Monday, October 05, 2009

Site for Loftus' forthcoming book

That tireless self-promoter, John W. Loftus, has a site for his upcoming book, The Christian Delusion. (OK, I'm not known for originality in my titles, though I did raid the enemy, not my own side).


John W. Loftus said...

The heart of my critique isn't with the philosophical arguments for the existence of God. Even most believers think those type of arguments are inconclusive (although I know you don't). No, I have a more fundamental critique of Christianity, as you know. I aim at the cultural source of why people believe in the first place, as well as the source of these beliefs found in the Bible. I claim the sources of your faith are unreliable. Philosophers down through the centuries have shown that they can defend these beliefs with reason (at least partially and in their own minds). But they still must show that these beliefs come from reliable sources. About that we'll disagree, but that's my critique, self-promoter or not.

unkle e said...

John, I see no point in engaging in a debate with you, but I would be interested for you to explain, please, what you mean by this:

"But they still must show that these beliefs come from reliable sources. "

I presume you mean "if we want to convince you we still must show ...", but you may be saying that we are under some other compulsion to explain.

But either way, I don't understand what you are getting at. Thanks.

John W. Loftus said...

Unkle e, jst ask yourself why you believed initially, that's what I mean. One guy sent me what he considered a new cosmological argument, which was stated really well. I asked him if this argument is why he initially believed. Because it can't be. Why? He believed before he read that argument. That argument only confirmed what he believed. Believers can confirm what they believe quite easily. Just ask Vic about the Calvinists who can confirm what they believe quite easily (and obnoxiously). We all have this strong tendency to confirm what we believe. I want to ask why people choose to believe what they do in the first place. My claim is that the reason it is so hard to argue Christians out of their beliefs is because they were never argued into them in the first place. We literally swim in a Christian culture. And I can look at the origins of our Christian culture stemming back to the Bible and show that the Bible is unreliable. That's what I mean.

Jeremy said...

So what you're saying is that a belief system resonates with someone more from constant exposure rather than any inherent truth?

Blue Devil Knight said...

The self-promotor comment is odd. He doesn't come off as particularly self-promoting. Having a book for a web site is just typical book publicity, pretty much necessary these days. I will be curious to see if there are data about onset of religious beliefs in childhood, a kind of Piaget of religious belief.

Jeremy said...

Read James Fowler's "Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian". He states from the beginning that he's a Christian and much of the book is from that perspective, but it's based on his APA-recognized (and awarded) study on faith development from infancy on draws heavily from Piaget, Kohlberg and Erikson.

John W. Loftus said...

Jeremy, I do think we can convince ourselves to believe in most anything. Two examples in my own life illustrate this. As a teen I found an interesting book by Frank Edwards on UFO’s. I read it and then several like it. So I became convinced there were UFO’s because what a person reads or experiences shapes what he thinks. Later, having graduated from Great Lakes Christian College, I was a conservative in every respect. But I had not yet studied the Biblical feminist arguments. A graduate from Emmanuel School of Religion presented the case and recommended some books which convinced me of that position even though I was a conservative in every other area. It was because of his influence and the books I first read on the topic that convinced me of that non-conservative position which was inconsistent with everything else I believed.

J said...

I don't generally disagree with Mr. Loftus on xtianity, but at times he and his cronies may be guilty of bashing only xtians, and not including other monotheistic absurdities (ie jews and mooslims).

One notes that on many neo-atheist sites: it's easy enough to do a South Park schtick, show the virgin mary topless, or put preachers in clown suits or overalls ,etc but many neo-atheists rarely treat jewish or muslim symbols with the same disregard.

So let's see your humiliation of the Prophet or jewish zealots, Herr Loftus.

a helmet said...


That's a very accurate obervation. Atheism is by far mostly devoted to critiquing christianity. Jews and especially Allahists are touched with velvet gloves.

-a helmet

Victor Reppert said...

I do think Loftus likes to promote himself, so I'm giving him his plug and needling him a little.

Not that there's anything wrong with being a tireless self-promoter.

