Tuesday, August 31, 2010

L 4.3

Michael Shermer is quoted on p. 70 saying “smart people...are able to give intellectual reasons justifying their beliefs that they arrived at for non-intelligent reasons.” Further, “there are several social reasons for leaving the faith that a person was born into.” (p.72)

First, Loftus should be careful citing this quote because it could be used against atheism. Many people believe that former Christians are merely mad at God for some selfish reason. They didn’t get their burning bush audience with God or they think that being a Christian makes them maintain a lifestyle that prevents certain indulgences or they think God unfairly took someone/something from them. In fact, the journal-like first chapter of Loftus’ book suggests that he might fit neatly into those categories.

Second, who gets to decide which reasons justifying a belief are intelligent and which ones aren’t? Making the claim that certain reasons are non-intelligent requires smuggled-in authority. The person making the claim should validate their authority in order to substantiate their position.

Third, “non-intelligent reasons” is really code for “non-scientific reasons”. Science isn’t really the question in this matter. The belief should be judged on rationality, especially of the metaphysical, philosophical variety. Christian beliefs have been shown to be rational for centuries. A good article on the topic is Alvin Plantinga’s “Should Methodological Naturalism Constrain Science”.

The second statement implies that moving from one faith to another only happens as a result of social pressures, not rationality. While this might be true of Loftus himself, several notable atheists who are now Christian claim that they followed the evidence in investigating Christian beliefs and they became followers of Christ. They give no indication that their conversion was due to social or cultural factors.

Monday, August 30, 2010

L 4.2

Richard Dawkins claims that “the overwhelming majority [of people] just happens to choose the one [religion] that their parents belong to...The religion we adopt is a matter of an accident of geography.” (pp.67-68)

This assertion might not be as true as it seems on the surface. There are examples to the contrary.

David Nassar has an incredible story

There is evidence that the Church in China is growing.

Christianity in the Middle East is an interesting topic.

Information about Christianity in Iran is very limited but, fascinating.

Analysis of Christianity in the Persian Gulf yields interesting results.

Epicenter: Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle East Will Change Your Future By Joel C. Rosenberg explores Christian trends in Islamic cultures.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

L 4.1

Loftus advocates what he calls an outsider test. The idea is for a person to step outside of their belief, particularly Christianity, to objectively and impartially evaluate it. On p. 66 he says "But from the outside, the adherent of a different faith seems blind." What he is saying is that religious people are all saying the same thing about each others’ beliefs; that they’re false. If those same people could remove themselves to a position of non-belief, then they would be better able to appropriately assess the validity of these non-scientific worldviews and most likely would abandon them since they are the product of ancient superstitions. What Loftus fails to mention is that no one, not even agnostics, are devoid of faith.

Non-theism is the belief that naturalism is all there is. It is the faith that science can ultimately explain everything. Scientific methodology is the ultimate authority. Agnostics try to paint themselves as having non-belief or a-belief but, that is in itself a belief. It is belief in restraint from making a statement on either extreme of God’s existence. Agnostics use various means to determine that we either don’t have enough information or can’t know if God exists. That is faith in the means to make such a determination. In one sense, the outsider test for faith is a sham. Does Loftus advocate that a person remove themselves to a position of non-belief in anything in order to assess a worldview? If so, that’s an impossible task. Epistemology just doesn’t work that way. In order to assess beliefs, there has to be a method of doing so. A method is based on beliefs in certain things. Is Loftus saying a person should look at a belief through the eyes of someone who is not an advocate of that worldview? This isn’t much better because if you want to learn how to paint, you don’t ask an engineer. You ask a painter. If you are looking for God, you don’t ask an atheist because they don’t believe God exists.

In another sense, the outsider test for faith is a good idea in that people should constantly evaluate their beliefs objectively. The best way to do that is to be able to accurately reproduce objections to that belief. For the Christian, this means being educated in non-theist thinking so that those points can be paraphrased accurately back to a non-theist and they would agree that the objection has been adequately captured. In fact, the Bible exhorts believers to “test the spirits” in 1 John 4:1. There certainly have been people who don’t follow this admonition but, they do so contrary to what the Bible says.

The outsider test for faith isn’t quite as unique of an idea as Loftus seems to think it is and many, many people have employed it frequently in their lives. If Loftus were honest with himself, he probably wouldn’t be so confident in it’s ability to make atheists out of brainwashed Christians. There have been atheists who investigated Christianity from the “outside” and found Christianity to be too convincing to resist.

Friday, August 27, 2010

L 3.9

On the subject of God’s method for revelation, Loftus says "if God chose to reveal himself in the past, he chose a poor medium and a poor era in the ancient superstitious past to do so". (p. 61)

First, Loftus is using a ridiculous standard to ascertain the existence of God. Any era is ancient and superstitious when looked at from the future. Even contemporary scientific methods will be outdated as they are constantly refined. We know that in regards to intent, it has been demonstrably shown that the Bible has been faithfully transmitted. Also, his application of this standard assumes that God isn’t still revealing Himself to us today. It has already established in the preceding post that He does still reveal Himself. Aside from general revelation, Biblical revelation is just one avenue of special revelation. So, God is working in other ways that supplement revelation in the Bible.

