The Last Superstition: Atheism

I have never read a book quite like Edward Feser's The Last Superstition. It is presented as a response to the 'New Atheists' (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, et al) and one expects something along the lines of the recent manifestos by Keith Ward, John Haught, Alister McGrath, David Myers, Chris Hedges and others. But it is so much more than a retort to the new self-appointed high priests of unbelief. Because while the above writers more or less take for granted the modern framework of thought we inherited from the likes of Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Locke and Kant and try to rebut the New Atheists on their own terms, Feser argues that modern thought itself is the disease of which their arguments are a symptom. His aim in The Last Superstition is nothing less than to rehabilitate the classical philosophical project that began with Plato and Aristotle and was refined and advanced by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics.

According to Feser, abandoning Aristotelianism broadly construed was the biggest philosophical mistake in the history of Western thought. Contrary to the standard account we heard in high school and in Philosophy 101 (for those of us who went to college), Aristotle's synthesis was not irrational and metaphysically overweight, which had to be overthrown before science, reason and ethics could advance. Even though some of the specific empirical views held by Aristotle and his followers (on the nature of motion, for example) turned out to be incorrect, the metaphysical categories and concepts he introduced-such as the distinction between material, efficient, formal and final causes, the view of matter as form-plus-essence and the distinction between potentiality and actuality-turn out to be Goldilocks just right for making sense of the world: "The structure of the world just happens to be as complex as he describes it, no more (perhaps) but no less either" (p.72). What's more (again according to Feser), something like an Aristotelian view of causality, matter and mind is indispensable to science itself, if we assume that it is in the business of delivering true knowledge of the empirical world (which is not the sum total of reality, however).

The truly astonishing implications of this view, however, are in the realm of morality and religion. In an Aristotelian framework the existence of God-the personal, transcendent source of being and value-is not just probabilistically likely, but demonstrably certain, the inevitable outcome of certain facts about causality and motion inherent in the framework. As it turns out Aquinas' five ways are much more cogent than skeptics give them credit for (most of whom, as Feser points out, haven't bothered to read past the brief summary in the Summa Contra Gentiles). To take just one example (grossly oversimplified), it is inevitable that the universe have a First Cause that is itself uncaused because of the distinction between essence and existence: we can know what the essence of a rational animal is in terms of the capacity to speak, imagine, etc. without knowing whether any rational animals actually exist. As it turns out all objects we have experience of in the material world are only contingently existent, which is obvious from the fact that things like trees, rocks and even planets and stars are constantly popping in and out of existence. Thus there must be some necessarily existing being to make all these potentially existent beings actually existent. Note that this is not William Lane Craig's cosmological argument that whatever begins to exist must have a cause, which relies on the Big Bang to establish a beginning for the Universe. The cosmos could have existed eternally, it could be a multiverse, it could be a continual cycle of Big Bangs and Big Crunches and this argument would still be valid.

Not only is the existence of God demonstrably certain from an Aristotelian point of view, but this God must necessarily have the characteristics attributed to him by the great monotheistic traditions: omnipotence, omniscience, perfect goodness, etc. Also entailed by Aristotelianism (at least by way of Augustine and Aquinas) are the immortality of the soul and a concept of morality based on natural law. Final causality entails certain ends for every creature which hold true regardless of subjective preference or whim. For example, it is the natural end of a rational animal to seek the truth and when we consider that God is the final cause of everything that exists we realize that it is the natural end of human beings to obtain knowledge of Him and conform to His image. As for the problem of evil, Feser contends that this really has no bearing one way or another on the existence of God because as he sees it the prospect of enjoying the Beatific Vision completely overshadows any finite suffering we experience in this lifetime. Faith, he argues, is not a matter of holding to one's beliefs in the teeth of reason and evidence, but precisely of holding onto the deliverances of reason even in the face of emotional turbulence caused by witnessing apparently undeserved suffering (see for example Paul Manata's musings on the emotional problem of evil).

It is clear from Feser's account that Aristotelian Thomism (Aristotelianism by way of Aquinas and the Scholastics) was a rich, vibrant interpretation of reality with enormous scope and sophistication. What led to its abandonment? As it turns out here too the standard story is misleading. The early modern philosophers did not reject Thomism because it was too traditional or stifling for scientific research (as anyone familiar with the works of Jean Buridan, Nicole D'Oresme and other Scholastic natural philosophers can attest): as a result of the religious wars of the 16th Century and a newly resurgent worldliness there arose among early modern thinkers a desire to overthrow the traditional authority of the Church and rethink the European political project. These thinkers did not give any good arguments for abandoning Aristotelian categories. They did so because it was necessary in order to undermine the theologico-political complex of the Church. In fact, "When one seriously comes to understand the classical philosophical tradition...and not merely the potted caricatures of it that even many professional philosophers, to their shame, tend to rely on-one learns just how contingent and open to question are the various modern, and typically 'naturalistic', philosophical assumptions that most contemporary thinkers (and certainly most secularists) simply take for granted without rational argument." (p.5) The litany of evils brought about in modern philosophy by rejecting Aristotle is long and severe: skepticism about the external world, unsolvable problems of induction and mind-body interaction, free will and personal identity rendered mysterious or even incoherent, the undermining of any justification for morality and natural rights, etc. Most of these problems can be traced not just to the abandonment of Aristotelianism in general, but of final causality in particular and the embrace of a mechanistic conception of matter according to which the only things that are truly real are particles (or fields, or whatever) in constant motion, interacting blindly according to blind, non-teleological principles (as William Hasker described it in The Emergent Self). Abandon final causality, and reason and morality become incoherent.

As is apparent from the above all too brief summary, The Last Superstition is much more than just a response to the New Atheists, and it is certainly not the same kind of response that we have seen from others. It is a brief history of Western philosophy and an exposition of the key ideas and concepts that have informed our understanding of the world since the beginning of civilization. It is also a lucid argument for the existence and nature of God and a primer on the philosophy of mind and science. Feser has a great gift for explaining big ideas in simple, concise language which all philosophers could benefit from. To skeptics he will prove a very frustrating opponent, because he knows the skeptical arguments inside and out and embraces all of modern science, including undiluted evolutionary theory. He has no truck with intelligent design (Paley deserves to be the atheists' whipping boy, in his opinion, because he conceded all the mechanistic assumptions of his opponents and thus lacked the metaphysical grounds for a truly compelling design argument; see pp.110-119) and does not require the Big Bang to be true in order to demonstrate the existence of God, as we saw above. Indeed, his discussion is so comprehensive and enlightening and so consistently tough-minded that 'almost he persuadeth me to become a Thomist'.

