Sunday, June 23, 2013

Deconstructing Inanity: John Loftus runs out of arguments.

Because we Christians have "stunted imaginations," as atheist John Loftus informs us, we often turn to our critics to find arguments for our faith.  This is one valuable service sites like Loftus' own Deconstructing Christianity have sometimes provided.  (Along with the thrill Churchill described of being shot at without effect, and [for new apologists] the sort of practice a lioness gives her cubs in taking down wounded game.)   DC has, in the past, offered at least one interesting argument against Christianity, which properly understood turned out to be an argument for Christianity.  That was John's famous Outsider Test for Faith, which I deconstruct, then reconstruct, in the present edition of Touchstone Magazine, and in a chapter of the forthcoming True Reason.  (Though despite my lack of imagination, I anticipated the argument in Jesus and the Religions of Man (2000), as did G. K. Chesterton in Everlasting Man long before.)

But lately, even after taking on several co-writers, and despite all the imagination their skepticism lends them, Loftus and Co can't seem to think of any real arguments.  They have taken, instead, to posting pictures of criminals who work in churches, scoffing at the sins of Sampson, which needless to say have been picked over before, calling philosopher Alvin Plantinga (of all people) "stupid," and reminding Christians of our want of imagination!

Breaking news: famous Israeli
hero found to have shaky
This morning, for instance, DC published a photo of one Larry Durant, who apparently coerced three women into having sex with him.  (Though not at one time.)  Durant was pastor of one Word International Ministry in South Carolina.  

With half a million pastors in the US, how could any of them be criminals? (And why does the Western world regard polygamy as villainous in the first place?  Isn't that just what comes natural?) 

But let's talk serious crime -- murder.  Given Detroit, which has maybe 200,000 adult males, and murders 400 people a year, if they kill at the same rate, Christian pastors in America alone should be murdering 1,000 people a year! That's three a day!

So if DC really wanted to show how useless Christianity is, or just provide a helpful public service announcement, why not name the three people murdered by Christian pastors in the US yesterday?  Or maybe it's five people a day, to demonstrate that Christianity is not only useless, but positively harmful? 

If pastors don't murder as often as demographics suggest, might this show that ministry might have some redeeming quality?  Is DC thinking in a "scientifalistic" (TM) manner at all, or just randomly throwing out anecdotes? 

Those long-haired California-style
I don't suppose the people at DC have ever heard of a Christian preacher named Jesus? He used to yell at his disciples when they wanted to bomb Palestinian villages back to the Stone Age for their unbelief. One adult male on his own preaching team turned out to be a thief and an accomplice to murder.  (One in twelve!  That's worse than New Orleans!)  How shocked we Christians should be that the Bible turns out to give an accurate depiction of real life! 
And Samson, too - a body builder with an interest in politics, who likes girls too much?  Come on, when does that ever happen?

Once again, despite their vaunted want of imagination, primitive Christians depicted life in its full complexity, scooping the imaginative geniuses at DC by 2000 years.

Christians lack imagination?  Take that, Chaucer!  Dante!  Milton!  Spenser!  Dostoevsky!  Tolkien!  C. S. Lewis!

But the details of the "stunted imagination" charge are rather amusing.  Loftus and Christian philosopher Victor Reppert were arguing about the Annunciation, when Jesus ascended into heaven.  Loftus scoffed at the story -- what, is heaven in the upper atmosphere?  Reppert probably echoed C. S. Lewis in responding (Loftus didn't link the original), where else would Jesus go?  Loftus scoffed back:

Vic, this is easy. Jesus could have predicted he will disappear into the spiritual realm from whence he came. He could have said he will disappear at high noon the next day from off Mt. Olives. Then the next day when the crowd arrived, he would say goodbye and then *poof* he's gone.

See now, Victor, what a really imaginative Secular Humanist, whose mind has not been fried by faith, would propose.

"The Annunciation," by John Loftus.
Jesus should be Bilbo Baggins.  Because of course, John Loftus can think up something cleverer than Christians with stunted imaginations like St. Matthew -- they can plagiarize a children's story from a conservative Catholic linguist.  

It is evident that Loftus and Co are stuck in a rut.  Apparently to be an effective skeptic, you need to be a little more skeptical towards your own random anecdotal arguments.  It looks like Christians may need to start supplying Deconstructing Christianity with arguments against our faith, as well as for it. 

