Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reply to Loftus on Preferring to Believe

John Loftus wrote: Vic, I am like most people. I never denied that. We human beings do not think very well or come to reasonable conclusions based on the objective facts. We're all in the same boat about this. I accept this fact, why won't you?



Yet I most emphatically did prefer Christianity to be true. You have the right to deny this, of course, but it is my claim, as it is with the claim of almost everyone I've ever heard who left the fold. Or are you wanting to claim people don't change their minds against what they prefer to be the case? It happens all the time. It's just that it doesn't happen very often without solid evidence. Evidence will change a mind against what it prefers to be true. The problem is that with the omniscience and mystery cards you believers have as an escape clause for any lack of evidence there is no single piece of evidence that can help you see that what you prefer to believe is false.


If you were to leave the fold in the future then just wait until someone comes along and tells you the reason you left the fold is because you preferred doing so. If that happens then so will the other.


But remember today. You DO prefer to believe. So also once did I.

VR: People have preferences on both sides of most issues. C. S. Lewis says he absolutely hated the idea of believing in God, or becoming a Christian, but that he came to believe because he thought the evidence for it was good.

Hence what we prefer to believe is something of a red herring in the discussion. Everyone has emotional preferences, thinking carefully about these matters is difficult, and sometimes people do change their minds because of the evidence. You have the phenomenon that I have experienced, where your desire to believe something makes you suspicious of that very belief.

But what you have to avoid doing is implying that people on the other side have emotional motives, but that no one on your own side does. That's circumstantial ad hominem, and last time I checked, it was a fallacy.

People typically want a future life, but they also don't want some Supreme Being to be able to tell them that what they are doing is wrong and they have to repent. People want to think of themselves as the supreme being, above whom there is no one. Josh McDowell says there are three reasons why people reject Christianity: Pride, ignorance (usually self-imposed), and a moral problem. I have criticized McDowell for making that kind of a generalization (and Russell for explaining religion in terms of fear of death, fear of hell, and fear that the universe should be meaningless), but you can't deny that these facts do play a role in unbelief, just as Russell's factors play a role in belief.

Your post in which you loudly protest that you don't want atheism to be true rings a tad hollow, in light of what you say in the other posts. Atheists act like they are intellectual saints, that they, and they alone, have transcended all the psychological and sociological forces pressing upon them and hold their beliefs only in response to the evidence. I would never make that kind of a claim about myself.

43 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

All I can say Vic is this: are you willing to consider that the reason you believe in Christianity is because you prefer it to be true? I have no doubt that I did and yet the evidence forced me to reject my faith. Only you can answer for yourself before your concept of God.

But don't write a post as if I wasn't making a point that was on target. I was most definitely. Don't tell me people realize this fact about ourselves. Most of them do not know they believe and defend what they prefer to be true. I'm telling them the truth about themselves so they can really consider the question I asked you above, and THAT is on target, not a red herring at all.

Cheers

steve said...

"Atheists act like they are intellectual saints, that they, and they alone, have transcended all the psychological and sociological forces pressing upon them and hold their beliefs only in response to the evidence."

In fact, wouldn't that be a textbook case of self-delusion?

SteveK said...

If I prefer X and then follow up with reasons why I prefer X, you would be wrong to conclude that I simply prefer X - and that is as far as it goes.

Victor has reasons for believing and those reasons count as they count for all Christians. So Loftus is wrong about this.

Victor Reppert said...

I believe what I do based on my consideration of the evidence. Of course it could be biased by all sorts of stuff I'm not aware of, but that could be said of anybody.

What you can't do, John, is make these sorts of points as if you are talking about believers, and then completely deny the same observation when it is made about your own position.

I started considering the question of whether I believed because of a preference in 1972, when I read Bertrand Russell's The Value of Free Thought. These sorts of arguments, if you turn them loose in the debate, work just like the nuclear bomb. You get mutual assured destruction. They are very democratic in their impact. We have emotional reasons to believe and emotional reasons to disbelieve. It's not a telling point because it cuts in every direction.

