Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Comprehensive Defense of "The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails"


This series is an atheist's review of an important anthology critical of Christian beliefs called, "The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails" (TCD), that is likely to be popularly discussed across the web. I'll be reviewing the book in light of just about every other response to TCD on the web (pros and cons) and responding to new Christian objections as I find them. I think this will be the best that I personally can contribute to advancing our collective conversation about these important roadblocks to solidarity in our culture.

The following is a "CliffsNotes" page of my review. TCD has 5 different sections, so I'll be breaking this up accordingly (although I've lumped in Dan Barker's Foreword and John Loftus' Introduction here). I've copied and collected all the contents pages from each post so there can be a meta-overview that is easily accessible. It will be easy for those interested to have an idea of the book's various failings and will also work well for me to skim through to find links to particular sections when I need to self-link in future posts.

If anyone knows the html coding for collapsing sections of a post, I'd love to apply it here.

Note, you can search the entirety of my review (which is already a book in length on its own, just by chapter 5) with this custom google search I've set up.

Contents of this Contents Page:

Part 1: Why Faith Fails

Dan Barker's Foreword:

I respond to John Loftus on Dan Barker's reputation: Is Dan Barker a dick?
Loftus believes I've insulted Barker with my original review. I point out why Barker deserves the criticism.

Barker tells instead of shows: Are atheists really that interested in the facts?
In a contentious context, no one listens when you tell them what to think. You have to show them why they should think it. Barker goes way overboard trying to tell us just how desperately interested in the facts the contributors of this book are.

There might yet be hope for the book: Is TCD intellectually challenging and respectful in tone?
Christian reviewer, James McGrath gives me some confidence that perhaps Christians won't be terribly offended by the contents of TCD. Although he's an overly tolerant guy.

Barker is careless with his praise: Does TCD defend the mythicist position?
Barker bothers to bring up mythicism (the idea that Jesus never existed as a historical person) in a book that does not defend mythicism. I demonstrate what a horrible misstep this is in terms of our Christian audience.


Outro: Not rated.

Barker sets a fairly bad precedent that is unfortunately continued so far throughout TCD (I'm only on chapter 5 at this point) of "telling" instead of "showing." Ultimately that means an underlying tone of the book is "us vs. them" when we could have been all in the same boat reasoning together.

Introduction, by John Loftus:

Loftus fails at diplomacy: Is the title, "The Christian Delusion" an ad hominem attack?
I would tolerate a sensational title if the authors took more responsibility for the internal presentation of the information and arguments. Unfortunately that didn't happen enough.

Loftus fails to frame his introduction to TCD: Are there no mainstream Christians?
Loftus attempts to shuffle mainstream Christianity out of the deck to make it look like skepticism has made much more headway than it actually has.

I respond to Christian reviewer, Paul Manata: Is TCD even long enough to refute the supposed thousands of Christian delusions?
Manata goes a bit too far in another direction.

I respond to Christian sensibilities: Has Christianity stood the test of time?
Presumably Loftus is attempting to counter the claim that Christianity always persists despite its most ardent critics, but that doesn't mean it does so because it is true.

Loftus is pretentious and cynical: Will TCD change Christian beliefs?
Loftus imagines that Christianity will mutate into yet another form because of the contents of TCD. No offense, and I hope the book has impact, but I doubt that'll be the case to a significant enough degree to warrant Loftus' claim.

Loftus fails to prove his point: How significant are the versions of Christianities that concede to various skeptical arguments?
Loftus could potentially save his point if he could show just how significant the demographics of arbitrarily rational Christian groups really are. He doesn't do this.

I respond to Christian sensibilities: Do atheists need new arguments?
Many of the old arguments still apply. Theists just think they got over them.


Understanding TCD: Do we need to read "Why I became an Atheist" before we read TCD?
Short answer: Loftus trips over his own words, but reading WIBA would help a bit more than Loftus lets on, unfortunately.

Loftus is unclear: Are Christian presuppositionalism and fideism new?
Loftus seems to think these ideas came about in his lifetime. Perhaps they were more developed in his lifetime?

Short answer: Yes. Plantinga is making an implausible exception when we compare theistic properly basic beliefs to the intimate checks and balances we place on other properly basic beliefs.

I respond to Christian reviewer, Cory Tucholski: Does Loftus misrepresent Craig and Plantinga's Holy Spirit defeater?
Short answer: Yes and no. Craig can be found to play both sides of the fence and there is no coherent way to represent his views.

Loftus' imagination fails: Should annihilationists fear hell?
Loftus demonstrates his failure of imagination since there is plenty of reason to fear non-existence if you have the chance to live in bliss for eternity. It would also be especially humiliating to be singled out on Judgment Day, and there be a brief period where you are burned up into non-existence in front of everyone else who is on their way to heaven.

Loftus fails to prove his case: Can modern exegetes get it right with so much historical fail?
Loftus tries to play different Christian exegetical conclusions against each other, but fails to give good examples.

Outro: Not rated.

The introduction amounts to sloppy, educated sh*t talk. Loftus wants to intimidate and overwhelm average Christian readers, but is probably going to cause himself more problems than it's worth.

Chapter 1, "The Cultures of Christianities," by David Eller:

Eller's Overstates Argument: Is religion all culture?
I guide the readers over the journey to figure out what exactly Eller's argument even is. Then we realize his argument is outright fallacious.

Eller Asserts Conclusion: Are all religious arguments bogus?
Turns out, Eller declares premature victory over all Christian arguments and evidence with sentence twoof chapter one of TCD. Christians are not impressed.

Eller Misses the Mark: Should atheists be excusing themselves for failing to convert Christians?
Eller's chapter seems to be more about explaining to atheists why they fail to convince Christians with logic and evidence rather than about persuading Christians that they are delusional.

