Tuesday, 04 May 2010
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.
Chapter 3: "The Malleability of the Human Mind," by Jason Long:
Ken Pulliam's review covers the strength's of Long's chapter pretty well for those interested.
Contents of My Review (the "CliffNote" version):Long's rhetoric is too high strung: Are only believers biased?I spend quite a bit of time pointing out how overblown a lot of Long's rhetoric is and what the consequences will likely be for the average Christian reader who may be looking for something to react to.Christian reactions: I know you are, but what am I?I survey the mostly justified Christian blowback created from the high strung rhetoric of Long's chapter.I respond to Christian reviewer, Steve Hays:As with the last two chapters on culture and cognitive science, intimate awareness of ubiquitous human bias has to cut deepest against the less conservative claims of religion.Is Calvinism affected by social conditioning?No, but Calvinism isn't affected by genuine concern for humanity either.Can you be afraid of hell if you don't think it exists?No, but you can be afraid of the unknown.Do Christians indoctrinate their children more than atheist parents?Tough to say, but atheists aren't betraying a personal relationship with Jesus when they choose to teach their kids to think for themselves.Are the majority of experts in the history of the ancient Near East sympathetic to Christianity?Hays suggests otherwise, and I wouldn't know. Some help, please?What do Long's assertions tell us about the intellectual standards of atheism?Not a lot about atheism, but definitely something about Long and Hays.
Does Christianity have an unfair cultural mystique?Hays brings up the obvious other competing mystiques in our cultural melting pot, but ultimately fails to make a difference to Long's point.I respond to Christian reviewer, Jason Engwer:Does TCD aim too low?Yes, but that's not completely unjustified.Does Long get hell wrong?Not in any important way.
Is there no social pressure from society against Christianity?There's certainly some, but most of what Engwer cites is the rebound from Christian influence in culture.
Are all of the conversions to Christianity by means of a persuasive historical case for the resurrection of Jesus illegitimate?Obviously not, but people can be honestly convinced of a lot of untrue things and Christianity doesn't seem to be predominately supporting itself through those means.
I respond to Christian reviewer, Paul Manata:Only if Christians have burned all the dictionaries.Is science dead?Even with human bias in the scientific world that promotes rigorous standards (and occasionally fails to uphold them), should we really consider religion equally objective with it (and should we overlook its patented anti-objectivity faith standards)?
Is x more credible than y?When you find out what x and y actually are, Manata doesn't sound quite as correct. Surprise, surprise.
Is Long a presuppositional skeptic?Only if one ignores Long's modern experience of a magic-less world.
Can science and religion get along?Can the majority of religious scientists come to some scientific supernatural conclusion already?On Christian apologist, William Lane Craig: Can the infamous "Holy Spirit defeater defeater" be defeated after all?Despite Long's traditional portrayal, I argue that Craig has listened to his critics and changed his tune: Craig specifically tells atheists how we might try to defeat the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.Credentials: Is Long qualified to write this chapter?Short answer: Despite the online tug-o-war, I don't see why not. He's reporting the science of others competently enough. Anyone is free to show otherwise.
Standards: How might we avoid conventional Christian objections in the future?I lay out what I think are some common sense guidelines for avoiding political bs in the future and demonstrate why atheist writers should listen.
Random:Random question (for my information): Aren't Scientologists less trusted than atheists?Inquiring Infidel actually corrects me on how to understand the discrepancy.
I make a request: Are there studies that show which parts of the brain Christians use to deal with issues in the Bible?Long gives the example of how people use the emotional part of their brain to reconcile the statements of political figures they agree with. I just wonder if there is something that specifically targets Christians.
Long "goes there":Can't we just let talking donkeys lie?Long brings up the Bible's talking donkey three times. He almost gets away with it, but not quite.
Have Bible scholars never considered alternative viewpoints?This just opens up the Pandora's box of every "former atheist" turned educated Bible believer.
Doesn't arrogance also correlate well with IQ?Long promotes the studies that seem to show that IQ correlates well with atheism (assuming those studies are being interpreted properly), but seems to not recognize how this fits right into how Christians profile atheists.
Outro: 3 out of 5 stars.I thought I would give Long 4 stars initially, but was ultimately overwhelmed by how inappropriate much of his rhetoric is.
Long's chapter is a bit high strung (and that's mostly what I'm covering here) and unfortunately reflects the presumptuous aspect of Dan Barker's foreword that I pointed out before. It is almost assumed that atheists must have no bias when evaluating the validity of religion. This is a bit disturbing, since it is blatantly untrue. Religion can be very intimidating and being against it can be just as subjective and a-rationally contrived as being for it. Certainly Christians have noticed:...they attempt to throw around armchair psychoanalysis and ad hominem (which could just as easily be applied to their side)...
Long almost seems to think there is a category of "non-biased" person or that atheists have no emotional problems that might inhibit their ability to evaluate a religion dispassionately. There's some stark language here (page 73-74):...or would you ask a secular scholar with no emotional investment in Islam...Etc. Although in fairness to Long, intro to that paragraph does contain tempered words like "often," "often," "often," and "wiser" which does help characterize the above quotes (if we want to be charitable), but it seems we need to delete the term "unbiased" from our atheist lexicon altogether in favor of "less biased" or something similar. It is really easy to get the wrong idea.
...choose the unbiased scholar to help evaluate that position...
People who study a concept in which they have no emotional investment...
Scholars who begin with no emotional investment in Christianity...
Engwer says:We're told that the importance of God to Christians distorts their judgment about religious matters (71). But it's not as though God's existence isn't important to an atheist or agnostic. When he refers to those with "no emotional investment" in Christianity (73), who is he referring to?