It's one thing to point out the possible motivations for believing that your opponent might have. But then, you have to notice the non-rational motives for you own beliefs. And, when you are done, you have to call it as best you see it with the intellectual tools that you have. It's C. S. Lewis 101, see especially the essay "Bulverism," or "On Obstinacy of Belief."

You've said plenty about your wanting to believe in Christianity when you were a Christian. Can you admit that you don't want it to be true now? For you to come back to Christianity would mean that you would have to shut down that echo chamber of a blog you have, (OK, that's a little unfair, but most people who post over there agree with you) and admit that you were wrong. You have to admit that there is a God who can judge you a sinner for the things you have done, and you would have to repent. That seems to me to be about as much fun as a root canal.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

John, take me as an example of someone believing in Christianity, who if, given his druthers, would prefer another religion, Hinduism, to be true. I happen to like the idea of reincarnation, and think it would be preferable for it to be so. But after honest consideration of the two faiths, and despite the deep respect I still have for Hinduism, I decided to stick with Christianity, mainly on two grounds:
1) it made more sense
2) the weight of evidence was on its side

So no, you can't make the argument that people believe in Christianity because they prefer it to be true.

John W. Loftus said...

Bob Prokop, so let me get your anecdotal argument correct, okay?

You do not fit the rule here so therefore I "can't make the argument that people believe in Christianity because they prefer it to be true"?

Hmmm, with thinking skills like that no wonder you believe.

It seems to be the case that EVERY BELIEVER is an exception to the rule, right? Right. Ask them. That's what they'll say. That's simply delusional. Do you even go to church. Do you actually pay attention to the Amen's and testimonies?

Or are you asleep?

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, you are in denial, but there is nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. Just deal with it.

The fact is that most people do not admit that what they believe and defend is what they prefer to be true. I do know this. And I am on constant guard about believing what I prefer to be true. I preferred Christianity to be true. That's all I and most ex-Christians can say to you.

All you can be is honest with yourself with this data. While it will fall on deaf ears I'll say it again from someone who believed more fervently than you do now. You are deluded if you think you believe against what you prefer to be true. You believe despite the evidence because of what you prefer to be true. You have ready-made excuses when the evidence does not fit what you prefer to be true. You cannot even consider that you believe what you prefer to be true. All you can do is throw it back on me when I have indeed thought through this and rejected what I preferred to be true because of the evidence.

And that's all I can say. That's all anyone can say. Christianiy is who you are. You cannot bear to think you are wrong about yourself. Talk abou tht past as you are so inclined to do. Talk about C.S. Lewis too. But this is now and you are not Lewis.

I think after reading this blog for a long time now that I can conclude you are an ignorant person. Don't take it personally. But you are. I have NOT seen any deep understanding of the Biblical material coming from you much at all. The Bible. You know. That which if it doesn't exist gives you no epistemic right to believe as you do.

Cheers.

Victor Reppert said...

I think the Bible exists, John. Didn't think you doubted that.

I can easily say that I prefer Christianity to be true, mostly. What on earth follows from that? Thinking that it is what I would prefer to be true has been a source of doubt, not faith. I have to examine my beliefs more closely to be sure that I am not just wishing myself in to my beliefs. What you want is the conclusion that I believe because of my preferences. That, I don't accept at all. I've always found the arguments against Christianity to be overrated. I think biblical scholarship that start with a denial of the miraculous as an axiom is forced to twist the evidence every which way to explain the story of Christianity in a way that is naturalistically acceptable, and this results in silly theory after silly theory being propounded.

I can accept the idea that it is possible for a rational person to reach a conclusion opposed to my own. But I see no good reason to think that no rational person could believe as I do.

Anonymous said...

So John's reply pretty much comes down to psychoanalyzing people and tantrum antics. This is hilarious.

Anyone who reads Loftus' opinion of himself, and who realizes how central his own deluded opinion of himself and his own echo chamber is to his entire "scholarly" argument, can't help but laugh. Admittedly, the hat helps there.

It's no wonder even atheists kind of roll his eyes at him. He's kind of a Madalyn Murray O'Hair wannabe. He's not even up to holding Dawkins' coattails, and that's saying something.

Anonymous said...

