Worse than a Lie--John Loftus Deceives His Readers and Tars his Co-Bloggers

John Loftus is one of the lead contributors to the anti-Christian blog, Debunking Christianity. He has commented here a number of times; most recently--ironically--on the issue of whether atheists can have a coherent philosophy of morality.

On May 22, 2007, he posted an entry attacking J.P. Holding. Nothing new here; Holding is enemy no. 1 for the online skeptics. Loftus began by linking to a blog by another atheist attacking Holding. Then, Loftus linked to another blog devoted to attacking Holding, in this manner:

I recently noticed another blog that apparently started up in March which is very critical of J.P. Holding, here. I personally do not like Holding, but I'm probably not going to waste my time on him, except to point out what others are saying about him....

When you go to the referenced anti-Holding blog, you see a picture of Holding and the title of the blog, "J.P. Holding." This in itself is deceptive as such pictures and titles usually identify the author of the blog at issue, rather than the subject. But it is also notable that the anti-Holding blog does not identify its own author (while criticizing Holding for using a pseudonym out of privacy concerns) and leaves the implication that the blog may just be hosted by someone impartial or even a Christian. This impression can be created by the discussion of Holding's purported lack of "theological credentials" and calls on "Christians themselves to denounce him" because he "is an embarrassment to Christianity."

The blog goes on to misleadingly frame the attack on Holding as the "consensus opinion about J.P. Holding." The source of this consensus opinion? Another atheist blogger hostile to Christianity. Other sources? Well-known impartial commentators such as Richard Carrier, a former editor-in-chief of the Secular Web, Early Doherty, the Jesus Myth hero of the left, etc., etc., etc. Any equal time for dissenting views? Nope. Not even a comments section for anyone to raise questions or voice disagreement.

But getting back to the author of the blog. Who could it be?

Well. It turns out that the author is John Loftus, who claimed at Debunking Christianity to have "just noticed" it and told his readers that it "apparently" started in March, feigning ignorance about its origins. He also distanced himself from the effort by saying he would not be wasting his own time attacking Holding except to point people towards anti-Holding resources--which he apparently had just done by linking to two such sites.

This was all uncovered by Holding himself. You can follow the thread here. Loftus admits that he was in fact the author of the anti-Holding blog but claims it was not "technically" a lie.

In my opinion, it was worse than a lie. Loftus knew he was deceiving his readers and crafted his blog post for just that purpose. The cleverness he apparently thinks he used to frame the description to give him "technical" deniability only confirms the intentional nature of the deception. When a blogger uses his own blog to deceive his readers to promote an agenda he claims distance from, he has lost credibility and the respect of his readers, assuming the audience is worthy of respect. There are many blogs out there and I am honored by those who make this one a part of their online reading. Our readers are not pawns in our personal, or even ideological, agendas. They--be they Christians or skeptics or undecided--deserve more than that. They deserve respect. Loftus has proven that he has a different view.

Another thing. I am mindful that I am only one contributor to this blog, as Loftus is one contributor to Debunking Christianity. Although we do not always agree with each other, we respect each other. I have no doubt about the integrity of of my co-bloggers and I trust I never do anything to make them doubt mine. If I did, my first concern would be how my actions impugned their reputation. For while no one should assume that co-bloggers always agree, they may rightfully assume that co-bloggers pick their fellows with care for character. By using a shared blog to promote his deception, Loftus raises questions about those who continue to blog with him--especially given the fact that he stands by his tactics. He has tarred them with his own deception and while they are not responsible for his actions, it cannot but touch their reputations as well.

Update: After claiming the right to "lie to liars" and to "deceive" his "enemies," Loftus has admitted that what he did was wrong. If you have followed my comments on his blog, you will see that this was my main point there; whether it was the policy of the Debunking Christianity blog (including Loftus' 10 or so co-bloggers), that it was justified for them to intentionally deceive their readers so long as the deception served their ideological agenda. This seemed Loftus' position in post after post. Yet neither he nor his co-bloggers--some defending him, some asking him to apologize--gave a straight answer to the question. However, given that Loftus has not just apologized, but admitted that what he did was wrong, I will take that as an implicit answer that it is not the policy of Debunking Christianity that intentional deception is a justifiable tool in their rhetorical box.