Second, use of the word poor requires smuggled-in authority in that the observer is assuming an omniscient vantage point. Clearly, this isn’t the case. There is no way for any person to know that there isn’t an ultimate purpose in how revelation has occurred.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

L 3.8

"Science has taught us to assume a natural explanation for every event based upon methodological naturalism.” (p. 61)

What Loftus overlooks is that God can operate through secondary causes. A primary cause is when God directly intervenes in the natural order to part the sea or turn wine into water. A secondary cause is when God is not the proximate cause of change. We don’t directly control the temperature in the room but, we do so through a medium like a thermostat. We are ultimately in control but, we aren’t the proximate cause of change. We control the thermostat. The thermostat in turn directs the devices that change the temperature. God can work this way and, to us, this would look natural although suspicious at times. An example of this might be a circumstance or string of circumstances occurring against great odds like a person getting cured of a fatal disease for no readily apparent reason. This is what many people would consider a modern day miracle. Since there isn’t a direct, proximate intervention by God, all empirical events could just look like normal, everyday operations of the physical universe not guided by any divine process. Science can certainly provide empirical explanations for many aspects of our existence but, science will never be able to guarantee that there isn’t a supernatural being behind it all pushing the buttons and twisting the dials.

Non-theists clamor for God to work in primary causes since we now have more sophisticated noetic sensibilities and empirical equipment. We would be much more astute in assessing God's activity than our predecessors. To not do so means that God is unfairly concealing Himself from us or just doesn’t exist. This problem is referred to as the "divine shyness" problem. The Christian case is that biblical style miracles are not necessary after the completed work of Christ’s ministry. Unfortunately, the non-Christian who is asking for God to work as a primary cause does not accept the authority of the Bible or the divinity of Jesus. Therefore, their request stands as an enabler to belief. Without God’s role as proximate cause, they do not accept the biblical injunction. However, the dynamic expressed in the Bible means that God works more as a secondary cause now whereas in the past, He worked as a primary cause. He is much more subtle today.

God's work as a primary cause is inversely proportionate to our scientific knowledge [qualitatively, not quantitatively]. Obviously, the non-theist will object that there is no empirical proof of this and that this explanation is either ad hoc or an excuse for God’s lack of presence in our lives. The flaw in this objection is that as God's direct intervention in natural affairs increases, His activity becomes more compelling which leads to less freedom. This means that God was much more coercive in the past than today. While this prima facie seems like a violation of freedom of our ancestors, Loftus has adamantly pointed out that ancient people were more superstitious and less scientific than we are today. This means that God had more room to operate in the past without being coercive because to them, there were many events that seemed incredible to our ancestors that to us, seem mundane and standard operating procedure of causality. Even though people had a cursory understanding of causality, our ancestors did not have prior scientific endeavors to draw from as we do. They did not have the tools to seek scientifically empirical explanations for events like we do today as a result of the Scientific Revolution. Consequently, God was not contradicting their thought processes in the same way as He would be today. Granted, people had a general sense that seas don’t part on their own without some extraordinary force acting on them but, they didn’t have the scientific experience to know it is as certainly as we do today. If God were to perform proportionately miraculous actions in the modern/postmodern age, He would violate physical laws of causality in a way only He could which would in turn dramatically diminish, or extinguish altogether, our freedom. Keeping in mind that God’s quantitative activity has probably not changed over time, we have a condition in our lives that ancient people did not have; that of scientific advancement. This is a dynamic that is rarely, if ever, allowed for by critics of Christianity. Concordantly, non-theists are not able to justify why God’s modus operandi should remain the same throughout time despite changes in human epistemology. Non-theists want to criticize ancient people for being gullible and not seeking scientific causality for events but, don’t want to acknowledge that moderns would be enraged at the devastating effect God would produce if He did violate the laws that our present epistemology is based on thus mortally wounding our freedom. Essentially, atheists want to be coerced yet free which is logically absurd.

Another perspective on this issue is basically a rephrasing of the previous point of inverse proportionality. It comes from the testimony of many people who say that the less they have tried to manipulate their circumstances, the less they have tried to figure out truth on their own, the more God has revealed Himself to them. The more we lean on our own understanding, the more we occlude our ability to perceive God. This is an incredibly powerful point in regards to non-theism because of the irony that the more non-theists try to discover truth, the more they are not able to grasp it. Keep in mind that this has nothing to do with the intelligence of a person. There are smart people who are Christian and non-Christian alike. It’s about the motivation of a person, genius or not. The sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 made no sense to Abraham but, he did not rely on his own rationality and the divine presence was revealed to him. Moses recognized his limitations that he wasn’t worthy of being God’s ambassador and Exodus 3 records Moses in direct contact with YHWH. Job fought off the temptations of his friends and family and was granted an audience with God. The Psalms are replete with examples of God’s presence being revealed to the penitent. In Matthew 19, Jesus illustrates this truth to the rich young man when Jesus tells him to relieve himself of his worldly accoutrement insinuating that such solipsistic attachments prevent us from having fellowship with the Almighty.

In the Pensees (577), Blaise Pascal points out that “There is sufficient clearness to enlighten the elect, and sufficient obscurity to humble them. There is sufficient obscurity to blind the reprobate, and sufficient clearness to condemn them, and make them inexcusable…If God had permitted only one religion, it had been too easily known; but when we look at it closely, we clearly discern the truth amidst this confusion.”

What we see from Pascal’s “thoughts” is a truth that has been well known for a long time. The issue isn’t one of evidence as atheists claim. That is obfuscation. It’s a matter of the heart; the motivation of the individual. Atheists need to ask themselves in regards to the perception of God’s presence, why their standards are so much less reasonable than that of theists.

