Intro: This series is an atheist's review of an important anthology critical of Christian beliefs called, "The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails" (TCD), that is likely to be popularly discussed across the web. I'll be reviewing the book in light of just about every other response to TCD on the web (pros and cons) and responding to new Christian objections as I find them.
I think this will be the best that I personally can contribute to advancing our collective conversation about these important roadblocks to solidarity in our culture.
Introduction, by John Loftus:
[note: Loftus' responses have been rolled into the post so you don't have to fish through all the comments]Contents of My Review (the "CliffNote" version):
Loftus fails at diplomacy: Is the title, "The Christian Delusion" an ad hominem attack?
I would tolerate a sensational title if the authors took more responsibility for the internal presentation of the information and arguments. Unfortunately that didn't happen enough.
Loftus fails to frame his introduction to TCD: Are there no mainstream Christians?
Loftus attempts to shuffle mainstream Christianity out of the deck to make it look like skepticism has made much more headway than it actually has.
The introduction amounts to sloppy, educated sh*t talk. Loftus wants to intimidate and overwhelm average Christian readers, but is probably going to cause himself more problems than it's worth.
Christian reviewer, Randal Rauser calls
...an unsympathetic and overly rhetorical characterization of the Christian religion.
You see, I never play Devil's advocate. The Devil can do that for himself.
Translation: I never look at things from someone else's perspective.
Little surprise there. I'm sure he's exaggerating, since that'd be virtually impossible to completely avoid, but that's still too bad he takes pride in it.
Christian reviewer, Anne B., on Amazon says
...the very title of the book contains an ad hominem, "delusion". To paint an opposing world view as a delusion is intended to be perjorative and poison the well...
Oh, but atheist contributor, Ed Babinski tells us
As for the title of the book John edited, "The Christian Delusion," [...it...] was not even John's first choice. Some of the other titles suggested were pretty dull. But titles with "delusion" sell, including one you might like, "The Atheist Delusion." Though I don't imagine you liked the original bestselling book with "delusion" in the title, "The God Delusion." At any rate, the old adage applies, don't judge a book by its cover.
And beneath the cover, in the introduction we learn from Loftus that there is "no such thing as Christianity," "faith gives believers [...] a psychological malaise," "humans beings are often irrational and gullible," the Bible "contains fairy tales," and that Christians are "brainwashed," but that the title of the book "...is not meant to convey that believers have any psychiatric disorders because of their faith." *sigh* That's a relief. At least Loftus was true to his word
and took a moment to explain how he uses the term "delusion." Unfortunately, (as I pointed out above) the balance of loaded rhetoric is not quite in our favor here. I think I would have introed with something like this
from Jim Walker right off the bat:
The "Delusion" in the title should not offend anyone, nor should it be taken as an ad hominem against Christians. A delusion, in a colloquial sense, describes a belief that is either false, mythical, or derived from deception. Since this is a book about the Christian delusion, it aims to show the false, mythical beliefs of the Bible (believed by Christians), and the deceptive practices by Christian apologists to deceive the public through falsehoods and unreliable scholarship.
Although it seems Walker still
manages to offend all the Christians who don't think apologists are in the business of intentionally lying
. Is any of that proven in this book? We atheists just can't help ourselves, can we?
So sure, Loftus' introduction was just a set up
for later when each of these things will hopefully be broken down from just inflammatory rhetoric and justified to the proper conclusion, but we gotta wait all
that time, and lots of readers are probably forming their premature value judgments
WAY ahead of time. Note, the guy in that last link didn't even read the book
From what I can gather, through a variety of approaches (from different contributors) it seeks to prove that those who believe in Jesus (are Christians) are delusional, stupid, and dangerous.
And how! You've heard of confirmation bias, right John? I'm know you have since Jason Long informed you of this (page 69):
People are motivated to defend their beliefs from attacks, particularly when they are forewarned of a speaker's intent.
Apparently we don't see the need to actually apply the contents of the book to the actual presentation of the book. *sigh* I can already hear the angry pens of many irritated Christians scrambling to figure out what title to label their books since "The Loftus Delusion
" and "The Atheist Delusion
" have already been taken. [Babinski's take on alternate soothing titles is a trip
. I sympathize.]
Christian philosopher Victor Reppert can have the final thought here
If you call your book The Christian DELUSION, then you are saying that their position isn't just erroneous, it's delusional. You're staking out the low ground, not the high ground. You gain some passion for your own position, but you undercut any hope you might have of walking away from the dialogue on some kind of a friendly basis once it's over. And you can't be terribly surprised that people whose position you are attempting to debunk don't like what you're doing, and hit back with as harsh as tone as you yourself employ.