Almost, but not quite. I do have a few objections to the book, some minor and some major. For one thing the tone of Feser's book is very, very abrasive. Words like 'stupid', 'evil', 'insane' and 'monstrous' come up frequently to describe his opponents as well as practices he disapproves of, such as homosexuality. To be fair, he does base his abhorrence for the latter on his understanding of natural law morality, but I associate this kind of rhetoric with a person who is very unsure of the validity of his positions. Despite the fact that atheists too use abrasive rhetoric in their manifestos, I definitely prefer on the Christian side to let arguments speak for themselves.

On to the arguments. The one striking, elephant-size absence from Feser's book is any discussion of how all these philosophical arguments line up with the Scriptural understanding of God, human nature and morality. Though he explicitly limits his discussion to 'natural' as opposed to 'revealed' theology, it is hard to see his project as distinctively Christian without paying attention to these issues. Though the project of Western theology can be summarized as the marriage of Greek philosophy with Hebrew theology, more than one great theologian has doubted whether the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle and God the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jesus can be equated. What's more, though he would probably see it as yet another symptom of the modern malaise, higher biblical criticism has had just as much of an influence on contemporary theology and philosophy as the rejection of Aristotelianism. No doubt the two are related, but the objections of the higher critics to the historicity and integrity of the Bible did not all stem from their abandonment of supernaturalism. There are genuine textual difficulties which cast doubt on the exact scope and unfolding of the Exodus, for example and which have genuine theological consequences.

Natural law morality is certainly a rich, sophisticated tradition deserving careful attention. It may turn out, as Feser says, to be the only one which guarantees the objectivity and non-arbitrariness of morality. But I am consistently skeptical of natural law arguments because of the way they have been used throughout history to legitimize degrading, exploitative conditions for certain classes of people, such as slaves and women. In the face of abolitionism, for example, pro-slavery advocates turned to the 'science' of phrenology to establish the fact of the natural inferiority of blacks and hence the naturalness of their subjugation. Many slave-owners were almost paternalistic in this respect, sincerely believing that because of their constitution blacks could not survive or thrive without a master shouting orders at them, backed up by the whip and deprivation. And women throughout history have been discounted from playing active roles in politics, the economy and academics (it is noteworthy that all of the great philosophers Feser refers to are men) because of perceived deficiencies in intellect and temperament. So at the very least great care is required in employing natural law arguments, to make sure that they do not simply reinforce or legitimize an unjust or corrupt status quo.

My third and final major objection has to do with obstacles to truth and the possibility of skepticism. Feser is remarkably confident about the reliability of certain 'common-sense' philosophical intuitions about everyday objects and concepts that lie behind Aristotelianism. This leads him to reject representationism in the philosophy of mind (i.e. the idea that mental states are contingent representations of states in the external world which may or may not actually correspond to those states) and to use the words 'stupid' and 'insane' to describe people who do not share his intuitions about the world. Empirical research, however, has demonstrated that many of our intuitions about how things work are seriously misleading. What's more, people with damage to certain parts of their brain suffer from strange perceptual anomalies which seem to confirm the representationist view of the mind: phantom limbs (when a limb has been amputated but the person retains an awareness of it, as if it were still attached to the body), for example, can best be explained as the persistence of a representation of the limb within the brain even if the limb itself is no longer attached to the body. Despite his careful distinction between metaphysics and science, most neuroscientists today model human cognition as the construction (a word Feser really doesn't like when it comes to knowledge) of a representation of the inner and outer world in the brain (it should be noted, though, that I have not read his book Philosophy of Mind yet so it may be that he deals with these difficulties there). Feser also doesn't discuss the problem of widely varying philosophical intuitions between Occidental and Oriental traditions of thought. I would like to see an argument why an interpretation of the world in terms of Atman, Brahman, Dharma and Samsara is inferior to the Aristotelian synthesis, and if so how Oriental peoples came to have such different philosophical intuitions.

These caveats, however, are an inevitable result of the magnitude of the subjects Feser is dealing with and should not be seen as diminishing his positive achievement in making Aristotelianism seem an attractive and compelling philosophical project. Feser is a brilliant, erudite thinker and The Last Superstition is simply required reading for anyone remotely interested in the question of whether religious belief is rational and whether perhaps atheism is not the great superstition after all. I for one look forward to digging into those footnotes and learning from Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas for myself. I suggest skeptics do the same.


Ron said…

I think you are mischaracterizing the kalam argument. The Big Bang lends support to the argument but the argument itself was formulated well before modern cosmology. It is a philosophical argument that claims that an actual infinite series of past events is not possible and thus the universe must have begun to exist at some point.

Also, I think you are too hard on natural law theory. What Aristotle did was to take our common intuitions about morality and reason through them. Just because something is a common intuition, like the justifiability of slavery or the oppression of women in the past does not mean that it is condoned under natural law theory. Natural law theory does not just affirm whatever society wants but seeks to examine such moral intuitions to arrive at the moral truth.

Anyway, I enjoyed the book review. I tried reading Aquinas and found myself so bored that I could not continue. I find it amusing that I like reading Thomists more than I like reading Thomas. :)
Goliath said…
Atheism is not a superstition. Realizing such will save any potential reader the trouble of reading Feser's book.
JD Walters said…

I think Feser himself is a bit too eager to distance the First Cause argument from possible scientific objections. He emphasizes the Big Bang correlation with the kalam argument to drive home the fact that it is irrelevant to the First Cause argument. In another part of the book he does summarize the kalam argument as you do.

I totally feel you about reading Thomas versus reading Thomists! But someone's got to do the hard work of poring over those texts and judging from Feser's book the results are well worth it. Thomistic thought is apparently still very insightful and relevant.