In the final analysis, Loftus’ statement should at least be amended to say “Science has taught us to assume a natural explanation for every natural event based upon methodological naturalism.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

L 3.7

A comment made by Loftus needs to be clarified. He mentions Christian apologist Norman Geisler and refers to his method of argumentation for the truth of Christianity. Geisler's apologetic method doesn't start "from below" as Loftus states on p. 60. Geisler follows the classical apologetic method which starts out "from above" as Loftus then outlines in Geisler's 12 step approach that begins “high” with truth and works "down" to Jesus' ministry on earth. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist is a good example of this apologetic method. There is a thorough explanation of 5 different apologetic methods in Five Views on Apologetics.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

L 3.6

Loftus says on p. 59 that he has "an antisuperstitious bias". What he really means is that he has an antisupernatural bias. Having an antisupernatural bias is basically a dogma. So, when he says he has "an antidogma", he is not being honest. Since no person can guarantee there is nothing supernatural, remaining closed to the supernatural is tantamount to intellectual surrender.

As stated previously, there is no “belief vacuum” from which an impartial investigation of beliefs can be conducted despite what Loftus says. A critique of a belief is born out of another belief. Otherwise, there would be no frame of reference for the critique to be created from, no basis for comparison. A person wouldn’t even know how to evaluate a belief system without already subscribing to another one.

Monday, August 23, 2010

L 3.5

Loftus discusses how Christianity is a leap of faith beyond the evidence on page 55.

The first point that needs to be established is something that has already been mentioned in this forum (L 3.1); that when non-theists ask for evidence, they are typically asking for scientific evidence for a metaphysical issue. Obviously, the most pertinent question is what they would consider to be proof of God’s existence. The customary answers to this question show that they either have a great sense of humor or that they should consider a career in fiction. In a debate with William Lane Craig, Ken Parsons had repeatedly told Craig that the resurrection appearances of Jesus were nothing but hallucinations. When Craig asked the all important question of what it would take for him to believe, Parsons described an Olympian-style tale of a Zeus-like figure descending from the clouds with a voice that boomed calling out Parsons’ name, etc., to which Craig responded that Parsons was merely having a hallucination! This drew uproarious laughter and applause. Many responses will be similar to Parsons in regards to what would constitute as proof of God’s existence to them. Examples are a restored limb, God’s name etched on every subatomic particle, stars arranged to form God’s name, just to list a few. However, no one is able to justify why these would serve as proof. Every possible scenario dreamed up could be the result of vastly advanced aliens, some as-yet-undiscovered law of physics, a biological oddity, etc. The point is that there is no way to establish a scientific, empirical maxim that would serve as proof of something metaphysical. Additionally, non-theists have a terribly hard time admitting that they work from a sliding scale. If those proofs were provided, it still wouldn’t be good enough. This can be demonstrably proven with examples like extra-biblical attestation of Pontius Pilate, the Hittites, Belshazzar, etc. For many decades, Christian critics used those people to claim that the Bible was not historically accurate because there was no evidence for these people outside of the Bible. Therefore, nothing in the Bible was historically reliable. When extra-biblical evidence for these people was found, the goal-shifting started. Now the criterion for truth was much stricter. Attestation of these people was too mundane. Instead of extra-biblical evidence for mere people or places, impartial confirmation of biblical miracles was needed. When the creation story in Genesis was held to be contrary to the steady state model of the universe, along comes the Big Bang confirmation which is in accord with the Bible narrative. Now, focus has narrowed down from overall cosmology to biological diversity through universal common descent. There are other examples that will show up in later posts.

To recap this point, critics of Christianity say there isn't evidence. When asked what would constitute as evidence for them to believe, they dream up ridiculous scenarios that they can't guarantee would be convincing to any more people than the number that already believe. When there does appear to be evidence for Christianity, skeptics will then manufacture newer, stricter standards to keep the information from qualifying as evidence. In the end, it's a moving target and then never intend to allow anything to satisfy it.

The second point in response to Loftus’ assertion is that there actually is evidence for Christian spirituality and that it isn't a leap of faith in the sense that he states; the evidence just happens to be in the discipline of metaphysics. There are multiple rational, logically sound, philosophical explanations for God’s existence. When Loftus parrots the obligatory leap-of-faith-without-evidence routine, he makes it seem like a rock solid criticism when in fact, it’s downy soft. Most of the time, these explanations for God's existence are dismissed because the person advocating them is just a Christian apologist. Nontheists feel that arguments from Christians should never be trusted because Christians have a bias towards their belief which occludes their rationality. This tactic by non-Christians is called the genetic fallacy. The nontheist says that explanations for God's existence should only be trusted if they are advocated by impartial, non-Christians. Obviously, the person making the explanation isn't the issue. The information is what actually should be considered regardless of the source. Even when nontheists don't commit the genetic fallacy, they fall back to the "lack of evidence" position. What they typically won't acknowledge is that there are and have been plenty of people who are hostile to Christianity who become Christian because they "followed the evidence". In the end, the issue isn't about the evidence. The issue is about why someone would cling to the belief that there isn't a God when no person can know such information. If anything, atheism is a greater leap of faith than Christianity.

Friday, August 20, 2010

L 3.4

In a standard attempt to undermine Christian claims, Loftus notes that "Muslims claim that we will go to hell if we don't convert to Islam too.” There is a problem with Loftus' methodology in comparing worldviews. Putting all beliefs on the table at once is not an appropriate starting point for the discussion. The issue of theism vs non-theism should be decided first. There definitely is a logical order to making any progress in this kind of discussion despite the fact that non-theists will try to obfuscate this process as Loftus does here. Once non-theism has been shown to be inadequate and, in some ways, evidentially false, then there can be a discussion about the merits of various religions.

