Sunday, October 28, 2012

Loftus: Damned if you don't, too! (faith, again)

One gets whiplash, trying to follow anti-Christian arguments some days. 

A week ago, I posted a response to a fellow calling himself "A Unicornist," who criticized Chapter Ten in True Reason.  My goal in that chapter was to show that by "faith," Christians generally mean something reasonable, something supported by logic and evidence.  Skeptics sometimes quote the New Testament, usually the "Doubting Thomas" passage in the Gospel of John or Hebrews 11, to claim that Christian faith is somehow at odds with reason.   I argued the converse:

In fact, the New Testament emphatically ties faith to reason in at least seven ways: historical investigation, rational argument, critical accounts of Jesus' life, miraculous 'signs' . . . prophecy, convincing depictions of Jesus' character, and the resurrection.

Mike (A Unicornist) refused to interact with any of the exegetical evidence I offered.  Instead, he sneered at me for citing the Bible at all to demonstrate a point about Christianity:

But Marshall thinks that Christian faith and reason are inseparable. How does he plan to demonstrate this? . . . Yeah. He's gonna quote the Bible.

Today, John Loftus criticizes Christians for exactly the opposite error.  Our problem, he claims, addressing myself, along with Randal Rauser and Victor Reppert, is that we DON'T cite the New Testament in defining faith!

Most all modern Christian definitions of faith are not biblically based. Others are irrelevant or superfluous. But regardless of they way they define faith I want a straight-up answer from Christian apologists like Drs. Victor Reppert, Randal Rauser and David Marshall who haunt these halls (it is the Halloween season ya know). Should we think exclusively in terms of probabilities, or not? If so, then why can't you admit faith is irrelevant, unnecessary, superfluous, unreasonable, irrational, and dangerous? If not, then why not? Come on boys, pony up. Put up or shut up!

I doubt Lofus is thinking of anything I've written here, since I've never so much as mentioned "probabilities" when defining faith.  And the definition of faith I've given many times IS biblically based, which is the whole point of Chapter 10 in True Reason, and the supposed defect of that chapter in the eyes of A-Unicornist and several rather dense atheists who praise his post on his site and (I've found) elsewhere. 

So we're damned if we do cite the Bible, and damned if we don't.  Which ought to be a warning sign to skeptics about their motivation. 

But Loftus continues:

Christians cannot agree on a definition of faith because faith cannot be consistently defined except that it is an irrational leap over the probabilities.
This is like saying, "Scientists disagree about the origin and geology of the moon, because it cannot be consistently defined except as green cheese." 
Well of course faith can be consistently defined. As I showed in Faith and Reason, for two thousand years Christians have defined faith in a mostly coherent manner.  Of course scholars always find a slightly different slant on things, so "mostly coherent" doesn't mean "exactly the same."  Reppert, Rauser and myself, like most Christian scholars, all agree that faith is and should be supported by reason and / or evidence.  But I find Randal's definition of "faith" a little minimalistic, and I don't use the word "probability" in my definition, as if personal relations were all about cold mathematical calculations. 
By contrast to these slight differences, Loftus and A-Unicornist make claims that are completely and irrevocably incompatible: (a) That Christians are completely wrong to cite the NT to define Christian faith, and (b) That we would be completely wrong NOT to cite the NT. 

So to copy one of John's favorite rhetorical gambits, I guess that means we Christians should wait until all the atheists have argued among themselves and produced a champion for the Gnu perspective, to debate us in a final playoff? 
On citing the NT, John is obviously right and Mike is wrong: Christian definitions of faith SHOULD be based on the Bible.  And that's what I do in Chapter 10, read the NT.  Which shows that John's definition of faith, based on his own interpretation of one single verse, is bogus. 

For our lesson today let's look at what Jesus said about faith, and compare it with what Reppert said about it.