No one I know believes in most things they want to be true. We want to believe in peace on earth. The evidence of warfare destroys our longing to believe.

What a silly argument. We want to believe in heaven and the evidence against heaven is....?

The argument against heaven is something else. Arguments and evidence are two different things. But, of course I want to believe in heaven, I just don't want to believe in the moral demands of following Christ.

Is there a way I can have it both ways? That is what I want to believe in.

Anonymous said...

Victor Reppert wrote: What you can't do, John, is make these sorts of points as if you are talking about believers, and then completely deny the same observation when it is made about your own position.

Anonymous: Dr. Reppert tries to point out some sort of inconsistency or unfairness on the part of John Loftus in his attribution of bias. But in doing so, Dr. Reppert is being inconsistent himself.

On Christian theism, Jesus can be the unique Son of God who lived a sinless life, took away the sins of the world, rose from the dead, etc. He is the sole individual who can be described as such.

So I don't see why Atheism can't have the one unique individual of John Loftus who lacks bias. We see here that it is clearly Dr. Reppert who is being inconsistent and unfair, by selectively/preferentially restricting designations of uniqueness to iconic figures within his own worldview.

Furthermore, Jesus unique status hinges upon the existence of the supernatural. But note that for John Loftus to be the one unique individual who lacks bias, no supernatural explanations are required, making it more probable right from the start.

Think about it, folks.

Anonymous said...

If there is one convincing piece of evidence that people reject Christianity because of pride it would be John W. Loftus. John W. Loftus' overly puffed-up view of John W. Loftus books, John W. Loftus ideas, and John W. Loftus experiences needs some outsider examination. Hey John W. Loftus, take the outsider test on John W. Loftus and try to see the prideful self-consumed constantly self-promoting dino-guy hat image, yawn we see.

It just might make you an unbeliever in John W. Loftus.

Steven said...

There are too many funny anonymous posters on this thread.

Anonymous said...

Ok - so you guys are not convinced by The Outsider Test.

Loftus also has an argument where he demonstrates that God does not exist, based on the fact that human beings were created without wings.

To this day, I have seen no publications by any major theistic philosophers refuting this argument.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, it's fruitless for me to continue. I made a point about what we know from psychological studies that most people most of the time believe what they prefer to be true. What you do with it is your problem. But if you have read Jason Long's chapter in TCD you would feel the force of these studies. Have you read it? Have you read either one of my books?

You said: "I think biblical scholarship that start with a denial of the miraculous as an axiom is forced to twist the evidence every which way to explain the story of Christianity in a way that is naturalistically acceptable, and this results in silly theory after silly theory being propounded."

This is where you are ignorant. Did you read Bob Price's chapter in TCD? Do you know that Biblical scholars were forced to conclude what they have concluded by the texts themselves? Did you read Paul Tobin's chapter in TCD?

John W. Loftus said...

Vic why do you allow anonymous comments? Seriously. Are you that hard pressed for a comments that you will allow juveniles to comment on a scholar's blog?

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

First of all, to all you “anonymouses” (anonymi?) out there, how about identifying yourselves? If only to tell you all apart.

John, although I have no need to defend myself to you, I will anyway. You ask, do I “even go to church”. Yes, I do. I attend Mass on Sundays, Holy Days, and days significant to myself at Saint Paul’s Catholic Church in Ellicott City, MD. I love this parish. The pastor is engaging, genuinely interested in and concerned for his parishioners, and a good friend of mine. I love the mix of modern liturgy with the Catholic version of "old time religion" (ringing bells, incense, candles, chants, a smattering of Latin here and there). Being a Catholic church, we don’t have testimonies for me to listen to, but we do indeed have Amens! (And, yes, I must admit to occasionally falling asleep in church. Must have something to do with being an amateur astronomer, and those late observing sessions.)

But what really gave me a belly laugh was your characterization of Victor as “an ignorant person”. That is so funny – kind of like taunting Mohammed Ali with being weak, or Lenny Skutnik with being cowardly. The accusation is so ludicrous that one doesn’t know where to begin in refuting it!

By the way, love the hat!

John W. Loftus said...

Bob, thanks for the compliment on the hat.

