Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The FeeJee Mermaid

John W. Loftus said:

“Yes we are in a crisis. Part of it is a scientific illiteracy, part of it is that there is nothing else to believe. But among educated Americans who have scientific literacy this is not the case. Which one of YOU will resort to divination, interpretation of dreams, and/or magic?”

The one and only reason that Loftus doesn’t believe in “magic” or divination or prophetic dreams or exorcisms is that he doesn’t believe in the “supernatural.”

And because he no longer believes in the supernatural, he also denies the paranormal.

This is why he doesn’t believe in the Book of Jonah. It has nothing to do with the evidence.

Rather, he doesn’t believe in the part about Jonah surviving for three days in the belly of a fish. His other objections are just so much window-dressing.

One of his tactics is to jumble what Scripture distinguishes. Scripture does not commend most forms of divination. To the contrary, Scripture condemns most forms of divination.

Under the OT theocracy there were only one or two forms of authorized divination, under the control of the priesthood.

Scripture does not assume that dreams are generally a source of information about the future. There are very few prophetic dreams recorded in Scripture, and in those cases their precursive quality is attributed to divine inspiration.

But every dream is not inspired. Every dream is not precursive. Every dream isn’t heaven-sent.

Scripture does not attribute all disease to possession. Exorcism is not the cure for every illness.

Loftus employs this tactic to render every supernatural claim suspect through guilt-by-association. He tries to taint every supernatural claim by tarring it with obvious examples of charlatanry or superstition.

But the only thing proven by some obvious cases of charlatanry or superstition is the existence of some obvious dupes or charlatans.

His attempt to infer from some to all is no more logical than the inference that if some news reports are unreliable, then all news report are unreliable.

There are scientists who lie to get grant money. Should we therefore dismiss all scientific research funded by a government grant?

Are some contemporary Christians superstitious? Yes.

Are some contemporary unbelievers superstitious? Yes. Just look at the ufology community. This represents secular superstition.

So, what about Loftus’ question?

I don’t resort to divination for several reasons:

i) It’s forbidden in Scripture. And it’s forbidden because it’s associated with the occult. Trafficking with the dark side is a fool’s errand.

ii) And the few authorized exceptions (the Urim & Thummim; trial by ordeal) presuppose an institution which no longer exists.

So it’s no longer available.

iii) I’d add that if you have a strong doctrine of providence, you don’t feel the need to see into the future, for the future is in God’s good hands, and if you are in God’s good hands, the future will take care of itself.

As a Calvinist, I believe that precognition is possible because God knows the future, and he knows the future since he ordained the future.

The reason Loftus finds divination incredible is because he’s an atheist. So this is not about divination, per se, or prophetic dreams, but about atheism. The case for atheism.

Why don’t I resort to magic? Well, that’s easy to answer. Since I don’t have any magical powers, I have nothing to resort to. Even if I wanted to resort to magic, I have no magic wand in my broom closet. What is more, I know of no one who does.

There are other answers, but that will do for starters.

Why don’t I resort to dreams?

The short answer is that I’ve never had a precursive dream. And I can’t will myself to have a precursive dream. So it’s not a live option, even if I were so inclined.

Likewise, I’ve never had occasion to cast out the devil. Also, I’d have to brush up on my Medieval Latin.

Loftus had a problem. He’s a blogger. To maintain an audience for a blog, you need to say something new every now and then.

But Loftus is a one-trick horse-n-pony show. That would work if his were a traveling circus act, since the audience would vary in time and place.

But he has to play to the same audience night after night. Once you’ve seen the one-trick horse-n-pony show, there’s nothing more to see.

He doesn’t believe the Bible because he’s an atheist. That’s why he finds anything miraculous to be incredible.

What’s his basic argument for atheism, anyway? Here's the formal syllogism:

i) I don’t believe the Bible
ii) I don’t believe the Bible because I find the Bible unbelievable
iii) I find the Bible unbelievable because I can’t believe the Bible
iv) I can’t believe the Bible because I find the Bible unbelievable
v) Ergo: the Bible is unbelievable

(For stylistic variety, substitute “incredible” for “unbelievable”.)

So the particular miracle in question is beside the point. He could do a separate post on every miracle in Scripture, but they would all be variations on the theme of atheism: no God—no miracle.

Same thing with the problem of evil. All you need to illustrate the problem of evil is a few paradigm cases of moral and natural evil.

It matters not what paradigm case you use. And if you multiply it by a hundred, that doesn’t turn a weak case into a strong case, for a theodicy will be the same regardless of the numbers.

But like a traveling circus act that’s stranded in a small town because the roads were washed out by a flash flood, Loftus has to stretch and pad and mete out his material.

Changing the color of the saddle doesn’t change a one-trick pony into a two-trick pony.

But you have to sell tickets somehow.

Moral consistency has never been his strong suit. He’s been riding on the coattails of William Lane Craig.

Why is that supposed to be a selling point?

What difference would it make if he said he studied under Jimmy Swaggart?

Well, here's the difference: William Lane Craig is an educated man. He holds two earned doctorates. And he only debates credential opponents.

But if a guy who studied under such an erudite apologist defects from the faith, that’s supposed to grab our attention, right?

But, wait! Loftus now tells us that educated folks don’t believe in miracles. They don’t accept the old precritical, prescientific view of the Bible.

So where does that leave the selling point? Does this mean that William Lane Craig is not an educated man?

Loftus can only make his claim by burning his drawing card.

Sorry, John, but your circus act is showing its age. The tent is sagging. The sawdust is getting odiferous.

A cumulative one-trick horse-n-pony show doesn’t become more suspenseful after the fiftieth viewing no matter how often you change the saddle.

Can’t you at least let us see the FeeJee Mermaid or the swamp monster? What about the lobster boy?


  1. the Book of Jonah. It has nothing to do with the evidence.

    You're right - the book of Jonah has nothing whatsoever to do with evidence.

  2. What if someone resorts to divination, and spirits reveal to him (by means of a board or cards), that he is not the elect. How should a Calvinist deal with this? It happened to my Armenian cousin when he once dabbled in the occult as a teenager.

  3. Anonymous,

    It should prove to your cousin that the devil is real and the devil is a liar--and the father of lies.

  4. Read your Richard Dawkins (all praise be upon him). He will demonstrate that, while random chance may be capable of some of the simpler tricks (turning pterodactyl scales into birds' feathers, for example), it would be foolish to rely upon it for really vital decisions, like how to fill a casual vacancy among the Apostolate...