1. Loftus claims that “Standard arguments for God’s existence are not only inconclusive, but unpersuasive.”
Well, I look forward to seeing how he explains the Cosmological Argument (and the other arguments). Also, having briefly glanced through some of his blog material I get the sense (someone correct me if I am wrong) that he holds to the multiverse as an alternative explanation. If so then that is a very bad start for Loftus since it commands little scientific consensus, it is speculative, and is further confronted with scientific data. I’d be prepared to Challenge Loftus on this point.
2. Loftus: “Moving from the deism implied by arguments for the existence of God to full-blown Christianity is like trying to fly a plane to the moon: there is simply no way to get there. And the theistic arguments don’t lead us to any particular kind of theism, whether Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.”
I think Loftus gets this wrong. No-one is claiming that these arguments (such as the arguments from Big Bang cosmology, teleology, or the fine-tuning of the universe) take us to “full blown Christianity.” Rather, what these arguments do is make belief in a transcendent God reasonable based of the latest scientific & philosophical data. If one wants to give an argument for the truthfulness of the Christian faith then it would be best if they’d argue from the ministry & resurrection of Jesus as a proof of that. Likewise Muslims and Jews can forward their arguments arguing for the veracity of their religions. The same applies for the atheist, he is no exception to the rule. So, no Christian is claiming what Loftus says that they do.
3. Loftus: “Nevertheless, moving from agnosticism to atheism is a much smaller step than moving toward full-blown Christianity. The latter entails a greater number of claims and thus is inherently more difficult to defend, giving Christianity a huge, nearly impossible to meet burden of proof.”
Again, I must disagree. Atheism entails just as many claims. As an atheist one needs to posit explanations of many things. Things like moral values & duties, the beginning of the universe from nothing, metaphysical, existential & philosophical truths. How does the atheist explain getting biological life from inorganic matter? How does the atheist explain how is cognitive faculties are even merely reliable if it is a random product of an indifferent process that cares nothing for true belief but only the survival of the fittest? What about the number of subsets, or denominations if you will, of atheism? That is also a telling sign that to be an atheist is not as simply as Loftus would have us think. Naturalism? Nihilism? Materialism? Humanism? What about arguments? The atheist must posit arguments against religious belief and give counter responses to religious arguments. I am not at all suggesting that atheists have not thought about these things. Rather, what I am suggesting is that to go from agnosticism into the realms of atheism is not just one step away as Loftus appears to suggest.
4. Loftus: “When it comes to God’s existence, our choices can be reduced to these:
- 1.Something has always existed—always.
- 2.Something popped into existence out of absolutely nothing.
- Our existence in the universe is absurd to the core.
Either of the first two possibilities seems extremely unlikely, if not absurd, as nothing in our experience can help us grasp them. Barring giving up on an answer with the third option, one of the two must be correct while the other is false. We either start with the brute fact that something has always existed, or with the brute fact that something popped into existence out of nothing.”
I disagree with Loftus that “the first two possibilities seems extremely unlikely.” Firstly, I hold that of the three options number one is logically the most reasonable. For we know that it is impossible for something to come into existence out of nothing, which disqualifies option two. Option three is possibly true if atheism is true, but option three still says nothing & provides no explanation for the finite or infinite nature of the universe’ existence. It is irrelevant to the first two options, and I think that it can be dismissed. On the other hand, option one must be true because it has been well established that everything came into existence via the Big Bang. The logic follows for everything, such as the physical universe, to exist something must have existed prior in order to bring it into existence. This implies that something has always had to have existed in of itself, or we are back to getting everything from nothing which is irrational. To me that is the most logical explanation and is hardly, unlike what Loftus says, “absurd.” I think that the theist has the most reasonable answer here and on top of that he doesn’t have to deny the strong scientific evidence that well points to a finite beginning of the universe. It would appear, however, that Loftus is at a loss for an explanation here.
5. Loftus: “Since we really don’t know why something exists rather than nothing at all, agnosticism is the default position, and thus anyone moving away from it has the burden of proof.”
That’s why we have arguments, Mr. Loftus. These arguments have for many offered solid proofs for the existence of God. As far as I know these arguments, especially the Cosmological Argument, are quite invincible, and it is also probably why atheists like to accuse William Craig of playing unfair in debates (1).
I also think that the agnosticism Loftus talks of here can be reduced to laziness. Whenever we find a difficultly in our worldview we are then quick to stand back and make the good old “I don’t know” claim. In other words, what Loftus will do here is sit back and wave his hand dismissively in the air. I challenge Loftus to try and make sense of the data and not to hide from the difficulties that result from his atheism.
6. Loftus: “For instance, Christianity claims that God is a triune God, though no simultaneously orthodox and reasonable understanding of the Trinity seems possible.”
I guess that settles it then. Loftus says the triune concept of God is impossible, therefore it must be impossible! Is that a good argument?
An analogy will be appropriate here. No-one knows what energy really is in of itself. We can describe how it works in different forms and transformations but nobody comprehends what energy is in its entirety. But energy exists! I believe, of a lack of a better analogy, the same can be said of the trinity. We can’t explain or comprehend it but it exists. Further, Christian theology teaches that God is beyond our understanding (Isaiah 55:8, 40:28; Job 26:14; Psalm 147:5), and with that in mind is Loftus going to expect everyone to know all mysteries of an infinite God? To know that would render God less than God. To lack sufficient knowledge of an infitie God, other than what God chooses to reveal to us, is far from an unreasonable position.