That will also help us Christians develop our poverty-stricken imaginations. 

So contact John Loftus if you have any ideas.  I'll get the ball rolling, by repeating the suggestion I made in my last post.   

Give me the names of people who have been inspired by Jesus to mess up the world.  They don't have to be Christians, but they do need to have been inspired specifically by the teachings and example of Jesus.  And what they were inspired to do by Jesus' teachings, has to have harmed humanity in some serious way. 

Admittedly, the gospels anticipate the possibility that Christians will sometimes prove to be villains.  But at least that will improve the "pastor in South Carolina got laid" argument in two ways: (1) by limiting ourselves to people who have had a major impact on the world, and therefore to a smaller and more important cross-section of humanity, we avoid the statistical noise of billions of people acting from complex and varying desires; (2) by limiting ourselves to actions taken in obedience to rather than in defiance of the life and teachings of Jesus, we may get an argument that reflects some actual evil in the first Christian texts, rather than just a distant echo of the realism of the Bible about human nature.


Cyrus said...

Give you a list of people inspired by jesus to mess up the world? Here you go.

David B Marshall said...

Nice try, but I'm not sure any of those ten people fit the criteria. Paul Hill might possibly have been inspired by the Gospel to kill an abortion doctor to save babies -- do you have biographical evidence of that? But that would hardly qualify for the kind of large-scale impact I'm looking for, even if so.

Others on this list are flagrant heretics; Jim Jones I know well enough to know he doesn't match the criteria, for sure. He was a Marxist and a New Ager, along with a psychopath. Moon is a pretty typical cultist, roughly of a sort East Asia has produced for centuries. Or what NT verses inspired him to do mass weddings? As far as I know, Pat Robertson has not done any great harm, aside from shooting his mouth off in foolish ways.

But thanks for the list; maybe one or two of these gents will qualify. Need to doublecheck biographical details first, of course.

Cyrus said...

Here's an interesting watch.

John W. Loftus said...

Here are some Christians who have messed up the credibility of Christianity:

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, John. Though that wasn't my question, and on first scan at least, I don't see anyone in that particular list who qualifies for this one. The issue isn't the credibility of Christianity, it is harmful impact on the world, through obeying Jesus too much.

Crude said...

Jim Jones: Well, I’m really heart and mind with you. I’m uh, you know, an agnostic. We have a— some emphasis on the terms of paranormal, because uh, it brings results, uh, there is something to therapeutic healing, all medical science has proven, but we don’t link that with any kind of causative factor of a loving God. Off the record, I don’t believe in any loving God. Our people, I would say, are ninety percent atheist. Uh, we— we think Jesus Christ was a swinger. He taught some pretty damn good things at feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, uh, maybe a little paternalistic, but it’s still uh— all the emphasis of the judgment of character— the only time he ever mentioned judgment at all was in Matthew 25, and it had to do totally with what you were doing for other people, so we— we emphasize the teachings of Christ, but um, we’re a— we are as um— we’re the most unusual church I’ve ever run into, in— in this sense, uh, and we state in the church— I would’ve loved to have been in the foundation.

Source right here.

From wikipedia: The incident in Guyana ranks among the largest mass suicides in history, though most likely it involved forced suicide and/or murder, and was the single greatest loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the events of September 11, 2001.

So, one of the largest mass suicides in history, one of the most wild religious cults... was an atheist cult.

Arizona Atheist said...

Ummm... John's blog is called Debunking Christianity. FYI: In your essay Faith and Reason you also need to correct another typo. You had cited a book by Pope John Paul II, which you mistakenly titled Crossing the Threshold of Faith, when it's actually called Crossing the Threshold of Hope. :- D

Also, you might want to add the following to your Naughty Christian list:

David B Marshall said...

That's why God created copy editors.

I don't see that the people profiled on the site you cite fulfills the criteria listed, though. What evidence do you have that any of these priests were following the teachings of Jesus about molesting children, rather than their own perverse urges? Is this supposed to be unique to Christianity, or in some other way related to my challenge? It doesn't look like most these men meet the criteria for scope, either.

That's the advantage of setting criteria in advance: it forces discipline on the argument.

Answers also received from Richard Carrier and Hector Avalos by e-mail.

Crude said...

You could more easily make the argument that those priests were acting as if they were atheists.

Arizona Atheist said...


