Tag Archive: John Loftus

Quote of the Day: Why Does Christianity Need So Many Apologists?

indoctrination

The probability that the Bible is God’s word is inversely proportional to the amount of work it takes Christian apologists to defend it from objections to the contrary (that is, the more work its defense requires, the less likely the Bible is God’s word), and it requires way too much work to suppose that it is.

Consider the sheer numbers of Christian apologists/scholars and books that have been published by the following author/editors: C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, Richard Swinburne, Paul Copan, Alvin Plantinga, N.T. Wright, Chad Meister, J.P. Moreland, Gregory Boyd, Gary Habermas, Steven Cowan, Douglas Groothuis, Peter van Inwagen, Randal Rauser, Michael Murray, William Dembski, Richard J. Bauckham, Michael Brown, Dan Wallace, D.A. Carson, G.K. Beale, Craig Blomberg, Craig Evans, Stephen Davis, Donald Guthrie, Ralph Martin, Richard Hess, Dinesh D’Souza, and Timothy Keller to name some of the more noteworthy ones. While some of these authors deal with the same issues most of their material is unique to them, for further defending their faith. If we add in their magazine and journal articles we already have a small library of works. If we were to get and read the references they quote from we have a whole library of works in defense of the Christian faith, a comprehensive case. That’s what a comprehensive apologetic requires. The important question left unaddressed by them, as always, is why a defense requires so many books? Why does Christianity need such a defense at all?

The fact that it takes so much work to defend Christianity is a strong indicator, all by itself, that the Christian God does not exist, or he doesn’t care if we believe.

If God had done a better job of revealing his will, there wouldn’t be much of anything for Christian defenders, or apologists, to do but share the gospel message like evangelists do. But since the God of the Bible was in fact incompetent, Christian apologists are forced to defend their faith against the multitude of objections raised against it. It’s as if God gave Christian defenders permanent job security, while forgetting that there are eternal destinies stake, people who, on some accounts, will suffer conscious torment forever because of it.

When dealing with the problem of divine miscommunication, Christian defense lawyers seek only to get their divine client acquitted no matter what the intellectual or moral cost. Rather than face this evidence that shows their God to be nothing more than the product of ancient people, who didn’t have a clue about civilized matters, these apologists use convoluted legalese to obfuscate and confuse the jury.

Typically they’ll say we couldn’t possibly know what an omniscient God is thinking, so we have no right to judge him and his ways. However, even if this is the case, it changes nothing. Millions of people died because God didn’t correctly reveal the truth. Christians will further object by saying we just don’t know if God did anything to help the people who died, to which the obvious answer is that this is my point. If God did something to help these people, then there is no evidence that he did? Think about it. There isn’t any. This objection is based on faith, not evidence, the very thing reasonable people should reject if they want to honestly know the truth. And if God really wants us to believe in him and believe that he loves us, this is a strange way of going about things. For an omniscient God would have known that later generations of intelligent people would find him to be guilty of not doing what decent people would do if they could, and as a result, disbelieve in him and his love.

The best Christian defense lawyers are liberals who admit there are texts in the Bible that, to a great degree, are reflective of an ancient outlook rather than the rigid literalism of conservative believers. In their view, God’s revelation is progressive, becoming better as humans grope to understand the divine. In other words, theology evolves. Liberals didn’t come by this conclusion easily though. Down through the centuries, they came to it as the realities of life and the results of science forced them to accept it. Yet this view is exactly what we would expect to find if there is no truth to their theology. It’s what we would expect if there is no divine mind behind the Bible or the church. If there is a God, then his so-called progressive revelation is indistinguishable from him not revealing anything at all, and, as such, progressive revelation should be rejected as an unnecessary theological hypothesis unworthy of thinking people.

Furthermore, such a view actually undermines their theology, for it leads to theological relativism, since there was no point in the history of the church when any theologian could say that a final, unchanging theology had been attained. So the theology of yesterday was true for Christians of the past, as the present-day theology is true for others, as the theology of tomorrow will be true for still others. So don’t talk to me about an unchanging theological truth. Don’t talk to me about an absolute standard for theological truth either. It doesn’t exist. Never has. Never will. Liberals therefore cannot state any theological truth that is true for all time. As far as they can know, the end result of revelation could be the death of God, the conclusion that we don’t need God, which would make him effectively dead. As far as liberals can know, atheism may be the future of their theology. The only reason they won’t accept the relativism of their theology is that they perceive a need to believe. They are playing a pretend game much like the people in M. Night Shyamalan’s movie The Village. In my opinion, liberals should just stop pretending.