I do think that sources like Acts have more archaeological support than you would expect if it were all a bunch of hooey.

Blue Devil Knight said...

That's a strange thing to say as a criticism of Loftus. If he was once a Muslim apologist, then that might be a relevant comment.

Steven said...

It seems to me that Nietzsche once said that the philosopher's didn't argue to the conclusions they believed; they believed them first and argued later.

Is this your criticism of Christianity? If so, who cares?

John W. Loftus said...

Steven, we do this all of the time, all of us, although we don't always do this. The problem is in knowing when we do and when we don't, which should cause us all to pause before we can claim we know the truth. Skepticism therefore, is the most reasonable position to take on religion. This is about as non-objectionable and non-controversial as we can get from what we know about psychology.

Steven said...

Ok. I'm not sure what it is you're saying--the proper response to the fact that some Christian believers do not believe on the basis of any evidence whatsoever is skepticism with regard to religion? How does that follow, precisely?

Are you saying that that fact suggests something strange about the traditional rational sources of theistic and Christian belief (like, say, arguments for the existence of God or the resurrection of Jesus)? That they may be unreliable?

I'm not sure on what you're getting at.

It seems to me that belief not on the basis of any evidence or arguments at all is what you would expect if Christianity is true. Some people just feel the conviction of their sins and respond in faith, helped (or caused) by God to do so. I'm not sure how that fact is problematic.

John W. Loftus said...

Steven you don't understand, sorry. I don't have the time right now. But for a first look at the cover and description of this new book click here.

Steven said...

Thanks for linking me although VR already did it anyway, you don't have to promote it to me. Yes, I went to the website, and I read your introductory essay where you speak about the scope of the work and so on. I don't care about any of that. I am asking about the nature of your comments, in particular in response to unkle e, regarding some person who believes something to be true prior to knowing of any arguments for that position at all. I want to know why this is even a problem. It doesn't matter to me at all if this isn't the topic of your book or if it is--my question is why is that problematic?

You said you don't have any time right now; that's fine, I can wait.

unkle e said...

"We all have this strong tendency to confirm what we believe. I want to ask why people choose to believe what they do in the first place. My claim is that the reason it is so hard to argue Christians out of their beliefs is because they were never argued into them in the first place."

Thanks John for this explanation. I think what you say is generally true - and true for unbelievers as much as it is true of believers. I understand also your point that if people "swim" in a christian culture (as occurs in many parts of the US) then they will then be predisposed towards unthinking christianity. But I think we can also say:

(1) Here in Australia, as well as in most other parts of the world, we do not swim in a christian culture and yet there are still christians. China has a very anti-christian culture yet has perhaps the greatest growth of christianity of anywhere in the world.

(2) Atheists swim in their culture, e.g. on internet forums and blogs, to maintain their unbelief. We all do it to some degree.

(3) This is how we grow and mature. I learned to be thoughtful to others, to not stick scissors in electric power outlets, not cross roads without looking and to tell the truth, gradually, without ever having those things proved to me (or at least, not until much later). Yet they are all still true. Likewise I learned other things from my parents which I tested and decided were not true for me, and I discarded them.

(4) So in the end, it isn't the psychological reasons for my belief which are important, but whether that process of growth has led me to logical beliefs, or not. We would disagree about my conclusions, but the important point is they are logical to me.

So I don't think I see any force at all in those objections. But of course, if I am suffering from a christian delusion, how could I? And equally if you are suffering from an atheist delusion, you can only see things your way.

I think it all demonstrates that there is more than just logic and evidence, just as you say, but that there is more than the psychological conditioning that you are arguing also. I suggest there is also attitude, something we all can choose. And I suggest God planned it that way so that neither the educated and intelligent (on the one hand) or the psychologically undeluded (on the other) have an advantage.

Thanks for explaining that to me.

John W. Loftus said...

