Friday, February 06, 2015

Loftus Attacks! Part Deux

In our last installment of The Loftus Chronicles, John was claiming that How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: the Inside Story could not have been written and should not have been endorsed by any real scholars.  I make too many “egregious errors,” for one thing.  So we gamely inquired what those errors were. 

John’s first critique (echoed from Arizona Atheist) was that I was contradicting myself by claiming that the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) was flawed, and then saying it had passed in the case of Christianity “billions of times.”  This, I noted, is a feeble objection indeed.  There is no contradiction, after all, between saying “These glasses are muddy,” and saying, “But I see clearly enough to know that it is snowing,” still less, “And after I wipe them off, I can hit a 90 mile an hour fast ball.”

The rest of John’s complaints, to be concise, also failed.  Yes, whatever John thinks, I did write about testing Christianity from outsider perspectives six years before John invented the OTF, even if our tests were not identical.  Yes, Loftus does use the OTF as a weapon with which to attack Christianity, as I said, and indeed as he admitted himself, in black and white.  And no, I do not deny diversity among religions.  I claim, though, that Loftus denies similarities, which are also real, because those similarities show how Secular Humanism fails to pass the OTF.  Even in the act of responding to my arguments, John tries again to sweep those similarities under the carpet, as if he found them embarrassing -- and they may be, to his philosophy of life.   

In this post, I respond to John’s second set of complaints.  Again, let’s quote a few of John’s comments, and respond to them, before addressing his main arguments.  
“I will attempt to show why Marshall's book, How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: The Inside Story,is really bad . . . So let's continue, shall we?

”Having taken a few unsuccessful and superficial pot shots at my level of understanding regarding the problem to be solved, which is widespread worldwide religious diversity down through the centuries as well as in different cultures today . . . “

No, actually what I do is correct several major errors in Loftus’ argument, which other commentators have also noticed.  The difference between them and me, is I think the argument is salvageable, if not John’s conclusion.  John’s “understanding” is not my concern, since my book is only superficially and on a few pages about John Loftus. 

Marshall takes issue with me by saying, "cultural dependency in our 'Christian' culture may be real, but is by no stretch of the imagination 'overwhelming.'" (p. 23)

”Now I wasn't just talking about Christian cultures, but cultures in general, and it is as demonstrable of a fact as one can get that one's religion is dependent to an overwhelming degree on one's culture.”

Really?  Is is more demonstrable that the religion of early Greek Christians like Justin and Clement and Origen were “overwhelmingly dependent” on their Greek culture than that, say, two and two is four?

Or is this merely “certainly true” in a subjective sense, to John Loftus?   

“It is overwhelming that children of Muslim sects in Muslim countries will adopt the religion of their parents. Overwhelming.”

One gets the feeling Loftus thinks he can convince people by repeating the word “overwhelming” a bunch of times and, uh, overwhelming their defenses.  

“That is the most extreme example of course, but it sets the rule for other cultures as well.  Even without the demand that apostates be killed inside Muslim theocracies, in non-Muslim countries Islam is still growing very fast without force.  As another example show me children raised in a snake handler's family which is cut off from the outside world and they'll also overwhelmingly adopt the religion of their parents, if they survive the snake bites. ;-) That too sets the rule.”

Huh?  Why should we allow extreme cases to “set the rule?”  How many snake handlers do you know, who are furthermore “cut off from the outside world?”  For that matter, how many Americans in general are cut off from the secular world?

John does make a valid distinction here, between cultures that physically force those in it to believe a certain way, and cultures that merely coerce or encourage belief.  (One that I bring up in the book.)  But as I explain, sociologists recognize that social coercion can also be very strong as well -- depending on the culture.  This is an empirical question, one can’t just ASSUME it is always “overwhelming.”  Actually cultures where Christianity is widely accepted tend to be fairly free cultures.      

“Now it might be true that American, Canadian and certainly European nations are not as Christianized as they were a few decades or more ago.  To the degree they are still Christianized then people will adopt the Christianity they were exposed to within them.  There should be nothing controversial about any of this, not even from Marshall, I would think.”

To what extent are Western countries “Christianized?”  To what extent are they “secularized?”  If children go to church two hours a week, and to secular schools 40 hours a week, how can Christianization be “overwhelming?” 