The apparent force to Loftus’ equivocation is that there are allegedly one billion Muslims. How can that many people be wrong? Since there are so many of them, there must be some truth to their claims and since many of their claims are mutually exclusive to Christian claims, the non-theist is then justified in rejecting all religions. Citing the force of Islam for the purposes of achieving his ultimate goal commits the fallacy of appeal to numbers. The majority, or the largest group, can be wrong and indeed has been several times in history. In addition to this problem, the statement that "If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would be a Sunni Muslim right now" (P. 68) underscores a further problem. It has been stated by several experts on the topic that most Muslims are not Muslim by free choice. In most Muslim countries, the scriptures of other religions, most notably the Bible, are not allowed. Worship of anything but Allah is not allowed. People are not allowed to explore other faiths freely, much less encouraged to do so. These facts totally undermine any citation of Islamic doctrines and praxes as exemplary of theist trends or religious verisimilitude. On these grounds, it is not justifiable to use Islam as a measuring stick for the truth of Christianity or any other religion for that matter. The non-theist certainly can object that the core beliefs of Islam are open for use in debate but, this still misses the point. There is no way to know what would happen to Islam if all Muslims were suddenly free from theocratic coercion. The problem for Islam would become magnified if it were to remain open for centuries.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

L 3.3

Loftus notes that "Mackie proposes that 'there might be a god who looked with more favor on honest doubters or atheists who proportioned their belief to the evidence, than on mercenary manipulators of their own understandings". (p. 54)

This speculation presumes that God doesn't know the difference between genuine faith and people seeking fire insurance. God definitely can tell the difference between the two and will honor each accordingly.

Furthermore, God does honor skepticism and many followers of Christ question their faith as the Bible instructs them to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:21. The question is why atheists draw the unnecessary conclusion that God doesn’t exist whereas Christians believe God does exist.

An interesting dynamic on this subject is that many atheists claim that they engaged in genuine intellectual investigation to determine the truth of religion in general or Christianity specifically and concluded that atheism was the better intellectual and empirical option. In other words, the smarter they became, the more they moved away from Christianity. Matthew 11:25-26 records that God has a stronger affinity with infants than with the intellectually lofty. What is the application of this verse? In How Should We Then Live?, Francis Schaeffer chronicles main trends in the history of philosophy, science and the arts to point out that some of the highest philosophical platitudes usually wind up with disastrous consequences. It seems that sometimes we can become too smart for our own good. The Bible isn’t making the case that intelligence is a stumbling block, in and of itself. The issue is the application of the intelligence. When a person does not approach life with a spirit of humility, willingness to learn and deference to God’s sovereignty, more knowledge merely serves to occlude moral sense. In reading Loftus’ personal testimony, Isaiah 29:8-14 comes to mind.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

L 3.2

Loftus quotes W. K. Clifford regarding belief: "No religious belief system is capable of meeting the high standards that believing in anything requires, so no reasonable person should accept any religious belief system". (p. 48)

Loftus needs to be careful in citing this quote because naturalism itself is a belief. Non-theists frequently misunderstand their own belief system. They often think that their position represents non-belief or a-belief which is absolutely not the case. Observations don’t exist in a vacuum. The reason why someone objects to a certain belief is because they believe something else. Otherwise, there would be nothing from which to launch the objection in the first place. Non-theism, sans agnosticism, is the assertion that naturalism is all there is – there is nothing supernatural. A non-theist might still object to this characterization by repeating their system cannot be categorized as a belief but, that in itself is a belief. It is a belief in non-religious belief. Non-theism, including atheism, is a belief system and an inadequate one at that. No person can guarantee that there is no God, nothing supernatural or that naturalism is all there is. Atheists say God doesn’t exist or that there is nothing supernatural. God is supernatural. In order to substantiate the claim that God doesn’t exist, you would have to go to the supernatural realm and check everywhere. No one has ever done that. It’s unlikely anyone ever will. The claim requires knowledge that no person is capable of attaining. On the other hand, we can say that there is a God because there is evidence that God has revealed Himself to people.

Agnosticism is the belief that we either can’t know if God exists or we don’t have enough information to make a determination. Strong agnosticism, that we can’t know, isn’t accurate. We can potentially know that God exists via revelation. Other agnostics maintain that there isn’t enough evidence to say one way or the other. Fundamentally, this belief isn’t different than the atheist claim that there isn’t enough evidence to say God exists. Both the weak agnostic and the atheist are open to God’s existence provided there is enough proof. In that sense, the two claims can be treated the same and the atheist claim has been, and continues to be, dealt with.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

L 3.1

In describing hard rationalism, Loftus cites Norman Hanson who asserts that “if looking and not finding does not constitute grounds for denying the existence of God, then looking and not finding does not constitute grounds for denying the existence of goblins…unicorns, mermaids, Loch Ness monsters, Hobbits”. (p. 48)

This is a standard attempt by non-theists to equivocate the existence of God with the existence of any mysterious thing. The argument is usually formalized via the Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU) or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). Probably the most notable version of this argument is The Dragon in My Garage as explained by Carl Sagan. The non-theist believes that Christians commit a double standard when they invent God in their heads yet, don’t believe in any other mythical beings. If Christians reject fairies and Santa Claus, they should reject God as well because there is no more proof of God’s existence than these other beings.

The most practical response to this analogy is the evidential observation that millions of millions of people for centuries have believed that they commune with God. The same is not the case with the IPU, the FSM or dragons in garages (at least not from people who aren’t mocking Christianity). While this doesn’t serve as any sort of proof of God’s existence, it does show that Hanson’s statement does not reflect the reality of our spiritual experience. Hence, his equating God with any other mythical beast is invalid. Many, many people evidentially know God but the same can’t be said of the IPU.

Aside from the evidential response, another obvious difference is that theists believe God’s existence is logically necessary whereas secular myths are contingent. This aspect opens up a whole discussion on the ontological explanation for God’s existence whereas such an explanation wouldn’t even be applicable to the IPU or the Lost Island of Gaunilo of Marmoutiers.

