John Loftus On Control Beliefs

Recently I found this article - written by John Loftus. Due to my current very limited access to the Internet I only have the time and means to make a few brief comments concerning the “control beliefs” Loftus “adopts” as described in his article. It is my contention that those who reject the Christian worldview are horribly inconsistent with what they state with regard to their own would-be epistemological systems and that this is especially evident in the case of John Loftus.

At the core of the “argument” Loftus makes is a discussion of “control beliefs” which he defines as “beliefs that control how one views the evidence”. As Loftus further describes these beliefs a recognition that these are essentially the same things as presuppositions arises. Thus, there is occasion to congratulate Loftus on his recognition of the importance of presuppositions before moving on to critique what he sets forth as his own control beliefs.

Loftus writes that according to his view everyone should approach both religion in general and Christianity specifically from the “default position” of skepticism. Whether Loftus here refers to skepticism with respect to religion only or to skepticism in a broader sense is unclear. If it is with respect to religion only, the question should be raised as to why religious skepticism rather than a broader form such as global skepticism is to be our starting point. Global skepticism is a much more appropriate position for those who reject Christianity, but we will assume that Loftus is referring to religious skepticism. How Loftus determines that religious skepticism is a default position escapes me, but aside from this the assertion appears to contradict some of his later claims regarding sociological factors allegedly determining religious belief. Of course, Christians will reject the idea that religious skepticism is a default position anyway, resting instead upon the biblical truth that everyone knows the Christian God, even Mr. Loftus. Perhaps such a statement will make non-Christians cringe. Afterall, the Christian belief that everyone starts from the knowledge of God (rather than skepticism) seems far too convenient for Christians to claim. However, this belief does not differ on the surface from the claim made by Loftus that religious skepticism is a default position as far as convenience is concerned. To assume that skepticism is a default position is to beg the question against Christianity. Loftus has merely asserted that religious skepticism is a default position but has not shown it, runs into problems when this assertion is coupled with the “Sociological Reasons” section of his article, and assumes his own position of non-Christianity from the start while being unwilling to permit Christians to assume their own position. Nevertheless more problems appear even if what Loftus has so far presented is accepted as true.

Loftus submits that anyone “who subsequently moves away from that default position [of skepticism] has the burden of proof, for to accept a religious set of beliefs is to accept a positive truth claim”. We shall concede the point that those who are not religious skeptics certainly carry a burden of proof, but if Loftus means to imply that the religious skeptic has no burden of proof then he is mistaken. One cannot simply assert the negation of religious truth claims without reason and expect to carry any intellectual credibility. Certainly Loftus should concede as much as he proceeds to offer justification for his position in his article as well as elsewhere. There is much more to be said on this subject, but more time will not be given to it here.

Loftus claims to derive two more control beliefs from his supposed default position of religious skepticism. The first of these is that there “is a strong probability that every event is a natural one to be explained by natural forces alone”. Loftus never explains in his article how this second control belief is derived from the supposition of religious skepticism, and the rejection of religious claims does not necessarily lead to accepting naturalism. Now Loftus may point out that he only claims a strong probability for naturalism, but this does not follow either and even if it did Loftus does not explain how.

The third control belief Loftus claims for himself is that the “scientific method is the most reliable (and probably the only) guide we have for determining the truth about the world”. Again we should ask how one derives this control belief from the premise of religious skepticism. It sounds nice, and it surely is a popular mantra in our unthinking “scientific” culture, but the idea that rejecting religion leaves one with science and vice versa is the result of one of the most absurd false dichotomies plaguing the philosophy of religion today. For some odd reason many atheists think they have a sort of monopoly on all of “science” and Christians are entitled to not a shred of it. This seems to be the case regardless of how truly ignorant the unbeliever may be of the field of science. Loftus refers to “the” scientific method, as though there is only one resulting from a rejection of religious truth claims. This could actually be rather humorous given the history of the philosophy of science. There is really no way to know, at least as far as this part of the article is concerned, what philosophy Loftus follows when it comes to science and the scientific method. What the scientific method is simply is not as clear as the average high school science textbook would make it out to be. Philosophical concerns await the scientist at every turn, though the scientist often wants to have as little as possible to do with them.