The bottom line is that the whole notion of progressive revelation is a “heads I win, tails you lose” strategy. If their God had revealed the truth from the beginning, then these Christians would use that as evidence he exists. Because since he didn’t, they have introduced the concept of progressive revelation, which betrays their desire to believe no matter what the intellectual cost. What they’re doing is justifying their God “after the facts,” rather than asking “before the facts” what they would expect of their God if he lovingly communicated to human beings.

— John Lofus, Debunking Christianity, Excerpt from the book, How To Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist, November 27, 2018

Purchase How To Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist by John Loftus.

Quote of the Day: The Outsider Test For Faith

you might be wrong

The Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) is based on the following progression of four steps, precursors of which stem back in time to many thinkers, including Anthony Flew, Robert Ingersoll, David Hume, and even Socrates:

  1. People who are located in distinct geographical areas around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and justify a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their particular upbringing and shared cultural heritage, and most of these faiths are mutually exclusive. This is the Religious Diversity Thesis (RDVT).
  2. The best explanation for (1) is that adopting and justifying one’s religion is not a matter of independent rational judgment. Rather, to an overwhelming degree, one’s religious faith is causally dependent on brain processes, cultural conditions, and irrational thinking patterns. This is the Religious Dependency Thesis (RDPT). From (1) and (2) it follows that:
  3. It is highly likely that any given religious faith is false and quite possible that they all could be false. At best there can be only one religious faith that is true. At worst, they all could be false. The sociological facts, along with our brain biology, anthropological (cultural) data, and psychological studies, lead us to this highly likely conclusion.
  4. The only way to rationally test one’s culturally adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider, a nonbeliever, with the same level of reasonable skepticism believers already use when examining the other religious faiths they reject. They expresses the Outsider Test for Faith.

The OTF is based on the same kind of data that cultural relativists use when arguing that, because moral practices and beliefs do in fact vary from culture to culture as well as at different times in history, morality is not the result of independent rational judgment but rather is causally dependent on cultural conditions. All we have to do is insert the phrase “religious faith” in place of the world word morality, with one caveat. I’m not arguing that all religious faiths are false because of religious diversity or that they are completely dependent on one’s cultural upbringing. I’m merely arguing that believers should be skeptical of their own culturally inherited faith because it is overwhelmingly the case that one’s faith is dependent on one’s cultural upbringing.

….

The Outsider Test for Faith One More Time for Clarity

  • We are all raised believers. As children, we believed whatever our parents told us, all of us.
  • We were raised in our respective families and cultures to believe what our parents told us about religion.
  • Psychological studies have shown that people have a very strong tendency to believe what they prefer to believe. Cognitive bias studies show this.
  • Psychological studies have shown that most of us, most of the time, look for that which confirms what we believe rather than that which disconfirms it, even though the latter is the best way to get at the truth. This is known as confirmation bias.
  • Neurological studies have shown that people have a sense of certainty about the beliefs they have that is unrelated to the strength of the actual evidence, as Robert Burton argues in, On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not.
  • Skepticism is not usually an inherited characteristic. We must acquire the capacity to doubt what we were raised to believe. Skepticism is the adult attitude.
  • When there billions of people who are certain of an inherited faith they all learned in the same manner, who live in separate geographical locations around the globe, who all prefer to believe what they were raised to believe, and who seek to confirm that which they were raised to believe, it should cause them to doubt what they were raised to believe.
  • All believers who are certain of their faith will fallaciously argue that this data allies to atheists, too. If that were the case, then which faith should atheists adopt — all of them? You see, this argument does nothing to solve the problem of religious diversity, since believers still have not come up with a method that can solve their own differences. Atheists are doubters. We are skeptics. Knowing this data causes us to require hard, cold evidence for that which we can accept.
  • Skepticism is a filter that adults use to help sift the wheat of truth from the chaff of falsehood. We cannot doubt that filter! There is no other alternative.
  • The Outsider Test For Faith is the best and only way to get at truth if you want to know the truth. Examine your own faith with the same skepticism you use when examining the other religious faiths you eject. We cannot merely say to people that they should be skeptical without offering a standard of skepticism. . Why? Because if we ask believers who are certain of their faith to test it with doubt then, to a person, they will say they have, and that their faith is sure. But ask them to test their faith with the same level of skepticism they use when examining the other religious faiths they reject, and that will get their attention.