I have to agree. I've seen a lot of distorted thinking across the board. Aren't skeptics often guilty of just looking to find out why something is fake rather than bothering to ever ask the question, "Is it fake?" I'm pretty sure both Long (and every other atheist author in this book) knows atheists are just as susceptible to all the cognitive biases presented in the first few chapters of the book. But you can't make Christians work for that provision, especially when finding overblown themes like this plug directly into their narrative of arrogantly, unaware atheists.
Maybe atheists don't think presentation matters. But a major theme of my criticism of this book so far has been that the sciences of human subjectivity have direct and obvious applications to the very presentation of evidence itself. And this shouldn't be surprising in the least. Long relays information like this (page 70):...Cialdini reports that people are more likely to buy unusual items when they are priced higher, buy items with coupons despite no price advantage, respond to requests when empty reasons are given, agree to absurd requests if they are preceded by ones of greater absurdity, and consider people intelligent and persuasive if they are attractive.Atheists may gladly accept the information if they think it makes believers look bad, but then they might seem hard-pressed to apply it in functional ways when actually engaging Christians. Every time I don't apply my own advice here, I get the typical negative results everyone else does, and just about every time I do apply my advice here (as I was explaining to Ed Babinski) I tend to get pretty good results I don't often see happening anywhere else (though there are exceptions, of course). And it's not just the superficial effect. I feel better about what I'm doing as well and I think it helps me think more clearly about my own position. It is improvement all the way around to be empathetic and cater your presentation to other people's sensibilities rather than just your own.
Careless rhetoric can add up. Long seems to portray all serious believers as having some extreme form of cognitive dissonance when approaching their doubts about belief in God (page 71):It naturally follows that questions on the issue of God's existence provoke the most cognitive dissonance within those who are deeply involved in the issue. As this debate generates the greatest amount of cognitive dissonance, it naturally follows that people are increasingly willing to accept explanations that alleviate the uncomfortable feelings and are decreasing willing to consider disconfirming arguments.
A wide range of Christians are going to be reading that and we don't want to be lumping everyone into a single category. Long says (page 72):The Christian is interested in feeling comfortable with his beliefs, not in dispassionately evaluating them.THE Christian? C'mon. How about "Many Christians..."? Or, "Most Christians in my experience..." Etc.
It seems equally inappropriate of Long to seem to insist that all believers necessarily have low self-esteem (page 77):Such ideas are no doubt appealing to those with little or no self-esteem, but they carry less weight with someone confident of his own abilities and intelligence.
This is not good PR and more importantly it's probably not even indicative of the norm for believers. Long even goes so far as to point to the studies that show that intelligence and religiosity have a negative correlation, but similar studies show that religiosity and emotional intelligence have a positive correlation. Again, maybe that's not what Long really meant. I'm assuming it's not. He may just be focusing on one demographic and not at the expense of the rest. But it would be very difficult to fault a less sympathetic reader for concluding otherwise. The careless rhetoric and even the overall structure of the chapter lends to way too strict a conclusion with harsh dichotomies.
So, it's not hard to see how all of this snowballs into what I would think a typical Christian reaction would be. Looney responds in turn:The main idea is that we do not believe Christianity because we logically choose it, but because we are indoctrinated when we are young. While this is true, it also ignores the power of atheist indoctrination in our society: Atheism is the established ideology of academia so we are bombarded by these messages from when we are young. I loved reading Rupyard Kipling and Mark Twain, yet they were both skeptics and this filtered through much of their writing. Atheists and skeptics have hijacked seminaries, invaded pulpits and spent billions of taxpayer dollars indoctrinating the minds of children in schools - myself included. Then there is Hollywood, which is atheist except when it is mystic, but very rarely Christian. WE HEARD THE ATHEIST MESSAGE!!! In communist countries, the situation was even worse, yet religion is on the rise, especially in places like China where the children NEVER RECEIVED CHRISTIAN INDOCTRINATION FROM YOUTH! If we are going to simply say that humans are doomed to make irrational decisions, than what can the atheists do about it without coercion and government establishment? Furthermore, why should we believe that an atheist is in the slightest more rational, given that we all come from human DNA?It doesn't even matter if Looney is blowing his examples of "atheist indoctrination" out of proportion. Notice, he didn't start the exaggeration merry-go-round. And I didn't need to go looking for reviews to know that the standard Christian reply to the idea would be: "I know you are, but what am I?"
Christian reviewer, jayman777 notes that Long's basic point is fair enough, points out that the tables can be turned, and takes the high road towards everyone trying to do the best they can.
Christian reviewer, Randal Rauser makes sport of Long's chapter by sarcastically portraying atheist parents as indoctrinating their "freethinking" children with skeptical cliches' that demonize believers as indoctrinated. [I'll have Rauser know though, that, at our local Ethical Society, we don't beat our children if they don't properly recite their core values that we demand they recite in front of everyone. Though I joke that we do. Cuz it's funny.] I can see that Long's chapter deserved Rauser's little retaliatory story.
Then we turn to the uber-retaliatory response to TCD, The Infidel Delusion (TID), where interpretative charity and the high road are dangerous chemicals that they only let their one non-Calvinist member, Jason Engwer, handle:It's true that most people, including most atheists and other critics of religion, don't have many reasons for believing what they believe and often arrive at false beliefs or arrive at true beliefs for reasons that aren't objectively justifiable.
The remaining message is the same: I know you are, but what am I?
