Dr. William Harwood Reviews My Revised Book, WIBA
First the money quote:
Much of Loftus’s revised Why I Became an Atheist book is devoted to refuting the arguments of Christian apologists…Someone had to rebut the apologists, and Loftus has written a definitive refutation that only incurables could dispute—as they no doubt will continue to do. Fortunately the arguments of the “new atheists” are reaching the masses, and religion’s days are accordingly numbered. Without Loftus to pull the rug out from under the incurables, that might have taken longer.
Now for the whole review:
Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, John W. Loftus, 2012, Prometheus Books, 59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst NY 14228-2119, ISBN 978-1-61614-577-4, 541 pp, ppb, $21.00, reviewed by William Harwood.
Why I Became an Atheist is a “revised and expanded” version of a book first published in 2006, amended to take into account comments and criticism of the 2006 edition. That does not mean that religious apologists will not try to dispute this latest version, recognizing that all possible objections have already been refuted. If definitive falsification of the god delusion was capable of curing the most intransigent believers, religion would already have ceased to exist. As long as biblical literalists are able to shut out the reality that the earth is older than the few thousand years depicted in their bibles, and that species evolved over billions of years rather than coming into existence in a single week, as bibles assert, such believers clearly could not be cured even if Jesus materialized on the White House steps and told the world that he had lived and died like any other man, and that he was not a god and had never claimed to be a god. Whether Loftus’s updated book will encourage more nontheists to come out of the closet, as the books of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Victor Stenger have done, remains to be seen. But don’t hold your breath.
Loftus explains (p. 11), “Unlike some skeptics who think the Christian faith has been debunked so many times before that it’s now time to ridicule them, I still treat it respectfully.” How do I interpret that? Is he agreeing that the Christian faith has been debunked so many times, without it disappearing, that a new approach is needed? Or is he arguing that the approach that clearly has not worked, that of treating ridiculous beliefs as if they are not ridiculous, should be continued? He equates (p. 12) belief in Western religion with belief in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Allah, Zeus, Baal, Poseidon, Thor, or Odin. He writes (p. 458) that, “The notion of a punishment after we die is sick and barbaric.” Of course it is. But if that is treating religion respectfully when Loftus does it, why does he consider it ridicule when Dawkins or Harris does the same thing? Personally I agree with Harris, that treating moderate religion with respect encourages and facilitates the terrorist activities of extremists. Even the most peaceful theist needs to be shown that he and millions like him are the reason there was an Osama bin Laden.
Loftus echoes Dawkins in pointing out (p. 52) that, “Believers are truly atheists (i.e., non-believers) with regard to all other religions but their own. People known as ‘atheists’ just reject one more religion for pretty much the same reasons.”
Loftus’s strongest arguments are the same ones that have been made by every rebuttal of religion ever written. For example (pp. 97-99), “the biblical God, Yahweh, is a hateful, racist, and sexist God, modeled after ancient barbaric people and their rulers. He customarily punished people, even babies, for the sins of others…. Christians think Muslims are wrong for wanting to kill free-loving people in the world, and they are. But the only difference between these Muslims and the biblical God is that they simply disagree on who should be killed…. This God even commanded child sacrifice.”
Loftus ventures further into the field of biblical criticism than the above-mentioned Big Four. Unfortunately he does so as what is best described as an autodidact. He acknowledges his dependence on Bart Ehrman, Richard Elliot Friedman, G. A. Wells, Robert Price, all excellent scholars, and others whom I view as second-ranking, and repeats their conclusions uncritically. But he seems to have chosen whom to copy by tossing a coin. I can only wonder if he would have included so much with which I disagree, for example that the Deuteronomist wrote all of the books from Deuteronomy to 1 Kings, even though 1 Samuel is as self-evidently an amalgam of narratives written by authors whose theology was mutually incompatible as Genesis, if he had bothered to read God, Jesus, and the Bible: The Origin and Evolution of Religion[i.e. Dr. Harwood's book], as far as I am aware the most complete analysis of the authorship of the whole bible currently available, or The Protestant Bible Correctly Translated[translated by Dr. Harwood], that would have drawn his attention to the absurdity of attributing 1 Samuel to the Deuteronomist.
Break by John.
There are some Biblical scholars who take the viewpoint I mentioned, most notably German biblical scholar Martin Noth in the 1940′s. Others since the late 60′s have modified his view. In 1968 Frank Moore Cross suggested that the History was in fact first written in the late 7th century as a contribution to king Josiah’s program of reform (the Dtr1 version), and only later revised and updated by Noth’s 6th-century author (Dtr2). A considerable number of European scholars prefer an alternative model put forward by Rudolf Smend and his pupils. This approach holds that Noth was right to locate the composition of the History in the 6th century, but that further redactions took place after the initial composition. [See Wikipedia, "Deuteronomist"]
Loftus raises the “problem of evil” that believers have been desperately trying to rationalize away since Epicurus asked the question over 2,000 years ago: If humankind is under the special protection of a deity that has the omnipotence to be able to abolish all non-manmade evil, and the omnibenevolence to wish to do so, why does it continue to exist? He also wants to know (p. 468), “If God exists, then why doesn’t he show me?” Until believers can come up with a better answer to those questions than “mysterious ways,” they simply cannot be taken seriously.
Much of Loftus’s book is devoted to refuting the arguments of Christian apologists Ut, Mut and Tut (Loftus uses their real names). The weakness in such an approach is that ninety percent of believers have never heard of Ut, Mut or Tut, and can no more be cured by learning that their arguments have no credibility, than a communist can be cured by learning that the arguments of Robert Owen (Robert who?) have no credibility. Nonetheless, if nobody bothered rebutting Ut, Mut and Tut, the idea would spread that they could not be rebutted. (Keep in mind what happened when astronomers refused to dignify the fantasies of Immanuel Velikovsky with a rebuttal.) Someone had to rebut the apologists, and Loftus has written a definitive refutation that only incurables could dispute—as they no doubt will continue to do. Fortunately the arguments of the “new atheists” are reaching the masses, and religion’s days are accordingly numbered. Without Loftus to pull the rug out from under the incurables, that might have taken longer.
Note that this review was based on an Uncorrected Advance Reading Copy. Quotations and cited page numbers may be changed in the final version to be published in April 2012.
Dr. Harwood was kind enough to send this review to me. I don’t know where it was published.
To read some other reviews and blurbs of my book check them out on Amazon.com: Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity.
Last but not least, for anyone else who wishes to write a review of a book I’ve provided some guidelines here.