This is how it's done, folks. As Robert the Bruce might put it, "You've bled Bayesian Mathematics with Richard Carrier. Now bleed Statistical Analysis with me!" This example might not do those incompetently-evolved apologists any good (what ever will?), but at least it will provide a path forward into Statistical Valhalla for the Brights.
Do Christian Apologists Swear by, or against, Evidence?
In Chapter 5, Loftus tells prospective apologists, "Accept Nothing Less Than Sufficient Evidence." (That's after a chapter with a title offering similar good advice, "Get a Good Education" -- which I daily attempt to help our students achieve.)
Who disagrees with such a seemingly innocuous chapter title? Who advocates believing for insufficient reasons? Well, it turns out four fifths -- that's 80%, no problems so far -- of those crazy Christian apologists think one should believe without good evidence.
(1) Loftus has categorized apologetic approaches into five groups. Why should we take his categorization as normative? He often seems to feel that whatever he seems to feel should be convincing -- that's a repeated theme of this book. But speaking objectively, why should anyone else accept this system? What if you find thirty categories, or I just find three?
(2) The entire argument appears to rest upon a grotesque category error. Loftus seems to me to conflate five categories with the percentage of members of those categories.
|There is a 20% chance this dog of an argument|
already lives in your brain.
"There are roughly five species of dog in North America: the arctic wolf, the timber wolf, the fox, the coyote, and the domestic dog. If we grant that an equal number of animals belong to each of these species, then only 20% of dogs in North America are domestic. Since domestication is the only process that allows dogs to live with human beings, but it has only affected 20% of dogs, then 80% of dogs in North America are wild, ravenous beasts ready to eat your children and spread diseases. If that's not a crisis then what is?"
If that's not a bad argument, then what is? Having translated it into biological categories, perhaps Richard Dawkins, a fan of John Loftus and fond of arguments involving canines, can now spy the error here -- if it is not a figment of my imagination. (A reader suggests another good analogy for this bad argument: "You have either won or lost the lottery. That means there's a 50% chance you won!")
(3) Note that Loftus also assumes not only that his categories are right, and that apologists belong to them in equal numbers, but that these categories are mutually-exclusive, when it comes to the question of evidence. If you don't belong to Category One, you as much as admit that evidence for Christianity cannot be found.
Unfortunately this assumption is false, and Loftus knows it is false. After the evidentialists, the second form of apologetics he identifies, he tendentiously calls "Apologetics based on special pleading," but notes is more often identified as "Classical Method, or Natural Theology." This, he says, involves two steps, proving God from traditional arguments of various sorts, and then proving Christianity from historical or other arguments.
But this fails, Loftus asserts, because (he thinks) the traditional arguments are no good, can cite a few Christians who admit they don't like one or other of them that much (lesson: be honest, like an apologist? nah!), and then wields his handy-dandy Outsider Test for Faith on the natural theologians. (Even though Natural Theology purposefully begins by arguing to a God who transcends particular theistic religions: that's the whole point of a two-step approach! And even though I've already shown, and Loftus has fumbled to respond in the year since I send him my book showing it, that Christianity passes the OTF in four ways.)
The key point, though, is it is simply and baldly false to say that Natural Theologians agree with Loftus' main claim, here:
"They) do not think there is sufficient evidence to believe."
Natural theologians think there is a lot of good evidence to believe in Christianity, whatever cheap tricks John Loftus may play to marginalize or deride their arguments. Even Alvin Plantinga and others Loftus places in the "presuppositional" category think there are plenty of good arguments for Christianity. And being a Natural Theologian myself (though I don't care about the two-step polka), I think there are, too.
And John KNOWS that. He is simply choosing to paper over evident reality, to smooth the way for his grotesquely tendentious and scientifically-inept argument.
He also no doubt knows that people like C. S. Lewis and Richard Swinburne, whom he places in his Category Five, "Cumulative Case Method," not only don't "reject evidentialism" or "do not think there is sufficient evidence to believe," they in fact robustly argue that the evidence for Christian faith is powerful and extremely convincing.
John attacks this group of apologists, as usual, by sneering at them. He calls this category "Eclectic Pragmatic Apologetics Based on Prior Conclusions." He derides it thus:
"If the available evidence doesn't work, then first use the theistic proofs. If the theistic proofs don't work, then switch back to presupposing what needs to be proved. If presuppositionalism asks way more than any reasonable person should accept, then switch to the need for private subjective experiences of God somehow someway someday."
