Sunday, November 05, 2006

Tooth-fairy tales

10:19 PM, November 03, 2006, John W. Loftus said...

“I know, I know. Christians will respond that what sends us to hell are our sins. I find that repugnant too, of course.”

Why does Loftus find the doctrine of hell “repugnant?” Is it because he doesn’t believe the damned deserve their fate? They aren’t bad enough to merit hell?

But if that’s the case, then why does he assume that hell would be such a bad place to end up? Just as a neighborhood is only as good or bad as the neighbors, hell would only be as good or bad as the hellions.

It’s bad people who make hell a bad place to spend eternity.

So Loftus has a dilemma on his hands:

If, on the one hand, he doesn’t believe that the damned are bad enough to go to hell, then they wouldn’t be going to such a bad place after all. The afterlife would be no worse than life on earth.

If, on the other hand, he believes that hell would be a really bad place to stay, that would only be because it is filled with bad people who deserve to be there in the first place.

It’s the damned that make hell a hellish place to live in. Hell is hellish if the damned are antisocial and sociopathic.

So that’s the quandary for a critic of hell: Do the damned deserve to go to hell or not?

If not, then hell should be no worse than life on earth. Indeed, from the standpoint of an unbeliever, life in hell would be better than life on earth since only unbelievers live in hell, and surely an unbeliever isn’t going to complain about the company—since it’s populated by his fellow unbelievers.

Why would an unbeliever think it’s unjust of God to sentence all unbelievers to live in the same gated-community?

If unbelievers are as good as unbelievers think they are, hell should be a holiday resort, not a torture chamber. An underground version of Las Vegas.

Why do unbelievers think the very worst thing God could do to them is make them live together in one big community of unbelievers?

They don’t seem to have much faith in their social skills. Strikes me as a pretty self-incriminating complaint.

But if hell is every bit as bad as Loftus thinks it would be, then that must be because the damned are evil at heart, making the Netherworld a living hell for one another, in which case they obviously deserve exactly what they get.

I pointed this out in my review of his book. He has yet to respond. And I made the same point in a recent post.

As Jason has noted, Loftus has a habit of digging through his wastepaper basket for crumpled objections to the faith.

He fishes the crumpled objections out of his wastepaper basket, tries to smooth out the creases, then resubmits them as if no one had ever hear of these before, much less answered them before.

Like Daniel Morgan, Loftus acts as if he can skip over the counterarguments. That he doesn’t need to bridge over objections to his own position. That he can take a detour or shortcut to get around the counterarguments. But, no, he can’t go forward until he builds a conceptual bridge to get over the sinkholes studding his own argument.

Here’s another example:

“But even if so, and our sins do send us to hell, then the remedy is to believe the correct things, isn't it? And that's even more repugnant, especially when what we believe is a overwhelmingly a product of when and where we were each born.”

As I’ve pointed out to him on many occasions, the appeal to social conditioning cuts both ways. And if he continues to hack away at Christianity with this doubled-edged sword, he will accidentally behead himself.

If social conditioning is a defeater for Christian morality, then it’s a defeater for secular ethics. If he’s going to take refuge in social conditioning, then he forfeits the right to treat his own culturebound, social mores as the standard of comparison in judging the Bible. He really needs sheathe this self-decapitating objection unless he harbors an intellectual death-wish.

That’s just one of the problems with the following statement:

“In a democratic society we can believe whatever we want to. We are only judged and/or condemned for what we do. So likewise, it seems barbaric to democratic loving people to be judged by God (or Allah) based upon what they believe.”

I’d add that there’s an intimate connection between belief and morality. The reason many people don’t act on what they believe is fear of consequences. But if they thought they could get away with it, then they would behave accordingly.

“If you equate the tooth-fairy with a God that more than one billion people on the planet believe in, then I have four suggestions for you:”

Two things:

i) Since Loftus doesn’t believe in Allah, doesn’t he himself regard faith in Allah as analogous to faith in the tooth-fairy?

ii) I was simply fielding one hypothetical with another hypothetical.


“One) Interact with them and see how intense their belief is, how intelligent it is, and how sincere it is. Whatever reasons you have for them not agreeing with you like ‘stupidity,’ ‘ignorance,’ ‘hard heartedness,’ or ‘divine decree,’ they think the same things about why you don't believe in Allah.”

I already did that last summer when I had a very extensive debate with a real live Muslim.

“Two) You think you can provide an ‘internal critique’ of their beliefs, but they think they can provide one of yours, like a trinitarian God with three separate but unified centers of consciousness, the absurdity of a substitutionary atonement, and the absurdities of an incarnate God, etc. Of course, I share their critique of your Christian views.”

Two problems:

i) I’ve never felt I was limited to an internal critique of opposing positions in doing apologetics.

The value of an internal critique is that it’s a timesaver. But it’s not the only arrow in my quiver.

ii) You’ve talked about these “absurdities” in your book. On several occasions you challenged me to read your book and respond to your arguments.

I did that a few months ago. Dead silence at your end.

No wonder. Your cumulative case crumbled like a sandcastle at high tide.

“Three) You probably believe they are Muslims because of when and where they were born, just like I do. How do you know that you don't also believe based upon when and where you were born?”

Once again, we’ve been over this ground before:

i) Social conditioning is a necessary rather than sufficient condition for why people believe what they do.

ii) There is no comparison between an open society like America, where we have a marketplace of ideas and no dire social sanctions for religious or intellection conversion/deconversion, and a closed society such as you find in the Muslim world.

Social conditioning is a much stronger factor in closed societies. Even so, there are exceptions.

“How do you really know? What were the circumstances that led you to Christianity?”

1. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I really don’t know. So what?

Suppose my Christian faith is on par with my belief in other minds, the external world, the past, and other intuitive, irrepressible beliefs?