Unkle e, I can only comment briefly. Keep in mind that the choices in front of us are emphatically NOT between your particular situated cultural form of Christianity and atheism. The choices are Legion. This fact makes agnosticism the default position. We should all be agnostics. Anyone, and I mean anyone including myself, who leaves the default positon and affirms an answer, any answer, has the burden of proof. The denial is the easy part. We deny the beliefs of nearly everyone else, sometimes without even considering them. The hard part is in affirming the correct set of beliefs. I am an atheist due to the process of elimination. One supernatural entity, being, or force after another was rejected by me leaving the only reasonable answer to be atheism.

This discussion is never ending. If I had the time I could defend it, but since I don't others will claim victory because they will have the last word. Christians outnumber atheists so they always have the last word. No wonder Christian apologists can say our arguments have been demolished a long time ago. With the publication of every atheist book along comes several Christian books that seem to answer them. But I digress, and I must go.

J said...

No, BDK, you missed the point as usual. I said Loftus AND many in the neo-atheist movement tend to focus on what they perceive as the problems of christian monotheism (at times, correctly), and don't generally take on judaism and islam.

It's easy enough to poke fun at hick preachers (and there are grounds to do so), or teary-eyed catholics, but you don't see the neo-A's humiliating jewish symbols or leaders, or much of Islam. Equal opportunity humiliation should be the rule.

Jeremy said...

J, on that point: Think of it like the prevalence of viruses for Windows and the lack for Macintosh. It's not necessarily that Mac is more secure or even unimportant, but rather that Windows is top dog, prevalent, and highly unpopular amongst those that don't use it (whether deserved or not). A coder gets the biggest audience with a windows virus.

For Western Atheists (which I'm not), their audience will be primarily Christian or familiar with it, so it makes total sense that Christianity would be the biggest target. It's what they understand (at least vaguely), and will resonate much more.

And to be completely fair, if you really want an attack on Islam or Buddhism, you don't need an athiest, as plenty of Christian authors have already taken a crack at it.

J said...

Yes, I'm aware of that. Out in the heartland the fundies control things. I don't think protestant christianity is the de facto religion of many US urban areas, or even 'burbs; catholics are nearly as powerful. And living around LA during rosh-hosannah (sp.?) and Ramadan seasons one would be hard-pressed to say SoCal is a christian region.

Jeremy said...

I don't think you're understanding what I'm saying completely. It seems to me that you're still looking at it through the lens of a believer that sees "trouble spots" in various parts of the country.

You might be somewhat thrown off by the displays during other religions' holidays in LA, but lmost everyone in that festival will have contact with Christians (some might even be at the festival passing out tracts/protesting/hanging out) or church or exposure to the Bible (even if it's very little).

Go stand somewhere where Christianity isn't. Until then, it's hard to see just how much Christianity is around us and throughout our culture until you have.

Jeremy said...

Oh, and that said, while I think culture has a significant impact on what we think is right, I don't think that has any relevance to the truth of that "rightness." After all, I was raised to think that murder is wrong and I still believe so despite having never killed anyone.

bossmanham said...


I aim at the cultural source of why people believe in the first place

So your whole book rests on the genetic fallacy!? Ought to be a great read.

unkle e said...

John Loftus said:

"Anyone, and I mean anyone including myself, who leaves the default positon and affirms an answer, any answer, has the burden of proof. ..... The hard part is in affirming the correct set of beliefs."

John we are in agreement! (Though I don't find this fully consistent with your first comment, but let's rejoice in what we can agree on!)

Best wishes.

Shackleman said...

"Believing things 'on authority' only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there is such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary person believes in the solar system, atoms, and the circulation of the blood on authority---because the scientists say so. Every historical statement is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Spanish Armada. But we believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them; in fact, on authority. A person who balked at authority in other things, as some people do in religion, would be to be content to know nothing all his life."

--C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

Edward T. Babinski said...


All questions of Loftus or his promotion of his works aside, you mentioned the Book of Acts.

