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.
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.
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.