As to whether Vic is ignorant about Biblical scholarship just ask him.

Vic? How about it. Are you?

John W. Loftus said...

Biblical scholarship ended the Natural Theology project Vic is involved in before the turn of the century. The resurgence of Natural Theology was due to philosophers who didn't have a clue about it. Have you read what Plantinga said about Biblical criticism in "Warranted Christian Belief" (pp. 420-421)? It's obvious he doesn't know anything about it. That's the trouble with natural theology. Only philosophers ignorant about Biblical scholarship could pretend to continue on with that dead project. It's nothing more than fundamentalism on stilts.

steve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

John, you're welcome. I, too, am a hat person. but despite my growing collection of genuinely stylish hats, I still mostly go around in my Baltimore Orioles cap. (Oh, no! You're thinking. Not only is this guy a Christian, but he's an O's fan! There's no hope for him!)

Paul Manata said...

John Loftus said . .

"Biblical scholarship ended the Natural Theology project Vic is involved in before the turn of the century. The resurgence of Natural Theology was due to philosophers who didn't have a clue about it. Have you read what Plantinga said about Biblical criticism in "Warranted Christian Belief" (pp. 420-421)? It's obvious he doesn't know anything about it. That's the trouble with natural theology. Only philosophers ignorant about Biblical scholarship could pretend to continue on with that dead project. It's nothing more than fundamentalism on stilts."

This was to show that Reppert was "ignorant" of a field that "ended natural theology." Loftus makes some ignorant comments about natural theology, and some embarrassing ones. He should try and keep up with the literature, like Michael Sudduth's The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology. He can start with my review:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2010/06/reformed-objection-to-natural-theology.html

unkleE said...

Somehow, John's argument has an inconsistency. He says (my emphasis):

"The problem is that with the omniscience and mystery cards you believers have as an escape clause for any lack of evidence there is no single piece of evidence that can help you see that what you prefer to believe is false. "

Then he says: " the evidence forced me to reject my faith"

If there is no evidence that can help believers see that what we prefer to believe is false, as John says, then either (1) this first statement is false, or (2) he wasn't a believer.

I think his statement is false.

steve said...

Victor Reppert said...

"I think biblical scholarship that starts with a denial of the miraculous as an axiom is forced to twist the evidence every which way to explain the story of Christianity in a way that is naturalistically acceptable, and this results in silly theory after silly theory being propounded."

To piggyback on Victor's point, if miracles do occur, but we begin with an axiomatic rejection of miracles, then we have a methodological principle that precludes arriving at the true explanation. And what's the value of a historical method which disallows us from even considering what may be the true explanation of a given event?

Moreover, this principle isn't based on the empirical evidence, for this principle operates as a filter to screen out miraculous explanations from the get-go. It doesn't represent a conclusion, but a presupposition.

Anonymous said...

I think it's pretty easy for any Christian to think of a religion they'd rather be true than Christianity. A religion just like Christianity but where God wants you to eat cake everyday. A religion just like Christianity but where every church watches football on a 1000 ft big screen every Sunday. Etc.

Walter said...

I think it's pretty easy for any Christian to think of a religion they'd rather be true than Christianity. A religion just like Christianity but where God wants you to eat cake everyday. A religion just like Christianity but where every church watches football on a 1000 ft big screen every Sunday. Etc.

I would prefer a deity that gives everyone a fair chance in the afterlife, one that does not consign people to an eternity of suffering because they died while believing the wrong sect or denomination, the wrong religion, or no religion at all. I would prefer an all-inclusive religion that does not denigrate those who rationally hold metaphysical views in opposition to it.

Anonymous said...

So, people believe what they want to be true most of the time. But not John, because he's on guard against we. We know this, because he insists he is. But Victor isn't. We know this, even though he says he is, because John is sure he isn't. Besides, John points out most people who believe what they want to be true will say they are honestly evaluating the evidence, but they're not. Unless they're John Loftus. Then you can be certain that they are.

Vic, why do you allow John Loftus comments? Seriously. Are you that hard pressed for a comments that you will allow known liars and circus acts to comment on a scholar's blog?

Bilbo said...