I don't see how the authors of TCD could pretend they didn't see this coming, that there was no way to avoid it, or that it wouldn't grossly characterize the book for typical Christian readers.
Loftus explains what he wanted to happen:I am so happy that Eller, Tarico and Long wrote their chapters. Combined, they have a crushing effect on the believer's sense of self-certainty, which is the point. Like well shot cannon balls they break through the walls of the Christian castle so that the rest of the troops can march in.
Reminds me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail when they forget to actually get in their Trojan Bunny. You actually have to apply your own psychological understanding to your audience. Their biases don't click off just because you are attempting to inform them about their biases. Tarico seems to be the only one (so far) who managed to squeak out statements like this (page 54-55):...how can anybody claim to know anything? We can't, with certainty. Those of us who are not religious could do with a little more humility on this point.Unfortuantely we can juxtapose this sentiment with dozens of abrasive "cannon ball" statements from the two dudes her chapter is sandwiched in (and Loftus and Barker before all of them). Given this senselessness, it will be no surprise if the vast majority of TCD's audience walk away with something like this (from Looney again):To summarize, the argument of this chapter is that Christians can't be trusted, therefore Atheists should be trusted...because they say they should be trusted. So there!
Looney won't be the only one. I'm sure Holding's response to these first "crushing" chapters in TCD will look exactly like this:In other words, it's just a red herring argument that proves and says nothing about the validity or truth of the system, and in any event, has no application to someone like me who was raised in an environment essentially hostile or indifferent to Christianity, and who grew up thinking Christians were arrogant fools. It would be just as easy (and just as fallacious) for us to "psychoanalyze" Long and make up stories about the reasons for his apostasy -- but they wouldn't in the least serve to validate or invalidate his beliefs. Indeed, we could just as easily say that he included this superfluous chapter on psychology as an expression of his own insecurities with his presentation of the facts. Why not? It proves as much as his whole chapter here does.Perhaps this might even be applicable from Holding:...in summation it's only a chapter on faulty reasoning processes used by Christians (ones Long has encountered) and which by his own admission and warning, "freethinkers" are not immune to either.So that confirms that Long certainly knows better. And Holding has his own biases of course. He only quotes part of Long's response to him:Does it come as any surprise, however, that Holding just happened to pick the one religion out of hundreds that was widely practiced and accepted in his society? Is there any reasonable doubt that if Holding had been born in, say, Iraq under similar conditions, he would have chosen Islam and been just as confident about the Qur’an (through the use of equally effective self-convincing apologetics) as he is now about the Bible?
At first it would appear that Long is incapable of dropping the rule of thumb that Holding wishes to distance himself from entirely, but if we read the surrounding context of Long's quote, it appears this is not the case (Turkel is Holding, btw):The first part of the paragraph is, I assume, Turkel’s way of sidestepping the issue that children almost always follow the religious beliefs of their parents. He calls this a red herring, but he misunderstands the purpose of the chapter. It was not written to serve as proof that the belief system is wrong, but rather to demonstrate that the belief system is being observed with virtually zero independent thought. In other words, a particular religion will be a strong presence in an area where children are continuously taught that it cannot possibly be wrong. I would never deny that exceptions exist, as Turkel claims to be one, but I will always stand by my statement that the overwhelming majority do not join a religion this way. [...what Holding did quote was here...] The importance of this point is that it’s not a matter of which of the three or four major religions is the correct one. Circumstances independent of the major religions’ veracities created the current distribution of observation. Any of the ancient religions may be correct. [emphasis mine]The most charitable way I can understand Holding's response is to think that he doesn't want to have to deal with the general point at all since he thinks he believes he has good arguments apart from subjective enculturalization. All in all, both parties aren't really disagreeing with each other, but it should be clear that once we get beyond the world of subjective persuasion and into the world of accountable arguments and evidence, this level of accusation needs to be left behind. To do otherwise becomes ad hominem in either direction.
Christian reviewer, Steve Hays, doesn't understand Long's angle:In chap. 3, Jason Long says,Muslim parents tend to have Muslim children, Christian parents tend to have Christian children, Hindu parents tend to have Hindu children (66).And infidel parents tend to have infidel children. So how does that correlation undercut Christian theism without simultaneously undercutting atheism?
Long tells us in his own review on Amazon.com:I attempt to show that human beings are far too passionate, gullible, subjective, irrational, and emotionally involved to be right about something as far-fetched as speculative religious beliefs. I cite a number of studies performed by persuasive psychologists that show how malleable and unreliable the human mind is. [emphasis mine]Pretty basic distinction. Same angle from Tarico's chapter. I'm not sure this damning asymmetry was actually clear from the chapter itself though. It seems Loftus' Introduction probably should have done a better job of framing the contents of Part 1.
Hays says:Social conditioning is not a problem for Calvinism. That's an aspect of God's providence. God can providentially employ social conditioning to cultivate Christians and reprobates alike.Nothing is a problem for Calvinism as long as you don't expect God to actually care about people. If they became and stayed Christians, then that's what God intended. If they didn't, that's what God intended. Does it matter whatever circumstantial fodder contributed one way or the other? Not at all. Does it matter that the Bible says God wants to save everyone and that Christians believe God has control over everything? Not at all. Does it matter that the concept of fairness gets tossed out the window? Not at all. Does it matter that God didn't have to create people who would be predestined to damnation? Not at all. Why? Because God isn't accountable to his own supposedly good essence if you are a Christian thinker.
Hays says:The threat of hell can't explain Christian belief, for unless you believe the threat, it's not a credible threat. An unbeliever doesn't feel threatened by hellfire sermons.
