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5.0 out of 5 stars Take the outsider test for faith, Read the book!, July 6, 2011
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This review is from: The End of Christianity (Paperback)
Loftus and his distinguished colleagues have managed to produce yet another excellent and invaluable addition to the debate over the truth of Christianity.

In the introduction John reviews his "outsider test for faith" and considers some objections. Nothing new here. People are still trying to avoid testing their worldview without there biases towards that worldview, and John rightly shows that this is nothing more than special pleading.

In chapter 1, "Christianity Evolving", Dr. David Eller treats us to a fascinating anthropological look at how Christianity, like a species that evolves and adapts to its in enviroment, has managed to blossom into a large family of peculiar sects.

In chapter 2, "Christianity's Success was not Incredible", Dr. Richard Carrier gives a capsule summary of his book Not the Impossible Faith and then discusses some reasons that the facts about the origin of Christianity demonstrate that Christianity is not true. That may sound like "the genetic fallacy" but it isn't: he's saying that the claims Christianity makes about the nature of the universe (that there is an all powerful God who sent his son to die and that everyone must believe this in order to recieve eternal life, and that God wants all men to be saved) entails with some probability that God would make that message known to everyone all over the world, and thus Native Americans and the Chinese and everyone else ought to have been visited by God and told the truth. In past debates Carrier has had, Christians have responded that we don't know that God would actually do something like this, and maybe there are good reasons he wouldn't. But in this new chapter, Carrier sets up his argument in such a way that this objection is irrelevant. It involves Bayes' Theorem, and while I can't explain that here (Carrier himself explains it in a later chapter) more or less Bayes' theorem entails that when theory A predicts a piece of evidence with greater probability than theory B, that piece of evidence increases the probability of theory A. So, theory A (that Christianity is false) predicts with basically 100 percent certainty that Jesus would NOT have travelled all over the world after his death and explained the gospel to the Native Americans, chinese, and so forth. Theory B (Christianity is true) does not predict this information with 100 percent (or nearly 100 percent) certainty because if Christianity is true then there is a valid and non-neglible chance that God something like that would happen. Since the falsity of Christianity better predicts that piece of evidence than the truth of Christianity, then this raises the overall probability that Christianity is false to some degree.

In chapter 3, "Christianity is Wildly Improbable" John Loftus reviews a laundry list of weird and unlikely (and perhaps impossible) beliefs that Christians must defend, and concludes that the combination of all this things together results in Christianity having a negligible chance of being true.

Chapter 4, "Why Biblical Studies Must End" presents a capsule summary of Hector Avalos' book The End of Biblical Studies which shows how the bible is irrelevant to modern life and is not really special in anyway except as a testament to what some people thought and believed in the ancient past.

In chapter 5, "Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn't?" Dr. Jaco Gericke takes a bottom-up approach to disproving the existence of God. I call it "bottom-up" because I would describe the arguments of most other atheists as being "top-down": that is, they argue that the God of the bible can't exist because the God of the philosophers does not. Gericke, on the other hand, argues that the concept of God that Christian philosophers hold to cannot exist because not only are these two not the same thing, but more importantly because the biblical God is an absurdity. The Old Testament God is just an ancient Hebrew Superman. While any of the passages that indicate this (that God was thought of as having a body, for example) might be disputed or interpreted differently, the cumulative case brought forth by so many passages argues that the god being described by the Old Testament very probably was an ancient Hebrew superman. In chapter 6 Valerie Tarico adds further weight to this case by arguing that an all-powerful and immaterial being like God would not, and could not, have emotions like anger, which the Biblical God is said to have had. This is because emotions serve a function that is only necessary in limited creatures like humans. For example, anger is there to allow you to prepare for situations of conflict, because in a situation of conflict you need to be more aggressive and alert, lest you lose the fight. All of that is obviously advantageous in evolutionary terms. But a God wouldn't really need any emotions. After all, how could an all-powerful being need to become more alert or more aggressive to ensure that it didn't "lose the fight" against some other entity? Though many might describe those passages on God's anger as metaphorical, that is not the most obvious or plain meaning of the text. I recall reading a story in the OT (Blast that I cannot remember the passage now) in which God had to keep a distance between himself and his people because God thought that if he dwelt among the people he might lose control of himself and lash out and kill them. I must find this passage, but in the meantime, suffice to say that if such a passage exists it supports the views of Tarico and Gericke and shows that the biblical God is an absurdity.

