Those words by atheist Michael Martin are located in the blurb he wrote that appears on the back cover of The Christian Delusion, edited by John Loftus (speaking of back cover blurbs, Dale C. Allison, Jr. starts his blurb by instructing us to “Forget Dawkins” and that’s sage advice no matter who gives it). Furthermore, Keith Parsons states of The Christian Delusion that “there can have been few works as effective” at debunking Christianity. Ken Pulliam states: “It demonstrates that those who believe in the tenets of evangelical Christianity truly are deluded.”
The book contains chapters written by a wide range of modern atheists, including Hector Avalos, Richard Carrier, and Edward T. Babinski[*]. (If those names sound familiar it’s because we’ve engaged with each of them many times on Triablogue.) Of his contribution to the book, Carrier slapped both of his chapters with a “tour de force” label and confidently assured us, “I doubt I'll ever have to write another [refutation of the resurrection].” He says: “My debunking of [Christian claims on science] is so decisive in this chapter, you won't need to refer anyone anywhere else.”
But such hubris vastly overreaches reality, and Triablogue is here to demonstrate it with The Infidel Delusion.
The Infidel Delusion was written (in alphabetical order) by Patrick Chan, Jason Engwer, Steve Hays, and Paul Manata. This is a true tour de force. By the time I got to Manata’s debunking of Valerie Tarico’s naturalistic reductionism in chapter two, the perfect metaphor had formed in my head: Collectively, these Triabloggian authors were firing intellectual howitzer shells point-blank into a cardboard shanty town.
Each chapter of The Christian Delusion is thoroughly debunked by Hay’s philosophical and theological acumen, Engwer’s encyclopedic knowledge of history, Chan’s scientific training, and/or Manata’s philosophical prowess. Contrary to the tactic The Christian Delusion used—to attack the weakest arguments put forth in the name of Christianity—the authors of The Infidel Delusion dismantled the strongest arguments atheists had to offer. Indeed, if there truly are “few works as effective” as The Christian Delusion, as Parsons claimed, then Triablogue shows atheism to be in a sad state indeed.
After introductions from Hays, Engwer, and Manata, the debunking of The Christian Delusion begins. In chapter one, Eller’s entire premise is shown to be at odds with the rest of The Christian Delusion, making that book internally incoherent. Eller’s belief that there is no real Christianity, but instead thousands of Christianities, actually destroys the basis for The Christian Delusion by rendering the idea that there is such a thing as Christianity (singular) to refute moot. If atheists are to be consistent, either Eller’s contribution must go or it must stand alone.
Chapter two shows Tarico’s cognitive research to be nowhere near adequate to explain what she thinks it explains. In addition to showing the argument to be self-refuting, Manata makes an excellent case that Tarico doesn’t even understand the issues involved in naturalism and scientific reductionism. Additionally, Chan includes a great deal on the medical issues involved, including debunking the idea that Paul’s vision of Christ on the Road to Damascus could be explained by a frontal lobe seizure.
Chapter three deals with Long’s attempt to show cultural background determines how one will believe. This sort of cultural relativism is a double-edged sword, however. If it works against Christianity, it is only at the expense of destroying atheism in the process.
Chapter four gets us to the heart of The Christian Delusion, the Outsider Test for Faith that forms the key of Loftus’s atheistic apologetic. Hays demonstrates how Loftus doesn’t consistently apply this test since it equally destroys his own view. Engwer shows that the attitude Loftus has about how beliefs are formed doesn’t cohere to Christian experience. And finally, Manata demonstrates that the outsider test is “vague, ambiguous, invalid, unsound, superfluous, informally fallacious, and subject to a defeater-deflector.”
Chapter five reviews Babinski’s flawed view of Jewish cosmology based on uncharitable assumptions about the stupidity of ancient people and their lack of ability to understand figurative language; chapter six shows Tobin’s repeating of common objections to Scripture (creating “dilemma” by ignoring all conservative scholarship, and even most liberal scholarship); and chapter seven refutes Loftus’s claim that Scripture is unclear, ironically in part by showing that if Loftus’s chapter is true, Babinski’s and Tobin’s must be false! But internal consistency is not something The Christian Delusion was concerned with.
Chapter eight deals with Avalos’s claims that Yahweh is a “moral monster.” Yet this once again requires us to reject Loftus’s chapter seven, and furthermore Avalos’s moral relativism defeats his own argument.
Chapter nine deals with concepts of animal suffering as evidence for the non-existence of God. Amongst other arguments they present, Hays deftly shows how Loftus’s claims are unsupported anthropomorphisms, while Engwer focuses on the ludicrous demands Loftus requires of believers to “answer” this “problem” and Manata shows Loftus’s argument is really nothing short of wishful thinking completely divorced from the Christian theology it was supposed to debunk.
Chapter ten reviews Price’s misuse of methodological naturalism, including the fact that Price actually ignores the vast majority of modern scholarship in rejecting the very existence of Jesus as a historical figure. Chapter eleven examines similar weaknesses of methodology in the claims Carrier makes regarding the resurrection.
Chapter twelve examines Loftus’s poor exegetical skills and his inability to understand even simple Biblical passages in context. In critiquing Christian prophecy, Loftus manages to all but ignore the preterist movement and makes some rather basic label errors on the positions he does look at.
Chapter thirteen deals with Eller’s moral claims, especially in light of his rejection of objective morality. The Infidel Delusion shows how his evolutionary claims are insufficient to create any type of morality.
Chapter fourteen shows that Avalos’s argument that atheism didn’t cause the Holocaust is irrelevant to the issue of whether Christianity is true. Finally, chapter fifteen shows that Carrier’s historical claims that Christians are not responsible for modern science is both irrelevant to the issue of the truth of Christianity as well as focused on the wrong issues, even within the context of his argument.
The last section of The Infidel Delusion consists of ten appendices that give us more detail into some of the arguments presented within the various chapters, as well as a look at some of the specific claims made by contributors to The Christian Delusion outside of the scope of that actual book.
The Infidel Delusion debunks the entirety of The Christian Delusion. This is not to say it addresses every single flaw in The Christian Delusion—such would take multiple volumes. But there is no major claim made in The Christian Delusion that withstands the criticism leveled at it in The Infidel Delusion. As Steve Hays wrote in his introduction, “…if The Christian Delusion turns out to be just another white elephant in the overcrowded zoo of militant atheism, then that‘s a vindication of the Christian faith.”
The Infidel Delusion certainly demonstrates this.
Full disclosure: While I did not contribute any writing to The Infidel Delusion, I did edit, collate, and format the ebook.
[*] To be fair, Babinski classifies himself as an agnostic.