More on John Loftus and Control Beliefs

A recent post by Chris not only gained my interest as a contributor, but also the interest of the individual whose article Chris was commenting on. This led me to dig a bit deeper into the article referenced at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/john_loftus/christianity.html to see what all the fuss was about. In doing so, I came across a rather interesting treatise by John Loftus on why it is unreasonable to be a Christian.

Due to the size of the article, and the limits I currently have on time (which I hope will be lifted once the new year comes around) I have determined to respond to just one paragraph from a single section that Loftus titles “Philosophical Reasons (1)” for not being a Christian. I chose the paragraph I did because it demonstrates a variety of problems that I find with his line of reasoning.

To provide some context for the paragraph I critique in a moment, consider what Loftus says early on in his article:

“Let me begin by talking about "control beliefs"—beliefs that control how one views the evidence. Everyone has them, especially in metaphysical belief systems where there isn't a mutually agreed upon scientific test to decide between alternatives. While we are largely unaware of them, they color how we see the world. Whether regarded as assumptions, presuppositions, or biases (depending on the context), they form the basis for the way we "see" things. As Alfred North Whitehead noted, "Some assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know that they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them."”

On the one hand, I am very excited to see Loftus speak about “control beliefs” or “presuppositions”, as there too many on both sides of the debate don’t realize they exist, and don’t realize the impact they have. Furthermore, I specifically like the term “control beliefs” as it makes the point so clear that these beliefs actually do control, to a great deal, the conclusions that we come to. On the other hand, I don’t think that Loftus notices that these very beliefs control his own argument against Christianity to the point that he engages in circular reasoning on more than one occasion.

Here then is the paragraph in question, broken into individual thoughts, and my comments on each:


“For instance, Christianity claims that God is a triune God, though no simultaneously orthodox and reasonable understanding of the Trinity seems possible.

As Loftus never tells us just what he believes is unreasonable about the Orthodox view of the Trinity, I am going to have to go out on a limb and guess that it is the claim that there is one God existing as three persons. If I am correct in my guess, then I am stymied as to what Loftus finds unreasonable about this. Unless he misunderstands the position (as some do) to mean that God is both 3 and 1 at the same time and in the same sense, I see no grounds at all for his charge of unreasonableness.


“Though Christians usually think of God as a free agent, God is not free to decide his own nature.

The question over what it means to be a “free agent” has been argued for a very, very long time. Christianity itself has different views, although I believe the Bible clearly presents a compatibilistic (i.e. non-libertarian) view of the will. What this means, in short, is that people are free just as long as they are not coerced in the choices they make. Furthermore, their choices are themselves ultimately determined by their nature. For instance, God cannot lie, as it is not within his nature to do so. Unregenerate man cannot help but sin, because it is his nature to do so.

Whether or not Loftus agrees with me on the nature of the will, he is clearly arguing from within his own set of control beliefs (or beliefs derived from them) when he claims that God cannot be properly called a “free agent” as God is unable to determine his own nature. The Bible states otherwise, and for Loftus to argue that his set of control beliefs are more appropriate based on appealing to his own definition of “free agent” is ultimately begging the question.


“Though conceived of as a "spiritual" being that created matter, no known "point of contact" between spirit and matter can be found.”

This is nothing more than an argument from personal conviction. The inability to identify the metaphysical mechanics behind how the material and immaterial interact does not, in and of itself, lend credibility one way or another. It only appears to do so from within the set of control beliefs that one is relying upon. The control beliefs Loftus subscribes to has an “answer” to this issue, but so do Christians, namely that God is ultimately behind any and all interaction of not only the material realm, but the immaterial as well.

The most that this objection can do for Loftus is further convince him that his set of control beliefs are correct, when already viewed from within his set of control beliefs. It doesn’t do anything to the Christian who has their own answer as well.


“Though Christians take it as a brute fact that God never began to exist, if we apply Ockham's razor a simpler brute fact is to presume that nature itself never began to exist.

It is no more “simple” for Loftus to assume the universe has always existed than it is for a Christian to assume that God has always existed. For the Christian, the existence of God is the most basic and ultimate control belief, and so any other explanation is going to be more complex (i.e. it will introduce unnecessary entities). For Loftus, God is by no means the most basic control belief, and so any introduction of God into anything at all will always seem more complex than leaving him out of the picture entirely. Loftus appeals to a non-Christian set of control beliefs in framing his argument, and therefore ultimately begs the question at hand.