Hi John,

First, you do seem to be inolved in an inconsistency, by claiming that most people believe what they want to believe, but making atheists an exception to this.

Second, I wholeheartedly admit that I want it to be true that Jesus is God incarnate. I can't think of a better guy for the job. I don't like the idea of Hell, and have struggled with it for most of my life. But if Jesus is the guy in charge of who does or doesn't go there, I can live with it. I cannot imagine Him sending someone there who doesn't belong there, or leaving them there if they repent.

So, yeah, I fit your stereotype. But I'm not aware of evidence that refutes my belief.

Victor Reppert said...

I have a liberal posting policy because I like free speech. If people say things that are sufficiently idiotic, I do not feel that I have the obligation to waste my time on them. Although, sometimes silly posts can be fruitfully and instructively answered.

Here's what Loftus wrote: People believe and defend what they prefer to be true. This is an obvious and non-controversial fact. That's who we are as human beings. That's what we human beings do. That's what psychological studies have repeatedly shown us over and over.

I don't see any exceptions in that statement. Do you? His solution to this problem? Believers should take the outsider test. Believers! What do unbelievers do? Does unbelief cure this problem? Do the studies say that? If so, wouldn't the study be the work of researchers who were trying to defend what they preferred to be true, in which case why should we trust them?

We go down a list of posts proclaiming this thesis, and then we hit one where Loftus vehemently denies that HE believes what he prefers to be true. Since the previous statement was stated categorically, we are going to need a very strong explanation as to why Loftus can declare himself exempt from his own thesis.

After having so strongly affirmed the thesis for other people, particularly for his intellectual opponents, he declares himself exempt, claiming that, of course, the atheist universe is so miserable than no one would prefer to believe in it as opposed to Christianity, if they were influenced by their preferences. I think that's hogwash pure and simple. I don't know about you, but I don't like being told that I am a sinner. Do you like it? Wouldn't a prospective wishful thinker go looking for a religion that had all the comforts of Christianity, but left out all that stuff about sin?

Of course, radical biblical scholars claim that they are influenced by the texts them selves, and not by an antisupernatural bias, to reach largely negative results in biblical scholarship. What he heck do you expect them to say? You don't take my autobiographical statements on face value, so why should I take theirs at face value? And yet you get the New Passover Plot that I discussed a couple of posts ago, with the crazy idea that Caiaphas invented the Resurrection to send the disciples packing for Galilee. You get people still today trying to argue for a second-century date for Acts, in spite of the fact that archaeological evidence clearly shows that the writer knew a lot of detail about the first century that would not have been available to anyone without a direct connection to the eyewitnesses. You still get people like Price and Carrier affirming the Jesus Myth theory, (and I know Loftus has criticized this), in spite of the fact that there is overwhelming evidence that the man Jesus existed. After being exposed to junk like this, it's going to take a heck of a lot to convince me that the skeptical Bible scholars are the objective ones who go by the evidence, and that conservatives or even moderates like Arthur Wainwright from my old seminary are biased.

As for the OTF, it combines a reasonable appeal to work for objectivity in one's thinking with some questionable epistemological assumptions and anti-religious special pleading. Since Loftus didn't invent the OTF until after the deconverted, I can only assume he didn't reach his own beliefs by taking the OTF.

Anonymous said...

This is silly. Loftus clearly wishes Calvinism was true. Just read his thoughts on the subject.

Anonymous said...

"Their theology [Ed note: Calvinism] not only creates atheists, as Clark Pinnock wrote, but it also motivates me like no other 'respectable' theology to debunk the Christian faith."

Name the source!

Bilbo said...

If Calvinism was the only form of Christianity, I don't think I would believe it, either. Though of course it wouldn't really be up to me to decide whether to believe it o not, would it? And it wouldn't be up to John to disbelieve it.

So let's jut say that if Calvinism=Christianity, then I believe Christianity, even though I don't want to, and John disbelieves it, and presumably he doesn't want to believe it.

Anonymous said...

John is saying that he wishes Christianity was true and atheism was false. His track record indicates otherwise, abundantly so. He's either knowingly fibbing, or he's ridiculously incapable of being able to evaluate his own beliefs despite his publicly available track record. He admits flat out that his extreme distaste for some parts of Christianity (In this case, calvinism) motivates him against the faith as a whole.

