I have been “temporarily banned” from speaking to John Loftus. Read all about it on his website: http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2009/01/five-original-arguments-in-my-book.html
I really don’t have a lot to say about it besides this. Which is more disrespectful? To offer harsh but constructive criticism, or to selectively edit, quote mine, and ignore constructive but harsh criticism.
I will be reviewing John Loftus’ book, and judging from the reviews I’ve already read, I suspect my review will be good. I make no bones about the fact that I have a strong dislike for Loftus’ cavalier attitude towards epistemological rights. I suspect that I don’t like him as a person based on our limited interactions. Bearing that in mind, I want to point out two things regarding his accusations towards me:
1) Richard Wagner was a douche. Plain and simple. He was an arrogant, self important, grouchy antisemitic crank. Even so, his music, whether it is personally fulfilling to any individual or another, has a valid and necessary place in the history of music. I have written critical reviews of various Wagner pieces as part of classes, and I always did my best to separate the man from the music. To that end, I fully intend to approach Loftus’ book as it stands. I hope — I really, truly do hope that it’s a good book. I suspect that it is.
2) As I have said many times (and have yet to be published on his website in saying), my biggest gripe with Loftus on his website and in his miscellaneous writings is that he seems to think that his ability to write a convincing anti-theistic treatise gives him the epistemological justification to make pronouncements about much more difficult topics.
To put it bluntly, it doesn’t take much actual logic to be an atheist. Most five or six year olds can comprehend the arguments, and some of them can even come up with them on their own. To be certain, it is one thing to grasp the arguments, and it is quite another to be able to explain them in a compelling and emotionally satisfying way. John was a preacher, and from all accounts, I imagine he was good at it. Preachers are good at making compelling emotional appeals, and I agree with John that this is something that’s needed in the atheist literature. He’s absolutely right that some of the more erudite atheist authors go straight over the heads of theists. We need people with charisma and an ability to communicate to the theist masses.
There is a concept I want John to grasp, though. It is one thing to present an argument in a simplified way. I do this all the time in discussing evolution. The math simply isn’t necessary for most people to grasp the concept. Neither is the specifics of how various organic compounds interact with each other on a molecular level. What’s important, however, is that I do not do the concept itself injustice by either oversimplifying it to the point that it is wrong, or by simply stating it wrong in the interest of easy communication.
A great example of this is the term “survival of the fittest.” There are hundreds of thousands of people — maybe more — who think evolutionary survival of the fittest addresses issues like eugenics (speaking of Wagner) and political theory. It most certainly does not. In any sense. However, it has been oversimplified and simply taught wrong for so long that the idea still has great carrying power. It doesn’t take much to see how dangerous the wrong interpretation of this idea is. Properly understanding everything one is saying — particularly when one is admittedly communicating to ignorant masses — is crucially important. We cannot judge what kind of butterfly effect will result from a single idea that is “dumbed down” because “it’s not really important.”
So, once again, on to the crux of my problem with John Loftus. I have read his comments about mythicism and his responses to mythicists, and it is clear to me (and to the mythicists that I’ve spoken to about his comments) that he either doesn’t grasp the mythicist arguments or is incapable of responding to them. This can only mean two things:
1) He is not competent to make a judgment about Jesus’ historicity
2) He is competent but unwilling to address opposing arguments.
In either case, his opinion does not and should not count as authoritative. John thinks this is about me agreeing with the mythicists. It is not. I have given mythicists the same kind of grilling, and I am not fully satisfied with their answers. I am reserving judgment until at least after the Jesus Project publishes their findings, and possibly longer.
John also thinks this is about me being overly erudite. It isn’t. Half the reason religion is as powerful as it is is that lots of people believe unsupported statements. My problem with John is that he seems to be a little drunk with his own successful conveyance of very simple logical arguments to the point that he believes himself qualified to address much more complicated and in depth scholarly topics.
So, in conclusion, I’ll be spending several hours over the next week reading his book — in the bookstore, and then putting it back. I’m not giving him my money. Sorry. I will be writing as objective and comprehensive a review as I can, and I will do my best to be fair because he’s right. We do need someone to make some breakthroughs with Christians, and it seems he’s got the emotionally appealing chops to do so. However, I will continue to object strenuously when he tries to play by theist rules and win an argument by emotional bombast, intimidation, and self-aggrandizement.