Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Can John Loftus question his faith?

From Loftus this morning:
David Marshall asked me three questions:
What existentially difficult questions do you even admit face you, as an atheist? What contrary evidence troubles your confidence? Do you dare confess?

Let me take the last one first. I think he is probably "projecting" onto me. That line of psychological reasoning goes like this: "Since I have secret doubts then John probably does too." I'm not presuming to know this about him, but I suspect it's true. Perhaps he'll say that having doubts is a good thing, since he could claim it to be a mark of an open-minded person. Nonetheless, I have no trouble telling people what I think. He knows this. Perhaps that's why he asked. But he envisions me secretly fearing hell, worrying that if I am wrong I'm doomed, or worrying whether I'm doing a good thing by arguing against Christian faith, or that I hide some facts that support faith whenever it's inconvenient to do so. So in obliging his request what follows isn't a confession. I have no secret or hidden questions so there is nothing to "confess." This doesn't mean I know everything. I am continually learning as I go, and I have a lot of unresolved questions about the Bible, theology, and the history of the church. I have a lot of philosophical questions, the kinds that science can solve in principle, if not outright. I have questions about whether there will ever be a grand unified theory of everything, concerning the ultimate origins of everything, of human self-awareness and consciousness, and questions about metaphysical free-will, and the nature of ethics. They all interest me but they are not my specialty.

Existential questions?

I wrestle with death, I don't like it. I hate it. I know it's coming though. How will I die? I want to live forever. I worry a lot. I fret. I'd like some divine guidance and comfort here and now. But there isn't any available. If some kind of supernatural being exists he's silent. I wonder quite a bit too. What will life be like after I'm gone? What will the area where I live look like in 50 years? What will become of my kids and grandkids? What will become of the nations, religion, or earth itself. I'd like to see it all, but I won't. Because there is no life after death. When the brain ceases functioning I will cease to exist. I will go to the same place that all animal life goes when it dies since I am an animal, a Homosapien.

Contrary evidence?

Everything I have experienced and learned in life has shown me that there is no reason to believe anything. With faith as a basis anything can be believed. Faith has no method. It solves no problems. As best as humanly possible I think exclusively in terms of probabilities when it comes to questions about the origins of existence and of gods and goddesses, miracles and holy "inspired" books. Faith adds nothing to these probabilities. Remember, my claim is merely that Christianity is false, along with every religion that is based on faith. There is therefore no contrary evidence that troubles me at all, precisely because I think exclusively in terms of probabilities. I adjust what I think to the evidence, scientific evidence. The only people who have trouble with contrary evidence are people of faith, because faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities.

John: You misread me. I've never made a "secret" of my doubts. I've been upfront about them. I said both you and Randal got in some good shots in your debate book. I've even said that intellectually -- if it weren't for the inconvenient fact that miracles do seem to happen, sometimes -- I would find atheism fairly attractive, more so anyway than great non-Christian religions like Islam or Buddhism. (Though I find Buddhism more aesthetically attractive.)

But miracles sometimes do happen.  And there are good reasons to believe in Christianity, beginning, of course, with Christ. 

You challenged Christians to be honest with themselves, to look at Christianity with the same skepticism from the outside that they supposedly look at other religions. I explained in True Reason why that approach is wrong, and you're stuck on a theologically-incoherent exclusivism: we'll get to that in the future, I suppose.

But it seems to me you're NOT being so honest with yourself. You cling to Secular Humanism and a series of silly atheist cliches like a drowning man clinging to a life boat.

#1 Fair enough, you were answering my question (which I wish I hadn't put that way, because it gave you a chance to skate) about existential reasons pulling you towards "faith." But what you say here is now seriously out of balance. Yes, death is the ultimate existential question. But there are different kinds of dying, and I seriously doubt you want Christianity to be true -- I think you've admitted otherwise, and this is shown by your crazy talk about sympathy for the devil, Christianity harming women, etc. So to set the context for the rest of the discussion clearly, it seems the existential pull and the vested interests seem far stronger in the other direction for you.

Your mention of hell is also a misread of my psychology: I seldom mention the place, because I don't know anything about it.   

#2 You reify "faith" and make gaseous and nonsensical statements about it that resonate with your atheist base. But you know better, and I know you know.

Faith is not a Christian god. Faith is a predicate to an object -- one believes IN something, in the planet Jupiter or one's business partner or a mathematical equation -- and therefore its trustworthiness is only that of the object one believes in, from 0.00000000000000000000001 to 1.0.

 Even applied to religion, this is obviously so. Even Richard Dawkins admits some religions are far less credible than others, which shows that "faith" should not be reified or lent divine character:

Christianity, even fundamentalist Christianity, is substantially less ridiculous than Mormonism…Christian scriptures are genuinely ancient. The translations from Hebrew and Greek that Christians use are in a language contemporary with the translators. The Book of Mormon is not ancient and the language of its alleged “translation” is ludicrously anachronistic. It was dictated by Joseph Smith, a man with a track record of charlatanry, purporting to translate it from “Reformed Egyptian” with the aid of a magic stone in a magic hat (Douglas Adams’ Babel Fish is not less plausible) . . . As Mark Twain cuttingly observed, if you remove all occurrences of “It came to pass” the book would be reduced to a pamphlet.

(See?  Miracles do happen!  I just quote Richard Dawkins approvingly.)

#3 "Scientific evidence" is also a vacuous cliche -- for heaven's sakes, encourage your followers to think more deeply than that. As if anyone could live or love by "scientific evidence," alone. Not even the Unabomber was so anal as to actually live that mad philosophy out.

#4 Then after exhorting Christians to be honest, you come out with this wonderful claim that

Everything I have experienced and learned in life has shown me there is no reason to believe in anything. 

Really? Not even the Internet? Not even the existence of the followers whose bright faces appear on your blog? Not even that your head is on top of your neck?

How did you do all this "experiencing" and "learning," then?  And how do you know that you did it?

OK, now you ask me not to be anal. You really meant "there is no reason to believe any supernatural religions, including Christianity."

I am still incredulous, though. I simply don't believe that even the most committed atheist, if he is honest, can claim that even given high confidence in evolution, the wonder of nature never communicates anything to him of the glory of God, that he has never heard first-hand accounts of a miracle from a person you know to be honest and trustworthy that sounded persuasive, or that he can read he Gospel accounts of Jesus' life,death, and resurrection, the scholarly arguments over those accounts, or Christian-atheist debates on them, and claim that the other side is utterly bereft of any positive evidential factors in its support.

Sorry. I don't buy that.

So I conclude that what you are asking for from Christians, is indeed far more than you have yet been willing to do yourself. You pretend that the score of this game, of every Craig-Atheist Prof debate is 100-null, your team wins. Sure, yeah, and the Mariners are going to win the World Series this year, in four straight perfect games. 

But from my POV, a double standard on the side of the atheists is OK. The Christian faith can pass more rigorous criteria than Secular Humanism. So continue with your challenges, even if you never get around to challenging yourself.   You can still serve a positive function as a critic.  Though even there, you would seem to be more persuasive and do a better job of challenging Christianity, if you began by more seriously questioning your own beliefs. 

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