Matthew 17:20 has Jesus saying:
I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
Modernized Christians take this metaphorically so I will too. Presumably what's meant is that with faith prayer can change the overwhelming probabilities.
Presumably?  Well that leap is indeed rather presumptuous! 
If God wants a mountain moved, why would it be "overwhelmingly improbable" that it would move?  On the contrary, that rock would "presumably" find it impossible not to move!  
So by this sleight of hand, Loftus is in effect begging the question.  I guess Loftus is borrowing language here from Hume's question-begging chatter about "uniform experience against every miraculous event:" 
Since moving a mountain is extremely improbable, or even virtually impossible, faith can change the odds. Faith can make the virtually impossible happen. That's how Jesus defined faith (pistis). That's why exercising faith is hard, since it demands of believers to go against the odds. Faith is therefore, at a minimum, a leap over the probabilities, and since that's the case I argue it's an irrational leap over the probabilities.
Of course "faith" can do no such thing.  Faith means believing in God, or some other agent, who can do things we cannot.  We believe for what we take to be good reasons, as I show was true in the NT, hold to and act on that belief in the face of difficulties. 
There is nothing in this passage that contradicts this definition, and much to support it.  Of course if God, he can help us do things that without Him, would be impossible.  Peter walked on water by faith -- faith in someone he had just witnessed walking on water.  The disciples healed the sick -- by faith in the teacher whom they had already witnessed healing the sick.  They later died martyrdoms for their faith -- following the Master who first died, then rose again from the dead.  This is the stuff of faith, and ALL of it is presented as rational.  The spread of Christianity to six continents, the risks people have taken to pursue the kingdom of God, and the changes it has wrought on the world, can be taken as further examples of what Jesus was talking about. 
Faith is therefore unreasonable. A reasonable faith is therefore an oxymoron.
Not at all.  Consider the diary entry of the famous martyr, Jim Elliot, one of five missionaries murdered by the Waodani Indians in South America:
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.
That's faith.  In some ways, yes, a calculation, but a heroic one, based on personal knowledge of the One you trust.  And millions of Christians have died, and hundreds of millions have lived, out their reasonable but risky, even dangerous, faith in God. 
Christians don't sell all and give to the poor. They don't even tithe. They don't usually wait on a mountaintop for the return of Jesus.
It is a fundamentalist error to read what Jesus said to one person, as always expressing a universal rule for everyone. 
And what they think can happen in the world has changed as science progresses. Now they take their children to doctors and use medicine to heal their ills.

As they also did in the First Century.  Ever hear of St. Luke?  He wrote two of the longest books in the New Testament.  He was also a doctor.  Now John seems to expect all Christians to be Jehovah's Witnesses or Christian Scientists. What church did he used to go to, again?    
Now contrast this with C.S. Lewis's definition of faith, embraced by Reppert:
Faith is that art of holding on to things which your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. Unless you teach your moods where they get off, you can never be either a sound Christian or a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and for, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather or the sate of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.
Is this definition even remotely close to what Jesus was describing? I see no connection at all.

Then read Chapter Ten of True Reason.  I show that whatever fits of quote-mining and straw-manning you may suffer, John, Lewis' definition is, in fact, very much what the NT consistently describes. 
Why should any of Jesus' followers have trusted in God, or in Jesus himself?  After he healed the sick?  Raised the dead?  Walked on water?  Fed thousands of hungry people with a few loaves and few fishes?  Fulfilled prophecy?  Demonstrated divine compassion?  Broken down ancient social barriers in love?  Brought the Kingdom of God visibly to life before them over a period of three years? 
But even with all those good reasons to believe, the disciples later suffered doubts and fears, and ran away when the men in white sheets came to haul Jesus off for a low-tech lynching.  The "habit of faith" was still unformed in them, and weak.  They did not want for reasons, they wanted for courage. 
For one thing, C.S.Lewis cannot possibly offer a definition of faith that is authoritative for most all Christians without an argument showing this is what the Biblical writers agreed on and at the same time what theologians have agreed on down through the centuries . . .

