Thursday, December 10, 2009

Apostate rentboy: see ad

John Loftus has done a post sort of responding, in part, to something Jason Engwer posted:

Because of his refusal Christians are mocking Dawkins, seen at Triablogue and especially by James White, who calls this refusal “Amazing Arrogance”.

As usual, Loftus’ emotions and chronic self-absorption interfere with his reading comprehension. The subject of Jason’s post was not whether Dawkins should debate Craig. Rather, the subject of his post was the way in which Dawkins misrepresented Craig’s credentials. Either Dawkins is willfully ignorant or simply dishonest. Neither explanation is to his credit.

I suspect Dawkins is merely mocking Craig. He surely knows who Craig is by now. He's using the now famous Courtier's Reply in response. Everyone knows that Dawkins does not have a philosophical/theological background so he would probably lose such a debate (at least in the minds of most Christians), just as Christopher Hitchens lost his debate with Craig, especially since Craig is a master debater.

i) Fear of losing may well be why Dawkins has avoided a debate with Craig. However, that’s not the reason Dawkins gave. So Loftus must think that Dawkins was dissembling.

That’s an odd way to defend Dawkins, but I guess you have to make the best of the hand you’re dealt.

ii) At the same time, the fact that Dawkins has no philosophical/theological background didn’t inhibit him from writing a whole book on the subject. If Dawkins was qualified to write the God Delusion, then he’s qualified to debate Craig. If, however, he wasn’t qualified to write the God Delusion, then Loftus would do his loyal little band of followers a favor by writing a review of the God Delusion in which he points out its many deficiencies, and as result of which readers shouldn’t waste their time and money on such a book.

iii) Moreover, it’s not just that he avoids debating men outside his field of expertise. To my knowledge, Dawkins has yet to debate any prominent representative of intelligent design theory.

The disingenuous goal of the Christians calling for such a debate is simply to embarrass Dawkins, not unlike the white supremacists who wanted to embarrass black heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson. Johnson was arguably the best boxer of the past century, or at least close to being equal to Muhammad Ali. Since Jack Johnson reigned as the heavy weight boxing champion for several years in the early part of the 20th century it just galled the white folk in that era. PBS documented his life here.

Debates are like boxing matches. No intelligent person thinks that the issues are solved depending on who wins a debate. No one. But debates are entertaining and educational. The debaters are sparring, yes. We like to watch them. They want to win. We want our man (or woman) to win for our side. But they are like boxing matches. And Dawkins is the leading atheist in our generation. So Christians are acting just like the supremacists did back in Jack Johnson's day. "Knock Dawkins out," they're saying. "Embarrass him." "Show the world our Christian man is better than your atheist man." "They're a minority and so let's keep them in their place." In Johnson's day it was a fight between the races. This is a fight between skepticism and faith.

There are several weighty problems with this invidious comparison:

i) Loftus takes for granted that white supremacy is wrong. But as a Darwinian atheist, Loftus is not entitled to that presumption. That’s something he needs to argue for. Why would racism be incompatible with atheism or naturalistic evolution?

ii) But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that his analogy is sound. In that case it backfires. Indeed, his very post is only the latest in a long-standing effort by Loftus to goad Craig into debating him.

So, if we measure Loftus by the very yardstick he just handed us, then Loftus is acting “just like” a white supremacist. Loftus is the moral equivalent of Bull Connor.

iii) Finally, there’s nothing unethical about Christians wanting to see Craig take Dawkins down a few pegs. I daresay that most folks who are bowled over by Dawkins’ attack on Christianity have only read or heard one side of the argument. They’re getting all of their information about the Christian faith filtered through ignorant, hostile, third-hand sources like Dawkins. It would be a real eye-opener for some of them to hear the other side of the argument. To see the way in which Dawkins’ case against the Christian faith would collapse like a papier-mâché shack in a rainstorm if he had to test his arguments against William Lane Craig.

But to burst the Christian bubble let's place this debate challenge in a larger context. Bill Craig has refused to debate me so far. When I was a student of his he said something I thought was odd at the time. This was back in 1985 at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He said "the person I fear debating the most is a former student of mine."

Sorry, but that didn’t burst my bubble:

i) For one thing, Loftus expects us to take his word for it. Now, for someone who regards the canonical Gospels as historically unreliable, that’s a very telling assumption.

The statement is something that Loftus allegedly heard just once about 25 years ago. Yet Loftus, assuming that he didn’t make it up whole cloth, is utterly confident in his verbatim recollection of something he heard only once some 25 years ago.

Now Jesus probably died around 30 AD. And it’s quite plausible that the synoptic gospels were written about 30 years later, give or take a few years. (One can also make a good case for the early dating of John).

Moreover, it’s fair to say that Jesus frequently repeated himself. And, of course, having several gospels gives us multiple-attestation.

Therefore, if we judge the gospels by the same rules of evidence that Loftus has implicitly applied to his alleged recollection of Craig’s statement, then we have much better reason to think the Gospel writers accurately preserve the words of Jesus than we have to think that Loftus accurately preserves the words of Craig.

ii) In addition, there’s a glaring disanalogy between Craig/Dawkins, on the one hand, and Craig/Loftus, on the other.

Craig is an established writer and tenured professor at a major Christian university. He isn’t trying to make a name for himself at this point in his career.

By contrast, Loftus is a middle-aged social climber on the lower rung of the ladder. Like a rentboy in the service of a dowager, he’s trying to massage his career by hanging out with the right people.

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