The End of Christianity? A Skeptical Review (Part 1)
The End of Christianity is the final installment in an atheistic triumvirate designed to decimate Christiainty. (Previous entries include Loftus, Why I Became an Atheist and Loftus, ed. The Christian Delusion.) This review is going to be long and messy. As preparation I suggest you read my review of the second book in this series, The Christian Delusion. Luke Muehlhauser over at “Common Sense Atheism” gathered together my various posts on the book as well as Loftus’s responses. You can read them here.
In this first installment of this review of The End of Christianity we will take a look at Loftus’s introduction. I will structure the review around three problems.
Problem 1: Boxer-level rhetoric
The first problem is that Loftus cannot keep himself from bloated self-congratulatory rhetoric:
“I honestly think that with this book (and certainly the series) Christianity has been debunked. The jury has returned its verdict. The gavel has come down. The case is now closed.” (9)
Yeaaahhh. Okay buddy. You tell yourself that.
Here there lies a striking irony for while Loftus has a serious case of science envy, he shows little interest in emulating the cool, careful and qualified way that good scientists describe their contributions to the commonweal. Instead Loftus frequently indulges in this kind of inflated rhetoric. Frankly as I read these passages I thought of a boxer telling the press how he will “destroy” his opponent at an upcoming bout in Vegas. That’s what we expect from a boxer, but coming at the front of a work that purports to be a serious contribution to scholarship it is, to say the least, disappointing.
(Such inflated rhetoric often functions as the equivalent of a person raising the volume and speaking more quickly in verbal debate. In other words, it is a sign of insecurity. Perhaps Loftus still feels a deeply-seated insecurity about his worldview commitments and this is one way of shoring up his own beliefs. Who knows?)
Problem 2: An “introduction” that has no introduction
This is what Loftus says on the first page of his “Introduction”:
“I think the chapters in this anthology speak for themselves, so I’ll not introduce them except to say I’m very pleased and honored to be a part of this work, which includes several leading atheists, agnostics, and religious critics of our day.” (9)
At that point Loftus begins talking about his signature contribution to theism, the so-called Outsider Test for Faith. More on that in a moment. But for now let me note that this is an unfortunate shirking of the responsibility of providing a genuine introduction to the work. It is like a presenter at the Academy Awards who decides to talk about his own film rather than introduce the nominees for Best Picture. A proper introduction to a collection of essays by different authors should briefly summarize the contributions of the essays while providing an architectonic, thematic structure to the work. Loftus opts to do neither, instead focusing only on his own favorite argument.
Problem 3: The Outsider Test for Faith
So what is the Outsider Test for Faith exactly? I offer the following summary of John’s argument:
(1) If you are the adherent to a religion you should subject your basic metaphysical commitments to skeptical “outsider” analysis.
(2) If you do (1) you will become an atheist.
(3) Thus the person who does (1) and remains committed to their religion did not really do (1).
(4) Atheists don’t have to subject their metaphysical commitments to skeptical analysis because they already did so and that’s why they’re atheists.
Listening to John Loftus talk about his “outsider test of faith” reminds me of that guy down the block who invested heavily in Amway. Having made that initial investment, now he tries to peddle his product every chance he gets, even though every one of his Amway products has a cheaper and superior substitute available at the local Walmart. That’s the way it is with poor John’s “OTF”. There are much better and cheaper products available elsewhere. But since he’s got big $ invested, he won’t stop pushing it.
I won’t rehash my objections to this OTF. You can read them in the link above and (in more polished form) in my forthcoming book The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and other Apologetics Rabbit Trails. But here is the cheaper and better substitute for the OTF which is available at the local Walmart:
Everyone should critically introspect their basic worldview commitments with objectivity and care.
If everyone does this then any OTF is rendered otiose.
By the way, underlying the OTF is the “Agree with Loftus” principle which I summarize as follows:
If you think hard enough about religion you will come to hold Loftus’s views. Thus to the extent where you fail to hold Loftus’s views to that degree you have failed to think hard enough about your religion.
In terms of argument, this is on the same level as Lucy’s Five Good Reasons for why Linus should memorize his lines. Again, disappointing.
Loftus’s defense of his OTF is a storehouse of outdated and indefensible claims. In closing I’ll note two here. Here’s the first:
“Skepticism is an adult attitude for arriving at the truth.” (13)
Epistemologically speaking, this is a dimestore comment, the kind that you expect to hear from undergraduates who are taking their first Intro to Philosophy course and have become enamored with Descartes’ “Meditations”. But try that statement out in a graduate seminar in epistemology. To equate the pursuit of truth with skepticism alone is like rowing on only one side of the boat. A grown up approach to the pursuit of truth involves a richly nuanced balancing act between skepticism and belief, doubt and commitment.
My second and final example comes at the end of the chapter where John writes the following:
“I agree with the Protestant criticisms of the Catholics as well as the Catholic criticisms of the Protestants. I agree with the fundamentalist criticisms of the liberals as well as the liberal criticisms of the fundamentalists. In addition, I agree with the Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish criticisms of Christianity, as well as the Christian criticisms of their religions. When they criticize each other, I think they’re all right.” (19)
So John’s maxim is “When religions critique one another they’re all right.”
Let’s think about this for a moment. Christians criticize Muslims for denying the historical crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. According to John, since this is a criticism of Islam he agrees with it. In other words, he agrees that Jesus was crucified and rose again! But before you get too excited note that Muslims criticize Christianity for calling Jesus God since there is no God but Allah. Since this is a criticism of Christianity John agrees with it and thus believes there is no God but Allah. And Hindus critique Christianity and Islam for rejecting the doctrine of reincarnation so John must agree with that as well. But of course Christians and Muslims critique Hinduism for accepting the doctrine of reincarnation so John must accept that as well.
What could lead John Loftus to make such a baldly incoherent, reckless, and indefensible claim? Doesn’t he see how this undermines his credibility? Ironically, on the very next page John critiques “liberal” Christians: “all they do is pick and choose what parts of the Bible to believe….” (20) Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! John critiques liberals for picking and choosing how to read the Bible when he will “pick and choose” any argument to critique any religion.
And John has the gall to challenge others to introspect their beliefs? Physician, heal thyself!