JD Walters said…
Oh, about natural law: I don't doubt that natural law theory can be sensitive to true injustices, but enormous care must be taken to prevent the equation of the moral law with an unjust status quo. Maybe I just need to read more natural law theorists to put my worries to rest.
J.L. Hinman said…
1/11/2009 06:48:00 PM
Anonymous Goliath said...

Atheism is not a superstition. Realizing such will save any potential reader the trouble of reading Feser's book.

that's right it's an ideology like communism. Superstition is fear and self deception, atheism requires fear and self deception and also willful making of propaganda.
JoeX said…
that's right it's an ideology like communism. Superstition is fear and self deception, atheism requires fear and self deception and also willful making of propaganda.

Your statement seems to be a very defensive reaction which is not accurate.

Atheism is simply the lack of belief in supernatural deities.

Atheism doesn't require any fear or "god fearing" since there is no god to fear.

Atheism doesn't require the suspension of reason to believe in a variety of supernatural claims since it has no supernatural claims.

The only evidence of willful propaganda or ignorance I've seen are by those trying to blind themselves to any modern knowledge which doesn't jive with whatever ancient myth they believe in (such as creationists).

BTW, tossing in communism, just shows how weak your response is. I'm surprised you didn't work Hitler into your "argument" as well.
Goliath said…
Wrong again, Metacrock. Atheism is nothing more than the lack of belief in the existence of gods. It is not an ideology any more than it is a basket, any more than it is a toaster, etc, etc.
Layman said…
I am trying to decide whether Goliath is a real person or a random atheist cliche machine.
JD Walters said…
Sigh...didn't any of you like the book review at least? :)
Layman said…
Sure, I read it. And I thank you for it. I'd like to see more of these kinds of reviews on the CADRE blog.

I especially am interested in arguments about morality and natural law. I'm drawn to the idea of a moral intuition or awareness but the unabashed barbarity of most of human history has to be addressed.

How long is the book?
Ron said…
I agree with Layman. I'd like to see more book reviews and posts in general by JD. :)

I've read a little on natural law theory but I'd definitely like to read more.
O said…
Good review JD! I'm definitely gonna pick this one up. Unlike some people, I read the literature from both sides of the coin even when I don't really like the title of said literature. Case in point: I didn't really like the title The God Delusion. But, I got over it and read it anyway to see if Dawkins gave convincing arguments that God was indeed, a delusion. Of course, in the end, the book only convinced me that if Dawkins wants to keep writing books, fine. He'd just be wise to stay away from Philosophy.

grow up dude

if only it were that simple for you guys. Mere lack of belief doesn't entail the philosophical construct that is atheism. It is an assertion about reality (that god or gods don't exist in it) backed by other assertions that follow logically from it. Your definition is simply an attempt to shrug your burden of proof. Nothing more, nothing less.
JoeX said…
Hi O,

As you probably know there are different levels of Atheism. Some don't assert that there are no gods, simply that there is no proof that there are any gods. In the absence of such proof then it is unreasonable to have such beliefs. So it is not an assertion that requires a burden of proof as you state.

If you disagree, then your argument would apply to any non belief such as not believing in fairies, unicorns and orbiting tea cups. There is no requirement to prove that those things don't exist. The requirement is to prove that they do exist.

John W. Loftus said…
JD, I just couldn't bear to buy and read a book that says the exact opposite of Dawkins, in Feser's case that the existence of God is demonstrably certain. And I just don't see how anyone can argue that we should turn back intellectual history to Aristotle. While I respect your opinion this is all too much to accept. It's outside what I can consider reasonable even coming from you.

Listen, Aquinas spent a mere 3-4 pages arguing for the existence of God, but spent 3000 pages defending his Christian beliefs. There is a huge gap between believing there could be a God who started what scientists describe as a "quantum wave fluctuation" and believing in a triune God who revealed himself in the canonical books of the Bible, who sent his son as a sacrifice for sins, arose and will come again to appropriately reward or punish the saints and the sinners.

I know you said you've decided to take the Debunking Christian Challenge. How far along are you? Why didn't you start with the first book on that list? It's been said that the author of that book is like Tiger Woods and Babe Ruth to the world of sports and like Thomas Paine and David Fredrick Strauss for literary works critical of Christian theism.

I look forward to your review of that book.
JD Walters said…

I'm looking for good arguments wherever they might be found. Based on Feser's exposition of Aristotle's metaphysics I'd say that the latter had some very fruitful concepts for accounting for causation and the mind. And if they imply that the existed of God can be demonstrated with certainty, so much the better. I don't care from what period in history they come from. To assume that ideas and syntheses must be outdated and irrelevant just because they're old is chronological snobbery. But let me just say that the jury is still out. It's a topic for further investigation.

As for the DC challenge, I have Michael Martin's "The Case Against Christianity" but I haven't started reading yet. I found Julian Baggini's Brief Introduction far too brief to engage substantially with his arguments. I'll get around to your book eventually, but I prefer to start with what I have readily available at the library, which still doesn't have your book.
John W. Loftus said…
JD, okay, but you'll want to have a copy of my book, I promise. It contains some of the best of the best arguments that you as a believer must deal with. Readers of it say it's the best out there. What are you waiting for?

In any case, I'll await your review of it when you get a chance. There is a great deal of food for thought in it. It's a feast if you like to think.
Edward Feser said…
John Loftus says: "Listen, Aquinas spent a mere 3-4 pages arguing for the existence of God..."

With all due respect, if that is really what you think, then you obviously not only don't know the first thing about Aquinas, but don't know that you don't know it. Nor will your ignorance be remedied if you refuse to read books that take a point of view different from your own.

And BTW, I never called for a wholesale "turning back of intellectual history to Aristotle." I defend a broadly Aristotelian metaphysics, but not Aristotle's mistaken physics, astronomy, etc.

But again, if you're not going to bother reading what Aristotelians have written, you're not going to know what they really think, are you? In which case, what makes you think you're qualified to comment on it?
John W. Loftus said…
Edward Feser, nice to see you here. I have had many pleasant discussions with Christian scholars, including John F. Haught, Paul Copan, Craig Blomberg, Norman Geisler, and others. I would like to have a pleasant one with you too.

