CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Do Christians live inside an intellectual box? That's the opinion of the self-promoting John Loftus in a blog on Debunking Christianity entitled Christians Live in an Intellectual Box and Cannot Think Outside of it. He wrote it in response to a series of very good questions that Brad Haggard wrote responding to a post by Loftus. Loftus clearly ducked Brad, but when I chimed in and pointed out a problem, Mr. Loftus decided to fire off his "see how smart I am that I can respond to you" post when he really makes no good response at all. And much as I don't like to give any blog space to Loftus and his arguments (because he almost invariably takes the opportunity to plug his apparently weak book in the comments), I thought it was appropriate to respond.

Let's look at what Mr. Loftus said.

Brad asked:

How exactly do you imagine God would have given us the knowledge? Would it be written revelation, instincts, or some sort of self-presenting knowledge?

I’m arguing at a more fundamental level. If God created us then he did a poor job of it and/or placed us in an environment that is dangerous, sure to kill us without notice or provocation. He could have created us with better immune systems if nothing else. No, I don’t think there was some sort of Fall in Eden, either. The process of evolution won’t allow it. That’s science, but you won’t accept it. The Genesis 1-3 stories are mythical tales like Aesop’s fables. And if God couldn’t create us better then he could've at least performed perpetual miracles such that even if lead poisoning could kill us it wouldn’t do so because of a perpetual miracle inside our bodies that would not allow it.

Of course, Loftus knows the Biblical answer to this question: God didn't create us and set us on earth in an environment that was sure to kill us without notice or provocation. He created humanity to rule His creation. Humanity fell into its present situation through the Fall. But Loftus dismisses the Biblical account as "mythical tales like Aesop's fables". In a variation of the "poisoning the well" fallacy, Loftus dismisses the Christian claim simply because his own limited worldview does not allow for it. As a result, Christians must be living in an intellectual box because they don't see things with the clarity and truth that Loftus imagines he sees things.

More importantly, Loftus is mixing his explanations resulting in a mess. Either humanity evolved through billions of years of evolution or God created man specially and placed him on Earth. (The only in between positions are (1) that most of creation arose through evolution and God created man specially and (2) theistically guided evolution, but these are not what Loftus appears to be arguing.) Since Loftus is clearly rejecting the idea that humanity was specially created and placed here by God, then he is almost certainly accepting the idea that man evolved through evolutionary processes. If man arose through billions of years of evolution, then God did not "place him in an environment that is dangerous" because man evolved over billions of years in that environment. By the time what we understand to be human (homo sapien sapien) got here, he was already familiar with his environment (as the result of billions of years of evolutionary training) and that familiarity would have warned him what to eat, what not to eat, what is dangerous, etc. Moreover, our bodies are exactly what they ought to be as the result of the fine-tuning that comes with natural selection.

So, what's his complaint? That God didn't make us better? Having rejected (in fact, having belittled) the idea that God specially created man, then why is he arguing that God should have given us more information to keep us protected or created our bodies to be more resistant to possible dangers?

And exactly what would be enough warning or resistance? Humanity does have a great deal of resistance to disease and poisoning. Speaking from a creation-oriented viewpoint, it seems apparent that God created us with pretty darn good immune system and a strong healing capacity. When we get cut we don't bleed to death. When we get a disease, we have white blood cells built in that fight the disease. How much more resistant do we need to be? Do we need to have Superman-type immunity before Loftus concludes that God made us well enough? Maybe Loftus doesn't understand that Superman is the real folk tale here.

Loftus continues,

Once you get past those insurmountable problems then I can talk about how God would give us the knowledge not to drink polluted water. But that problem can never arrive since those previous problems cannot be solved. Still, if we can teach primitive people not to drink polluted water then so could God teach us from the beginning. He could have made it one of his hygienic laws in Leviticus. And yes, as you say he could make such things instinctual. There, that was easy.