That is the real question.  If Loftus simply refuses to face it, his failure to think the issue through fully will continue undermining his version of the OTF, whether he acknowledges it and adjusts it properly for secularist bias, or not.  I am a mere spectator: I don’t much care if John’s version of the OTF is ever fixed.  But taking into account the level of anti-Christian as well as pro-Christian pressure in western societies, is one correction that is quite obviously required.   

”What Marshall really seems to be objecting to is that while we're living in largely Christian cultures we're not living in overwhelmingly Christian cultures.  More importantly I suppose, he's objecting that cultures in the western world are not overwhelmingly evangelical Christian ones.  But this objection of his is irrelevant to my main point, and therefore does nothing at all to undercut it . . . ”

Then why, John, do you keep yakking about isolated snake handlers, kids raised in the South by KKK parents, and Saudis, if not to make us forget that OUR culture is NOT overwhelmingly Christian?

Obviously, if the culture we are raised in is come combination of Christian and secular (plus maybe occult New Age and other influences), then in seeking genuine objectivity, we need to beware equally of all three (+) biasing influences.  That’s the point.  Is it really so unreasonable?  Have I really betrayed my lack of scholarly chops by making it? 

So is there “Overwhelming Support?”

”In any case, I do think many western societies still provide overwhelming cultural support for Christianity in general.  Stretching back for centuries and into the present, Christianity still shows up in our language, critical life events, everyday habits, bodily habits, institutions, and even understandings of time and space, as David Eller writes in the first chapter of my book "The Christian Delusion."  Let's just take our language as one example.  See if this still doesn't have an impact on us for adopting a particular sect of Christianity:”

The following words are, I guess, from David Eller -- they sound like his, though I won’t look them up for now.  So I put them in blue, to distinguish them.  Let’s quote the whole, three long paragraph spiel, then respond:


”A society’s language is the first but hardly the only place to look for the subtle power of religion.  Even atheists talk the language of religion, which in American society means “speaking Christian.”  Every religion not only infiltrates the local language but is a language in its own right, with its own vocabulary that has no meaning outside of that religion.  For example, Christianity is rich with terminology that often has no correlate in other religions, such as “god,” “heaven,” “hell,” “sin,” “angel,” “devil,” “bless,” “soul,” “saint,” “pray,” “sacred,” “divine,” “baptism,” “purgatory,” “gospel,” and so on. These are not neutral, universal notions but are specific to this one religion.  A religion like Hinduism has its own unique lexicon, with dharma and karma and samsara and moksha and yuga and so on. Christians cannot “say” these things, since they do not occur in Christianity, and Hindus cannot say “Christian things” since those things do not occur in Hinduism.

”But there is much more to a religion than its vocabulary; religions, like other areas of culture, include specific things to say.  Some of these conventional things to say are propositional, that is, truth claims like “God exists” or “Jesus was the son of God.”  Many are not propositional, however.  They may be utterances of power, meant to have an effect on the world, from “God bless America” to Navajo prayers for health to phrases like “abracadabra.”  Much of religious talk is consists of scripts, routines that people perform just as surely as saying “Hello, how are you?” or “Have a nice day”; at the extreme, these scripts become liturgies, like a Catholic mass or a wedding ceremony.

”Religion also provides stories (which are usually intended to apply to and organize our own lives in some way) and metaphors for thinking about the world and our behavior in it.  And we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that religious language can also keep secrets, obfuscate the truth, manipulate hearers, and sometimes tell out-and-out lies.  A religion like Christianity also supplies images, stories, and metaphors that pervade the culture’s speech and thought.  Even a short list of such ideas and illustrations highlights how Christian-soaked our speech-community is: Mark of Cain, Garden of Eden, David versus Goliath, Jacob’s ladder, patience of Job, “my cross to bear,” “spare the rod and spoil the child,” “beat swords into plowshares,” “voice crying in the wilderness,” “Can the leopard change his spots?,” “hide your light under a bushel,” “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” “wars and rumors of wars,” “Physician heal thyself,” “lost sheep,” “grapes of wrath,” “cast the first stone,” “through a glass darkly,” and many, many more.  Most atheists use most of these phrases without any thought for their source—and how the use serves the source.”

What are we to make of this mass of observations? 

John’s argument (as opposed to Eller’s observations, attached perhaps to some related argument) appears to be something of this form:

(1) There are many phrases in English that trace ultimately to the Bible.

(2) These phrases provide subtle encouragement for English-speakers to accept Christian teaching.

(3) Therefore, Christianity does overwhelmingly depend in the West upon culture.