“God evidently never learned any new truths and cannot think, since thinking demands weighing temporal alternatives.”

It is true that God has never learned any new truths, as learning something “new” implies you did not know it prior to learning it. Given that God is omniscient, there was never a time he was in a position of needing to learn anything at all. I’m not really sure of the relevance of this to the discussion. It certainly isn’t a reason, even from within the control beliefs that Loftus subscribes to, to believe God does not exist.

As to God’s “thinking”, Loftus makes a general assertion as to what thinking demands, without apparently ever giving thought to what the Bible says about God’s own thoughts. Furthermore (and more importantly) he apparently does not consider what the Bible says about his own thinking process as an unregenerate individual. The very fact that Loftus believes he can accurately evaluate God against some standard external to God himself demonstrates quite clearly that Loftus is again framing his argument from a non-Christian set of control beliefs, and therefore (once again) begging the question at hand.


“This God is everywhere, yet could not even know what time it is since time is a function of placement and acceleration in the universe; or if timeless, this God cannot act in time.“

I will not address this particular item at this time and in this critique, as the question of the nature of time, what it means to be timeless, etc. is an extremely complex subject and is worthy of a separate discussion. However, lest Mr. Loftus think I am conceding this point, let me make it clear that I am not. I believe he is guilty of the same problem as seen above, arguing against something by appealing to a contrary set of control beliefs, and therefore begging the question.

I will address this item in a separate post as time permits.


“He evidently allows intense suffering in this world and does not follow the same moral code that he commands his believers to follow.”

How does God’s allowing of intense suffering in the world (which he most certainly does) make it unreasonable to believe in God? If Loftus is attempting to argue the Problem of Evil here, then he should spell it out in detail. A passing allusion to a common argument against God, especially one which has been refuted time and time again, is insufficient.

As to God following the same code he has given to all mankind (not simply his believers), why is this an issue for Loftus? Rather than argue whether God does or does not follow this code, or whether he should follow it if he does not, I would like to know why it would be a problem if he did not? How would this make it any less reasonable to accept the existence of God as a control belief?


“And so on.”

Loftus seems to imply here that there are even more “reasons” to accept his set of control beliefs over those of the Christian, yet he doesn’t share them with us. I certainly appreciate the fact that we all must stop writing at some point and move on to other priorities, but “and so on” is a mere statement of opinion - it doesn’t give us anything to evaluate, and so it adds nothing of any substance to this discussion.


I have no doubt that I make my own set of assumptions about Mr. Loftus in this critique, given that I know very little about him, and have read very little of his writings. I hope that he will feel free to correct any misrepresentations I may have made, and that he will also feel free to interact with those of us here at Choosing Hats.

-- BK

14 comments:

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

I'm always surprised by how much screentime Loftus manages to capture. As atheist apologists go, he doesn't qualify as more than hoi polloi. In my experience, his argumentation is insipid and pedestrian, and he lacks any innovation when refuted, preferring to simply repeat himself elsewhere.

Having said that, I think the Trinity is an avenue of argumentation which is surprisingly seldom pursued by atheists. Often Christians are quick to deny that there is anything intrinsically unreasonable about it (as I have been), but without themselves having an adequate philosophical understanding of the doctrine. Of all the things Loftus says here, his observations about the Trinity are the closest to the money. There are definite difficulties for the Christian here, as James Anderson has well demonstrated in Paradox in Christian Theology. Of course, Anderson in that book provides a very adequate refutation of the argument that the Trinity is an irrational doctrine—as he shows, the problem is epistemological and not ontological in nature. In addition, Vern Poythress has written a fairly brief but thought-provoking article on the necessity of the Trinity, and the need to reform logic to a trinitarian model; so an objection from a non-trinitarian view of ontology is really just question-begging against Christianity.

John W. Loftus said...

Okay, okay. You can criticize a summary of my case if it makes you feel good about yourself and if you think that's all you need to do. But such a head-in-the-sand strategy is all that it is. Again, this is just a summary of my case. From what I've read you couldn't deal with my actual case. Maybe it's better that you don't atually try 'cause you would surely lose you faith if you did, judging from your replies.