I respond to Eller's response to my review: Should "openly atheistic" books pass their own outsider test for faith?
Loftus emailed the original version of my review to Eller who clearly didn't get the point.

I respond to Loftus' response to my review: Are atheists obligated to agree with Eller's logic?
Loftus fails to tell the difference between disagreeing with fallacious arguments and disagreeing with conclusions.

I agree with Christian reviewer, Looney: Can there be a true religion after all?
Despite the hype for TCD, there is in fact a very obvious and typical "somewhere to run" for Christians.

The Point of Eller's Chapter: Should we be aware of the influence of culture in generating religious persuasion?
The tragedy of this chapter is that Eller didn't even need to include his fallacious reasoning.

Christian reviewer, Paul Manata makes a potential point: How much does culture affect the scientific community?
Probably not enough to matter, but it would be an interesting issue to explore.

Eller Overstates Point: Are the religious aspects of our culture a conspiracy?
Atheists accuse Christians of being deluded for seeing demons behind every bush, and perhaps the same should apply to anthropologists who see Jesus behind every sneeze.


I chastise the atheist movement: Should secular humanists be developing a well-rounded culture to satisfy human needs?
I use the arguments from Eller's chapter on the influence of enculturalization to show that atheists should be working on their own cultural paradigm. Eller might actually agree.

Eller abuses a common atheist metaphor: Would religious people be feeble without their "crutch"?
Eller says we shouldn't use the "religion is a crutch" metaphor, and I point out it doesn't have to be an insult. A wide range of "strong" and "weak" people are bound to be equally encultured by religion, so many people are simply unnecessarily letting religion rob them of things they could just as easily be doing themselves.

Eller is "one of those" philosophers: If years aren't real, does time even exist?
Obviously the idea that the delineation of time is arbitrary makes perfect sense, but after a painful chapter, one does not wish to see things stated so badly in "philosopherese."

Outro: 3 out of 5 stars

Important content for a book like this, but poorly presented. Bad start for the book.

Chapter 2, "Christian Belief through the Lens of Cognitive Science," by Valerie Tarico:

Tarico Vs. Eller:

I respond to Christian reviewer, Looney: Has Christianity converged on manipulative techniques or is it too plastic to even label a single entity?
Both the similarities and differences need to be explained and the orthodox Christian interpretation is not the best explanation.

I respond to Christian reviewer, Patrick Chan: So which is it, cognitive science or culture?
Both! And then some.

I respond to Christian reviewer, Paul Manata:

If Christians were unified on what that one right belief was, there might be a contradiction between Eller and Tarico.

Manata quote mines Eller pretty hardcore to pull this "contradiction" off.
On Certainty:

I respond to Christian reviewer, jayman777: Can humans be trusted with metaphysical conclusions?
Jayman777 objects that Christians aren't supposed to be any more infallible than atheists, but Tarico's point is that humans can't really be trusted to evaluate far-reaching metaphysical claims.

I respond to Christian reviewer, Randal Rauser (and Christian reviewers, Steve Hays, Manata, Jason Engwer, and Dusman): Does Tarico defeat her own conclusions of certainty?
Um...only if you take her rhetoric to an incoherent extreme. But why would a charitable reader do that?

I respond to Hays:

Would Tarico's position make science impossible?
No, and she already explained why.

Does bias cut equally both ways for theists and atheists?
Potentially, but Tarico already conceded that.

Are subliminal biases uncorrectable if Tarico is right?
Given the ignored context of Tarico's quotes, not necessarily.

Psychology Vs. Religion:

I respond to Looney (and Rauser): Has psychology explained religious experiences?
Looney says he's familiar with how this kind of psychology works and asks why he should care? I explain that though his interpretation is possible, naturalism is a sufficient explanation and in any event there are many Christians who should probably at least be informed about what is attributable to psychology even if God may still be responsible in some way or some circumstances.

I respond to Hays:

It seems Hays didn't read carefully, and even a fellow Christian contributor to The Infidel Delusion (TID) knows better.

No. Tarico never implied it did. See Richard Carrier's chapter.

I respond to Chan: Does Tarico commit the genetic fallacy to explain away religious experiences?
Um, no. And even Manata admits this elsewhere in TID.

I respond to Manata:

Tarico never claimed every congregation does things the same way. Manata doesn't get into how he actually converted and maybe he should.

Um, given how much the authors of TID and other Christian reviewers didn't pay close attention the first time around, wasting their review on obnoxious misrepresentations and red herrings, they really don't have the right to complain.

Skeptical Denialism:

I respond to jayman777 (and Looney): Did Tarico only focus on the "born again" experience?
For some reason two reviewers here seemed to think Tarico was only explaining one aspect of religious psychology. While she never claimed to be covering everything, there were several other factors covered in the chapter.

Jayman777 complains that skeptics tread dangerously close to being in denial that Christians have any religious experiences at all. I sympathize, but ultimately this is about interpretation of actual experiences and arguments to the better explanation in context of a vast and arbitrary religious landscape (plus all of the anomalous non-religious experiences, too), rather than denial.

Then we'd have some really good evidence wouldn't we?

Why not show that one of them is true first?

I respond to Looney: Why didn't evolution favor a predominantly atheistic mentality?
I attempt to answer on Tarico's behalf (assuming evolution had much to do with religion at all) that atheism has no content and doesn't enable mental shortcuts for framing the human experience like theism tends to do.

I respond to jayman777:

Are abstract theologies a recent invention?
Short answer: Even if early Christianity had a more advanced understanding of their deity, that doesn't mean the OT authors did.

Does it make sense to pray to an omniscient being?
Short answer: It can. I explain that there are other issues, though.

Do all Christians base their faith on emotional states?
Short answer: No. But it seems that often even sophisticated theologians hinge their arguments on an underlying sense of existential and emotional entitlement.

I respond to Rauser: Is Tarico unreliable as a guide to the heart of Christian belief?
Rauser gets a little picky, but can he hold his point?