Apparently Hays has never heard of the concept of "the fear of the unknown." So, you don't have to be certain hell exists to be afraid or intimidated by the suggestion.
Hays says:But childhood indoctrination is a double-edged sword. Depending on their parents and their schooling, children can just as well be (and often are) indoctrinated in atheism.Atheists would seem to be more typically conscientious of not wanting to indoctrinate their children into their own belief system (as Dale McGowan explains here the difference between influence and indoctrination in Parenting Beyond Belief videos) since they are often so against religious indoctrination and do not wish to be hypocrites. Obviously we can't be certain about the demographics of freethinking atheist parents to freethinking Christian parents, but it doesn't seem out of line to suppose that there would be a stronger trend towards indoctrination in Christian households. Christianity is about loyalty to God first and foremost (as an active and conclusive relationship already predicated on Christianity being completely true) and not about loyalty to rational inquiry.
I highly recommend the McGowan video to any parent interested in learning strategies to avoid stifling the intellectual independence of their offspring. It's certainly not impossible for a Christian parent to put into practice virtually everything McGowan recommends (and he says so, as I recall). I'm sure there are plenty of hasty atheist, agnostic, and apatheistic parents who are as oblivious to the encouragement of freethinking in principle as any Christian household is. It's just less likely that Christian parents will be inclined to advocate an open forum for investigation, since there is a specific interpersonal cost for Christians if they entertain the idea that maybe it's okay to not be a Christian. In other words, atheists aren't betraying a person by teaching their kids to think for themselves. In fact, they are honoring their own core values by doing so, even if their child takes a different path. They at least will have done so because they more likely thought it through. And that's still respectable to a genuine freethinker. Not so much your typical Christian parent that has to deal with a child burning in hell if they think themselves onto an unofficial path that still works well enough in this life.
Anyway, contrary to Hays, there probably are some asymmetries in terms of indoctrination between atheist parents and Christian parents, but they would be difficult to prove explicitly. Who knows. Maybe the science would come back showing that since atheists tend to feel so threatened by religion, that they hyper-indoctrinate their children into atheism to make extra sure Jesus doesn't get into their brains. haha, I doubt it, but you never know.
Hays says:Long says:A majority of experts in the history of the ancient Near East will defend positions beneficial to Christianity (76).Really? Are members of the Society of Biblical Literature a bunch of ardent Christian apologists?
I don't know enough about these claims to sort out the demographics. Long has certainly been guilty of gross generalizations, but then again Hays isn't exactly the most balanced presenter of information either.
Hays says:Long says:If an intelligent, rational group of people who were never exposed to the idea of religion were asked to become experts in the history of the ancient Near East, the unanimous consensus of the group would be that the Bible is bunk (76).Aside from the circular claim that infidels have a monopoly on rationality and intelligence, this hypothetical is inherently unverifiable. So what does that tell you about the intellectual standards of atheism? Why is it acceptable or respectable to make indemonstrable, self-serving claims?
I don't know what this tells us about the intellectual standards of atheism, but it may tell us something about Jason Long's tendency to overstate his claims and Hays' tendency to overreact in the opposite direction.
Hays says:[Long says:]…and they would not have been exposed to the centuries of aura and mystique that society has placed on the Bible (76).
Is that the experience that students have in public grade school, middle school and/or junior high and high school? Is that the experience they have at community colleges, state universities, and the Ivy Leagues? Is that the experience they have watching TV? Going to movies? Listening to rock music?
What Hays says does not magically cancel out what Long has said. Obviously our culture is a melting pot of many influences, but the "not Christian" things do not by default fall under the atheism banner (though perhaps that's not what Hays meant to imply) in a predominantly Christianized culture.
Engwer says:By the time you get through Long's chapter, a pattern in the book becomes evident. Much of what's being criticized is the lowest variety of Christianity. It's true that most people, including most atheists and other critics of religion, don't have many reasons for believing what they believe and often arrive at false beliefs or arrive at true beliefs for reasons that aren't objectively justifiable. But how much does criticism of such people undermine the belief system they're associated with? Professing Christians who are the least capable of objectively defending their beliefs may hold those beliefs for no good reason. Or they may have been brought to faith by a supernatural means that's reliable, but which they can't objectively demonstrate. Whatever the case, the authors of The Christian Delusion should have spent less time discussing the least intellectual elements of Christianity and more time addressing the religion's best representatives.
It is understandable from Engwer's perspective that he would object to this since his brand of Christian epistemology is not being directly targeted. However, from what I gather are Loftus' sensibilities on the matter (and I could be wrong), Big Religion is unfairly getting by predominantly on enculturalization, naturalistically explicable anomalous experiences, cognitive bias, and double standards against common sense. And if these were eliminated from the equation, in all likelihood, there'd be an incredible shortage of anyone trying to intellectualize the faith out of the epistemic dark ages. If most people are religious, then most intellectuals will be born religious. Even if you are an intellectual you will still typically lean towards your upbringing. And since it is the conclusion of the authors of TCD that even the sophisticated stuff is grossly mistaken, they have no trouble attributing the mainstay of Christianities to the various levels of human subjectivity. Unfortunately if you go with this into a debate with virtually any intellectual Christian who is going to take the time to read the book and review it online, none of the arguments are going to be formulated appropriately, it will look like a lot of important things are being ignored, that lots of conclusions are just being asserted, and much unfortunate offense will be taken.
