objections:
18. The Devil Make Me Do It!
Loftus’ basic claim in this chapter is that the “concept of Satan evolved” (225).
I have a different explanation: progressive revelation.
We already have demonology in the OT, of which Satanism is just a special case.
Although OT demonology is fairly scattered, cryptic, and allusive, this doesn’t mean it “evolved.”
To the contrary, the scattered, cryptic, and allusive character of OT demonology would be unintelligible to an OT reader if it didn’t take for granted a cultural and extrabiblical preunderstanding of the phenomena. The OT writers are assuming a common, background knowledge on the part of their readers.
And that is why it’s such a short step from OT demonology to NT Satanism. Otherwise, NT Satanism would be incomprehensible to Jewish readers, which was clearly not the case.
19. Hell? No!
This chapter is a revealing illustration of what passes for reasoned argument in the furry mind of John Loftus.
He summarily excludes the traditional doctrine of hell as a live option by simply quoting some disapproving comments by Hans Küng, Clark Pinnock, and Uta Ranke-Heinemann.
Since, therefore, Loftus doesn’t even bother to mount a reasoned argument against the traditional doctrine, there is no argument for me to respond to.
I can’t very well refute a case he never made in the first place. So I can safely leave the chapter where I found it.
I will, however, venture a few comments:
i) Pinnock, for one, likes to use the word “torture.” But the image of hell as a vast torture chamber owes a lot more to Dante than it does to Scripture. In Scripture we just have a few picturesque descriptions.
ii) God wouldn’t need to torture anyone. Rather, he is putting all of the damned in one place where they are free to sin to their heart’s content. Hell is where they finally get to do what they always wanted to do.
And if they wrong one another, what is wrong with allowing one sinner to wrong another sinner? Sounds like poetic justice to me.
iii) Critics of hell tell us that the damned aren’t all that bad. They aren’t bad enough to be deserving of hell. Indeed, they’re basically good. Just misunderstood.
In fact, critics of hell often remark that they’d rather end up in hell since that’s where all their friends are. The best and the brightest.
Life on earth would be so much better if it weren’t for the Christians. A godless, infernal existence, wherein we cast off the shackles of primitive superstition, would be a vast improvement.
Isn’t that the message of Loftus’s own book? “People don’t misbehave because they are evil, they may just be sick. Punishment isn’t what people need, so much as healing and understanding” (256).
“We reject the whole nature of superstitious thinking when compared to modern scientific thinking to day” (256).
Well, then, Loftus should feel right at home in hell.
So let’s assume for the sake of argument that the critics are right. In that event, then Gehenna shouldn’t be such a nasty place after all.
Just consider the Heroes in Hell series, where the afterlife is simply an extension and intensification of the here-and-now:
If the damned aren’t all that evil—if, in fact, they are no worse than they were in life—then why assume that a hellish existence be so unpleasant—much less unbearable?
Why would it be like living in a concentration camp or torture chamber to find yourself in the company of all these nice, neighborly hellions?
What’s so bad about hell? Hell is heaven for secular saints. Everyone Loftus admires is down there. So what’s he waiting for?
Hell gets such a bum rap. It’s a pity that critics of hell have so little faith in human nature. From the way they badmouth the joint, you’d almost suppose they believe in total depravity.
Critics of hell need to shed their quaint, Puritanical notions of human nature and take a more enlightened view of Pandemonium.
20. Prophecy & Biblical Authority
Loftus poses the question of what would be the basis of God’s foreknowledge? He admits that Calvinism has a logical answer to that question, but he then levels the usual, moralistic objections against Calvinism. I’ve discussed this quite often (see below).
He also considers the argument that God is timeless. I don’t consider this to be the basis of foreknowledge. However, the position is important in its own right.
He then raises some objections to divine timelessness. Ironically, his objections take the form of anthropomorphic objections.
He can’t believe in a God who isn’t more like we are. Loftus doesn’t mount any real argument for this claim—just some illogical, question-begging assertions.
For a serious discussion, see the following:
In addition, don’t you suppose that if God were more anthroporphic, Loftus would reverse himself and then claim that such a God is too human to be real?
If fact, if the God of the Bible were a mythological God, then we would expect him to be very anthropomorphic.
Loftus then borrows a page from open theistic hermeneutics. This, too, is well-trodden ground. For a couple of serious discussions, in contrast to his shallow objections, see:
He then says that “if not even God can predict the future as it moves father and father into the distance, then neither can any prophet who claims to speak for God” (233).
This is true, given the false premise.
I’d add, though, that Loftus seems to be operating with an A-theory of time, viz. presentism, the passage of time.
If so, then he needs to defend the A-theory of time in relation to the B-theory of time. Cf.:
R. Le Poidevin, Travel in Four Dimensions (Oxford 2003).
D. Mellor, Real Time II (Routledge 1998)
L. Oaklander, The Ontology of Time (Prometheus Books 2004)
Not surprisingly, he also denies the prophetic character of the Psalter. But this is not the time and place to do the amount of exegesis which would be required to rebut his claim.