What is remarkable about this to me here, is Loftus' arrogance. 
Who was C. S. Lewis?  Let's forget that he was the most widely-read and cited Christian thinker of the 20th Century.  Let us forget that he is quoted by Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, and evangelicals, authoritatively, which suggests that Christians of all denominations find that what he is saying rings true. 
Lewis was also Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, one of the five best schools in the world.  He was described as the "best-read man of his generation."  He was author of the Oxford History of the English Language volume on 16th Century poetry and prose, which includes a massive and detailed bibliography at the end, with personal notes about the hundreds and hundreds of Medieval books he cited.  He read modern English, Old English, German, Italian, modern French, Old French, Latin, Greek (including the New Testament, assiduously), and I believe some Norse, in great quantities. 
Is it not probable that C. S. Lewis forgot ten times as much about "what theologians have agreed on down through the centuries" as John Loftus has ever read? 
Lewis was also one of the greatest literary critics of the 20th Century.  Is it not probable that he understood what he read pretty accurately? 
What force of hubris animates Loftus to so eagerly dismiss Lewis' considered opinion on this subject, with no sense of hesitation or uncertainty? 

Back your way down that plank, John. 

Alas, I argue in vain since, as Stephen Law argues, "Anything based on faith, no matter how ludicrous, can be made to be consistent with the available evidence, given a little patience and ingenuity."

Alas, I think that is one corner into which modern skepticism has argued itself, and will refuse to leave, at any cost to credibility.  A clear and consistent understanding of faith is visible in the New Testament.  It has been elucidated by some of the greatest figures in human history -- Origen, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Ricci, Kepler, Calvin, Descartes, Locke -- along with modern figures like Lewis, Pope John Paul II, Swinburne, and Polkinghorne.  But all this goes in one ear and out the other, because "however ludicrous," skeptics like Law and Loftus are determined to believe Christian generally define faith fideistically, no matter much evidence turns up to the contrary. 

So with "a little patience and ingenuity," they twist and turn and look for an angle from which Christian faith can be seen as how they want to see it. 

The sheer contradiction between A-Unicornist and John Loftus on whether Christians are wrong to cite the Bible, or wrong to fail to cite the Bible, is a symptom of that desperation, and ought to cause them to do some serious soul-searching.   



Crude said...

We've actually been going at this heavily on Dangerous Ideas.

As I pressed him repeatedly, he offered this standard for CS Lewis defining faith (as you noted):

For one thing, C.S.Lewis cannot possibly offer a definition of faith that is authoritative for most all Christians without an argument showing this is what the Biblical writers agreed on and at the same time what theologians have agreed on down through the centuries . .

So, I asked John to defend his definition of faith on the same terms - show that the Biblical writers agreed on and that theologians down through the centuries agreed with the definition.

His response? That post with the single Bible quote and the very butchered imitation. Then he said he refuses to do so and to wait for his upcoming book.

I think it's pretty clear that by John's own standards, his definition of faith is unjustified.

Crude said...



John W. Loftus said...

David, in the Kindle version of chapter 10 I didn't see some of this stuff at all. It's a very short chapter anyway.

David B Marshall said...

It's a short chapter, but long enough to prove my point, I think. There's certainly no lack of material in support of each of the seven points I mentioned: it would be easy enough to expand it to a 300 page book or doctoral dissertation, maybe someone has done that already. True Reason editors also considered including my "Faith and Reason" anthology / essay showing how great Christian thinkers have related faith and reason, down through the centuries.

I think you know better than the position you're adopting. I think you're adopting it mainly to conform to what the gang it saying.

David B Marshall said...

By the way: congratulations, you're comment was the 2000th since I started this blog in 2009!

steve said...

"Christians cannot agree on a definition of faith because faith cannot be consistently defined except that it is an irrational leap over the probabilities."

Unfortunately for Loftus, atheists can't agree on a definition of atheism:

Hence, we ought to conclude that atheists cannot agree on a definition of atheism because atheism cannot be consistently defined except that it is an irrational leap over the probabilities."

Arizona Atheist said...