If it had been up to me (as I said in my review of Eller's chapter especially) I would have aimed for a wider audience specifically because TCD will probably have an equal number of cultural Christians and more intellectual Christians actually reading it even if the cultural Christians vastly outnumber the intellectual Christians in general. Admittedly that is a much more delicate polemical line to walk. I'm not surprised it is avoided, but at the same time, one reaps what they sow.
Engwer says:Long refers to the suffering of Hell as involving absolute and complete agony, and he distinguishes those terms from the eternality of Hell, so he doesn't seem to have its eternality in mind (67). What is he referring to, then? The Bible teaches degrees of suffering in Hell and even uses the term few lashes to describe what it will be like for some people (Luke 12:45-48).
It doesn't really matter what Long has in mind since the Bible certainly seems to have eternality in mind. And in context of that, one wonders what the difference is (as far as the Luke reference goes) between being eternally roasted at 115 degrees rather than 135. Someone gets a pineapple shoved up their butt every day and someone else just gets an apple up the butt every day. One can only imagine that even the most tame level of hell isn't a pleasant place for all eternity. Ultimately Long's point is that people are being threatened by whatever version of hell and this would often have an adverse effect on their critical thinking skills. Engwer's quibbles don't disrupt that at all.
Engwer makes a fair point:Long's claim that "there is no pressure from society to understand or defend itself against the true position of skeptics" (69) is ridiculous. I can turn on the television during the Easter season, the Christmas season, or on other occasions and see John Dominic Crossan or Bart Ehrman explaining why the gospels are unreliable. Most biology teachers in American high schools probably aren't teaching a Christian view of origins. College professors often encourage a negative view of religion in general or Christianity in particular. So does Hollywood. It's not difficult for people to come across material by the likes of John Loftus and Richard Carrier when they go on the web.
I know a lot of highschools out there don't necessarily teach a Christian view of origins, but many of them do their best to avoid the issue for fear of Christian parents. Obviously our culture has been struggling in this particular culture war for some time and many of the symptoms Engwer points out are the result of the secular world actively trying to push back. Big Religion does appear to be losing quite a bit of ground though in the U. S. thanks to various scandals of its own creation and the accessibility of alternative and critical views on the internet. However, that doesn't mean Big Religion didn't get Big in the first place in the sense that Long originally meant. So what Long said wasn't ridiculous, it's just not the whole story. And that story continues right here and right now as Christian ideas continue to be dismantled for anyone to see.
Engwer asks:Are all of the people who claim to have been persuaded by something like the evidence for Jesus' resurrection, at a time when they weren't yet Christian, lying or honestly mistaken?
Long certainly overstates his case, though plenty of people go cold turkey into lots of presentations of evidence for a wide range of dubious claims and come out honestly convinced. I can't say that's how Christianity keeps itself afloat though. Just a few pages later in TID we find that Manata's explicit view ("...covenantal view of how God brings his elect into the kingdom (normally through families)...") demonstrates that this evidential conversion business isn't even expected to be the norm. One wonders about the fairness of not being born into the right family if that's God's official conversion mechanism.
Manata complains:Long doesn't bother to define what he means by rationality, even though the term is very important to interpreting his claims.
Um...how about if Long means that rationality is the idea that one's adherence to a set of beliefs should be more about thinking things through rather than a-rationally inheriting them through more subjective means? Does Manata really need a definition like that? Is it "very important" or rather is it that unclear what Long obviously intends to say? I don't think so. Manata is implausibly confused. In Manata's debate with Dan Barker, he says the Blackwell Companion to Epistemology lists 9 definitions of rationality (if I recall correctly). Could it not be that all of them might apply in some way to evaluating worldviews and that none of them are most responsible for generating and maintaining the vast majority of subjective religious beliefs?
Manata repeats (in his own way) basically all the same things the other Christian reviewers have.
He then moves on to at least starting to have an actual point:Out of fear of not obtaining funding, or to advance their career, scientists might fudge numbers. Emotional considerations like pride might cause some scientists to ignore or distort evidence provided by dissenting colleagues. [from the Oxford Handbook of Rationality] "Like all people, scientists are emotional beings, and their emotions may lead to distortions in their scientific works if they are attached to values that are inimical to the aims of science." [...Michael Philips reports] "over the last thirty years the image of science has been tarnished by a number of high profile cases of fraud" (The Undercover Philosopher, Oneworld, 145) [...] "Nobody gets funding to do replications, so science is not the self-cleaning apparatus it once was" (Philips 146).Scientists are human. Even if we want to say that this data only shows science in a sense correcting itself, we can still extrapolate that there are more cases that have been missed. So where does that leave us? From the evidence Manata cited, should we conclude that the glory days of science are truly over? Should believer and non-believer alike make t-shirts that say, "Science is Dead"? Probably not. Later Manata tells us, "...the sources I offered do not undermine science or all scientists..." Yay!
There's a lot of science going on out there. Which means there will always be a long list of cases to mine illustrating human error. A responsible person has to ask themselves if they are really getting the big picture from what Manata is quoting. And I suspect that perhaps Manata's sources that he uses probably have other things to say about the topic.
This is the conclusion Manata would like us to come to:
So NOTHING Long cites serves to undermine the truth of Christianity or the positive epistemic status it has for countless believers.
But does that follow? Is religious epistemology about the nature and existence of God now somehow on the same level of credibility with even errant science? I doubt it. And I think any reasonable person should, for the reasons Long articulated. Manata only begins a conversation that can't plausibly conclude in his favor. At least bad science is correctable and the things that can make it bad are not enshrined and honored ideologically. Is there simply no epistemic advantage against bias to a human institution that holds itself to making successful predictions and generating hands on technology rather than to just the fact that many people continue to believe in it?