I respond to Engwer:

Maybe, but not nearly as much as Engwer misrepresents their statements.

Should Ed Babinski not be so confident of his conclusions in chapter 5?
Maybe, but Engwer needs to cite specific examples of where one author says something in the Bible is "too vague" and another says the very same thing is "too obvious."

Engwer complains that a hallucination doesn't account for all the evidence very well, but he ignores the lameness of the best evidence (Paul's own words) in favor of what isn't as credible on the same issue (Luke-Acts).

I respond to Chan (and Dusman):

What about Alvin Plantinga's argument against the reliability of naturalistic minds?
Most planets probably don't have life, most evolved organisms do not do a lot of thinking, we know most thinking organisms have faulty minds, and the idea that "maybe" none would if evolution is true is meaningless in the face of our direct experience with our own minds and the fact of evolution. And why wouldn't magic minds have perfect truth-finding abilities like we know we don't have?

What about the demarcation problem in science?
This red herring doesn't appear to apply to anything relevant here.

What about the problem of induction?
Christian philosophy does not have a solution to the problem of induction, so it doesn't make sense to complain when other worldviews don't either.

Couldn't God have made our minds in such a way they naturally conclude God exists?
"Maybe therefore probably" is fallacious.

Isn't Tarico and Dawkins' position on the popularity of religious thinking a conspiracy to avoid the truth of Romans 1:18-21?
Paul says EVERYONE is without excuse for specifically knowing that God exists and that they are morally accountable to Him, not just that "most people seem to have a tendency towards some kind of religious thinking." Slight difference.

I respond to Manata:

What about the mind/body problem?
What about the mind/body problem impacts this chapter? I know of no philosophical consensus coming down on the magic side of things.

How can materialism account for beliefs?
Physical computers can be constructed to have files that have direct implications for a robot's behaviors. This is analogous enough to belief.

How can materialism account for subjective experiences like pain?
That qualia is anything special is probably a systemic illusion generated by the most sophisticated computing system we know of in the universe. Magic minds wouldn't even need a brain.

What about the zombie argument?
A zombie brain that could literally perform all the sophisticated interrelated functions of the mind would have to be analogous to our minds and would probably have the same qualia "problem." If qualia doesn't do anything, why does it even "exist?"

What about The Argument from Knowledge?
Humans lack a mental function that can translate information into the necessary physical perception transaction and therefore the example is meaningless.

Does Tarico not know anything about theistic philosophy?
Is it better to be somewhat ignorant and know when you are being bamboozled by sophistry, or is it better to act like a jerk and be flagrantly wrong like Manata?

Awesome chapter. Well written.

Chapter 3: "The Malleability of the Human Mind," by Jason Long:

Long's rhetoric is too high strung: Are only believers biased?
I spend quite a bit of time pointing out how overblown a lot of Long's rhetoric is and what the consequences will likely be for the average Christian reader who may be looking for something to react to.

Christian reactions: I know you are, but what am I?
I survey the mostly justified Christian blowback created from the high strung rhetoric of Long's chapter.

I respond to Christian reviewer, Steve Hays:

As with the last two chapters on culture and cognitive science, intimate awareness of ubiquitous human bias has to cut deepest against the less than conservative claims of religion.

Is Calvinism affected by social conditioning?
No, but Calvinism isn't affected by concern for humanity either even though we are supposed to consider the Christian god to be a competent and loving caretaker.

Can you be afraid of hell if you don't think it exists?
No, but you can be afraid of the unknown.

Do Christians indoctrinate their children more than atheist parents?
Tough to say, but atheists aren't betraying a personal relationship with Jesus when they choose to teach their kids to think for themselves.

Are the majority of experts in the history of the ancient Near East sympathetic to Christianity?
Hays suggests otherwise, and I wouldn't know. Some help, please?

What do Long's assertions tell us about the intellectual standards of atheism?
Not a lot about atheism, but definitely something about Long and Hays.

Does Christianity have an unfair cultural mystique?
Hays brings up the obvious other competing mystiques in our cultural melting pot, but ultimately fails to make a difference to Long's point.

I respond to Christian reviewer, Jason Engwer:

Does TCD aim too low?
Yes and no, but the "low part" isn't completely unjustified if you are trying to appeal to a broader audience.

Does Long get hell wrong?
Not in any important way.

Is there no social pressure from society against Christianity?
There's certainly some, but most of what Engwer cites is the rebound from Christian influence in culture.

Are all of the conversions to Christianity by means of a persuasive historical case for the resurrection of Jesus illegitimate?
Obviously not, but people can be honestly convinced of a lot of untrue things and Christianity doesn't seem to be predominately supporting itself through the "legitimate" means.

I respond to Christian reviewer, Paul Manata:

Only if Christians have burned all the dictionaries again.

Is science dead?
Even with human bias in the scientific world that promotes rigorous standards (and occasionally fails to uphold them), is religion equally objective with it (and should we overlook its anti-objectivity faith standards)?

Is x more credible than y?
When you find out what x and y actually are, Manata doesn't sound quite as correct. Surprise, surprise.

Is Long a presuppositional skeptic?
Only if one ignores Long's modern experience of a magic-less world.

Can science and religion get along?
Can the majority of religious scientists come to some supernatural conclusion already?

On Christian apologist, William Lane Craig: Can the infamous "Holy Spirit defeater defeater" be defeated after all?
Despite Long's traditional portrayal, I argue that Craig has listened to his critics and changed his tune: Craig specifically tells atheists how we might try to defeat the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.

Credentials: Is Long qualified to write this chapter?
Short answer: Despite the online tug-o-war, I don't see why not. He's reporting the science of others competently enough. Anyone is free to show otherwise.

Standards: How might we avoid conventional Christian objections in the future?
I lay out some common sense guidelines for avoiding political bs in the future and demonstrate why atheist writers should listen.