I have been trying, for some time now, to avoid the word "lie." But I am finding it harder and harder to do so.
John Loftus is, I am sorry to say, not telling his readers what he surely knows to be true. He knows, I am confident, that C. S. Lewis never admitted or implied that the evidence for Christianity was poor. Lewis said just the opposite, many times, in many ways.
Lewis did use theistic proofs, especially the moral argument, and he certainly thought it worked. He also thought miracles happened -- he recorded a few he himself, or friends, experienced, in letters and elsewhere. He helped pioneer the sorts of anthropological arguments that I have developed in my books, and that tell so powerfully against Loftus' own OTF, and do so much more than that. He also thought the argument for the deity of Christ -- and no, it was not limited to the Trilemma, our evolutionary superiors should read more of Lewis than his deliberately dumbed-down Mere Christianity, as they should read more of the great Blaise Pascal than his Wager, taken out of context -- he thought that the argument for Christianity from the life of Jesus was powerful and effective. And those are not post-hoc rationalizations, those are reasons why Lewis himself came to believe, as he explains in Surprised by Joy and elsewhere.
So it is patently false that apologists in these other camps all admit that evidence for Christianity is poor.
(4) Loftus' reasoning appears to be, "If someone says a certain kind of evidence is not needed, then he is as much as admitting that such evidence either does not exist, or is insufficient."
But neither conclusion follows at all. If I say, "I don't need to look outside to know that it's raining," that in no way constitutes an admission that visual inspection would show that the sun is now out. Such a claim may be just an expression of laziness (I don't want to move the drapes) or of self-confidence, or bragging about a new bit of software or the acuity of one's ears ("I can hear the rain striking the roof!") Watching such clumsy rhetorical weapons wielded on real philosophers, like Alvin Plantinga (who does say both that Christians may not need evidence, but that we have a lot of it), is just embarrassing. One sees, in one's mind's eye, Plantinga's eyebrow rise a millimeter, and one cringes on John's behalf at that more-than-sufficient rebuke.
(5) In general, Loftus is here attempting a "divide and conquer" strategy that a child should see through. He's trying to get apologists squabbling among themselves, so that they will take one another out, and Gnus can inherit an earth emptied of native teepees after all that fraternal strife. This is much the same game Loftus plays with the Outsider Test for Faith, getting religions fighting over who has the "right religion,"positioning himself and his buddies as objective and above the fray. Secular Humanists, after all, evolved --were specially designed by evolution -- to be free of such cognitive biases as afflict lesser mortals.
If religious folks disagree with one another, that's evidence that they're all wrong, and we're right. But if they agree with one another against us -- as on the fact that miracles do happen -- well that's evidence that they're all wrong, too, somehow. (Don't ask John to explain the details, because he doesn't know a thing about theology of religions, even after skimming my book designed to explain it to Brights like John. But besides bright, once also needs to be open.)
(6) So do apologists actually think as John says they do, that "There is insufficient evidence to believe in Christianity?"
With my lesser-evolved brain, I figured that the best way to find out what a given group of people think, would be to ask them.
So I posted the following question on an ecumenical site for Christian apologists:
How many of you agree with the statement "There is insufficient objective evidence to believe in Christianity?" How many disagree? How many unsure?
I need a strong response for this, please. "Agree" "Disagree" or "Unsure," is all that's required, though say more if you like. Five seconds. Thanks.
So far, 69 people have answered, mostly pretty clearly, adding just a few bells and whistles.
The results? So far:
"Disagree:" 65. "Agree:" 2. "Unsure:" 2.
Some of the adverbial bells and whistles hung around the first answer have included "strongly" "profoundly," and "from the rock bottom."
This, folks, is kind of what empirical evidence looks like. You might want to check out the concept, John, if you want to continue your budding career as a social scientist.
I am not going to argue, of course, that given this survey, "94% of Christian apologists think there is good evidence for Christianity, and only 3% disagree." After all, while more categorically appropriate than "five groups," this is still a fairly small sample, and the particularly website I obtained it from -- ecumenical in philosophy as well as denomination though it is -- no doubt still suffers from peculiar biases, as does every group of humans.
|Send in the clowns . . .|
"And you dare talk about honesty, science, caring for truth, and getting a good education? Any movement in which such an argument fails to be laughed off circus grounds within minutes, even by the circus clowns, truly is a movement in crisis."