Manata says:He claims that skeptics have their positions "but are willing to consider other viewpoints" (77). But then he responds to believers who say that x has a higher degree of warrant than y, so if y conflicts with x, then proper function demands dropping y, with this claim: "What's the point in listening to people like this" (75)? Long won't even consider their viewpoint. He exposes himself as a credulous faithful adherent of his dogmas, according to his own terms!
We've been over this many times before already. I suppose Manata thinks he's clever by not telling us what x and y are and only brandishing his spotless logic (this is intended to avoid skeptical prejudices, I would assume). Obviously Manata believes that "x" is entirely credible. If he were right, Long would look like an idiot. Who doesn't trust a more reliable source over a less reliable one? Makes perfect sense. Unfortuantely "x" in this case is actually uncorroboratable God feelings and vague subjective experiences that are indistinguishable in authority from other x's that imply other conflicting religious epistemologies. And "y" is like basically the epistemic opposite of that (reliable, verifiable, repeatable, falsifiable, objective evidence available to all, mutually converging arguments to the better, more probable, explanations, etc.). So I don't think Long is the idiot, even if he does have some high strung and uncharitable rhetoric in his chapter.
Manata complains:For Long, to be unbiased means that you start with the idea that the Bible is a book of myths. You begin biased towards its classification; it's myth, not history, and definitely not God's word.
It seems Manata skipped a step. That step would be an evaluation of modern experiences. If in our modern life we find that there is no magic or miracles, and that any verifiable source that says there is is unreliable, then we are naturally inclined to be more skeptical of ancient sources that have similar claims (We'll see what Manata has to say about Robert Price's chapter). So we start with where we actually start. Where we have to start. Experience. If someone completely unfamiliar with these debates walks onto the scene and finds out what is in the Bible and has a feeling of doubt...is there something wrong with their head? I don't think so. There's a job to be done by the supernaturalists among us. Manata can claim that he's experienced supernatural things or make a case for modern day miracles. He is entitled. But it is not reasonable to portray Long in this fashion as though he is arbitrarily categorizing the Bible as myth (as though that is the equal and opposite side of Christian dogmatism). Even Christians will admit this stuff is rare and subjective (and that it is even supposed to be that way). Well...guess what. That means people will easily get the "wrong" idea. That's just how it is and Manata isn't helping bridging that credibility gap. If Christians want to disown experience and open the Pandora's box to the anything goes in ancient history, they are entitled to that as well. But they'll have to deal with the implications that anything goes. Not just evangelical interpretations of history. Gnomes, ninjas, and aliens will get to have their say as well since probability is no longer grounded in anything.
Manata also seeks to show that the hostility between science and religion is a cliche' gimmick of the strident atheists of the world like Richard Dawkins. However, all those quotes Manata cites (which are too many to reasonably post here, pages 43-44) from Elain Howard Ecklund's book, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think (Ox-ford, 2010) seem to demonstrate a much more damning situation for his worldview. They seem to show that most scientists embrace religious thinking on the side with entirely different standards of evidence. If the vast majority of scientists are religious people, then apologists can't reasonably claim there's some atheistic conspiracy to hold back a tidal wave of evidence of the supernatural if in fact it exists. Is Manata a young earth creationist? Does he believe in the real power of prayer? There are a number of claims that science has addressed that are going to infringe somewhere on his view of Christianity. Hence, the claim that most scientists have cognitive biases on his side of things and yet still form no consensus on anything relevant to his worldview seems to be extremely damning. Why don't all the Christian scientists hop to it? What are they afraid of if they are the majority? Is Richard Dawkins really that scary? Or is it that despite his occasional insensitivity he's still arguing predominantly with the grain of the evidence rather than beside it? Manata goes for the superficial retaliation to Long's chapter at the expense of more serious issues, imo.
Manata ends his chapter with some ironic advice to Long:When spitting at someone, make sure the wind isn't blowing in your direction.
Great idea! Why don't you try it, Paul!
And while we're being silly, Manata also had said:At any event, Long needs to read scientists like Richard Nisbett's, Intelligence and How to Get It (Norton, 2009).Is Manata sure he read that book? j/k
On William Lane Craig
In order to demonstrate that Christian defenders are too biased to even bother with, Long points to Answer in Genesis and another classic example:Prominent apologist William Lane Craig declares, "[S]hould a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, and not vice versa."
I would agree that there is an issue here and that this makes communicating and debating with Christians unfairly difficult. However, it seems that Craig has adjusted his position over the years since having infamously confessed to Mark Smith that if they traveled back in time to find Jesus' body still in the grave after three days Craig said that he'd still believe Jesus rose anyway. As I recall this incident has been thrown around in lots of debates to make Craig and other Christians like him look bad. It seems Craig has gotten the message:Of course, anyone (or, at least any sort of theist) can claim to have a self-authenticating witness of God to the truth of his religion. But the reason you argue with them is because they really don't: either they've just had some emotional experience or else they've misinterpreted their religious experience. So you present arguments and evidence in favor of Christian theism and objections against their worldview in the hope that their false confidence will crack under the weight of the argument and they will come to know the truth. (This also is what the atheist should do with me.) Of course, in presenting such arguments, you are not working against or apart from the Holy Spirit. He is at work, too, testifying to their hearts of the truth of the Gospel and using your arguments, as you lovingly present them, to draw that person to saving faith in Christ. [emphasis mine]Also, unless he's lying, on Lee Strobel's former show, Faith Under Fire, Craig clearly said that finding Jesus' body in the tomb would trump his self-authenticating Holy Spirit witnessing service. That's clearly a departure from his answer to Mark Smith. So, it's not very popular among atheists to point out, but there is not as clear a dichotomy between unbiased skeptic and innately credulous believer as Long seems to portray, especially when I'm sure someone can dig out some juicy atheist quotes who have confessed to similar hypothetical crazy denials in the face of overwhelming evidence. I think the Craig statement that Long quoted (and it is popular to quote) possibly lifts out of context the general rule of thumb that the authority of the Holy Spirit is to be recognized on the spot on any given item, since it is most probably correct (to a Christian), but that it is still possible in general, to make an overwhelming case against Christian belief despite its authority. That'd be my guess, anyway.