Random question (for my information): Aren't Scientologists less trusted than atheists?
Inquiring Infidel actually corrects me on how to understand the discrepancy.

I make a request: Are there studies that show which parts of the brain Christians use to deal with issues in the Bible?
Long gives the example of how people use the emotional part of their brain to reconcile the statements of political figures they agree with. I just wonder if there is something that specifically targets Christians.

Long "goes there":

Can't we just let talking donkeys lie?
Long brings up the Bible's talking donkey three times. He almost gets away with it, but not quite.

Have Bible scholars never considered alternative viewpoints?
This just opens up the Pandora's box of every "former atheist" turned educated Bible believer.

Doesn't arrogance also correlate well with IQ?
Long promotes the studies that seem to show that IQ correlates well with atheism (assuming those studies are being interpreted properly), but seems to not recognize how this fits right into how Christians profile atheists.

3 out of 5 stars.

I thought I would give Long 4 stars initially, but was ultimately overwhelmed by how inappropriate much of his rhetoric is.

Chapter 4, "The Outsider Test for Faith Revisited" by John Loftus:

Loftus revisits David Eller's chapter 1 and Jason Long's chapter 3: For Better and Worse?
Loftus seems to manage to retroactively save Long's chapter, and eventually says all the things Eller should have said in his chapter, but still quotes more Eller uncritically.

I respond to Christian reviewer, Looney: Do we have to evaluate all possible worldviews before becoming an atheist?
The short answer is no. One does not have to evaluate all possible worldviews in order to have a convincing case for a particular worldview.

Loftus overstates a claim: Are all religions exclusivistic?
Since a great many religions are not mutually exclusive (even in method), Loftus' OTF is left a bit fuzzier than he presents it.

I respond to Christian reviewer, jayman777: What about religious people who convert for thoughtful reasons?
I tediously show how Loftus creates unnecessary problems for himself by lingering on this issue rather than directing readers to an actual intellectual battleground. This creates the appearance of a "no-true-rationalist" fallacy.

I respond to Christian reviewer, Paul Manata: Is Loftus' application of the OTF to Christianity incoherent?
Short answer: No. Manata pulls two Loftus quotes out of context.

I respond to Christian reviewer, Steve Hays: Is the OTF unfair because of Loftus' mission in life?
Appeal to motives doesn't invalidate a fair standard.

Loftus overstates a claim: Are Christians and atheists too delusional to get it right?
Human psychology seems to be portrayed as completely helpless and it's no surprise that Christians get the idea that they are supposed to "snap out of it" because we hypocritically said so.

Loftus is too simplistic:

Are Christians really methodological naturalists when it comes to other religions?
I imagine most Christian intellectuals who will read this book will likely not be so strictly confined. And even if they are, long standing apologetic alternative supernatural explanations are not hard for them to find.

I respond to Hays: Do many Muslims claim that demons inspired Christianity just like many Christians claim demons inspired Islam?
Hays bizarrely tries to deny it with a few variations of hairsplitting, but fails.

I respond to Christian reviewer, Jason Engwer: How does the OTF apply to appeals to modern paranormal phenomena?
If mainstream science or scholarship was against the position of your opponents, typically you'd dismiss them outright.

I respond to Hays:

Hays wants to portray it as covert atheism even though it is the most responsible open ended research program possible even if some version of supernaturalism happens to be true.

If Hays really wants to put Hiter 'staches on atheists for saying that gods, angels, devils, and magic aren't common ground, more power to him (to the demise of his credibility, that is).

Um...no...but supernatural things have to be admitted by all to at least be rare.

The materialistic world is our common ground and explaining why it is the way it is is a debate to be had.

Should distant third-parties who believe in the miraculous on this absentee basis?

Perhaps when Christians solve the problem of induction that will be a fair question.
Without consistency of standards (a la OTF), every cloud of anecdotal hearsay would generate an ontological artifact from Bigfoot to UFOs.

Have they happened yet? Have they happened yet? Have they happened yet? No. Hmmm...miracles seem rare [begin conversation over again]

The materialistic world is literally our backyard, the differences between views on them is not so great, and all naturalistic worldviews would be falsified with the vindication of just one supernatural claim.

Shouldn't the best explanation in any case have precedence?
When ambiguity and probability are not relevant factors Hays point here would matter. Obviously if we have good evidence, then we have good evidence.

Did Hays and Engwer call Loftus demon-possessed?
No, but Loftus' inference was not completely unjustified since Hays is known for making those kinds of accusations.

Is all Christian anecdotal evidence of the miraculous so easily invalidated?
Loftus blows off a huge issue in 9 words without explaining exactly how Christians are supposed to deal with the issue.

I respond to jayman777:
To an extent, when required.

I would hope so.

Yes, but not quite Loftus' version of it. See Richard Carrier's response instead.

I respond to Christian reviewer, Randal Rauser:

Yes. Next stupid question.

Is the OTF unfair to Christians while letting atheists off the hook?
No, because the default setting is agnosticism and guess what, epistemology is hard.

No and Loftus never said it was.

Yes, and that's what science is for (to rigorously pass difficult OTBs).

Not really, since it doesn't take much to become an agnostic insider.

How much should geographical distribution matter to apply the OTF?
Responsible people subject all their most important beliefs to scrutiny so it doesn't really matter what the exact thresholds are.

I respond to Hays:

Why is Steve Hays so dense?
Using various quotes from Hays, I demonstrate some of the reasons why this is such a difficult conversation to have with him.

Did Loftus never consider an OTB?
Hays bizarrely pretends like this issue wasn't already explained in Loftus' chapter.

Turns out, Hays just didn't believe Loftus applies OTBs in practice.

Is Ben's unquestionable axiom methodological atheism?
Rather than impress us with his smashing sense of fairness, Hays merely makes accusations he can't back up.

