Thus far I have written 13+ articles carefully documenting the errors in John Loftus’ book Why I Became an Atheist. I only decided to review the book after he had publicly criticized me for two years for not having read it. The irony is that if I had criticized the book in a short review, I would have been charged with being unfair and having a personal vendetta. And so, of course, when I carefully write an extended review I am charged with being unfair and having a personal vendetta.
The latest example of this spurious response comes in a comment from Jonathan Pearce. The setting is Part 12 where I critique Loftus’ clumsy straw-man dismissal of the ontological argument. One of the comments I made is that Loftus spends a bare 23 pages out of his five hundred page book critiquing arguments for God’s existence. In response, Walter wrote:
“the primary thrust of the book was to critique particular Christian dogmas rather that spending hundreds of pages positively promoting atheism and establishing the nonexistence of God. In other words, John seemed less interested in convincing us that God probably doesn’t exist than in convincing us that Jesus wasn’t God, whether God exists or not.”
The problem with this response is that the book is not titled Why I Stopped Being a Christian. It’s titled Why I Became an Atheist. So it is reasonable to expect that Loftus would devote more than five percent of the book to a specific defense of the atheism to which he converted.
All that is by way of context. Next, we get Jonathan Pearce’s comment in response to Walter:
Before I make some observations about Jonathan’s comment, let me state that I don’t have a personal vendetta against him (because I am guessing that will be the next charge). Indeed, he seems to be a very amiable fellow.
What makes his comment especially worth engaging is that it brings together succinctly the two most common responses I’ve received thus far. Since both responses strike me as spurious defensive mechanisms that do nothing other than keep people from considering the actual criticisms I raise, I thought it worth responding to them.
An unreasonable standard?
The first response is to say that I’m holding Loftus up to an unreasonable standard. That’s false. I’m merely holding Loftus up to the standard that he, himself has proposed. As I have already noted, on page 15 Loftus states that he is presenting a cumulative case argument to demonstrate that “the Christian faith should be rejected by modern, civilized, scientifically literate people…” This is a sweeping claim, one that aims to establish how rational people ought to reject Christianity.
What is more, in Part 1 I pointed out that Loftus invokes the metaphor (via exbeliever) of Christians as blindly and anosmically drinking at a filthy cesspool. That’s Loftus’ view of Christianity. His book is presented as a cumulative case to illumine those poor, benighted Christians that they are drinking at this cesspool. It is difficult to imagine a more combative and magisterial tone than this.
So Jonathan’s first charge is completely off the mark. Loftus has raised a high bar and if he can’t clear it, he deserves to be called to account.
Before moving on, note as well how self-serving Jonathan’s first defense is. No matter how many errors in the book, no matter how shoddy the arguments, Jonathan can always excuse Loftus relative to Jonathan’s own subjective standard. Perhaps Jonathan should explain just how bad things have to get before he sees a problem. And he should be sure to apply his same lax standard to Christian apologists.
Finally, for those who don’t know, I wrote more than a dozen articles critiquing a single podcast by William Lane Craig. The series is titled “On William Lane Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide.” The funny thing is that I can’t recall a single atheist objecting that I’m holding Craig to an unreasonable standard because, after all, it was just a podcast. And yet when it comes to Loftus’ five-hundred page book defending atheism, the very book that he calls his “magnum opus”, suddenly I’m chastised for holding him to an unreasonable standard!
A personal vendetta?
I have also heard this one several times now. Imagine if Loftus decided to respond to my review with a careful, point by point refutation over a dozen or more blog posts. Do you think Jonathan Pearce would accuse Loftus of having a “personal vendetta” against me? No, of course not. Because Loftus is “his guy”. You only invoke arm chair psychology when you want to marginalize the voice of the “other guy”.
Suffice it to say, the personal vendetta charge is a non sequitur. Even if I have a personal vendetta (a claim that has yet to be defended), that is simply irrelevant to the critique I’m presenting.
To put it another way, this charge commits the genetic fallacy. Even if the critique is generated by personal animus, that doesn’t mean the critique is illegitimate. The critique must be considered on its own grounds.
Finally, Jonathan’s statement is an ad hominem, a personal attack on me and my psychological disposition rather than my argument.