An aspect of great difference between belief in God and belief in myths is that while Christians do believe in God who, on the surface, seems ethereal, that belief is grounded in the reality of Jesus Christ’s ministry. The apostles could produce Jesus on demand. Sagan cannot produce his dragon on demand. No one can produce the IPU on demand. Of course, the Christian skeptic is going to object to the historical veracity of the Bible but, the existence of the historical Jesus of Nazareth is all but universally accepted among historical experts which preempts the objection that the biblical account is false. Even the scholars of the renewed Second Quest for the historical Jesus acknowledge the existence of Jesus and those scholars are about as critical of Christianity as academia gets. Whether or not the historical Jesus was divine (the Christ) is the same issue as the existence of God especially since Jesus claimed to be the very same God in this discussion.

One interesting perspective on this discussion comes from atheist-turned-deist Anthony Flew (who reiterated his sanity several times). He formerly outlined a parable now titled “death by a thousand qualifications”. Basically, it’s similar to Sagan’s dragon scenario where Christians make excuses for why there isn’t more empirical proof of God’s existence. There are several problems with his analogy the first of which is that not all explanations for God’s existence operate on the methodology in his tale. Some work inductively, some work deductively, some work evidentially. Second, what’s wrong with qualification? Is there some limit to the number of times something can be qualified? What about the quality of the qualification? It is true that there is an element of this type of methodology that resembles an endless rhetoric like Zeno’s Achilles and the tortoise paradox but, this process of qualification underscores a problem committed by many non-theists such as Loftus. The qualifications theists usually provide are actually responses to non-theist requests for scientific, empirical proof of something that is neither scientific nor natural. In Sagan’s story, the dragon owner is providing a wonderful illustration of the difficulty in testing something supernatural with the tools of naturalism. Flew’s narrative shows how God’s existence resembles gravity. We don’t see it but, we see it’s effects. We know it’s there even if it seems illusory. Non-theists will point out that Christians make the case that God does intervene via miracles in the natural domain but, there is no known mechanism for testing the miraculous. While they are in the natural domain, they are basically a supernatural intrusion on that domain which leads the investigation back to the aforementioned effect.

In the end, we intuitively know there is something wrong with the analogies of the IPU or FSM to God. Myths like the ones listed by Loftus via Hanson were pretty obviously invented. Even if they had a kernel of truth to them, they usually held some very particular meaning to a particular group of people. On the other hand, people from all over the world have seen various evidences for God. It is possible that influential people have invented the idea or guided people to the idea but, that still doesn’t explain the divine metaphysical reality that people experience on a daily basis. Naturally, the non-theist will say that God is nothing more than a spiritual placebo and that is what constitutes the divine experience just mentioned. There may be some truth to that but, it can’t possibly canvas the evidential interactions, the historical Jesus and the logical/intellectual cases that can also be made.

Monday, August 16, 2010

L 2.10

Loftus says that the Christian moralist and the atheist moralist are on equal grounds, especially in the context of the theistic conception of natural law since it is accessible to everyone. In that sense, the atheist has just as good of a moral insight as the Christian. In Philosophy: Christian Perspectives for the New Millennium, J. Budziszewski cites Judge Richard Posner in asserting that the relativist (in this case, the atheist) believes that morality is local rather than universal. Indeed, Loftus confirms this on p. 41 when he says that morality is relative but differs in that morality can be known by everyone. In response to Posner, Budziszewski accurately points out that "something which is not right for all cannot be known to all". In other words, Posner is not in agreement with Loftus. Ironically, both are acceptable from a non-theistic standpoint. This is a great example of how non-theistic morality is the equivalent of building castles in the air.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

L 2.9

Loftus quotes Louis P. Pojman in saying that "To have the benefits of the moral life-friendship, mutual love, inner peace, moral pride or satisfaction...Character counts". (p. 43)

First, there is no reason why those alleged benefits are inextricably tied to conducting a moral life. Sometimes, acting in a moral manner could result in the exact opposite of those outcomes, even to the detriment of the self. Second, the so called benefits listed are merely coincidental outcomes. The main reason for acting in a moral manner is not to receive those benefits but, because acting morally is right in and of itself regardless of any consequent gains. Otherwise, it’s not even morality. It’s a behavior based on reciprocation. It could even be a sort of ultimatum which would not fall under the definition of morality.

This kind of thinking underscores the problems of attempting to invent an ethic without a true foundation. Whose character counts? People face adversity in differing ways. People will invariably have different opinions on the degree to which character counts when faced with conflicting perspectives. If morality is benefit based, who gets to decide which benefits take precedent? These are the kinds of moral questions facing a non-theist.

These problems aren’t even the worst of the situation for the non-theist. Ravi Zacharias notes that "Indeed, when atheism has worked its way into violence and sensuality, it was the logical outworking of many tenets of the atheistic worldview, which offer no foundation for human dignity or human rights." (p. 24) So, not only is non-theist ethic unable to guarantee consistent morally good results, it can even be used to sanction human rights violations. The despot’s violence against the few is justified for what he sees as the greater good that so many secularists clamor for.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

L 2.8

Loftus feels like Christian morality has a flaw in that "a Christian...always has an excuse for doing...wrong...he'll [God] forgive me". (p. 43)

Apparently, Loftus hasn’t read the book of Romans. Any reading of that book should be sufficient to show that the Christian ethic does not work on that basis. Again, there certainly are people who are guilty of the kind of thinking Loftus cites but, it is contrary to the outworking of Christian thinking.