A good place to start is G. Grogan, Prayer, Praise & Prophecy: A Theology of the Psalms (Mentor 2001).
In passing, he attacks the census of Quirinius. I’ve discussed that issue in my review of TET.
Predictable, he also seizes on Mt 1:23; 2:14-15,22-23.
Once again, this is not the time and place go to into detailed exegesis. These objections have been repeatedly addressed by such commentators as Blomberg, Carson, France, Hagner, Keener, and Nolland.
He then says that “the model of the prophet receiving the very words of God is not a good paradigm for understanding the Bible as a whole” (236).
i) This fails to distinguish between inspiration and revelation. While all revelation is inspired, not all inspiration is revelatory. An inspired writer may make use of preexisting materials. He doesn’t rely on direct revelation for everything he knows.
ii) As Harris has argued, the prophetic category is quite broad. Cf. R. Laird Harris. Inspiration & Canonicity of the Scriptures (A Press 1995), chaps. 8 & 12.
Loftus then lodges the illogical claim that the conditional character of prophecy (Jer 18:5-10) is incompatible with the “accuracy and inerrancy” of the OT prophets (237).
How so? A conditional prophecy takes the form of: If you do A, then B will transpire; but if you do C, then D will transpire.
But as long as A results in B, or C results in D, then how is that erroneous or inaccurate?
It would only be erroneous or inaccurate if A did not result in B, or C did not result in C. Pity that Loftus can’t think straight.
I’d add that not all prophecies are conditional. This is limited to oracles of judgment. And it’s further limited to oracles of historical judgment.
It does not cover oracles of salvation or oracles of eschatological judgment.
He then says “there are so many problems in harmonizing the Bible’s own statements that Gleason Archer had to come up with a 476 page book trying to explain them” (237).
But this is a circular objection. The unbeliever begins by attacking the Bible, then justifies is attack by appealing to the number of times he went on the attack, as if the act of criticism were self-warranting.
Moreover, any book written between 2000-3500 years ago is going to contain a number of obscurities.
Furthermore, the assertion of “so many problems” operates at the wrong level of abstraction:
Loftus is also guilty of a double standard. In his chapter on the Resurrection, he summarizes John Spong’s “speculative reconstruction of what might have initially happened soon after Jesus’ death. He emphasizes that it is just conjecture, too” (221).
So it’s okay for a liberal like Spong to engage in a hypothetical reconstruction in order to show that the Bible is wrong, but it’s not okay for a conservative (such as Archer) to engage in a hypothetical reconstruction to show that the Bible is right. Nice going, Loftus!
He also asks, “how can these be God’s Words written by men who use different styles of writing?” (237).
How is stylistic variation incompatible with inspiration? Is there a divine style of writing?
By creating different writers, God is creating different styles of writing.
Why does Loftus raise such inane objections? Because he has no good objections.
21. The Problem of Evil
I’ve done a lot of blogging on examples trotted out by Loftus, so I’m not going to repeat myself here:
But to comment on a few things:
Loftus quotes Hume as asking: Is the world, considered in general and as it appears to us in this life, different from what a man would, beforehand, expect from a very powerful, wise, and benevolent Deity” (254).
But why should our prior expectation set the standard? Is ignorance the benchmark? Is ignorance the gold standard of atheism?
All I’d says is that the world, considered in general and as it appears to me in this life, is just what I’d expect from the God of the Bible.
Loftus then proceeds to cite some excerpts from Antony Flew’s parable of the invisible gardener, and then finishes by declaring that “Christians need to tell me how much human suffering would be too much for them to continue believing that a kind, caring, omnipotent father/creator God exists. Give me your criteria…Can your belief be falsified here? If you cannot give me a test, then your belief cannot be falsified…Without giving me a test you have insulated your belief from all intellectual scrutiny” (255).
Several comments are called for:
i) We don’t need to speak hypothetically about how much evil is too much evil. We only need to deal with what evil there is, and not with some imaginary evil.
ii) The Bible has a theodicy.
iii) The real issue is not the amount of evil, but it’s character. It is gratuitous? Is it redeemed?
iv) The Bible is falsifiable if the Bible is false. The Bible is unfalsifiable if the Bible is true, for truth is unfalsifiable. So Loftus’ question is prejudicial.
v) He also confuses knowledge with proof. Criteria are needed to prove something—not necessarily to know something.
I have tacit knowledge of many things for which I have no ready-made criteria.
vi) Apropos (iii)-(iv), the unspoken assumption of Loftus’ challenge is that Christians believe things to be true which they don’t know to be true.
But this assumption begs the question of whether God has made himself known.
vi) John Frame has written a response to Flew:
22. The Pharisees: Were They That Bad?
In this chapter, Loftus presents a very slanted and dated account of the new perspective on Paul, to undercut the accuracy of the NT. For something more even-handed and up-to-date, cf:
Based on some teasers which Loftus’ publisher put out as a come-on to buy his book, I suggested that the reader should save his money.
Having now read the thing for myself, my new advice is:
Save your money!