[note: Now there's The Infidel Delusion
That's not as bad though as Loftus' attempt to frame the rest of the introduction (that is otherwise a good inventory of Christian diversity of opinion in confrontation with rational criticism). Loftus appears to want to show us that Christianity hasn't really stood the test of time, but instead mutates to accommodate valid skeptical obstacles. I'm not sure that most Christians are going to see it that way, since there are plenty of them not making any of the concessions Loftus is rattling off. Hence it is easy to blow off the point. That's bad since it's an important element to the structure of the chapter.
Christian reviewer, Randal Rauser makes the obvious counter
I have this friend, Wes. Back in the seventies Wes distinguished himself with mutton chops, a T-bar mustache, and a corduroy jacket. By the time Culture Club released "Do you really want to hurt me?" Wes was sporting a clean shaven face and a red leather jacket (thanks Michael Jackson).And today? Grey hair and a three piece suit. Can you believe that guy? Wes the chameleon. Well, but people do change over time, they adapt, and this is no slight on their character. Belief systems change too. Nor is this adaptive potential necessarily a slight on the belief systems. Take naturalism, the worldview of many atheists...
Rauser then goes on to explain the ever adapting nature of naturalism (as he sees it) and ends with:
Those naturalist chameleons. How dare they abandon their mutton chops, T-bar mustaches, and corduroy jackets for a grey three piece suit. Have they no shame?
Of course, each one of the "changes" to naturalism (if you read Rauser's full post) is a point of dispute. But that's exactly the same thing any average Christian can say to Loftus. And that's why Loftus' approach just gets us going in circles rather than setting us up to properly engage the many issues in the rest of the book.
On the other hand, Christian reviewer, Paul Manata from Triablogue, states
On his blog, Richard Carrier noted
that the fifteen chapters that combine to make The Christian Delusion are ―sufficient to establish that Christianity is a delusion. However, one of Dr. Carrier's co-authors, David Eller, tells us that there is ―no such thing as Christianity, only Christianities (26). The editor of the book [John Loftus] agrees (196); both of them think there are thousands of Christianities. So the book Carrier lauds on his blog states that there is no such thing as Christianity, and since Carrier thinks fifteen chapters sufficient to show that thousands of Christianities are a delusion, we might want to think twice about the proper functioning of Carrier‘s inductively aimed cognitive faculties.
The title of the book refers to the first impression average readers probably have of this thing called Christianity, and the arguments in the book refer to the closer inspection where it turns out "Christianity" isn't an immutable monolithic entity after all as people might expect. As I've pointed out here, Loftus clearly overplays that subjectivity, but I don't think that justifies Manata's surface skimming. The plasticity of "Christianity" at the very least diminishes its credibility, and contributors can point out some key aspects that if any of these versions of Christianity hoped to reasonably connect with reality, they are probably out of luck. That could
reasonably be shown within 15 chapters, since every other mutation beyond that wouldn't likely be less
delusional. Anyway, it doesn't really help when Loftus, Carrier, Eller, and Manata are all overstating their claims. Hopefully the audience can walk away with a more reasonable view.
I can imagine that tons of Christians over the years since the publishing of "Why I Became an Atheist
" (WIBA) have told Loftus over and over again on his blog (and in other venues) that no matter what Christianity always triumphs over every generation of skeptical attack. It's a great superficial talking point on their part that avoids dealing with whatever the actual issues are or how specifically
Christianity managed to triumph. Is every ancient religion out there surviving critical scrutiny with an amazing case? Uh no
It's no surprise that Loftus wants to address this given the aim of the book. Perhaps he should. However it appears that Loftus cynically attempts to predict the effect this specific
book will have on Christianity. That's just odd since most Christians are probably never even going to hear about it, much less change their minds based on it. Will Christianity simply reinvent itself in response as Loftus supposes? [I have to agree with Loftus
though, that Rauser, for example, has already done plenty of reinventing before approaching TCD] Loftus has already made the point that Christianity isn't a single entity anyway so his rhetoric seems a bit simplistic and overstated. Maybe some Christians will shift some positions. I don't know. There is also the steady infiltration of secular sensibilities into subjective Christian thinking (where they actually tend to call doctors
rather than exorcists
), but the implication that the mainstream doctrinal (as opposed to practical) fundamentalism is going to radically change in some way (there are plenty who do still believe in the existence
of demons and that Jesus
performed exorcisms) doesn't make a lot of sense. Maybe that's not what Loftus means, but that's really what it seems like he must be trying to say.