Note, Craig tries to explain himself on his Reasonable Faith website: "Question 68 Subject: The Witness of the Holy Spirit." It seems he's trying to play it both ways.
Christian internet apologist, J. P. Holding, claims Long is "not qualified" to write his two chapters and that he has "amauterish understanding." Atheist reviewer, Ken Pulliam, on the other hand, says:Some critics have questioned Jason's credentials for writing against Christianity because he is a pharmacist and not a biblical or theological scholar. I think this is misguided. Jason is a bright young man whose mind has been sharpened through the study of scientific disciplines and he applies that sharp mind to the question of religious belief.
So we have a "nuh uh" and a "yuh huh." That's not very helpful. Granted, Holding's insistence that Richard Carrier couldn't possibly be able to learn from a non-PhD is equally unhelpful (especially since Long is reporting what the experts are saying on the topic), but oh well. I find it difficult to believe that Holding doesn't trust his experienced comrades when they relay information from experts he agrees with.
Holding reviewed Long's book "Biblical Nonsense" and this serves as a test run of the reaction this chapter will get. Holding's main criticism there seems to be that Long lacks qualifications and that he doesn't cite his sources. Perhaps Holding will be pleased to know that Long does cite his sources this time around. Long's perspective on his other writing goes like this:As stated a number of times throughout the book, the purpose of Biblical Nonsense is to be my own “brief introduction to the facts we have and analyses we can make concerning pertinent biblical issues,” “occasionally accommodating some innovative philosophical questions that the findings should naturally provoke.” Furthermore, “by no means did I intend for this manuscript to be an exclusively novel, methodically referenced, meticulously comprehensive volume of perplexities plaguing the Bible.” My goal was to have the reader “investigate the points raised in this book by reviewing some of the recommended reading material and subsequently considering the arguments offered by both sides.”Presumably from Holding's vantage point, failing to be PhD qualified or citing sources drastically affects even the introductory contents. Perhaps. I suppose that would come down to actual examples, since skilled and experienced persons (outside an official setting) do exist. Isn't Holding like a librarian or something?
Although a rather potent example seems to be pointed out well by Long:Turkel – very disturbingly – suggests that it would make just as much sense for us to expect that God should change the channels on our televisions as it would for him to not murder innocent people.Yes, even if ordinary Christians have the exact same moral difficulty with a Biblical text, Holding will just about always frame it all as an "argument from outrage." It seems to me Holding is just outraged that atheists can be careless in their assessments and so he has given up bothering to distinguish between deserved and undeserved moral criticism. Or perhaps Holding doesn't believe humans have god-given consciences who should be expected to use them in order to discern between false gods?
In order to avoid the problems posed above, it seems pretty obvious these standards should apply to the first few chapter in TCD:Find someone with a PhD in the field or have PhDs in the field peer review a chapter from a populist writer.Avoid the insinuation that Christians reading the book have no arguments for their beliefs apart from enculturation, indoctrination, and idiocy even if you disagree with those arguments.Avoid the genetic fallacy by framing the content as something that applies to all (including atheists) as a call to self reassessment.Leave it open-ended for subsequent chapters that will actually make arguments.
Ignore at your own risk. Why should you listen? Well, because the folks in this very book say so (page 73):Psychological reactance theory suggests that people increasingly stick by their decisions when others threaten their freedom to express their ideas. It is my opinion that limited persecution in Rome during the infant years of Christianity may have dramatically increased its popularity. It's not difficult to imagine how people would become more dedicated to and firm in their beliefs when faced with opposition, especially when the opposition pushes a sharp reversal of current conditions.Intellectual intimidation is a form of psychological persecution. If the authors of this book are interested in creating even more of what they would like to label delusion in their Christian readers, by all means, ignore what I'm saying. Clearly Loftus has. He will continue to say things like this:The apologist doesn't care what happened. He only wants to defend the Holy Book at all costs, even if it means he must sacrifice his intellect to do so.And not recognize that by doing so he is a participant in the process that creates this:I could only wish Christian apologists didn't have their fingers in their ears, but they do.
John, it seems to me that you are helping them put their fingers in their ears and you are helping to keep them there indefinitely.
But maybe he doesn't think he has any options? Loftus says:You cannot force a horse to drink even if you drag him to the water...Well the problem was you have the "drag him there" mentality. Just think of the dramatic difference in reaction to these initial chapters if all of the content was framed with something like this: "We're all in the same boat. Let's systematically evaluate our subjective biases. And then we are more self-aware to evaluate the arguments and evidence in the follow up chapters. Even Christian apologists and responsible pastors would rather their flock be well informed about the realities of human psychology and culture. An informed faith is a better one. We happen to think that not a lot is left over with religious credibility when you correct for all the human cognitive biases. Perhaps you will conclude the same." Who can argue with that?
And now it's story time!Are you really going to argue with the Sun, John? :p
The North Wind boasted of great strength. The Sun argued that there was great power in gentleness.