To my mind it starts off with one of the least convincing stories around, one found in none of the earlier two Gospels nor in Paul, I'm speaking about the story of Jesus showing up and eating fish with the apostles in Jerusalem to convince them he's "not a spirit" but "flesh and bone," and then "he led them out [of Jerusalem] to Bethany" and his body rose up from a mount in Bethany. Wow. A flesh and bone Jesus walking the streets of Jerusalem, and then rising up into the air. Too bad nobody noticed, except the apostles according to Acts. And of course we also know rising into the air is the way to get to heaven.

I know you're not a biblical scholar, but have you studied even a basic college text like Ehrman's on the New Testament, and what it says about the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts? Scholars are dating Luke-Acts later than previously assumed, certainly decades after Paul's death, if not even longer.

Neither does the Gospel of Luke, nor the book of Acts say "Luke" wrote them. They admit to being a collection of other people's stories. Scholars note and have raised many basic questions concerning Acts, questions summed up nicely in one small chapter of Gary Wills' book, WHAT PAUL MEANT. That chapter was praised by a biblical scholar who reviewed Wills' book who said that chapter summed up many of the questions scholars have raised concerning Luke-Acts.

Ehrman in his New Testament college text adds to the questions in Wills's book.

And speaking of Paul in general, I'm not impressed by Paul's predictions in his epistles that the Lord would arrive soon, nor by Paul's idea that "many" Christians in Corinth were made ill and some killed (fallen asleep) due to God's direct judgment concerning how they celebrated the Lord's Supper. What weirdness.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Continued from above


I believe you've also mentioned Richard Bauckham’s, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Neither that book nor N.T. Wright's has altered any of the more basic and embarrassing questions scholars continue to ask. Take these recent review comments on Bauckham's book:

It must be said however, that many will remain unconvinced by the alternative model of a “Formal Controlled Tradition” that Bauckham proposes in this book. It may be true that the literary features of mark show a closer connection with the testimony of Peter than is commonly assumed. But the evidence fails to sustain Bauckham’s hypothesis of a fixed body of Jesus tradition formulated by the Twelve in Jerusalem and mediated directly to the author of Mark through the apostolic preaching of Peter. Without accepting Bauckham’s dubious claim that Peter’s appearance at the beginning and end of Mark represents a literary device for identifying the work’s authoritative witness, it is very difficult to affirm the other alleged indication of the author’s reliance on Peter’s testimony, which are ambiguous at best. Equally questionable are the historical conclusions Backham draws from Paul’s Letters about the formal transmission of Jesus traditions. The level of institutionalization thus ascribed to the Jesus movement in the earliest stages of its development strains credibility. Likewise, Bauckham’s hypothesis about the Beloved Disciple as the eyewitness author of the Fourth Gospel will not convince many. Often resting on unproven assumptions, the argument frequently invokes highly conjectural explanations of textual evidence that are not easily affirmed. For examples, most will find fanciful the attempt to account for the infrequency and obscurity of references to the Beloved Disciples by appealing to the author’s need to establish his credibility as a perceptive disciple before disclosing his identity as the actual author of the Gospel. Even if we were to accept as probable many of the conclusions Bauckham draws from the Gospels, there still remains a larger question that weakens the argument of the book. If it is true that the Evangelists attached such importance to eyewitness testimony, then why are indications of this not more obvious and explicit? In response, Bauckham claims that ancient readers would have expected the Gospels to have eyewitness sources and so would have been alert to the subtle indications provided by the text. This explanation ascribes to the Evangelists and their readers a full measure of literary sophistication and an informed familiarity with the canons of Greco-Roman historiography. But this seems to far exceed what we can claim to know about the first eyewitnesses and those who listened to their testimony.

--Dean Bechard of the Pontifico Instituto Biblico, Rome--final paragraph of his review of Richard Bauckham’s, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Review published in Biblica, v.90, fasc.1, 2009, p. 126-129.

Kyle said...

Why do I always find your comments at the end of discussions after they have ended for the most part, and are only loosely connected to the actual topic at hand?

Just a couple points, but I'm not going to get into a battle with you over any of this, and will give you the last word if you want it:

"Scholars are dating Luke-Acts later than previously assumed, certainly decades after Paul's death, if not even longer."