So granted, Paul's congregations of prophets and people who speak in tongues probably wouldn't have a lot in common with a modern congregation of Missouri Synod Lutherans (other than they both agree Paul's
congregations spoke in angelic languages), but we really haven't left hardly any of the original religious ideas completely behind as Loftus seems to imply (there are churches that still think they have prophets and holy languages). There's just a lot of dithering and the renegotiation of the same elements over and over again from culture to culture. You can make something of that (as obviously I have here), but you can't pretend like you have as strong a perspective in the way Loftus would like to portray it. Also granted, I don't know how much of Christian demographics are actually at the mercy of the many concessions to logic various Christian schools of thought have made. I imagine if the numbers are significant, then Loftus might be able to hold his point. However, he never demonstrated that the ratios were significant. For all we know the annihilation proponents, the open theists, process theists, maltheists, Satan deniers, preterists, and spiritual resurrection enthusiasts might represent just one congregation each. Obviously that's not quite true, but Loftus needs to stick his point. I seem to be able to find plenty of the "mainstream" everywhere I go.
It is sufficient to point out that it doesn't really mean anything if a religion persists despite ages of skeptical attacks if the original criticisms still obviously apply. As I understand it, the first anti-Christian critic that we have on record, named Celsus
, claimed that Christians were gullible and just believed made up stories. That's not very different than what Loftus would have us believe today. His version is just more informed, sophisticated, and less pagan. hehe You don't have to go beyond pointing out the subjective success fallacy and you shouldn't
go beyond that if you are just opening yourself up to criticism. I'm probably not going to be the only one pointing this out.Random:
From the get go, Loftus tries to have something both ways. His previous book, WIBA, is "important background knowledge"
but you "don't need to read it in order to understand and benefit from this present book."
I'm sorry, if it's "important" then you probably do. Perhaps a better word to use would have been "helpful" instead of "important" if you want to look like you're not contradicting yourself. I'm sure Loftus is trying to avoid making everyone go, "Damn it! I have to go read some other book now?!?!"
But seriously, you probably should go read Loftus' other book. It's helpful. :) And actually, given that David Eller completely blows off all Christian intellectual arguments
in chapter 1, it seems we really do
need to go read WIBA.
Loftus seems to be saying on page 17 that fideism and presuppositionalism were Christian epistemological mutations invented in his lifetime? You can find fideism in the epistles since God's testimony weighs more than everyone else's (1 John 5:6-12
). It seems to be a similar story for presuppositional apologetics
, so I don't really know what Loftus is getting at if he intends to have an argument.
Randal Rauser objects
to Loftus' claim that "...faith is a ‘properly basic belief' and as such it doesn't need any evidence to support it (à la Alvin Plantinga in Warranted Christian Belief)"
...Plantinga didn't argue for properly basic belief as a retreat to fideism. Indeed, he has a strong place for defeaters in his epistemology. Rather, his point, dating back to God and Other Minds, is that it is inconsistent to demand proof of God's existence for rational assent to God's existence when this standard is not applied in other areas of belief (e.g. belief in other minds).
Experience, even given its limitations (a la, the Matrix or Cartesian demon
), has the practical final say in any matter. Our other "properly basic beliefs" or innate experiences like vision, hearing, smell, touch, taste, memory, etc. are able to be cross-check
each other to root out epistemic errors. We know each and every one of these can be mistaken on their own. Hence, the best we can do is subject them to each other. And that's exactly what skeptics are doing when they dispose of religious fideism. They note how plastic that supposed experience of the divine is, how mutually uncorroborateable the contrasting fideisms are, and how none of them even on their own terms are providing specific enough information (like winning lotto numbers) in order to verify that in fact, Christians are actually having a genuine experience of the Almighty. Just think if any of those other properly basic beliefs were as spacious and unrelated. As atheist, Richard Carrier says in Sense and Goodness without God
Plantinga thinks “belief in the past, in the existence of other persons, and in the existence of material objects” are also things we believe without evidence, but that is clearly not true. Ask anyone why they believe in these things and they can start rattling off a long list of experiences they base these beliefs on. A clever person could even say what experiences would cause him to no longer believe in them. Belief in the past is based on the evidence of our memories, as well as of our selves and surroundings, which show the effects of past events, thus confirming our memories. Hence when people need to identify false memories, they turn to such physical evidence, and scientists and historians have generally confirmed the range of trust we can place in memories alone as evidence, by studying the usual correlation of memory to the observed facts of the effects of remembered events. The evidentially-based hypothesis that there is a past explains all this evidence better than any alternative. We always need evidence to trust our beliefs about a past. The same is true of other persons. We have lots of experiences confirming that belief, and can imagine experiences that would refute it, convincing us that other people were merely illusions, or robots, or computer generated images. And the same goes for material objects: the hypothesis that they exist explains, better than any alternative, the experiences we do have (of the phenomena of mass and solidity, the findings of particle physics, etc.). Thus, again, our belief is based on evidence.