The quote about Aqinas and the 3-4 pages is rhetoric and I had heard this said from someone else I respected in a debate, so pardon me if I'm wrong. I already know I am wrong on many topics so I only ask for your patience in explaining where it is that I am. Would YOU admit this same thing and still be able to claim you are right about your over-all case?

Edward said...But again, if you're not going to bother reading what Aristotelians have written, you're not going to know what they really think, are you? In which case, what makes you think you're qualified to comment on it?

I studied in a Ph.D. program with a focus on "Theology and Ethics" at Marquette University under some Thomists. I think I have an idea what they think. Still, I can only read what I have time to read.

You are now put on notice that there is another wave of atheists who are coming on the heels of the four horsemen. Take me on, okay? Teach me where I'm wrong, if you can.

From what I read in this review by JD I dare say your arguments would do little against the case I present in my book.

Does this review adequately reflect the case you present in your book?

Anonymous said…
Mr. Loftus,

Why do you insist that your book must be read, yet Feser's book - which tackles the issue of God and reason from a vastly different perspective, making exactly zero appeals to personal revelation - is something you apparently don't intend to read or respond to?

The Last Superstition is clearly not about defending Christianity. It's about the demonstrability of certain proofs of God, about nature, mind, and the failings of modern metaphysics to appropriately deal with these topics or to properly grapple with the metaphysics of Aquinas, Aristotle, and others. Your book is about the case against Christianity... a specific subset of theism.

Should we take this to mean that you concede that a strong and rational case can be made for deism, or some manner of basic theism, at the least? Because if you agree that this is the case, but that your book deals with Christianity in particular, it would mean that you concede one of the most important points that The Last Superstition seeks to make. It isn't a work of Christian apologetics.

And really, isn't finding out what you're wrong about in part your responsibility, not others'? Buy Ed's book and find out for yourself if and where you have erred.
O said…
Hey JoeX,

First, your initial response to Meta was that his definition of atheism was wrong.

"Atheism is simply the lack of belief in supernatural deities."

Apparently, you first thought it quite "simple". Now, you tell me that it's actually a little more complicated than that. That there are, in fact, different levels, or divisions of atheism. Any further levels we should know about? Ranks within those levels? At any rate, your original point against Meta has been refuted by yourself. Since you see different kinds of atheism, the one "kind" of atheism that he is speaking of is an ideology.

Yes, I'm aware of the self-designation some disbelievers give themselves. So-called "strong atheism", "weak atheism", what have you. Again I see that as nothing more than attempting to weasel out of having to put-forth evidence for the non-existence of God. Atheism is a view. Either you are an atheist, or you are not. As one holding a view you are required, should you attempt to put forth that view as an explanation about reality, to provide justification for holding that view.

If you believe there is no reason to believe in the existence of God, it is not enough to shrug ones shoulders and say, "Well then, very good." And ride off into the sunset smiling. One must then resolve themselves to give an account of why reality is the way it is, even though God or gods don't exist.

This means making logical arguments, assertions, and assumptions about humans, the universe and the "laws" therein. Basically, making statements about reality. Thinking. Your definition of atheism makes it an intellectual void. More akin to agnosticism.

As such, it would be irrelevant to anything since it cannot make any statements other than, "There is no reason to believe in God." Anything beyond this, any arguments, and you must furnish evidence to back the assertions you make. So either your definition of atheism is irrelevant or wrong.

Now about fairies and unicorns and other such nonsense. There is no analogy here. You are comparing possible contingent beings to a possible, ultimate, non-contingent being.

This kind of childish reasoning has been popularly used by atheists in years past, but you and I both know, there is no reason to believe unicorns exist. With the idea of a God who created the universe, there exists a wide range of arguments from science, philosophy, etc etc, to conclude that there is indeed a God. These arguments are championed and put forth by men of great intellect all over the world. So you can either challenge them with your own view, or ignore them.

As William Lane Craig said in Q@A 33 over at

"Principally, what we can infer (from the specified complexity of the cosmos) is that there exists a personal, and, hence, self-conscious, volitional being of inconceivably great intelligence who designed the universe."

But again, this is done by comparing and contrasting evidences and arguments. Not hiding behind a sheet mumbling, "Submit your evidence to me and I will give them my stamp of approval." Then all one must do is set their burden of proof so high, no evidence could ever meet the requirement.

In the end, there is atheism. The view that: There is no God. Either you are, you know why, and you can explain your reasoning as to why to others. You are and you don't know why. Or you aren’t

Its that simple

take care Joe.
JoeX said…
Hi O,

Since we're both aware of strong atheism (affirmation that there are no gods) and weak atheism (the absence of belief in any gods) I don't understand why that distinction apparently bothers you so much. I assume because it's easier to argue against strong atheism that you prefer it was defined only in this way.

Since weak atheism doesn't make any assertions there is no proof required. Since you assert the existence of a supernatural being then you are required to provide the proof. I can see why that would annoy you.

The fact is there are differing views. But at the core remains the lack of any proof or logical reason to believe in supernatural deities and their associated myths.

So far what you believe is proof is the lack of knowledge regarding the creation of the universe. Lacking that knowledge you imagine that there must be a god (one which you attribute all sorts of human characteristics and magical powers to based on your own brand of religion). Basically you're saying "I don't know how the universe was created so it must be "my" god that did it".

It's no different than other myths that provide explanations for all sorts of natural phenomenon (such as a sun god riding his chariot across the sky).

If in the past people had myths that unicorns made rainbows and since nobody knew where they came from then in your eyes that would constitute proof that unicorns exist.

The only difference between a unicorn, chariot-riding god and your alpha male storm god are the myths associated with them. All three are just as supernatural and lacking in proof.

You're adhering to a myth to explain an area where we currently lack knowledge but the absence of that knowledge does not render your supernatural explanation valid.

In fact it's a wonderful thing that that type of thinking was finally overcome since the only reason to learn is when we admit that we don't know something but we are able to know it. If we would have settled for believing all the supernatural explanations we would still be in the dark ages.

So no, I don't shrug my shoulders and give up on learning about such things as the origin of the universe, for example. Rather it's you that ignorantly uses the explanation that "God did it", and rides off smiling into the sunset.