First, the problems that Loftus sites are obviously not insurmountable except in the mind of an a skeptical ostrich who is unwilling to pull his head out of the ground long enough to consider the Christian claims. But having gotten past them, what makes Loftus conclude that God never taught us to not drink polluted water? Because he doesn't see a law about it in Leviticus? Loftus apparently doesn't seem to recall (despite his having studied under Dr. William Lane Craig) that not everything God has revealed or done is written in the Scriptures.

Even if God didn't directly reveal it, God gave us minds to work things out for ourselves. So, when ancient people approached a waterhole and saw dead animals lying around it, I suspect that humanity (being gifted by God with intellect) was capable of seeing that there was probably something wrong with the water. So why should God make it instinctual (as Loftus proposes) when God gave us a mind to be able to work some things out?

But now we see where Loftus does not answer Brad Haggard's question. Loftus says,

As far as plumbing goes, yes, I see no reason to suppose God could not have given us the proper information both to use plumbing and to tell us about lead poisoning at the same time. Sheesh.

Brad's question was "How exactly do you imagine God would have given us the knowledge? Would it be written revelation, instincts, or some sort of self-presenting knowledge?" Loftus does not answer this question. Certainly, he seems to believe that knowing which waterholes are bad for drinking should be instinctual, but now the question becomes how God is supposed to give us knowledge about plumbing and lead problems from piping. Should that be instinctual, too? Should God have implanted us with detailed knowledge of how to create household plumbing and municipal sewer systems together with running tap water? And if that's what should be instinctual, why stop there? Should God have implanted within our instincts detailed knowledge of all of the means of generating power so that we could have built green energy efficient power plants when we were in our human infancy? Or is that asking too much of our "instinctual knowledge"? If it is, should God have given us written plans? That's appears to be what Brad is asking, and that is what Loftus has not come to grips with because he doesn't answer it.

Loftus, having missed the point, takes the time to try to belittle Brad:

Don’t you see what’s going on here? I do and it’s plain as the nose on your faces. You cannot think properly because you’re hamstrung by an ancient canonized set of superstitious pre-scientific documents called the Bible. The reason why you cannot think is because your first priority is to defend them. So it becomes obvious you lack the capacity to think because you cannot think outside the box that those so-called inspired documents put you in. Only if you come out of that box can you properly think about these questions. And they are all easy to solve from outside that box.

Ironically, the phrase "think outside the box" has become the most overused inside-the-box phrase in history. But regardless, I do see exactly what's going on here. Loftus, in his hurry to show us how smart he is, has failed once again to think the matter through. Rather than dealing carefully with the issues, he rushes out a post that reveals that he his view is an odd concoction of views that doesn't answer the question asked.

Having already failed to answer the first question, Loftus continues:

Brad again,

I sometimes give my girl some freedom (or responsibility) in order for her to "learn from her mistakes." I think she is better for it, but according to you, does that make me a bad parent?

Let’s say she was about to drink polluted water, okay? Let’s say you lived in Indonesia just after the 2004 tsunami. And she was ready to take a drink of that polluted water that in the aftermath killed as many people as the tsunami itself. What would you do? Come on now. All you have to do is think. It’s easy when you step outside that pre-scientific box the Bible forces you to live in.

Ah yes, the old "you wouldn't let your kid do something that would kill her" response. This has a visceral appeal because the answer is: "Of course I wouldn't do that." But there is a big difference here: God has different priorities that I have. God does not see life and death in the same way that we humans do because God has an eternal and life-after-death perspective. We, who see death as a tragedy because we have no way to really grasp what happens after death, see it much differently. Even so, Christians have a much better understanding of this than skeptics who live not so much in the box, but totally within the mortal coil which is even more suffocating than the box. More could be said on this, but I will leave it here for now.

Loftus continues:

Brad again:

Could God not have other reasons for "withholding" information other than just malice or incompetence? Are you presenting a false dichotomy with this argument?

Listen, Brad. If your God exists and created me with my mind how can he expect me to believe in him if I use it and cannot see any good reason for why he did not do the things I would easily expect from a good parent? It’s like giving me something that in the use of it will cause me to disbelieve. That makes your God duplicitous. Again, that was easy, but only for people willing and courageous to think outside the mental confines of this superstitious box.