A Few Questions

If anyone disagrees, I have five sets of questions to be answered:

  • Do you or do you not assume other religions shoulder the burden of proof? When you examine Islam, Orthodox Judaism, Hinduism, Scientology, Mormonism, Shintoism, Jainism, Haitian Voodoo, the John Frum Cargo Cult, Satanism, or the many African or Chinese tribal religions, do you think approaching them with faith is the way to test these religions, or would you agree with the OTF that a much fairer method is  by assuming they all have the burden of proof, including your own?
  • Do you or do you not think that a consistent standard invoking fairness is the best way to objectively come to know the correct religious faith, if one is?If not, why the double standard?
  • Do you or do you not think that if Christianity is true, it should be supported by the sciences to the exclusion of other, false religious faiths?
  • Do you or do you not admit that if you reject the OTF, then your God did not make Christianity such that it would lead reasonable people who were born as outsiders to come to believe it, and, as such, they will be condemned to hell by virtue of where they were born? If not, and if outsiders can reasonably come to believe, then why is it that you think the OTF is faulty or unfair?
  • Do you or do you not have a better method for us to reasonably settle which religious faith is true, if one is? If so, what is it?

Let the Debates Begin

If religious believers accept the OTF and claim their  faith passes the test, then at that point we have an agreed-upon standard for debating the merits of faith. If the test does nothing else, that is a good thing.

Let the debates begin.

How to Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist by John W. Loftus, How to Know Which Religion to Defend, pages 106-108 and 114-117

Purchase the books mentioned in this quote:

How to Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist by John W. Loftus

On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not by Robert Burton

Other books by John W. Loftus

 The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True

Christianity in the Light of Science: Critically Examining the World’s Largest Religion

Christianity is not Great: How Faith Fails

The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails

The End of Christianity

 

 

Help! I am a Believer, but my Husband is Not

good question

Recently, a new reader sent me several questions she would like me to answer. Her questions and my answers follow.

How do you help a loved one even if you still believe? I am okay with my husband not believing in Christianity, and I want to be supportive, even though I remain a believer. I still love him and don’t want anyone shoving religion down his throat.

This is an interesting question. I think this is the first time a believer has written me to ask how best to help his or her unbelieving spouse, Usually I get emails from unbelievers who need help as they try to live with spouses who are still believers.

The first thing you need to do is make sure that you are really are okay with your husband’s unbelief. You say that you love him, and I am sure that you do, But, do you love him enough to grant him intellectual and psychological freedom? You don’t mention the sect that you are a part of, but if you are part of a Christian group that believes in eternal punishment and hell, you must be honest with yourself about whether you are really okay with your husband dying without becoming a Christian and going to hell.

Each of us should grant our significant other, along with family and friends, the freedom to walk their own path, even if doing so results in those we love end up far from where we are, Sadly, many unbelievers aren’t granted this freedom, and their spouses subtly attempt to evangelize them or coerce them into attending church. I know countless unbelievers who attend church every Sunday because it keeps peace in their families. These unbelievers suffer silently because of the love they have for their spouses, children, and extended family, While doing this is laudable, it does force them to surrender their intellectual integrity for the sake of others. Many unbelievers can’t do this, and often their marriages do not survive.

I encourage you to let your husband know that you really do want him to be happy. Make sure he understands that you want him to be intellectually honest and true to self. Of course, your husband should desire the same for you.

How do I deal with uber-religious family members and friends? How do I protect him from those who will try to force him to reconvert against his wishes?

First, your husband must be willing to stand his own  ground. You mentioned in your email that your husband is “a real people pleaser.”  Predatory Christians love to target people who are not assertive. These evangelizers will likely view your husband’s easy demeanor and politeness as openness to their preaching. Either your husband must avoid those who see him as a prospect for heaven or he must develop the necessary intellectual skills that can be used to combat their evangelizing efforts.

Second, You could tell family members that you don’t want them trying to convert your husband, that you are fine with his unbelief. Those who refuse to do as you ask are bullies. Personally, I would cut such bullies out of my life. Life is too short to allow religious zealots to treat family members as people in need of fixing. Those who value their beliefs more than having a personal, loving relationship with you and your husband are people not worth having in your life. Religion is by design divisive. All religious sects believe they have the truth. When a group believes they are the depository of truth, this necessarily means that they view others as inferior or in need of “correction.”

It is crucial that you and your husband have an open, no-subjects-off-limits discussion about his lack of belief, your belief, how best to live life in a way that grants both of you intellectual and emotional integrity, and how best to deal with evangelizing family members who don’t respect either you or your husband. Remember, if they respected you they wouldn’t continue to preach, witness, and evangelize. Sadly, many Christians believe that obeying what the Bible says or what they think God has told them is more important than respecting the personal space of others.

How can I get some good information about the truth behind Christianity from the atheist perspective?