Friday, August 13, 2010

L 2.7

According to Loftus, Christianity is "The carrot-and-stick method of morality". (p. 43) One aspect of what Loftus is saying is that Christians are merely trying to avoid hell. There certainly are Christians who are guilty of this but, this is not a logical outworking of Christian beliefs. The person who needs spiritual fire insurance is overlooking other dynamics that are important most notably, joy that comes from the ultimate hope.

It could be said that Loftus is saying that Christians don’t really experience morality but, are blindly led by a process that doesn’t really evoke genuine moral sensibility. The non-theist has to discover an ethic for themselves and what they arrive at has been a process of true moral discovery derived from intellectual introspection and dialogue with nature. Unfortunately, people’s experiences are so different, wildly so in some cases, and people’s opinions change over time such that defining an ethic becomes an exercise in futility. There are many different secular and humanist ethics so, instead of being able to see land and swim to it, groups of people are forced to tread water closely together in a sea of confusion pretending that their group is on solid ground. What’s worse is that the currents will sometimes take a person from one group to another so it’s difficult to even define the boundaries of the groups.

Christianity really isn’t like a carrot and stick mentality. Using his analogy, it’s really more like the person in question ate the carrot and has carrot truth inside of them. That sustenance then propels the true disciple of Christ to perform acts of carrot-based moral goodness. Of course, people will not always be able to perfectly adhere to a Christian ethic but, that’s not the point. The point is that the Christian ethic is grounded in a transcendent moral anchor whereas the non-theist ethic is not.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

L 2.6

In response to the question of why we should act in a moral manner towards other people, Loftus asks on p. 42 "What difference does it make anyway whether people are of infinite precious worth?" He trying to show that Christians don’t have a monopoly on morality.

He can answer his own question in the very words he uses. The word infinite assumes a transcendent moral anchor; God. That means we are products of a divine ethic that is greater than anything any group of people can devise. The word precious indicates something that is necessarily worth preserving.

The word infinite isn’t applicable to people in a non-theistic framework but, does have meaning to theists. The word precious is possibly also not applicable to people from a non-theistic perspective. Many non-theists would maintain that humans are no more precious than any other life form on earth, or the earth itself for that matter. This worldview sees an equality among all things. This would certainly be true of pantheists who believe that everything is ultimately one (Advaita or modern Vedanta Hinduism). Consequently, people really aren’t precious to the non-theist in the sense that they are to the Christian. That’s not to say that Christians only think people are precious and everything else is garbage. It’s just that people have a special purpose and relationship with the creator in addition to the preciousness of the rest of creation (Gen 1:31). In light of this, non-theists can’t lay claim to an ethic that is equal to, much less superior to, Christianity. Non-theists aren’t able to escape the moral relativism that is a logical outworking of such a secular worldview. If relativism is the rule, no non-theists are able to justify their version of morality over another view, including Christianity. The strongest option available to non-theism is that any secular ethic may be applicable in a local sense but, certainly is not universal.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

L 2.5

Loftus continues his commentary on ethics by saying that "Michael Martin argues that relativism 'is compatible with complete agreement on all ethical matters’". (pp. 40-41)

This statement seems absurd because moral relativism assumes that different groups of people are going to adhere to their own ethic which means there won’t be complete agreement between them on how to act morally. In fact, the study of moral relativism is the study of the descriptive, normative or meta-ethical variations between cultures. Even if there is a sense in which Martin is right, it would further illustrate how there can be no comprehensive ethic outside of an absolute morality.

Loftus quotes Michael Shermer in that "moral principles, derived from the moral sense, are not absolute, where they apply to all people in all cultures under all circumstances all of the time. Neither are moral principles relative, entirely determined by circumstance, culture and history. Moral principles are provisionally true-that is, they apply to most people in most cultures in most circumstances most of the time." (p. 41)

First, moral principles cannot be derived from the moral sense. In order to make a moral judgment on an action, there must be an appeal to an extreme, otherwise known as an absolute sine qua non exists outside of a transcendent moral anchor. The “moral sense” that Shermer refers to is clearly not a transcendent moral anchor. Second, in his appeal to moral principles, he must necessarily agree that they in fact are ubiquitously applicable. Otherwise, there is no moral prescription. Third, he logically negates his own relativist statement about morals being provisionally true by making an absolute statement. He is saying that the moral provisionism is absolutely true for all. The idea that morals are provisionally true is itself an absolute, ubiquitous ethic which means he really doesn’t see things as provisional anyway. This is the common mantra of the bourgeois postmodernist; “be tolerant of everything except Christianity”. Furthermore, making an absolute statement that is supposedly true for all (relativism is right) requires smuggled-in autocracy. Where did the person making the statement get the authority to apply a ubiquitous ethic? They never say.

In the end, it’s difficult to ascertain what Loftus is advocating. He seems to be pointing to utilitarianism but does he espouse the "act" or "rule" variety? Also, he seems to be advocating a subjective preference utilitarian theory of value but he doesn't specify prescriptive or descriptive rationality.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

L 2.4

Loftus lists "social contract theories, utilitarianism, virtue ethics, Kantianism, and John Rawls's theory of justice" as examples of how lofty secular ethics can be. He is attempting to show that Christians don’t have exclusive access to moral insight and the secular case isn’t built on an invisible sky-daddy but, hard facts. In reality, he is merely outlining how muddled secular views of morality can be because there is no standard by which to make value judgments. Of course the non-Christian will object by pointing to the commonalities shared by people whether evidential or biological but, we know that this explanation is deficient because not all people value the commonalities in the same way. Furthermore, people use these commonalties to justify conflicting actions.

