Vic, I have made several good comparisons here under this post and in my books. I have made good arguments too. Part of making these arguments is in also explaining why believers would want to believe despite the overwhelming evidence. It's part of the case I make based upon the sciences, especially psychology, anthropology and sociology, but also neurology. In these arguments I'm not telling you that you are wrong about Exodus or the Nativity stories. I do that elsewhere. What I'm doing is offering some very good arguments why people are not reasonable about such things. Hell, we're not reasonable about much at all, especially when we have a vested interest in what we believe. In fact it's been shown that to the degree someone has a vested interest in some belief then the contrary evidence will actually convince that believer he is even more right than he realized. That is a proven fact.
Now work with me here so you can understand me. If you are deluded then the evidence to the contrary, even if it is overwhelming, with not convince you otherwise. So, in order to help complete my case I must also show you from the sciences that you are not being reasonable with the evidence.
The sciences conclusively show that this is how we all think for the most part. Except that there are people who are better critical thinkers than others because they understand this about themselves. For once someone understands what the sciences tell us then that person will question what he claims to know. Such a person will be more demanding of hard evidence before concluding much of anything. Such a person will, in the end, be a skeptic.
The major implication is this: We are all in the same boat THEREFORE we should all be skeptics. It's the only reasonable position to take based on the sciences. The only way to escape this conclusion is to reject the sciences. Good luck with that.
This is at least one of the basic Loftus arguments that deserves some attention. Although it melds into the OTF I think it's really a distinct argument. I am going to call it the Punting Argument. In giving it this name I am not attempting to denigrate it, but simply to understand it.
Let me start by explaining an argument that I think bears some similarity to Loftus', though it reaches a very different conclusion. Protestants argued that you could doubt the Catholic Church because of what we find taught in the Bible. Some Catholic apologists argued that if you doubt the Church based on the Bible, you could doubt the Bible based on something else, and doubt whatever you used to doubt the Bible, etc. etc. etc. until you end up not believing anything. So, just accept the Church, because you won't do any better by doubting it.
Of course, I don't think John would like this argument at all, but his argument has something of a similar structure. The first part of it points out that we are not very rational people, who don't typically think critically very much or very well. He raises questions as to how anyone can reasonably reach any conclusion.
Now, we could react to this part of John's argument in various ways. We could just throw up our hands and believe whatever we prefer to be true. We're going to end up doing this anyway, so why not just do it openly and honestly and be done with it. Why would this not be the right moral to draw?
That response isn't very appealing to me, however. I want to know the truth. I majored in philosophy because, if there were good objections to Christianity, I wanted to hear about them sooner rather than later. I was aware that there were people who thought Christianity was just wishful thinking, and I wanted to be sure that wasn't just believing because I wanted to. What I would like to say is that I remain a Christian because I've looked hard at the reasons on both sides, tried my level best to be fair, and have concluded that Christianity is the most reasonable conclusion. If I have erred, I think I can say it's not because I haven't tried. And I have run into various people like myself, from C. S. Lewis, to Joe Sheffer, to Al Plantinga, to Bill Hasker, etc. I know it's difficult to be rational, but the only reasonable antidote is simply to try very hard. I have received the best intellectual training I could possibly get, I have had my beliefs grilled by numerous skeptical philosophers, but here I am, still Christian after all these years. I could be mistaken, but it's hard for me to believe that I've blundered in some obvious way, or that I have rejected evidence that is clearly overwhelming.
Scientific evidence that people, as a whole, aren't great at thinking critically isn't going to move me, unless it can really be shown that people who put a lot of effort into thinking critically, and who did not have the kind of upbringing that discouraged the questioning of my beliefs.
But Loftus thinks that even a critical thinker like me needs to punt. By punting, he maintains that given the intellectual malaise of the human race, the best any of us can do if we are interested in the truth is to punt to a scientific, and therefore a skeptical point of view. He suggests that a skeptic is someone who won't believe much of anything without hard evidence. Such skepticism will, it seems save us from the adoption of false beliefs, but might lead us miss out on the opportunity of believing truths. The question I have is whether this is really rationality, or whether it is just sticking your fingers in your ears and singing "Won't Get Fooled Again" at the top of your lungs. Is being tough-minded the same as being rational? Does it really protect us from wishful thinking and all the other malaises of the mind?
Here's where I get skeptical of the skeptic. First, if there is something religiously true, shouldn't I make sure I don't miss it? Someone looking for a contact lens needs to look it the most lighted areas in hopes that the contact is in that area, even though it is just as likely to be in the darkened area. Is the greater danger, from an existential standpoint, missing spiritual reality, as opposed to believing in it falsely?
Second, how good are we laypeople in drawing the right lesson from science, at seeing what science really has successfully shown, and what has less than the full authority of science. I watch a Nova show on string theory and think that string theory is pretty cool. Then I start looking around and find that there are serious science debates going on about string theory. Not being a practicing physicist myself, what are I warranted in thinking? Hard to say.
Loftus has representatives of the sciences, such as Eller and Tarico, present evidence to support his overall agenda. But are they top of the line sociologists and cognitive scientists, respectively? Jason Long is a pharmacist by occupation. Reading those chapters of The Christian Delusion should raise in one's mind the question as to whether these people actually represent the best science available on the relevant topics. I think we need a lot more information about these claims, to survey the literature on the subject, before concluding based on something that, say, Tarico says, that it deserves a "Science said it, I believe it, that settles it" response. Lest anyone think that I am denigrating science here, let me just point out that I am just saying that science isn't as easy to read as Loftus makes it sound. Remember, Loftus isn't a practicing scientist, either.
As another example of the "Science said it, I believe it, that settles it" attitude, consider this post. OK, scientists have come up with this idea of a gene for promiscuity, but is this established science??? Is this going to stand up when other scientists try to repeat the results? Is it going to be debated in the scientific community? I sure hope so. It sounds like we need skepticism for something other than religion here.
Does skepticism save us from bias? We have seen the case of Richard Carrier, who has been shown to know a whole lot less about Bayesian theory than he thought he knew. We have Robert Price, who presents an argument that, if taken to its logical conclusion, leads to the conclusion we all have no idea what Abraham Lincoln looked like, since he's no longer around to inspect.
In short, I don't see that skepticism solves the malaises of the human mind. We have to try our best to be rational, consistent with having to live a life that includes a lot more than being rational, and then rest, if we can, in the knowledge that we have done our best. There are no privileged "skeptical" or "scientific" positions to which we can punt. Science meanders its way toward the truth, but what lessons we can draw from science outside the narrow specialization of science is not a matter of science itself, or of accepting science.
So I say, don't punt. Just try your best.