Here are a few books that I would recommend for you to read:

In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families by Dale McGowan

Atheism For Dummies by Dale McGowan

The Evolution of God by Robert Wright

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer by Bart D. Ehrman

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman

Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails by John W. Loftus

The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails by John W. Loftus

The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True by John W. Loftus

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens

I encourage you and your husband to read these books together and then discuss them. And when I say “discuss” I mean have open, thoughtful, calm discussions. The goal is not winning an intellectual battle or converting the each other to a different viewpoint. Both of you must  come to terms with what you have learned. When confronted with new facts/data/evidence/information, it is important to honestly and openly wrestle with what you have learned. Sadly, many people, when confronted with new knowledge, try to make it fit previously held beliefs or they ignore it hoping that the problem is just a lack of understanding. Many religious people are taught to never question or doubt. When confronted with contradictory or conflicting facts, such people dismiss them and run to the house of faith. DON’T do this. Be intellectually open and honest, doing business with each new bit of knowledge as it is presented.

Doing what I have prescribed here can be dangerous and disconcerting for believers. In your case, as the believer, you have a lot more to lose than does your husband. What will you do if, after reading these books, you conclude that your religious beliefs are false? Are you willing to join hands with your husband in unbelief? Perhaps your beliefs will survive. I know a few believers who have read some of the books mentioned above, yet they still believe. All of them would say that reading these books radically changed how they view Christianity and unbelievers. All of them left Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Conservative sects, seeking out inclusive sects that don’t neatly divide the world into two groups: saved and lost. Are you willing, based on what you have learned, to seek out a more friendly, inclusive expression of faith? Unitarian Universalists, for example, would gladly welcome both you and your husband into their churches.

I hope my answers to your questions are helpful. If I can be of further help, please let me know. I hope you will continue to read my blog. I think you will find that many of the readers of this blog understand your struggles, having once walked similar paths.

Non-Christians Can’t Understand the Bible but They Should Read it Anyway

natural man doesnt understand the things of god

Evangelical number one says to an unbeliever, you need to read the Bible. Within its pages you will find the good news of the gospel. Through this message you will find the forgiveness of sins and life eternal — that is, if God decrees it to be so and you haven’t committed the unpardonable sin.

Evangelical number two says to an unbeliever, the natural (non-Christian) people cannot understand the things of God (the Bible) because they are spiritually discerned. Since non-Christians are dead in trespasses and sins and the Holy Spirit does not live inside them, they cannot understand the Bible. Unless God gives non-Christians ears to hear and eyes to see, they are unable to discern and comprehend the only supernatural book ever written, the Bible.

Confused? How about I let Leslie, a Fundamentalist Christian blogger, explain this to all of us unregenerate, unsaved enemies of God:

Have you ever tried to talk to someone about the Gospel, just to have them declare that the Bible is simply another book? Where do you go with this?
….
But the question (and answer) that impacted me most was this one: What do you do when an unbeliever says the Bible is just like any other book and full of errors and contradictions?

This does seem to be a very relevant question in this day and age, does it not? The authority of scripture has been so undermined that few people believe the Bible to be the very Word of God anymore.

Dr. John) MacArthur gave a two-part answer to this question that I found incredibly encouraging. I am conveying his general thoughts (not his word for word answer) and then sharing some of my thoughts about what he said.

First, we need to stop expecting them to believe the Bible is the Word of God. Of course, they don’t. And Scripture tells us that they can’t until God unveils their eyes and shines His light on their hearts.

You may be thinking– Wait! You mean it’s not up to us to shine the light on to their hearts?

We can present it. We can share it. We can try to persuade them. But only God can give the light of His knowledge to a searching heart.
….
Unbelievers can’t understand until God opens their eyes. It’s impossible.

Secondly, if someone is challenging us about the Bible, he suggested that we ask them one simple question: Have you read the Bible?

If they say no, then suggest to them that this is a very strong statement to make about a book they’ve never read. If they decide to do their own study at that point, then let the Bible speak for itself.

Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

Hebrews 4:12  confirms this: For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The Bible will speak for itself to the unregenerate, seeking heart. God may use us to help someone to find salvation but He doesn’t need us.

According to Leslie, non-Christians cannot understand the Bible. No matter how much they read it, unless God gives them understanding, its meaning will remain beyond their ability to understand. Yet, Leslie gives a completely different answer (to be fair she is parroting Fundamentalist John MacArthur) when saying how Christians should handle non-Christians who say the Bible is filled with contradictions. Have you read the Bible?, she suggests saying to atheists and unbelievers. Leslie assumes most non-Christians haven’t read the Bible, not knowing that many unbelievers know the Bible quite well and have likely read and studied it more than most Evangelicals. That doesn’t matter of course. Why? Remember, non-Christians have no capacity to understand the Bible. But wait, didn’t Leslie say they should read it? Now you are catching on….around and around the mulberry bush we go.

