Debating Christianity: Opening Salvos in the Battle with Believers by John W. Loftus (Author), Jonathan MS Pearce (Foreword), David Madison (Foreword) needs to be in every library.  I bought this extremely lucid and informative book, and recommend it for anybody who wants a read that is not too long. Its length is perfect and it deserves wide readership.

I am going to start with the essential points the book makes and then go on to detailed points that I find stand out to me.

One major point is this.

Faith-defenders Plantinga and Craig argue that they can know the Christian faith is true “based on personal experiences”.  They and the Christians who emulate them “cannot in turn show (or prove) to others” that their faith is probable or true.  They run up against the fact that though they may be right, a may is not enough. “The major problem with them is that possibilities don’t count. Only probabilities do. It may be remotely possible that we’re living in the Matrix right now, or dreaming, or being deceived by an evil demon. But I’m not changing anything I do or anything I think based on a possibility.”

They actually cannot show themselves that they are possibly right.  It is not fair of them to take this position with the Bible and with the validity of Jesus when they would not use that method with anything else.  They would not argue that the doctor who says they are seriously ill - hypothetically - is wrong for some experience tells them that.  They would not argue that the doctor secretly hates them using the same logic.

Why are they saying that Jesus shows them he is real and if he seems to be showing them that their doctor is evil even they will ignore him then!

Whatever this is, it is not genuine love for Jesus.

It is safer to mess around with possibilities with magical supernatural things than anything else.  They know that.  You can say that if a murder happened that the Prime Minister did it.  You will not get away with that for the Prime Minister will have an alibi.  But you will get away with it if you say that the Prime Minister has a secret power that controlled somebody to make them conduct the murder.  Magic and supernatural and miracle by default open the door to lies.  They open the door to exercising power over others by gaslighting them.

These men are cherry-picking what possibilities count. Either possibilities count or they do not. The intellectual dishonesty is obvious. They do not do it just to themselves but try to draw others in and make emulators of them which is reprehensible.

We will not let the thought that we might say be in a Matrix affect how we think and behave.

Atheists will not let the thought that there might be a God affect how they think and behave.

It is obvious here the Matrix possibility and the God possibility have a difference.  An important difference.

We cannot function at all if we are doubting that everything around us is not real.  We can dismiss God and still benefit our community.  It does not stop us teaching mathematics for example.

No possibility counts.  But some count less than others.  For being the supreme and loving source of all then God counts very little!

The book points out that Christian apologist David Wood wields double-standards. It points out that if Wood can persuade us that the universe had a beginning and that a God may have created it “all he’s done is to show that these things are consistent with his faith. But just showing that they are consistent with his faith does not show that his faith is probable.”  Again this takes us back to how possibilities do not count and every religion cherry-picks what possibilities it wants us to believe in and does not tell us how long the menu really is.

The book argues that horrendous suffering means that God is not justified in creating a being to undergo it. Christians caricature this by saying atheists who take this line are indirectly saying we should all kill ourselves if life is that bad. It is extremist to say that a being that knows little but suffering should still be brought into existence. That may be hypothetical but it shows what is in the believer, in their hearts. They would condone suffering that does not affect them and they are doing it from a place of privilege. Even if they suffer they do not really know what it is like to be in a worse situation.  This is not spiritual or loving by any standard. The book points out that when you ask why God made anything at all the theist may reply that God did it out of love. We have exposed the offensiveness of this.

If the believers have true compassion, which they say means suffering with those who suffer as an equal, then where is it?  I always try to deal with how the notion of God being right to allow evil in fact is more than a problem of evil, it tries to create the evil in us that it calls a problem.  That offends us atheists.  Don't belittle us with that tactic. It creates a level of comfort with other people's suffering.  That has practical consequences.  No person who has ever lived has ever had a moment in which they exercised proper compassion and action for suffering.  We always put a flaw in it.  And as evil is in the intention, what about how we wish that some sufferers would just die even if we do help them?  The problem of evil is only an outcome of this terrible aspect of our personalities.

An interesting point is made about schizophrenia. It is easy for us to assume the person should ignore voices telling them to do something extremely harmful but the suffering will “wholeheartedly believe those voices.”  God then if he exists creates this conviction.  He is as good as taking their hands to murder somebody with them.  God is possessing them devil-style.  If God could allow suffering he certainly could not allow this.  A form of suffering that turns you into a pawn of death and harm and evil is inherently intolerable.

No two schizophrenics are the same.  Could it be that one who is influenced by God belief and the notion that God gives guidance in some kind of almost psychic way, is more likely to have total belief in the lies the voices tell them?

The book points out that Christian apologists give what they call reasons for why God may allow suffering of the worst kind. Some simply say it is a mystery but we must trust God and confess he knows what he is doing. I notice that those who give reasons and then say that are not very confident in them when they tell us that. It is gaslighting and ensures that if you see nothing moral about God allowing gratuitous evil that you will doubt yourself. It is evil itself for that reason. If you say, “God lets babies starve so that we can think about helping them and he empowers us to do it” you may not seem to be appealing to mystery but you are. Let me explain. It would have to be a mystery as to why babies have to be made to endure that so that we can be good. You clearly think you are so special that people should suffer so that they can receive goodness from you.  It is morally bankrupt. Mystery and morally bankrupt in this case would seem to be the same thing.

The book mentions freewill being used as an excuse for blaming us for evil so that God can be exonerated. And as this free will is given to us by God, we are told, so that we might be fair and just this is ironic.  A free will that is given to us by God to please him by living up to "innocent until proven guilty" is a laughing stock.  And a twisted one. 