JD Walters said…
So much for the 'honest' part of the label 'honest doubter'. I wonder what his spin on the subject is. No doubt he'll complain that he didn't REALLY do anything wrong and that us Christian apologists are blowing this way out of proportion.

Which is nonsense, of course. This is a classic case of evasion and deception. When you combine that with the fact that the blog does not (so far) post any substantial rebuttals of Holding's arguments but instead contains a bunch of whining sound bites that all say exactly the same thing, and it just becomes sad.
Jason Pratt said…
{{No doubt he'll complain that he didn't REALLY do anything wrong and that us Christian apologists are blowing this way out of proportion.}}

Yep, there's about 15 pages of discussion around his attempts along that line (as of this morning), at the link Chris gave. One can hardly say he isn't given a chance to make his defense: such as it is, it's there on the page, repeatedly.

Say--does anyone else here remember John saying something to me recently about being a professor of philosophy?

Option 1.) John was lying again. Or {cough} John was creatively arrogating a title to himself by metaphor.

Option 2.) John really is a professor of philosophy somewhere.

It occurs to me, if Option 2 is true (which frankly I have some doubts about), a dean or provost or someone might be interested in what John is doing in his off time.
Anonymous said…
I always thought John had been discredited to some extent already, whether it be his obvious aversion to taking into account rebuttals to beliefs he holds or his unargued restatement of those beliefs (as if there was no questioning them).

John W. Loftus said…
It's very interesting that I didn't see a link to what I wrote, although it might be there.
It's here.

I think if you were honest you have no room to talk as a lawyer. Tell us if you lie, okay? And even though I did not technically lie, I'll bet you do. Does that discredit everything else you say? Shame on you, if it does.

I think you should be careful about linking to Holding given the overwhelming amount of evidence that he purposely misrepresents those who disagree with him.

I charge you with duplicity. I charge you with hypocricy.

If I lied show me I did, idiot. But that you cannot do.
Layman said…

I linked to 15 pages of your justifications of your actions. I have no desire to help the google rankings of someone who admits that they engage in intentional deception to further their ideological agenda.

As I said on your blog:

First, I suggest you get help for your problems.

Second, I said what you did was worse than a lie and accused you of intentional deception, which you have admitted to. I have tried to steer clear of using the term "lie" because I think that is a missing the forest for the trees kind of game.

Third, I do not say you are unworthy of discussing things with because you "lied." I am beginning to think it because you are justifying a policy of intentional deception so long as it serves your ideological purposes. I do not believe that my ideological purposes justify lying. If you just got caught deceiving your readers and then admitted it was wrong, I would let the matter drop. So the issue is not whether you, or I, or Holding, or anyone else, has ever lied. The issue, as I framed it above is:

Is it the policy of Debunking Christianity that intentional deception of its readers is justified if it furthers its contributors' ideological agendas?
John W. Loftus said…
Chris, if anyone wants to read the comments to the link I provided I answered you there.
JD Walters said…
I was just reading the exchange over at Debunking Christianity.

This is a sad charade.

Since when has anyone said that they will start rejecting John's arguments just because he pulled a stunt like this? I certainly wouldn't, even though what I have seen of John's arguments does not impress me all that much. Quoting 300+ books out of context (in "Why I rejected Christianity") does not an informed analysis of Christianity make.

I have to disagree with exapologist on JP Holding's treatment of his opponents. When I read the items he is rebutting I usually have the same objections to make as he does, and I try to read things fairly. Even ten pages of denunciation where everyone says the same thing (JP Holding is basically the devil) is no substitute for reasoned engagement with Holding's actual arguments. He is one of the better-read researchers of apologetics out there (as Loftus almost begrudgingly admits when he calls him an 'insufferable know-it-all').

And shame on John for insinuating that he's only like this (i.e. intentionally deceptive) when nasty people provoke him, as if he has a right to be nasty in return. This has nothing to do with Christian charity. This is about the rules of intellectual engagement.