See also on this topic, Luke Muehlhauser's interview with atheist, Evan Fales on the podcast, Conversations from a Pale Blue Dot
. Rauser's other claims about naturalism and qualia are addressed at length in Carrier's articles, "Critical Review of Victor Reppert's Defense of the Argument from Reason
" and "Defending Naturalism as a Worldview: A Rebuttal to Michael Rea's World Without Design
Christian reviewer, Cory Tucholski quotes a great deal from one of William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith Q and A's
Craig believes that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate defeater...
But then Tucholski says (following Craig's lead):
Craig specifically counters the claim that he thinks that the witness of the Holy Spirit trumps all evidence...
Loftus isn't being fair in his use of Craig and Plantinga.
The only thing unfair here is that Craig is saying x and then not x. If the Holy Spirit is the ultimate defeater, then how can it be defeated by something else? But it is true that Craig insists that his philosophical and evidential pursuits have legitimate merit and that atheists could potentially shake his confidence with an overwhelming comprehensive case. We have to take the man at his word for what he believes he is doing even if it is incoherent. It's still what's going on in his head, and I don't think anyone can argue that Craig doesn't bother engaging the philosophical literature a great deal. Loftus is only asking why the apologist needs to bother. [Though we can see Jason Long waaaay overkill the same point in chapter 3
. Although it seems on his blog, Loftus is just as bad anyway
.] Craig plays it both ways incoherently and Loftus can't be faulted for noticing the many times when Craig says his magic feelings can defeat all the evidence if necessary. It is a purely defensive unnecessary position that has been rationalized post hoc and doesn't pass the outsider test for faith.
Rauser points out
that Loftus gets the new doctrine of annihilationism
slightly wrong in stating that it means you immediately cease to exist upon death rather than rising again later and then being destroyed. That's only partially relevant though since Loftus asks why we should fear
hell if the new doctrine is true. Um...because people want to exist if they have the opportunity to do so? I suppose rising to be humiliated and destroyed in front of everyone wouldn't be that great either! Let's stick to your grade A incredulity, John. Didn't you listen to Jason Long (page 68):
Petty and Cacioppo have found that providing a person with a few strong arguments provokes more attitude change than providing these arguments along with a number of moderate ones.
*sigh* I suppose delusional Christians are expected to be especially unbiased
when reading TCD.
In reference to the relative reinterpretation of a range of issues like homosexuality, slavery, women, democracy, science, the environment, and animal rights, Loftus asks, "...if the Bible is this malleable, capable of being interpreted differently in every generation, how can exegetes really think they have the correct interpretation of it all?"
Obviously modern Christians don't think the Bible is "this malleable" in reality. They think the other Christians have gotten it wrong and that if they are careful enough as responsible spiritual exegetes, they can get it right. And since the history of Christianity is so diverse on every issue Loftus brings up as plastic, they're bound to always have forebears no matter what they settle on. In other words, they are going to get away with their interpretation since it hasn't been directly addressed. And, not getting into details allows Rauser to say things like this
Way back when I did a degree in English literature and believe me, the disputes of interpretation extend far beyond the Bible. Indeed, some literary critics will get in debates over the interpretation of a Stop sign. So if there are worries reading the Bible, there are also worries reading The Christian Delusion.
Remember Richard Carrier claimed
there'd be no where to run, right?
It doesn't cover every subject it could have, but the subjects it does cover it covers thoroughly, leaving nowhere left to run. [emphasis mine]
Yeah, not by a long shot so far. Perhaps Loftus should have left a point like this to be more developed in his chapter 7 on divine miscommunication. As it is, it is a weak attempt to play different Christian conclusions against each other. Certainly that kind of thing can be done, but it needs to be done much more carefully (for instance, Christian presuppositionalist criticisms
of Christian evidentialism and Christian evidentialist criticisms
of Christian presuppositionalism is a classic example). We'll see if that's what he did.
Next up, Chapter 1, "The Cultures of Christianities
" by David Eller.