Nothing is given to substantiate the claim that the scientific method is the most reliable guide to truth apart from the religious skepticism from which this claim is supposedly derived. How one is to derive a specific view of scientific method from the rejection of religious truth claims is, again, totally unclear. However, the same lack of justification exists when it comes to an explanation of how the reliability and sufficiency of the scientific method are derived from the rejection of religious truth claims. Further, let’s assume for a moment that Loftus is correct and the scientific method (whatever that is in his view) is the only reliable guide to truth; how would we ever know? That is, we must assume that the scientific method is a reliable guide to truth in order to find that the scientific method is the only reliable guide to truth. The assumption is not based upon anything other than blind faith. Of course we are unable to get even this far, as the very statement “[the] scientific method is the most reliable (and probably the only) guide we have for determining the truth about the world” is not itself scientifically testable. It is impossible to scientifically justify science. Science rests upon a great number of assumptions found outside of the scientific realm. In addition to the aforementioned problems, this control belief is unable to account for much that Loftus desires to appeal to in the various disciplines he lists as titles and proceeds to utilize in his failed explanation for why he is not a Christian.

Supposedly Loftus requires sufficient evidence or reasons to justify truth claims, but throughout his article Loftus makes plenty of assertions without such justification. The control beliefs he lists as being his own are arbitrary, self-frustrating, unable to account for what he writes, and do not appear to be logically connected to one another as he claims. Loftus claims that his control beliefs bias him “against dogma and superstition” but one must conclude that his control beliefs are little more than unbelieving, unsubstantiated dogma themselves.


John W. Loftus said...

Somehow I found this while searching for something else.

Thanks for the response. You raise some interesting questions. But I want you to please recognize that this article is a summary of my case against Christianity, and not that case itself. Now maybe you're not interested in reading my book. That's okay, but do not assume that you've shown me wrong about the whole chapter in my book on the Outsider Test for Faith until you've read it. The same thing goes for things the like scientific method, what it is, and why that's a part of my control beliefs.

But, yes, I do accept the notion of presuppositions and assumptions when coming to the evidence. That's why over half my book argues for mine before even looking at the evidence. That makes my book unique. It's an argument I have never seen put together like I have.

Let me know if and when you decide to actually read through it. Then I would be much more interested in hearing of your criticisms. Until you do, you have not seriously looked at what I wrote.


C.L. Bolt said...

Thank you for your response.

While the article is a summary of the book that I admittedly need to read, there is a line in the summary which would lead the reader to think that at least some arguments are present in the summary article itself. The line I refer to states, “Finally, I review the plausibility of these claims in light of the control beliefs that I will argue for here” (emphasis mine). I take “here” to be referring to the article in question rather than the book.

I am not sure where I assume that the entire chapter on the Outsider Test for Faith is wrong, though I do point out an apparent contradiction between skepticism as a default position and sociological factors determining religious belief. The contradiction may be only apparent, and the book might very well clarify this.

A discussion of presuppositions in an atheist book is well over due and worth taking a look at. I am also quite interested in seeing an attempt to resolve the problems I raise dealing with the scientific method once it is defined. I am likewise interested in taking the Outsider Test for Faith (if that is something an individual "takes"), especially given my background.

Brian Knapp said...

Chris - excellent post.

John - we're glad you found your way here!

I have read some of John's article as well, and definitely have some comments I am going to make in an upcoming post. Hopefully it will lead to further discussion, especially in the area of presuppositions.

John W. Loftus said...

CLB said...I take “here” to be referring to the article in question rather than the book.

That is a exegetical mistake, which I won't belabor since as the author I'm denying this. I was describing my book and that in my book I argue for the things "here" that I'm summarizing.

CLB said...A discussion of presuppositions in an atheist book is well over due and worth taking a look at.

Thank you, yes I agree.

One suggestion I have for taking the outsider test is to read some of the strongest books against that which you believe. You should do this just as I recently went to a Christian Apologetics conference and will probably be reading my outsider test for faith paper at a regional meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society.

Do this. Notice none of the so-called new atheist books are on the list! ;-)


I await your evaluation of my whole work.

david said...

Interesting to see some blog interaction after the initial YouTube video and response. :-)

Sean said...

I suggest you guys come up with the opposite of the debunking Christianity challenge. Make a list of books for those who deny Christianity (atheists tend to be the most outspoken, but maybe you can spare a book or two for Hindus, Buddhists, and some other major groups).

I suggest you start off the list with books by non-Christians that completely destroy the beliefs that many atheists and other non-Christians hold. I suggest the book where David Hume argues against induction and therefore science by saying that you cannot ground induction in experience, which leads to the inability to make predictions. That should be fun.

John W. Loftus said...

Sean, I betcha I've already read them! ;-)

You read mine and I'll read yours (within my budget and time).