And what a charitable outburst that was in response to layman's assertion that he would let the matter drop if only Loftus would admit that he was wrong: "Bullshit! Liar!"

Ah, the generosity of skepticism, what can I say?
Jason Pratt said…
Well, you could say that John Loftus is not Socratic Cole Slaw. {g}

(But then he gets insulted at people giving him a philosophical _compliment_ and uses that as an excuse not to pay any further attention to them. I'm obviously not going to let _that_ matter drop, btw, until he acknowledges that 'not'.)

John, you told people you _weren't_ going to bother attacking JPH while directing them over to a site where all _you_ were doing was attacking JPH--a site _you_ set up in a fashion to catch people doing mere searches for JPH. I don't give much of a flying spit about JPH, and I never have; but you intentionally misled your own readers about what you were doing.

Anonymous said…
This brings up an interesting question:

If "Doubting" John Loftus feels it's permissible to lie in order to promote his ideology, how many times did he lie in his book?

Answer that one, John. We're all ears.
Anonymous said…
Wow, just wow. I have never commented here before, and I came across this Loftus deal here, yesterday. I followed that up by reading the thread over at Theology Web where Loftus was called out. I just read Loftus' defense on his own site.

I think that Loftus may be confused. Layman's charge here is one of deception and the justification of that deception ("worse than a lie"). The Theology Web was one of a charge of "lying". Apparently, Loftus' defense of "lying" is "it wasn't technically a lie". I won't comment on that defense. That also seems his defense to layman's very different objection. Talk about missing the point. And then following it up with a blatant ad-hominem. Which doesn't make much sense to me because in the link Loftus provided of his own defense, he comments, "Even if I was dishonest it says nothing about my arguments." How about we rephrase that, "Even if layman is an idiot/lier/hypocrite/whatever it says nothing about his arguments."

Loftus, I'm sure you don't care what I, some stranger on the Internet, thinks. You have repeatedly said that from what I've read of your response to this incident. So I won't say what I think. Good luck to you in the future.
Anonymous said…
Am I the only one who sees the hand of God (spanking John Loftus) in this? Isn't there a proverb that goes something like "He who sets a trap will fall into it"?
Anonymous said…
No, it's not the hand of God, it's just John's lack of moral sense combined with a desperation to discredit Christianity that's catching up with him. I doubt God had much to do with it, actually.
Frank Walton said…
Well said, Layman! Loftus' refusal to admit his lie is only hurting himself. He's giving us more gasoline for the fire.
Jason Pratt said…
In a way it's the "hurting himself" part I'm most concerned about. {sigh}
Steven Carr said…
Loftus writes ' I am not ethically obligated to tell everything that I know.'

Has he fallen for this insider/outsider crap, where people are under no obligation to tell outsiders all the relevant information?

Shame on him if he has.
Jason Pratt said…
Do his own supporters count as outsiders to him?

This isn't a case where he simply omitted information. This is a case where he gave a completely opposite impression to his readers _as a recommendation_. If he says he probably isn't going to bother attacking JPH himself, and then directs readers to a site he implies was done by someone else but was done by him--where he is attacking JPH--then we're beyond simply omitting information.

If he was doing it as an ironic satire of something he caught JPH doing, that would be different. But up until the point I stopped paying attention to the mess, this was _NOT_ John's defense. Apparently it still isn't, or you'd have referred to that yourself.

When John is writing for the sake of his own supporters, and actively deceives them about relevant information, then that is a real problem. When John is writing apologetics in order to convince his opponents, and actively deceives them about relevant information, then that is a real problem. This can't even be waived over as a subconscious oversight. He intentionally did it on purpose.

Tim said…
Did anyone happen to archive Loftus's thread over on DC? Because now it's been erased; the stub has been redated to April 28, 2007. All of the comments are gone.
Jason Pratt said…
Not me, sorry.

(Amusing. I actually asked BK to repost a comment from John that Bill had deleted as being an inappropriate attack on me. John, or someone else at DebunkX with universal administration capability, nukes an entire thread of comments. Must be consequentialistic ethics at work again--John clearly didn't like facing up to the consequences of his actions. {lol!})

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