The first premise is certainly true.  But from there on, there are so many gaping holes in this argument, it is hard to know where to begin. 

Yes, some English phrases do trace to Christian influence.  But how many idioms are there in English, total?  Apparently more than 10,000.  Let us suppose 400 of those idioms derive, consciously to English speakers or not, from the Bible (a “drop in the bucket”), 500 from American sports, and 200 from Shakespeare.  Does that mean when a man tells his friend, “I couldn’t get to second base with that girl,” his friend will feel a strong compulsion to play baseball, and give up his love for soccer?  And citing “a rose by any other name” will subtly pressure the hearer to join Shakespeare’s Anglican church? 

Let us suppose there is some such pressure.  But how much?  Could it be detected by a set of weights designed to calibrate human emotions? 

Is Eller seriously proposing that such phrases play an important role, let alone an overwhelming one, in why anyone actually becomes or stays a Christian?  Or is Loftus just using these prosaic general observations to install linguistic paranoia in the hearts of his followers?  (“Oh no!  My own language!  English words are “wolves in sheep’s clothing!”  They’re out to get us atheists!  “A house divided against itself cannot stand!”  My God, I can’t say anything!  Oops, I just said ‘God!’  Can’t I even swear without subverting my own beliefs and bowing the knee to the Vatican!  AHHHHHHHH!  I repent of my sins, please forgive me . . . I will join Opus Dei at sunrise!”   

Just when one thinks satire is dead.   

And then I watch a typical Hollywood movie, and as I told my students after watching the otherwise excellent Good Will Hunting, “If you took one word out, the movie would be 20 minutes shorter.”

What word was I referring to?  An old Anglo-Saxon word, a term for love-making that actually implies naked animality rather than Christian romance.  It’s a word that I suspect one hears more in many quarters than all the Biblical idioms combined, by gross weight.  And may “subtly influence” or inflame thought just a tad bit more than “walk the extra mile.” 

Come on, John, try another bluff.

”The fact is that most all of our beliefs are culturally dependent as any others.  We're all raised as believers.  Whatever our parents taught us we believed.”
Yes.  Education is the advantage human beings hold over, say, caterpillars.  Some call it “civilization,” but it begins even with the smarter animals, like wolves and even birds.
And yes, we are even smarter than wolves, so we do need to grow up and question our beliefs -- that’s something John and I agree upon.  Only I don’t think “our beliefs” are defined simply and solely, or even predominately, by the Bible, even if we’re Christians.    
“Our brains fool us.  Our brains are belief engines.  Our thinking is irrational much of the time.  We prefer to believe that which we prefer to believe, and to defend that which we were raised to believe.”
Or that which, having rebelled against the sense of our wiser ancestors, we choose to believe in reaction, instead.  Fools appear in every generation, and on all sides of a debate. 
“Since we are all in the same drifting rudderless epistemological boat, as I said, we need a test that allows for all options to be on the table, including the non-religious option in which all faiths fail the test.”
All options have been on the table for centuries.  The Enlightenment is old news.  Atheism ruled a third of the world exclusively, and even America is “a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes.”  And we have had tests to choose which option is best all during those same centuries.  I describe three kinds in Jesus and the Religions of Man: moral, existential, and rational tests.  And one of the tests I described there already, as well as in the brand new book, is the test John is promoting, though I think in a much-improved form.
But here we come to the most important issue in this rather gossipy post, and where John points to what he thinks is a real error.

David Marshall, denier of science?     
“Marshall asks if his belief ‘that the earth circles the sun is 'culturally dependent.'" (p. 26)  Of course not.  Not in today's world of modern science with space explorations and moon landings.  Who would even ask such a question?  Is he really serious?  He says other such things that are quite embarrassing of his understanding of science here.”
What is embarrassing, is how baldly and obviously John misunderstands me, and makes as if it were a virtue to misunderstand. 
Of course all our scientific knowledge depends on culture, almost exactly in the strict sense John sets out in regard to religion:

”To an overwhelming degree, one’s religious (scientific) faith is causally dependent on brain processes, cultural conditions, and irrational thinking patterns.” (OTF, 15-6)
Now obviously we can bracket the third dependence, on “irrational thinking patterns,” as mere begging of the question.  I think Christian faith depends on rational thinking patterns, which is why I’m a Christian.  John can’t simply define religion as irrational in a premise, then conclude that it is irrational in his conclusion -- that would be arguing in a circle.  Of course if Christianity arises purely from irrational thought, it would only be true by a stroke of blind luck.
But aside from that bit of “poisoning the well,” does not my belief that the Earth circles the sun also depend casually on brain processes and cultural conditions?  What do scientists use to arrive at conclusions, if not their brains?  Is not thinking a brain process?  Or is Loftus admitting that we have souls?  And is not being shown a scheme of the Solar System in grade school (how most of us learn these facts, and how I transmitted them to my boys -- printing out pictures of the solar system on my computer at Siebold University, and letting them color in the planets) a “cultural condition?”
So I see no reason to be even faintly embarrassed when Loftus, apparently without understanding his own words, let alone mine, very well, exploits my obviously true statement to toss contempt (again) at my understanding of science.  (Scientists themselves never seem to do that, by the way.)
“He cannot tell the difference between objective science and cultural opinions?”
Sure I can.  Cultural opinions include all science, as explained above, but also includes sports, politics, fashion, history, and everything else objective, subjective, and somewhere in between that is shaped by human beings collectively. 
“He doesn't want to be able to do so either, so he can go on defending the indefensible.  Here's a hint, Marshall, you can do the experiments yourself, and barring doing them, you can learn to appreciate how the scientific method works and listen to the overwhelming consensus of scientists who all agree.”
John Loftus is, not for the first time, badly confused.
“Culturally-shaped” is not a synonym for “false” or “unverifiable.”  Cultures form and shape many ideas that turn out to be true, and can be shown to be true.    
And forming and shaping is what John Loftus spoke about when he said religious ideas depend on culture: he said those ideas are “causally” dependent.  That refers to how they were formed, what gave rise to them.
Even among scientists, upwards of 99% of their scientific beliefs, and 99.999% of their other beliefs, depend causally upon what culture, that is other people, have told them. 
It may be that those beliefs do not “depend” on culture in the theoretical sense that, given resources and time, they might be able to deduce those facts for themselves.  But that is not the sense John gave for religion.  He said CAUSALLY dependent.  
So he is engaged here in an act of (no doubt unconscious) equivocation.  He uses “dependent” in two different senses, one for religion, the other for science.  And then the distinction he draws between the two, derive from his own verbal confusion. 
“If you refuse to do this you are a science denier . . . “

Yadda, yadda. 

How about the Genetic Fallacy?    
John denies committing this fallacy:

”Lastly Marshall accuses me of committing the genetic fallacy (p. 26).  Since Marshall says nothing at all that is relevant to what I already wrote in response to this objection, all I have to do at this point is quote myself:
John quotes himself at length, then says something that I think allows me to avoid wearying the reader with his (tangential) arguments, or with my (probably equally unprofitable) rebuttal:
“Let me state for the record that I have probably never met anyone who has committed the genetic fallacy.”

Well, fine, if John is so generous as to dismiss the charge of “genetic fallacy” against every single person he has ever met, and by implication most of those he has not yet met, it would be churlish of me to press it against him too unremittingly.  Let the reader consider what little I actually say on the subject in Why Jesus Passes the Outsider Test (again, the book is about much bigger issues than John Loftus), and then Loftus’ book, if he or she cares deeply.

But there is an odd aberration that I should point to.  In my earlier critique of Loftus’ version of the OTF, the conclusion I ascribed to John was that,given the cultural origins of religious beliefs, “therefore one’s beliefs are probably wrong.” 

Loftus says I am wrong, he doesn’t commit the genetic fallacy.  Then on the next page of his book, after stating that he likely has never met anyone who committed it, he emphasizes:

“Almost no one says, for instance, that we can never trust a particular tabloid news story because of the tabloid’s past reputation for dishonesty.  What people might say instead, or intend to say, is that we probably cannot trust (it) . . . “ (John’s emphasis)

Notice the word that Loftus and I both emphasize above: “probably.”  Loftus says I’m wrong, he isn’t saying religions are “necessarily” wrong because of their origins, just “probably.”

But isn’t that the very word I used? 

So none of Loftus’ arguments in Part II of his critique of How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test (to the extent that it really is a critique of my book, rather than a defense of his own hide on what are to me minor points), demonstrates any “egregious errors” on my part.  Or any errors at all, yet.  But maybe that will come, finally, in Part III:

“One more part to go.  Next time.  The kicker.  Wait for it!”