Isn't pointing out inconsistencies in your opponent's position a basic element of refutation?
Sure, but in this case, if Loftus is personally inconsistent that doesn't tell anyone else whether they should be or not, so it's just an irrelevant personal attack.

Is James McGrath a faithless axe-grinder?
Hays appears to be offended by McGrath's use of the Golden Rule in terms of being fair with competing religious claims.
Hays demonizes agnosticism as though every possible position is equally biased just because it can be called a position.

Are Hays' beliefs exempt from the OTF if he doesn't advocate the standard himself?
I can't seem to find anywhere in the laws of logic where it says it's okay for only Steve Hays to assert his conclusion.

Are there no outsiders to the fundamental truths of Christianity?
Hays' real problem with the OTF is that he thinks we all already know he is right.

Is the position of agnosticism cheating if there is all that evidence for God?
If there is so much evidence for God, then there's no reason that evidence cannot be presented to pass the OTF for those of us who are "confused."

Should Hays even be trying to connect with his audience?
One wonders what the point is if not.

Hays can't just assume we all have the same intuitions and so if the arguments from natural theology actually work, they can be presented to pass the OTF.

Is it hypocrisy for Hays to make sweeping statements about every nonbeliever, but object when nonbelievers do that about believers?
Yes, especially when he can't prove that he is in a position to know better and can easily be shown to ignore immediate contrary evidence to fit his ideological prejudice.

Even if atheism has no moral basis, that doesn't mean Christians can be hypocritical on their own terms.

I'm defending the premise of the OTF that says the vast majority of them probably did and that any further unseen mechanisms (like the Holy Spirit) would have to be justified with arguments that have more prima facie weight than the assumption of enculturalization.

Do proponents of the OTF have Hays' best interests at heart?
I don't think consistent rational thinking is going to kill Hays and plenty of people survive the journey to nonbelief.

Does everyone have to rigorously justify their worldview to have justified beliefs?
No, but if you are going to make claims well beyond the realm of human expertise (or include a lot of "I'm not that sures"), then you have to have your worldview justifications sorted out.

Does God jump start everyone with clear knowledge of his existence?
The Bible says that demons know God exists and shudder, but can all humans be expected to do the same kind of confidence-based shuddering?

How does Ben know he's not a brain-in-a-vat?
Hays avoids taking responsibility for his claim that he knows the mental states of nonbelievers with this philosophical red herring that has been addressed elsewhere.

Is it okay for Hays to make statements about the mental states of unbelievers since he has Divine Revelation on his side?
Am I allowed to say I have a crystal ball that tells me Christianity is false (and that Hays knows it) without actually proving it?

If Hays has such arguments on his blog, then he should be able to present them to pass the OTF.

Since Hays presents no evidence to pass the OTF, he can't quite justify calling us criminals, now can he?

Hays said we all know it's true, so yes.
People live in a lot of different kinds of mental states all the time and the evidence from nonbelievers (and everyone else) reflects this spectrum.

Hays doesn't think he has to present any evidence to show this, whereas Loftus does (in addition to probably allowing for people being honestly mistaken, whereas there's no such thing for Hays on nonbelievers).

Some do, but not all of them.

Even when atheists aren't moral relativists, Hays just has an excuse for that as well.

Aren't moral relativists who act inconsistently trying to evade an unwelcome truth?
Having a somewhat inconsistent moral paradigm is normal for pretty much everyone and hardly evidence they know Hays' god exists.

Doesn't our fallen human nature explain why believers can be found to struggle with the existence of God?
Wouldn't that give humanity an excuse for not knowing that God exists since our mental faculties are corrupted beyond our control?

Is the lack of denial of the existence of physical objects a bad example to compare to the denial of the existence of God?
It can't be a bad example since the existence of God is supposed to be clear and we are supposed to be without excuse.

Wouldn't a better example be the existence of the past?
To even have a conversation everyone recognizes the necessary trust we put in belief in the past and theists can only hope to argue like that for God's utility in much more ambiguous philosophical territory.

Don't unbelievers often act crazy?
Not proportionately more so than believers, as far as I know.

What's the difference between natural theology and natural revelation?
Hays says he's appealing to revelation, but that's an interpretation based on whether or not the arguments from natural theology actually work.

Can't there be subliminal inferences from natural revelation that are more primary than the arguments from natural theology?
How are we supposed to know what the correct subliminal inferences are when they differ unless the arguments from natural theology actually work?

Does Hays not have to explain how he knows that all nonbelievers are living in denial, because the OTF is a cookie-cutter standard?
The OTF is open to any Christian who doesn't fit the "mold" to pass it, and Hays still has to explain how he knows the divine revelation he appeals to is genuine.

Christian beliefs are not conservative claims about reality (that are well outside the realm of human expertise) and many people have different kinds of innate intuitions and subliminal mental processes contrary to Christian doctrine.

Since TID is only meant to be apologetic defense, does Hays need to unpack any of the evidence for belief in divine revelation since it is secondary anyway?
Hays is just arguing for his right to not justify why Christians believe since he believes his actual arguments are secondary.

Why doesn't Ben just read the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology if he's so interested in the arguments from natural theology?
I am already reading that book, but that doesn't mean those arguments are convincing.

Can't natural revelation entail inferential knowledge and/or innate knowledge?
Either way makes no difference to the overall criticism.

Politics: Isn't the OTF just a juvenile dare to take an unfair test?
There's nothing juvenile or unfair about epistemic responsibility.

Didn't Ben misrepresent Hays' argument against atheistic epistemic duties?
Hays doesn't understand that he is appealing to motivations to care about the truth and erroneously assumes such motivations have to be absolute to be sufficient (or principled) motivations.

How can atheists shame or praise a person's relationship to their epistemic duties?
Since Christians supposedly share the value of truth, any Christian who fails to live up to that standard intentionally should be considered shameful regardless of whether shame is justified outside of that context.