In chapter 7, "The Absurdity of the atonement" Dr. Ken Pulliam fully demonstrates that the evangelical theory of Jesus' death (that Jesus' death occurred as a substitute for our suffering for our sins) is indefensible. The knockout comes on page 185: "If man knows right from wrong as a a result of being made in the image of God, and if one of the things man knows from his being so created is that it is wrong to punish the innocent, then how can the central doctrine of Evangelical Christianity, namely penal substitution, be maintained?"

Matt McCormick argues in chapter 8 that there is more and better quality evidence for witchcraft going on in 18th century Salem, Massachusetts than there is for the resurrection of Jesus. This means that accepting Christianity means accepting that witchcraft also occurred in Salem. But adopting that position is obviously absurd and problematic. One point that I wish Matt had brought out is that if one adopted an epistemic standard that was so low that it allowed the acceptance of the Salem witchcraft, as well as the many millions of other miracle claims, then such a position would mean that the resurrection offered only negligible support for Christianity. Think about it: if you are a Christian who accepts the claims of witchcraft and the miracle claims of other religions, you would have to adopt the position that some of these miracles were worked by demons or were worked by your God and the people witnessing the miracle did not realize. But then who's to say the miracle of the resurrection wasn't performed by a demon or by someone else's God?

In chapter 9 Bob Price offers a list of natural explanations for the gospel material on the resurrection, assuming that the gospel accounts themselves are basically correct, and he defends these as plausible. I agree, but incidentally I don't think anyone needs to concede that the material in the is that reliable.

Chapter 10 is a discussion of how the doctrine of Hell is a damnable and indefensible doctrine. Excellent material, and good food for thought: how can anyone be a Christian (or at least, an evangelical Christian) if it means defending a demonstrably immoral doctrine?

The remaining chapters I have no comment on, except for Richard Carrier's two excellent chapters. One is on whether the universe is intelligently-designed, and while I'm in agreement, I am not completely sure if his refutations of the fine-tuning aregument are totally sound.

Overall, this is an excellent book, and every open minded Christian ought to have a copy on their bookshelf right next to The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. I doubt that any rational person could remain a Christian after being informed of the arguments in these two books. At least, I can't imagine and have never seen a reasonable response to the points in these books. Highly recommended.
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Showing 1-10 of 226 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 7, 2011 7:40:05 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 7, 2011 8:00:06 AM PDT
It sounds as if several chapters in this book are among my favorite (set-up) challenges, as a Christian scholar of the history of religions. I am really tempted to read it, now:

(1) Of course Christianity evolves and devolves, as Jesus recognized would be the case (Luke 14:25-34; Mt. 13: 24-32); no more need be said about that.

(2) It sounds as if Dr. Carrier is being presumptuous and also forgetting what Jesus himself said about a tree growing from a single seed. I just received a chapter for my own upcoming anthology from a biologist who compares God's work in creating biological forms, and human cultures, to the growth of a tree. Maybe Carrier thinks the Good News should instead have been broadcast equally in all cultures, like grass seed on a lawn; I suspect behind this probably lies the idea (already rejected by Mateo Ricci, and Hebrews 11) that all who do not verbally and knowingly "accept Jesus" will burn in hell.

I doubt Carrier knows enough about the worldwide spread of Christianity to intelligently broad this subject, frankly. Carrier is an historian of ancient science, and often botches things badly when he moves into general Christian history -- see, for example,. "Did Christianity Spread by the Sword" here:

http://christthetao.homestead.com/debates.html

What IS incredible is how the Chinese (and others) have been prepared for the Gospel of Jesus. (See my True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture, among other good books.) On that subject, I'll gladly debate Carrier, or any better-informed substitute.

(3) Weirdness can be good. John should know that. :- )

(4) The Bible has, in fact, changed the world in revolutionary, and life-giving, ways. Dr. Avalos and I could not be in more disagreement on that subject; we have debated it on-line quite a bit, without a whole lot of mutual tenderness being expressed. I expect his attack against Christians here is virulent, and I expect I will enjoy rebutting it, again.