Hi David. I must say I'm astonished that you continue to harp about this issue when you've never been able to provide any quotes that prove that to Christians faith “mean[s] something reasonable, something supported by logic and evidence.” I've gone through your essay on the issue and the only Christians who actually make use of some form of reasoning are those Christians who lived after the Scientific Revolution and after the Enlightenment. These events largely shaped Christian thinking. Even most of the Christians you cite after that period do not use your odd interpretation of faith. I believe I've pointed this out to you once before on Debunking Christianity but I don't recall you responding to the facts I laid out. If I recall here are two examples I gave. Your quoted William Law as saying,“Unreasonable and absurd ways of life . . . are truly an offense to God.” You cited J. P. Moreland's book Love Your God with all your Mind but you either didn't understand what Law was talking about or you didn't bother to verify the accuracy of your sources (well, well, doesn't that sound familiar?). Law wasn't referring to providing reasons for your beliefs but living a way that isn't considered an “offense” to god. The entire quote is: “Unreasonable and absurd ways of life, whether in labour or diversion, whether they consume our time or our money, are like unreasonable and absurd prayers, and are as truly an offence to God.”

The second problem is when you cited Cotton Mather as saying, “Ignorance is the Mother not of Devotion but of Heresy.” You again cite Moreland's book but you failed (again) to verify the accuracy and/or the meaning of the quote. Mather's quote isn't referring to educating oneself. He was referring to avoiding ignorance of the bible! Even a fellow Christian of yours agrees with this. Richard L. Mayhue wrote the following about this quote: “[Mather] specifically had in mind ignorance of Scripture, not of general education.”

You complain: ”Mike (A Unicornist) refused to interact with any of the exegetical evidence I offered.  Instead, he sneered at me for citing the Bible at all to demonstrate a point about Christianity […] Today, John Loftus criticizes Christians for exactly the opposite error.  Our problem, he claims, addressing myself, along with Randal Rauser and Victor Reppert, is that we DON'T cite the New Testament in defining faith!”

So what? There is more than one way to skin a cat. There are logical counter-arguments using either approach and this complaint does nothing to disprove either counter-argument.

John Loftus wrote, “Most all modern Christian definitions of faith are not biblically based.”

This is entirely true. And most Christians – particularly prior to the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, held to the biblical definition of faith, which is “the evidence of things not seen,” which John Wesley subscribed to. He said, “The term ‘faith’ I likewise use in the scriptural sense, meaning thereby ‘the evidence of things not seen.’ And that it is scriptural appears to me a sufficient defense of any way of speaking whatever.” (emphasis mine)

A second issue is you did not even paraphrase John's argument accurately. He simply said that the definition of faith that Christians most use today isn't biblical based. That's not saying Christians don't cite the bible.

Even you do not follow the biblical definition of faith. You have distorted it beyond all recognition for your apologetic purposes. You don't even accurately define the biblical definition of faith, let alone of those views of the Christians you've cited in your essay. Like everything else you cherry-pick and take quotes out of context. Like most all of your arguments.

Oh darn I'm too late. I wanted to be number 2,000!

David B Marshall said...

Steve: Thanks for the link -- a very interesting post. I've considered sometimes challenging Carrier to a debate. It's that kind of thing that gives me pause.

David B Marshall said...

Ken: In case you've forgotten, your earlier attempts to establish on this site that I misrepresented Justin, Origen, St. Paul, and Jesus on faith, didn't go well:;postID=7198529404551522015

It turned out that you had misread all four, in various ways, in some cases by getting your quotes from Richard Carrier, it seemed.

Now in your eagerness to defend your fellow Gnus, you seem to be saying that it is legitimate to criticize Christians for both (a) citing the Bible to prove their idea of how Christianity defines faith, and (b) failing to cite the Bible to prove their idea of how Christianity defines faith?

This is the kind of point-blank refusal to concede even the most obvious points, even at the cost of logic, that keeps you from becoming a serious dialogue partner. Instead you quibble about the supposed difference between a definition being biblically-based or being based on citations from the Bible. That's a desperate move.

Have you read John Wesley or Cotton Mather?

One other thing. The other day I was out of the office, and someone asked for a photo of me for promotional purposes. I searched "Google images," and found a photo of myself - from your site, with some crude obscenity attached to it.