What Leslie, John MacArthur and a cast of millions believe is that to understand the Bible non-Christians need some sort of Gnostic superpower. Without this supernatural ability to see and understand what the words of the Bible mean, it becomes just another book gathering dust on the bookshelf. So what about people such as myself, Robert M. Price, Dan Barker, John Loftus, and Bart Ehrman? All of us spent years reading and studying the Bible, allowing God to teach us the “real” meanings of its words. Yet, now that we no longer believe, does this mean that POOF! – all our knowledge has disappeared? I wonder if Evangelicals understand how ludicrous and silly it sounds when they suggest that non-Christians can’t understand the Bible. The Bible — truth be told — is not that complicated. Having read it from cover to cover numerous times, I know what it says. After studying it for thousands of hours and preaching almost 5,000 sermons, I think I can safely say I know the Bible. I think I am more than ready to test out of this class and move on to hard books such as George R.R. Martin’s Games of Thrones.

Leslie quotes Hebrews 4:12:

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Based on this verse, Leslie concludes that the Bible has some sort of magic power, a living book that is able to divine human thought and intent. I wonder, is this just for Christians? I just went to the bookshelf and retrieved my trusty Cambridge, leather-bound King James Version of the Holy Bible. After removing several inches of dust, I held my Bible on  the side of my head and waited for it speak. Tell me, oh Bible, what am I thinking? What are my intentions? I waited and waited, yet nothing happened. Hmm…I wonder, am I doing it wrong? Then it dawned on me…Leslie is misinterpreting the Bible. Up from the recesses of my sin-addled mind came the memory of how this verse is often misinterpreted by Evangelical parishioners and pastors alike.

Hebrews 4:13 says (remember context, context, context):

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

You see, the word of God is a HE, a HE that sees all things. This word of God is not the Bible, it is likely JESUS (see John 1). It is Jesus (or the Holy Spirit) who discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart. The Bible? It is a book, no different from any other book. Written by numerous men — many of them unknown — over hundreds of years, the Bible is a compilation of religious and historical writings. It is not, in any way, some sort of magical book that contains messages that can only be unlocked by those who have the special Evangelical decoder ring. Containing 66 books, the Bible is littered with contradictions and internal inconsistencies. All the Evangelical parlor tricks in the world can’t harmonize its message. Numerous Gods, numerous salvation plans, and numerous contradictory interpretations await those who dare to read its pages. Evangelicals such as Leslie will deny what I have written, oblivious to the true nature of the Biblical text. Filled with faith, God’s chosen ones thumb their noses at academics who dare suggest that the Bible is not what Evangelicals claim it is. In the aforementioned quote, Leslie told her readers to ask those who say the Bible has contradictions if they have ever read it. Yes, Leslie, we have. Perhaps the real question is whether Leslie has read any books by authors such as Bart Ehrman, Robert M. Price, or John Loftus. These men were all, at one time, Evangelicals. Now they are atheists. I wonder if Leslie has studied the history of Christianity or how the Bible came to be? My money is on Leslie — if she has done any study at all — not having read any books by authors outside of the narrow Fundamentalist constraints of the Evangelical box.

Often, when Evangelicals say they have studied these issues, what they really mean is that they have read apologetical or historical books written by Evangelical authors. Warned of the dangers that await those who read authors such as Bart Ehrman, Evangelicals only read books that are on the Approved Authors list. And here’s what many non-Christians don’t know. Most Evangelicals NEVER read theologically oriented books. In fact, most of them rarely read the Bible. How then do Evangelicals come to know what they believe? Simple. Every Sunday at 11:00 AM they report to Bible Knowledge Class 101, also known as Sunday Morning worship. While Evangelicals are encouraged to bring their Bibles to church so they can follow along as their pastors teach them the Bible, once the service is over, these Bibles will be returned to storage, only to retrieved the following Sunday. When Evangelicals are asked about what THEY believe, most often what they reply with is what their pastor believes. He is the arbiter and purveyor of what is true. And like lambs to the slaughter, church members follow along.  Yet, according to Leslie, these illiterate Evangelicals know more about the Bible than Evangelicals-turned-atheists who spent a lifetime parsing the Greek and divining every word of its text. Only in the Christian church does this kind of thinking exist. Imagine someone saying that only a person who lived at Hogwarts could “really” understand the Harry Potter books. Why, non-Hogwarts living Potterite readers would laugh at such a thought. As with all literature, anyone willing to read and study the Bible can understand its teachings.