You can certainly adhere to those mythological explanations if that satisfies you but you'll never be able to argue that it is anything more than a myth based belief or superstition. Simply saying I don't know where this came from so there must be a god is not proof. Sorry.

John Farrell said…
First time visitor here. I read Ed's book as soon as I got my hands on it--and enjoyed it very much. I think your review is superb--in fact better than anything I could write, I'm embarrassed to say, so I'm going to link to it from my blog.
John Farrell said…
Quick note to Mr. Loftus: I'm certainly intrigued by your book. But speaking as a writer myself, if you want JD to read your book, might I suggest you simply... send him a complimentary copy? Reviews are hard to come by these days and the hard truth for authors is we need to be prepared to shell out for those extra copies to get the attention we need.

Just a thought.

BTW--nice hat!
John W. Loftus said…
John, thanks for the compliment on the hat.

JD can request one from the publisher if he can make the case that he's a scholar and will write one for a scholarly journal. Those decisions are theirs to make, not mine. I already have a slew of recommendations so unless he's a person of note such a request will be denied.

FYI: On March 20th a paper of mine has been provisionally accepted to be read at the Evangelical Philosophical Society's Regional meeting in Ohio, on the Outsider Test for Faith. They meet at Ashland Theological Seminary in conjunction with the Evangelical Theological Society, so I will be in the lion's den. I'm both excited and nervous. They'll probably have someone read a paper in response, but who it will be I don't yet know.

James F. Sennett is writing a review for the Stone-Campbell Journal (my former denominational scholarly journal) Richard G. Howe is writing a review for the Christian Apologetics Journal (Norman Geisler's seminary journal); Craig Hazen said one will be written for Philosophia Christi; and I've heard Douglas Groothuis is writing one, but I don't know where. I know of one book length Christian response to it coming out soon from a guy named David Reuben Stone, but from a few email exchanges with him I don't think he'll be up to the challenge. He runs this website:
BK said…
So now one has to be writing for a scholarly journal to receive a free copy of your your book for review, John? That's very strange because we have had more than one book sent to us for review free of charge. Most authors recognize that the free publicity is worth the book price. But then, you always were overly skeptical....
Layman said…
I have never been impressed with anything Loftus has written for free on his blog, here, on various discussion forums, and in private emails. So why on earth would I start paying now to read him?
John W. Loftus said…
BK, you're probably right. I'm just tired of free requests. I do not need any more recommendations though. Recommendations are coming out of the woods every week. If someone wants to get it then get it by any means you can, if not, then not. I know you don't trust me but I was giving you an opportunity a long time ago when I alerted you to it. This website could've been the first to try to refute it, but you missed that opportunity. It's being used in classes, both for Christian colleges and for classes on atheism in secular ones. I guess the professors of those classes disagree with Layman, eh? You can disagree with credentialed people who have read it and said otherwise if you want to, I guess. But I haven't been impressed with anything I've read here either. What does that prove? Nothing as far as I can tell.

Or, you can wait like you have for too long while Christians are leaving the fold because of it. That's okay with mem, and I guess that's okay with you.

You see, there is something about my whole case that is provocative. You won't understand until you read it. I have only posted bits and pieces of it here and there. It's unlike anything I have ever seen in the history of critiques of Christianity and I have worked extensively on an anthology of anti-Christian writings.

Layman said…
But I haven't been impressed with anything I've read here either. What does that prove? Nothing as far as I can tell.

More dishonesty? You wrote on your own blog in November that you found my article on Josephus to be persuasive. In fact, you told your own people in response to a new blog on Josephus that "Harry before you posted this I was persuaded by most of what Christopher Price wrote about Josephus' passage here."

Harry of course went on to make false accusations against me, including accusing me of deceit. I have left a lengthy response on your blog requesting an apology; especially since he was proven wrong on each and every point he attacked me regarding. Indeed, others had proved him wrong about most of his claims before I even knew about the controversy.

In any event, I guess you could say that you were not impressed with my article on Josephus but only found it persuasive. That is about what I would expect.

I also seem to remember a while back you telling another of your co-bloggers that I was knowledgeable about Luke-Acts and that he shouldn't dismiss my comments on the subject. But again, I suppose you could argue that even there you were not quite "impressed."

Finally, I might point out that whether I impress you or not is quite beside the point in that I am not on your site shameless promoting my book in a way that would embarrass a snake oil salesman without a conscience in a shanty town.
DMN said…
Layman said:

"Finally, I might point out that whether I impress you or not is quite beside the point in that I am not on your site shameless promoting my book in a way that would embarrass a snake oil salesman without a conscience in a shanty town."

All I can say is:

Oh thank God somebody said it!

Geez! JD, the peer pressure must be horrendous. I am so sorry for you.

Mr. Loftus, you give yourself entirely too much credit. Christians leaving the fold? Christians have been leaving the fold every day for nearly 2000 years. Conversely, there have also been those who were not Christians for most of their lives, but became them too! No doubt this will continue 'til the Lord returns, or the sun burns out, or we destroy ourselves....whatever you believe will happen first.

Debunking Christianity isn't worth anyone’s time. Any blog that gives props, or allows props to be given, to the "Christ myth" in any capacity is just concerned with spewing propaganda. Nothing else.

Back to you Mr. Loftus, I haven’t read your book, nor do I plan to. As a serious student of philosophy and history, I choose to spend my time reading from prestigious, contemporary atheist philosophical literature. If I must anyway.

btw, for all those who looked into Mr. Loftus’s link above giving reviews of his book by Geisler and a few others, you might want to take a look at theology web here:

Apparently, Geisler saw the same thing in your book that I see from just reading a few reviews of it.

Lastly JD, thanks for the review. I am going to read this book! Perhaps in part because its author sounds more concerned with seriously discussing the ramifications of God's existence, and not ranting apologetics.

Layman said…
Debunking Christianity isn't worth anyone’s time. Any blog that gives props, or allows props to be given, to the "Christ myth" in any capacity is just concerned with spewing propaganda. Nothing else.