As Loftus' answer makes clear, the answer to Brad's question is yes, Loftus is presenting a false dichotomy. Yes, Loftus, God created you with a mind and he expects you to use it. However, merely because you are the one who is closing down avenues of possibility because of your limited scope of thought is not any reason for any other person to believe the way that you do. God could have other reasons for withholding information, and simply because you cannot grasp these other reasons does not mean that they don't exist. And, as I said above, you don't have the eternal and omniscient perspective that God has.

With all due respect Mr. Loftus, you are the one living inside the box.

12 comments:

Let me pretty much do a cut and paste job of recent comments I've made on this subject to get you up to speed, okay? No need to write anything much new, although because of this some of these paragraphs might be a bit disjointed.

BK: Loftus knows the Biblical answer to this question: God didn't create us and set us on earth in an environment that was sure to kill us without notice or provocation. He created humanity to rule His creation. Humanity fell into its present situation through the Fall. But Loftus dismisses the Biblical account as "mythical tales like Aesop's fables".

You are not actually dealing with my arguments here. I'm asking you to think rather than regurgitate Christian dogma. I'm asking you to explain Christian dogma. All you end up doing is telling me what it is. I know what it is. I dispute it you see. Because, when we think about it, then it just doesn't make any sense.

Let’s say you wanted to make a political argument in our society on behalf of some social issue. You can believe you’re correct about that issue because you believe the Bible, yes, but as soon as you enter the political arena you must make your case based on common ground like reason, evidence, demographics, the harm principle, and so forth. You did not answer me on any common ground we share. To me you merely said in effect, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Now that’s fine if you’re preaching to the choir, but there is a world out there you simply failed to address. They’re looking for answers and you’re simply not offering any here. Because you haven’t, at least on this issue, they’re not embracing your faith and many are walking away from it.

I want you to think, because everything I am saying calls into question why I should believe an ancient set of canonized documents along with you particular interpretation of them. Christians disagree on their interpretation of these texts, you see, so that means you not only have to defend these documents as authoritative but also your particular interpretation of them, which is one step farther removed from those ancient documents.

And even though you quote from the Bible, the fact remains that only if some of us would NOT have sinned in the Garden of Eden under the same initial conditions can we view God’s testing of the initial human beings as a fair one, and not a sham. For if we all would have sinned then God is to be blamed for how he created us or for the test itself. But if instead some of us would not have sinned under the same initial conditions then there are human beings who have been punished for something they never would have done.

When it comes to the kind of punishment we experience in this world you need to actually consider this for once in your life. In the 19th century there was a humanitarian movement for how to punish criminals. They thought criminals were evil people because the science of psychology had not yet arisen. Evil people should be dealt with harshly, very harshly. But this started to change and instead of flogging them, or tar and feathering them, or torturing them, or stretching them on the rack, we designed prisons that were a more humane way of dealing with them than in the past. And we know people are not evil so much as influenced by their upbringing to do cruel acts. So when we compare the brutal punishments of your God to our more human ways of treating criminals we must judge God’s punishments by the brutal standards of an ancient barbaric culture to be, well, barbaric. No parent would even punish her children in these brutal ways since the goal is to teach and discipline them without breaking them down completely, which is what we find your God to have done.

Part 2

BK: More importantly, Loftus is mixing his explanations resulting in a mess…By the time what we understand to be human (homo sapien sapien) got here, he was already familiar with his environment (as the result of billions of years of evolutionary training) and that familiarity would have warned him what to eat, what not to eat, what is dangerous, etc. Moreover, our bodies are exactly what they ought to be as the result of the fine-tuning that comes with natural selection.

Really? Ever read the book The Ghost Map where drinking polluted water killed many people before we learned that drinking that water would kill people? And do you know the history of lead poisoning and how we learned that killed people? Do you know anything about influenza and the numbers of people it killed in 1918 before we realized how to vaccinate for it, or polio, or tuberculosis? It’s YOU who need a lesson in history.
And if God couldn’t create us better then he could've at least performed perpetual miracles such that even if lead poisoning could kill us it wouldn’t do so because of a perpetual miracle inside our bodies that would not allow it.