7. Loftus: “Though conceived of as a “spiritual” being that created matter, no known “point of contact” between spirit and matter can be found.”
Firstly, is Loftus suggesting that nature created nature? What alternative does he give as an explanation other than creation ex-nihilo? To assume nature created nature would be a contradiction in terms. Secondly, just because we don’t know of a point in history where God, who is spirit according to Christian theology (John 4:24), created the physical universe from nothing (which is consistent with Christian theology, Genesis 1:1) hardly makes such a position invalid. Does Loftus expect us to have a 14 billion year old cam recorder documenting God’s creation activities? This just goes along with the assumption that any phenomena that occurs in the observable world is explainable by reference to a closed casual continuum of the natural world.
8. Loftus: “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.”
On the notion of something always existing refer back to point 4. Nonetheless, Ockham’s razor says that “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected (2).
Here we have the scientifically & philosophically problematic appeal of Loftus to an eternal universe. If in fact, for all intents and purposes, the universe was eternal it would seem that it possesses the same metaphysical properties that we ascribe to God which also, according to Loftus, violates Ockham’s razor if we were to use his own logic! So, I ask Loftus, is the universe eternal or not? If he says that it is eternal then he violates his own logic as well scientific evidence that points to a finite universe. If he says that it is finite then how does he get everything form nothing? It would appear that he can’t escape this dilemma. Further, Loftus says that by applying “Ockham’s razor a simpler brute fact is to presume that nature itself never began to exist.” This is entirely illogical. Whether Ockham’s razor applies or not it is still no good accepting a position that is devoid of evidence and that simply does not make sense, such as an eternal universe. After all, simple explanations can also be incorrect and rendered invalid. Also, positing an eternal universe in of itself raises many questions both philosophical and scientific, so I don’t agree with Loftus that it is a simpler explanation.
9. Loftus: “He [God] evidently allows intense suffering in this world and does not follow the same moral code that he commands his believers to follow.”
Three things can be said in response.
Firstly, no-one denies that suffering demands an explanation if Christianity is true. However, when you find the explanation to why suffering exists within the very first book of the Bible, Genesis, then we are already halfway to an answer. When we read the biblical account in Genesis 3 we find that Christian theology well affirms the existence of evil & suffering in the world. Christianity does not deny it, as we seen in the very climax of Jesus’ ministry & crucifixion. That is point one.
Point two is the logical side of the problem. Loftus has to make a sound argument that would prove that the existence of God is incompatible with the reality of suffering. For a start he would have to demonstrate that God has no morally sufficient reasons for allowing suffering. On this note the philosopher William Craig explains that the problem is that “the atheist presupposes that God cannot have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil in the world. But this assumption is not necessarily true. So long as it is even possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil, it follows that God and evil are logically consistent. And, certainly, this does seem at least logically possible. Therefore, I’m very pleased to be able to report that it is widely agreed among contemporary philosophers that the logical problem of evil has been dissolved” (3). Craig gives us a much fuller explanation of the problem of suffering so I’d recommend all readers to consult his piece.
My third point is on the atheistic worldview itself. The atheist must apply his own challenge to his beliefs. The atheistic worldview must give an explanation for the reality of suffering. However, this is a huge problem for Loftus and his fellow atheists. Firstly, evil & suffering does not exist on an atheistic worldview, as Dawkins, who I have quoted already, writes that: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference” (4). Likewise atheist Provine explains that “There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either” on atheism (5).
Is that the atheist’s explanation? That evil & suffering do not exist despite what our collective human experience tells us? Further, there is also a paradox to be had here, Shenvi explains:
“The paradox of atheism is that the atheist, while usually committed to living a life consistent with reality, cannot bear reality as he believes it actually is. If all of the suffering and horror of this world is truly pointless, if there will be no redemption, no justice, no healing, and no restoration, then it is emotionally almost impossible to stare reality in the face on a daily basis. The best possible outcome is to live a life of hopeless, existential despair. But it is far more likely that we will simply build a thick, protective wall of fantasy around us, constructed of hobbies, games, sports, fashion, or romance as a barrier against truths we would rather not face” (6).
So, is the atheist building thick, protective walls in order to shield himself from a reality that on his own worldview does not exist? According to the former atheist Philip Vander Elst things like morality and the reality of good and evil has “no more validity or significance than the sound of the wind in the trees” if atheism is true (7).
The conclusion here is that atheism is bankrupt on its explanation of the reality of suffering. So, are we to affirm the reality of evil & suffering? If yes, then we ought to go with the Christian explanation. If we deny its existence then we can live consistently with atheism despite what the overwhelming consistency of human experience tells us.
The next rebuttal will begin with this challenge & on the notion of God’s moral code.
To be continued…
1. Pastor Matt. 2013. Dear Atheists, William Lane Craig Doesn’t Win Debates through “tricks.” Available.
2. American English Dictionary. Occam’s Razor. Available.
3. Craig, W. The Problem of Suffering. Available.
4. Dawkins, R. 1995. River out of Eden. p 131-32.
5. Provine, W. 1994. Origins Research. p.9.
6. Shenvi, N. Three Paradoxes of Atheism. Available.
7. Vander Elst, P. From Atheism to Christianity: a Personal Journey. Available.