The Cowboy Who Wasn't There: E-book Companion Site

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Loftus Logic (Part 2)

I haven't been regularly updating the site for a couple of months now and decided to get back into a slight trend of things once more. So, in checking up on updates over at Debunking Christianity, I found another recent example of which to write another addition to my series here on logic. See for yourself:

Fallacy #3 - Appeal to Unreliable Authority

Definition: This would apply to someone who is actually a biologist pretending to be an expert in physics and so on. However, the fallacy itself also extends to those who rely on themselves to be an authority on things not objectively measurable.

Example: Case in point:

As with John's last work, Why I Became an Atheist, he offers a review of his own book for the second time in a row:

I really like this book. Dan Barker recently described it as a "powerhouse of a book" in an interview he did with me. It is. And not just because I compiled it and wrote four chapters for it. Let me explain why.

Notice, that much of the remaining review contains little to no substance about the book's actual content. Observe:

The book was made to have eye appeal. It just has a good look and feel to it. When holding it in your hands at 422 pages, it makes you see that there is a lot of information in it for the price.

Nothing could be more explicit to how pathetic the book itself probably is. This is like giving unalienable authority to the KJV Bible because of the elaborate designs on the front cover.

The authors are experts in the areas they write about. Let me give you a few examples. Who is better to write a chapter arguing that Christianity is a cultural phenomenon than cultural anthropologist David Eller? Who is better than psychologist Valerie Tarico to write on Christian belief and cognitive science? Who is better to write a chapter on Biblical cosmology than Ed Babinski, who has spent years studying this topic? Who is better than Biblical scholar Hector Avalos to write a chapter on the barbaric tribal God of the Old Testament? Who is better than Robert Price to write a chapter on what we can know about Jesus? Who is better than Richard Carrier to write a chapter on the resurrection of Jesus? The three last chapters in the book on morality by Eller, Hitler by Avalos, and the origins of science by Carrier, are each by themselves probably worth the price of the book.

These are all subjective statements about the quality of content in John's book. They make no critical analysis or assessment as to why we should believe the contributors offer more than their own slanted bias when coming into the framework of things. This is also a perfect example of another fallacy: Begging the Question - "X is true because X says so." Circular reasoning, as it is more commonly identified. The conclusion is the same as the assumption, and there are no other reasons to suggest or think otherwise. We have no other standard in this review to assess the credibility of any of these contributions other than John's heresay and those already convinced by the writings of these individuals. It does nothing for the individual interested in gaining a fresh new perspective.

And the flow of the book is good too. Most skeptical books dive right in on the arguments. But not this one. In the first part of the book we show how believers first adopt and defend their beliefs. We show that believers are not rational to accept what they first learned in this Christian culture on their mama's knees. Jason Long shows in his chapter how believers cannot reasonably think they have truly examined their adopted faith. And I close that part out with the Outsider Test for Faith, in what I consider my most mature defense of it ever.

We've examined the Outsider Test for Faith on here before, and have pointed out its anadequacies. Mainly, the problem with the "test" itself is that it leads us to the inference that someone can separate themselves from their culture to the point where beliefs are non-existent. Otherwise, if this is not Loftus' intent by crafting such a "test", then it remains that because someone happens to be Muslim because they were raised that way, it is irrelevant because of several different possibilities and explanations:

1) Not everyone raised in a particular culture is destined to believe in their cultural ideals and childhood background for life. Indeed, such cases arise where a Muslim may convert to Christianity, and vice versa.

2) Differences in cultural beliefs do not automatically lead to the conclusion that anyone who might have a belief based on their cultural background is necessarily wrong in their belief, just as they are not necessarily right by appealing to their culture.

Then there are the many glowing blurbs from Christian as well as atheist/agnostic scholars to be found on the back cover and inside pages. Here are three of them:

From Dr. Michael Martin, professor of philosophy emeritus and author of The Case Against Christianity and Atheism: A Philosophical Justification:

"John Loftus and his distinguished colleagues have certainly produced one of the best and arguably the best critique of the Christian faith the world has ever known. Using sociological, biblical, scientific, historical, philosophical, theological and ethical criticisms, this book completely destroys Christianity. All but the most fanatical believers who read it should be moved to have profound doubts."

From Dr. Dale C. Allison, Jr., author of Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters:

"Forget Dawkins. If you are looking for a truly substantial, well-informed criticism of the Christian religion, this is your book. Defenders of the faith will do believer and unbeliever alike a disservice if they do not rise to the challenge and wrestle with the thought-provoking arguments of Loftus and company."

From Dr. Keith Parsons, Professor of Philosophy, University of Houston, Clear Lake, and author of the book, God and the Burden of Proof:

"For nearly two thousand years apologists have striven mightily to show that the dogmas of Christianity are rationally defensible. For much of the Christian era critics have sought to debunk those apologetic claims. In that long tradition of criticism, there can have been few works as effective as The Christian Delusion. The essays are incisive, rigorous, and original, shedding new light on old issues and boldly exploring new paths of argument. The selection of topics is outstanding--at once both comprehensive and innovative. For fresh insights into an old debate, The Christian Delusion is strongly recommended."

Much more credibility is afforded to the review based on these excerpts. However, John closes with:

I think every skeptic who wants to understand Christianity and/or who argues with Christians should get it. I think every Christian apologist worthy of the name should get it. I think every believer who is having questions about his or her faith should get it. And I can only hope every devout believer will get it too.

"Worthy of the name"? To what John may be referring too, we cannot be certain. This could be constured in terms of how popular and well-liked someone is, but it says nothing about the truth value of their arguments or if in fact they tell the truth.

That's enough for a while now. Hope you've all enjoyed this so far. But alas, I have more important matters to attend too.


  1. Dear Truth Be Told, Is it logical to take book blurbs as seriously as you have?

    You can't say much in a book blurb, except whether you found a book or novel compelling or not.

  2. Edski, why do you somehow glance over the possibility that this question might as well be asked in respects to John and his followers?

    Otherwise, you would be correct sir.

  3. Fascinating blog post; thoroughly enjoyable. I learned a lot. Thanks.

  4. Ed, if you are not using blurbs to give credence to your a form of appeal to authority...then why have them?

    Because that IS what they are being used for.

  5. When I saw that Loftus gave a glowing review to his own book, right off the bat and before Amazon was even shipping, I about choked on my Diet Coke.

    Loftus is a never ending source for amusement!

    His unbounced ego is a puzzle though, since a man opted out of a marriage, a profession, and even an educational program doesn't really have a lot to brag about.

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