BK So, what's his complaint? That God didn't make us better? Having rejected (in fact, having belittled) the idea that God specially created man, then why is he arguing that God should have given us more information to keep us protected or created our bodies to be more resistant to possible dangers? And exactly what would be enough warning or resistance?

Enough so there are no pandemics that have decimated whole populations of people. If God used this means as a population control method then a more humane one would be to control the birth rates rather than the death rates like he supposedly stopped some wombs from giving birth in the Bible.

BK: Do we need to have Superman-type immunity before Loftus concludes that God made us well enough? Maybe Loftus doesn't understand that Superman is the real folk tale here.

This is a false dichotomy. Just good enough to avoid pandemics.

BK: Even if God didn't directly reveal it, God gave us minds to work things out for ourselves. So, when ancient people approached a waterhole and saw dead animals lying around it, I suspect that humanity (being gifted by God with intellect) was capable of seeing that there was probably something wrong with the water. So why should God make it instinctual (as Loftus proposes) when God gave us a mind to be able to work some things out?

Ahhhh, yes, this is exactly what your mother, a good person no doubt, would have done if you didn’t figure it out, which many many people did not and STILL don’t. But of course they are all ignoramuses and you would know better right? Right.

Brad's question was "How exactly do you imagine God would have given us the knowledge?” And I answered it not in using just one method, an instinctual one, but in several different ways, including revelation in the Bible. Even the Holy Spirit doesn’t do his job now does he? Perpetual miracles could solve the rest, remember?

Personally I don’t think you can give me a reason why God created anything at all or if he did he need a testing ground for human beings, so all of your objections ride on answering that. If it’s God’s nature to create out of love then logic says creation is eternal since if there wasn’t a creation then God was not expressing his love. If in heaven there is free will without sin then he could have created free creatures in a heavenly realm with no suffering. Christians typically say God has foreknowledge so if nothing else God could foreknow who would be saved and then simply place them in heaven, but I digress.

BK: Ah yes, the old "you wouldn't let your kid do something that would kill her" response. This has a visceral appeal because the answer is: "Of course I wouldn't do that." But there is a big difference here: God has different priorities that I have. God does not see life and death in the same way that we humans do because God has an eternal and life-after-death perspective. We, who see death as a tragedy because we have no way to really grasp what happens after death, see it much differently. Even so, Christians have a much better understanding of this than skeptics who live not so much in the box, but totally within the mortal coil which is even more suffocating than the box. More could be said on this, but I will leave it here for now.

Yep, Christianity is a faith that must dismiss the tragedy of death. It does not matter to Christians who dies, how many people die, or what the circumstances are when they die. It could be the death of a mother whose baby depends upon her for milk during the first few months of life. It could be a pandemic like cholera that decimated parts of the world in 1918, or the more than 23,000 children who die every single day from starvation. These deaths could be by suffocation, drowning, a drive-by shooting, or being slowly burned to death. It doesn't matter to them. Their God is good. Death doesn't matter. People die all of the time.

But Christians are all pro-death. They justify death. They even personally long for it. Many of them hope for the so-called Rapture, disregarding the fact that many if not most of their friends and family members will be Left Behind, or worse yet be condemned to hell. They simply do not care. They see no reason why death is a problem when confronted with the incongruous claim that God loves us each and every one. God is good. Just look at some of the responses to what I wrote here. Christians simply do not care. They do not care. They do not care.

Christians will say that Jesus cares and that they do too, of course. I know this. And they do help people who suffer around the world, yes. But when it actually comes down to it they don't give a damn who dies, or how many, or under what circumstances. For in order to justify their belief in God's goodness they must minimize the value of human life. Theirs is a pro-death faith plain and simple.

I value human life more than that. So I cannot believe because I value human life. I am pro-life in this sense, and that includes all life.