Monday, August 9, 2010

L 2.3

"The foundations of Christian morality are not superior ones to atheistic morality, based upon Christian presumptions". (p. 40) Loftus appeals to the "common sense of morality" which has also been expressed as common standards of social decency as a superior alternative to morals based on Christian beliefs.

Loftus begins to outline his case by comparing the two ethics. Basically, he is comparing Christian ethics to nothing. There are no such things as “atheistic morality”, “common sense of morality” or common standards of social decency. No atheists are going to be able to consistently define mores into a ubiquitous ethic. It’s more accurate to say there are “atheistic moralities” which necessitates that he single out which one he is using as a comparison. That would end up being a pointless exercise anyway because no atheist ethic has any sway over any others. Since humanism is grounded in human needs and all people have different needs, this is a wellspring for conflict as opposed to conflict resolution. Confirmation of this phenomenon is in the history of political socialism. There are quite a few different varieties and each has been described as an outworking of secular ethics. Socialists have disagreed with each other on how to implement socialism based on their ethical preference.

In Christianity, Enlightenment liberalism, and the Quest for Freedom, Kenneth Grasso makes the accurate observation that what Enlightenment liberalism took from Christianity was the centuries-old foundational ideology of freedom based on the worth of the individual. What the secular philosophers did not retain from Christianity was the source of that value; man’s relationship with the sovereign creator. Affirming Spinoza’s quote “nature abhors a vacuum”, after man excommunicated and banished God from authority, man filled the void with himself. It is from this zeitgeist that we see the outworking of each man inventing his own path. Consequently, it should be neither surprising nor controversial that there would be little to no consensus on what path to take. Thus, any appeal to a secular standard of human conduct amounts to little more than aether.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

L 2.2

In a commentary on ethics, Loftus critiques divine command theory and modified divine command theory. He objects to the idea that we should consider God's commands as good. He says on p. 38 that "this makes God commands arbitrary because there is no reason why God commanded something other than the fact that he did". He cites the Euthyphro dilemma as an example of this conundrum.

What is completely ironic about the initial salvo from Loftus is that he doesn’t even acknowledge that humans would not even know what good was without a transcendent moral anchor. When he criticizes Christian morality as based on God’s commands, he might as well be Don Quixote tilting at windmills all in the name of an invented, artificial righteousness.

There have been many attempts to show that the God of the Bible has committed immoral actions and therefore, Christianity is built on a spurious ethic. Usually, these charges are trumped up from a misunderstanding of the passage or taking the passage out of context.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

L 2.1

Loftus refers to William Lane Craig when he says “Craig says that ‘if God doesn’t exist, everything is permissible’. If he is correct, we should see billions of non-Christians acting consistently according to this logic. There should be great mayhem in this world..In other words, why don’t non-Christians act consistently? No one says to herself, ‘this is the reasonable or logical thing to do but I refuse to do it,’ unless she is mentally challenged. Do theists like Craig want to claim that nearly all non-Christians are mentally challenged…that the overwhelming majority of us don’t live consistent lives with what we believe? The evidence is overwhelmingly against his claim.” (pp. 37-38.)

Wherever there is non-theism, there is great mayhem. The USSR under Stalin and communist China are good examples of this. The human rights violations in those two examples would require multiple supercomputers to calculate. So, we actually do see those people acting consistently according to Craig’s logic. However, that is not what Craig argued. Craig accurately pointed out that under atheism, everything is permissible. This means that the human rights violations committed by people like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot are justified logical outworkings of secular, non-theistic rationale. Even though some people unnecessarily do, there is no reason why people should restrict themselves to ethical action in a non-theist paradigm. The despot is equally justified in despotic actions as the philanthropist is in philanthropic giving because there is no absolute, transcendent moral anchor from which value judgments can be made.

Friday, August 6, 2010

L 1.10

In one sense, Loftus makes a reasonable plea that “I know that some Christians who refuse to deal with the arguments later on in this book will use the personal information I’ve just shared to attack my character”. (p.31)

This is a very interesting preemptive move to block attempts at tying his motivations to his intellectual reasons for rejecting Christianity. Yet, he goes to great lengths to chide Christians for accepting Christian explanations or rejecting non-Christian reasoning because of a preexisting supernatural bias. In essence, he’s hypocritically saying that it’s ok for him to have an anti-supernatural bias and his arguments remain reasonable whereas the Christian has a delusion and their reasoning is not acceptable substantiation for that worldview. This is a blatant double standard.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

L 1.9

Loftus continues asking broad questions in the first chapter. “Why did it take god so long to create the stuff of the universe, which is less valuable and presumably less complex to create, than it did to create the most valuable and highly complex creatures to inhabit the earth?” (p.27)

First, why does it matter? As creator, God is justified either way and we are affected none.

Second, it is a technicality that what Loftus is saying is somewhat mistaken in that the "stuff" he refers to (stars, planets, etc) is constantly in a process of change. God created what we observe but, it hasn't always looked the way it appears now. Essentially, everything is a result of the primordial stuff that God created the universe with. Even the most fundamental, literal reading of the Bible agrees in that man was created from the dust of the Earth. It isn't so much that God created the stuff as it now appears. The question really becomes why God allowed the universe to unfold and progress the way that it has.