(5) I love this one. My rebuttal to previous such arguments has been, as with (2), mostly anthropological, but it looks like a little philosophy will need to come into play here, and with (6), which C. S. Lewis has addressed well in the past.

(8) Is McCormick arguing that there was no witchcraft in Salem? Dabbling in magical arts has been part of almost every society in human history; if it was never attempted in New England, that might be a first. People have also been falsely accused of child abuse, using the same kind of (bad) evidence: modern American courts can be as idiotic and unjust as almost any. But this could be an interesting argument; I'll look forward to reading and evaluating it.

(9) Bob didn't think Jesus even existed, last I checked. Here again, as with (8), the argument appears essentially valid; we'll see if it (unlike past such arguments) carries water.

(10 I'm inclined to agree on this one, as hell is often understood.

Carrier is putting on his astronomer / physicist hat, now? What can't that man do? Wasn't Victor Stenger (a real astronomer, I think, though awful as an historian, which is Carrier's field) going to write a chapter?

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2011 9:05:18 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 7, 2011 9:08:00 AM PDT
Well Marshall, something I find refreshing about you is that you are actually located on this planet. I find that Atheism is a sort of solipsistic ego worship. Atheists I argue wth seem to recognize no higher authority than their own opinion. As a Christian, I am surrounded by all sorts of great towering intellects, Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, Eric Voegelin, Alfred North Whitehead, etc. These are not people I agree with 100% but thinkers from whom I can learn much. There has never been a great Philosopher who was an Atheist. In the realm of Ethics, Atheists have no metaphysical foundation for it. They are reduced to Sophism or Post Modernism. Wherever Atheists have taken control of society, Nazi Germany, China, The Soviet Union, and State Socialism there has been nothing but tyranny and mas murder. Under the impact of Secular Humanism, Canada and Europe are dying. This is the greatest era of Christian missionary activity, two billion Christians now. All we really have to do with the Atheists is continue to evangelize, continue to refute their specious arguments and wait for them to continue killing themselves or at least not propagating themselves. What CAN we learn from an old book? The voice of wisdom in Proverbs tells us "All those who hate me love death."

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2011 2:10:51 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 7, 2011 2:13:04 PM PDT
BlairC777 says:
What strikes me as amusing about this book is that on his blog John Loftus promotes this as another one of "his" books.

The trouble is, this time he wrote only one chapter, even less than in the last one.

And the pretense that this is some kind of scholarly investigation is simply untenable...

First, the authors of every chapter have a blatant agenda which they start out with by making blatant assertions as fact...a great example is Hector Avalos calling for "the end of Biblical Studies", as he tells with supposed certainty what the results of biblical studies are and as he of course continues his biblical studies.

Second, many of these agenda driven chapters are written by people who are not even experts in their fields...Carrier for example is not a scientist but he makes all sorts of pronouncements as if he is giving us the latest info.

This anthology is just more of the same, and a rehash of much that appears on his blog.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2011 4:20:26 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Jul 8, 2011 6:10:01 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2011 4:23:17 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Jul 16, 2011 8:29:48 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2011 4:38:19 PM PDT
Hi David,

Though it seems you haven't yet read the book, and I feel it would make for a more robust conversation if you did, I'd like to respond to a few things you said:

"Of course Christianity evolves and devolves, as Jesus recognized would be the case (Luke 14:25-34; Mt. 13: 24-32); no more need be said about that."

I don't think that Christianity throwing off new sects and whatnot means that it is false. And I'm not sure David Eller meant to say that. His chapter is just a fascinating anthropological look into how the religion adapts and branches.

"Maybe Carrier thinks the Good News should instead have been broadcast equally in all cultures, like grass seed on a lawn; I suspect behind this probably lies the idea (already rejected by Mateo Ricci, and Hebrews 11) that all who do not verbally and knowingly "accept Jesus" will burn in hell."