BK: Loftus is presenting a false dichotomy. Yes, Loftus, God created you with a mind and he expects you to use it. However, merely because you are the one who is closing down avenues of possibility because of your limited scope of thought is not any reason for any other person to believe the way that you do. God could have other reasons for withholding information, and simply because you cannot grasp these other reasons does not mean that they don't exist. And, as I said above, you don't have the eternal and omniscient perspective that God has.

And yet I’m supposed to believe in God anyway, Right? Right.

You know, I started writing out a long response to your disjointed comments, but then thought better. Like you, I don't believe I have to respond to every single comment posted, especially when the comments are this vacuous.

What it boils down to is that you have a very limited perspective and you can't quite grasp the fact that you don't know everything. This gets back to your old canard that only you, of all people in the universe, have looked at things objectively. That is utter nonsense.

I leave it to others to decide if you have made a case, but to me it is the same old drivel.

That's fine BK, I'll accept your word on this unlike Brad who didn't when I said the same thing to him. Try to keep him over here will you? ;-)

We see things differently because of our perspectives, right.

Am I unwelcome over at DC now, John?

BK: Do Christians live inside an intellectual box?

Of course. It is a very constraining and restrictive box, tightly delineated by what are known as "the laws of logic". They keep us poor benighted Christians from romping freely through the seductive fields of error that lie outside that box, that narrow, cramped, constrictive realm of rationality.

The passages you quote are the perfect illustration: once you free yourself from that one-trick pony, reason, you open yourself up to a whole new world of impossibilities. As the quotations show, your conclusions need not follow from your premises; indeed, your premises need not be consistent with each other! We sad Christians, with our hang-ups on our "God-given intellects", don't know what we're missing.

No Brad. You are welcome at DC. You are polite and respectful and that's all I ask.

John W. Loftus: It does not matter to Christians who dies, how many people die, or what the circumstances are when they die.

No. It doesn't. That is the only thing you've got even approximately right. It doesn't matter to Christians who dies, it matters to Christians who lives. True life, everlasting life, who is saved. Nothing in this life matters except insofar as it affects the eternal fate of your soul. (Of course, it turns out a lot of thing do affect that, which is why in practice Christians are concerned indirectly with things like who dies and how. But the death of the body is not a big deal for its own sake.)

This of course gives the lie to your claim that you know what Christian dogma is. You obviously don't know the first thing about it, because this exact issue is the very heart of Christianity. All your "arguments" are no argument at all, but merely a complaint that God didn't make the universe the way you'd like. If you were God, you could make the universe exactly the way you wanted, but you're not, so get over it.

Worse than that, your complaint itself is not even plausible — it's not merely that you claim not to like the world the way God made it, but you ignore the fact that God has set things up to be better than you can imagine. You're like a child complaining that his parents are making him eat vegetables instead of candy for dinner; not only do you have no right to demand such a thing in the first place, but you seem inexplicably oblivious to the fact (or even the possibility that) you need the vegetables to prevent scurvy.

This infantile exalting of your own will above God's will is, of course, the story of the whole Bible. On top of your total lack of argument, it again emphasizes that not only do you fail to understand Christianity, but you apparently are unfamiliar with anything in the Bible at all. I mean, it starts right at the very beginning with Adam and Eve — you couldn't even have made it past the first couple of pages!

Do Christians live inside an intellectual box? That's the opinion of the self-promoting John Loftus in a blog on Debunking Christianity entitled Christians Live in an Intellectual Box and Cannot Think Outside of it.

who doesn't? Everyone does. that's the human condition.

Hey John,

I just left a note on your blog on the card-shuffling post to look here. I don't want to surprise you.

After getting a good night's sleep, I feel that your objections are of the type that I do need to respond to them. However, I am not going to respond further here. I intend to respond slowly (mostly, as I have time) to various points that you have raised.

So, I am sure that you will pop in when you see something that I say that offends your sensibilities. But I don't want to put everything in these comments because there is just too much here to give full responses in a comments section.

Let’s say she was about to drink polluted water, okay?....

Let's say John was about to conceive a child, okay? Let's say that this child would someday die - maybe from drinking polluted water, but it could be from anything really. What would you do, John? Come on now, think.

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