[Update 2/6/17: This is proving to be a learning project for me. Good questions have come up in comments here and on Facebook. So at this stage I’m not seeing my original post here as a complete and satisfactory answer, but as a discussion starter instead. Some important answers may be found in the comments. Even there it’s still in process, but if you have questions or see faults in the original post, be aware that I’m open to discussion. You might find that your question has already been addressed among the comments.]
John Loftus’s opinion is clear: God is a screw-up. Lazy. Ignorant. Incompetent. Or at least that’s what God would be, if God existed.
I’m reading John’s book How To Defend the Christian Faith: Advice From an Atheist, which he was kind enough to send me for review. Maybe he thought it was only fair, because it’s a book-length review of apologists like myself.
Among other things, he says (page 21) we’re “bumbling idiots and incompetent fools” — but that’s in comparison to an all-knowing God, so actually he wasn’t being all that unkind to us at that point. Don’t worry, though, it’s in there — he just saves it for other passages.
Here in the vicinity of that quote, though, he aims his criticism at God’s “failure” to accomplish his own task of getting people to believe in himself. In the opening paragraphs of chapter 1 he writes,
I’m going to address the most important question of all for would-be Christian apologists. It’s the obvious elephant in the room, not seen by apologists because they don’t have eyes for it. My argument is that God, if he exists, failed to effectively communicate his will. He failed to provide the sufficient evidence we need to believe.
What God should have done, says Loftus, is (1) to present himself to the world with incontrovertible evidence; for example, in the form of “overwhelming substantiation” for the gospel records, or more directly (2), “he could just speak to everyone directly. He could be a voice in everyone’s head.”
Otherwise (3) he could reveal himself through a “full sensus divinitatis” written on everyone’s mind “from birth,” containing “the knowledge of historical events that are necessary to our salvation … along with theological and ethical truths.” We could perhaps suppress this sense of the divine, but in any event “it would be a propositional revelation without human prophets.”
Or (4), if someone wanted to know God, God could simply implant true thoughts into his/her mind. … God could perform private miracles for honest truth seekers.”
And apologists have ignored all these elephant-like possibilities, right?
God’s Desire For a People Who Can Love
Wrong. We’re not so bumbling after all. Sure, in comparison to God we certainly are (serious understatement there!), but not so much in comparison with what Loftus thinks of us.
For there is a very long and strong tradition of teaching, both in Christian theology and apologetics, that God created humans to be able freely to love and follow him. Such freedom necessitates the possibility of choosing otherwise.
This is impossible on Loftus’s suggestions here. His second option makes freely chosen love a complete logical impossibility. The first and third make it nearly impossible from a practical perspective. The fourth assumes that a person would make that choice without explaining to us what information it would be based upon.
Loftus ignores this core teaching of the faith. He thinks God is a failure just because he (John) and others don’t believe in him. But the first and greatest commandment is not to believe in God but to love him; and Loftus’s suggestions here do nothing to advance that purpose of God’s.
No Other Logically Possible Way
For what sort of response could a human have in the forcible-knowledge circumstances Loftus proposes?
- He could “love” God in the same way he knows God: by God’s irresistible action, regardless of his own intellect, emotion, or volition. But that isn’t love.
- She could “know” God through overwhelming evidence, but without any necessary compulsion to respond in love. In that case she could know God and hate him.
- It might be the case (and in fact I think it is) that no one could genuinely know God without loving him, in which case the situation would be like the first option I’ve described here, although not exactly. I’ll explain further in a follow-up post how God can draw us with his love without its being the answer Loftus is looking for. It’s God’s answer instead.
- Or in Loftus’s fourth hypothetical situation a person could “want to know God” for no reason whatever, which isn’t love either.
John wants a God who would coerce all of us by the irresistible power of deity into believing in him, while leaving us free to make our own choice whether to like God or not. Either that or else he wants a God who would force us both to know and to love him. So much for being human.
The fact is God has designed the world so that a choice is possible. As Blaise Pascal wrote (Fragment 563),
The prophecies, the very miracles and proofs of our religion, are not of such a nature that they can be said to be absolutely convincing. But they are also of such a kind that it cannot be said that it is unreasonable to believe them. Thus there is both evidence and obscurity to enlighten some and confuse others. But the evidence is such that it surpasses, or at least equals, the evidence to the contrary; so that it is not reason which can determine men not to follow it, and thus it can only be lust or malice of heart. And by this means there is sufficient evidence to condemn, and insufficient to convince; so that it appears in those who follow it, that it is grace, and not reason, which makes them follow it; and in those who shun it, that it is lust, not reason, which makes them shun it.
That was nearly 400 years ago. And Loftus acts as if he’s coming up with this issue for the first time. What hubris!
John Loftus and His Hypothetical God
But we need not rely on centuries-old thinking here. Not that it would be a bad idea — Pascal was wise. But let’s imagine God revealing himself to John Loftus himself in just the way he wants: through a direct and undeniable experience of deity and/or incontrovertible evidence. Would he love God or would he hate him?
The answer is all too plain to see. John’s contempt is plain in the opening paragraphs of chapter 1: “I’m going to do a job performance review of the Almighty.… He could have done better, much better.”
Similarly at the end of the chapter: “[God] is lazy.… He’s ignorant.… He’s incompetent.… As Donald Trump would say to him, after just the very first episode of Celebrity Apprentice, “You’re fired.”
John despises the God he doesn’t believe in.
Sure, God could coerce him into believing he exists. But could he force John also to love him? Not without violating John’s very identity — or else the meaning of the word love.
John Loftus and God Himself
This isn’t merely theoretical. Someday God will reveal himself to John Loftus through incontrovertible, direct evidence. At that time he will know that he has chosen neither to know God nor to love him, but to hate him instead. It is a decision he will have to live with for eternity.
It need not be that way — but he will need to change his mind and heart. In time. Before it’s too late. I pray that he will make that turn.