Is it Ben's fault that the discussion is personal?
No one is twisting Hays' arm to take the OTF, but if someone wants to know my opinion on how shameful it is to neglect your epistemic duties, my answer is available.

What kind of argument would it take to properly address the OTF?
Instead of Hays' misapprehension of the framing of Loftus' argument, I suggest the basic template response I think that a responsible Christian ought to take.

Aren't Christians being justified in what they believe and convincing nonbelievers to become believers separate issues?
Not really, since the reasons that you present to yourself to believe should be pretty much the same ones you present to someone else.

Does Hays legitimize religious experience in general?
He says he doesn't, but then doesn't tell us how to tell Christian religious experiences from other brands of religious experiences.

Do prophetic dreams have to be religious?
No, and I never said otherwise.

Is the argument from religious experience sufficient to justify belief in God or is it inconclusive?
I compare Hays' position to Kai-man Kwan's from the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

Is there anything wrong with looking for confirmation of a subjective experience?
No, but the perils of confirmation bias need to be taken seriously.

Dreams: Do we have to be able to justify subjective experiences like dreams that no one else can verify?
Verification from categorically analogous subjective experiences will do.

Isn't it easy to confirm that a dream is prophetic?
Dumb luck needs to be distinguished from actual prophetic accuracy.

Aren't some things too coincidental to be merely coincidental?
Possibly, but keep in mind that humans are horrible statistics machines.

Isn't rigorous correspondence arbitrary?
There are different ways to verify that dreams are prophetic and rigorous correspondence over time is one of them if the dreams in and of themselves are somewhat vague.

Couldn't a dream about the future be allegorical?
There could be many types of prophetic dreams, but the more abstract, the more difficult it will be to sort fact from fictional correspondence.

What about Joseph's dream about the 7 year famine in Egypt?
That story is hearsay and irrelevant to the conversation.

Isn't it solipsistic to be distrusting of your experiences?
Shouldn't we trust the experiences that show how fallible and unreliable our minds can be?

Isn't an argument from experience meant to only be convincing to the person having it?
Formerly religious people have had what seem to be analogous religious experiences that they didn't believe they could justify as genuine.

Don't apologists also turn to public lines of evidence?
Then why not present that evidence to pass the OTF?

Doesn't it cut equally against atheism if the brain is capable of generating all sorts of anomalous experiences?
No, because atheists aren't appealing to explicitly atheist experiences.

Doesn't God have to come to us through subjective experiences since there is no other way for us to exist?
Hays misses the point and pretends like there are no distinctions to be made along a spectrum of more subjective than not.

Doesn't raw experience not interpret itself?
The brain has many filters to process the experiences and yet not all conscious methodologies are created equal.

Doesn't the Bible have an explanation for religious confusion?
Having an explanation isn't the same thing as having the best explanation.

No, I argue that respecting free will can't be more morally important than respecting the need for solid information to make those choices.
Hays gets offended when Loftus calls the people in Biblical times superstitious as though it doesn't point out genuine methodological distinctions in thought patterns between even modern Christians and the cultures of ancient Bible times.

Just being defensive and offended doesn't make the issue go away since again, there are genuine behavioral distinctions between the social norms of the ancients and even modern Christians.

Does Loftus make no effort to apply his tests consistently to the category of superstition and barbarism?
Real differences remain between Biblically endorsed superstition and barbarism and modern Christian standards.

Can't the Bible merely record superstition that it doesn't necessarily embrace?
Sure, but what about the apparent superstition and barbarism that it does embrace?

Does a Christian have to take responsibility for Scripture since they didn't write it?
Christians have to take responsibility for their acceptance of Scripture.

Hasn't Hays, in his blog, already responded head on to charges of superstition and barbarism in the Bible?
Hays may well have done so on his blog in the past or even on Avalos chapter later in TCD, but that only reinforces that Loftus' challenge is a genuine issue.

Can moral relativists make charges of barbarism?
They can make internal criticisms to show the inconsistency and they can also make claims based on their frame of reference that Christians may happen to share.

Doesn't Hays address Carrier's moral realism later in TID?
I will take up the conversation later in my review series then.

Are atheistic moral realists inconsistent and haven't even plenty of secular writers convincingly refuted that position?
Hays needs to show that there is an inconsistency and that the arguments from those other atheists actually work.

Hasn't Hays already dealt with the issue of the internal critique of a moral relativist?
I will take up the conversation later in my review series then.

Holy Spirits: Do Mormons have a genuine self-authenticating inner spiritual witness to their faith?
Hays tries to defend Plantinga's idea of properly basic religious beliefs, but basically avoids the main issue with technicalities which Christians ignore in practice.

Hays never explains why he thinks this is the case.

We give human minds, the past, possible worlds, numbers, and morals more credit because they are much more universally defensible in one way or another than a particular kind of god.

No, I pointed out when we need to raise the standards accordingly since mutually exclusive propositions are getting in via similar means.

Hays isn't very helpful since he doesn't bother showing us how anyone would know their self-validating religious feelings beat other people's contrary self-validating feelings in a world where none of them have to correspond to any supernatural reality.

It should have been obvious from context that Loftus is generally on the same page as me.

Probably not, but the vagueness hardly helps the case for the supposed reality behind the experience.

They certainly can be, but the particular philosopher from the Blackwell Companion that Hays referenced does not make as strong of claims as he does.

This is irrelevant since there is a multitude of religious people who do and this is the brand of justification that we are talking about.

Do all religious people need their subjective religious justifications to remain untested?
Hays overtly argues Christians shouldn't have to challenge their basic justifications.

Isn't it responding to TCD on its own terms to show that a subjective religious experience can be a perfectly valid reason to believe something?
No, because Christians won't believe every similar justification and they need to apply their standards consistently.

What does it mean to “take responsibility” for something that’s not common ground?
It's called debate, Steve.

