John Loftus is tripping on shrooms, and other tales of New Atheist la-la-lands

Given how yesterday’s debate between William Lane Craig and Sam Harris went, imagine my surprise when I read John Loftus’s comments on the debate, over at his comically-named Debunking Christianity blog:

Bill has once again showed himself as the best debater of this generation, that’s for sure. He had a great opening statement and kept coming back to it in his rebuttals, assessing what Sam might might have said against it, pointing out when Sam didn’t answer him, and if he did, why he was wrong. Bill was out to score points. That’s what he was taught in his High School debate team. Score points. If a debate judge was doing that, then she would add up the arguments and the counter arguments and this would tell her who won. On a points basis Craig won. This is what Christians are probably crowing about. I talked to a guy named Phillip, who has commented here before, who said Craig won and I suspect it’s because of this.

But Sam’s arguments were clearly better even if he didn’t answer everything Bill said, by far. So Sam did what any debater against Craig should do, put out on the table some serious objections for Christians who would never read his books. He did that most emphatically. That’s why debates are important even if a debate judge might score on Bill’s behalf.

Loftus’s appraisal of the debate highlights the kind of fantasy world that many of the more militant, more preening atheists—New Atheists—live in. Harris’s arguments were not “clearly better” precisely because he didn’t answer everything Bill said by far! And Craig’s arguments are precisely what made him the better debater. Indeed, since points are scored on the basis of how well each person presents and defends his case with argumentation, if we are not going on “points” to judge who won, then what, pray tell, are we going on?

As Steve Hays has observed, Craig is in a no-win situation when it comes to his evaluation before New Atheists. If he wins—as he always seems to—it’s either because he was a “better debater”—as if that is completely unrelated to his arguments—or if that won’t fly because, say, Hitchens is a brilliant speaker, then it’s because his opponent was unprepared. Curious. The arguments never feature in their appraisal.

In fact, Harris presented almost no argument on the topic throughout the entire debate. In addition, Craig completely dismantled Harris’s entire theory of ethics, revealing his utilitarianism as a fraud. What various “arguments” Harris did present were facile—the sort of stock objections, more assertions than anything, that you’d expect from a high schooler who hasn’t had time to learn better; not from a Stanford philosophy major and world-renowned author-speaker. It’s almost as if Loftus thinks, and approves, that Harris used this debate as a pretext for simply presenting as many emotive, off-topic arguments as possible, in the hope that uncritical or uneducated audience members would be swayed against Christianity.

While I doubt this was Harris’s intention, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was how Loftus would go about things. He isn’t interested in the truth—he is interested in showing everyone how amazing he is, as if this will validate his incredibly lame arguments. I mention this lest you ever get involved in a discussion with him, because it makes reasoned debate quite impossible in the normal sense—he doesn’t have the same motivations as most people. He isn’t interested in addressing the issues as truthfully as he can: for example, look at how, in his post, he makes transparent efforts to emphasize his own importance. Notice how he uses Craig and Harris’s status to his own advantage, calling them by their first names as if they are old friends, going to great pains to mention how he talked to both of them, how Harris knew of him, and how he curried Harris’s approval; how a biblical scholar has told him things about Copan’s book, and how he had free tickets to the event. Loftus has tried to goad Craig into debating him on numerous occasions; Craig declines on the basis that Loftus was once his student (what disappointment he must feel about that). But I suspect Craig would demur in any case, for there is no way an adult can give an annoying, incorrigible, retarded child a clip around the ear without the spectacle leaving him worse off in the eyes of his on-lookers.

Returning to Harris, I think this debate illustrates how confident Christians can be, and how we shouldn’t over-react to the New Atheists just because they are loud. If this is the best they have to offer, their cause will always remain a fringe movement, producing a lot of noise but very little heat—much like Islamic Jihadists. In the vacuum of sensible arguments or rational discourse, more people will be moved to Christ than to atheism—and that’s something to be thankful for.

22 replies
  1. Bsquibs
    Bsquibs says:

    "…for there is no way an adult can give an annoying, incorrigible, retarded child a clip around the ear without the spectacle leaving him worse off in the eyes of his on-lookers."