He's become a poster child for showing that being an atheist doesn't make someone any less prone to delusion, self-deception, or wishful thinking. Even while insisting he's an exception to the very rule he projects on all believers.

Bilbo said...

No wait. John said he wanted to believe Christianity. If for John Christianity=Calvinism, does that mean that John wanted to believe Calvinism?

Bilbo said...

Hold on a second there, Anon. "Fibbing" is rather strong language.

Victor Reppert said...

Fibbing? I think this is what he is referring to.

http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/showthread.php?t=97534

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, now I know why I don't visit here much, you have become what I despise in the Triabloggers.

Ad hominems eh? That's a sure sign you don't have anything left to say.

Be ashamed that a scholar like you must wallow in the mire with the likes of JP Holding.

I'm unsubscribing.

Try to take the high road from now on if you can.

David said...

Bob Prokop, thanks for another reminder why I am a christian.

Bob: I decided to stick with Christianity, mainly on two grounds:
1) it made more sense
2) the weight of evidence was on its side

JWL: with thinking skills like that no wonder you believe.. are you asleep?

Bob: love the hat!

Bob: Ad hominems eh? That's a sure sign you don't have anything left to say…I'm unsubscribing.

A microcosm of the world of ideas

Victor Reppert said...

John: I was explaining what the charge of lying is about, a charge you haven't denied, so far as I can tell. I don't necessarily endorse Holding's overall tone, or that of Triablogue for that matter. On the other hand, I hate to say it, but your own discussions are often not on a higher level than Holding or Triablogue. I am not making an issue out of the phony anti-Holding blog. People make mistakes. I understand that. But to help Bilbo understand what the fibbing business was about, I offered the link.

You can't take make heavy weather out of the fact that people believe what they prefer to be true as if it were a telling point in the debate, when it isn't, unless that you can show that the argument really cuts just one way. You can't swear up and down that you were persuaded by the evidence and only the evidence, and then disbelieve people when they say that they assess the evidence differently, by saying "Aha, you think you evaluated the evidence, but you REALLY believe because of your wishes." I can do the exact same thing with your statements. I can say that you really want to think yourself cleverer than the average bear, that you don't want to accept the idea of a God who can tell you what to do, before whom you're a sinner.

So far, you have said nothing about my own experience of wish-suspicion, where I get suspicious if something fits my wishes too well.

I claim that we aren't rational machines, but some of us at least do our best to be rational.

Anonymous said...

So, providing evidence that A) John, his claims to the contrary, has admitted in the past that he so strongly dislikes some Christian thought and theology that he not only wishes it was not true, but it motivates him in his general efforts against Christianity, B) That John has behaved dishonestly with his critics in the past (I guess even "scholars" can have severe trouble covering their tracks with a hit blog), and you get C) John angrily accusing you of engaging in ad homimem, on the grounds that people are quoting/"wallowing in the mire" with critics he "despises".

Meanwhile, John's entire argument in this thread is that anyone who disagrees with him and those he agrees with is simply deluded, and engaged in wish fulfillment. The evidence John provides against these particular individuals is that they disagree with John Loftus. But somehow this isn't ad hominem.

And now we get the famous John Loftus unsubscription. Let's see if that holds as well as it ever does.

Anonymous said...

What the hell? John makes some baloney claim and when people point out it applies equally to him and his gang of goons, he says there's nothing more to say and refuses to respond any longer! A "serious thinker" indeed!

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor a bit over the top with:
Atheists act like they are intellectual saints, that they, and they alone, have transcended all the psychological and sociological forces pressing upon them and hold their beliefs only in response to the evidence.

A bit of an overstatement. Yes, there are many skeptics that fit that stereotype (indeed I admit that's why I don't like most of the skeptic blogs and groups). However, there are plenty of mellow atheists. You just don't hear from them as much. Probably the majority are more secure and relaxed in their view on things.

Victor Reppert said...

Quite right, BDK. It applies to dedicated infidels but not to many atheists, including many of my professors in college.