Since you had said something about the trinity and since you had mentioned James White, deal with this. Every single thing that is summarized on the Secular Web article is argued for in my book, sometimes in depth. If you truly want to argue against me then deal with the arguments in my book. No more lame excuses. No more failed attempts. No more claiming you're dealing with my arguments when you aren't. And no more excuses.

Sheesh.

Cheap idiots.

John W. Loftus said...

Oh, it looks like the Dominic had mentioned James Anderson, not James White. Sorry. Sometimes I don't see well when my blood is boiling because I'm dealing with idiots who take cheap shots like you did here. That's ALL you're doing until you actually engage the arguments in my book. And if you're too cheap to buy it then check it out from a library.

No more excuses. You cannot deal with the arguments in my book. Face it. Be honest. No more cheap shots. Think of how YOU'D feel if you wrote a summary of YOUR case and I only dealt with that and not your actual case.

Brian Knapp said...

John -

I am guessing your response was not directed at me (BK), but rather at Dominic?

I ask that question because I was just preparing to answer Dominic's statement of "I'm always surprised by how much screentime Loftus manages to capture." I was about to tell him that the main reason I chose to respond to a portion of the article is because you didn't seem to have the same hang-ups that many atheist apologists do (and many Christian ones for that matter), which is to let the discussion get personal and to degrade into emotionalism and name-calling.

Granted, I don't have a great body of evidence to draw this conclusion from, so perhaps it was a hasty generalization after all. However, I honestly attempted to deal with what I felt I could invest my time in, taking into account the possibility that there would be some subsequent discussion as well.

With that said, it seems to me at this point that each one of your responses, both to Chris, to Dominic (assuming this latest response was to him), and your challenge posted elsewhere, requires people to invest time in reading a number of books as well as putting money in the pockets of the authors.

Well, I personally have neither the time nor the money at this point. What time I do have is limited, and so I choose to spend it in these types of forums. I do this because I am passionate about the God who saved me, and because I am *very* interested in responding to those who criticize him.

With that said, the offer stands. Please feel free to interact with myself and the other contributors here by leaving comments. If you don't desire to do so, for whatever reason, that's fine as well!

-- BK

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

John, the article you link is irrelevant to the argument James Anderson makes, and to the variant on it which I make in 'Square Circles and the Trinity' (I'm still refining this argument myself; I think that it can be significantly strengthened by Poythress' thesis of reformed ontology).

As for dealing with your arguments, you know very well these have been refuted by other Christian apologists in the blogosphere who have read your book. I've commented on some of those threads myself, remember? Your arguments are impotent against genuine, biblical Christianity (as opposed to the watered down version you apparently learned).

I was about to tell him that the main reason I chose to respond to a portion of the article is because you didn't seem to have the same hang-ups that many atheist apologists do (and many Christian ones for that matter), which is to let the discussion get personal and to degrade into emotionalism and name-calling.

I think you can see that you have somewhat miscalculated, Brian. You should probably have googled John's name before posting ;P

John W. Loftus said...

Listen, BK, no, I don't have the same emotional hang ups, so long as I am being treated fairly.

My latest two comments were directed to both of you. You are not dealing with my arguments, even though you give the appearance of doing so. That upsets me. If you don't want to, don't have the time, or don't have access to the library, then fine. I won't respond anymore to someone who won't deal with the actual arguments in my book. But, I am here to say that you are only giving the appearance of having done so. You are not actually doing so.

Over and out.

I'm unsubscribing. I can't take MORE of this. I hope YOU understand.

-----------

Oh, just as I was about to post this I see Dominic showed up. You will find me getting upset here and there, just as I am getting upset here. But if this is the norm under normal situations from people who treat me with respect, then you should find some evidence for this same behavior on my blog. but you don't.

Christians all over the web have berated and ridiculed me who have never taken the time to deal seriously with the arguments in my book, just like you have. Sure that upsets me. Then I react to it. You see the problem now.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Oh, just as I was about to post this I see Dominic showed up. You will find me getting upset here and there, just as I am getting upset here. But if this is the norm under normal situations from people who treat me with respect, then you should find some evidence for this same behavior on my blog. but you don't.

