I have now completed reviewing chapters 1-2 of Loftus’ Why I Became an Atheist with special attention to chapter 2. The review has moved much more slowly than I had anticipated. However, in my reading thus far I have identified misleading statements, fallacious arguments and flat errors on almost every page. That’s why I decided to begin by spending some time focusing on the arguments in chapter 2. Given the amount of material we’ve discussed thus far, I think it is worthwhile to undertake a quick debrief and review, drawing together the cumulative case thus far.
Let’s begin with an illustration. Imagine that you are visiting Florence, Italy with your family. You decide to join a ten hour art history tour given by a man named Giovanni. As an art history student, you listen closely to Giovanni’s description of the city over the next half hour. During that time, you realize that Giovanni makes repeated misleading statements, fallacious arguments and flat errors about Florence’s art history. Granted, it still is only half an hour of a ten hour tour, but if Giovanni is this bad with the first half hour, one can reasonably assume he won’t be much better on the rest of the tour.
Our close examination of chapters 1 and 2 of Why I Became an Atheist parallels a half hour tour with Giovanni. So let’s bring together some of the problems we’ve chronicled thus far.
We have seen Loftus make outrageous, unevidenced sweeping claims like this: “Christians are in denial and live with guilt because they cannot be honest about themselves outside of the private counseling room.” (34) He claims that Christians are deaf and blind wretches who are drinking at a cesspool of foul religiosity (See Part 1). He claims with no evidence that some Christian apologists manufactured or embellished their conversion accounts in response to atheist deconversion accounts and he prooftexts Christian sources, thereby misrepresenting and caricaturing them as irrational fideists (See Part 3). He endorses W.K. Clifford’s evidentialist epistemology as providing a framework for his entire book, and yet he repeatedly fails to follow Clifford’s central maxim and he fails to respond to the body of evidence that Clifford’s maxim is self-defeating, false, and terminates in skepticism (See Part 4). He offers fallacious rebuttals to William James’ epistemological alternative to Clifford (See Part 5). He confuses distinct concepts like rationalism, empiricism and classical foundationalism, caricatures the position of Alvin Plantinga and provides a grossly errant summary of Plantinga’s epistemological development (Part 6). He provides a misleading and one-sided presentation of Pascal and Kierkegaard (See Part 7). He makes a false and bizarre claim that Christians shouldn’t examine their beliefs in accord with their central control beliefs (See Part 7). He endorses classical foundationalism over-against moderate externalist foundationalism while never noting that the former is a fringe position within contemporary epistemology due to several overwhelming problems (See Part 8). He commits the fallacy of the single cause by bizarrely claiming contrary to abundant evidence that natural theology languished in the mid-twentieth century because of historical biblical criticism (See Part 9).
With the exception of the material referenced from Part 1, all the other material here is drawn from a careful reading of chapter 2. These are not niggling points, as some of the true believers have claimed. They are errors relating to Loftus’ core epistemological commitments, his lack of research discipline, his confusion over terminology and concepts, and the lack of care and accuracy he shows when representing the views of others.
Loftus wrote a big book. And many readers seem impressed by the fact that the book is big. But big doesn’t mean good. A ten hour art history tour is of little value if the tour guide is unreliable. The same goes for a five hundred page apologetic for atheism.