Two words: Acharya S

Okay, one word and one letter. But they invited her to join Debunking Christianity.
DMN said…

You're kidding! See, this stuff I do not know cause I don't care whats going on over there. But thats just pathetic. I guess this is just support for the whole, "when you can't use evidence to support your argument, you can just make some up" crowd.
JD Walters said…

Don't worry, I'm not cowered by all these giants clashing over my head:) I know what I know and what I still need to learn. I'm just grateful that I've written a helpful review.
DMN said…

Giants eh? I see one Giant. You're it man. All I can say is, you're a better man, and Christian than me.

Truth be told, all these blogs and sites by people who know nothing about what they're saying and really have no right to say anything in the first place are really starting to stick in my craw. Perhaps I should let the net rest a while and allow my relationship with the Lord to grow stronger, allowing myself to become more like Him.

Looks like your a little ahead of me on that front. Can't wait to see what other reviews you have for us. Maybe you'll review Loftus's book someday. I'd like to read that actually. No rush though. :)

Take care and God Bless.
O said…
Yo Joe X,

Up to this point, I haven’t cared to defend God's existence. I do not intend to. For two reason. 1) I find no excuse for not believeing in God. Unless one does not posses a brain 2) Men and women of much higher intellect than both of us put together have, and are doing that right now. One can easily access their materials on the subject, and decide for themselves.

Rather, what I have tried to do is show, and I have, that your designation of atheism is incorrect. Fit only for the person who either doesn’t have any idea about why they are an atheist, or is in fact so overwhelmed by the evidence for God that they hide behind a security blanket saying, "You prove it to me!" Knowing that no one will ever be able to. I can see I'm starting to touch a nerve as you are pulling out old canards about me worshipping an "alpha-male storm god" and other ridiculous statements of that ilk.

Clearly, you have no desire to actually investigate these things, to see where the truth lies. Your much more comfortable sitting back behind your self-made caricature of what you believe Christianity and reality to be, while mocking anyone who dares object at how pathetically bad your art is. I can learn nothing from you, save for how to throw mud, and it appears you refuse to try to learn anything at all.

Therefore, after this little message, answering the few statements you make that even deserve a response, I'm cutting it off.

"I don't understand why that distinction apparently bothers you so much. I assume because it's easier to argue against strong atheism that you prefer it was defined only in this way."

Again, I am aware that some atheists try to make their position a "non-thinking zone" so they don't have to actually do anything. But as I have said before, there is no, "Weak atheism". Unless you are claiming atheism is a psychological state shared by people of different views, or no views, then you are wrong. Atheism is a view. It is not the "natural" or "default" position. That is agnosticism. And no, I don't say this because I feel "strong atheism" is easier to refute (there are, in fact several atheist arguments that give me pause at moments)

I say it because I'm not going to let you just sit on your tush while theists give you little presentations for you to simply go, "not proven."

"Since weak atheism doesn't make any assertions there is no proof required."

Not gonna fly. To not make any assertions is to be brain dead. But I'm starting to get that vibe from you....

"But at the core remains the lack of any proof or logical reason to believe in supernatural deities..."

Please. Back it up. Otherwise, you are begging the question:

Theist: Why are there no logical reasons?

Atheist: Because atheism is true!

This is nothing but the sweet faith of a naturalist. I don't think you know of any of the arguments put forth in favor of theism. If you did, I doubt you'd be so pious. Or at least a little more apprehensive about making such a sweeping statement.

"So far what you believe is proof is the lack of knowledge regarding the creation of the universe."

Not gonna address these, since I never desired to do this. Just showing how you don’t even know how to define your own veiw.

"Basically you're saying "I don't know how the universe was created so it must be "my" god that did it"."

I don't recall ever saying that. It seems your blind naturalistic faith is affecting your vision.

"If in the past people had myths that unicorns made rainbows and since nobody knew where they came from then in your eyes that would constitute proof that unicorns exist."

You have unicorns on the brain my friend. I have not talked at all about proof. If you’re seeking mathematical certainty, I think you'll find there is little in your life you can believe in.

"The only difference between a unicorn, chariot-riding god and your alpha male storm god are the myths associated with them. All three are just as supernatural and lacking in proof."

Again, that part about the storm god is cute. I must have missed that description in my Bible...In any event, it incorrect. God, as described in the Bible. is not physical or dependant on the universe. As would be demanded of a being powerful enough to create the universe. Hence, he is not subject to examining, or testing like the other, mythical creatures you mention. We can look for Unicorn fossils, or observe the sun to see if a dude in a chariot is draggin' it. If it urks you that this cannot be done with God, well, I guess that’s tough. As can be seen, you adhere to scientism. The idea that science is the only means of gathering knowledge. Of course this is false since it both begs the question, and refutes itself. The only thing you rest upon is your misguided piousness.

"You're adhering to a myth to explain an area where we currently lack knowledge but the absence of that knowledge does not render your supernatural explanation valid."

That’s just childish. The whole of the theistic case is not based on the creation of the universe. Though that is a mighty big one, there are multiple arguments not just from science, but from philosophy and history too. Your view of this debate is remarkably narrow. The rest of your statement is again your blind, naturalistic faith. "Those scientists will find out one day. Then you'll see. (Shakes fist)." I wouldn't count on it.

"If we would have settled for believing all the supernatural explanations we would still be in the dark ages."

Dude, you know the whole enlightenment thing? The development of science? Both started by theists. Because they believed the universe to be the logical product of a logical being, and hence, can be studied logically. Looks kind of different from the random, un-designed chaotic void we would think it would be if blind forces lay at its helm. This is more uneducated, atheistic rhetoric that has no basis in historical fact.

"Rather it's you that ignorantly uses the explanation that "God did it", and rides off smiling into the sunset."

Such dogmatism. Espeacially when considering I never said that for anything!

"'ll never be able to argue that it is anything more than a myth based belief or superstition."

Uh-huh. Do you have a book of atheist one-liners sitting in front of you or something? Again, a very impressive cumulative case for the existence of a creator God can be constructed. This kinda childish rhetoric may have cut mustard in the '60's but you have to deal with the fact that a good portion of philosophers/scientist are practicing Christians in American and European universities.

"Simply saying I don't know where this came from so there must be a god is not proof. Sorry."

Again, never said it. You really like beating on straw men, huh? You do it very well.