When you interact with your fellow skeptics, you pretend as if you were innocent, and I had abused you, somehow. Do you really believe that? I have made light of your maturity a few times, true, for reasons most readers will not have to guess. But when have I ever done anything like that?

I don't plan to delete your posts here, as long as you remain civil and pertinent. But don't think that I'm blind to these kinds of things, or that they make no difference.

Arizona Atheist said...


”In case you've forgotten, your earlier attempts to establish on this site that I misrepresented Justin, Origen, St. Paul, and Jesus on faith, didn't go well”

:-) I've already addressed those bad arguments and I also demonstrated how you took those writers out of context. Just look in the comments of that post. FYI: Please go read my post again. I didn't just cite Carrier. I cited primary sources. Now, where I do only cite Carrier in one or two places I also checked the accuracy of his claims to ensure his interpretations were correct. So, even in that case I did check primary sources.

”Now in your eagerness to defend your fellow Gnus, you seem to be saying that it is legitimate to criticize Christians for both (a) citing the Bible to prove their idea of how Christianity defines faith, and (b) failing to cite the Bible to prove their idea of how Christianity defines faith?”

Mike didn't say that Christians couldn't cite the bible. He simply thought it was pointless. I personally don't agree with the approach he took on that specific issue about your citing the bible, but he did address your faith argument head on, but you ignored it. I suggest you reread his post.

”Have you read John Wesley or Cotton Mather?”

Of course I have. Again, you fail to respond to the facts I laid out.

I'm not sure which picture you're referring to, but you were calling me names several months prior to me posting any pictures of you on my blog, or making any remarks about you. If you want to be treated fairly and kindly I suggest you quit with your name-calling and attitude. And for the record, I never called you any names prior to the immature attitude you gave me on Amazon. You were just pissed I gave your book a negative rating. Talk about immature, eh? Now, you may argue that you were justified because there were a few inaccuracies in my initial review, but others have accidentally misread a few passages in your book, which you pointed out, but you didn't get nasty with them. One person who comes to mind is Landon, who, if I'm not mistaken, gave your book three or four stars. But, with my one-star review you berated and talked down to me for the same minor mistakes. That seems to me like you were just angry I gave your book a bad rating, or else why act that way? So, if you'd like to talk about maturity, perhaps you ought to get yourself a pep talk first before trying to lecture someone else on a subject you, yourself, need work on.

I should add that I've never been rude to you on your blog so I don't know where that last bit came from. Might I suggest you stay on topic? But to answer: You were rude to me long before I ever said anything nasty in response to you or about you so I don't think you have room to talk.


David B Marshall said...

Ken: You seem to be hoping no one will go and read the post. You showed how I took those four writers out of context in the other thread? Baloney you did. You did't even CLAIM to do that, there. In fact, you admitted directly that you were NOT answering my arguments.

Nor did any of your allies. It was all empty assertion on your side, direct, substantial quotes on mine. Anyone can read the thread for themselves -- it's not going anywhere.

As for Justin, it was easy to show that your assertion (borrowed from Carrier) was completely wrong:

"You can read Justin's two apologies back to front and never once find any other methodological principle or source of his faith [other than the scripture]."

I showed that not only can you easily find these things, but they come well before, and are thus a lot easier to find than arguments from Scripture. You can't just wish those texts away, or pretend they doesn't exist. Even more than the obscenities, this business of looking at an elephant five feet away and pretending it's a moth, is why I don't much enjoy talking with you. No matter how overwhelming and clear the evidence, you'll just deny, deny, deny, as will your fans.

"Of course" you've read Wesley and Mather? Which books?

Aside from remarking on your immaturity, and the bad behavior that demonstrated it, which you are aware of, I don't think I've called you any names. You've posted, what, 70 attacks on me on your web site? I don't even want to know what other filthy names you've called me.

Of course you don't do it here. So what? You think I should be grateful that you limit your vitriol to a whole bunch of other sites where you can get away with it?