You know better than this and are playing on the ignorance of those who are outside of the field of biblical studies. I'm sure your intention is to make people feel as though "scholarship" is moving away from conservative estimates...but conservatives are (for the most part), exactly where they were 50 years ago...and so are the liberals and agnostic/atheists.

One hundred and fifty years ago, the most common view was that Luke/Acts was dated between 65-80 CE. Some scholars maintained that the absence of the siege of Jerusalem meant pre-70 CE, but those scholars were few. At the time, the movement was to date Luke/Acts in the 2nd century. Even the conservatives (Lightfoot for instance), were fighting to keep Luke/Acts in the 1st century...but then all sorts of critiques messed this late date up and eventually the dating moved back to 70-90 CE.

Fifty years ago, outside of fundamentalism, you would be hard pressed to find even a conservative scholar who dated Acts before the destruction of Jerusalem (70 CE). Most dated the writing at 80-90 CE. Then in the 70s, the move was toward earlier dating. Even a few atheists/agnostics moved Luke/Acts to before 70CE. A few evangelicals followed. And for the most part, that's where everyone has stayed...a few evangelicals, Catholics and agnostics date Acts pre-70, with the majority still dating it in the 80s...which is the "traditional view."

In the eighties, Richard Pervo came to the scene and attempted to divorce Acts from Luke and date it around the end of the 1st century or the early 2nd century. Outside of a few of his Jesus Seminar friends, his theses was rejected for many reasons. I hoped that with his recent volume in Hermeneia, that he would have advanced his thesis from its initial claims made 25 years ago, but it turned out that he has made little progress. Thus, liberal/moderate/conservative scholarship all still date Luke/Acts between 70-90 with a guy here or there who dates it otherwise. Of course, it will be interesting to see what Keener does in his upcoming five volume commentary on should be interesting.

So I think your perception of the scholars dating "later than previously assumed" is a little deceptive, but for the most part you and I would agree that (I think) that it was dated after Paul's death and after the fall of Jerusalem.

Does that somehow make its content inaccurate or unrealiable? Most scholars don't think so, but you can cherry pick quotes to say otherwise I'm sure.

Kyle said...

As for the Bauckham review, you know as well as I do that you are cherry picking a review that you found to be critical (and thus support your ideology). As you know, the vast majority of reviews have been positive, even by atheist/agnostic scholars.

Even the RBL review by Stephen Patterson is interesting. Patterson is at the most radical end of NT scholarship (for those unfamiliar...think the far left end of the Jesus Seminar), yet he finds Bauckham's book interesting and compelling, providing a substantial argument, yet not persuasive...and agrees rather decidedly at parts. Still, he finds it moving academic discussions forward. And that's at the radical end, by someone who you knew would disagree before even reading his review.

The majority of reviews by moderate scholarship (such as the Chris Tuckett (Oxford) review also in RBL) are very praising of Bauckham's work...even calling it a "tour de force" in biblical studies. I think most would agree whether they end up on Bauckham's side or not. In fact, I have yet to read a review in any major NT journal that was decidedly negative (as many atheists online have characterized his work).

So yeah, some will remain unconvinced (as Bechard says), but its forged new pathways in scholarship and already spawned plenty of new and interesting discussions. It's wide and generally positive reception should have an impact on the younger generation of scholars who don't have as much respect for the Patterson/Kloppenborg, etc. theories and arguments of generations past.

Kyle said...

By the way,
Bauckham was on Premier Christian Radio's excellent show "Unbelievable?" in a two week debate with agnostic NT scholar James Crossley over his Eyewitnesses book.

It was interesting, because Justin kept having to provoke the usually lively Crossley to disagree more, because for the most part they agreed. Their main disagreements dealt with what scholars do with miracle stories...and thus history had to jump into philosophy as the historical aspects were pretty much agreed upon.

Anyways, the two will be on the show again this week to debate Bauckham's book on Jesus and the divine identity. Did Jesus believe he was God? Did he believe that he was part of a divine identity? Was this created by the church?

It should be a fun discussion for anyone interested in listening.