I’m getting the feeling that maybe John Loftus feels he didn’t do too well in our debate on Unbelievable.  (The first part of which can be found here, the second part should be posted this coming Saturday.)  How else to explain his multiple posts since then, first complaining that he didn’t get enough time, then attacking Randal Rauser (of all people), and then a series of three posts critiquing my book?

Well, great, after all these years, and many posts on both sides, John finally gets around to actually trying to rebut some of my arguments -- sort of. 

So let’s take a look at his first post, and what he claims I get wrong. 

Predictable Preliminary Trash-Talking

I've decided to write more than just one post about Dr. David Marshall's “rebuttal” to my book The Outsider Test for Faith (OTF).

Call me David, please. 

But How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: The Inside Story is not a “rebuttal” to John Loftus.  With due respect to John’s considerable ego, it is about much bigger topics: the work of God in the world, the role of Jesus in uplifting humanity, the story of the human race from the Christian point of view, an answer to the question, “How do religions relate to one another?”

John is a convenient jumping-off point, not the destination. 

I will attempt to show why Marshall's book, How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: The Inside Story,is really bad. In fact, it's so bad I'm using the word "refutation" for what I'm about to do to it.  I hardly ever use that word because refutations are usually unachievable in these kinds of debates.  

Go for it! 

If I'm largely successful then it also says something about Dr. Randal Rauser, that he will say and endorse anything in order to defend his Christian faith.

I don’t believe that for a moment.  Actually, read his blog, and you find that Randal is pretty choosy about what Christian artifacts he will endorse.  It follows, then, that Loftus will probably NOT be successful, or he’s wrong about the logic. 

“No educated intellectual worthy the name would have written Marshall's book.  No educated intellectual should think it's worthy of any kind of a blurb either.”

This is disproved by the fact that I am an educated intellectual, and I did write the book.  And not just Randal Rauser, but Win Corduan (Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Taylor University), Miriam Adeney (an anthropologist who teaches at Seattle Pacific University), Ivan Satyavrata (an Indian theologian), Don Richardson, Nick Peters, and Brad Cooper, all of whom can only be described as “educated intellectuals,” in some cases much more so than John, have also thought the book worthy of a blurb -- indeed, in most cases of high praise indeed. 

But let’s skip the naval-gazing trash-talking of the wrong person, and get to the substance of John’s critique. 

Why do I make use of an admittedly “flawed” argument?

Loftus begins by quoting Arizona Atheist on a short earlier version of my argument that I wrote for a chapter of True Reason:

Each of David Marshall’s arguments against the OTF fail. His next tactic, regardless of how illogical it may be, is to argue that Christianity has passed the OTF “billions of times.” (59)  If an argument is by its nature “flawed,” as Marshall contends, how then, can he possibly believe arguing that “billions” allegedly passing this flawed test is proof that Christians have come to their faith in a rational manner? See more here.

This is a simple-minded critique indeed, as I have come to expect from Ken. 

First, Ken is engaging in equivocation here.  He is playing a shell game.  Where’s the nut?

I claim the OTF, as formulated by John Loftus, is flawed.  I then reformulate and make use of it. 

This is a normal procedure.  If your glasses are dirty, you say “Heaven’s!  My vision is flawed with these dirty lens!”  You wipe them off, and then put them on your nose!  What a contradiction!  You CLAIMED your glasses were dirty, but still used them!  What a hypocrite you are! 
This is a common procedure in science, history, in every field where flawed human beings improve on flawed procedures to come to imperfect but still valuable conclusions. 

And even if we don’t improve the instrument of vision or research, of course we can still use flawed instruments to reach valuable procedures.  The SAT test is, as everyone who teaches it, flawed in many ways, yet we use it to learn something real about the English ability of students. 

After more such asides, including a shot at philosopher Matthew Flanagan, Loftus promises to “correct some egregious errors” I allegedly make.  In his first post, he names, and in his own mind corrects, three such errors.  That will be enough for us to deal with in the remainder of this post.

II. Who Invented the Outsider Test for Faith? 

”You should know first that (Marshall) erroneously claimed to have written about the OTF six years before I did right here.  Below are the screen shots:

“I wrote about the OTF six years before John ‘invented it,’ as a matter of fact.”

John responds:

“I don’t claim to have invented this test, since it has been bandied about for millennia wherever there were skeptics.  I do claim to have defended it better than anyone else, as far as I can tell.  I read what Marshall said in his 2000 book.  He repeated it on pages 182-83 of this new book I’m refuting.  There is nothing he said that had not been said before him by G.K. Chesterton, using different words.   It is merely a repackaged Chesterton, which Marshall did not acknowledge as coming from him.