"We shall have a contest," said the Sun.
Far below, a man traveled a winding road. He was wearing a warm winter coat.
"As a test of strength," said the Sun, "Let us see which of us can take the coat off of that man."
"It will be quite simple for me to force him to remove his coat," bragged the Wind.
The Wind blew so hard, the birds clung to the trees. The world was filled with dust and leaves. But the harder the wind blew down the road, the tighter the shivering man clung to his coat.
Then, the Sun came out from behind a cloud. Sun warmed the air and the frosty ground. The man on the road unbuttoned his coat.
The sun grew slowly brighter and brighter.
Soon the man felt so hot, he took off his coat and sat down in a shady spot.
"How did you do that?" said the Wind.
"It was easy," said the Sun, "I lit the day. Through gentleness I got my way."
I thought Scientology was the new least trusted minority. Long claims it is atheism on page 69. I dunno. Maybe it fluctuated back again since 2008. We're still in the bottom two, regardless. [Note: InquiringInfidel pointed out to me that including Scientology in the poll is arbitrary.]
Long relays this example (page 74):...people who were strongly loyal to one candidate in presidential elections did not use areas of the brain associated with reasoning to resolve contradictory statements made by their candidates.That's really interesting and I can see how it might apply, but it would be a much better example if we could cite studies of religious people attempting to resolve classic Bible contradictions... Just saying.
Long brings up the Bible's infamous talking donkey three times. The first time was just "off" like it was a random jab, but then I forgave him because of how he used it the second time around (page 70):If you have admired a book since childhood because it says that your lost loved ones are waiting for you in heaven when you die, it's going to take an extraordinary amount of work to convince you that the talking donkey also found in the book might mean that the book is not proper evidence for such an optimistic idea.
It seemed the the first time was a setup in that case. However, then the third time he "went there" just seemed overplayed. Just my opinion.
Not surprisingly Engwer complains about this very same thing:Why do skeptics so often mention the Bible's references to a snake and a donkey that speak? If the skeptic is assuming that miracles are impossible, then he should make the case for his naturalism, something neither Long nor Tobin does in his chapter in the book. Or if they think that the Bible is suggesting that all snakes and all donkeys can speak by natural means, then how are they arriving at that conclusion? The passage about Balaam and the donkey portrays the event as supernatural and unexpected. Not only is there no suggestion that such an event is natural, but there's even a suggestion to the contrary. Why, then, do skeptics like Long and Tobin think that the presence of a speaking animal is so objectionable that mentioning it in the brief and dismissive way they do is sufficient? They probably haven't given the issue much thought.
Picking on the talking snake and donkey are merely skeptical symbolic representations of justified doubt given all the magical claims present in the Bible and their non-existence in modern experience. I still think Loftus' chapter 7 in WIBA ("The Strange and Superstitious World of the Bible") is possibly the best reminder I've ever come across that the Bible presents a completely foreign fairytale-scape. You don't really have to make the case for naturalism for general experience to simply not include magic of any kind. Psychological doubt is naturally based on experience and there's not really any practical way around that. What doubt isn't in some way based on our previous experiences? Whenever you pick out just one magic element in the Bible though, as Engwer demonstrates, it is easy for apologists to respond with, "Well technically God used his magic powers to make the donkey talk, so it's not like we just believe in talking donkeys randomly." But can you really caveat your way around the drastic gulf in ontology between what appears to be a naturalistic modern reality and the magical stuff found in an ancient book? The big picture matters even some skeptics can be caught making what appear to be cheap shots.
Long asks (page 75):What good is a biblical scholar who refuses to consider that his point of view may simply be wrong?
That's why it is so popular for apologists like Lee Strobel to claim they used to be skeptics! This just drags up the issue of what a "real" skeptic (or atheist) is. Very tiresome. I wouldn't have gone there, but I do wonder if Long gets more into detail in his book (since this chapter is just a summary of it).
Long ignores (page 77) that Christians will also see a strong correlation with arrogance and lack of religious belief. Not just intelligence. I just hate playing right into their stereotypes.
Manata points out:At one time, the vast majority of the world's most intelligent people were religious. Would Long think that meant that atheism was irrational a couple hundred years ago? Is the rationality of a worldview tied to some contingent fact like that? Odd. At any event, Long needs to read scientists like Richard Nisbett's, Intelligence and How to Get It (Norton, 2009). Nisbett points out several reasons why unbelievers might score higher on IQ tests than believers. However, none of the reasons are due to religion. Many things can explain this data.I'm sure the ancient religious intellectual elite would have felt similarly to Long in confrontation with the occasional deluded atheist. Modern Christians will jump on any chance they get for intellectual respect and hence we hear the William Lane Craig's of the world advertising a "modern philosophical Renaissance." So...I don't know why Manata thinks this is "odd." On the other hand, he's right. The lack of religion doesn't necessarily make you smarter. Smarter people might be more inclined to reject religion in an age after Darwin. However being an atheist doesn't make you smart, unbiased, or correct about any given issue. And honestly I don't really know what to do with the data myself. I've seen too many conflicting reports and don't really care to sort this issue fully out.
After reading the first few pages, I thought I'd end up giving Long 4 stars. He seemed to have good content, but was only a little high strung in tone. But then after finishing the chapter I couldn't justify even that. It was just too prevalent. So again (similarly with Eller's chapter), we have some good content that needs to be in a book like this, but the presentation suffers too much, imo.
Next up, chapter 4, "The Outsider Test for Faith Revisited," by John Loftus, himself.