Tom Gilson

The Short Tale of the Rest of Loftus’s How To Defend the Christian Faith

So I finally sat down to read the second chapter of John Loftus’s How To Defend the Christian Faith. When I wrote about chapter 1, someone asked me why I bothered with Loftus. The answer, I guess, was because he seems to have some influence. His books show up in bookstores.

Now I’m asking myself the same question I was asked.

— And here’s the part where I wrote more than 800 words explaining why I was asking myself this question. When I was done, I realized that if I published all my arguments I’d be taking his book seriously. I’ve decided not to make that mistake. John Loftus warrants respect for being a fellow human being. His book is not a person, however, and it doesn’t automatically deserve the same. —

I’ve thumbed through the rest of the book, anyway. It’s snarky, it’s ill-mannered, it’s rude (and he admits it), it’s easy to find rational and evidential problems on almost every page I’ve looked at, and I’m not going to waste any more time on it.

I’m not entirely giving up on John Loftus yet, though. I’m going to take at least a quick look at his book on philosophy of religion, since he was kind enough to mail me a copy. Otherwise I’m going to spend my atheist reading time reading ideas worth attending to. Such books exist. This isn’t one of them.

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9 thoughts on “The Short Tale of the Rest of Loftus’s How To Defend the Christian Faith

  1. I think the reason Loftus gets publicity is precisely because of being snarky, ill-mannered, and rude. Few people behave that badly, so people who do stand out.

    Personally I think he still feels guilty for leaving Christianity, not because he didn’t have any logical reasons for that, but because he knows he also had other non-logical reasons.

    [Conflict of interest disclosure: I was banned from Loftus’ blog for saying there is some evidence for Christianity.]

  2. This article, like all your articles, comes to me via my email. I open my email and click the link thinking I was going to read something worthwhile. Instead this post basically says “I have nothing to say”. Will there be more posts like this one?

  3. Thank you for being a blog reader here, Paul.

    If you’ve been getting my blog posts for a while, you know the answer to that question already.

    I could have added this in the original post: I reviewed chapter one of this book and felt that the rest of it was hanging over me as an incomplete task. I sat down yesterday to read starting from chapter two, and wrote a review on that, too, as I said. It was for the purpose of finishing of the project responsibly. But as I also said, by the time I finished writing I realized that it would send the wrong message if I published it.

    BTW, if you read his book you’ll find that he has decided that all of the philosophical arguments for God have been so thoroughly defeated they’re not even worth mentioning — other than that they’ve been so thoroughly defeated they’re not worth mentioning.

    He wrote about choosing not to engage, and now I have written about choosing not to engage. I suppose I could have said that in the original post, too.

  4. Tom,

    Since I’m going to offer a criticism of Lotus, it seems fair to start with the lens aimed self-ward. I’m not always consistent in painting – on charity – another’s premise/argument in as plausible and fair-minded a way as possible, and, also, as I enjoy “getting to the point” or to “the rock-bottom facts” as it were I find that at times I move into the race to first principles too early in a progression. So, with that said, a few areas of interest in response to Loftus and his arguments against Non-Christian premises / straw-men here:

    “… response to these points, it seems to me that what a grownup would say is something like this: “Fair enough. I agree that atheists should stop attacking straw men. They should avoid glib and ill-informed dismissals. They should acquaint themselves with what writers like Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. actually said and focus their criticisms on that.” But it would appear that Jason Rosenhouse and Jerry Coyne are not grownups. Their preferred response is to channel Pee-wee Herman: “I know you are, but what am I?” is, for them, all the reply that is needed to the charge that New Atheists routinely misrepresent the cosmological argument. In particular, Rosenhouse, who is curiously silent on this charge — though it is, after all, the point at issue — has decided to change the subject. Like the teenager who, when caught red-handed with the evidence of his drug use, responds by criticizing Mom and Dad’s drinking habits, Rosenhouse works himself into an adolescent dudgeon over how I’ve allegedly misrepresented Robin Le Poidevin. And how exactly have I misrepresented him? That is never made clear……” (…from ….)

    And, the following describes painting – on charity – another’s premise/argument in as plausible and fair-minded a way as possible. If “0” is “the opposite of that is always done” and “100” is “that is almost always done”, I’d say you are pretty consistently around a 95%, whereas, I’d give Lotus in the case of the examples of this book something like a 5%, (…I certainly have plenty of room to improve…). Here’s another excerpt of Feser, the source of which I cannot recall at the moment:

    “……..It is true that rational philosophers do, at least “officially” if (unfortunately) not always in practice, highly value a willingness and ability to try to reconstruct an opponent’s arguments in as plausible and fair-minded a way as possible. Certainly that was something drilled into me in grad school, and I have always been grateful for it. Again, there are analytic philosophers who do not live up to this ideal, and I can certainly think of some analytic philosophers with a prominent online presence who do not even try to live up to it at all when they think that refraining from doing so might further some political cause they favor. Still, it is an ideal that analytic philosophers all know they should strive to live up to. It is also an ideal that Scholastic philosophers value highly.

    Now, as a Scholastic trained in analytic philosophy, it is certainly an ideal I value highly, and I confess that I have very little patience for academics and other intellectuals who don’t value it. I make no apologies for that, because the reason analytic philosophers and Scholastics value it is that philosophy, science, and intellectual pursuits in general are about truth, about finding out how things really are and not merely confirming prejudices, furthering agendas, etc. Trying to give an opponent’s views a fair-minded reading is just part of this project of attaining truth, both because you never know when an opponent might have seen something you’ve missed, and because getting into the practice of reading an opponent’s views fairly is a good way of training oneself not to be blinded by one’s own prejudices…..”


  5. Tom, that was one of the best book reviews I’ve ever read! I’ve sparred with Loftus on occasion on the internet (I also am banned from his site for daring to suggest there is solid evidence that the Gospels are historically accurate), and it has always ended the same – i.e., badly.

    Loftus routinely reads a multi-paragraph posting, finds the one sentence (usually of peripheral importance) in it that he can take out of context, twist the meaning of, exaggerate its importance to the argument, and proceeds to derail the discussion so that it revolves around his smoke and mirrors sidebar.

    I have yet to ever see Loftus address an issue head on – not on his own blog, not in his comments elsewhere, not in the many youtube videos of his participation in “debates”. (I put “debates” in quotation marks, because a true debate requires the two sides to actually respond to what the other is saying, not to what he wishes him to say.) I have yet to determine whether this is a deliberate strategy or that he’s simply incapable of following a conversation when the other participant is not in full agreement with him.

  6. John is an awful debater in person, but I think some of his books have relatively effective moments. I think he did hold Rauser to a draw, anyway. There are worse out there. But this book (including where Loftus pretends to respond to me), and the Apologetics book, are a bit embarrassing. I decided not to review Unapologetic because I couldn’t figure out who was going to read it anyway, and because it was too easy. (And, yes, as a kind of courtesy.)

  7. I got about 50 pages into Unapologetic then gave up. It’s rife with insults. It’s filled with projections of the psychological sort, where for example he accuses theists of having no rationality. He admires Peter Boghossian as a leading critical thinker, of all people, and he quotes the thoroughly discreditable James Lindsay as an authority.

    I couldn’t see any reason to read any further.

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