Today John Loftus published a Facebook comment on God or Godless by Russell Blackford. (I promptly looked Russell Blackford up on Amazon. He co-wrote 50 Great Myths About Atheism and co-edited 50 Voices of Disbelief.) Here’s what he wrote as quoted by Loftus:
“I’m currently reading God or Godless?by John W. Loftus and Randal Rauser. From my perspective, the former is intellectually demolishing the latter. You may think I’m biased, but it’s not that simple. I suspect that I would (to my dismay) have had the same response even in my Christian days. Loftus is very good in this debate, but even that is not the problem for Rauser. So much Christian apologetics may be internally consistent… but still looks bizarre and implausible the moment you try to look at it from the outside. There’s not much Rauser can do about this.”
Take a good look at that comment. You’ll notice first that Blackford provides no critical analysis of arguments, no objective measure to ground his assessment. Ultimately, his comment reduces to two points. The first observation he makes is that “So much Christian apologetics may be internally consistent….” In context, this comment is presented in a response to my contribution to the book. Thus, I take it that the implied meaning is that I have offered an internally consistent defense of Christianity. That is an unintended compliment not to be under-rated. You see, internal consistency may seem a low bar. But there are many critics of naturalism, some of them like Thomas Nagel who are themselves atheists, who worry that naturalism is not internally consistent. Internal consistency is the first step toward truth.
Now for Blackford’s second observation. He says that Christian apologetics “still looks bizarre and implausible the moment you try to look at it from the outside.” This is a revealing comment. Note first that there is no room for qualification in Blackford’s comment. For example, he is unable to distinguish between the relative plausibility of arguments for a first cause from arguments for a designer from arguments for an objective agential source of moral value and obligation from arguments that God raised Jesus from the dead from arguments for the virgin birth, from arguments for the inerrancy of scripture. Christian apologetics, like atheistic apologetics, is a vast and diverse enterprise. And some claims and arguments in Christian apologetics are going to be of varying degrees of strength and intuitive plausibility to those who are not themselves Christian.
The same is true, of course, for atheological apologetics. Any Christian who dismisses the entire enterprise of atheological apologetics as “bizarre and implausible” to those who are not themselves atheists has made a comment that reveals more about the Christian speaker than it does the project of atheological apologetics. The inability to distinguish between the varying strengths and intuitive plausibility of multiple arguments for a complex worldview is the sign of a fundamentalist. It suggests a person who must think in simplistic terms of black and white, right and wrong, and who cannot countenance nuance, qualification or doubt in their worldview: If atheism is wrong then there’s nothing to be said for it at all and all its arguments are equally bizarre and implausible. Yup.
That seems to be where Blackford is at. Unable to countenance nuance and apparently unfamiliar with the varying levels of intuitive plausibility for the many distinct claims of a worldview, he speaks without qualification of all arguments in Christian apologetics as bizarre and implausible. Unable or unwilling to present any analysis of the argument, he instead simply declares that there is absolutely nothing to the Christian case: it’s irrational, ignorant, ridiculous, bizarre, verboten.
To put the vacuous, sweeping subjectivity of this response into perspective, think, by analogy, of the meat-and-potatoes westerner who visits China for the first time and summarily dismisses the entire Chinese culinary culture because they “eat with little sticks” and that’s obviously “bizarre and implausible” to somebody who doesn’t eat with little sticks. That’s Blackford’s level of critical analysis. Based on the evidence, Blackford should definitely take the John W. Loftus Ideologue Barometer.
The irony is that such displays, presumably intended as a sign of intellectual strength, are really signs of fundamentalist weakness. And does Blackford have any idea how naturalism and atheism look to the outsider?