    I help to moderate a forum that has its fair share of people who would rather argue black is white than enter into agreement with a Christian. Perhaps it cuts both ways at times.

    While I freely admit that I struggle to keep a level head when engaged with this utterly frustrating method of "debate", I can't help but think your above statement is out of order, and at the risk of sounding rather pious, unChristian.

    A number of months back I came across a chap by the name of James White (you can find to some of his stuff on apologetics 3:15) and I began to listen to his (bi) weekly podcast. While I wouldn't agree with many of the conclusions that stem from his (rather staunch) Calvinism, I appreciated his knowledge of Greek and his research into the early manuscripts. However, I can no longer listen to him because he devotes part of just about every show to denouncing the various on-line personalities he is currently having a spat with.

    You might have some very reasonable point about this Loftus chap but all I can recall are the unsavoury remarks, and that dilutes your message.

    These virtual spats can become addictive, no?

  2. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hi Bsquibs, well, I don't try to be more pious than Jesus, who was by no means above calling people vipers, dogs, and sons of perdition. Sometimes it's important to point out the moral character of the people challenging you, because it's directly pertinent to their challenges, and to the perceived success of your rebuttals.

  3. Bsquibs
    Bsquibs says:

    I've encountered a few vipers in my time, so I understand that sometimes it is necessary to engage with these people forcibly and not play the meek and mild Christian who smiles through the insults. But I'm reminded of 1 Peter 3:15-16

    "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."

    That, of course, can't apply to every situation. As you pointed out, Jesus wasn't above calling a spade a spade. Still, it is food for thought.

    As an aside to my moral prescriptions, I like what you guys are doing here. And as an aspiring web designer, I tip my hat to whoever creates the banners on the home page. Striking stuff!

  4. Patrick Chan
    Patrick Chan says:

    Well said, Bnonn!

    What you wrote regarding Loftus is funny but sad (in a pathetic sort of a way). But yeah, you're right, when it comes down to it, Loftus is just a two bit personality trying to get people to think he's worth a fig. A name dropper trying to get noteworthies to take him halfway seriously. A chihuahua who desperately wants people to think he's a German shepherd. Delusions of grandeur and all that.

    But the best "argument" he's brought to the table is his Outside Test for Faith. However, that's been debunked many times over. If that's the best he's got, well, that's pretty sad for him too.

    I think the only interesting attention Loftus probably gets is from others like him who are desperately seeking some sort of notable approval for their work (e.g. Richard Carrier).

    Maybe in an alternate universe Loftus is actually the most prominent atheist of his generation. If so, then that must be one of the most intellectually vapid universes of all! ;-)

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    It seems that some people still haven’t realized that in most debates there is no real winner. In a typical debate the “winner” is the person you agree with more. In some debates there will truly be someone on top, but I don’t think that happened in the Harris-Craig debate. 

  6. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    You can assert that, sure. But what about the arguments therein? You need to address those arguments to show your perceptive is valid re the Craig/Harris debate.

  7. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    Wow. Not to delve into semantics… but this quote is quite shocking – ‘If this is the best they have to offer, their cause will always remain a fringe movement, producing a lot of noise but very little heat—much like Islamic Jihadists.’

    If it’s your intention to draw parallels between atheists and Jihadists, then I think that is quite astonishing. If it’s not your intention, then perhaps you shouldn’t use such a poor comparison in your text. The idea that rationalists like Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris have anything in common with radical Jihadists is totally absurd, and totally insulting to rational discourse. What’s more, the idea that extreme Islam has ‘produced a lot of noise but very little heat’ would come as something of a surprise to the many, many victims of non-moderate Islam, including the vast majority of women in Afghanistan as just one example, or the 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks, to name another. Appreciate that this is not the crux of your commentary, but it casts a very ugly shadow on everything else you submitted.

  8. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    Hitchens has a useful rhetorical tool to emphasize the point, which I’m sure you will have come across. Show me one good thing that a Christian can do that could not be done by an atheist. Still thinking? Now show me one wicked, evil thing that could only be done by a religious person…

  9. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Tom, what intellectual heat has Islamic Jihadism generated lately?

    I don’t understand your objection to my comparison.