Remember, Loftus is claiming to describe “egregious errors” on my part here, so egregious that no real intellectual should have endorsed my book, let alone written it. 

So what’s the error supposed to be? 

At first Loftus says my error is to “erroneously” claim to have written about the OTF six years before he did.  But actually, I did. 

The context here is important.  I had just written three chapters about the failures of three revolutions: Marxist, Sexual, and Aquarian.  The following three chapters would be about the moral and existential virtues of Christianity, then after that, would come three chapters arguing that God is real, and that miracles really happen.  Then I would conclude by showing how the truths in many different religions point to Jesus Christ as ultimate truth, in various ways. 

At this pivotal point in the book, here’s what I write.  Does it not sound like the suggestion that we should evaluate Christianity from an “outside” perspective or two?  (Which is precisely what I will do in the rest of the book?)

“What should a Christian say to an idealist setting out on a journey?  Seek the good in every spiritual tradition and cherish it; but don’t be na├»ve.  Allow yourself to become desperate enough to be heretical, and even desperate enough to be orthodox.  Give credit where credit is due, but also blame where blame is due.  Take ideals seriously enough to live by, even die for.  But be careful to whom you open your heart.  Follow each star to the place where it leads.  Then come and look again in a town called Bethlehem. 

“What is it you are looking for?  Look, then, for a god among the gods of humanity.  Look for a guru among the gurus of humankind at whose feet to find enlightenment.  Wear tennis shoes out upon the holy hills of the Incas.  Shake clouds of dust from ancient manuscripts of the sacred libraries of Lhasa and Alexandria.  Ponder every sect, tribe and teacher from Tierra Del Fuego to Tibet.  Then come, open the New Testament.  Look again at the life and teachings of the man who said of the Jewish writings, ‘You investigate the Scriptures, because you suppose you have eternal life in them, and they bear witness to me’” (John 5:39).

That is, most literally, a call for an “outsider test for (Christian) faith.”  Of course I did not mean that my version exactly anticipated John’s version. 

So there is no “error” here, let alone an “egregious” one that proves I am no true scholar. 

As for my not giving Chesterton credit, those are my words and thoughts.  It is possible he influenced my thinking on this point (I cite him elsewhere in the book), but I had been in Asia for more than a decade already by this time.  And in my first book, had described my own “outsider” moment that pointed me to Christ, which I experienced a full sixteen years earlier, at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

So I was talking from experience, not just parroting a book or an abstract idea. 

“Egregious Error Two:” Is the OTF an argument against Christianity, or not?

This is a little weird.  Loftus continues: 

“Another of the many errors of Marshall’s is that he says I present the OTF “as an argument against Christianity.” (p. 7.)  Now I do think the OTF is a good argument against faith, but in my book I go overboard to say it's merely a test for faith.  I demand Marshall to show us book chapter and verse where I say anything different.  He cannot do that.”

Sure I can.  Page 19, first full paragraph:

“As a nonbeliever, I use the outsider test, in the third stage, to argue against religion in general and Christianity in particular.”

Though it’s hard to refuse Loftus’ point here, because he seems to be saying both that (a) he does not use the OTF to argue against Christianity and (b) he does.  I am egregiously wrong and not a true scholar to say John presents the OTF as an argument against Christianity.  But he does think, and argue at length, that it IS a good argument against Christian faith.

I think I’ll just step off that Merry-Go-Round, let it spin as long as John wants to sit on it, sit under an elm have a rocky-road ice cream cone, and wait till it stops spinning.  It’s all the same to me whether John wants to use the OTF to attack Christianity or not: let him settle that in his own mind, without me getting in the way. 

Just one more, then we’re through, at least for this round.   

“Egregious Error Three: is Religious Diversity Complete, or Absolute?”

Here we come to a truly important issue: how religions or belief systems relate to one another.  The problem here is that Loftus and his fellows have adopted hand-me-down versions of exclusivism, which holds that only one religion can possibly be true, the others must be simply and solely wrong.  I maintain that reality is more complicated than that, and that Christian makes room for the genuine complexity that we find in the world of religions. 