The argument he presents doesn't rely on any such assumption. It doesn't even assume that God would *necessarily* have to do a broadcast like that. Here's what he's saying: On the hypothesis that Christianity is false, it is 100% certain that Jesus would not make post-mortem appearances after his death to explain the good news. After all, such an incredible could never happen if Christianity is false. On the other hand, if Christianity is true then a miracle like that could very well happen. On the hypothesis that Christianity is true, the odds that such a miracle would *not* happen can't be 100%, or even close to that. In fact, bringing the truth to all mankind and hastening the spread of God's one true religion (which you tell us is great for individuals and society as a whole) is arguably predicted with great (though perhaps not total probability). The theory which predicts a piece of evidence more strongly becomes a least little bit more likely after taking that evidence into account (this principle follows from Bayes' Theorem). I need not conclude my syllogism.

"The Bible has, in fact, changed the world in revolutionary, and life-giving, ways. Dr. Avalos and I could not be in more disagreement on that subject; we have debated it on-line quite a bit, without a whole lot of mutual tenderness being expressed. I expect his attack against Christians here is virulent, and I expect I will enjoy rebutting it, again."

Well, I agree with Avalos that much of the Bible is totally irrelevant. Sure it has some nice stories that are worth preserving and some beautiful poetic illustrations, and it has been an influence in our culture, which is why knowing the Bible is a key to understanding shakespeare, for example. But as far as the Bible's usefulness in deciding today's moral issues, or telling us where we came from, its usefulness is negligible at best and negative at worst.

"I love this one. My rebuttal to previous such arguments has been, as with (2), mostly anthropological, but it looks like a little philosophy will need to come into play here, and with (6), which C. S. Lewis has addressed well in the past."

I believe Gericke does discuss Lewis in his chapter. If I recall, Lewis argued that God presented himself to people in the Bible in a way that they would understand. Is that accurate? If so, Gericke has rebuttals to that in his chapter, and I think that such a hypothesis is disconfirmed since there are many passages that describe Yahweh in anthropomorphic terms don't seem to be metaphorical. I described an example in my review, but give me some time to dig through the Old Testament and find it.

"Is McCormick arguing that there was no witchcraft in Salem? Dabbling in magical arts has been part of almost every society in human history;"

This is another place that reading the book would help. Of course some people may have tried to perform spells, just as people try such things today. But would anyone believe that actual magical powers were present in Salem? No. And McCormick argues that if you can't believe that, you can't believe the resurrection. Of course that blanket summary I've presented is open to numerous objections, but I think he does a good job in his chapter of explaining why the obvious objections to that are very problematic.

"Carrier is putting on his astronomer / physicist hat, now? What can't that man do? Wasn't Victor Stenger (a real astronomer, I think, though awful as an historian, which is Carrier's field) going to write a chapter?"

Not exactly. Carrier presents a logical/philosophical objection to the fine-tuning argument, among other things. Carrier does have a degree in philosophy, I believe, and in any case he makes it clear that he derived this argument from professional, peer-reviewed literature which he cites and which I have checked (In case you're curious, google "The Design Argument Elliot Sober" and you should find a pdf).

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2011 4:39:33 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 7, 2011 4:55:18 PM PDT
Those of us who are not brother to the Gorilla and the Chimpanzee do not "assassinate' arguments, we refute them. I'm afraid I don't know what is involved in "getting smaked down". It also doesn't sound like a mode of refutation. I know you find this boring but truth is always true and it just goes right on being true no matter what Atheists say based on their monumental egoism. What really defeats your position is logical arguments, you don't have any and your critics do!

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2011 5:05:46 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Jul 16, 2011 8:29:48 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2011 5:24:55 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 7, 2011 5:25:47 PM PDT
You know all this, Peterson, how? And intellectual lightweights like Thomas Aquinas didn't? It is interesting that there has never been a great Philosopher who was an Atheist. There has never been a great civilization based on Atheism unless you count Nazi Germany, Communist China and The Soviet Union.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2011 7:10:46 PM PDT
James says:
Keith Parsons, Bertrand Russell, David Hume, Kant, etc.

Communism is an economic system, not a religious or atheistic system. Hitler was not a Nazi. Hitler was very fond of the writings based off Martin Luther, who, if I remember correctly, was a belief in the God of the Bible.
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