It would be irrational as well as irresponsible of me to doubt these beliefs merely because they’re resistant to direct or apodictic proof.

It would be immoral of me not to take my sick child to the doctor simply because I can’t disprove the possibility that my ailing child is just a computer simulation generated by the Matrix.

The abstract possibility that I might be wrong about something is not a rationally or morally warrantable reason for me to suspend belief.

2. I’d add that not every hypothetical is possible. You’re confusing conceivability with possibility.

I can imagine many things. Taken in isolation, they may seem to be possible. But that’s only because I’m treating the hypothetical as a discrete alternative in the overall structure of reality.

But I don’t know for a fact that it’s possible to change this one thing without changing a number of other things—which may not be subject to change. Or if they are subject to change, we end up with such a different world that the hypothetical loses its meaning.

“Did you at the time of your conversion have a properly informed faith?”

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that my faith at the time of my conversion was ill-informed, that’s thirty-years ago. The only salient question is whether I have a well-informed faith as of now, not then.

“If not, and who does, then shouldn't you be suspicious of your own faith since you first gained your Christian presupposition before you could properly evaluate it?”

1.To be suspicious of something we believe merely because we can pretend to doubt it is paranoid. There’s a fundamental difference between rational doubt and imaginary doubt.

2.I’ve had thirty-years to evaluate the rational grounds for my faith.

3.My Christian experience isn’t limited to my conversion experience. I also have thirty years of spiritual experience under my belt.

You seem to be operating with an alter-call paradigm in which our Christian identity is frozen in place by a one-time event in the past.

That is not my paradigm, and that is not my experience.

“Remember, the presupposition you start out with will usually be the one you finish with, for it colors everything you see.”

I didn’t begin with a ready-made conceptual scheme. That has evolved over time. You’re confounding apologetics with experience.

On the one hand, there’s far more to apologetics than the argument from religious experience. On the other hand, there are many elements of religious experience, like experience generally, which can never be verbalized and formalized in a set of logical syllogisms.

To the extent the Christian faith is founded on religious experience, it can be both overdetermined by the evidence, but underdetermined by the argument.

“Four) You may feel certain of your faith, but that's just a subjective feeling (no matter what you call it). Many other devout religious believers have that same exact feeling of certainty.”

1.Which is neither here nor there. I’ve never deployed my certitude as an argument for the faith. I’ve never offered myself as a theistic proof.

2.Moveover, I’ve never equated saving faith with indubitable faith.


  1. It’s bad people who make hell a bad place to spend eternity.

    Really? Is that your view? Then there's nothing else about hell that makes it painful but bad people? This is very interesting, if this is your position. In my opinion I have not seen believers act better than non-believers. So what is heaven like? It can't be much better than hell. Oh, but you demur.

    The reason I have not responded to your criticisms of my book is because I have only skimmed through your flawed and obviously biased review. But I am taking a look at it as I revise my book, and I thank you for the things you've said that will help it be a better book.

    No. I cannot answer every one of your criticisms. Does that surprise you? It shouldn't. No one can answer every issue when he writes against a whole worldview which demands a comprehensive type of scholarship. I admitted as much in my book. We all do the best that we can, and I did. I do not claim to have all the answers, and I admitted this too. But I think the answers I have come to are much better than the answers you come to.

    It's all about sseing things differently. At some point the whole worldview comes crashing down. That you don't understand. The way you argue is as if all I need is to be better informed about these issues, even though your theology says differently. You and I see things differently.

    Now, if you'd like to take one issue at a time and argue against it (and I'm not saying you haven't done this) then I can interact. But I cannot write as much as you do. You can out argue me because you can write more than I can all day long. But that doesn't make your arguments true, and you know this.

    One thing though, even though you badger me constantly, I still treat you with respect (more than you anyway). One issue at a time, please. Pick one. But I cannot write more than you can. You seem more informed than I am on several of the issues, too. I don't dispute this. But that doesn't mean you are right simply because you seem to be more informed. It's about seeing things differently. Again, that you don't seem to understand.

    I noticed you said nothing, absolutely nothing, about my section on the problem of evil (unless I missed it in skimming through it). Why? Again, that's nothing. Zip. Zero. Not one word. Why? Take it and argue your case here. I challenge you. Go ahead. Do it. Your readers want to know what you think of that section. What d'ya think? Pony up baby! ;-)

  2. Steve, do you actually do live, public debates, or was this just a "debate with a Muslim friend over coffee" kind of deal?

  3. "In my opinion I have not seen believers act better than non-believers. So what is heaven like? It can't be much better than hell. Oh, but you demur."

    These are asymmetrical propositions. For the damned to be as bad as possible only requires the withdrawal of common grace.

    For the saints to be as good as possible (sinless and impeccable) requires the grace of glorification.

    Glorification requires the presence of a positive cause, damnation the absence of common grace.

    "I noticed you said nothing, absolutely nothing, about my section on the problem of evil (unless I missed it in skimming through it). Why? Again, that's nothing. Zip. Zero. Not one word. Why? Take it and argue your case here. I challenge you. Go ahead. Do it. Your readers want to know what you think of that section. What d'ya think? Pony up baby! ;-)"

    I skipped over it because it's irrelevant to my own position.

    On the one hand, you attack a variety of theodicies which are unrepresentative of my own theodicy. So even if your criticisms are right on target, they don't target my position.

    On the other hand, I have presented my own theodicy on a variety of occasions--most recently in a couple of exchanges with Jim Lazarus.

    There's no need to repeat myself in my review of your book. My review already ran to something like 68 pages, as I recall.

  4. Mathetes said...
    Steve, do you actually do live, public debates, or was this just a "debate with a Muslim friend over coffee" kind of deal?


    He responded to me on his blog, and I responded to him on my blog.