Loftus complains:

“A third error of Marshall’s is that he dismisses my understanding of religious diversity as ‘superficial.’  He opines that this is the ‘most essential problem with Loftus’ version of the OTF.’ (p. 10).  He tries to inform the uninformed that the diversity of faiths ‘is genuine, but in some ways superficial.  As Chesterton noted, religions around the world commonly included four beliefs: in God, the gods, philosophy, and demons.’  Agreeing, Marshall says, ‘Peel away labels, and many beliefs seem to be universal or at least widespread.’  Then he concludes, ‘If widespread disagreement renders a religious tenet less credible, then agreement must render it more credible.  One cannot make the argument, without implicitly admitting the other as well.’ (p. 18-19)

Now in what follows I aim to hold him to that.  Either "widespread disagreement renders a religious tenet less credible" or not.  I'll deal with his claim that agreement must render something more credible later, and dispute it depending on the issue to be solved.

That should be fun, since atheists invariably use diversity of beliefs to discredit particular (non-atheistic) religions.  (Religions, in other words, that compete with their own.)  Let’s see if John can find a way to have his cake and eat it. 

”Marshall should know there are major disagreements even about these four minimal beliefs.”

Of course.  As there are about the nature of the moon, say.

“Religionists accept the existence of one Supernatural Being (i.e., one God), or they accept many Supernatural Beings (gods, goddesses, angels, spirits, ghosts, demons) or they accept one Supernatural Force (Process theology, Deism) or many Supernatural Forces (i.e., karma, fate, reincarnation, prayers, incantations, spells, omens, Voodoo Dolls), or some sort of combination of them.  Religionists also disagree with each other over who these Beings and/or Forces are, how they operate, and for whom they operate.  Everything else is up for grabs.”

This is a confusion I address in this book, actually. 

As I show, awareness of one God who is described by a long list of common traits crops up on all six inhabited continents.  This Being tends to be recognized across cultural boundaries.  This is why here in China, even my Buddhist partner talks frequently about “Shang Di,” the same word the ancient Chinese, and the Christians down the road, use for the Supreme Being. 

But He was quite distinct from spirits in general.  In China, as in the West, in India, in Africa, and in the Americas, there were numerous spirits who were distinct from God in being created or coming into being, in being lustful and imperfect, even scheming and cruel, in having only local and very partial knowledge, even in being fated to pass away.  The disagreement is really not that great.  Here in China, as in Greece, supernatural beings are sometimes associated with nature, or with ancestors.  There is no hard line between “gods, ghosts, and ancestors” as a well-known anthropology work described them. 

The continuity among cultures on these two points, along with the idea that some spirits are evil, is quite impressive.  If atheists argue that disagreement among cultures shows all religions are probably wrong, as Loftus does, then agreement should push in the opposite direction. 

”I’m really at a loss to respond to what Marshall said about me, given what the reader will find quoted on pages 34-36 of my book. I'm tempted to ask if he can even read. Take a look:

”Professor of anthropology David Eller tells us, as I quoted in my book, that
there are many religions in the world, and they are different from each other in multiple and profound ways.  Not all religions refer to gods, nor do all make morality a central issue, etc.  No religion is ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ of all religions; the truth is in the diversity.”

I didn’t say anything about morality, though of course moral intuitions are also universal.  But awareness of spirits are in fact pretty nearly universal among cultures.  Even “atheistic religions” like Buddhism are in practice quite aware of them. 

“When it comes to belief in god(s), Eller writes,

“Many or most religions have functioned quite well without any notions of god(s) at all, and others have mixed god(s) with other beliefs such that god-beliefs are not the critical parts of the religion. . . . Some religions that refer to or focus on gods believe them to be all-powerful, but others do not. Some consider them to be moral agents, and some do not; more than a few gods are downright immoral.  Some think they are remote, while others think they are close (or both simultaneously).  Some believe that the gods are immortal and eternal, but others include stories of gods dying and being born . . . not all gods are creators, nor is creation a central feature or concern of all religions. . . . Finally, there is not even always a firm boundary between humans and gods; humans can become gods, and the gods may be former humans.”

In fact, every major religion and almost every culture of which I am aware, is keenly aware of spirit beings.  In every culture that I have studied (I do not deny the possibility of exceptions), there are both helpful and unhelpful spirits, though all may be dangerous, and most may be manipulable.

That includes all the major traditions. 

“Eller continues:

“Ordinarily we think of a religion as a single homogeneous set of beliefs and practices.”

Who is this “we?”  I think no such thought, and make no such claim.  Is Eller thinking this himself?  Or putting words in “our” mouths?