Those of us who are Christians, those who aren’t bound by blind, dogmatic, narrow-minded presuppositions about what definitely is in reality and what definitely is not, will continue to stare into the cosmos in awe at the work of our God. Sit back in the dark and sulk if you want to, but we have His universe to explore.

God Bless
John W. Loftus said…
Okay Layman, you're right I have been impressed with some of the writings here: yours, BK's, Joe's and JD's. That's why I visit. I have not been impressed with how you in particular treat me (but as you know that's a long story).

I don't think you understand me. On my good days I want a discussion of the ideas that separate us. That's right. A discussion. On my worst days I want a debate and I taunt my opponents. I guess my personality gets in the way, but I am who I am. I've gone about it the wrong way over here. I'm sorry about that. I would truly, honestly, and sincerely like for you guys to show me where I am wrong. I want to learn from you. That's the truth. Although it's also true that I honestly and sincerely don't think you can undercut my overall case. I need no recommendations or glory, and the fifty cents I make per book means nothing to me (I will not get rich from you). I think I misread you guys. You looked to me like testosterone type of men who might take up a challenge so I challenged you to a contest of sorts hoping you'd take me up on it. I was wrong. Again, I'm sorry.

I'd like to have the same type of relationship with you that I do with JD and with Joe and with the other Christian scholars who are my friends, like Craig Blomberg, Paul Copan, William Lane Craig, Richard G. Howe, Gary Habermas, John F. Haught, James F. Sennett, Mark Linville, Douglas Grouthuis, and others.

If this isn't possible at this stage then it's my fault.
BK said…
Only one comment in response. John said,

I know you don't trust me but I was giving you an opportunity a long time ago when I alerted you to it. This website could've been the first to try to refute it, but you missed that opportunity.

Well, part of the reason I don't trust you is the revamping of what happened so long ago when you made that offer. You told me to buy a copy of your book and to refute it. I said that I wasn't going to buy your book, but if you wanted to send me a copy of your book for free I'd be happy to review it. You asked if I would give it a fair review and I said that I would give it as fair of review as I could, but that I would be reviewing it from my Christian perspective. You decided that wasn't good enough (apparently recognizing that it would likely not be a favorable review) and decided not to send me your book for free. Thus, it isn't as though I had some special chance to review your book that wasn't available to everyone else.

So, I renew my offer to review your book, but only if you send it to me for free. There is nothing that I have seen you write that encourages me to believe that you have written anything particularly special that requires me to go out and buy a copy to refute. Moreover, it seems to me that it is most likely that everything that you have said in your book has been repeated on your blog and in comments to other blogs. I am sure I can find the substance -- if not the exact wording -- of virtually every argument in your book in those locations.

And when I say that, don't get me wrong about my feelings towards your writing. Based upon what I have read of your material (and I have read more than you probably think) I continue to believe you are very wrong. I do think that some of what you write is interesting -- but it is a long way from destroying Christianity which you seem to believe your book is capable of doing.
John W. Loftus said…
BK, I am a nearly broke man and facing the possibility of getting two jobs or worse. If you want a free review copy then you know what to do. In my opinion I was doing you a favor merely by alerting you to my book. What you did with that information was up to you.
BK said…

I am sorry for your financial problems. I know it is meaningless to you, but I will say a prayer for you (but it won't be a prayer for the success of your book). By the by, having two jobs isn't the end of the world -- I have done it on several occasions. It slows up the writing, but it doesn't end it.
John W. Loftus said…
Thanks BK, I was wondering if Christians would instead pray for my financial demise, so this was an interesting and appreciated response from you.
Layman said…
I would truly, honestly, and sincerely like for you guys to show me where I am wrong.

I've done this everytime we've disagreed on the blogs. You haven't gotten the message yet so I don't think an escalation would accomplish anything. Besides, I'm most interested in biblical studies and you are have no competence in that area.
John W. Loftus said…
Well, Layman, I wouldn't say I have "no competence" in Biblical studies, but it is true that we have different areas of focus. I specialize in the Big Picture, as I said. That doesn't make me a specialist in anything but that. And since the "devil is in the details" I don't get into many specifics. I let other scholars do that. For instance, I say there isn't any archaeological evidence for the universal Flood story, the Exodus, the wilderness wanderings and Canaanite conquest. I'm not a specialist in these arguments, okay? But then I make reference to the Christian scholarship coming from Gordon Wenham, Donald Gown, Bernard Ramm, and the Anchor Bible Dictionary when it comes to the Flood, and Hermann Samuel Reimarus, Lester L. Grabbe, William Dever, Israel Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman, when it comes to the Exodus. I also argue that there were "Lost Christianities" coming from "Lost Scriptures" and then make reference to Bart D. Erhman, James H. Charlesworth, James Barr, James D.G. Dunn, and once again the Anchor Bible Dictionary.

They do my arguing for me. They do it for every issue I write about. In fact the book could be considered, in one sense, as a very extensive annotated bibliography on the major issues concerning Christian theism, and as far as I know there isn’t a comparable book out there.

You see, I do not need to be a specialist in any one area. I stand back and look at the forest rather than the trees. This kind of specialization is needed. And I do this on the level of the college student, not trained philosophers who, at a certain level are simply talking to themselves looking for a pat on the back from other scholars, but whose arguments cannot be understood by anyone else.

I'm doing for skepticism and atheism what Josh McDowell did in the '70's for Christianity with his evidences books, although as I said, people who've read my book would never compare our books since mine is far above his (again, that's the kind of things they say).

So while I’m not the specialist that you are in Biblical studies that doesn’t say anything about my kind of scholarship. It’s a different kind of scholarship, that’s all.
Layman said…

If you are incompetent in Biblical Studies then I can't count of you to use even respected scholars well. You have failed to do so in anything I've read to date.

Given your track record of 1) shameless and undeserved self promotion, and 2) dishonesty in arguments and in self promotion, I have no reason to buy into your own vouching for how wonderful is your book. Just the opposite in fact. Every post, every fudge, every word you post about how great you are reinforces the truth -- you are a hack.