Hays claims that the OTF is lopsided and that it presupposes Christians don't already know Christianity is true.

Did Loftus smuggle atheism into the OTF?
Only because Hays can't part with the idea of Jesus in even hypothetical terms.

Hays confirms that he is uncritical with the inner witness of the Holy Spirit since he calls it a given.

Of course the debate is about what the experience means, not whether there has been an experience or not.

Skeptics are pointing out that self-authenticating experiences of God aren't so self-authenticating after all or that whatever is supposed to be self-authenticating about it doesn't likely have anything to do with correspondence to a real God.
Yes, one that is all in your head, just like God.

Would we not apply Loftus' standards in any other field of inquiry?
Just how does Hays think science gets done anyway? By asserting your conclusion and not having to prove anything?

Does Loftus prejudge believing in the Christian faith as "gullible?"
No, it's explained why in the premises of the OTF.

Therefore let's not be skeptical about Christianity, okay?

Does Loftus need to justify all of his beliefs via the OTB before he applies the OTF to Christianity?
Only if we pretend like there's no possible common ground to work with.

Doesn't Loftus need to justify epistemic duties with an OTB?
Hays believes that atheism undermines a genuine interest in truth.

If life just ends, doesn't that affect one's capacity to enjoy it in the meantime?
It might for some people, but not for others.

Are Christians proverbial cry-babies if they can't accept a mortal life without an afterlife clause?
It is understandable to be disappointed from a particular frame of reference you are used to, but unacceptable to fail to recognize that other people can flourish under purely naturalistic assumptions.

What if you know that after your amazing vacation you will be kidnapped and tortured?
With this analogy Hays bizarrely confuses what happens in an atheist's worldview with what happens in his Biblical Christian worldview.

Hays says no, but the Bible says few will be saved.

If we are just picking appealing worldviews, one would not choose this divine extortion and predominantly unhappy never-ending.

How can you avoid hell by becoming an atheist?
Hays fails to understand the "choose your favorite scenario" aspect of the conversation and presumes Christianity is still true.

But as an atheist isn't there no obligation to deny that God exists?
A hypothetical grounding isn't a grounding without proof of existence and Hays acts like there some obligation to scorn the truth no matter how indispensable a lifelong utility truth is.

Doesn't Robert Adams provide concrete examples of grounding epistemic duties in his two monographs on the subject?
It appears he grounds morality in the concept of appraised excellence, but he doesn't seem to prove God exists or tell us why the concept of excellence cannot be appreciated in its own right on naturalistic terms.

Do atheists have principled motivation to tend to epistemic duties?
Hays appears to want to say any motivation that is not absolute is unprincipled, but he does not bother defending that unjustified assumption.

Isn't a meaningless life a recipe for gratuitous suffering?
Hays invents necessary suffering for all the nonbelievers he's never met.

Don't atheists just distract themselves from this misery and live a lie?
Yes, Steve, it's a conspiracy of wanton happiness.

Aren't the rules of an atheist's life artificial?
If Christianity is false, then surely living a fake Christian life would deserve the title "artificial."

Is Ben's contribution to this cultural conversation foolish?
Maybe, but it can't be more foolish than Hays' responses.

No, probabilities will do, and it doesn't matter since if Loftus is mistaken, presenting the reasons that these religious people have for their beliefs by definition passes the OTF.

We should treat religious texts with the same standards based on their actual implicit merits.

Don't cultural influences, psychological gimmicks, cognitive biases, and double standards cut equally against atheism?
In context, Hays is the one defending his right not to be sufficiently critical, as well as advocating a degree of certainty in terms of metaphysics well beyond any human's expertise.

Can anyone rise above biases or are all appeals doomed to superficiality?
Hays defaults to incredulity and misrepresentation in order to say that atheists like me believe all critical thinking is necessarily social conditioning that can't be corrected or improved upon.

Does Ben fault TID for succeeding?!
It is obvious that I freely fault and praise TCD and TID where each succeed and/or fail, if only Hays wasn't so intent on ignoring evidence contrary to his convenient narratives of the discussion.

Technically yes, but practically no. Hays assumes his theistic tacit knowledge is genuine without argument and so Loftus is vindicated in the end.

Does Hays owe Loftus a spiritual autobiography?
Explaining why one has good reasons to declare things about the mental states of an entire people group wouldn't be a bad idea.

Does TCD declare that Christians are psychotic?
No, Loftus specifically goes out of his way to say the opposite.

If Hays has been defending the Christian faith online since 2004 where has Ben been?
Being an intellectually honest agnostic and atheist blogger since 2005. :)

Does TCD fail to define delusion?
Nope, Hays just missed it.

Unless Hays wants to say that non-believing countries aren't delusional, he's going to have to accept a slight tweak to the definition as well.

Technically that would make Hays even more delusional than your average Christian (if Christianity is false) since he is literally flying in the face of a great deal of the evidence and argument against his position.

Hays' version of attacking it on its own terms was grossly superficial and even the further replies here lack any indication that substance will follow.

Is TID at the same level as TCD?
I have to say that if TCD aimed low (which wasn't consistently the case), TID aimed even lower and didn't help the case for Christians not being delusional.
They can be I'm sure, but attacking them doesn't help Hays here or prove that there aren't Christians who are pathetically trying to hold on intellectually to wish fulfillment.

Hays seems to think that the difference between defensive and offensive apologetic strategies he says he employs entitles him to conveniently misrepresent the truth.

I don't know what Hays is referring to since they have zero kills by my count (whereas I have hundreds here). :)

Isn't it a hollowing bullying appeal to intellectual integrity unless an atheist can justify moral realism?
Hays seems to erroneously think that his disagreement with me over naturalistic moral realism has some impact on my motives.

Does Steve need Ben to affirm him?
I don't recall saying he did.