    Islamic Jihadism has as its stated goal the elimination and conversion to Islam of Western culture. New Atheism has as its stated goal the elimination and conversion to atheism of religious people.

    Islamic Jihadism considers infidels dogs and pigs. New Atheism considers religious people fit to be put in a zoo.

    Islamic Jihadism is characterized by dogmatic adherence to an irrational and unprovable religious position. New Atheism is characterized by dogmatic adherence to an irrational and unprovable philosophical principle.

    Islamic Jihadism is grounded in hatred, contempt and outrage towards infidels. New Atheism is grounded in hatred, contempt and outrage towards religion.

    How are the parallels unclear?

  10. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    Well. I will assume to begin with that you are happy to continue drawing parallels between rational people and violent religious extremists. You will find yourself in a lonely rhetorical shadow in this venture, at least.

    If you aren’t aware of the ‘intellectual heat’ generated by Radical Islam, it’s only because you haven’t read broadly enough. For starters, Radical Islam presents a highly tangible and satisfying answer to questions like ‘what is the purpose of a life stuck in the Gaza prison, watching bombs fall and my family suffer and waste away while the Judeo-Christian West continues to support my oppression.’ If you don’t think that raises some hot intellectual issues…. well, I’m surprised. If you’re saying new atheism hasn’t generated intellectual heat, why are you so uppity about it? And why are Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Hawkings, so widely read, reviewed and discussed? Clutching at straws here.

    To your first point, Christianity has as one its stated goals, at least as far as it has been presented ad nauseum to me, the conversion of non-believers to Christianity. In fact if you object to this fact, which renders your attack on rationalism/Islam somewhat redundant, I would suggest you have missed the point that God is Love (do you want me to go to hell?? Convert me, damn it!). The proposed imposition of Christianity on non-Christians often occurs at a young age, thus rendering the child unable to defend him or herself against the logical absurdities of faith. No one ever says their 5 year old is a national socialist or a communist – why not? Because they’re too young to understand these ideas, let alone adopt them as their own. So my point is, add Christianity to your list of elimination and imposition. If you disagree, then you have missed the religious train that most other Christians are riding, as you probably realise. At least atheism has the advantage of being true. What’s more, it is difficult to ‘impose’ a lack of faith in an idea that ONLY EXISTS IF WE PRESENT IT. If you have children, you have probably ‘imposed’ a lack of faith in Islam on them. How dare you! Oh… because you’re an atheist with respect to all other faiths. Has your child ever said to you ‘how come you never told me about Thor??’ – if there is a rational basis for religion, surely we should ask our children to read the Quran as well as the bible – make up their own little rational minds? Have you shown your child the Quran? Why not? Because you have imposed Christianity, like many other parents. That’s why.

    Furthermore, I assume you know full well that many ‘new atheists,’ myself included, don’t really care if you want a picture of Mother Mary on your living room wall. What I object to is the insistence that I say a prayer for her in my state-funded school as well. THAT is the imposition here. And regardless. The beauty of atheism is that I am not obliged to defend the comments of all other atheists, where as Christians must either agree, or disagree and in some instances claim their religious rival is ‘not a real Christian.’

    I don’t think religious people are fit to be put in a zoo. I think they’re deluded, yes, but I can sympathise – we’ve all been deluded at various points. Is this one of the ten new atheist commandments? Has something specifically made this suggestion? Or are you practicising some artistic license for the benefit of your misguided comparison? I imagine the latter, but again, if someone has made this suggestion, I would happily disagree with it, without threatening the tenets of atheism.

    To your third point, just add Christianity. It’s a pretty weak attempt at defense now, I feel. If Christianity was ‘proveable,’ you would prove it. If it was rational, you would rationalise it to the point of logical submission by non-believers. What is Christianity if not dogmatic? I thought religious people embraced dogma. For me at least, atheism is the exact opposite – I have been criticized by many Christian friends who encouraged my flirtations as being ‘too rational’ – ‘revelation is more emotional than intellectual’.