Finally, I am putting you on notice that any further posts by you that are more promotions of your book than substantive comments on the issue of the initiating post will be deleted.
John W. Loftus said…
Thanks once again for the pleasant discussion Layman--Not! But I'm sure I would bury you in a debate. You talk about Biblical scholarship and claim you have it, but what are your credentials and where have you published anything?
Layman said…
Yet more fudging and dishonesty from Mr. Loftus.

Where in this entire thread of discussion have I claimed that I "have it"?

I said I am "interested" in Biblical Studies and that it is not -- as you admit -- an area of competence for you.

I also, if you failed to notice, go by the name "Layman," which I assure you is quite incidental.

If people -- like you admit you do -- find my arguments persuasive on particular topics then I am flattered and grateful. I do not appeal to myself as an authority, though I think I'm a knowledgeable layman in some specific areas.
JoeX said…
Hi O,

I'll do like you and make this my last post on the subject since in any case you don't seem interested in having a constructive debate.

Again, I don't have to prove that god doesn't exist but you in fact have to prove that god exists. That's how science is done. For example, if I claim that rainbow making unicorns exist then I have to come up with the evidence to convince you. You don't have to come up with evidence that they don't exist.

So I can see why you would consider one approach lazy. But the fact is the one making the claims has the responsibility for proving them. Somebody who uses reason applies this reasoning to unicorns and gods.

This does not mean they are not interested in for example the nature of the universe, it simply means that a myth based explanation are worthless since by their nature they involve the supernatural.

And BTW, saying that your god exists outside the physical universe and can't be detected just reinforces that he's supernatural and therefore there is no logical reason to believe in his existence. I can just as easily say the same thing about my rainbow making unicorns. I see no difference between the supernatural and the imaginary.

John W. Loftus said…
Layman, Biblical studies won't cut it for so many reasons I don't know where to start, except to say that if you base your beliefs on a particular historically conditioned interpretation of a set of documents written by ancient superstitious people before the rise of modern science and chosen as canonical by non-inspired people, then perhaps before you go any further you should take a basic 101 class in the Philosophy of History, also known as Historiography of Theories of History. Or you could read about it by doing some online research on the topic.

This is one of my fundamental critiques of Christian theism. Since it claims to be a historical religion it falls under the critique of history in general and what we can actually claim to know about the past.

Layman said…

First, man up and admit it when you are being dishonest (or at least fudging). I didn't claim to be an expert but that was your only response. Don't just change the subject, again. This is one reason so many do not take you seriously.

Second, you make erroneous assumptions about the scope of my studies.
John W. Loftus said…
Layman, as a lawyer you aregue to win. Winning is important to you, isn't it? Let the judge or jury decide the truth but your job is to argue your case rather than try to understand your opponent.

I understand now better than ever.

Argue away. I'm sure I'm fudging or being dishonest with this comment too.

John W. Loftus said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
BK said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
BK said…
(Retyping last comment due to typo)

I removed John Loftus' last comment because he basically spent the first part of it doing exactly what Layman said he shouldn't do, i.e., "any further posts by you that are more promotions of your book than substantive comments on the issue of the initiating post will be deleted."

I am in agreement about this. I am not interested in reading, once again, which authors or educatators are supposedly reading your book and going to write about it. On top of the fact that it doesn't follow that these authors/scholars actually believe your book has any substance, it is not on topic. I am simply tired of it.
Layman said…

Anytime we start disagreeing it doesn't take you long to attack my profession rather than my comments. That in and of itself is not dishonest, but it usually rears its head with you when you are on the ropes and trying to divert attention away from your dishonesty or fudging or self promotion.

And it may be among the most ironic statements in the history of the CADRE that the most shamelessly and undeservedly self-promoting person I have ever met is suggesting that I am overly concerned with winning! :D

In any event, I have found that understanding one's opponent typically facilitates prevailing.
Critiquing the new atheists by claiming Aristotelianism was given up without sufficient reason?

Whether or not Aristotelianism is fully abandoned for atheism is a matter of degree not kind. Philosophical questions abound from Kant onwards. Though even Plato and Socrates admitted they didn't know things for sure, not even concerning the afterlife. Aristotle also suggested that form follows function, so when the form of the brain vanishes at death, what's left?

As for Christianity being questioned I'd suggest starting not with grand philosophical ideas but with deist works that criticized "written revealtion," i.e., they compared and contrasted the Bible's two testaments, and also pointed out difficulties and differences in verses and teachings within each testament. Also note Jewish responses to Christian miss-useage of portions the Hebrew Bible. Start there, and then go on toward continuing open examinations of the Bible by Christian scholars from Strauss to Wrede to Schweitzer and on and on. Check out modern day bibliobloggers as well, google biblioblogging, and read how and what biblical scholars are saying on the web, along with the Biblical Studies Carnival. There's plenty of questions out there. Questions CADRE doesn't cover.

Personally, I'm not an atheist, but an agnostic.
I also suspect that with the invention of the printing press (such that heretics could speak and remain anonymous), and with the inventions of the microscope and telescope, humans finally began poking their noses in things other than the Bible, and other than trying to make perfect sense out of the whole cosmos simply by studying the Bible and the church fathers.
Someone mentioned Acharya S. She was a member of John's blog briefly, a few years ago. The blog didn't have much female input and we hoped to equalize the gender ratio a bit. She stayed a little while then left. But even then we knew she was to the left of the other blog members' views, none of whom argued that the N.T was based on myths alone. Personally, I've extremely little Ancharya. But it is telling that folks like J.P. Holding seem to think that the main alternative to his inerrant-istic biblical view is total mythicism. And he hasn't even begun to deal with the enormous middle of the spectrum, starting with moderate non-inerrantist Evangelical scholarship and working his way past them and up toward increasingly more complex questions. Instead Holding relies on Preterism, and, Young-earth creationism as his "default" interpretation of Genesis 1, to get him through a few of the MANY MANY MINEFIELDS of biblical studies. At least Holding has learned enough about the O.T. to question such old Josh McDowell canards as "the astonishing accuracy of hundreds of O.T. prophecies about the first coming of Jesus," and recognized instead the midrashic and pesheristic nature of the use of such O.T. passages by N.T. authors, which J.P. Hholding admits does not provide proof of "amazing prophetic accuracy" to well informed Jews or non-Christian O.T. scholars.

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