Is Ben over-focused on the OTF?
I'm only as focused on Hay' criticisms of the OTF as much as Hays is, since I'm covering all the chapters of TCD as well.

Should Hays let Loftus off the hook because of the more sensible things Ben advocates?
Hays doesn't explain why he seems to think every atheist has to pay for Loftus' exaggerations or why we can't both elevate the collective conversation despite historical sins on both sides.

Sh'ld yee shaw yir teeth unless ye can bite?

I respond to Engwer:

Does God have to convince people into belief objectively?
If God wants a confused world where it's impossible to conclude the Christian worldview is true in a responsible way, then no.

Do skeptical impressions have to always trump positive impressions of Christianity?
No, but often when addressed together impartially, there isn't much room for a positive belief in the Christian worldview.

Does Loftus go too far with this OTF?
Engwer notes there is some truth to what Loftus is advocating here, but that some aspects are unhealthy overkill. I basically agree.

I respond to Manata:

Does Loftus need to pass 20,000 more OTFs to be consistent?
Not if the overlap of the Christianities dies one death.

Is the OTF a logical truth or a theorem?
It's a probabilistic rule of thumb designed to simply illustrate a typical religious person's inability to be consistent with their standards of evidence and avoid special pleading they'd never accept anywhere else.

How does Loftus get a "highly likely" from a "very likely?"
Manata corrects the equivalent of a typo! Yay!

If all religions are probably false, then why bother even taking the OTF?
If you'd like to believe the one you've inherited is honestly true despite the odds, then evaluating it impartially makes perfect sense.

Can't Christianity still be true despite the initial low probability against it?
Yes, just like every other worldview might be true.

Does Loftus' OTF commit the genetic fallacy still?
Manata seems to be under the impression we are likely to learn new math skills from taking drugs.

Doesn't the Bible say we're supposed to know Christianity is true by the Holy Spirit?
Do you listen to con artists and apply the investment justifications suggested by infomercials?

Isn't the OTF beside the point if you can just present good reasons why Christianity is false?
Presenting reasons Christianity is false is an extension of using consistent standards of evidence and often times mere consistency of standards is what entails that Christianity is false.

Isn't the OTF too vague?
Only if words don't mean things.

Who would take an "outsider test for philosophy" if it had the same structure as the OTF and what standards would we apply?
I would hope so! And whatever standards we'd apply, hopefully they'd be consistent.

Is Loftus' OTF conclusion related to his OTF premises?
If being probably correct about your worldview is your goal, then yes.

Does Loftus disagree with Tarico on whether humans are rational?
Yes, if the Bible contradicts itself when it gives conflicting advice about answering a fool according to his folly. [In other words, no.]

Aren't a large majority of our culturally inherited beliefs also perfectly rational?
The ones we can verify independently certainly are.

Does the OTF get rid of original thinkers?
Yes, just like health care reform means the government is going to kill grandma.

Are some religions more probable than others?
If only we were allowed to have an opinion on that.

Should we treat beliefs that have a low probability of being true as probably false?
By definition, yes.

Is Manata defending his right to be inconsistent with his standards?
It sure does seem like it.

Would Manata be in a state of cognitive paralysis if he took the OTF?
Most definitely. :) But a more reasonable person wouldn't.

Would Loftus take a test to see if his cognitive faculties are reliable?
If he could, he would, but that doesn't give religion a pass.

Does Loftus prove that Manata holds double standards?
Loftus' chapter was mostly about setting the standard, not applying it, or addressing every nuance of Manata's personal convictions.

Is Christianity the only reason we can know anything (as C. S. Lewis said)?
Lewis' unverifiable perspective appears to deny the experience of others.

What happens to the OTF when people vastly agree about things at the expense of atheism?
The reverse of the OTF is not blind acceptance of popular beliefs, especially when those beliefs are beyond the realm of human expertise.

Should we evaluate our moral values as outsiders, should Loftus test the "kill babies for fun" moral theory, and are moral relativists in denial of substantial moral common ground across cultural barriers?
Manata manages to address his own materialistic anxieties if only he'd read himself in context of his other related statements.

Does Loftus' OTF fail at every level?
Nope. Manata's rebuttal does though.

I respond to Manata's 1st response to Loftus:

Should Manata care that he personally inspired the OTF?
Maybe. Jesus might be mad.

Why can't Loftus see that Manata just wants to point out that the OTF is so horrible?
Perhaps because just about everything Manata has brought up is pretty trivial?

Is Loftus the equivalent of a religious zealot?
Maybe, but it doesn't invalidate the OTF.

Did Loftus reject every Christianity with his insider test for faith?
Manata didn't show that Loftus' ITF didn't invalidate important aspects of most mainstream Christianities.

Would Plantinga's extended A/C model make Loftus premise 2 false?
Not really, but Manata should be proving we have mental god detectors rather than lamely criticizing the OTF.

Is there still no connection between premise 1 and premise 2 of Loftus' OTF?
Premise 2 is pretty much contained in premise one.

Should religious beliefs be justified by other beliefs?
All beliefs are subject to the checks and balances of other beliefs.

Is a possibility a probability?
Quibbling is quibbling.

Is someone holding a winning lottery ticket rational for believing they have it despite the odds against that being true?
The OTB would apply before you know the winning numbers. Showing the winning numbers is the equivalent of passing the OTB.

Is the OTF too uninteresting to take seriously?
Oh, it's boring as hell, but then again many important things are.

I respond to Manata's 2nd response to Loftus:


Loftus' scientism blunder?
Loftus actually advocates "weak scientism" but he is too easily quote-mine-able otherwise.

Loftus gets it wrong: Was the atheist, Carl Sagan, making an extraordinary claim when he asserts that the cosmos is all there is?
The short answer: Yes, he was. Insert agnosticism instead.

Outro: My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Despite the polemical missteps, the vast majority of what Loftus says works just fine.


That does it for Part 1 of TCD.