“The reality is quite otherwise: Within any religion there is a variety of beliefs and practices—and interpretations of those beliefs and practices—distributed throughout space and time.  Within the so-called world religions this variety can be extensive and contentious, one or more variations regarded as "orthodox."

This is the usual scholastic drumbeat of diversity.  You can never generalize about anything, there are always exceptions.  That’s how you get ahead in academia: by pointing to anomalies. 

Of course there is diversity.  But what Chesterton said was, and remains, true.  Within that diversity, there are also commonalities.  If Loftus is going to use diversities to attack “religion” (aside from his own), he also needs to take commonalities into account. 

And Chesterton pointed to four -- not absolute universals, but general apprehensions that transcend any given culture, any given continent. 

“Eller concludes that

“…Religion is much more diverse than most people conceive. . . . “Religion” does not equal “theism” and certainly not “Christianity,” let alone any particular sect of Christianity. Indeed, there is no specific religion or type of religion that is really religion, the very essence or nature of religion. . . . Not only that, there is no central or essential or uniquely authentic theism but rather an array of theisms . . . . “Christianity” consists of a collection of Christianities including Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. And there is no central or essential Protestantism: it is a type of Christianity/monotheism/ theism/religion with many branches. No one Protestant sect is more Protestant or more religious than any other. . . . In fact, there is no “real” Christianity at all, only a range of Christianities.”

Again, no one is claiming that “religion equals theism.”  In fact, I would say the atheist religions are also diverse -- hundreds of schools of Marxism-Leninism, Freudianism, Objectivism, an array of atheistic forms of environmentalism, feminism, certain High Church and Hindu and Buddhist schools of thought.  If diversity in details undermines the truth of general statements, then atheism is doomed with the rest of us.

From which it follows that there is no “real” Secular Humanism, only a “range of Secular Humanisms.”  Fine, but what does that have to do with my argument? 

I am not claiming (and also showing) that there is no diversity, I am claiming there is also often surprising continuity.  And that if the diversity means something bad for the truth of religion, why shouldn’t the continuity mean something good?

“So I do understand the nature of religious diversity.  Marshall does not. For instance, there is nothing when reading Marshall's book where he shows us he understands there are various Christianities, nothing.  As far as the reader is concerned he’s defending the one and only Christianity, his, without so much as telling us which one that is.  If anyone has a superficial understanding of religious diversity it is Marshall.  Now I know he knows different.  He cannot help knowing the various denominations and spectrums of theologies among Christianities.  It’s just that when it comes to calling me superficial it never occurred to him to acknowledge this fact about Christianity, something I am all too aware about.  It's one of the reasons I am not a Christian, since Christians cannot agree among themselves.”

Here were my claims, again, in case John has forgotten them, though this is how he cited me:

“Diversity of faiths ‘is genuine, but in some ways superficial.  As Chesterton noted, religions around the world commonly included four beliefs: in God, the gods, philosophy, and demons.’  Agreeing, Marshall says, ‘Peel away labels, and many beliefs seem to be universal or at least widespread.’”

I admitted diversity was genuine.  I argued, though, that “many beliefs,” including those four, are at least widespread, in some cases perhaps even universal, in some sense. 

Where has that been refuted, again?  By quoting boilerplate comments from David Eller about religious diversity?  I wrote my MA on the True Buddha movement, examining three rows of idols from India, Tibet, China, and Israel over thousands of years of religious history with the head of the Anthropology Department at the University of Washington, nearly 20 years ago.  This is old news. 

My book is new news, and John Loftus does not appear to know how to handle it.  

”This is getting too long.  Done for now.  The best is yet to come.”

One would hope so, but we’ll see.   


Anonymous said...

You've constructed a cage around yourself made of vacuous arguments and unsound syllogisms. You write about Buddhism, but its central concepts escape your presupposing Christian pseudointellect. Your fonts and font sizes make it difficult to pay attention to your already meandering diatribes. Christianity will die by the time your grandchildren around. It's beautiful to think that Christianity's death rattle is the last thing you'll ever hear before your flesh fertilizes the Earth. You and Jesus can then fertilize the Earth together. Ironic thing is, if he knew you he'd want nothing to do with you. Your grandchildren will solemnly tell tales of their poor deluded grandfather to their own children. As much as they want to mock you, they won't out of respect.

Chavoux said...

?? You point?

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Scottie, for that exhibition of Buddhist objectivity and compassion. No arguments, though. Guess we'll get those from you in your next life. Till then.