Suppose it really is possible to have free will. I would interject that free will could be an either-or faculty and nothing more. But when we think of free will we confuse it with its action on other faculties we have.  Just because I have better eyesight than some other mammal does not mean that I have better free will than the mammal. Yet I am amazed about how I can use my freedom to see so well and I feel superior to other creatures that cannot. My sight and my freedom are not the same thing.  For these reasons, a kitten with little to work with can have as much free will as us.

 Each of us has a limited brain and limited accuracy so no choice is the informed choice we think it is. Sufficiently informed choices are more luck than anything else. Religious free will is a plot to give us over-confidence that the will is given to us to find God. The result then is often faith.

The debating about God and religion and atheism often centres about the fear that if there is no loving Christian style God then life has no meaning. The book rightly tells us, “No one should never reject the evidence for a conclusion simply because they dislike the conclusion. If there is no God then we are our own meaning makers.” Actually, if there is a God we could still be our meaning makers. Who says a God has to give us meaning?

The book talks about the concept of prayer changing the past. An inquiry is made if you should pray that your friend who is alive and well has not suffered a fatal car crash a month ago. It points out that such prayers may happen but you never know if they are answered or not. Your friend being alive now does not indicate if the prayer works one way or the other.

If you really believe in the power of prayer, and if you believe that all time, past and present and future are there before God and in his hand, you will regard your friend's wellbeing as an amazing miracle.  We are not necessarily talking about a friend who was in a car a month ago.  The fact that they were not might be a response to your prayer that they might not be killed in one.

The Church may say that the present or future cannot change the past.  But then it says that if God looks at you now, he can see what you will probably prayerfully want in a few weeks time.  So God then after all can work on changing the present to suit what he thinks you will probably ask for.

Christianity if it started concentrating on how God helped before he was actually asked would be seen as cheating.  It is too easy to say the cat never got cancer because of your prayer life when there is no reason for the cat to get cancer.  If it were truly convinced about prayer, it would see such things as the greatest evidence of God and prayer-power there is.

Jesus is another obstacle to Christianity.  His own people were being slaughtered but that did not stop him ignoring them.  No accounts of his giving them water exist.  He is a problem of evil all on his own especially when he lay up hills praying instead of doing something productive.

David C Sim who is a Catholic scholar of the New Testament wrote, “Throughout the first century the total number of Jews in the Christian movement probably never exceeded 1,000 and by the end of the century the Christian church was largely Gentile.”  The book says that if the Jews who knew Jesus and were so close to his time did not take him seriously then there is no reason for us to.  I affirm that there is anti-semitism in people who put what they want to think about Jesus first as if what the Jews knew did not matter.

The book deals with Jesus as Messiah. Matthew and Luke give genealogies to trace Jesus’ lineage and his rightful place as the Messiah or king of Israel. It says that bloodlines were not traced though the mother but the biological father. So Luke is no good if it traces through Mary. Matthew is no good for he tries to trace through Jesus’ foster father Joseph. Adopted children cannot inherit a throne. The implications of this are huge. It means that Christianity is not Christianity and does not really believe Jesus is the messiah in any meaningful sense. I would add that if Matthew is right (he made it up) that Herod wanted all the babies two and under slain in the locality where Jesus was born that it is clear that nobody had a way of distinguishing the Messiah child from any other child. That is telling when there had to be records.  A king without credentials is not a king.  Jesus was not a king at all and was not the Messiah.

So insane is the Bible God’s idea of justice is that he has priests casting lots to see if the person accused is guilty and thus to be harshly punished.  Jesus might have been involved in such nonsense having being a regular in the Temple.

Jesus is reported to do miracles in the gospels.

Importantly the book points out that if you could use history to argue that a miracle is possible or probable this is not scientifically valid. It is not valid on any level, never mind with science.  One reason is that evidence to show the miracle is a fake or a lie could be out there and not found. Or it could be lost for good. Plus history by definition has only the right to say what something says or what the evidence is but has no right to ask that the historian's interpretation counts and your contrary one does not. Let the evidence talk not the interpreters. Religion abuses history by saying, “It is our duty to believe that Jesus claimed to be God for the New Testament says so.”

The book mentions the historian Herodotus from six centuries before Christ, claiming that fish were cooked and resurrected from the dead among other things. The point it is telling that Jews and Christians reject this from a historian and accept gospel accounts from non-historians.  These are the people who claim that history supports the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  They say resurrection means Jesus was raised to a glorious eternal bodily life so it is not a simple case of a man who was dead turning up again.  So why are they not changing the language and saying that history supports the view that Jesus really died and really was reported alive again.  That is less loaded.

There is a lack of scholarship explaining how the Mormonism fraud is basically a rerun of what machinations may have given birth to Christianity. Thankfully this book points out how the birth of Mormonism does shed light on what religious human nature is like and this raises red flags with the Christian story.  Religious obstinacy can indeed have somebody who knows their religion is false, being willing to die on the hill of claiming it is true and they know it. 

I like to think at this juncture of how we know a lot about the people behind the foundation of Mormonism and how they reported experiences with men risen from the dead, eg Moroni, Peter, James and John. Their claims are thus stronger than the New Testament’s. Yet they are false. And nobody denies that those involved in early Mormonism were in danger for their lives as well. Yet they persisted.  Smith got money and power yes but it did him no good at all so it is simplistic to say that he was just a con-man.  This was about more than money and power.

Finally I urge you to read Debating Christianity for yourself.  I hope this review shows how distinctive it is.


No Copyright