Of course, your blog is manifestly populated by sycophants who are even more intellectually incompetent and dishonest than you are, John. It should hardly surprise anyone that you don't get upset when people suck up to you and tell you that your jejune attempts to discredit Christianity are the pinnacle of intellectual refinement, and that you are the hero of atheism.

Christians all over the web have berated and ridiculed me who have never taken the time to deal seriously with the arguments in my book, just like you have. Sure that upsets me. Then I react to it. You see the problem now.

Maybe some Christians have done this; but plenty of others have dealt with those arguments, and in fact have torn them to pieces. Your constant whinging, "you haven't read my book, you haven't read my book," just comes across as a sniveling, self-serving way to simultaneously avoid real interaction with the arguments which refute yours, and pimp your second-rate work.

For those wondering if I am being unduly uncharitable or unkind in my words (as many Christians are wont to wonder), I would direct you to places like Triablogue and The Beginning of Wisdom (both hosted on blogspot; I'm sure you can find them), where John has been extensively interacted with and given every opportunity to repent and correct himself. He has not done so. The Bible has clear instructions on how to deal with such people, and it isn't with hugs and puppies.

Brian Knapp said...

John -

Here is the problem I have with the way in which you have handled this situation. You came after me with no provocation at all on my part. I was about as kind and gentle as I could be, yet direct in commenting on the problems I found in a single paragraph of a summary of your book.

I invited you to interact with me, because you had already "made contact" in your earlier response to Chris. That is the reason I took a good 2 hours to read through and develop a response to (again) a small part of your summary.

I even made it abundantly clear at the end of my first post that I realized I might be misrepresenting you, and have given you every chance to correct my understanding of your points, or to refute any of my rebuttal. What I have gotten from you is exactly what I have found with so many other atheists (not all, mind you) - emotionalism, name-calling, and a complete failure to address any of my arguments against yours.

You obviously have a history with Dominic that I was unaware of. Whatever has happened between you and him has no logical bearing on my response to you, so there is no intellectual grounds to use that as a reason to dismiss all that I have said.

If I have not addressed your arguments, then whose arguments are posted on infidels.org under your name?

Perhaps I haven't address the arguments *in your book*, but don't be so silly as to imply I didn't address the arguments on infidels.org. The evidence stands overwhelming against you on this one.

-- BK

C.L. Bolt said...

Um.

I have not read through the discussion here, but for the record, I concede the point Loftus made in his comment on my previous post regarding my exegetical mistake. I believe some of the issues I raise in that post will still be issues when I read the book, but I am witholding further comment until I do read the book, since that is where I keep getting sent.

Looking forward to it.

C.L. Bolt said...

Loftus wrote, “Since you had said something about the trinity and since you had mentioned James White, deal with this.”

I followed the link and was about to respond by writing that you appear to be attacking something that James White does not even hold to but it has been too long since I listened to the Youtube video and relevant Dividing Line episode to make a fair response.

However, it seems that this link has already been “dealt with”, quite thoroughly, by a contributor to Choosing Hats.

You may read it here:
http://razorskiss.net/wp/2008/06/14/loftus-and-his-forgotten-trinity-education/

Now we have all experienced the “lack of innovation” mentioned in an above comment. Perhaps the link is not so irrelevant afterall, even if it was posted by mistake. :)

“In my experience, his argumentation is insipid and pedestrian, and he lacks any innovation when refuted, preferring to simply repeat himself elsewhere.”

Sean said...

It's amazing. Having first seen John Loftus act more like a troll on Triablogue, I thought maybe I had just misjudged the guy when he posted on this blog. But now he's acting the same way, being more like a petulant child than an adult (which I assume he is).

"You can't handle my real arguments, you can't handle my real arguments!"

He's hilarious.

Sean said...

And as a final note, John Loftus is complaining about not being treated fairly. What's fair? What's wrong with not being fair?

RazorsKiss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RazorsKiss said...

Just noticed Chris already linked to my post. If you notice, he never responded to it. But, it's we who are are "mean", I suppose. Typical Loftus, I'm sorry to say. We've run into each other before :D

"I'm unsubscribing! I can't take this anymore, Loftus! Your inability to deal with my arguments is intolerable!!!!"

heh.