What Loftus is saying is that since non-human objects existed for so long prior to our appearance, people don't seem to be all that special even though the Bible says we are God's special creation. We merely appear to be part of the machine. This begs the question of why creation has to unfold differently for us to be special. Why is any other way more indicative of people being special than what we currently know? Loftus doesn't say. This seems to be an attempt to show that creationism is untenable. Since humans are so much more complex than the inanimate matter of the universe, humans should be much “older” relative to the age of the universe. What Loftus can’t say is how long humans will be around. It is possible that humans will eventually occupy a place in the universe for the vast majority of it’s lifespan thus eventually agreeing with his observation. Since this isn’t the case as of right now, Loftus is probably making the case that the reason why the ratio is what we observe is because people are the product of blind, natural forces as opposed to being divinely created. If this is the case, Loftus has omitted that there are some Christians who are theistic evolutionists or progressive creationists who don’t have a problem with scientific observations of the universe, especially in regards to human origins.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

L 1.8

In a hint of criticisms that will appear throughout the book, Loftus points out that “In Genesis chapter 1 we see that the Earth existed before the sun, moon and stars, which…doesn’t square with astronomy”. (p. 26)

This objection assumes that the creation account starts at the Big Bang and is from an omniscient perspective. Actually, the account seems to be written from an earthly perspective. The account picks up at the formation of the Earth and is recorded as if a terrestrial observer were present. In that regard, it does not contradict science at all. Loftus returns to the creation account again in later chapters.

The objection underscores that it is important to keep an open mind when reading the Bible. Many people remain unwilling to entertain different perspectives. When this is the case, objections like this one will result.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

L 1.7

On p. 33, Loftus quotes an internet comment made about the Bible. “We opened the Bible and, instead of finding wisdom, we found violence and the justification of immoral acts. We found anti-intellectualism and backward thinking. We found oppression. We realized the fountain wasn’t a being; it was a religion”.

These statements cherry-pick certain alleged difficulties in the Bible and fail to acknowledge many other places in the Bible where there actually is wisdom, peace and morality. The importance of this response is establishing context. If there seems to be a conflict between the two (peaceful passages and apparently non-peaceful passages), then it's most likely that there is a good explanation for the passages that Loftus is referring to. There are events recorded in the Bible where people acted in a less than moral manner. Being able to prove that the Bible condones such activity is a different matter altogether than just citing the passages, especially when the rest of the Bible clearly doesn't condone violence, immorality or oppression (Proverbs 6:16-19). Most any commentary will be able to provide an obvious explanation for the kinds of passages in the objection.

There have been countless intelligent Christians who don’t find that the Bible is backward in general in it’s teachings. The problem with Loftus' statement is that he doesn't enumerate what he is comparing the Bible to in order to make the judgment that the Bible is backwards. Using smuggled in authority, he's not subjecting his own beliefs to the same test with these comments. He does state some of his beliefs throughout the book and they will be addressed in this forum.

Last, the person who finds anti-intellectualism in the Bible is apparently unfamiliar with the dictates found in 2 Peter 1:5 “make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge.” This is an explicit instruction for followers of Christ to be educated and knowledgeable as opposed to anti-intellectual or backwards.

Monday, August 2, 2010

L 1.6

On p. 31, Loftus claims that “Christians are in denial and live with guilt because they cannot be honest about themselves outside of the private counseling room.” He reiterates on p. 32 by saying “I just don't think anyone can live a passionate guilt-free Christian life.” He states that, as a Christian, he lived in constant guilt. The implication is that the nature of Christianity leads to a lifestyle that is very undesirable in that people are made to feel guilty when they can’t live up to the seemingly capricious and historically random dictates of Christianity.

Throughout the first chapter, Loftus recounts several disputes and faults which led to the aforementioned guilt. Yet, Loftus doesn’t balance these episodes with any mention of joy. Joy is one of the most common words in the Bible. Disciples of Christ are not meant to feel constant guilt like he says he did. If joy is to be a ubiquitous and continual emotion for the Christian, then Loftus had something in his walk with God that wasn’t optimal. Aside from Genesis 1:31 where God calls creation good, the Bible is replete with passages about how we are to enjoy this life, even with the trials we face because the pain we experience is temporary. Followers of Christ have an ultimate hope and this is the be the overriding factor of life.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

L 1.5

In a very typical objection to Christianity, Loftus states on p. 30, “I often ask myself why Christians don’t seem to act any better than others when they alone claim to have the power, wisdom, and guidance of God right there within them. Apparently, the Holy Spirit didn’t properly do his job here”. This is essentially a restatement of a Voltaire quote “If Christians want us to believe in a Redeemer, let them act redeemed”.

What this objection overlooks is the fact that disciples of Christ are admitted sinners. In fact, it’s a requisite for becoming a disciple of Christ that sin be acknowledged. While it is cliché, there is a bumper sticker that very accurately sums up this dynamic; “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven”.

The flaws of Christians do nothing to diminish the truth of Christianity. The truth of Christianity is no more injured by the flaws of it’s adherents than atheism was exemplified in the actions of Madalyn Murray O'Hair. Atheists are quick to distance themselves and their beliefs from her deeds but, can’t realize the double standard they commit when they indict Christianity of being false when Christians fall short of Jesus’ ministry. Christians act contrary to their beliefs frequently but, because Christianity is not a works-based religion, this is actually standard operating procedure.

It has been said that the previous response is flawed because Christianity in essence claims to have the winning chess strategy yet, Christians continually lose chess matches. This is a reference to Christians acting in an immoral manner. Therefore, the strategy, Christianity, isn’t desirable. The objection overlooks the fact that for 2,000 years, the good acts done by Christians far outweigh the bad. Millions of Christians worldwide frequently perform acts of love and service for absolutely no recognition. In addition, the virtue of Christianity isn't based on the actions of Christians as stated earlier because Christianity isn’t a works-based religion. Disciples of Christ perpetuate Christ’s ministry because their born-again nature motivates them to do so, not because actions are the inertial force. They act contrary to Jesus’ teachings because they are admittedly imperfect. Neither case diminishes the truth of Christianity.