    As for hatred, contempt and outrage… not hatred, no. I’m deeply in love with a Christian. Part of what I love about her is her Christianity, in the sense that it defines who she is, as much as I might logically prefer it didn’t. Contempt, well maybe. Outrage, you bet. I’m outraged by many things, religious intolerance and intellectual and spiritual waste are amongst them. But the difference is, I wouldn’t blow myself up on a bus because I’m an atheist. I wouldn’t invade the Middle East because I was on a mission for God. Which was my point in my second post.

    So maybe I will partially concede your last point. But I would ask you – have you ever been in contempt of outraged about something? Or are radical islam and new atheism the only two things worth comparing here? I thought so…

  11. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    And if my objection isn’t clear to you – it is based on the fact that as an atheist, standing against religious irrationality so quintessentially demonstrated by Radical Islam, I strongly object to attempts to link the two ideas. Particularly when that attempt comes from a Christian, who by definition has far more in common with Islam in all forms than atheism does. (Same God different prophets, you see).

  12. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    On the contrary, Tom. Atheism and Islam both deny the true God, who is the foundation of rationality, and so both are equally irrational. It is Christianity that is the rational option. Sorry you’re too blinded by your hatred to see that.

  13. Toby Turner
    Toby Turner says:

    Hmm… after conceding an argument to me, a Christian friend of mine put me onto this website in case I wanted ‘to debate.’ Seems I have come to the wrong place… never mind.

  14. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    If by “debate” you mean “posting new atheist rhetoric” then you’re right.

    Debate here involves reasoned discourse based on a careful consideration and understanding of an opposing view. You seem to be lacking in all three of those things, so I’m afraid you’re going to have to take your toys and go home.

  15. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    I made a substantial list of points against your assertion that radical Islam and atheism could be compared with any equivalency, and you didn’t respond to any of them. If by ‘reasoned discourse’ you are referring to your one-line response, then that’s fine I guess we have different definitions. I’m not really interested in changing your mind, I’m interested in expanding mine, but obviously you don’t really want to consider my points, you want to relax into your faith. Which is fine, I just misunderstood the point of this website. Cheers.

  16. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Tom, I am always fascinated that new atheists, upon being told off for stirring, subside into patronizing moralization. You entered this thread expressing outrage that I could compare rampant atheism and rampant Islam. Thus you completely ignored the substantive claims of my article, and instead focused on a single line at the very end. (I answered you quite adequately in that regard, btw, showing the lines of analogy I was thinking of when I compared atheism and Islam.)

    If this is the manner in which you seek to “expand your mind”, no wonder new atheists are mocked by nonbelievers and Christians alike.

  17. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    I twice flagged my own acknowledgement that what I was commenting on did not relate to the ‘substantive claims’ of the argument. Even so, the comparison itself is substantial. You could quite reasonably have just ignored my point but you chose to list an absurd rationalisation of a throw-away line. You might say you answered it ‘quite adequately’ but that’s generally a judgement left to the questioner rather than the one giving the answer. Either way, clearly my response demonstrates that you didn’t. I maintain that your comparison is offensive and ridiculous, and furthermore that even amongst Christians you would find yourself in a lonely place if you continued to think that way. Regardless, you seem like a largely unpleasant person with which to have any kind of discussion on metaphysics. I’m not sure what purpose you think a website like this is serving, but the content you have presented does nothing to further the cause of Christianity – and as an atheist, I assure you I am well positioned to make that judgement. If you want to convince someone that you’re right (despite the fact I don’t think you are), its best not to alienate your audience by mocking and belittling them. But look you’re entitled to write whatever you like; I was invited to look into this website and I’ve done that, contented myself with yet another dead-end defence of a fading, archaic set of beliefs and will now flick the browser over to the New York Times report on the legalisation of gay marriage. Cheers.

  18. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    I’m not sure what purpose you think a website like this is serving, but the content you have presented does nothing to further the cause of Christianity – and as an atheist, I assure you I am well positioned to make that judgement.

    This makes no sense, Tom. How is an atheist in a position to judge whether something furthers the cause of Christianity? Unless you’re just assuming that the only possible way to further it is to convince new atheists of its truth?

    As regards gay marriage, let’s hope that it isn’t legalized. There are many reasons to see that as a bad thing, even if you’re not a Christian.

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