I treat Landon with respect, because he earns it. You can't seem to make up your mind whether or not to act respectably: I sincerely hope you'll listen to the good angel and clean up your act. You might begin by deleting the foul language. If you can point to any foul language I have ever used about you, I'll be glad to do the same.

Arizona Atheist said...

After looking again, since it's been a while, you're correct – partially. I thought I had responded in more detail but I guess not. I did, however, respond directly to your assertions about Justin and briefly explained why you were wrong. I wrote: “The fact is, none of the Christians you cite or biblical passages mention anything about checking the facts in regards to their religious faith. Justin talking about supposed crimes of Christians doesn't cut it. This right there proves you don't understand what Dawkins means by “blind faith.” Dawkins doesn't mean Christians never rely on evidence, but do not rely on evidence for their religious beliefs.”

I also corrected your misstatement about my alleged failure to check primary sources, which you repeated above. I also said the following in the comments to your response: “By the way, you apparently didn't read my footnotes very closely because I didn't read either Origen or Justin Martyr “second hand.” I read the entirety of both of their writings on the internet to double check what Carrier said was accurate. Unlike you, I check out my sources' accuracy.” (Link to my comment)

As for the rest of your response, it's more of what I've unfortunately come to expect. You continue to make bald assertions about how wrong I supposedly am but you don't even bother to respond with any facts to back up what you say about William Law and Cotton Mather. And this also goes for what I said about your failure to read Justin correctly in the comments in your response to me (quoted above).

You wrote, “No matter how overwhelming and clear the evidence, you'll just deny, deny, deny, as will your fans.”

I'm sorry, but this only applies to yourself, I'm afraid. Even other Christians disagree with your interpretations of the quotes you use to back up your faith and reason argument. One would think this would cause you to rethink your position, but you deny, deny, deny.

You don't think you've called me any names??? Are you joking??? I have screenshots of dozens of examples of this from you. And, for the record, I have several examples of you calling other people names as well. I shall provide them for you if it might help refresh your memory.

I'm sorry but you didn't respond to what I wrote. I pointed out the obvious fact that both Landon and I incorrectly interpreted a few portions of your book. You politely corrected his mistake but you rudely insulted me and called me “untrustworthy” because of my incorrect interpretation of what you wrote (this took place on your Amazon blog). Same mistake, two different people, two very different responses from you. My guess is that you were acting out because I rated your book so poorly.

I don't believe I've called you any names for quite some time (well over a year if not longer I believe), which I readily admit to. Of course, you are horribly guilty of neglecting to tell the whole story. Why exactly did I get so upset? I would think that even you can understand that someone would not appreciate being smeared all over a website and continually insulted. In hindsight I think I reacted in haste and I regret it, but that isn't to say I didn't have good reason to be upset. I certainly did. Most people don't appreciate being called names and being subject to your condescending tone.


Arizona Atheist said...

Anyhow, I'm over everything that happened and I'd rather just move on. However, since you brought it up, you've called me a fool on more occasions than I could count. You've called me immature (the pot calling the kettle black I'd say) and you outright lied about me and tried to smear me all over Amazon. I would surely call those actions immature, but you go ahead and refuse to accept responsibility for these actions of yours. The fact of the matter is that I have hard evidence of these (and other) transgressions and you can't hide from them. They're out there for anyone who wants to see them so there is no use trying to deny them.

I believe the only person who needs to do any soul searching is you. I think you ought to really think about how you acted. Maybe some day you will see what I and everyone else who interacts with you sees.

P.S. I believe I have deleted the foul language, most of it anyway. I've gone through and edited most posts on my blog. You once again, though, refuse to acknowledge the reason for that strong language. I didn't exactly like being called names and talked down to unnecessarily, which caused a lot of anger.

Quite frankly, I've done more than probably anyone else to respond to your arguments. That I think should earn yours and anyone else's respect. Many others acknowledge this, but you continue to refuse to deal with my excellent arguments. Your botched attempt to respond to a mere page and a half of my review of your book, I'm sorry to have to tell you, doesn't cut it. Even that wasn't a successful rebuttal, but feel free to deny, deny, deny, as I know you will.