I think your criteria is highly flawed. Just because there is no story in the bible of Jesus molesting children, or Jesus telling his followers to do the same, doesn't mean these acts are not caused by their religious beliefs. Studies have shown many times how the religious are much more likely to be sexual predators. Here are a few examples:

Donna Eshuys and Stephen Smallbone of Griffith University in Australia assessed 111 incarcerated adult male sexual offenders. They categorised them as either atheists, religious dropouts, new converts, and lifelong religious stayers.

Surprisingly, they found that this last group (those who maintained religious involvement from childhood to adulthood) had more sexual offence convictions, more victims, and younger victims, than other groups. This relationship persisted after controlling for other factors that might explain it.

A similar study comes from Israel, and looked at Jewish male prisoners. As in the UK, religious individuals were rarer in prison than in wider society (by religious they mean orthodox observant Jews, who made up 3.75% of the prison population, compared with 20% of the general population). However, those religious Jews who were in prison were more likely to be in for sex crimes.

Lastly, Ruth Stout-Miller and colleagues interviewed freshman at a Southern University, and found that those who had been sexually abused by a relative were much more likely to be affiliated with fundamental Protestant religions (while those abused by a non-relative were more likely to be non-religious)[]

I believe the reason for this is likely the sexual repression that goes on from the religious leaders' chastity vows. By suppressing natural sexual urges these men seem to go after the vulnerable to satisfy their needs instead of a loving, healthy relationship. Of course, that is only speculation on my part, but if anyone has any other more plausible reason I'd like to hear it. One response I've heard (and will likely be used here) is that these priests and religious figures were already pedophiles. The reason they decided to become a priest was access to young boys. I don't think this answer is satisfactory. There are dozens of professions where adults deal with children but we do not see this massive number of cases in any other area. If it's not the suppression of their urges, what is it?

I'm curious, what were Avalos' and Carrier's responses?

Loren said...

This seems like an exercise in the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. Anything positive gets attributed to the "Gospel of Christ", anything negative does not.

Consider the Divine Right of Kings, that the likes of "By Grace of God" King George III have a right to rule because they are God's provincial governors.

That's straight out of Romans 13, which does not make exceptions for "bad" leaders. In the Old Testament, some of the writers criticize various kings, but they all consider the best sort of government a good king.

Jesus Christ himself never objects to monarchy, and he even claims that it is correct to say that he is the king of the Jews.

Then there's slavery. The Bible does not *mandate* slaveowning, but it does take slavery for granted from beginning to end, and it even talks about who it is OK to enslave. Jesus Christ certainly did not decree that human beings may not be owned, and that all claims of such ownership are to be null and void.


David B Marshall said...

Ken: My criteria are consistent. I am judging help and harm in exactly the same way. Therefore the influence of Jesus can be assessed in that limited way.

Your speculations about prisoners are, again, just not to the point. (And a little bizarre, too, since Protestant leaders don't take chastity vows!)

I'll be posting on all suggestions from atheists, including from Carrier, Avalos, and those here, subsequently. I can say that Carrier probably gave the best response so far, though it still leaves us a long ways to go, and I may be seeking input from other atheists.

David B Marshall said...

Loren: I gave dozens of names of great reformers who were clearly influenced in their reform by the direct teachings and example of Jesus. I then challenged atheists to offer similar names of people who have similarly been influenced by the direct teachings and example of Jesus to do great evil.

Sorry you can't think of anyone. But changing the subject, pointing out that Jesus didn't demand certain reforms that you think he ought to have brought up, or yacking about Scotland, again, isn't even a weak answer.

I guess I need to find some hard-core atheists who are also historians.

domics said...

OK, even if as David B Marshall has pointed out it is OT, I read the Donna Eshuys and Stephen Smallbone's article. There is a little problem: in the abstract it is not stated that the 111 incarcerated were "accepted into a specialized treatment program for sexual offenders".
Now, because in the article are not specified the selection criteria for this special program, all the article for me is useless. I give an example:
if the criterion was the voluntariness nothing forbids me to think that the more religious you are the more you have the desire to treat your problem but this says anything about the relation religiosity/sex offending in the general population of the incarcerated.

Unknown said...

Excellent David,,,now lets turn it around an put a lst of atheists who have messed up the starters Stalin 50 million plus...oh hang on says the atheists Stalin didnt destroy all those people because of atheism but he was a communist YEAH GOTCHA